World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
“Alas for you who get evil gain for your house,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm!”
Habakkuk proceeds in exciting the king of Babylon by taunts; which were not scurrilous jests, but contained serious threatening; for, as it has been already said, the Prophet here introduces indeed the common people, but in that multitude we are to recognize the innumerable heralds of God’s vengeance: and hence he says, Woe to him who coveteth, etc.; or we may say, He! for it is a particle of exclamation, as it has been said: He! thou, he says, who covetest an evil covetousness to thy house, and settest on high thy nest: but what shall happen? The next verse declares the punishment.
The clause, Woe to him who covets an evil covetousness to his house, may be read by itself,—that this cupidity shall be injurious to his house; as though he had said, “Thou indeed wouldest provide for thy house by accumulating great riches; but thy house shall find this to be evil and ruinous. So the word רעה, roe, evil, might be referred to the house; but the verse is best connected by reading the whole together; that is, that the Babylonians not only provided for themselves, while they with avidity plundered and collected much wealth from all quarters; but that they wished also to make provisions for their sons and grandsons: and we also see, that avarice has this object in view; for they who are anxiously bent on the accumulation of riches do not only regard what is needful for themselves to pass through life, but also wish to leave their heirs rich. Since then the avaricious are desirous of enriching for ever their houses, the prophet, deriding this madness, says, Woe to him who covets an evil covetousness to his house; that is, who wishes not only to abound and be satiated himself, but also to supply his posterity with abundance.
He adds another vice, which is almost ever connected with the former—that he may set, he says, his nest on high; for the avaricious have a regard to this—to fortify themselves; for as an evil conscience is always fearful, many dangers come across their minds—“This may happen to me,” and then, “My wealth will procure for me the hatred and envy of many. If then some danger be at hand, I shall be able to redeem my life many times;” and he also adds, “Were I satisfied with a moderate portion, many would become my rivals; but when my treasures surpass what is common, then I shall be as it were beyond the reach of men; and when others envy one another, I shall escape.” So the avaricious think within themselves when they are ardently bent on accumulating riches, and form for themselves a great heap like a nest; for they think that they are raised above the world, and are exempt from the common lot of men, when surrounded by their riches.
We now then see what the Prophet means: Woe, he says, to him who wickedly and intemperately covets. And why does he so do? To enrich his posterity. And then he adds, to him who covets that he may set his nest on high; that is, that he may by wealth fortify himself, that he may be able to drive away every danger, and be thus exempt from every evil and trouble. And he adds, that he may deliver himself from the power of evil; he expresses now more clearly what I have said—that the rich are inebriated with false confidence, when they surpass all others; for they think not themselves to be mortals, but imagine that they have another life, as though they had a world of their own, free from all dangers. But while the avaricious thus elevate themselves by a proud confidence, the Prophet derides their madness. He then subjoins their punishment—