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Habakkuk 3:9

9. Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.

9. Nudando nudatus fuit (vel, manifestatione manifestus fuit) arcus tuus; juramenta Tribuum, sermo: Selach: fluviis scindes terram.


The Prophet explains the same thing more clearly in this verse—that the power of God was formerly manifested for no other reason but that the children of Abraham might be taught to expect from him a continued deliverance: for he says that the bow of God was made bare. By the bow, he means also the sword and other weapons; as though he had said, that God was then armed, as we have found declared before. God therefore was then furnished with weapons, and marched to the battle, having undertaken the cause of his chosen people, that he might defend them against the wicked. Since it was so, we hence see that these miracles were not to avail only for one period, but were intended perpetually to encourage the faithful to look ever for the aid of God, even in the midst of death; for he can find escapes, though they may not appear to us.

We now see the import of the text; but he emphatically adds, The oaths of the tribes; for hereby he more fully confirms that God had not then assisted the children of Abraham, so as to discard them afterwards; but that he had really proved how true he was in his promises; for by the oaths of (or to) the tribes he means the covenant that God had made not only with Abraham, but also with his posterity for ever. He puts oaths in the plural number, because God had not only once promised to be a God to Abraham and to his seed, but had often repeated the same promise, in order that faith might be rendered more certain, inasmuch as we have need of more than one thing to confirm us. For we see how our infirmity always vacillates, unless God supplies us with many props. As, then, God had often confirmed his servant Abraham, the Prophet speaks here of his oaths: but then as to the substance, the oath of God is the same; which was, that he had taken the race of Abraham under his protection, and promised that they should be to him a peculiar people, and, especially, that he had united the people under one head; for except Christ had been introduced, that covenant of God would not have been ratified nor valid. As, then, God had once included every thing when he said to Abraham, “I am God Almighty, and I shall be a God to you and to your children;” it is certain that nothing was added when God afterwards confirmed the faith of Abraham: but yet the Prophet does not without reason use the plural number; it was done, that the faithful might recomb with less fear on God’s promise, seeing, that it had been so often and by so many words confirmed.

He calls them too the oaths to the tribes: for though God had spoken to Abraham and afterwards to Moses, yet the promise was deposited in the hands of Abraham, and of the patriarchs, and afterwards in those of Moses, that the people might understand that it belonged equally to them; for it would have been no great matter to promise what we read of to a few men only. But Abraham was as it were the depository; and it was a certain solemn stipulation made with his whole race. We hence see why the Prophet here mentions the tribes rather than Abraham, or the patriarchs or Moses. He had indeed a special regard to those of his own time, in order to confirm them, that they might not doubt but that God would extend to them also the same power. How so? Because God had formerly wrought in a wonderful manner for the deliverance of his people. Why? That he might prove himself to be true and faithful. In what respect? Because he had said, that he would be the protector of his people; and he did not adopt a few men only, but the whole race of Abraham. Since it was so, why should not his posterity hope for that which they knew was promised to their fathers? for the truth of God can never fail. Though many ages had passed away, the faith of his people ought to have remained certain, for God intended to show himself to be the same as he had been formerly known by their fathers.

He afterwards adds אמר, amer, which means a word or speech; but it is to be taken here for a fixed and an irrevocable word. The word, אמר, amer, he says; that is, as they say, the word and the deed: for when we say, that words are given, we often understand that those who liberally promise are false men, and that we are only trifled with and disappointed when we place confidence in them. But the term, word, is sometimes taken in a good sense. “This is the word,” we often say, when we intend to remove every doubt. We now then perceive what the Prophet meant by adding אמר, amer, the word. “O Lord, thou hast not given mere words to a people; but what has proceeded from thy mouth has been found to be true and valid. Such, therefore, is and faithfulness in thy promises, that we ought not to entertain the least doubt as to the event. As soon as thou givest to us any hope, we ought to feel assured of its accomplishment, as though it were not a word but the exhibition of the thing itself.” In short, by this term the Prophet commends the faithfulness of God, lest we should harbour doubts as to his promises. 5858     This clause has been variously explained: the interpretation here given has been mostly adopted. In the Barberinean manuscript the whole of this prayer is given in many respects different from the present received text of the Septuagint, and this clause is thus found in it—ἐχορτασας βολιδας της φαρετρας ἀυτου. It is evident that this idea falls in more with the preceding clause than any other; and the Hebrew will admit of a sense bordering on this with less alteration than any other that has been offered. No version has been given without supposing something to be understood. Newcome says, that sixteen MSS. read [שבועת]; by leaving out the [ו], it may be a verb in Kal in the past tense, as rendered above, and writers might have easily put down [אמר] for [אזור]. Then the line in Hebrew would be,
   [שבעת מטות אזור]

   “Thou hast filled with arrows the girdle.”

   It is a description of one equipped for battle; his bow was made ready, and he had filled his girdle, that is, his military guide, with arrows; for this girdle the preceding Greek version introduced the quiver, in which arrows were commonly carried. The word [מטות], means rods or staves, that is, of arrows, as we may take it here. This is the most satisfactory solution of the difficulties connected with this line, of which there have been, as Henderson says, more than a hundred interpretations.

   The last clause of the verse is thus rendered by Newcome,—

   Thou didst cleave the streams of the land;

   and by Henderson,—

   Thou didst cleave the earth into rivers.

   The words will not admit the first version; the genitive case in Hebrew is always by juxtaposition; here “streams” and “earth” are separated by the verb. The other version contains hardly a meaning. The most literal rendering is that given by Calvin, and it affords the best sense. The words will admit of the following, which is materially the same,—

   By streams didst thou cleavest the earth.

   The allusion evidently to the streams of that water which miraculously issued from the smitten rock, and followed the Israelites in the wilderness.—Ed.

He then says, that by rivers had been cleft the earth. He refers, I doubt not, to the history we read in Numbers 14; for the Lord, when the people were nearly dead through thirst, drew forth water from the rock, and caused a river to flow wherever the people journeyed. As then he had cleft the earth to make a perpetual course for the stream, and thus supplied the people in dry places with abundance of water, the Prophet says here, that the earth had been cleft by rivers or streams. It was indeed but one river; but he amplifies, and justly so, that remarkable work of God. He afterwards adds—

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