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God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint


I will stand at my watchpost,

and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,

and what he will answer concerning my complaint.


Then the L ord answered me and said:

Write the vision;

make it plain on tablets,

so that a runner may read it.


For there is still a vision for the appointed time;

it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;

it will surely come, it will not delay.


Look at the proud!

Their spirit is not right in them,

but the righteous live by their faith.


Moreover, wealth is treacherous;

the arrogant do not endure.

They open their throats wide as Sheol;

like Death they never have enough.

They gather all nations for themselves,

and collect all peoples as their own.


The Woes of the Wicked

6 Shall not everyone taunt such people and, with mocking riddles, say about them,

“Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!”

How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge?


Will not your own creditors suddenly rise,

and those who make you tremble wake up?

Then you will be booty for them.


Because you have plundered many nations,

all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you—

because of human bloodshed, and violence to the earth,

to cities and all who live in them.



“Alas for you who get evil gain for your house,

setting your nest on high

to be safe from the reach of harm!”


You have devised shame for your house

by cutting off many peoples;

you have forfeited your life.


The very stones will cry out from the wall,

and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.



“Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,

and found a city on iniquity!”


Is it not from the L ord of hosts

that peoples labor only to feed the flames,

and nations weary themselves for nothing?


But the earth will be filled

with the knowledge of the glory of the L ord,

as the waters cover the sea.



“Alas for you who make your neighbors drink,

pouring out your wrath until they are drunk,

in order to gaze on their nakedness!”


You will be sated with contempt instead of glory.

Drink, you yourself, and stagger!

The cup in the L ord’s right hand

will come around to you,

and shame will come upon your glory!


For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you;

the destruction of the animals will terrify you—

because of human bloodshed and violence to the earth,

to cities and all who live in them.



What use is an idol

once its maker has shaped it—

a cast image, a teacher of lies?

For its maker trusts in what has been made,

though the product is only an idol that cannot speak!


Alas for you who say to the wood, “Wake up!”

to silent stone, “Rouse yourself!”

Can it teach?

See, it is gold and silver plated,

and there is no breath in it at all.



But the L ord is in his holy temple;

let all the earth keep silence before him!


The Prophet briefly teaches us here, that so remarkable would be God’s judgement on the Babylonians that his name would thereby be celebrated through the whole world. But there is in this verse an implied contrast; for God appeared not in his own glory when the Jews were led away into exile; the temple being demolished and the whole city destroyed; and also when the whole easterly region was exposed to rapine and plunder. When therefore the Babylonians were, after the Assyrians, swallowing up all their neighbors, the glory of God did not then shine, nor was it conspicuous in the world. The Jews themselves had become mute; for their miseries had, as it were, stupefied them; their mouths were at least closed, so that they could not from the heart bless God, while he was so severely afflicting them. And then, in that manifold confusion of all things, the profane thought that all things here take place fortuitously, and that there is no divine providence. God then was at that time hid: hence the Prophet says, Filled shall be the earth with the knowledge of God; that is, God will again become known, when by stretching forth his hand he will execute vengeance on the Babylonians; then will the Jews, as well as other nations, acknowledge that the world is governed by God’s providence, as it had been once created by him.

We now understand the Prophet’s meaning, and why he says, that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory; for the glory of God previously disappeared from the world, with regard to the perceptions of men; but it shone forth again, when God himself had erected his tribunal by overthrowing Babylon, and thereby proved that there is no power among men which he cannot control. We have the same sentence in Isaiah 11:9. 3939     The idea is nearly the same, though not the words. The verse in Isaiah is literally this—
   For fill the earth shall the knowledge of Jehovah,
Like the waters spreading over the sea.

   The verb rendered “cover” here and in Isaiah is, [כסה], which means first to spread, and in the second place to cover, as the effect of spreading. It is followed here by [על], over, and by [ל], over, in Isaiah; and so spreading must be the idea included in the verb. The comparison in Isaiah is between knowledge and waters, and the earth and the sea. Hence the common version does not properly present the comparison. The verb [מלא], is used in a passive and active sense. See Genesis 6:13, and Genesis 1:22; 24:16. This verse may be rendered in Welsh word for word, without changing the order in one instance:—

   Canys henwa y ddaear wybodaeth o Jehova,
Vel y dyvroedd dros y more yn ymdaenu

   “The knowledge of Jeohovah,” [דעה את-יהוה], is not an instance of a genitive case by juxtaposition, which is common both in Hebrew and in Welsh; for [את] here must be a preposition, “from,” for it is sometimes used for [מאת]. It is a knowledge that was to come from Jehovah, and not a knowledge of Jehovah.—Ed.
The Prophet there speaks indeed of the kingdom of Christ; for when Christ was openly made known to the world, the knowledge of God’s glory at the same time filled the earth; for God then appeared in his own living image. But yet our Prophet uses a proper language, when he says that the earth shall then be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory, when he should execute vengeance on the Babylonians. Hence incorrectly have some applied this to the preaching of the gospel, as though Habakkuk made a transition from the ruin of Babylon to the general judgement: this is a strained exposition. It is indeed a well-known mode of speaking, and often occurs in the Psalms, that the power, grace, and truth of God are made known through the world, when he delivers his people and restrains the ungodly. The same mode the Prophet now adopts; and he compares this fullness of knowledge to the waters of the sea, because the sea, as we know, is so deep, that there is no measuring of its waters. So Habakkuk intimates, that the glory of God would be so much known that it would not only fill the world, but in a manner overflow it: as the waters of the sea by their vast quantity cover the deep, so the glory of God would fill heaven and earth, so as to have no limits. If, at the same time, there be a wish to extend this sentence to the coming of Christ, I do not object: for we know that the grace of redemption flowed in a perpetual stream until Christ appeared in the world. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, sets forth here the greatness of God’s power in the destruction of Babylon. 4040     There is no reason to doubt but that this is the meaning of the sentence here: and it is a striking instance of the variety of meaning which belongs to similar expressions, when differently connected. The glory of God is manifested by judgments as well as by mercies. In Isaiah it is “the knowledge of or from Jehovah;” here the expression is, “the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah.” By “the knowledge of Jehovah” is to be understood the revelation made by the gospel. But by “the knowledge of his glory” is meant evidently the display of his power in destroying Babylon, as power is often signified by glory.—Ed.

This passage, in which the Prophet condemns the king of Babylon for his usual practice of rendering drunk his friends, is frigidly interpreted by most expounders. It has been already often said how bold the Jews are in contriving what is fabulous; when nothing certain occurs to them, they divine this or that without any discrimination or shame. Hence they say, that Nebuchadnezzar was given to excess, and led all whom he could into a participation of the same vice. They also think that his associates were captive kings, as though he bid them for the sake of sport to be brought to his table, and by drinking to their health, forced them to intoxication, that he might laugh at them when they made themselves base and ridiculous. But all this is groundless; for there is no history that relates any such thing. It is, however, easy to see that another matter is here treated of by the Prophet; for he does not speak of the king only, but he refers to the whole empire. I therefore doubt not but that this whole discourse, in which the Babylonian king is condemned for making drunk his associates or friends, is metaphorical or allegorical. But before I proceed further on the subject, I shall say something as to the words; for the meaning of the Prophet will thereby be made more evident.

Woe, he says, to him who gives his friend drink; then he adds, מספח חמתך, mesephech chemetak, "who joinest and bottle.” חמה, cheme, is taken in Hebrew for a bottle; and we know, and it is sufficiently evident from Scripture, that the Jews used bottles of skin, as there are casks and larger vessels with us. Since, then, they put their wine into bottles, these were often taken for their cups, as it is in our language, when one says, Des flacons, des bouteilles. Hence some give this explanation—that the king of Babylon brought forth his flagons, that he might force to intoxication, by excessive drinking, those who could not and dared not to resist his will. But others render חמה, cheme, wrath, with a preposition understood: and in order that nothing may be understood, some render the participle, מספח, “displaying,” that is, “his fury.” But as חמה, cheme, means to be hot, we may, therefore, properly give this version, “Uniting thy heat;” that is, “It is not enough for thee to inebriate others, except thou implicates them with thyself.” We now perceive the meaning of this phrase. He adds, And thou also dost inebriate. We may hence learn that the Prophet had no other thing in view, but to show that the king of Babylon sought for himself many associates in his intemperance or excess: at the same time he takes, as I have said, excess in a metaphorical sense. I shall presently explain more fully what all this means; but now we only expound the words. And thou, he says, dost also inebriate: the particle אף, as it is well known, is laid down for the sake of amplifying. After having said, Thou unitest thy heat; that is, thou exhales thine intemperance, so that others also contract the same heat with thyself, he immediately adds, Thou inebriatest them. It follows, that their nakedness may be made open; that is, that they may disclose themselves with shame. The following verse I shall defer until we shall see more clearly what the Prophet had in view. 4141     The rendering of this verse has been various, though most agree as to its import. Grotius, Marckius, and Henderson, take nearly the same view of its meaning as Calvin, regarding it as metaphorical. But Marckius thinks that the drunkenness which the king of Babylon produced, means the evils which he inflicted on other nations. To make a nation drunk was to subdue and oppress it. See Isaiah 51:17,22; Jeremiah 25:15,16, 27,28; 51:7,39,57. This view is confirmed by the following verse, where the king of Babylon is threatened with a similar judgment; he was also to drink of the cup of Jehovah’s right hand. As he made other nations drunk, so the Lord threatens him with a like visitation.
   The verse will admit of a much simpler rendering than what has been commonly offered, such as the following:—

   Woe to him who makes his neighbor to drink,
Who adds his bottle, and also strong drink,
In order that he may look on their nakedness.

   To render [חמה], wrath, or heat, or gall, or poison, as some have done, is to introduce an idea foreign to the context, and the word is often found to signify the bottle of skin in which wine was kept. Newcome renders it “flagon.” By mentioning bottle, abundance of wine was probably intended, and to this abundance was added the strong drink, [שכר], intoxicating liquor. It is commonly rendered as though it were a verb in Hiphil; but it is not so. It means here no doubt, as in other places, strong drink. This line is only an application, as we find often in the Prophets, of the preceding line.

   Though there is no MS. which has “his” instead of “thy” connected with “bottle,” yet the preceding and the following lines seem to require it; and this is the reading of Symmachus and of the Vulgate. The change of persons, it is true, is very common in the Prophets, but not in such a way as we find here, the third person being adopted both in the preceding and in the following line.

   The idea of drinking as a judgment may have arisen from the cup of malediction given to criminals before their execution. See also Psalms 75:8. Babylon is in Jeremiah 51:7, represented as “a golden cup” in God’s hand to make the nations drunken. It was “golden” to signify an outward appearance that was plausible, and alluring. So the mystic Babylon is said to have a golden cup, which was full of all abominations, Revelation 17:4.—Ed.

As I have already said the Prophet charges the Babylonian king with having implicated neighboring kings in his own evil desires, and with having in a manner inebriated them. He indeed compares the insatiable avarice of that king to intemperance; for as it is the object of drunken men not to drink what may suffice them, but to glut themselves with wine, so also when avarice is dominant in the hearts of men, they are seized with a certain kind of fury, like a person who has an immoderate love for wine. This is the reason for the metaphor; for the Babylonian king, when he thirsted for the blood of men, and also for wealth and kingdoms, led into the same kind of madness many other kings; for he could not have succeeded except he had allured the favor of many others, and deceived them with vain expectations. As a person who gives himself up to drinking wishes to leave associates, so Habakkuk lays the same thing to the charge of the king of Babylon; for being himself addicted to insatiable avarice, he procured associates to be as it were his guests, and quaffed wine to them, that is, elicited their cupidity, that they might join him in his wars; for each hoped for a part of the spoil after victory. Since, then, he had thus blinded many kings, they are said to have been inebriated by him. We indeed know that such allurements infatuate the minds and hearts of men; for there is no intoxication that stultifies men more than that eager appetite by which they devour both lands and seas.

We now then apprehend what the Prophet meant—that the Babylonian king not only burnt with his own avarice, but kindled also, as it were, a flame in others, like drunken men who excite one another. As then he had thus inflamed all the neighboring kings to rush headlong without any consideration and without any shame, like a person suffocated and overcome by excessive drinking; so the Prophet designates this inflaming as quaffing wine to them.

And this metaphor ought to be carefully observed; for we see at this day as in a mirror what the Prophet teaches here. For all the great princes, when they devise any plans of their own, send their ambassadors here and there, and seek to involve with themselves other cities and princes; and as no one is willing to endanger himself without reason, they set forth many fallacious allurements. And when any city fears a neighboring prince, it will seek to fortify itself by a new protection; so a treaty, when offered, becomes like a snare to it. And then when any inferior prince wishes to enlarge his borders, or to revenge himself, he willingly puts on arms, nay, anxiously, that he may be able, by the help of a greater, to effect his purpose, which he could not otherwise accomplish. Thus we see that dukes and counts, as they are called, and free cities, are daily inebriated. They who are chief kings, abounding in wine, that is, full of many vain promises, give to drink, as it were with full flagons, bidding wine to be brought forth on a well furnished table—“I will make thine enemy to give way to thee, and thou shalt compel him according to thy wish, and when I shall obtain the victory a part of the spoil shall be allotted to thee; I desire nothing but the glory. With regard to you, the free cities, see, ye tremble continually; now if you lie under my shadow, it will be the best security for you.” Such quaffing is to be found at this day almost throughout the whole of Europe.

Then the Prophet does not without reason commemorate this vice in the king of Babylon—that he made those associates drunk whom he had bound to himself by perfidious treaties; for as it has been said, there is no intoxication so dangerous as this madness; that is, when any one promises this or that to himself, and imagines what does not exist. Hence he not only says, that the Babylonian king gave drink to his friends, but also that he joined his bottles; as though he had said that he was very liberal, nay, prodigal, while seeking associates in his intemperance; for if one condition did not suffice, another was added—“Behold, my king is prepared; but if he is not enough another will be joined with him.” They thus then join together their heat. If we take חמה, cheme, for a bottle, then to join together their bottles would mean, that they accumulated promises until they inebriated those whom they sought to deceive. But if the other interpretation be more approved, which I am disposed to follow, then the meaning would be—They join together their own heat, that is, they implicate others with themselves; as they burn themselves with insatiable cupidity, so they spread this ardor far and wide, so that the desires of many become united.

He afterwards adds—that thou mayest see their nakedness. It was not indeed an object to the king of Babylon to disclose the reproach of all those whom he had induced to take part in his wars; but we know that great kings are wont to neglect their friends, to whom at first they promise every thing. When a king wishes to entice to himself a free city or an inferior prince, he will say—“See, I seek nothing but to be thy friend”. We indeed see how shamefully they perjure themselves; nor is it enough for them to utter these perjuries in their courts; but not many years pass away before our great kings make public their abominable perjuries; and it appears immediately afterwards that they thus seek, without any shame, to mock both God and all mankind. After testifying that they seek nothing except to defend by their protection what is right and just, and to resist the tyranny and pride of others, they immediately draw back when anything adverse afterwards happens, and the city, which had hoped everything from so liberal a king, is afterwards forced to submit and to agree with its enemies, and to manage matters anyhow; thus its nakedness is disclosed. In the same manner also are inferior princes deprived of their power. And to whom is this to be imputed but to the principal author? For when any one, for the sake of ambition or avarice, leads others to inconvenience or to damage, he may justly and correctly be said to disclose their nakedness. We now apprehend the Prophet’s real meaning, which interpreters have not understood. I come now to the next verse—

He says that he is satiated with shame instead of glory. Some give this rendering—“Thou art satiated with shame more than glory;” but this does not suit the passage; for the Prophet does not mean that the Babylonian king was satiated with his own reproach, but rather with that of others. Secondly, the particle מ, mem, is not put here in a comparative sense, but the clause is on the contrary to be understood thus—“By thy glory, or, on account of thy glory, thou art satiated with shame”. It must also in the third place be observed, that punishment is not what the Prophet describes in these words; for it immediately follows—שתה גם אחה, shite gam ate, “drink thou also.” He comes now to punishment. By saying, then, that the king of Babylon was satiated with shame on account of glory, it is the same as though he had said, that while he was intent on increasing his own glory he brought all others to shame. It is indeed the common game of great kings, as it has been said, to enlarge their own power at the expense and loss of others. They would, indeed, if they could, render their friends safe; but when any one loses ground in their favor they neglect him. We see how at this day great kings, raising great armies, shed innocent blood. When a slaughter is made in war they express their grief, but it is only on account of their own glory or advantage. They will in words profess that they sympathise with the miserable men who faithfully spent their life for them, but they have for them no real concern. As, then, great kings draw human blood, and care nothing when many perish for their sake, the Prophet justly says, That the king of Babylon was satiated with shame on account of glory; that is, that while he was seeking his own glory he was satiated with the reproaches of many; for many perished on his account, many had been robbed of their power, or were afterwards to be robbed—for the Prophet refers not here to what had taken place, but he speaks of things future; and the past tense of verbs was intended to express certainty; and we know that this was a common mode of speaking with the Prophets. 4242     The view presented here of the first clause of the verse is striking, and such as the words may admit. But most commentators attach to them another meaning. Newcome’s version is—
   Thou art filled with shame instead of glory.

   Henderson’s rendering is—

   Thou art filled with shame, not with glory.

   The verb being in the past tense seems to favor Calvin’s view—“Thou hast been satiated with shame from glory,” that is, thou hast been filled to satiety with the shame occasioned to others, arising from the pursuit of thine own glory. And then, as Calvin justly observes, his punishment is denounced.—“Drink thou also.”—Ed.

He now adds—drink thou also. We hence see that the king of Babylon was secure as long as he remained untouched, though his alliance and friendship had proved ruinous to many. As long then as his kingdom flourished, the king of Babylon cared but little for the losses of others. Hence the Prophet says—“Thou shalt also drink; thou thinkest that others only shall be punished, as though thou were not exposed to God’s judgement; but thou shalt come in thy turn and drink;”—in what way? He speaks here allegorically of the vengeance which was nigh the king of Babylon—“Thou, also,” he says, “shalt drink and become a reproach,” or, shalt be uncovered.

The word ערל, orel, means in Hebrew the foreskin; and the foreskinned, or uncircumcised, was the name given to the profane and the base, or the contaminated; and hence many give this rendering—“Thou also shalt become ignominious;” but others express more clearly the Prophet’s meaning by this version—“Thou shalt be uncovered.” Yet their opinion is not amiss who think that there is here a change of letters, that הערל, eorel,is put for הרעל, erol; and רעל, rol, means to be cast asleep; and it well suits a drunken man to say that he is stupefied. But as the Prophet had spoken of nakedness, I retain the word as it is; and thus the two clauses will correspond—Then thou shalt drink and be uncovered

Then follows the explanation—Poured forth 4343     The verb [תסוב], loosely expressed here, is very correctly rendered by Henderson “shall come round;” and this is the idea which Calvin suggests in the following explanation.—Ed. into thee shall be the cup of Jehovah’s right hand; that is, “the Lord shall in his time be thy cup-bearer; as thou hast inebriated many nations, and under the pretense of friendship hast defrauded those who, being bound to thee by treaties, have been ruined; so the Lord will now recompense thee with the reward which thou hast deserved: As thou hast been a cup-bearer to others, so the Lord will now become thy cup-bearer, and will inebriate thee, but after another manner.” We indeed know what the Scripture everywhere means by the cup of God’s hand—even vengeance of every kind. God strikes some with giddiness and precipitates them, when deprived of all humanity, into a state of madness; others he infatuates by insensibility; some he deprives of all understanding, so that they perceive nothing aright; against others he rouses up enemies, who treat them with cruelty. Hence the Lord is said to extend his cup to the wicked whenever he takes vengeance on them.

Therefore he adds—the reproach of spewing shall be on thy glory. The word קיקלון, kikolun, is a compound. 4444     It is commonly derived from [קי], a contraction of [קיא], a vomit or spewing, and [קלוז], shame. Compounds are no common things in Hebrew; and these are found separate in nine MSS. The Septuagint have ἀτιμια, reproach only; and the Vulgate, “vomitus ignominiae—the spewing of shame.” Newcome renders it “foul shame,” and Henderson “great ignominy,” regarding it as a reduplicate noun for [קלקלוז]. But as drunkenness is the metaphor used, “shameful spewing,” or the spewing of shame or of reproach is most suitable to the passage.—Ed. We have already seen that קלוכ, kolun, is shame; and now he speaks of shameful spewing. And this may be referred to the king of Babylon—that he himself would shamefully spew out what he had before intemperately swallowed down; or it might be fitly applied to his enemies—that they would spew in the face of the king of Babylon.

The end of which Habakkuk speaks, awaits all tyrants, who disturb the world by their cupidity. Ambition does indeed so infatuate them, that they neither spare human blood, nor hesitate to endanger their nearest and most friendly associates. Since then an insatiable thirst for glory thus inflames them, the Prophet justly allots to them this reward—that they shall receive filthy and shameful spewing instead of that glory, in seeking which they observed no limits. Let us now proceed -

We may hence easily learn, that the Prophet has not been speaking of drunkenness, but that his discourse, as we have explained, was metaphorical; for here follows a reason, why he had denounced such a punishment on the king of Babylon, and that was, because he had exercised violence, not only against all nations indiscriminately, but also against the chosen people of God. He had before only set forth in general the cruelty with which the king of Babylon had destroyed many nations; but he now speaks distinctly of the Jews, in order to show that God would in a peculiar manner be the avenger of that cruelty which the Chaldeans had employed towards the Jews, because the Lord had taken that people under his own protection. Since then the king of Babylon had assailed the children of God, who had been adopted by him, and whose defender he was, he denounces upon him here a special punishment. We thus see that this discourse is properly addressed to the Jews; for he intended to bring them some consolation in their extreme evils, so that they might strengthen their patience; for they were thereby made to see that the wrongs done to them were come to a reckoning before God.

By Libanus then we are to understand either Judea or the temple; for Libanus, as it is well known, was not far from the temple; and it is elsewhere found in the same sense. But if any extends this to the land of Judea, the meaning will be the same; there will be but little or no difference as to the subject that is handled. Because the violence then of Libanus shall overwhelm thee

Then come the words, the pillaging of beasts. Interpreters think that the Chaldeans and Assyrians are here called בהמות, bemutt, beasts, as they had been savage and cruel, like wild beasts, in laying waste Judea; but I rather understand by the beasts of Libanus those which inhabited that forest. The Prophet exaggerates the cruelty of the king of Babylon by this consideration, that he had been an enemy to brute beasts; and I consider the pronoun relative אשר, asher, which, to be understood before the verb יחיתן, ichiten, which may be taken to mean, to tear, or to frighten, Some give this rendering, “The plundering of beasts shall tear them;” as though he had said, “The Babylonians are indeed like savage beasts, but they shall be torn by their own plundering:” but another sense will be more suitable that the plundering of beasts, which terrified them, shall overwhelm thee; for the same verb, יבס, icas, shall cover or overwhelm the king of Babylon, is to be repeated here. He adds at last the clause, which was explained yesterday. We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet to be—that the king of Babylon would be justly plundered, because he had destroyed the holy land and iniquitously attacked God’s chosen people, and had also carried on his depredations through almost the whole of the Eastern world. 4545     It is commonly agreed, that Libanus here means either the temple or the land of Judah; most probably the last, according to the opinion of Jerome, Drusius, and others. The “violence,” or outrage, of Libanus, means the violence done to it, as Newcome and others render the clause. The next line is more difficult: if the verb be retained as it is, we must either adopt what Calvin has proposed, and after him Drusius, or take the [ו] at the beginning as a particle of comparison, according to what is done by Henderson, “As the destruction of beasts terrifieth them.” But to preserve the parallelism of the two lines, it would be better to adopt the correction of all the early versions, Sept. Arab. Syr. and also of the Chald. par.; which substitute [ד] for [ז] and make the verb to be [יחיתד]: and there are two MSS. which have [יחת]. In this case the rendering would be the following—
   Because the violence done to Libanus shall overwhelm thee;
And the depredation done to the beasts shall rend thee;
On account of the blood of men, and of violence to the land,
To the city, and to all who dwelt in it.

   The reason men are called “beasts” is because Libanus is mentioned which was inhabited by beasts; and in the two following lines the statement is more clear, and according to the order usually observed, “the depredation done to beasts” is “the blood of men;” and “the violence to Libanus” is “violence to the land.” And then, as it is often the case in the Prophets, there is an addition made to the two last lines, “To the city,” etc.— Ed.
It now follows—

The Prophet now advances farther, and shows that whatever he had predicted of the future ruin of Babylon and of its monarchy, proceeded from the true God, from the God of Israel: for it would not have been sufficient to hold, that some deity existed in heaven, who ruled human affairs, so that it could not be, but that tyrants would have to suffer punishment for their cruelty. We indeed know that such sayings as these were everywhere common among heathen nations—that justice sits with Jupiter—that there is a Nemesis—that there is Divine vengeance. Since then such a conviction had ever been imprinted on the hearts of men, it would have been a frigid and almost an empty doctrine, had not the Prophet introduced the God of Israel. This is the reason why he now derides all idols, and claims for God the government of the whole world, and clearly shows that he speaks of the Jews, because they worshipped no imaginary gods, as the heathen nations, but plainly understood him to be the creator of heaven and earth, who revealed himself to Abraham, who gave his law by the hand of Moses. We now perceive the Prophet’s design.

As then the king of Babylon did himself worship his own gods, the Prophet dissipates that vain confidence, by which he might be deceived and deceive others. Hence he says, What avails the graven image? He speaks here contemptuously of images formed by men’s hands. And he adds a reason, because the maker has graven it, he says. Interpreters give a sense that is very jejune, as though the Prophet had said, “What avails a graven image, when it is graven or melted by its artificer?” But the Prophet shows here the reason why the worship of idols is useless, and that is, because these gods are made of dead materials. And then he says, “What deity can the artificer produce?” We hence see that a reason is given in these words, and therefore we may more clearly render them thus—“What avails the graven image, when the framer has graven it?” that is, since the graven image has its origin from the hand and skill of man, what can it avail? He then adds, he has formed a molten image; that is, though the artificer has given form to the metal, or to the wood, or to the stone, yet he could not have changed its nature. He has indeed given it a certain external appearance; but were any one to ask what it is, the answer would surely be, “It is a graven image.” Since then its nature is not changed by the work of man, it evidently appears, how stupid and mad must all those be who put their trust in graven images. 4646     Rightly to understand this verse, it is necessary to remember that the graven and the molten image was the same; it was first graven and then covered with some metal, either of gold or of silver. See Note on Micah 1:7, vol. 3, p. 167.
   This verse, as given in our version and in that of Newcome, presents hardly a meaning; and Henderson is not justified in the peculiar sense he gives to the particle [כי], taking it as a relative pronoun. The rendering of Calvin gives an evident and a striking sense. The verse may be thus literally rendered—

   18. What avails the graven image?—
For its graver has formed it,—
The molten image and the teacher of falsehood?
For trust in it does the former of its form,
After having made dumb idols.

   The last line show that the singular number before used is to be taken in a collective sense: and the preposition [ל] before an infinitive has sometimes the meaning of “after.” See Exodus 19:1, “When he has made,” etc., is the rendering of Grotius.—Ed.

He then adds, and a teacher of falsehood. He added this clause, because men previously entertain false notions, and dare not to form a judgement on the matter itself. For, how comes it that a piece of wood or a stone is called a god? Had any one asked the sages at Rome or at Athens, or in other cities, who thought all other nations barbarous, What is that? on seeing a Jupiter made of silver; or of wood, or of stone, the answer would have been, “It is Jupiter, it is God.” But how could this be? It is a stone, a piece of wood, or of silver. They would yet have asserted that it was God. Whence came this madness? Even from this, because men were bewitched, so that seeing they saw not; they wilfully closed their eyes, and resolved to be blind, being unwilling to understand. This is the reason why the Prophet, by way of anticipation, says, the artificer has formed —what has he formed? a graven image and a teacher of falsehood. The material remains the same, but a false notion prevails, for men think idols to be gods. How come they to think so? It is no doubt the teaching of falsehood, a mere illusion. He then confirms the same thing; the fashioner, or the artificer, he says, trusts in his own work, or in what he has formed. How is this? Must they not be void of sense and reason who trust in lifeless things? “The workman,” as Isaiah says, “will take his instruments, will form an idol, and then he will bow the knee, and call it his god; yet it is the work of his own hands.” What! art not thou thyself a god? thou knowest thine own frailty, and yet thou createst new gods! Even in this manner does the Prophet confirm what he had previously said, that men are extremely stupid, nay, that they are seized with monstrous sottishness, when they ascribe a kind of deity to wood, or to a stone, or to metal. How so? because they are, he says, false imaginations.

And he adds, that he may make dumb idols. He again repeats what he had said,—that the nature of the material is not changed by men’s workmanship, when they form to themselves gods either from wood or from stone. How so? because they cannot speak. To the same purpose is what immediately follows; the next verse must therefore be added. We shall afterwards say something more on the general subject.

He pursues, as I have said, the same subject, and sharply inveighs against the sottishness of men, that they call on wood and stone, as though there were some hidden power in them. They say to the wood, Awake; for they implored help from their idols. Shall it teach? Some render it thus as a question; but I take it in a simpler form, “It will teach;” that is, “It is a wonder that ye are so wilfully foolish; for were God to send to you no Prophet, were there no one to instruct you, yet the wood and the stone would be sufficient teachers to you: ask your idols, that is, ascertain rightly what is in them. Doubtless, the god that is made of wood or of stone, sufficiently declares by his silence that he is no god. For there is no motion in wood and stone. Where there is no vigor and no life, is it not right to feel assured, that there is no deity? There are, indeed, many creatures endued with feeling and motion; but the God who gives power, and motion, and feeling to the whole world, and to all its parts, does he not surpass in these respects all his creatures? Since, then, wood and stone are silent, they are teachers sufficient for you, provided ye be apt scholars.”

We hence see how the Prophet in this way amplifies the insensibility of men; for they did not perceive what was quite manifest. The design of what follows is the same. Behold, it is covered over with gold and silver; that is, it is made splendid: for idolaters think that their gods are better when adorned with gold and silver; but yet there is no breath in the midst of them. “Look,” he says, “within; look within, and ye shall see that they are dead.” 4747     With the exception of the clause, “It will teach,” there is a general agreement in the mode of rendering this verse. “Shall it teach,” is Newcome’s version. Henderson considers it to be ironical, “It teach!” Grotius agrees with Calvin, “It will itself teach thee,” that is, that it is deaf, and no god. I regard the verse as capable of a simpler and more literal rendering, as follows:
   19. Woe to him who saith to the wood, “Awake, Arise;”
To the dumb stone, “It will teach:”
Behold, it is covered with gold and silver!
Yet there is no breath within it.

   The two verbs, “Awake, Arise,” stand connected with “wood,” and they are so given in the Septuagint; and there is a striking contrast between the dumb stone and teaching.—Ed.
The rest we shall dilate on to-morrow.

After having taught us that the Babylonians were deceived in expecting any help from their idols, and were deluded by Satan, Habakkuk now recalls the attention of the faithful to the only true God; for it would not have been enough to take away from the Babylonians the false confidence which they had in their idols, except the Israelites, on the other hand, trusting in the grace of the true God, were fully persuaded that God was on their side, as he had taken them under his protection.

And we ought carefully to observe this order; for we see that many boldly deride all the superstitions which prevail in the world, and at the same time daringly and with cyclopic fury despise the true God. How many are at this day either Epicureans or Lucianians, who prate jestingly and scoffingly against the superstitions of the papacy, but in the meantime they are not influenced by any fear of God? If, however, we are to choose one of two evils, superstition is more tolerable than that gross impiety which obliterates every thought of a God. It is indeed true, that the more the superstitious toil in their delusions, the more they provoke God’s wrath against them; for they transfer his glory to dead things; but yet they retain this principle—that honor and worship are due to God: but the profane, in whom there is no religion whatever, not only change God from what he is, but also strive as far as they can to reduce him to nothing. Hence I have said, that the order which the Prophet observes here ought to be maintained. For, after having overturned the false illusions of the devil, by which he deludes the superstitious, by setting before them a mere shadow in the place of the true God, he now sets up the true worship of the only true God. Then the Prophet has hitherto been endeavoring to subvert superstitions, but he now builds up: for except God, when idols are pulled down, ascends his own tribunal, and shines there as supreme according to his right, it would be better, at least it would be more tolerable, as I have said, that superstitions should be left entire.

He now says that God is in his own temple or palace: this word is often taken for heaven, but is applied to the sanctuary. Many consider that the reference is made to heaven; as though the Prophet had said, that the true God, who is the artificer and creator of heaven and earth, is not to be seen in a visible form, nor covered over with gold and silver, nor represented by wood or stone; but that he rules in heaven, and fills heaven with his infinite glory and this view is by no means unsuitable. But as he here specially addresses the Jews, it seems to me more probable that he speaks of the temple, where God then designed to be worshipped, and sacrifices to be offered to him for it would not have been sufficient to set God, the creator of heaven and earth, in opposition to the superstitions of all the nations; but it was also necessary to introduce the contrast between the God of Israel and all those gods who then had obtained a name and reputation in the world, as they had been formed by the will of men. The God of Israel was indeed the creator of heaven and earth; but he had made himself known by his law, he had revealed himself to men, so that his majesty was not hidden; for when we speak of God, we are lost except he comes to us, and in a manner exhibits himself to us; for the capacity of our understanding is not so great that it can penetrate above all heavens. Hence the majesty of God is in itself incomprehensible to us; but he makes himself known by his works and by his word. Now as the Israelites worshipped, and surely knew that they worshipped the only true God, the Prophet here rightly confirms them in the hope they derived from the teaching of the law—that God was their Father, inasmuch as he had adopted them. If any prefer to take the word for heaven, I do not object; and that meaning, as I have said, is not unsuitable. But as the Prophet seems to me to have a special vies to his own people, to whom he was appointed a teacher; it is more probable that the word, temple or palace, is here to be understood of the sanctuary.

If any raises the objection that there is then no difference between the God of Israel and the gods of the Gentiles, for he also dwells in an earthly habitation, the answer is obviously this—that though God is said to dwell between the cherubim, he has not been represented by an image, as though he had anything like to wood or stone, or possessed any likeness to human bodies. All these delusions were banished from the Temple; for he commanded his worshipers to look up to heaven. There was an intervening veil, that the people might understand that they could not otherwise come to God than through that celestial model, and the types of which they saw in the altar of incense, in the altar on which they sacrificed, in the table of the shewbread, in short, in all other services of the Temple. And there is another difference to be noticed; for though there was there the golden altar, though there was there the ark of the covenant, and the altar on which the victims were immolated, yet inscribed on all these typical representations was the word of God, by which alone true religion was to be distinguished from all false inventions. For whatever specious appearance of reason may therefore be in fictitious modes of worship, men have no authority to render them lawful; but so much reverence is due to the only true word of God, that it ought to overrule all other reasons. And besides, this word, as I have hinted already, did not retain the Jews in these delusions, but elevated their minds to heaven. We now then see that there was a wide difference between the Temple which was at Jerusalem, and the temples which the superstitious had then built for themselves throughout the world; for God ruled over the Jews, so that they could not have been deluded. And at this day, where the word of God shines among us, we can follow it with safety. And, further, God did spiritually draw to himself his own servants, though he employed, on account of their ignorance, certain outward elements. Hence the Prophet justly says, that God was in his palace or his Temple; for the Israelites knew of a certainty that they did not worship a fictitious God, since in his law he had revealed himself to them, and had chosen the sanctuary, where he intended to be worshipped in a typical, and yet in a spiritual manner.

He then adds, Let all the earth be silent before him. Habakkuk, no doubt, commends the power of God, that the Israelites might proceed with alacrity in their religious course, knowing it to be a sufficient security to be under the protection of the only true God, and that they might not seek after the superstitions of the nations, nor be carried here and there, as it often happens, by vain desires. Keep silence, then, he says, let all the earth. He shows that though the Israelites might be far inferior to the Babylonians and other nations, and be far unequal to them in strength, military art, forces, and, in short, in all things of this kind, yet they would be always safe under the guardianship of God; for the Lord was able to control whatever power there might be in the world.

We now see what the Prophet had in view: for he does not here simply exhort all people to worship God, but shows, that though men may grow mad against him, he yet can easily by his hand subjugate them; for after all the tumults made by kings and their people, the Lord can, by one breath of his mouth, dissipate all their attempts, however furious they may be. This, then, is the silence of which the Prophet now speaks. But there is another kind of silence, and that is, when we willingly submit to God; for silence in this respect is nothing else but submission: and we submit to God, when we bring not our own inventions and imaginations, but suffer ourselves to be taught by his word. We also submit to him, when we murmur not against his power or his judgements, when we humble ourselves under his powerful hand, and do not fiercely resist him, as those do who indulge their own lusts. This is indeed, as I have said, a voluntary submission: but the Prophet here shows that there is power in God to lay prostrate the whole world, and to tread it under his feet, whenever it may please him; so that the faithful have nothing to fear, for they know that their salvation is secured; for though the whole world were leagued against them, it yet cannot resist God. Now follows a prayer:—

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