Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

The prophet identifies himself by name only. He mentions nothing about his lineage or his location. Neither does he say at the beginning of his prophecy to whom this word is addressed. He simply opens it with the statement, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.”

Chapter 1

(Verses 1 through 4) The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. O LORD, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear! Even cry unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save! Why dost Thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.


Apparently, Habakkuk had been contemplating the situation that often exists in this world, and had been praying the LORD to change it. He saw that the wicked often has the upper hand in this life, and he wanted that changed so that the righteous would have the advantage. Certainly, we can all sympathize with him. But though the LORD has declared that He will indeed justify the righteous, and punish the wicked, that is not always done in the present world. Glory for the righteous is reserved for the world to come, while the wicked are often permitted to prosper in the present life. See Luke 16:19-31. It seems that the prophet had become somewhat impatient, as we often do, because he had not received answer to his prayer. So he asks the LORD, how long will it be before He will hear his prayer, and save the righteous out of the clutches of the wicked. He wants to know why the LORD shows him all of this iniquity and grievance. He complains that there are those who stir up strife and contention. He complains that the law loses its force, because righteous judgment is not sent forth against the wicked. In this condition the wicked completely surround the righteous, and the only judgment that is sent forth is wrong judgment. This sounds very much like the complaints that we often hear today. People often forget that the LORD still has all things under His control, and that at His appointed time He will set all matters straight.


(Verses 5 through 11) Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves; and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. And they shall scoff at the kings, and princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it. Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.


The address of this text is to those who are “among the heathen.” This could actually mean the heathen, or it could mean the Israelites who had already been scattered among the heathen. And it probably does mean the latter. Because, as he is introducing the Chaldeans, or Babylonians, it is evident that Israel has already been carried away captive by the Assyrians. This would leave the next judgment to be the Babylonians as they were sent against Judah and Jerusalem . The LORD declares that, in the days of those thus addressed He will work a work, which they will not believe, even if someone should tell them of it. In Acts 13:40-41, the Apostle Paul warned the people to whom he was speaking with a quotation very similar to this. But as the prophet uses it here, it refers to an altogether different matter from that of which the apostle spoke. Here it refers to the fact that God will “raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.” The LORD had determined to send them against Judah to overcome them, take their dwelling places, and carry them away captive to Babylon . He then sets forth to describe them. “They are terrible and dreadful: and their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.” They are such terrible and dreadful fighters that they will have no need of anyone to help them. Even their horses are swifter than leopards, and more fierce than evening wolves. Their horsemen will come from far away, but there shall be so many of them that they will spread over the whole land. And they shall come so swiftly that it will be as an eagle flies to where his food is located. Their entire purpose in coming is for violence. When one examines the location of Judah , he can see that an east wind would be coming directly off the desert, and would therefore “sup up,” or dry out all the moisture that might be present. Just so, these will completely devastate the land. And they shall gather up the captives as easily as they might dip up the sand. They will have no respect for either kings or princes: and neither will the fortifications be any hindrance to them. They will just “heap dust,” or build ramps of earth, and take the fort. Then their king will make a fatal mistake. He has been sent by the LORD as a judgment on Judah ; but in his mind he will ascribe the power that has enabled him to do these valiant things to his god. And the LORD will not share His glory with idols.


(Verses 12 through 17) Art Thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, Thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O Mighty God, Thou hast established them for correction. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous. Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?


The prophet now addresses the LORD, and, in his questions and statements, he sets forth the fact that, although the Chaldean king will ascribe the power of his conquest to his idol god, the LORD will finally bring him to judgment for so doing. Sometimes the strongest declaration of a fact is made by asking a question concerning it. Habakkuk’s question to the LORD is, “Art not Thou from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One?” The obvious answer is an affirmative. The LORD is indeed eternal. Since He is, the prophet is assured that “we shall not die.” That is, we shall not perish forever. The LORD has only ordained this great enemy for judgment, and established him for correction. When His purpose has been accomplished, He will deliver His people. The LORD is too pure to permit evil and iniquity to continue forever. So the prophet asks, “Wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” Although the LORD has permitted this to be done to chastise and correct His people, He will not suffer it to continue forever. To do so would make men no better than the fishes of the sea, or the creeping things of the earth, which have no laws, and no one to enforce them, if they did have such. “They (that is men) take up all of them with the angle, they catch them with their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad.” Men go out and catch the fish with a hook, with a net, or with a drag, and have no remorse about it. Instead they rejoice and are glad. That is the same way evil men would be concerning the righteous, if the LORD did not intervene on behalf of the righteous. For the Babylonian king to ascribe the glory of his conquest to his idol is in perfect keeping with the action of the fishermen the prophet has just described. Because they have with their net and their drag caught enough meat to keep themselves supplied with food, they make gods of them, and offer sacrifice and incense to them. They have no knowledge that the LORD is the One Who has provided for them. Had the LORD not brought the fish into the net and the drag, there would have been nothing for them to catch. Just as the fishermen are not going to empty out their nets, and quit trying to catch the fish, so these wicked men will not voluntarily abandon their idols, and they will not quit trying to destroy other nations.

Chapter 2

(Verses 1 through 4) I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it: because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.


Now Habakkuk likens himself to a watchman, or lookout on a military post. He will go to his post, and watch carefully that he may know what the LORD will say to him concerning the questions he has raised, and what he can say to the LORD when He does answer. The first thing the LORD says to him is, “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, [tablets] that he may run that readeth it.” Many scholars have said that the last clause of this statement should read, “that he that runneth may read it.” If we take the KJV reading, it seems that the writing is to be plain enough that none will have to spend a lot of time trying to understand the message, but can run immediately to spread the news. If, on the other hand, we take the alternate reading, it appears that it is to be written so plainly that even one running past it will still be able to read it, without stopping to examine it closely. In either case it is to be clearly written, so that the message can be quickly understood, and spread to others. The caution is that this is not something that must take place immediately, but it is to be at an already appointed time. When its time comes, “it shall speak, and not lie.” That is, when the LORD’S appointed time has come, it will be fulfilled without fail. Then He gives a caution, “Though it tarry, wait for it.” That is, do not become impatient, and give up. It may seem to you to tarry, but that is only because of your impatience. He assures us, “It will surely come: it will not tarry.” Now He speaks of the Babylonian king. “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him.” This king who has been so exalted in his own mind that he has ascribed his victory to his idol god, is not thinking according to truth. And the inference is that he will find this out to his sorrow: which he did. “But the just shall live by his faith.” The just, or the righteous, or he that relies upon the LORD, shall live by his faith. The LORD will indeed keep those who trust in Him. Not only was this true in the prophet’s day, but it still true in ours, and will forever stand.


(Verses 5 through 8) Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people. Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! How long? And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay! Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them? Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.


This king who is so exalted in his own mind is also a drunkard, and will not stay at home. Whether or not this means that he was literally a drunkard, he is acting like one. He will not stay at home, but instead is trying to overthrow every nation he can. Just as death and hell are never satisfied, neither is he. He will continue on until the very nations he has so violently overthrown will be able to turn upon him. They will taunt and deride him with a proverb against him, declaring woe unto him for taking all the spoils he has from them. Then they shall make a spoil of him, the very one who has so greatly spoiled them. All of this will be done because of the blood he has shed and the violence he has executed against so many nations


(Verses 9 through 12) Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity.


In this text, “the power of evil” refers more to protection from danger than it does to the power of sin or unrighteousness. The woe here pronounced is against one who has such a desire to raise himself, and his household above the reach of danger from his fellow man that he will through wickedness, violence, and bloodshed, as had this king, attempt to make himself so great. In order to accomplish this he has cut off, or destroyed, many people, and thus sinned against his own soul. Even the stones and the timbers of the houses he has destroyed cry out against him. They declare a woe to him that uses bloodshed to build a town, or iniquity to establish a city. Such practices are doomed to failure in the long run.


(Verses 13 and 14) Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.


We sometimes hear well intentioned, but poorly informed persons say that the LORD is so good that He would never cause someone to foolishly work “in the very fire.” That is He would give them more understanding than to do such. They say that He would not cause people to work for mere vanity. But that is not what the Prophet says. He declares that even such as this is of the LORD. And Exodus 4:11 says, “And the LORD said unto him, ‘Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the LORD?’” So, whether or not we ever understand it, we must admit that just as these things are of the LORD, so is the lack of understanding that causes men to work for very vanity, and even to labor in the fire. But the day is coming when this shall no more be. “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Remember that this is still part of the vision of which the LORD spoke in verse 3. So do not give up on it. For “it will surely come, it will not tarry.”


(Verses 15 through 17) Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on his nakedness! Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD’S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory. For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts which made them afraid, because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.


Although this woe will surely apply to anyone who attempts to get his neighbor drunken that he may take advantage of him in any way, it is still particularly directed at the king of the Chaldeans, for his taking unfair advantage of all his neighbors, the nations around him, and destroying them. Because he has done this he will have to drink the cup of the LORD’S right hand, the cup of His fury. And it will sully his glory as does drunkenness that of a man who vomits all over himself. He shall be thrown down with the same violence he has inflicted upon others. All of this will come upon him because of all the violence and bloodshed he has caused among other nations.


(Verses 18 through 20) What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the LORD is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.


Thus we have set before us the contrast between idols, together with their makers and their devotees, and the LORD. Contrast is all there can be. For there can be no comparison. The idol, though it may be beautifully carved, and overlaid with gold and silver, all it can be is a teacher of lies. So there is a woe pronounced upon anyone who is so foolish as to call upon it to awake, or to arise and teach. It can do neither, because it does not even have any breath. And without breath there can be no life. Therefore it can do absolutely nothing.  In contrast to the idol, “the LORD is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him.”


Chapter 3

(Verses 1 and 2) A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.


Remember that in Chapter 2, verse 1, Habakkuk said, “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.” He has now heard what the LORD had to say to him. And He confesses that the first reaction he has to what he has heard is that he was afraid. The LORD has declared a strong judgment against this king for his violence and wickedness. It is such a terrible judgment that even the prophet is afraid because of it. So he prays that the LORD will revive His work, and make it known in the midst of the years. That is, that He will keep His people reminded of His promise to avenge them. Then he prays that even in His wrath the LORD will remember mercy. This is a prayer that befits all of us to pray.


(Verses 3 through 7) God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran . Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. And His brightness was as the light; He had horns coming out of His hand: and there was the hiding of His power. Before Him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at His feet. He stood, and measured the earth: He beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: His ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.


Let no one think that Habakkuk is trying to tell us that the LORD originated in Teman, or on mount Paran . He is simply telling us that he was given a vision in which the LORD came from this area toward Jerusalem . And as He came His glory covered the heavens, and His praise filled the earth. “His brightness was as the light; He had horns coming out of His hand: and there was the hiding of His power.” He is not telling us that the LORD has horns growing from His hand. The horn is always a symbol of power. The fact that His hand held more than one horn is an indication of His multiple powers. In fact, all power in both heaven and earth is in His hand. His greatness is further signified by the fact that the pestilence goes before Him. That is, He has full control of it. His feet show His power in that burning coals go forth before them. One is said to measure, or survey, what is before Him when He pauses to look around at what may be present. In this manner the LORD measured the earth, and as He did this even the nations were driven asunder, or separated, the mountains, though we look upon them as everlasting, were scattered, and the hills did bow before Him. His presence caused much affliction in the tents of Cushan , and the whole land of Midian did tremble. This description is given to show us some measure of His greatness.


(Verses 8 through 16) Was the LORD displeased against the rivers? Was Thine anger against the rivers? Was Thy wrath against the sea that Thou didst ride upon Thine horses and Thy chariots of salvation? Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even Thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers. The mountains saw Thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of Thine arrows they went, and at the shining of Thy glittering spear. Thou didst march through the land in indignation, Thou didst thresh the heathen in anger. Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people, even for salvation with Thine anointed; Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah. Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly. Thou didst walk through the sea with Thine horses, through the heap of great waters. When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when He cometh up unto the people, He will invade them with His troops.


This text is primarily a tribute to the glory and majesty of the LORD. As the prophet looks at the expanse of the earth shown him in this vision, he asks if the LORD was displeased with the rivers, and angry with them, or was He wrathful against the sea. Was this what caused Him to “ride upon Thine horses and Thy chariots of salvation.” This seems to be asked simply to draw attention to the fact that this was not His reason for going forth as He did. The answer is given a little later. Now He returns to some more things that show the greatness and the wonderful power of the LORD. As a warrior, He made His bow “quite naked.” That is, He did not conceal it, but let it be seen in operation. This bow is His word. And even the tribes, or nations, take oaths to the fact that He has made use of it. He has, with it, cleft the earth, and made rivers in those clefts. The mountains saw Him, and were so afraid that they trembled, while the overflowing waters passed by. Even the deep, or outer space, uttered its voice, and lifted up its hands in worship to Him. The sun and the moon stood still in their courses, and only went at the light of His arrows and the glittering of His spear. These are some of the things that set forth His glory. In verses 12 through 15,  Habakkuk lets us know that The LORD’S coming forth, and riding through on His horses and chariots of salvation were not occasioned by His anger against the rivers, or His wrath against the sea, but for a different purpose. He did march through the land in indignation, but it was that He might thresh the heathen. His going forth was for the salvation of His anointed people, Israel . In so doing, He wounded the head of the house of the wicked, “by discovering the foundation unto the neck.” “Thou didst strike through with the staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly. Thou didst walk through the sea with Thine horses, through the heap of waters.” Although Habakkuk speaks of all of this as already having been done, it was all in the future at the time of its being declared. But that is not at all unusual with the LORD’S prophecies, because they are as sure when spoken as if they were already fulfilled. Nothing can hinder His purpose. When he speaks of the wounding of the head of evil, some may think this to intend the battle when Satan wounded the heel of the Christ, and the Christ wounded his head. And it may have a slight reference to that. But its principal reference is to the destruction of the kingdom of Babylon , when the Medes and Persians overran it. The prophet says that when he heard this, he was filled with fear, and all his strength was taken away, as if even his bones were rotten. He was also filled with great anticipation that he might rest in the day of trouble. Even if the day of deliverance was to be after his time of life in this world, he knew that it would come for his people, “when He cometh up unto the people, He will invade them (the enemy) with His troops.


(Verses 17 through 19) Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet will I rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.


Thus Habakkuk declares that even if every earthly source of food be cut off, so that there is neither fruit, meat, nor vegetable left for him to eat, he will still rejoice in the LORD, Who is the God of his salvation, and is his strength. The LORD will make him as sure footed as the deer that he may go even on high places without stumbling. This is the effect true faith will have upon one, when the LORD assures him that “in the day of trouble” he will be preserved. That was the message given to Habakkuk. And that is the message given to everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That is what keeps the Christian going on in the face of all adversity. Inasmuch as this was written as a poem to be sung in the worship of the LORD, Habakkuk directs it “To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.”


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