As with Nahum, nothing is known of Habakkuk and much is conjectured. His time of prophecy is placed tentatively at about 600 BCE, but this guess is unsupported by anything other than additional guesses. Habakkuk himself is vague as to whom and what he is prophesying about at times, such as we will see later in this chapter. Also his dramatic language is often difficult to translate. As a result, I find much of this chapter generally mistranslated and misinterpreted. I will explain as we proceed.
הַמַּשָּׂא אֲשֶׁר חָזָה חֲבַקּוּק הַנָּבִיא׃ 1:1
Haba. 1:1 The burden that Habakkuk, the prophet, perceived:
עַד־אָנָה יְהוָה שִׁוַּעְתִּי וְלֹא תִשְׁמָע אֶזְעַק אֵלֶיךָ חָמָס וְלֹא תֹושִׁיעַ׃ 1:2
Haba. 1:2 How long, Lord, have I cried out and You would not hear,
would cry out to You of violence and You would not deliver?
לָמָּה תַרְאֵנִי אָוֶן וְעָמָל תַּבִּיט וְשֹׁד וְחָמָס לְנֶגְדִּי וַיְהִי רִיב וּמָדֹון יִשָּׂא׃ 1:3
Haba. 1:3 Why would You have me view iniquity and regard mischief,
and havoc, and cruelty before me,
that strife must occur and contention arise?
Habakkuk asks two questions of God. He wants to know why God doesn’t respond to his cries of outrage and why evil exists.
עַל־כֵּן תָּפוּג תֹּורָה וְלֹא־יֵצֵא לָנֶצַח מִשְׁפָּט כִּי רָשָׁע מַכְתִּיר אֶת־הַצַּדִּיק עַל־כֵּן יֵצֵא מִשְׁפָּט מְעֻקָּל׃ 1:4
Haba. 1:4 Because of this, Torah can be ignored,
that justice does not ever result.
When wickedness encircles righteousness,
then distorted justice results.
Then he describes the dreadful result he witnesses. The injustice of it all! However, I have to add an observation about this verse, particularly about something in the first English line. There are (at least) two ways to view the phrase “Torah can be ignored.” The more obvious is that it is Habakkuk’s own conclusion. This might mean that he is justified to ignore Torah. But an alternative interpretation can also be derived. I can conceive that Habakkuk is, in a way, blaming God for the people’s ignoring of the Torah. In other words, he is saying that because the people see the prevalence of injustice, they are ignoring the Torah. It looks like a vicious circle to him: Injustice invites ignoring and ignoring contributes to injustice. I’m not too crazy about either interpretation and would welcome a third, more kind and inspiring, alternative.
I imagine it can all be blamed on God’s gift of free will to us humans. We can choose to ignore God, Torah, and any other goodness in the face of rampant injustice. Or we can choose to have faith in the Lord of the universe and wait patiently for His justice to be obvious to us. Or we can also choose to see that the world is indeed becoming more and more just. Less poverty, slavery, hunger, oppression, sickness as the centuries pass! All true! If we believe statistics, that is what’s happening in the world. Of course it didn’t look that way in biblical times, or even up to the middle ages, but it has for the last four centuries. All we have to do is look with wide open eyes at the trend.
רְאוּ בַגֹּויִם וְהַבִּיטוּ וְהִתַּמְּהוּ תְּמָהוּ כִּי־פֹעַל פֹּעֵל בִּימֵיכֶם לֹא תַאֲמִינוּ כִּי יְסֻפָּר׃ 1:5
Haba. 1:5 Look at the nations and consider
and be utterly amazed,
for a work is being wrought in your time,
you would not believe,
though it would be recounted.
This is the first of the really vague verses. Who is the speaker here? And who is the “your” (masculine plural) in the third line? Most translators and commentators attribute these words to the Lord, as He answers Habakkuk. I have a problem with this interpretation, though: All the second-person pronouns (two of them) and their accompanying verbs (four of them) are plural. So the Lord, if He is the Speaker, is not addressing Habakkuk. If He is speaking, he is addressing the people, whoever they are. But I believe it is Habakkuk who, having temporarily terminated his tirade, is addressing his comments as an aside to the populous, expressing his hope and expectation that the Lord will now act.
כִּי־הִנְנִי מֵקִים אֶת־הַכַּשְׂדִּים הַגֹּוי הַמַּר וְהַנִּמְהָר הַהֹולֵךְ לְמֶרְחֲבֵי־אֶרֶץ לָרֶשֶׁת מִשְׁכָּנֹות לֹּא־לֹו׃ 1:6
Haba. 1:6 For behold I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and impetuous nation,
marching to the expanses of the earth
to seize dwelling places not belonging to it.
Either this begins the Lord’s answer, or Habakkuk is continuing his tirade after his digression in the previous verse. My questions at this point are, if it’s the Lord, why is He raising up the Chaldeans? To destroy, or merely to use them as an example? If it’s Habakkuk, is he raising up the Chaldeans as the most evil of examples? We’ll hopefully come up with satisfactory answers soon.
אָיֹם וְנֹורָא הוּא מִמֶּנּוּ מִשְׁפָּטֹו וּשְׂאֵתֹו יֵצֵא׃ 1:7
Haba. 1:7 It is terrible and dreadful;
its justice, and its hubris, comes forth from it.
וְקַלּוּ מִנְּמֵרִים סוּסָיו וְחַדּוּ מִזְּאֵבֵי עֶרֶב וּפָשׁוּ פָּרָשָׁיו וּפָרָשָׁיו מֵרָחֹוק יָבֹאוּ יָעֻפוּ כְּנֶשֶׁר חָשׁ לֶאֱכֹול׃ 1:8
Haba. 1:8 And its horses may be swifter than leopards,
and more alert than the wolves of the night,
and its horsemen may be spread about.
Though its horsemen may have come from a distance,
they can fly like an eagle hasty to feed.
כֻּלֹּה לְחָמָס יָבֹוא מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם קָדִימָה וַיֶּאֱסֹף כַּחֹול שֶׁבִי׃ 1:9
Haba. 1:9 All of it can come for violence,
each of their faces set to the east wind,
and they can gather captives like sand.
וְהוּא בַּמְּלָכִים יִתְקַלָּס וְרֹזְנִים מִשְׂחָק לֹו הוּא לְכָל־מִבְצָר יִשְׂחָק וַיִּצְבֹּר עָפָר וַיִּלְכְּדָהּ׃ 1:10
Haba. 1:10 And it can scoff at kings,
and commanders can be a derision to it;
it can make sport toward every fortress,
as it heaps earth and seizes it.
אָז חָלַף רוּחַ וַיַּעֲבֹר וְאָשֵׁם זוּ כֹחֹו לֵאלֹהֹו׃ 1:11
Haba. 1:11 Then wind transgresses and passes over,
and may offend one whose strength belongs to his God.
The word I translate as wind seems to be universally translated as spirit. But that translation doesn’t fit this context. So I imagine it’s Habakkuk’s way of referring to the Chaldean invaders in v. 1:9 whose faces are set to the east wind. In other words, they come as the wind, transgress, and leave as the wind. And the one who is offended by this is Habakkuk.
הֲלֹוא אַתָּה מִקֶּדֶם יְהוָה אֱלֹהַי קְדֹשִׁי לֹא נָמוּת יְהוָה לְמִשְׁפָּט שַׂמְתֹּו וְצוּר לְהֹוכִיחַ יְסַדְתֹּו׃ 1:12
Haba. 1:12 Are You not from earliest time, O Lord, my God, my Holy One?
We will not die.
Lord, for judgment, You ordain it,
and Rock, for correction You establish it.
Here, I believe, we have the answer to my questions posed after v. 1:6. With this verse, if we are to understand Habakkuk’s continuity in verse, we may see that it has been he speaking till now, and he has been addressing the Lord all along, except for v. 1:5. The Lord has not answered him yet.
טְהֹור עֵינַיִם מֵרְאֹות רָע וְהַבִּיט אֶל־עָמָל לֹא תוּכָל לָמָּה תַבִּיט בֹּוגְדִים תַּחֲרִישׁ בְּבַלַּע רָשָׁע צַדִּיק 1:13 מִמֶּנּוּ׃
Haba. 1:13 Too pure of “eyes” to see evil
or to look at mischief You cannot overcome?
Why would You regard dealers in treachery,
remain silent when the wicked one swallows up a more righteous one than he,
וַתַּעֲשֶׂה אָדָם כִּדְגֵי הַיָּם כְּרֶמֶשׂ לֹא־מֹשֵׁל בֹּו׃ 1:14
Haba. 1:14 and You made humankind as the fish of the sea,
as a creeping thing, without a Ruler with it?
כֻּלֹּה בְּחַכָּה הֵעֲלָה יְגֹרֵהוּ בְחֶרְמֹו וְיַאַסְפֵהוּ בְּמִכְמַרְתֹּו עַל־כֵּן יִשְׂמַח וְיָגִיל׃ 1:15
Haba. 1:15 Every one takes it up with a hook,
would carry it away in his net
and gather it up in his fishing net;
for this he would rejoice and exult?
עַל־כֵּן יְזַבֵּחַ לְחֶרְמֹו וִיקַטֵּר לְמִכְמַרְתֹּו כִּי בָהֵמָּה שָׁמֵן חֶלְקֹו וּמַאֲכָלֹו בְּרִאָה׃ 1:16
Haba. 1:16 So he can sacrifice to his net
and offer incense to his fishing net,
as his portion is robust
and his food plentiful because of them?
הַעַל כֵּן יָרִיק חֶרְמוֹ וְתָמִיד לַהֲרֹג גּוֹיִם לֹא יַחְמוֹל׃ 1:17
Haba. 1:17 Accordingly therefore would he slacken his net,
or have no compassion, to always slay nations?
As I interpret this chapter, it has been Habakkuk speaking throughout. He is crying out against the evil and injustice in the world and questioning why God doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, bringing up the Chaldeans as his prime example. This is different from the classic interpretation of this chapter as a dialogue between Habakkuk and the Lord, with God responding in vss. 1:5 to 1:11. The way I see things, so far we have no prophecies of good or evil to either the Judeans or the Chaldeans. Only Habakkuk’s crying out against the evil that God “permits.”
[Return to Habakkuk Chapters] [Prev.: Nahu. 3] [Next: Haba. 2]