עַל־מִשְׁמַרְתִּי אֶעֱמֹדָה וְאֶתְיַצְּבָה עַל־מָצוֹר וַאֲצַפֶּה לִרְאוֹת מַה־יְדַבֶּר־בִּי וּמָה אָשִׁיב עַל־תּוֹכַחְתִּי׃ 2:1
Haba. 2:1 I would stand on my watch and set myself on a rampart,
and observe to see what He would speak because of me,
and how I would respond to my chastisement.
Habakkuk appears to expect the Lord to rebuke him for his impertinence. Amazingly, it doesn’t happen. Incidentally, because of the past tense expressed in the next verse, I suspect that Habakkuk did not actually stand watch; he means it figuratively. That’s why I translated his four first-person verbs (I would stand, would set, would observe, and would respond) in their hypothetical form.
וַיַּעֲנֵנִי יְהוָה וַיֹּאמֶר כְּתוֹב חָזוֹן וּבָאֵר עַל־הַלֻּחוֹת לְמַעַן יָרוּץ קוֹרֵא בוֹ׃ 2:2
Haba. 2:2 And the Lord answered me and said,
“Record the vision and make clear on the tablets,
so that one may run swiftly proclaiming by it.”
Now the Lord finally answers Habakkuk. The Lord wants the words written clearly so anyone can read them and shout the message while running fast.
כִּי עוֹד חָזוֹן לַמּוֹעֵד וְיָפֵחַ לַקֵּץ וְלֹא יְכַזֵּב אִם־יִתְמַהְמָהּ חַכֵּה־לוֹ כִּי־בֹא יָבֹא לֹא יְאַחֵר׃ 2:3
Haba. 2:3 “For yet the vision is for the appointed time,
and it hints about the end and will not be a lie.
Though it be delayed, wait for it;
for surely it will come; it will not hesitate.”
The word I translate as hints means to breathe, to blow, to exhale. I doubt that the phrase means the vision breathes about the end, so I did some free translation here, assuming the meaning could also be stretched to whisper. So the vision is not the whole story, apparently; maybe it doesn’t reveal the details.
הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לֹא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה׃ 2:4
Haba. 2:4 “Behold, its soul is swelled, not normal, in it,
but the righteous one in his fidelity shall live.”
The traditional translators have for the first line of the verse something like “... his soul is puffed up and it is not upright in him,...,” assuming that the first and last third-person pronouns in the top line refer to the nation of Chaldeans. But as the word for soul can also be translated as that which breathes, I connected it to the word in the preceding verse above that I translated as hints. Which means to me that the vision hints in an inflated way, yet the righteous one will survive.
וְאַף כִּי־הַיַּיִן בּוֹגֵד גֶּבֶר יָהִיר וְלֹא יִנְוֶה אֲשֶׁר הִרְחִיב כִּשְׁאוֹל נַפְשׁוֹ וְהוּא כַמָּוֶת וְלֹא יִשְׂבָּע וַיֶּאֱסֹף 2:5 אֵלָיו כָּל־הַגּוֹיִם וַיִּקְבֹּץ אֵלָיו כָּל־הָעַמִּים׃
Haba. 2:5 “And so much the more, because the wine is treacherous,
a strong one is arrogant and can not abide,
who enlarges his desire like the netherworld,
and it is like death that can not be satisfied,
so he gathers all the nations to himself,
and collects all the peoples to himself.”
What do you suppose the phrase “like the netherworld and ... like death that can not be satisfied,” could possibly mean? Here’s what I suspect the entire verse means: The warrior (Babylon?), arrogant and so drunk with his own strength that he can’t stay still, has an increasing desire for killing that cannot be satisfied, so he goes on conquering and plundering.
הֲלוֹא־אֵלֶּה כֻלָּם עָלָיו מָשָׁל יִשָּׂאוּ וּמְלִיצָה חִידוֹת לוֹ וְיֹאמַר הוֹי הַמַּרְבֶּה לֹּא־לוֹ עַד־מָתַי וּמַכְבִּיד 2:6 עָלָיו עַבְטִיט׃
Haba. 2:6 “Shall not these -- all of them -- lift up a parable against him
and a satire, riddles about him?
And he says, ‘Alas, he who is increasing not his own
-- for how long!
-- and who is making heavy upon himself the weight of debts!’”
Notice the change in number of the pronouns in this verse from plural to singular. As you may have observed before now, this is not infrequent among the prophets, although less often as abruptly as here.
הֲלוֹא פֶתַע יָקוּמוּ נֹשְׁכֶיךָ וְיִקְצוּ מְזַעְזְעֶיךָ וְהָיִיתָ לִמְשִׁסּוֹת לָמוֹ׃ 2:7
Haba. 2:7 “Shall they not suddenly rise up,
demanding interest of you,
and awake, violently shaking you,
and you be for his plunders?”
Not satisfied only with changing number as in the previous verse, Habakkuk also changes the previous object (Babylon?) from third person (he) to second person (you) and the number of the subject from plural (they) to singular (his) in this verse.
כִּי אַתָּה שַׁלּוֹתָ גּוֹיִם רַבִּים יְשָׁלּוּךָ כָּל־יֶתֶר עַמִּים מִדְּמֵי אָדָם וַחֲמַס־אֶרֶץ קִרְיָה וְכָל־יֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ׃ 2:8
Haba. 2:8 “Because you have plundered many nations,
all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
on account of the blood of humanity,
and the violence of the land, the city, and all the inhabitants in it.”
הוֹי בֹּצֵעַ בֶּצַע רָע לְבֵיתוֹ לָשׂוּם בַּמָּרוֹם קִנּוֹ לְהִנָּצֵל מִכַּף־רָע׃ 2:9
Haba. 2:9 “Woe, the wrongful acquirer of evil gain for his house,
setting his nest on high,
to be delivered from the unpleasant hand!”
The words I translate as from the unpleasant hand are usually translated as something like from the power of evil. Both translations are acceptable, but I think mine conveys more of the intended meaning. The words from the power of evil can be interpreted inaccurately while my translation can have only one meaning in this context.
יָעַצְתָּ בֹּשֶׁת לְבֵיתֶךָ קְצוֹת־עַמִּים רַבִּים וְחוֹטֵא נַפְשֶׁךָ׃ 2:10
Haba. 2:10 “You have devised shame for your house,
cutting off many peoples, and forfeiting your life.”
כִּי־אֶבֶן מִקִּיר תִּזְעָק וְכָפִיס מֵעֵץ יַעֲנֶנָּה׃ 2:11
Haba. 2:11 “Then the stone shall cry out from the wall,
and the rafter of timber shall answer it.”
This verse presents a personification of the building materials captured from conquered and oppressed peoples with which the Chaldeans built their homes and other buildings of their cities.
הוֹי בֹּנֶה עִיר בְּדָמִים וְכוֹנֵן קִרְיָה בְּעַוְלָה׃ 2:12
Haba. 2:12 “Woe, the builder of a city with blood,
and establisher of a town through injustice!”
I believe this verse ends the vision. It certainly only contains hints, doesn’t it? What does it hint at, but doesn’t say with assurance and clarity? The impending destruction of Nineveh (Babylon?) of course. In this reply, the Lord also reinforces Habakkuk’s own faith in His goodness by revealing the coming punishment for evil. As we see from here forward and into the next chapter as well, Habakkuk now exudes an abiding faith in the Lord.
Haba. 2:13 Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
that peoples labor on behalf of fire,
and nations weary themselves in vain?
This verse carries some similarity to words in Jere. 51:58.
כִּי תִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ לָדַעַת אֶת־כְּבוֹד יְהוָה כַּמַּיִם יְכַסּוּ עַל־יָם׃ 2:14
Haba. 2:14 For the earth shall be dedicated
to acknowledging the glory of the Lord,
as waters would spread over the sea.
הוֹי מַשְׁקֵה רֵעֵהוּ מְסַפֵּחַ חֲמָתְךָ וְאַף שַׁכֵּר לְמַעַן הַבִּיט עַל־מְעוֹרֵיהֶם׃ 2:15
Haba. 2:15 Woe, who is giving his neighbor drink,
who is poisoning your water skin,
and thereby making drunk,
in order to gaze on their nakedness!
Two remarks about this verse. First, notice the change in pronouns from third person to second person back to third person, and in their number from singular to plural. Second, I imagine the term their nakedness isn’t to be taken literally. I believe it means their vulnerability against the overwhelming force of the invader.
שָׂבַעְתָּ קָלוֹן מִכָּבוֹד שְׁתֵה גַם־אַתָּה וְהֵעָרֵל תִּסּוֹב עָלֶיךָ כּוֹס יְמִין יְהוָה וְקִיקָלוֹן עַל־כְּבוֹדֶךָ׃ 2:16
Haba. 2:16 You exceed in shame rather than glory.
You also drink and are exposed!
The cup of the right “hand” of the Lord shall tip you over,
that disgrace shall be upon your glory.
כִּי חֲמַס לְבָנוֹן יְכַסֶּךָּ וְשֹׁד בְּהֵמוֹת יְחִיתַן מִדְּמֵי אָדָם וַחֲמַס־אֶרֶץ קִרְיָה וְכָל־יֹשְׁבֵי בָהּ׃ 2:17
Haba. 2:17 For the violence of Lebanon shall overwhelm you,
and the havoc of the beasts shall dismay them,
because of the blood of humanity
and the violence of the land, of the city,
and of all the inhabitants in it.
The terms the violence of Lebanon and the violence of the land, etc., the latter being found also in v. 2:8, seem to be misleading to me. They can’t mean the violence done by Lebanon or by the land. I imagine they should be construed to mean the violence done to Lebanon and the land.
מָה־הוֹעִיל פֶּסֶל כִּי פְסָלוֹ יֹצְרוֹ מַסֵּכָה וּמוֹרֶה שָּׁקֶר כִּי בָטַח יֹצֵר יִצְרוֹ עָלָיו לַעֲשׂוֹת אֱלִילִים אִלְּמִים׃ 2:18
Haba. 2:18 What benefits a graven image,
because of one's making a molten image
of its form and a lying teacher,
that the framer of its form trusts according to it,
to make speechless idols?
הוֹי אֹמֵר לָעֵץ הָקִיצָה עוּרִי לְאֶבֶן דּוּמָם הוּא יוֹרֶה הִנֵּה־הוּא תָּפוּשׂ זָהָב וָכֶסֶף וְכָל־רוּחַ אֵין 2:19
Haba. 2:19 Woe, the sayer to the wood, “Awaken,”
“Arise,” to the dumb stone!
Behold he is wielding gold and silver,
but all breath, there is none within it.
וַיהוָה בְּהֵיכַל קָדְשׁוֹ הַס מִפָּנָיו כָּל־הָאָרֶץ׃ 2:20
Haba. 2:20 And the Lord is in His holy Temple.
Be silent before Him, all the earth!