1:6 For, lo, I raise up (RSV I am rousing up’) the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation (Roth ‘bitter and headlong nation’) which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.

 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans”– It is possible that the prophet was unacquainted with the writings of Isaiah for he had declared about 100 years earlier that Babylon would consume Judah, etc (39:6; 47:1- 15). Also Jeremiah, a contemporary prophet, had made known the same event in the early years of his prophesying (1:12-16; 4:6-9). “The king’s heart is in the hand of Yahweh”(Prov 21:1): He raises up nations by His power to effect His will (cp Assyria: Isa 10:5-6; Jer 27:5; Dan 4:17, 25, 35).

“That bitter and hasty nation … to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.” To Habakkuk this was astounding. How could God promote and sanction such injustice?! Hence he remonstrates with God in verses 13-17. In so doing he shows his patriotic spirit as did Jeremiah when told of sore judgments about to come on his people (e.g. Jer 5:10; 10:25). This desire of nations to POSSESS the land of which God has said, it is “Mine … it shall not be sold forever” is that which ignites His vengeance (cp Ezek 35:10; 36:1-7; Psa 83:12-18; Lev 25:23).

1:7 They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.

 RSV “Their justice and dignity proceed from themselves”, that is, they are ruthless and terrible.

Those who are oppressed will be given no ‘court of appeal’. They will dictate ‘justice’ as they see fit and will take no notice of the pleas of others. Before such a high-handed foe there would be no hope. Hitler and the Nazis were feared because they were autocratic and indifferent to morality and justice. All forms of human government flout justice where their own interests are at stake. Marx and Engels declared in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, ‘There are, besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, JUSTICE, etc, that are common to all States of society. But Com – munism abolishes eternal truths , it abolishes all religion , and all moral – ITY instead of constituting them on a new basis. It therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience.’ Such moral bankruptcy is characteristic of many nations today that are ruled by cruel and tyrannical dictators and whose concerns revolve around self-preservation and their peoples are crushed, abused and destroyed.

1:8 Their horses also are swifter than 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 (RSV and Roth “devour”).

In verses 8-11 the swift and decisive campaigns of Nebuchadnezzar are dramatically foretold. The leopard is noted for agility in seizing the prey (an animal which the Babylonians are believed to have tamed and trained to hunt); the wolf is especially ferocious at night having fasted all day! The horsemen “spread themselves” or “press proudly on” (RSV). All these figures emphasise how swift, decisive and ruthless the campaigns of the Babylonian will be, and how hopeless the plight of those invaded would be. The fact that the horsemen come from far suggests they are innumerable and swift having been drawn from many and distant places (cp Ezek 38:4). The ruthless and rapid hunting characteristics of the eagle are well known (cp Job 39:28-30). In Deut 28:49 the invasion of Judah by Babylon is likened to “the eagle”. In fact this verse appears to be directly referred to by God. Notice the language common to both verses:

Deuteronomy 28:49, 50               Habakkuk 1:8, 10
1.  against thee from afar             shall come from far
2.  as the eagle flieth                      they shall fly as the
eagle
3.  a nation of fierce                       more fierce
than the countenance
evening wolves
4.  Shall not regard the                  they shall scoff at the kings
person of the old

 In a recurrent fulfilment of Deuteronomy 28, the legions of Rome, too, with the eagle as their standard, invaded Judea under the command of Vespasian.

Thus in this passage the leopard and eagle are applied to Babylon. They are both symbols of Rome as well, and so the prophecy had an immediate as well as a future fulfilment (Rev 13:2).

The effect of this impressive description of Babylon’s power would have made Habakkuk’s ‘blood run cold’. They would “show them no mercy” (Isa 47:6). We can understand his feelings and reasons for questioning the correctness of such a severe measure in v13-17.

1:9 They shall come all for violence; their faces shall sup up as the east wind and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.

 “They shall come all for violence” – Roth “Solely for violence shall he come”. They would not be concerned with the peaceful acquisition of territories as much as the desolation and destruction of them! Thus history testifies to the truth of prophecy. “And they (the Chaldeans) burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire ….” (2 Chron 36:19).

“Their faces shall sup up as the east wind” – This is the burning desert wind which parches and blows all before it in Palestine (cp the north wind in South Australia). This wind is frequently used as a symbol of disaster (cp Jer 18:17; Ezek 17:10; 19:12).

“They shall gather the captivity as the sand” In each of his three conquests Nebuchadnezzar took captives. Thus “he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes and all the mighty men of valour, even 10,000 captives and all the craftsmen and smiths; none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land” (2 Kings 24:14; Jer 51:28-30). Thus this striking metaphor was fulfilled.

 1:10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every stronghold; for they shall heap dust and take it.

 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them”- Roth “of rulers they shall make sport”. Again fear is gendered by this high-handed treatment of the victims of conquest. If princes would be scorned and their dignity trampled on, what mercies could the common people expect? How true these words proved to be! Read about Nebuchadnezzar’s treatment of Zedekiah, his sons and the princes of Judah (Jer 39:5-6). This arrogant attitude had been shown by a previous invader, the Assyrian King, Sennacherib (Isa 37:12-13).

They shall deride every stronghold; for they shall heap dust and take it” – RSV “they shall laugh at every fortress” ; Roth “once he has heaped up dust he hath taken it”. No defence would prove adequate – even the fortresses would be simply and quickly taken by heaping up mounds of earth.

1:11 Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.

 “Then shall his mind change and he shall pass over” (RV margin “transgress”). Roth – “Then hath he become arrogant in spirit, and hath committed excess, and so is guilty”. Translations of this verse vary, but the AV, RV (margin) and Roth give a consistent thought. The Chaldean is permitted by God to destroy, BUT GOES TOO FAR when he imputes the victory to his gods, Bel and Merodach (Isa 46:1). This raised the contention to a higher level: Yahweh versus the gods of Babylon. In the face of such a challenge Yahweh would not remain indifferent. Nebuchadnezzar’s zeal for his gods is evident from his renaming of Daniel and his three friends with names commemorating them. The Babylonians’ attitude is apparent from Isa 47:10, “Thou HAST TRUSTED in thy wickedness”. Like the Assyrian of old he scorned Yahweh. “Who are they among all the gods of these lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that Yahweh should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand” (Isa 36:20) and “they drank wine (in the vessels of Yahweh’s holy Temple) and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone” (Dan 5:3-4).

That the victory was a work of Yahweh and not “his god” is manifest from the fact that Yahweh had so clearly foretold it.

Swift judgment came on Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, at the very time he was celebrating his gods and blaspheming Yahweh. This he did despite the lesson learned by his father, that Yahweh rules in the kingdom of men (Dan 4:17). Thus the Medes took the kingdom on the very same night that the handwriting of God on the wall fomented panic in the mind of Belshazzar. He had become arrogant and transgressed when he “imputed his power to his god”.

It is notable that Yahweh’s answer stops short of any reference to Babylon’s doom. This is plainly implied but not stated. In verses 16 and 17 the prophet challenges God – surely it is reasonable that the Chaldeans should sacrifice to their gods seeing their uninterrupted victories appear to them at least to be the reward of their devotions? In Habakkuk’s reply to God he does not consider what the consequences of the Chaldean “transgressing and becoming guilty” might be. It is as though he is so preoccupied and startled by the fearful invasion that he does not hear verse 11.

________________________

The burden of Habakkuk has reached a very dramatic point in the prophet’s argument with Yahweh. The next section of the Prophecy (1:12-17) will depict the mystified prophet appealing to the character of God. Israel is bad, but the Chaldeans are worse.

 The description of Israel’s devastation was so terrifying that Habakkuk is faced with a new problem. The punishment for one evil was creating an even greater evil and the problem of reconciling this with Yahweh’s character was perplexing.

 (To be continued)