Habakkuk 1

Habakkuk Complains to the Lord

1The following is the message
Heb “The burden” (so KJV, ASV). The Hebrew term מַשָּׂא (masa’), usually translated “oracle” (NAB, NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV) or “utterance” (BDB 672 s.v. III מַשָּׂא), in prophetic literature is a technical term introducing a message from the Lord (see Zech 9:1; 12:1; Mal 1:1). Since it derives from a verb meaning “to carry,” its original nuance was that of a burdensome message, that is, one with ominous content.
which God revealed to Habakkuk the prophet:
Heb “The message [traditionally, “burden”] which Habakkuk the prophet saw.”

2 How long, Lord, must I cry for help?
But you do not listen!
I call out to you, “Violence!”
But you do not intervene!
Or “deliver.”

3 Why do you force me to witness injustice?
Heb “Why do you make me see injustice?”

Why do you put up with wrongdoing?
Heb “Why do you look at wrongdoing?”
Habakkuk complains that God tolerates social injustice and fails to intervene on behalf of the oppressed (put up with wrongdoing).

Destruction and violence confront
Heb “are before.”
conflict is present and one must endure strife.
Heb “and there is conflict and strife he lifts up.” The present translation takes the verb יִשָּׂא (yisa’) in the sense of “carry, bear,” and understands the subject to be indefinite (“one”).

4 For this reason the law lacks power,
Heb “the law is numb,” i.e., like a hand that has “fallen asleep” (see Ps 77:2). Cf. NAB “is benumbed”; NIV “is paralyzed.”

and justice is never carried out.
Heb “never goes out.”

Or “for.”
the wicked intimidate
Heb “surround” (so NASB, NRSV).
the innocent.
Or “righteous” (KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NLT).

For this reason justice is perverted.
Heb “comes out crooked.”

The Lord Reveals Some Startling News

5 “Look at the nations and pay attention!
Or “look among the nations and observe.” The imperatival forms in v. 5 are plural, indicating that the Lord’s message is for the whole nation, not just the prophet.

You will be shocked and amazed!
The Hebrew text combines the Hitpael and Qal imperatival forms of the verb תָּמַה (tamah, “be amazed”). A literal translation might read, “Shock yourselves and be shocked!” The repetition of sounds draws attention to the statement. The imperatives here have the force of an emphatic assertion. On this use of the imperative in Hebrew, see GKC 324 #110.c and IBHS 572–73 #34.4c.

For I will do something in your lifetime
Heb “for a work working in your days.” Following the LXX reading, some supply a first person singular pronoun with the participle פֹּעֵל (poel). Ellipsis of a first singular pronoun before participles is relatively rare (see GKC 360 #116.s); perhaps an original אֲנֹכִי (’anoki; or אֲנִי, ’aniy) followed the initial כִּי (ki) and was omitted by homoioteleuton.

that you will not believe even though you are forewarned.
Heb “you will not believe when it is told.” In this context the force of כִּי (ki) may be “when,” “if,” or “even though.”

6 Look, I am about to empower
Heb “raise up” (so KJV, ASV).
the Babylonians,
that ruthless
Heb “bitter.” Other translation options for this word in this context include “fierce” (NASB, NRSV); “savage” (NEB); or “grim.”
and greedy
Heb “hasty, quick.” Some translate here “impetuous” (so NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV) or “rash,” but in this context greed may very well be the idea. The Babylonians move quickly and recklessly ahead in their greedy quest to expand their empire.
They sweep across the surface
Heb “the open spaces.”
of the earth,
seizing dwelling places that do not belong to them.
7 They are frightening and terrifying;
they decide for themselves what is right.
Heb “from him his justice, even his lifting up, goes out.” In this context שְׂאֵת (seet) probably has the nuance “authority.” See R. D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (WEC), 150.

8 Their horses are faster than leopards
and more alert
Heb “sharper,” in the sense of “keener” or “more alert.” Some translate “quicker” on the basis of the parallelism with the first line (see HALOT 291 s.v. חדד).
than wolves in the desert.
Heb “wolves of the evening,” that is, wolves that prowl at night. The present translation assumes an emendation to עֲרָבָה (’aravah, “desert”). On this phrase see also Zeph 3:3.

Their horses
Or “horsemen,” “cavalry.”
The precise nuance of the rare verb פָּוַשׁ (parash) is unclear here. Elsewhere it is used of animals jumping or leaping (see Jer 50:11; Mal 4:2).

their horses come a great distance;
like a vulture
Or “eagle” (so NASB, NRSV). The term can refer to either eagles or vultures, but in this context of gruesome destruction and death “vulture” is preferred.
they swoop down quickly to devour their prey.
Heb “they fly like a vulture/an eagle quickly to devour.” The direct object “their prey” is not included in the Hebrew text but is implied, and has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

9 All of them intend
Heb “come.”
to do violence;
every face is determined.
Heb “The totality of their faces is to the east” (or “is forward”). The precise meaning of the Hebrew term מְגַמַּת (megammat) is unclear. For a discussion of options see J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (OTL), 93. NEB has “a sea of faces rolls on”; NIV “their hordes advance like a desert wind”; NRSV “with faces pressing forward.”

They take prisoners as easily as one scoops up sand.
Heb “and he gathers like sand, prisoners.”

10 They mock kings
and laugh at rulers.
They laugh at every fortified city;
they build siege ramps
Heb “they heap up dirt.” This is a reference to the piling up of earthen ramps in the process of laying siege to a fortified city.
and capture them.
11 They sweep by like the wind and pass on.
The precise meaning of v. 11a is uncertain. The present translation assumes the first line further describes the Babylonian hordes, comparing them to a destructive wind. Another option is to understand רוּחַ (ruakh) as “spirit,” rather than “wind,” and take the form וְאָשֵׁם (veashem) with what precedes (as suggested by the scribal punctuation). Repointing this form as a geminate verb from שָׁמַם (shamam, “be astonished”), one could then translate the line, “The spirit passed on and departed, and I was astonished.” In this case the line would describe the cessation of the divine revelation which began in v. 5. For a detailed defense of this view, see J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (OTL), 97–100.

But the one who considers himself a god will be held guilty.”
Heb “and guilty is the one whose strength is his god.” This assumes that אָשֵׁם (’ashem) is a predicate adjective meaning “guilty” and that it relates to what follows.

Habakkuk Voices Some Concerns

12 Lord, you have been active from ancient times;
Heb “Are you not from antiquity, O Lord?” The rhetorical question expects the answer, “Yes, of course.” The present translation reflects the force of the rhetorical question, rendering it as an affirmation. When used in a temporal sense the phrase מִקֶדֶם (miqedem) means “from antiquity, ancient times,” often referring to earlier periods in Israel’s history. See its use in Neh 12:46; Pss 74:12; 77:11; Isa 45:21; 46:10; Mic 5:2.

my sovereign God,
Heb “My God, my holy one.” God’s “holiness” in this context is his sovereign transcendence as the righteous judge of the world (see vv. 12b–13a), thus the translation “My sovereign God.”
you are immortal.
The MT reads, “we will not die,” but an ancient scribal tradition has “you [i.e., God] will not die.” This is preferred as a more difficult reading that can explain the rise of the other variant. Later scribes who copied the manuscripts did not want to associate the idea of death with God in any way, so they softened the statement to refer to humanity.

Lord, you have made them
Heb “him,” a collective singular referring to the Babylonians. The plural pronoun “them” has been used in the translation in keeping with contemporary English style.
your instrument of judgment.
Heb “for judgment.”

Heb “Rock” or “Cliff.” This divine epithet views God as a place where one can go to be safe from danger. The translation “Protector” conveys the force of the metaphor (cf. KJV, NEB “O mighty God”).
you have appointed them as your instrument of punishment.
Heb “to correct, reprove.”

13 You are too just
Heb “[you] are too pure of eyes.” God’s “eyes” here signify what he looks at with approval. His “eyes” are “pure” in that he refuses to tolerate any wrongdoing in his presence.
to tolerate
Heb “to see.” Here “see” is figurative for “tolerate,” “put up with.”
you are unable to condone
Heb “to look at.” Cf. NEB “who canst not countenance wrongdoing”; NASB “You can not look on wickedness with favor.”
So why do you put up with such treacherous people?
Heb “Why do you look at treacherous ones?” The verb בָּגַד (bagad, “be treacherous”) is often used of those who are disloyal or who violate agreements. See S. Erlandsson, TDOT 1:470–73.

Why do you say nothing when the wicked devour
Or “swallow up.”
those more righteous than they are?
Heb “more innocent than themselves.”

14 You made people like fish in the sea,
like animals in the sea
The Hebrew word רֶמֶשׂ (remesh) usually refers to animals that creep, but here the referent seems to be marine animals that glide through the water (note the parallelism in the previous line). See also Ps 104:25.
that have no ruler.
15 The Babylonian tyrant
Heb “he”; the referent (the Babylonian tyrant) has been specified in the translation for clarity (cf. NASB “The Chaldeans”; NIV “The wicked foe”; NRSV “The enemy”). Babylonian imperialism is here compared to a professional fisherman who repeatedly brings in his catch and has plenty to eat.
pulls them all up with a fishhook;
he hauls them in with his throw net.
Apparently two different types of fishing nets are referred to here. The חֵרֶם (kherem, “throw net”) was used by fishermen standing on the shore (see Ezek 47:10), while the מִכְמֶרֶת (mikhmeret, “dragnet”) was used by men in a boat. See R. D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (WEC), 165.

When he catches
Heb “and he gathers.”
them in his dragnet,
he is very happy.
Heb “Therefore he is happy and rejoices.” Here two synonyms are joined for emphasis.

16 Because of his success
Heb “therefore.”
he offers sacrifices to his throw net
and burns incense to his dragnet;
The fishing implements (throw net and dragnet) represent Babylonian military might. The prophet depicts the Babylonians as arrogantly worshiping their own power (sacrifices…burns incense, see also v. 11b).

for because of them he has plenty of food,
Heb “for by them his portion is full [or, “fat”].”

and more than enough to eat.
Heb “and his food is plentiful [or, “fat”].”

17 Will he then
Or “therefore.”
continue to fill and empty his throw net?
Heb “Will he then empty his throw net?” The words “continue to fill and” are supplied in the translation for clarification.

Will he always
Or “continually.”
Heb “kill.”
nations and spare none?
Or “without showing compassion.”

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