On to Habakkuk 1:5-11
v5: Look…watch: This is a commandment. G-d commanded them to pay great attention to what He was going to do.
- Astounded/Astonished (תַּמְּה֖וּ): This word is repeated twice and therefore is usually translated ‘utterly amazed or utterly astonished’ etc. Usually we are astounded by G-d’s goodness. We are amazed by His mercy and grace. Here it is talking about a completely different kind of astonishment. The people were going to be shocked by what G-d’s wrath and judgement were going to bring about. They were going to have trouble believing that G-d would do what He did to His people. We need to remember that G-d does not tolerate sin. He will not continuously be patient and unresponsive to the rebellion of His people. There comes a point when G-d suddenly moves to act and He places a heavy hand on His people.
- Work a work (פֹּעֵ֣ל): Again, we have the doubling of a word. This is the word for activity/work. By doubling this word, the writer is revealing to us that G-d is going to utterly and completely perform (do) something. G-d is committed to bringing this about.
G-d’s original intent (Deut 30:15-20)was notto judge these people. G-d loves His covenant people, and His desire was to bless them (provide for them, defend them, help them, change them into a glorious people). However, when people are rebellious and choose sin, when they are defiant against the instructions of G-d, instead of blessing His people He has to discipline them. Instead of showing His loving kindness, He shows judgment, wrath, punishment. In this case the people were going to experience death and destruction – being taken into exile for a significant period of time (70 years – Jer 25:8-11)
v6: Indeed/Behold (הִנְנִ֤י): This is a word that means to pay attention, to listen carefully, to watch. Something significant was going to happen. G-d was about to reveal what He was going to do – His plan.
- Chaldeans: The Babylonians.
- Bitter: The Babylonians were a ruthless nation who did not show mercy to their enemies. They left a bitter taste, so to speak, in the mouths of those who encountered them.
- Hasty nation which marches: When this happened, it was going to happen quickly. This is very similar to what Yeshua tells us in Rev 22:12. At the end of this age, things are going to happen very quickly. When Yeshua comes, He is going to suddenly come. If we wait to be ready, wait until things “start”, we will not be able to respond quickly enough. We will not have the discernment, or the ability, to behave properly, to behave in a way that demonstrates faith. We need to be ready now. Things are going to happen quickly – already we can see this world rapidly changing.
- March through the breadth of the earth: The Babylonians were going to move speedily to take over a large part of the land/earth.
- To possess: The Babylonians moved with purpose – they moved to take possession of. Many times, in the Torah, G-d had commanded the children of Israel to take possession of the land (e.g. Num 33:53). The word for taking possession of the land/inheriting the land (לָרֶ֖שֶׁת) is the same word used here in regard to the Babylonians taking possession of this same promised land – even though it was going to be for a limited period of time (Jer 25:11-12). The use of this word was a kind of dig at the people of Israel (who had failed, in many respects, to possess the land), and it would have been painful for them to hear it proclaimed.
v7: Terrible (נוֹרָ֖א): This word can also mean ‘awesome’. Sometimes it can mean awesome in a good or glorious way, and sometimes it can mean abundantly awful, terrible, unbelievable. Context tells us whether it is to be used for the good meaning or for the bad. In this verse what we see is this: Babylon liked to threaten people, and to carry out their threats in an awesomely horrible manner.
- Dreadful: Threatening. The Babylonian empire was dreadful and terrifying to its enemies.
- Their judgement …proceed(s) from themselves: Babylon did not rely on G-d for G-d’s judgement. He was not someone who practiced justice with mercy and kindness (based upon the concept of G-d’s grace). All of his judgements came from his own mind and thoughts.
- Dignity (שְׂאֵת֖וֹ): This word means ‘to lift (oneself) up’. It is a word of pride and haughtiness. He does what he does because of the inflated, exalted image he has of himself. Those who are proud are easily manipulated and used by the enemy. G-d, in this instance, used the Babylonian’s pride for His own purposes.
v8: Horses (סוּסָ): Strong’s Concordance, through Bible Hub, incorrectly relates this word to ‘birds’. The basic meaning of this word is ‘horses’ and not ‘birds’.
- Fierce (חד): This word means ‘sharp’, probably referring to the teeth of the wolves – which would relate to them being fierce.
- Charge ahead (חָ֥שׁ): This word relates to hurrying/hastening something, speeding something up. The Babylonians delighted in what they were doing. The hunt was exciting for them, but so was the devouring – the destruction and death that followed them added to their delight.
v9: Violence (חָמָ֣ס): This word in Hebrew is pronounced “hamas’ – incidentally the same word used for the terror organisation in Israel today – in Arabic this word means ”zeal, strength or bravery.” This word confirms verse 8 for us – the Babylonians enjoyed the violence that they were partaking in. Their violence was intentional. They delighted in inflicting pain on others; they loved to see others suffer.
- East: A word that reminds us of judgement. Judgement is often depicted as coming from the East (Ex 10:13, Jonah 4:8)
- Gather captives like sand: Sand had little to no value to the Babylonians. They trampled on it and would have given little thought to it. G-d, on the other hand, in Genesis 22:17, promised to make the descendants of Abraham like the sand on the seashore – from G-d’s perspective they had value, from G-d’s perspective they were going to be numerous.
Note: It was not G-d’s will, or desire, for Judah to be evil so that He could bring punishment upon them. G-d’s nature, from the beginning, was to bless and love all people. However, after Judah had been thoroughly wicked (causing the Torah to cease, their strife, contention, injustice etc), nothing, except judgement, was going to change them. G-d’s nature never changes (He always desires to bless and love people), but when people are rebellious and defiant toward Him, rejecting His purposes for their lives, His behaviour towards them changes. G-d acts in a way to punish – not bringing blessing into their lives but bringing curse (Deut 30:19). G-d always desires for us to choose life, but if we reject it then G-d, whose nature is forever righteous and perfect, will move to bring death and curse upon His people. He never changes. He blesses good, and He curses evil.
v10: They – which literally translated would be ‘He’ (הוּא): The subject of this verse is the Babylonians/Chaldeans (plural). However, when the writer writes about them (and this reveals to us the uniqueness of the Biblical language), he uses the third person singular (“he” referring to ‘they’ or ‘them’). Many people acted like one person – like minded, alike in thoughts, and unified in action.
- Scoff at kings: Babylon had become a very wealthy and powerful empire. That money had allowed them to become well-equipped and very strong militarily. For this reason, they could scoff at kings, and at all other nations, as they considered them inferior to themselves in every way.
- Princes: Rulers or noblemen – i.e. Regional leaders within the empire who had authority, power and control within their jurisdiction.
- Scorned by them….A game to him: What this text is revealing to us is that the Chaldeans saw these rulers as objects of derision or scorn. They held them in low esteem, confident that they would quickly and easily defeat them.
- Stronghold: A military fortress that had both soldiers and weapons stationed there.
- Deride…literally: He will play: Babylon was so powerful that all other militaries were weak and could be toyed with – played with. War was like a game to the Chaldeans -they were neither threatened by nor concerned about their enemies.
- Heap up mounds of earth: The purpose of this mound of soil was so that the Babylonians were able to use it to build a ramp up onto the city walls.
- Seize it: These ramps allowed them to scale the city walls and therefore conquer the city.
v11: Mind/Wind: (ר֛וּחַ) This word can be translated either ‘spirit’ or ‘wind’. When it is used in reference to an individual it is referring to the state his spirit is in (i.e. What his attitude is – how he is feeling emotionally, mentally etc). Like the wind, which can change abruptly and without warning, this word can be used to speak about a change in a person’s thoughts, purpose, or objectives. This is what the writer is conveying to us regarding Babylon. Something happened to abruptly change the thought process or mindset of the Babylonians.
- He: Referring to the Babylonians or Chaldeans
- Transgresses/Will pass: This sudden change in Babylon’s mindset caused him to act differently – it caused him to move to a new location, to pass through the land of the people of Judah for the purpose of attacking them.
- Commits offense/Is guilty: Babylon (who was guilty of offense) saw the people of Judah (the Jewish people of the Southern kingdom) as guilty. In his mind he began to think of them as violating what he thought was right. As a result, he moved to attack them.
- His god: The Babylonians worshipped, but their worship was idolatrous –they did not worship the G-d of Israel. They thought, however, that their power came from their gods.
Note: If we worship G-d to get something out of Him (wealth, power, the fulfilment of our own desires etc) then we too are in idolatry. Idolatrous faith is not true faith. Just because we call G-d by the right name does not mean that we are behaving or thinking rightly (Matt 7:21-23).