§ 8. The destruction of the Babylonians is announced by the mouth of the vanquished nations, who utter five woes against their oppressor. The first woe: for their rapacity.
All these. All the nations and peoples who have been subjugated and barbarously treated by the Babylonians (comp. Isaiah 14:4 ). A parable. A sententious song (see note on Micah 2:4 ). A taunting proverb . The Anglican Version combines the two Hebrew words, which stand unconnected, into one notion. So the Vulgate, loquelam aenigmatum. The latter of the two generally means "riddle," "enigma;" the other word ( melitzah ) is by some translated, "a derisive satirical song," or "an obscure, dark saying;" but, as Keil and Delitzsch have shown, is better understood of a bright, clear, brilliant speech. So the two terms signify "a speech containing enigmas," or a song which has double or ambiguous meanings (comp. Proverbs 1:6 ). Septuagint, πρόβλημα εἰς διήγησις , αὐτοῦ . Woe ( Nahum 3:1 ). This is the first of the five "woes," which consist of three verses each, arranged in strophical form. Increaseth that which is not his. He continues to add to his conquests and possessions, which are not his, because they are acquired by injustice and violence. This is the first denunciation of the Chaldeans for their insatiable rapacity. How long? The question comes in interjectionally—How long is this state of things to continue unpunished (comp. Psalms 6:3 ; Psalms 90:13 )? That ladeth himself with thick clay; Septuagint, βαρύνων τὸν κλοιὸν αὐτοῦ στιβαρῶς , "who loadeth his yoke heavily;" Vulgate, aggravat contra se densum lutum. The renderings of the Anglican and Latin Versions signify that the riches and spoils with which the conquerors load themselves are no more than burdens of clay, which are in themselves worthless, and only harass the bearers. The Greek Version seems to point to the weight of the yoke imposed by the Chaldeans on them; but Jerome explains it differently, "Ad hoc tantum saevit ut devoret et iniquitatis et praedarum onere quasi gravissima torque se deprimat." The difficulty lies in the ἄπαξ λεγόμενον abtit, which forms an enigma, or dark saying, because, taken as two words, it might pass current for "thick clay," or "a mass of dirt," while regarded as one word it means "a mass of pledges," "many pledges." That the latter is the signification primarily intended is the view of many modern commentators, who explain the clause thus: The quantity of treasure and booty amassed by the Chaldeans is regarded as a mass of pledges taken from the conquered nations a burden of debt to be discharged one day with heavy retribution. Pusey, "He does in truth increase against himself a strong pledge, whereby not others are debtors to him, but he is a debtor to Almighty God, who careth for the oppressed ( Jeremiah 17:11 )."
A parable of woes: 1. Woe to the rapacious!
I. THEIR PERSONS IDENTIFIED .
1 . The Chaldean nation, in its kings and people, who were animated by a lust of conquest, which impelled them upon wars of aggression.
2 . The enemies of the Church of God and of Jesus Christ, whether national or individual, in whom the same spirit dwells as resided in the Babylonian power. God's promises and threatenings in the Bible have almost always a wider sweep and a larger reference than simply to those to whom they were originally addressed.
II. THEIR SIN SPECIFIED . Spoliation, robbery, theft, plunder. A wickedness:
1 . Unjust; as all theft is. In heaping up the spoils of plundered nations, the Chaldean was increasing what was not his; and the same is done by those who store up money or goods gotten by fraud or oppression. What men acquire by violence or guile is not theirs. How much of the wealth of modern nations and of private persons is of this character may not be told; to assert that none is may be charity, but is not truth. The practices complained of by James ( James 5:4-6 ) have not bees unknown since his day.
2 . Insatiable; as the lust of possession is prone to be. The plundered nations are depicted as asking—How long is this devastating power to go on despoiling peoples weaker than himself? Is his career of rapine never to be arrested? Will his thirst for what belongs to others never be quenched? So "he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor he that loveth abundance with increase" ( Ecclesiastes 5:10 ). The passion for heaping up ill-gotten gains grows by what it feeds on. Those who determine to enrich themselves at the expense of others seldom know when to stop. Almost never do they cry, "Enough!" till retribution, overtaking them, strips them of all.
3 . Vain; as all sin will ultimately prove to be. The foreign property taken by the Chaldean from other nations, the prophet characterizes as "pledges" exacted from them by an unmerciful creditor, perhaps intending thereby to suggest that the Chaldean would be "compelled to disgorge them in due time" (Keil). The idea, true of all man's earthly possessions ( Job 1:21 )—
"Whate'er we fondly call our own
Belongs to heaven's great Lord;
The blessings lent us for a day
Are soon to be restored,"
—is much more applicable to wealth acquired by fraud or oppression ( Jeremiah 17:11 ). The day will come when, if not by the robbed themselves, by God the rightful Owner of the wealth ( Haggai 2:8 ) and the strong Champion of the oppressed ( Psalms 10:18 ), it will be demanded back with interest ( Job 20:15 ).
III. THEIR PUNISHMENT DESCRIBED .
1 . Certain. "Shall not all these take up a parable against him?" The overthrow of the Chaldean is so surely an event of the future that the very nations and peoples he has plundered, or the believing remnant amongst them, will yet raise a derisive song over his miserable and richly merited fall; and just as surely will the rapacious plunderer of others be destroyed, and his destruction be a source of satisfaction to beholders ( Proverbs 1:18 , Proverbs 1:19 ).
2 . Heavy. The wealth he has stolen from others will be to him as a "burden of thick clay" that will first crush him to the earth, making the heart within him wretched and the spirit sordid and grovelling, and finally sink him into a hopeless and cheerless grave ( Ecclesiastes 2:22 , Ecclesiastes 2:23 ; Ecclesiastes 6:2 ; Psalms 49:14 ).
3 . Sudden. Retribution should fall upon the Chaldean in a moment—his biters should rise up suddenly, and his destroyers wake up as from a sleep to harass him (verse 7); and in such fashion will the end be of "everyone that is greedy of gain and taketh away the life of the owners thereof" ( Proverbs 1:19 ); he may "spend his days in wealth," but "in a moment he shall go down to the grave" ( Job 21:13 ); he may "heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay," but he shall "lie down and not be gathered;" he shall "open his eyes, and behold! he is not" ( Job 27:16 , Job 27:19 ).
4 . Retributive. The Chaldean should be spoiled by the nations he had spoiled. So will violent and rapacious men reap what themselves have sowed. How often is it seen that money goes as it comes! Acquired by speculation or gambling, it is lost by the same means. He who robs others by violence or fraud not unfrequently is himself robbed by another stronger or craftier than he. "Whatsoever a man soweth," etc. ( Galatians 6:7 ).
1 . "Provide things honest in the sight of all men" ( Romans 12:17 ).
2 . "Do violence to no man" ( Luke 3:14 ).
3 . "If thou do that which is evil, be afraid" ( Romans 13:4 ).
In the remaining portion of this chapter the prophet dwells upon the sins prevailing amongst the Chaldeans, and indicates the misery these should entail. His utterances, taken together, form a satirical ode directed against the Chaldeans, who, though not named, are yet most clearly personified. In the general statement respecting them in Habakkuk 2:5 allusion is made to their rapacity, and the first stanza in the song is specially directed to this greed, which was so characteristic of that nation. The words of the prophet suggest to us respecting the sin of covetousness, that—
I. IT IS UNSATISFYING IN ITS NATURE . It is compared ( Habakkuk 2:5 ) to Hades and death, that crave continually for more. "The covetous man is like Tantalus, up to the chin in water, yet thirsty." Necessarily it must be so, for "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth" ( Luke 12:15 ). Wealth can only yield satisfaction in proportion as it is acquired, not for its own sake, but to be consecrated to high and holy purposes. George Herbert sings—
"Be thrifty, but not covetous. Get, to live;
Then live and use it: else it is not true
That thou hast gotten."
II. IT LEADS TO INJUSTICE AND OPPRESSION . The covetous man "increaseth that which is not his" ( Habakkuk 2:6 ). He disregards the rights of others. He uses all who come within his power with a view to his own aggrandizement. Self is the primary consideration with him, and influences all his movements. "He oppresseth the poor to increase his riches," and out of their grinding poverty and want he grows fat. He is ready to take any mean advantage so as to add to his own stores. He demands heavy security of the debtor, and exacts crushing interest, and "ladeth himself with thick clay" ( Habakkuk 2:6 ), i.e. "loadeth himself with the burden of pledges."
III. IT INCURS SURE RETRIBUTION . Whether this sin is committed by individuals or nations, it is alike "woe" unto such; for there shall assuredly follow Divine judgments. Habakkuk represents the Chaldeans as one who had gathered men and nations into his net ( Habakkuk 1:14-17 ), and as having "spoiled many nations" (verse 8), and Jeremiah confirms these representations of their rapacity by describing them as "the hammer" ( Jeremiah 50:23 ) and the destroyer ( Jeremiah 51:25 ) of the whole earth; and they also declare that there should overtake them certain retribution for the wrongs they had thus done and the sorrows they had thus occasioned, and that the spoiler should be at length spoiled (verses 7, 8). In the destruction of the Chaldean empire by the Medes and Persians we have the fulfilment of the threatenings, whilst, at the same time, we hear the voice of God speaking to us in the events of history and saying,, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness!"—S.D.H.
National wrongs ending in national woes. No. 1.
"Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay! Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?" etc. In these verses, up to the nineteenth inclusive, the prophet denounces upon the Chaldeans and Babylonians five different woes. One for their pride and insatiableness ( Habakkuk 2:6-8 ); another for their covetousness, etc; which would become the cause of their corruption ( Habakkuk 2:9-11 ); another for the bloody and cruel means which they had employed for gratifying their thirst for acquiring possessions not their own ( Habakkuk 2:12-14 ); and fourth, for their wickedness, etc; which would be recompensed to them ( Habakkuk 2:15-17 ); and the fifth, for their trust in idols, which would redound to their shame ( Habakkuk 2:18 , Habakkuk 2:19 ). We shall take each of the five sections separately under the title, National wrongs ending in national woes. Notice—
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS .
1 . Dishonest accumulation. "Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!" Babylon grew wealthy. Its treasures were varied and all but inexhaustible. But whence came they? Came they by honest industry? Were they the home produce of diligent and righteous labour? No; from other lands. They were wrested from other countries by violence and fraud. Even the golden and silver vessels used at the royal feast were taken out of the temple which was at Jerusalem. "No more," says an old writer, "of what we have is to be reckoned ours than what we came honestly by. Nor will it long be ours, for wealth gotten by vanity will soon diminish." Take away the ill-gotten wealth of the nations of Europe—wealth gotten by fraud and violence—and how greatly will they be pauperized! How much of our national wealth has come to us honestly? A question this worth the impartial investigation of every man, and which must be gone into sooner or later.
2 . Dominant materialism. "And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay." Although some render this "ladeth himself with many pledges," our version, which gives the word "clay," will cover all. The burning and insatiable desire of Babylon was for material wealth; and the men or the nation who succeed in this, only lade themselves with "thick clay" It is a bad thing for moral spirits to be laden with "thick clay." See the individual man who so pampers his animal appetites until he becomes a Falstaff. His spirit is laden with "thick clay." See the nation whose inspiration is that of avaricious merchandise, and whose god is mammon; its spirit is laden with "thick clay." Ah me! what millions are to be found in all civilized countries who are buried in "thick clay"! Clay is everything to them.
3 . Extensive plunder. "Thou hast spoiled many nations." The first monarchy we read of in Holy Scripture is that of the Assyrians, begun by Ninus, of whom Nineveh took name, and by Nimrod, whom histories call Belus, and after him succeeded Semiramis his wife. This monarchy grew, by continual wars and violences on their neighbours, to an exceeding height and strength; so that the exaltation of that monarchy was the ruin of many nations, and this monarchy lasted, as some write, annos 1300.
4 . Ruthless violence. "Because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein." "The terms 'men,' 'land,' 'earth,' 'city,'" says Henderson, "are to be understood generally, not restricted to the Jews, their country and its metropolis." What oceans of the blood of all countries were shed by these ruthless tyrants of Babylon!
II. THE NATIONAL WOES . All these wrongs, as all other wrongs, run into woes. Crimes lead to calamities. What are the woes connected with these wrongs, as given in these verses?
1 . The contempt of the injured. "Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!" The woe comes out in a derisive song, which continues to the end of the chapter. Dishonesty and low animalism must ever sink the people amongst whom they prevail into bitter contempt. Scarcely can there be anything more painful than the contempt of others when it is felt to be deserved. To be sneered at, laughed at, ridiculed, scorned,—is not this bitterly affictive? Jeremiah predicted that one part of the punishment should be that he should be laughed to scorn.
2 . The avenging of the spoiled. "Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee." Here is retaliation—plunder for plunder, blood for blood. Divine retribution often pays man back in his own coin. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
CONCLUSION . Ever under the righteous administration of Heaven woes tread closely on the heel of wrongs. More certainly than the waves of the ocean follow the moon must suffering follow sin. To every crime there is linked a curse, to every sin a suffering, to every wrong a woe. Be sure that "your sins will find you out."—D.T.