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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Habakkuk 2:11-13

Commentary On Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai by Jean Calvin

Habakkuk 2:11-13

11. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.

11. Quia lapis ex muro clamabit, et lignum ex tabulato (ad verbum est, ex ligno,) respondebit ei.

12. Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!

12. Vae aedificanti urbem in sanguinibus, et paranti civitatem in iniquitate.

13. Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?

13. Annon ecce a Jehova exercituum? ideo laborabunt populi in igne et gentes in vanitate (hoc est, frustra fatigabuntur.)

There is here introduced by the Prophet a new personification. He had before prepared a common song, which would be in the mouth of all. He now ascribes speech to stones and wood, of which buildings are formed. The stone, he says, shall cry from the wall, and the wood from the chamber; that is, there is no part of the building that will not cry out that it was built by plunder, by cruelty, and, in a word, by evil deeds. The Prophet not only ascribes speech to wood and stone, but he makes them also respond one to the other as in a chorus, as in lyrics there are voices which take up the song in turns. The stone, he says, shall cry from the wall, and the wood shall respond to it from the chamber; as though he said, |There will be a striking harmony in every part of the building; for the wall will begin and will utter its song, Behold I have been built by blood and by iniquity;' and the wood will utter the same, and will cry, Woe;' but all in due order; there will be no confused noise, but as music has distinct sounds, so also the stones will respond to the wood and the wood to the stones, so that there may be, as they say, corresponding voices.|

The stone, then, from the wall shall cry, and the wood shall answer -- what will it answer? -- Woe to him who builds a city by blood, and who adorns his city by iniquity. By blood and by iniquity he understands the same thing; for though the avaricious do not kill innocent men, they yet suck their blood, and what else is this but to kill them by degrees, by a slow tormenting process? For it is easier at once to undergo death than to pine away in want, as it happens to helpless men when spoiled and deprived of all their property. Wherever there is wanton plundering, there is murder committed in the sight of God; for as it has been said, he who spares not the helpless, but drinks up their blood, doubtless sins no less than if he were to kill them.

But if this personification seems to any one strange, he must consider how incredible seemed to be what the Prophet here teaches, and how difficult it was to produce a conviction on the subject. We indeed confess that God is the judge of the world; nay, there is no one who does not anticipate his judgement by condemning avarice and cruelty; the very name of avarice is infamous and hated by all: the same may be said of cruelty. But yet when we see the avaricious in splendor and in esteem, we are astounded, and no one is able to foresee by faith what the Prophet here declares. Since, then our dullness is so great, or rather our sottishness, it is no wonder that the Prophet should here set before us the stones and the wood, as though he said, |When all prophecies and all warnings become frigid, and God himself obtains no credit, while openly declaring what he will do, and when his servants consume their labor in vain by warning and crying, let now the stones come forth, and be teachers to you who will not give ear to the voice of God himself, and let the wood also cry out in its turn.| This, then, is the reason why the Prophet introduces here mute things as the speakers, even to awaken our insensibility.

Then he adds, Shall it not be, behold, from Jehovah of hosts? Some give a wrong version, |Is not this,| as though hnh, ene, were put here instead of a pronoun demonstrative; but they extenuate and obscure the beauty of the expression; nay, they pervert the meaning of the Prophet: for when he says, hnh, ene, behold, he refers not to what he had said, nor specifies any particular thing, and yet he shows, as it were by the finger, the judgement of God, which he bids us to expect; as though he said, |Shall not God at length have his turn, when the avaricious and the cruel have obtained their triumphs in the world, and darkened the minds and thoughts of all, as though no account were to be given by them before the tribunal of God? Shall not God sometime show that it is his time to interpose?| When, therefore, he says, Shall it not be, behold, from Jehovah? it is an indefinite mode of speaking; he does not say, This or that shall be from the God of hosts; but, Shall it not be, behold, from Jehovah of hosts? that is, God seems now indeed to rest, and on this account men indulge themselves with greater boldness; but he will not always remain still, Shall not God then come forth, who seems now to be unconcerned? Something there will at length be from the God of hosts. And the demonstrative particle confirms the same thing: Behold, he says, as though he would show to the faithful as in a picture the tribunal of God, which cannot be seen by us now but by faith. He says, Behold, will not there be something from the God of hosts? that is, Will not God at length stretch forth his hand, to show that he is not unconcerned, but that he cares for the affairs of men? In a word, by this mode of speaking is pointed out to us the change, which we are to hope for, inasmuch as it cannot be soon realised.

Hence he concludes, The people, then, labor in the fire, and the people weary themselves in vain. To labor in the fire means the same thing as to take in hand an unprofitable work, the fruit of which is immediately consumed. Some say that people labor in the fire, because Babylon had been built by a great number of men, and at length perished by fire; but this explanation seems far-fetched. I take a simpler view -- that people labor in the fire, like him who performs a work, and a fire is put under it and consumes it; or like him, who with great labor polishes his own work, and a fire is prepared, which destroys it while in the hands of the artificer. For it is certain that the Prophet repeats the same thing in another form, when he says, vdy-ryq, bedi-rik, with vanity, or for vanity. We now then apprehend his object.

We may here collect a useful doctrine -- that not only the fruit of labor shall be lost by all who seek by wicked means to enrich themselves, but also that were the whole world favorable and subservient to them, the whole would yet be useless; as it happened to the king of Babylon, though he had many people ready to obey him. But the Prophet derides all those great preparations, for God had fire at hand to consume whatever they had so eagerly contrived who wished to spend all their labor to please one man. He at length adds --

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