Study of the Prophets: Habakkuk (Cont.) October 28,2016

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue

Study of the Prophets: Habakkuk (Cont.) Oct.28,2016

This week we begin at Chapter 2:6-8 where G-d is speaking to Habakkuk about Nebuchadnezzar; “Shall all of these not take up a parable about him and a metaphor; [and] riddles regarding him? One will say, ‘Woe to him who amasses that which is not his. How long [can he go on]? He burdens himself heavily with thick mud.’  

Habakkuk enumerates the punishments of the Chaldeans in general and of Nebuchadnezzar specifically. Will not all the nations that he had assembled and enslaved take up parables and mock him when he falls? (Rashi; Radak; Mahari Kara). Some of the parables are in the language of riddles; some clearly understood and some more esoteric and profound (Metzudos).

“Woe to him who has amassed his wealth and broadened his kingdom but it will not even remain his”- for the king of the Medes will come and take it all from him (Rashi).  How long will he continue to increase his wealth and add to his heavy burden of sin? (Rashi). Radak interprets this statement as “how long will he continue to increase his wealth, which has become as weighty as thick mud?”

Will those who would bite you not rise up suddenly?

Suddenly your attackers (biters), the Mede and Persian kings, will awaken and rise up against you (Metzudos). Mahari Kara explains that the biters refer to Darius and his army, who attacked and killed Belshazzar.  Habakkuk describes the attackers as “biters” rather than simply “avengers” to better convey the fury and anger with which they attacked (Da’as Sofrim). Radak’s father interprets the “biters” to be worms that will devour Nebuchadnezzar’s decomposing body in the grave. In other words, Habakkuk is saying, “Nebuchadnezzar! In your arrogance, you never stopped to think that one day you will be a decaying corpse lying in a grave with worms consuming your flesh?”

 And [will] those who would cause you to tremble [not]awaken?

The Persian and Median kings who were under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and were subservient to his nation will suddenly rebel during the days of Belshazzar, much as a sleeping dragon who awakens.

 You will plunder for them!

Habakkuk is either referring to Nebuchadnezzar who was exhumed from his grave (Isaiah 14:19) or to Belshazzar who was suddenly attacked and killed by the Persian army(Radak). I submit this phrase refers to Nebuchadnezzar in keeping with the context of the paragraph. 

 Because you have pillaged many nations, all the remnants of the nations will pillage you, for the blood of men [that you spilt] and the robbery of the land, the city and all its inhabitants.”

Rashi interprets this to mean that because Nebuchadnezzar expelled many nations from their lands, the remaining nations will expel him from his land (Mahari Kara). These punishments will befall you to avenge the blood of the many nations that you spilled (Radak; Ibn Ezra). Rashi explains that the blood of men, is referring specifically to the blood of the Israelite nation, for scripture refers to Israel as man (see Ezekiel 34:31).

Continuing with verse 9-15:

Woe to him who gains evil profit for his house, so that he may set his nest up high to be rescued from the grasp of evil.

The profit is described as being evil, because it has come through evil means (Radak). Rashi understands that the word used for evil, (ratz), is describing the fate of Nebuchadnezzar and is not used as a modifier for the word profit. He translates, “Woe to him who has robbed people of their wealth, for it will only cause him disaster (evil). The money that Nebuchadnezzar gained through thievery will be the cause of his downfall. “For his house…” The stolen money was used to erect structures for Nebuchadnezzar’s personal use (Rashi; Radak). Ibn Ezra considers the entire country of Babylonia as his house. “So that he may set his nest up high…” AS a precaution against invasion of neighboring enemies, Nebuchadnezzar built a powerful fortress in Babylon with the wood and stones of the cities he captured and destroyed (Radak).

The Torah often metaphorically uses the nest up high to portray the conceit and ambitiousness of the wicked (see Obadiah 1:4). When Nebuchadnezzar was walking atop his royal palace in Babylon, he exclaimed,” Is this not the great Babylon, which I have built up… with my powerful strength and for the glorification of my splendor!” (Daniel 4:26-28) and he was immediately punished (Rashi).

You have counseled shame for your house by cutting off many peoples,

Your counsel of destroying many nations and using the wealth that you took from them to build your own palaces and fortresses was ill advised, for it will only bring your destruction (Rashi; Radak). The clear intent of cutting off many peoples is to describe the destruction of many nations based on the word used for cut off as used in Deuteronomy 25:12.

 “…and you have sinned against your soul. For a stone will cry out from the wall and a sliver will answer it from the beams.

The stones of the buildings you plundered will cry out from the wall that you built and exclaim that they had been stolen by Nebuchadnezzar (Rashi; Metzudos).  This sentence is a metaphor portraying that everyone knew that Nebuchadnezzar’s structures were built with stolen goods (Radak; Abarbanel). Mahari Kara sees this verse as referring to the stones and wood from the Holy Temple that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed. Even if only one stone of the Temple would remain, it would cry out to G-d and mourn the destruction of the Temple. The Talmud (Taanis 11a; Chagigah 16a) learns that from this verse that the walls and beams of one’s house testify before G-d of the evil actions he commits in the privacy of his home. This is indeed an interesting thought whether it is true. Regardless, HaShem is omnipresent and omniscient. It matters not what means He uses to acquire knowledge of every thought and deed of all His creatures (Ecc. 12:14; Rom. 2:6). 

Woe to him who builds a city with blood shed and establishes a city with iniquity.

Woe to Nebuchadnezzar and anyone like him who built the city of Babylon with properties taken through murder and established it with properties acquired through iniquity (Mahari Kara). Metzudos maintains that this verse introduces prophecies that relate to the Ultimate Redemption of Israel during the Messianic era and the downfall of the nations who destroyed the Second Temple. Abarbanel also maintains that verses 12-20 are a prophecy in which Habakkuk foresaw the ultimate destruction of Rome, the leader of the Edomite kingdom that destroyed the Second Temple. These verses do not describe the downfall of Nebuchadnezzar. Abarbanel and Metzudos were given wonderful insight from the Ruach HaKodesh as was Habakkuk. Their thoughts/interpretations are uncannily consistent with the remainder of the Torah, particularly the B’rit Chadashah that was neither given at this time or read by modern Orthodox Jews. 

 Behold, is it not from HaShem, Master of Legions, that the peoples will toil for the fire, and the nations will weary themselves for nothingness?

Habakkuk refers to the retribution against the wicked (Rashi). Are not punishments decreed by G-d? They are not simply coincidental occurrences (Metzudos). Radak understands this verse to be referring to Nebuchadnezzar and his descendants. Abarbanel and Metzudos suggest this verse refers to the nations who will age war against Israel prior to the Messianic era. This verse certainly makes sense in the context of the coalition of forces that will come against Israel in the future and the Gog-Magog war and the wicked kings and nations that have attacked Israel/Judah throughout history.

The Name “HaShem, Master of Legions” conveys G-d’s rule and control over the entire universe. HaShem forms all the creatures; He commands them, leads them, and guides them (R. Hirsch, Psalms 24:10)

 For the earth will be filled with knowledge of HaShem’s glory,

There are two ways to explain verses 12-20. One is where Habakkuk refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall. The second and most fascinating for the Messianic believer is that Habakkuk deals with the downfall of the nations during the Messianic era. Although he explains these verses according to the first scenario, Radak notes that verse 14 seems to lend credence to the future.

According to the first interpretation, the verse informs us that at the time of the downfall of the Chaldeans, all will realize the greatness of G-d (Radak). When Nebuchadnezzar arrogantly blasphemed HaShem, G-d immediately punished him with madness (Daniel 4:28-30). King Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s was also punished immediately after he desecrated the holy vessels of the Temple. He was killed the very night that Daniel, interpreting the writing on the wall, foretold his downfall (Daniel 5:24-30). In the first year of his reign, upon the expiration of Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years of exile, Cyrus the Mede, the son-in-law of Darius the Mede, who conquered Babylon, exclaimed, “All the kingdoms of the land did HaShem the G-d of the heavens give to me.” (see Chron. 36:23). At that time, all the nations of the world realized that the downfall of Babylon was brought about by G-d, that His providence is over mankind, and that He grants each person his due (Radak; Malbim).

The prophet Isaiah [11:9] used almost the identical words when he foretold the events of the Messianic era. Jeremiah [31:33] also prophesied in a similar manner. Due to the implications of this verse, Radak , as mentioned earlier, is inclined to explain vv.12-20 as a vision of the messianic era. Again, this interpretation could not be more true as we witness events that Yahshua foretold would occur just prior to His return (Matt. 24).

Accordingly, the explanation of verse 13 “Behold, is it not from HaShem, Master of Legions…” is Although the people of this generation have witnessed G-d’s vengeance against Babylon, a greater phenomenon will be witnessed in the future, when G-d will take vengeance on all of the nations that will join forces with Gog and Magog against Jerusalem. Then will their toil end in fire and be for naught, as explained in Ezekiel Chapter 39 and Zechariah Chapter 14 (Radak). This verse cannot be referring to the Second Temple era because the earth did not know the glory of G-d at that time. The verse can only be referring to the Ultimate Redemption (Abarbanel).

 “…as the waters cover the seabed.”

This verse is extremely interesting considering our current age of information. Habakkuk compares the knowledge of G-d during the Messianic time to waters that cover the seas. The Chofetz Chaim (Isaiah 11:9) remarks that when one travels the oceans, he sees only a vast expanse of water, but the mountains and the valleys of the ocean floor remain undetected. So too, will it be with the knowledge mankind will have of G-d. Although there are now many different beliefs and opinions regarding G-d- as numerous as the mountains and the valleys of the ocean floor- in Messianic times when all will recognize that it is only HaShem Who is G-d over the universe, the knowledge of G-d will be like the expanse of ocean where only its waters are seen.

Next week we will continue with verse 15.

My thanks once again to the authors and editors of The Twelve Prophets (2014): (Scherman and Zlotowitz (eds.) for much of the Orthodox Jewish commentary of the verses covered in this study.

Shalom v’brachas,

Rabbi Tamah Davis