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Habakkuk 3:14

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Thou didst strike through - The Hebrew will bear this sense: "Thou hast pierced amidst their tribes the head of their troops," referring to Pharaoh and his generals, who came like a whirlwind to fall upon the poor Israelites, when they appeared to be hemmed in by sea, and no place for their escape. If we follow the common reading, it seems to intimate that the troops of Pharaoh, in their confusion (for God shone out upon them from the cloud) fell foul of each other; and with their staves, or weapons, slew one another: but the head of the villages or towns, i.e., Pharaoh was drowned with his army in the Red Sea.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages - The destruction comes not upon himself only, but upon the whole multitude of his subjects; and this not by any mere act of divine might, but “with his own staves,” turning upon him the destruction which he prepared for others. So it often was of old. When the Midianites and Amalekites and the children of the east Judges 6:3-4 wasted Israel in the days of Gideon “the Lord set every man‘s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host” Judges 7:22; and when God delivered the Philistines into the hand of Jonathan 1 Samuel 14:12, 1 Samuel 14:16, 1 Samuel 14:20 so it was with “Ammon Moab and the inhabitants of Mount Seir,” at the prayer of Jehoshaphat and his army 2 Chronicles 20:22-23. And so it shall be, God says, at the end, of the army of God; “every man‘s sword shall be against his brother,” Ezekiel 38:21. and Isaiah says, Isaiah 9:20, “every man shall eat the flesh of his own arm,” and Zechariah Zechariah 14:13, “a great tumult from the Lord shall be among them; and they shall lay every man hold on the hand of his neighbor, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor.”

So Pharaoh drove Israel to the shore of the sea, in which he himself perished; Daniel‘s accusers perished in the den of lions, from which Daniel was delivered unharmed; Daniel 6:24. and so Haman was hanged on the gallows which he prepared for Mordecai Esther 7:10. So it became a saying of Psalmists (Psalm 7:5, add Psalm 9:15; Psalm 10:2; Psalm 35:8; Psalm 57:6; Psalm 94:23; Psalm 141:10; Proverbs 5:22; Proverbs 26:27; Ecclesiastes 10:8.) “He made a pit and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made; his mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate:” and this from above, sent down by God. The pagan too observed that there was “no juster law than that artificers of death by their own art should perish.” This too befell him, when he seemed to have all but gained his end. “They came (out) as a whirlwind to scatter me,” with whirlwind force, to drive them asunder to all the quarters of the heavens, as the wind scatters the particles of Job 37:11. cloud, or (Jeremiah 13:24, add Jeremiah 18:17; Isaiah 41:16, Delitzsch) “as the stubble which passeth away by the wind of the wilderness.” Pharaoh at the Red Sea or Sennacherib, sweep all before them. Pharaoh said Exodus 15:9. “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.”

Their rejoicing - It is no longer one enemy. The malice of the members was concentrated in the head; the hatred concentrated in him was diffused in them. The readiness of instruments of evil to fulfill evil is an incentive to those who conceive it; those who seem to ride the wave are but carried on upon the crest of the surge which they first roused. They cannot check themselves or it. So the ambitious conceiver of mischief has his own guilt; the willing instruments of evil have theirs. Neither could be fully evil without the other. Sennacherib had been nothing without those fierce warriors who are pictured on the monuments, with individual fierceness fulfilling his will, nor the Huns without Attila, or Attila without his hordes whose tempers he embodied. Satan would be powerless but for the willing instruments whom he uses. So then Holy Scripture sometimes passes from the mention of the evil multitude to that of the one head, on earth or in hell, who impels them; or from the one evil head who has his own special responsibility in originating it, to the evil multitude, whose responsibility and guilt lies in fomenting the evil which they execute.

Their rejoicing - He does not say simply “they rejoice to,” but herein is their exceeding, exulting joy. The wise of this earth glories in his wisdom, the mighty man in his might, the rich in his riches: the truly wise, that he understandeth and knoweth God. But as for these, their exultation is concentrated in this, savagery; in this is their jubilation; this is their passion. Psalmists and pious people use the word to express their exulting joy in God: people must have an object for their empassioned souls; and these, in cruelty.

As it were to devour the poor secretly - From the general he descends again to the individual, but so as now to set forth the guilt of each individual in that stormy multitude which is, as it were, one in its evil unity, when each merges his responsibility, as it were, in that of the body, the horde or the mob, in which he acts. Their exultation, he says, is that of the individual robber trod murderer, who lies wait secretly in his ambush, to spring on the defenseless wanderer, to slay him and devour his substance. Premeditation, passion, lust of cruelty, cowardice, murderousness, habitual individual savagery and treachery, and that to the innocent and defenseless, are all concentrated in the words, “their exultation is, as it were, to devour the poor secretly,” i. e. “in their secret haunt.”

Pharaoh had triumphed over Israel. “They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in” Exodus 14:3. He rejoiceth in having them wholly in his power, as a lion has his prey in his lair, in secret, unknown to the Eyes of God whom he regarded not, with none to behold, none to deliver. Dion.: “They gloried in oppressing the people of Israel, even as the cruel man glories in secretly rending and afflicting the needy, when without fear they do this cruelty, nor heed God beholding all as Judge. The invisible enemies too rejoice very greatly in the ruin of our souls “Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him: for if I be cast down, they that trouble me will rejoice at it Psalm 13:4. “O Lord and governor of all my life, leave me not to their counsels and let me not fall by them” (Sirach 23:1). Yet God left them not in his hands; but even “brake the head of Leviathan in pieces.”

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
God's people, when in distress, and ready to despair, seek help by considering the days of old, and the years of ancient times, and by pleading them with God in prayer. The resemblance between the Babylonish and Egyptian captivities, naturally presents itself to the mind, as well as the possibility of a like deliverance through the power of Jehovah. God appeared in his glory. All the powers of nature are shaken, and the course of nature changed, but all is for the salvation of God's own people. Even what seems least likely, shall be made to work for their salvation. Hereby is given a type and figure of the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. It is for salvation with thine anointed. Joshua who led the armies of Israel, was a figure of Him whose name he bare, even Jesus, our Joshua. In all the salvations wrought for them, God looked upon Christ the Anointed, and brought deliverances to pass by him. All the wonders done for Israel of old, were nothing to that which was done when the Son of God suffered on the cross for the sins of his people. How glorious his resurrection and ascension! And how much more glorious will be his second coming, to put an end to all that opposes him, and all that causes suffering to his people!
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