Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. For ignorances. That is, for the sins of his people. In the Hebrew it is shignoth: which some take to signify a musical instrument, or tune, with which this sublime prayer and canticle was to be sung. (Challoner) — The term is omitted in several Latin manuscripts. The precise import cannot be ascertained; yet it seems to imply a song of comfort. (Calmet) — Septuagint, “with a canticle.” (Haydock) — St. Jerome follows Aquila and Symmachus, and the 5th edition. Theodotion has, “for voluntary” transgressions. (Calmet) — All sins proceed in some degree from ignorance, (Worthington) and are all the effects of free-will. (Haydock) — The prophet prays to be freed from sin, and foretells the coming of Christ, &c. (Worthington) — The Fathers apply this canticle to Him, as the Church herself does in her office. We cannot go astray, following such guides. Yet some think that an allusion is made to the return from captivity, and from Egypt, which were noble figures of the world’s redemption. The prophet concludes with adoring the ways of God, (Calmet) which at first he had not comprehended. (Haydock) — He is astonished at God’s mercy, in becoming incarnate for man’s sake. (Worthington)
Ver. 2. Thy hearing, &c. That is, thy oracles, the great and wonderful things thou hast revealed to me: and I was struck with a reverential fear and awe. (Challoner) — I saw that the unjust would not escape. (Calmet) — Work. The great work of the redemption of man, which thou wilt bring to life and light in the midst of the years, when our calamities and miseries shall be at their height. (Challoner) — Years, at the time appointed. (Worthington) — Septuagint read, “Lord, I considered thy works, and was astonished; in the midst of two living creatures, or lives, thou shalt be known,” (Haydock) or found, between an ox and an ass, as the Church has it. (Nat. and Circumc.[Nativity and Circumcision?]) (Worthington) — Christ appeared when the world was most dissolute. (Menochius) — The tradition of two animals being near the crib where he was born, is not of earlier date than about the fifth century. Some explain this of the Father between the Son and the Holy Ghost; others of Christ between the thieves, or the two testaments, or collecting his Church from Jews and Gentiles, &c. (Sanct.; Calmet) — Moderns agree with St. Jerome’s version. The prophet begs that God would perform his ancient miracles in his days, (Calmet) by relieving the captives, as he had formerly delivered their ancestors. (Haydock) — Make. Hebrew and Septuagint, “when the years approach, thou shalt be made known; when the time shall come, thou shalt be manifested; when my soul shall be troubled, in wrath thou,” &c. (Haydock) — God never shuts the gate of mercy to the penitent, Nahum i. 3. (Calmet)
Ver. 3. South. God himself will come to give us his law, and to conduct us into the true land of promise: as heretofore he came from the south, (in the Hebrew Teman) and from Mount Pharan, to give his law to his people in the desert. See Deuteronomy xxxiii. 2. (Challoner) — Septuagint render, “the shady and thick mount, Diapsalma.” St. Jerome, Pharan semper. Hebrew, Sela, Psalm ix. (Worthington) — The term seems to denote a pause. There might be many in the same canticle, (Calmet) as we find three here, (ver. 9, 13) and many placed at irregular distances in the Psalms. (Haydock) — The Hebrews had long sojourned in the Stony Arabia, under the guidance of the Lord. We should render in the past time to ver. 16. (Calmet). — Christ was born (Haydock) at Bethlehem, to the south of Jerusalem, (Worthington) and had given the law, as a Jew interpreted this passage to St. Jerome. He was probably a convert. (Haydock)
Ver. 4. Horns, &c. That is, strength and power, which by a Hebrew phrase are called horns: or beams of light, which come forth from his hands: or it may allude to the cross, in the horns of which the hands of Christ were fastened, where his strength was hidden, by which he overcame the world, and drove out death and the devil. (Challoner) — Horns may also designate the nails, the prints of which remained in our Saviour’s hands after his glorious resurrection. (Haydock) — God appeared hurling his thunderbolts (ver. 11., and Psalm xvii. 16.; Calmet) with a fiery law in his right hand, all shining with glory, Exodus xix. 18., and xxxiv. 29., and Deuteronomy v. 22. (Haydock) — Sinai seemed to be all on fire. Nothing can resist lightning. (Calmet). — Fulmine terres. (Virgil, Æneid i.) — Hid, Septuagint, “and he has placed the strong love of his power,” (Haydock) Jesus Christ, who has given his life for us. (Calmet)
Ver. 5. Death, &c. Both death and the devil shall be the executioners of his justice against his enemies; as they were heretofore against the Egyptians and Chanaanites. (Challoner) — Hebrew daber, (Haydock) according to the different pronunciation, is rendered “the word” by the Septuagint and Theo.[Theodotion?]; “the plague,” by Aquila, &c. After Christ was baptized, the devil came to tempt him. (St. Jerome) — Devil. Hebrew resheph, (Haydock) or “bird,” (Symmachus, &c.) means “creeping on the belly,” as is explained by the Jews of the devil, who tempted our first parents. (St. Jerome) — Moderns (Haydock) follow the Chaldean and understand the carbuncle. (Calmet) — Protestants, “burning coals:” marg.[marginal note,] “diseases,” (Haydock) resembling the pestilence. God destroyed his enemies and the murmuring Hebrews. (Calmet) — Septuagint, “and it (the word) shall go out into the fields behind his feet.” God’s will shall be published in the field of the world, (Haydock) when the gospel shall be preached to the Gentiles.
Ver. 6. Measured. Septuagint, “the earth was troubled,” (Calmet) or shaken. (Haydock) — He beheld. One look of his eye is enough to melt all the nations, and to reduce them to nothing. For all heaven and earth disappear when they come before his light, Apocalypse xx. 11. (Challoner) — The Chanaanites were dismayed at the approach of God’s people. He routed the nations, and determined the portion which he had chosen for Israel, Josue ii. 9. (Calmet) — Mountains. By the mountains and hills are signified the great ones of the world, that persecute the Church, whose power was quickly crushed by the Almighty. (Challoner) — The roughest roads in the wilderness were made smooth. God is poetically described at the head of his people, Deuteronomy viii. 4., and xxxiii. 15., and Psalm lxxv. 5. (Calmet)
Ver. 7. Ethiopia, the land of the Blacks, and Madian, are here taken for the enemies of God and his people, who shall perish for their iniquity. (Challoner) — Chus peopled that part of Arabia. (Haydock) — Hebrew has Chusan, perhaps to rhyme with Madian; though some think that Chusan (defeated by Othoniel) and Madian (over whom Gedeon gained a complete victory) are designated, Judges ii and vi. When the Hebrews had crossed the Red Sea, the Arabs and Madianites removed their tents in great trepidation. (Calmet) — These nations dwelt chiefly under tents, or skins, which would be removed in time of war. (Worthington)
Ver. 8. With the rivers, &c. He alludes to the wonders wrought heretofore by the Lord in favour of his people Israel, when the waters of the rivers, viz., of Arnon and Jordan, and of the Red Sea, retired before their face; when he came as it were with his horses and chariots to save them; when he took up his bow for their defence, in consequence of the oath he had made to their tribes; when the mountains trembled, and the deep stood with its waves raised up in a heap, as with hands lifted up to heaven; when the sun and moon stood still at his command, &c., to comply with his anger, not against the rivers and sea, but against the enemies of his people. How much more will he do in favour of his Son, and against the enemies of his Church? (Challoner) — Horses: the ark of the covenant. (Calmet)
Ver. 9. Take. Septuagint bend thy bow over the sceptres, says the Lord, Diapsalma.” Sela is neglected by the Vulgate or (Haydock) by S. Jerome, as having no meaning. (Calmet) — Yet we find in the edition of his works he renders it, for ever; and here observes, that the Lord “always dwells with his saints,” and attacks vices by their mouths. — Rivers. Septuagint, “the earth shall be cut by rivers.” (Haydock) — Greek historians mention several rivers which have appeared or ceased to flow in consequence of earthquakes. The apostles, moved by Christ, water the world and form the Church. (St. Jerome)
Ver. 10. Grieved. They seemed full of surprise, as in labour, (Hebrew) and the abyss spoke in its manner, (Calmet) obeying thy voice, and letting the Israelites pass. (Haydock; Psalm lxxiii. 15., and cxiii. 3., and Numbers xxi. 13.; Calmet) — “Earth, sea, and rocks quake at the sight of God.” (Æschyl.) (Haydock) — Septuagint are obscure, (Calmet) “Peoples shall behold thee, and grieve, (or be in labour: odinesousi has both meanings; St. Jerome) dividing the waters of the passage, the abyss,” &c. Other copies read, “Thou, Lord, wilt divide,” which S. Jerome explains of heresies, which soon disappear. (Haydock)
Ver. 11. Go. The five kings shall flee at the descent of Bethoron; or the heavenly body shall proceed at thy command, at the signal given by thunder, Josue x. 11.
Ver. 13. Christ. This may well be explained of the incarnation. God was touched at the miseries of his people, and rescued them by Moses. (Calmet) — Theodotion and Symmachus, “Ebionite, half Christians,” give a Jewish interpretation, “to save thy Christ.” Aquila, though a Jew, and the 5th edition agree with us; but the 6th edition best explains the mystery, “through Jesus, thy Christ.” (St. Jerome) — Head, &c. Such was Pharao heretofore; such shall antichrist be hereafter. (Challoner) — It may also be understood of Nabuchodonosor and of all persecutors. (Haydock) — Cyrus cut off Baltassar; Christ will destroy antichrist, (2 Thessalonians ii.; Menochius) the head of the wicked congregation, Isaias xi. 4. (Worthington) — Neck, or root. Pharao’s eldest son perished, Exodus xiv. 17. (Calmet)
Ver. 14. Sceptres. The nobles were drowned (Haydock) with their king, (Calmet) when they expected an easy prey, Exodus xiii. 9. (Haydock) — Hebrew, “thou hast pierced the chief of their troops in the midst of tribes,” or sticks, as the Egyptians perhaps slew each other. (Calmet)
Ver. 15. Sea, &c., to deliver thy people from the Egyptian bondage; and thou shalt work the like wonders, in the spiritual way, to rescue the children of thy Church from their enemies. (Challoner) — The waters stood up like mountains, while God seemed to pass in his triumphal car. (Calmet)
Ver. 16. I have heard, &c., viz., the evils that are now coming upon the Israelites for their sins; and that shall come hereafter upon all impenitent sinners: and the foresight that I have of these miseries makes me willing to die, that I may be at rest, before this general tribulation comes, in which all good things shall be withdrawn from the wicked. (Challoner) — The five woes denounced [in] chap. ii. make the deepest impression upon me. (Haydock) — I fear lest I should sin. (St. Jerome) — The thought of so many wonders makes me speechless. (Calmet) — Me. Let me find rest in the grave, like Job. (Haydock) — I trust that God will raise me up. (Calmet) — Hebrew, “rottenness hath entered,….and I trembled in myself.” Septuagint, (15) “horses, troubling many waters: (16) I watched, and my belly was filled with fear at the voice of the prayer of my lips, and trembling entered my bones, and under me my strength (or frame, exis; some read ischus) was troubled. I shall rest in the day of my tribulation, to go up to the people of my parish,” or neighbourhood; paroikias. (Haydock) — People, &c. That I may join the happy company in the bosom of Abraham, that are girded; that is, prepared for their journey, by which they shall attend their Lord, when he shall ascend into heaven. To which high and happy place, my Jesus, that is, my Saviour, the great conqueror of death and hell, shall one day conduct me rejoicing and singing psalms of praise, ver. 18., and 19. (Challoner) — Girded. Hebrew, “transmigration or desolation.” Habacuc was mercifully allowed by Providence to dwell in Juda, when almost all were led away. He was transported through the air to feed Daniel, (Daniel xiv. 32.) where he might see his brethren, as he here insinuates, having relied on God’s mercy, ver. 2. (Calmet) — Protestants, “when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops; (marginal note, “cut them in pieces”) 17. Although the,” &c. When all shall be ravaged, I will still hope. (Haydock) — All must be patiently endured, that we may rest at last. (Worthington)
Ver. 17. Fail. Literally, “lie,” (Haydock) or frustrate our expectations. (Calmet) — Spem mentita seges. (Horace i. ep. 7.) — Fold. Septuagint, “food.”
Ver. 18. Jesus. Hebrew yishi, “my (Haydock) salvation.” (Calmet) — Septuagint, “saviour.” Chaldean, “redeemer.” (Haydock) — Jesus was the desire of all nations, and he imparts true joy to the faithful, John viii. 56. (Calmet) — At the last day, plagues similar to those of Egypt will occur; but the elect shall rejoice. (St. Jerome)
Ver. 19. Places. I shall escape the fury of the Chaldeans, and sing a hymn of thanksgiving. (Calmet) — “The conqueror singing psalms” may be unconnected with the rest, (Haydock) and designed to shew that the hymn was intended for religious meetings. It may signify, “To the chief over the female musicians.” (Calmet) — Lamnatseach binginothai. Protestants, “to the chief singer on my stringed instruments:” marginal note, “Neginoth.” Septuagint, “He will order my feet unto perfection. He will establish me upon the heights, to gain the victory in his canticle.” (Haydock) — I shall exchange my former complaints for songs of praise, and be crowned by Jesus. (St. Jerome)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
1 A PRAYER OF HABACUC, THE PROPHET, FOR IGNORANCES.
2 O Lord, I have heard thy hearing, and was afraid.
O Lord, thy work, in the midst of the years bring it to life:
In the midst of the years thou shalt make it known: when thou art angry, thou wilt remember mercy.
3 God will come from the south, and the holy one from Mount Pharan:
His glory covered the heavens, and the earth is full of his praise.
4 His brightness shall be as the light: horns are in his hands:
There is his strength hid: 5 Death shall go before his face.
And the devil shall go forth before his feet.
6 He stood and measured the earth.
He beheld, and melted the nations: and the ancient mountains were crushed to pieces.
The hills of the world were bowed down by the journies of his eternity.
7 I saw the tents of Ethiopia for their iniquity, the curtains of the land of Madian shall be troubled.
8 Wast thou angry, O Lord, with the rivers? or was thy wrath upon the rivers? or thy indignation in the sea?
Who wilt ride upon thy horses: and thy chariots are salvation.
9 Thou wilt surely take up thy bow: according to the oaths which thou hast spoken to the tribes.
Thou wilt divide the rivers of the earth.
10 The mountains saw thee, and were grieved: the great body of waters passed away.
The deep put forth its voice: the deep lifted up its hands.
11 The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation, in the light of thy arrows, they shall go in the brightness of thy glittering spear.
12 In thy anger thou wilt tread the earth under foot: in thy wrath thou wilt astonish the nations.
13 Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people: for salvation with thy Christ.
Thou struckest the head of the house of the wicked: thou hast laid bare his foundation even to the neck.
14 Thou hast cursed his sceptres, the head of his warriors, them that came out as a whirlwind to scatter me.
Their joy was like that of him that devoureth the poor man in secret.
15 Thou madest a way in the sea for thy horses, in the mud of many waters.
16 I have heard, and my bowels were troubled: my lips trembled at the voice.
Let rottenness enter into my bones, and swarm under me.
That I may rest in the day of tribulation: that I may go up to our people that are girded.
17 For the fig-tree shall not blossom: and there shall be no spring in the vines. The labour of the olive-tree shall fail: and the fields shall yield no food: the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls.
18 But I will rejoice in the Lord: and I will joy in God, my Jesus.
19 The Lord God is my strength: and he will make my feet like the feet of harts: and he the conqueror will lead me upon my high places singing psalms.