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That word occurs 36 times in the Old Testament, and six times in the prophecy of Habakkuk (1:2; 1:3; 1:9; 2:8; 2:17 twice). Here is a quote from a Hebrew scholar in his book about Habakkuk’s writing:

“The word means ‘violence’, and in scripture it denotes situations of civil, as well as military oppression. It describes malicious action intended to injure the person or property of another. Six times it occurs in this prophecy, and is a key word in it. One is reminded of the situation at the time of the flood, when society had disintegrated and the earth had become full of violence (Gen. 6:11. 13). That such conditions could be found recurring in pagan cities may not have been all that surprising (Jonah 3:8). So when it also occurs among those who are the covenant people (Mic. 6:12), it indicates that their relationship with God – and not just with one another – has gone sadly wrong.” Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, John L. Mackay, p. 180, Christian Focus, 1998

The author uses the English translation of chamas, namely, hamas, which is pronounced as it looks. Now here is what the verse in question says:

“For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.” Habakkuk 2:17 A.V.

Given how the word chamas is used throughout the prophet’s writing, and how often he uses it (for such a short document), what is the significance of this word, especially for us today?

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  • I am struggling to understand your question. Look at the word meaning - its significance for today is found in Gen 6:11, 13 - God will destroy those who perpetuate violence.
    – Dottard
    Feb 4 at 10:51
  • In Arabic hamas means zeal in contrast to violence in Hebrew, thus why Hamas uses the word. But, Hezdballah, meaning party of God in Arabic, is in Lebanon, not Hamas.
    – Perry Webb
    Feb 4 at 11:18
  • 1
    @Dottard That second sentence gives a good lead-in to an answer to the Q!
    – Anne
    Feb 4 at 13:36
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    @PerryWebb That is why I'm asking about the Hebrew word in the verse in Q. It is the word that means 'violence' that is important for Bible students to be clear about. This is not a Q about modern-day politics. But there is a connection between violence and the Lebanon of old, in the text, and what Bible students should learn as pertains to this era.
    – Anne
    Feb 4 at 13:41

2 Answers 2

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The word chamas (חָמָס Strong’s Hebrew 2555) means violence or wrong, as in an injury or injustice, that is committed against another. Looking at the occurrences of the word chamas in Habakkuk, it is often the case that either connotation could work and both may be implied.

Habakkuk 1:3-4 NKJV

For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises. 4 Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.

The context of Hab 2:17 regards a question that Habakkuk inquires of God:

Habakkuk 1:13

You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?

Habakkuk 2 lays out God’s answer. The passage speaks of how the things that men amass by unjust means will return to haunt them. It is a reminder that the earth and all its riches, whether we speak of trees or people or glory, belong to God, and those who claim possession or abuse it will face retribution.

Habakkuk 2

6 Woe to him who increases what is not his… 8 Because you have plundered many nations, All the remnant of the people shall plunder you

9 Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house… 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, And the beam from the timbers will answer it.

12 Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, Who establishes a city by iniquity! … 13 Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts That the peoples labor to feed the fire, And nations weary themselves in vain?

Hab 2:17 sums up God’s answer. But what is the meaning of “violence done to Lebanon”? Known for its natural resources, Lebanon is a wooded mountain range on the northern border of Israel. According to BDAG, the words “violence done to Lebanon” likely refer to the cutting down of its trees ([biblehub.com]https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3844.htm)).

Isaiah 60:13

“The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, The cypress, the pine, and the box tree together

The tree has rich metaphorical significance in both the OT and NT. Given that God’s answer begins with “behold the proud, his soul is not upright” (Hab 2:4), the “violence done to Lebanon” can be understood as a metaphor for how God will bring down the proud.

Isaiah 10:33-34

33 Behold, the Lord, The Lord of hosts, Will lop off the bough with terror; Those of high stature will be hewn down, And the haughty will be humbled. 34 He will cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, And Lebanon will fall by the Mighty One.

Of its many figurative uses, there is one other that needs mentioning: the tree as a symbol of the righteous man (cf Ps 1:3, 92:12, Ez 17:22-23) - or, as some understand it, as a symbol for Christ. Therefore the “violence done to Lebanon'' can also be interpreted as a reference to the cross.

Such an interpretation drastically alters the message of Hab 2:17. What appears to be a threat of retribution instead becomes a promise of forgiveness (cf Gal 3:13, 1 Pet 2:24). Behind the “violence” we therefore find the hidden depths of God’s mercy.

Habakkuk 2:17

For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you

God’s answer to violence then is mercy. The OP asks, “What is the significance of this word, especially for us today?” As we face the increasingly grave consequences of human cruelty and injustice, the message of Hab 2:17 remains as urgent as ever. In my opinion, the violence in our world will continue unchecked unless we follow God’s model of retribution, which means to respond to wrong/violence with mercy. The call to emulate God’s goodness is key to the life of a Christian, for whom the message of Hab 2:17 may still hold a warning: unless we who are grafted into Christ bear fruit, we too may suffer the “violence done to Lebanon” (cf Jn 15:5-6, Mt 3:8-10).

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Let there be no doubt - "violence" is often used as a synonym for sin generally:

Ps 11:5 - The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.

The ancient world was condemned and destroyed in Noah's time, primarily for the sin of violence:

Gen 6:11-13 - Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and full of violence. And God looked upon the earth and saw that it was corrupt; for all living creatures on the earth had corrupted their ways. Then God said to Noah, “The end of all living creatures has come before Me, because through them the earth is full of violence. Now behold, I will destroy both them and the earth.

We see this amplified and explained in various ways:

  • Simeon was condemned for his violent ways, Gen 49:5
  • In a legal court, the testimony of a violent witnesses was to be ignored, Ex 23:1, Deut 19:16 (see Ps 27:12, 35:11)
  • God pronounced judgement against violent crimes, Judges 9:24
  • David prayed to God for deliverance from violent people, 2 Sam 22:49, Ps 11:5, 18:48, 25:19, 27:12, 140:4
  • Job pleads his innocence by saying that he has not perpetrated violence, Job 16:7
  • Violence has the seeds of its own destruction, Ps 7:16
  • etc

The pertinent word in all these is חָמָס (chamas) for which the OT has nothing but condemnation in quite strong language. Indeed, as noted above, the word is often used as a metaphor for sin generally.

[On a personal note, I lament the prevalence of violence in common entertainment media. I do not understand how people can watch one person doing great violence to another and be "entertained"! It takes no imagination to work out what the ancient prophets would say about modern entertainment which bears a striking resemblance to that in the Roman arenas and colosseum.]

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  • Your personal note is pertinent!
    – Anne
    Feb 5 at 13:25

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