5 Woes

Habakkuk 2:6-20
6Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!”
7Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them.
8Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.
9“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!
10You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life.
11For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.
12“Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!
13Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?
14For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
15“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink— you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!
16You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!
17The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.
18“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!
19Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.
20But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

Having heard the complaints of Habakkuk, God continues His response to those pleas for justice. And His answer is strong and shows His might. We need never believe that God allows those who hate Him and live as if He will do nothing about their violence a free pass. He will not.

These words from God contain five woes describing sinful characteristics and God’s response to them. Each woe describes certain poetic justice in the punishments Babylon would suffer at God’s hand. The first woe condemns Babylon for accumulating wealth for itself while building its empire with violence and bloodshed. All nations that exalt themselves against God and seek to hinder the coming of his kingdom can expect the Lord to act. Babylon should view its wealth as goods which it “borrowed” by force.

The second woe condemns the violence Babylon had used in collecting its unjust gain regardless of how much ruin and devastation it had caused. They then isolated themselves and became inaccessible to those who demanded justice.

In the third woe, the Lord condemns the bloodthirsty cruelty that the Babylon Empire used to gain wealth and procure the slave labor that had built its beautiful capital. That which held the building together was the blood of conquered nations. God’s judgment would be that Babylon itself would be torn down and destroyed. Earthly kingdom building will never withstand God’s wrath. One world power follows and destroys its predecessor. That’s what history records, and history will continue to repeat itself in the same vein until the very end.

The fourth woe condemns the moral depravity with which Babylon subdued the nations it had conquered. Forcing a person to drink from a cup of wine until he’s drunk is a figure the prophets used to denote the way conquerors like Babylon humiliated the people they ruled over. Staring lewdly at their nakedness depicts the way Babylon used these nations to satisfy its own lusts and appetites. Obviously, being forced to walk naked before the leering eyes and scoffing mouths of the those who conquered them was a very humiliating experience for those so oppressed. they deserved to be condemned for what they had done, for the mass destruction of human life and property they had caused: “For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.” Their shameful abuse of God’s creation for their own selfish purposes—“the destruction of animals” and the “violence” they had “done to Lebanon” and places like it by ravaging the trees and forests and other resources—were also part of the reason they would now have to drink from that cup of wrath. What they had done to others would now come around to them, only in much greater measure.
Westendorf, J. J. ©2000. Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (p. 130). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.

Now it would be Babylon’s turn. They would drink the cup of humiliation.

The fifth and final woe spells out the particulars of Babylon’s self-glorification and inhumane treatment of its neighbors. This woe accuses the city and its people of denying their natural knowledge of God. They created their own “gods” and then worshiped their own creations. Isaiah 44 tells the same story of those who would worship an idol carved from wood or cast from metal.

Isaiah 44:12-20
12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” 18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

God’s final word in this little book is found in verse 20 and it is comforting for the believer and should be rather terrifying for those who would try to spit in God’s eye with idolatry and personal (or national) kingdom building.

Habakkuk 2:20
But the Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him!

God’s reign remains and shall for all eternity. You can pretend to be mighty and strong. You can acquire your own personal kingdom here on earth through violence and bloodshed. But all of those little kingdoms amount to nothing in the eyes of our Almighty and All-Powerful God. The only bloodshed that means anything is the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross. That’s a Kingdom Builder.