5 indeed, wine betrays him;
he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
and takes captive all the peoples.
6 “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying,
“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
7 Will not your creditors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their prey.
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
9 “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by injustice!
13 Has not the Lord Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14 For 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 gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.”
20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.
The Lord continues with His answer to Habakkuk. This is the revelation for what will befall the Chaldeans, after they are used by God to bring justice on the Israelites. This answer will come to pass, but not until the appointed time, and as God has just stated in verse 4 – the righteous will live by faith – and must believe that God will finish what He started. We will see this same doctrine repeated over and over in the fear instilled by these passages. The only way for a person of God to live is by faith. How else can we hope in our Savior and His power to save us from this evil place?
The wine in verse 5 is significant of wealth. God speaks here of Babylonia’s wealth and greed because of pride. A man who is puffed up on himself (in this case the king of Babylon & his people) will never stop wanting more because pride is an unquenchable sin. This man never rests, and searches out his next plunder, which included cities and people groups. Verse 6 begins the condemnation of the Chaldean king and those that he represents. The people in this passage who taunt are all of those that have become captives from the wars brought by the Chaldeans. As God lays out what will happen, He gives a prophecy – a truth specific claim to His omniscience. Note that right here, if none of this had come to pass, we could denounce the Bible’s truth claims as false, and never put faith in the God who wrote it. However, these things did happen, along with all the other prophecies throughout history up until today. There are some yet to be realized, but none have been proven false.
There are 5 woes preceding. When judgement is pronounced and a woe is included it is expressing an inspired denunciation and foreshadowing of God’s wrath upon sinners – it is not to be taken lightly.
Woe to him who … makes himself wealthy by extortion! – Do not steal. Not only had the Chaldeans stolen goods and wealth, but they had stolen people. This prophecy was given prior to the Chaldeans taking Jerusalem and delivering God’s justice. They had taken over so many nations and peoples that they had become a great nation falsely. God describes a time that is coming when the very people who were made servants and drafted in to Babylonia by overtake will rise up to destroy it from the inside. Looking at recorded history we can see that this did indeed come to pass when the Persians revolted under the Chaldean rule and then Cyrus the Great took control. (Cyrus was key in rebuilding the Jewish temple and returning the captives to their lands.)
Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain… – Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Prior to the sacking of Jerusalem the Chaldeans plotted and schemed with neighboring powers to take down the Assyrians to be able to gain control. There were a series of tactical moves that eventually placed the Chaldeans at the forefront and they established their kingdom overpowering the nations that helped them. In this woe God poetically and prophetically speaks of the foundations and walls of this empire (the people who were used) crying out, even beginning to plot revenge.
Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed… – Do not kill. One of the cities that the Chaldeans overtook to gain control was Nineveh. It is well documented that the inhabitants of this city were either massacred or deported during that time. By sacking Nineveh the Chaldeans took the last great stronghold of the Assyrians, essentially establishing their kingdom in the the area. It is easy to see why Habakkuk was so confused about why God would allow all of this bloodshed to continue and even as His method of justice against Israel. But as God Himself writes in verse 13, all of their labor becomes fuel for the fire (or God’s wrath) against them. By performing injustices against others, the Chaldeans sealed their fate for when God would pour out His wrath on them. An interesting side note: in verse 14 God reveals that all of the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. There is no doubt, when reading history, that God’s fingerprints are all over it. Each time you see a reference to these great powers there is also a reference to where the Bible talked beforehand about it, and scholars and archeologists cannot ignore it.
Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors – Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. The Chaldeans used their neighboring people groups to help them defeat the Assyrians. The act of drinking and becoming drunk can be used as a metaphor for power and wealth. When you become drunk, or in this instance powerful, you become consumed with yourself and oblivious to those around you who sneak in to take things from you. It seems that this is exactly what the Chaldeans did to the nations that helped them succeed. They all gained power by defeating Assyria and once they had won, the king of the Chaldeans used the opportunity to become the main power in the region. Just as he had done to these powers, God will do to his kingdom.
Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ – Do not make for yourself an idol. The Chaldeans worshiped carved images of gods, specifically Marduk (the sun god of Babylon). This god was also regarded as wise in the ways of justice and magic, giving wisdom to the kings who worshiped him. God lays out his abhorrence of idols beginning in verse 18. Because idols are made from human hands they are created. How can anything created do anything for it’s creator? By worshiping something created you have turned your back on the one true Creator, and you are destined to fall – just like the Chaldeans. Idols are carved by human hands. Men were created by God. Idols cannot speak and though we may command, will forever remain silent. Men are able to speak because God allows it, but when God commands we will be silent.
God’s revelation is finished and Habakkuk closes with the comforting proclamation that He is indeed on His throne. It’s not that He was, or that He has stepped away. God is perpetually there whether we can see Him working or not. This is why all of this is prefaced with the statement that will keep us focused – the righteous will live by faith. It is in Him that we must place our trust and hope. This world will seem hopeless, and at times we may feel like we are drowning, but be assured that God is in total control. All things are used and work for God’s glory, so let us be silent and reverent towards our God who is holy.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-3