As the Lord gives him an answer, the vision was introduced as God compared the proud and the righteous. The proud are puffed up. They are not upright. In fact, they cannot be righteous because true righteousness comes from God and not from ourselves. The righeous, those who are just and right with God, in contrast live by faith. Daily they walk by means of steadfast trust in God. The answer for Habakkuk is that there is a difference between the wicked and the righteous.
Continuing in His answer, God gives Habakkuk a taunt song. Taunting one’s enemy is not new. There are several taunting songs recorded in the Scripture. An example that we might understand in the context of the history of our own nation is found in many of the popular songs sung during the Civil War. The Confederates would sing Dixie. One well known verse begins:
I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten; Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.
This anthem of the South was mocked by Union troops as they changed the lyrics in order to taunt Confederate soldiers on the battle field. In one example they sang these words to the tune:
Away down south in the land of traitors, rattlesnakes and alligators; Right away, come away! Right away, come away!
These songs were meant to provoke, to shame, and to mock an enemy. Habakkuk 2:5-20 is a hymn of taunting toward the Babylonians as God gives the prophet 5 stanzas of 3 verses each, each stanza describing a woe, or a curse, on the Babylonians. In other words, Habakkuk is given a song that describes how and why God will also judge the Babylonians, though we learn that their judgment is much worse than the discipline that Judah will endure.
The first woe in verses 6-8 show us that Babylon is charged with extortion. They plunder and threaten the nations in order to make themselves rich. They are greedy. Every day for the Babylonians is “black Friday” and the nations around them are the helpless stores deluged with raging hordes of bargain hunting rowdies! Greed flows from a lack of trust in the provision and providence of God. It is a sinful motivation to get more and more in order to be safe, secure, and taken care of, while never truly being satisified. The text is clear that those who overextend themselves to get what they want when they want it, with no discipline, patience, or faith in God, will soon be overtaken by their creditors.
The second woe in verses 9-11 describes the exploitation of others by the nation because of their covetousness. They took from others so that they themselves might have whatever they wanted. Greed opens the door for exploitation as the covetous man will eventually use illegal and unjust means to get what he wants from others. Injustice and the exploitation of others will only end in ruin we are told. We will be consumed by our covetousness.
The third woe in verses 12-14 reveals their ruthlessness. They labored to build luxurious palaces by means of violence and forced labor from catpives. However, all of their effort would be worthless in the end as God would bring their nation to nothing. Greed opens the door for injustice and the unquenchable thirst for more eventually tips over into violence. More than breaking the law, now the Babylonians had become violent and bloodthirsty as a result of their insatiable appetites for more and more.
The fourth woe in verses 15-17 brings a charge of debauchery, that is they are full of shameful behavior. As God prepares to judge them He promises that their shame will be exposed to all the world. When greed, injustice, and violence are not enough to feed the flood of sinful desires we see that men will try seduction and perversity. The slippery slope of the power hungry gives way to an all out fall from truth and sincerity. Whereas everyone wants to be loved, the violent and unjust learn that they must trick people into trusting them, and deceive people in order to gain their affection. What is meant for good in a loving relationship has been abused, perverted, and becomes their shame.
The fifth woe in verses 18-20 is a judgment for their idolatry. Indeed, even as Nebuchadnezzar worshiped false gods and set up idols in the land, ultimately Babylon would see that the God of Judah was the true and living God and that their idols were weak and worthless. This idolatry was the foundation of the entire Babylonian religious system. This was not just a few people bowing before idols, but a nation turned over to false gods, spiritism, and the occult.
Babylon was mocked by God and would be judged by Him because of their sin. Their insatiable greed drove them from injustice to violence to seduction and ended in idolatry, where ultimately Nebuchanezzar worshipped himself as the highest and greatest of all beings. Of course we know that he learned the truth the hard way as God humbled him through madness and he eventually did confess that the Lord was God. But in the meantime, in pursuit of their own lusts and greed, Babylon destroyed many nations and eventually God destroyed them.
We in the church need to heed the warnings of these five woes. We need to see why God was taunting the Babylonians and we need to be careful not to chase after the same lusts. What or Who do we turn to for safety and security in these uncertain times? What motivates us financially? Are we chasing money in the hopes that financial security will bring peace of mind? Are we pursuing the praise of men? Are we seeking intimacy through deceit? Are we running after things that will only serve to puff us up and then let us down?
Will we handle hard times like the world handles hard times? Will we do things their way, or God’s way? Remember, the righteous live by faith (steadfast trust in God) no matter what they see going on around them. And if we fall for the lie that the world can give us what we want and need then we are already slipping down the slope that greed has greased!
Remember, while the “Woes” here are a pronouncement of judgment (the word itself means “cursed”), at times when we start to be led astray by greed and sinful lust, we need to say, “Woe!” We need to slow down, think, pray, read the Scriptures, and stop our slipping on the downgrade. Otherwise we may very well fall over a cliff and into a pit of self serving idolatry.
Join us this Sunday, Novermber 28, as we study the “Five Woes” given by God through Habakkuk to the people of Judah and to Babylon. We will see once again that “Triumphant Faith” in an All Powerful God serves as the antidote for greed, lust, and the pursuit of those things that will only hurt and destroy us.