Shall 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!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be spoil for them.
Because 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.
“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.
“Woe to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city on iniquity!
Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
that peoples labor merely for fire,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
in order to gaze at their nakedness!
You 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!
The 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.
“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!
Woe 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.
But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.” – Habakkuk 2:6-20 ESV
In verse five, we get a glimpse of Babylon as it appears to Habakkuk and the people of Judah:
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
and collects as his own all peoples.
But God reveals to the prophet that things are about to change. Babylon’s stock is about to plummet. Its 15-minutes fame are about to come to an abrupt end. For years they had been forcing their will on weaker nations. Their wealth had grown through the accumulation of plunder and from the exorbitant interest rates they charged on loans. And God finally determines to answer one of Habakkuk’s first questions: When? But He does so by having the question posed by those who find themselves living under the heavy hand of Babylonian rule.
“But soon their captives will taunt them.
They will mock them, saying,
‘What sorrow awaits you thieves!
Now you will get what you deserve!
You’ve become rich by extortion,
but how much longer can this go on?’” – Habakkuk 2:6 NLT
When is God going to do something? When will He finally bring about justice and give to the Babylonians what they deserve? And while God does not provide a specific time frame or give Habakkuk a firm date, He does let the prophet know that the day of Babylon’s judgment is fast approaching. He tells Habakkuk that the day is coming when the captives of Babylon turn against them in rebellion.
They will turn on you and take all you have,
while you stand trembling and helpless. – Habakkuk 2:7 NLT
This would actually take place in 539 B.C., when the Medes and Persians, two nations who had suffered at the hands of the Babylonians, would rise up and destroy their oppressor. The Babylonians would find themselves at the receiving end of the violence and persecution they had meted out to others. The Babylonians had built a great city, but had done so on the blood of others. They had made themselves a great nation by greedily plundering other, weaker nations. They had showed no mercy in the process. And God warns them:
What sorrow awaits you who build cities
with money gained through murder and corruption! – Habakkuk 2:12 NLT
God pronounces five woes on the Babylonians. And right in the middle of this section, God announces that all their efforts at glory and fame will amount to nothing, because God has deemed it so.
Has not the Lord of Heaven’s Armies promised
that the wealth of nations will turn to ashes?
They work so hard,
but all in vain! – Habakkuk 2:13 NLT
All their efforts would prove fruitless in the end and go up in the smoke of the fires that burned throughout their destroyed capital. All their conquests and victories would ring hollow once God turned His wrath against them. Their walls and wealth would prove no match for God’s judgment. Like the water fills the seas, the earth will one day be filled with a knowledge of God’s glory. The people of Judah will know that the fall of Babylon was the work of God, not men. They will realize that Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, has brought about a great victory over their enemy. And this prophecy has a now/not yet aspect to it. While Babylon would fall in 539 B.C., there is a greater fall of a far more wicked Babylon to come.
And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. – Revelation 16:18-19 ESV
This future Babylon is a representation of the wicked of the world. It will be a literal nation that sets itself against God, under the leadership of the Antichrist. It will be a world order that aligns itself in rebellion against God’s rule. But it will be destroyed once and for all when Jesus Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth. Ever since the fall of man in the garden of Eden, mankind has been in rebellion against God. And the greatest expression of man’s rebellion has been the desire to be as God – to their own god. At Babel, men joined forces in an attempt to build a tower to heaven. Their goal was to make a name for themselves.
“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV
But God saw into their hearts and knew what they were attempting to do, so He confused their languages and dispersed them over the face of the earth. But the desire that drove their efforts to make a name for themselves and bring themselves glory has not gone away. Babylon was just another in a long list of nations that had tried to establish itself as the gods of this earth. But God warns them, “You will have your fill of shame instead of glory” (Habakkuk 2:16 ESV). Their days were numbered. They were going to get drunk on the cup of God’s judgment.
Drink from the cup of the Lord’s judgment,
and all your glory will be turned to shame. – Habakkuk 2:16b NLT
The party was over. And their idols were going to prove incapable of standing up to the judgment of God. Those lifeless images made with their own hands would be exposed for what they were: Chunks of wood and lumps of clay.
What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols,
‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say,
‘Rise up and teach us!’
Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
but they are lifeless inside. – Habakkuk 2:19 NLT
But God was alive and well, dwelling in His holy temple. And He would prove to be anything but lifeless and helpless. He would bring down His judgment on the heads of the Babylonians, destroying their once-mighty city and bringing an end to their legacy of power and glory. Habakkuk and the people of Judah needed to be reminded that their God was great and all-powerful. He was on His throne and fully capable of dealing with a nation like Babylon. He had the capacity to raise up other nations. He could call down fire from heaven. He could sent the hosts of heaven. Dealing with the likes of Babylon was not a problem for God. But He wanted His people to trust Him. He wanted them to stop looking at their circumstances and assuming God was either not there or didn’t care. He was fully aware of what was going on and in complete control of the circumstances surrounding them. They needed faith and a reminder that their God was faithful.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.