Lesson 5: A Poem for the Proud Habakkuk 2:5-20
Habakkuk was confused. God seemed to be allowing evil and immorality to continue without dealing with it. Foreign nations were invading their cities. However, Habakkuk’s unfailing trust in God drove him to the Lord to understand what was going on.
God answered him affirming that He was still in control. The invading Chaldeans were being used by Him (1:6). Though God was using an evil nation, He did not approve of their evil (1:11).
Habakkuk Responded by rejoicing in the revealed glory of God (1:12). But the prophet’s personal confusion continued as expressed in 1:13-17.
God replied again in 2:1-4. He commanded the Prophet to write the vision God was giving to him. The soul of the proud is not right. It is off course. In contrast the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. Even when he doesn’t have all the answers, he has a firm uncompromising confidence in the divine promises. The details behind the workings of God may be hidden from him, but he trusted that what God had revealed is sufficient.
The book continues as the Lord gives Habakkuk a poem about the proud.
The Lord further described the proud and arrogant oppressors.
Habakkuk 2:5-6a, “Indeed, because he transgresses by wine, He is a proud man, And he does not stay at home. Because he enlarges his desire as hell, And he is like death, and cannot be satisfied, He gathers to himself all nations And heaps up for himself all peoples. Will not all these take up a proverb against him, And a taunting riddle against him, …””
The Neo-Babylonian oppressors were very much addicted to the excess use of wine. According to ancient records the Chaldeans abused wine continually. We remember Belshazzar’s riotous banquet in Daniel. Proverbs 23:21 warns, “For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty … ”
The enemy of the redeemed is proud. His arrogance reveals how he puts himself over the glory and importance of his Creator. Self-importance is a common characteristic of those who are not to be trusted. When decisions come along that effect others, he will always choose what promotes his own power, peace, and prosperity at the expense of everyone else.
He neglects his own home. He has abandoned God’s family, and will find no rest in his earthly home either. He wanders looking for a security he will not find.
The oppressor has an insatiable appetite to feed his hungry desires. He is like hell [sheol (שׁאול) in this case “the grave”] which swallows up every living thing. He is like death itself, taking away the life of everyone and is never satisfied.
In his desperate attempt for power and to take control of his life, he conquers other nations, collects people to serve him for his own pleasure.
All this brings the oppressor the very opposite of what he seeks. Nothing satisfies him.
In verse 6 Jehovah introduces a “taunting riddle”, a “mashal” (משׁל). It’s an enigmatic poem or saying with an important message. It’s a form of literature that uses double meanings and Irony to make its point.
The Lord reveals this as if it is spoken by the oppressed, those who are harmed by the selfishly wicked. There is strong Irony in what the Chaldeans will receive for their treachery. What we do to others will return in like manner to ourselves.
What follows are five stanzas of judgment pronounced upon the oppressors.
“Woe” to him who increases what is not his
Habakkuk 2:6b-8, “… ‘Woe to him who increases What is not his — how long? And to him who loads himself with many pledges’? Will not your creditors rise up suddenly? Will they not awaken who oppress you? And you will become their booty. Because you have plundered many nations, All the remnant of the people shall plunder you, Because of men’s blood And the violence of the land and the city, And of all who dwell in it.”
The Hebrew word translated as “Woe” is “hoi” (הוי). It’s a term of emotional exclamation, but it usually expresses deep anguish, sadness, and pain over something observed or experienced. Here it expresses the horrors of the judgments that await those who oppress others.
The first “woe” is pronounced upon those who increase their wealth or power by taking that which is not theirs. They conquer nations and take the belongings of their victims violating the ethic that what we make, grow, earn, or buy is our own.
He asks, “How Long?” Do they think they will keep all they take forever? There will be an end to their theft and greedy oppression. Their ill-gotten gain will one day be gone. All that will remain is the guilt.
Then the poem of woes points out the burden they heap upon themselves by the debts they build up. Verse seven adds the inevitable results of their irresponsible living. Eventually the creditors will demand pay-back. Oppressed nations often form alliances to carry out revenge upon those who have taken from them. Those who loot, will be looted. History shows how this principle repeats itself over and over again.
In this case, one of the victim groups is the people of God who are oppressed. The evil gains of the enemy nations will not last. In God’s providence nations will rise up against nation. The day will come when God will demand just payment. One day the promised Messiah will pour out God’s wrath upon all those who have lived riotous lives without coming in faith to Him.
Their evils will surely find them out! The unrepentant oppressors will pay. Their goal was to gain power, wealth and dominion. But their moments of glory will be fleeting.
The evil nation’s violence will be the cause if its own judgment. The destruction which will come is brought upon them by their own human bloodshed and violence done to the land, to the town and its inhabitants.
Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house.
Habakkuk 2:9-11, “Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house, That he may set his nest on high, That he may be delivered from the power of disaster! You give shameful counsel to your house, Cutting off many peoples, And sin against your soul. For the stone will cry out from the wall, And the beam from the timbers will answer it.”
The next “woe” is announced upon those taking advantage of others for personal gain. It points out the futility of oppression.
The conquering King ruled by dynasty. He wanted to secure his nation’s future. He did all he could to promote his own nation and family, while destroying other nations and families. Instead of bringing advantage, historic greatness, and honor to his house, he secured its shame by doing it immorally .
His sin was against himself, his own soul! Sin does not go unnoticed. When we do what displeases God, there will be consequences. The stones and rafters of his proudly built home will cry out against him. There’s a similar expression in Luke 19:40. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees who wanted to silence the disciples. He said, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”
Testimony to God’s truth will be given. The Chaldeans had built beautiful homes by stealing from others. The very building materials in these homes will testify against them.
Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed.
Habakkuk 2:12-14, “Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, Who establishes a city by iniquity! Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts That the peoples labor to feed the fire, And nations weary themselves in vain? For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.”
This third “woe” announces the futility of those who kill others for their own advancement. They work hard on their glorious cities, but their evil hearts murder, shed blood, plunder, and bring tyranny believing all they gain is accomplished by their own strategies and power. They set fire to towns and homes that stand in their way. They have no regard for victim families, their personal memories, or the things they worked for all their lives.
They worked hard to accomplish their evils, but all their foolish labor is in vain. Jehovah himself will make all their prideful labor to be fruitless. They weary themselves for nothing. They labor to fill the earth with the glory of their empire and stories of their conquests. However, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, not with the glory of the Chaldeans.
This also gives us a glimpse ahead in time. Not only will the evil empire be destroyed, but there will be a final triumph of Christ’s Kingdom over all evil.
Woe to him who makes his neighbors to drink
Habakkuk 2:15-17, “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, Pressing him to your bottle, Even to make him drunk, That you may look on his nakedness! You are filled with shame instead of glory. You also — drink! And be exposed as uncircumcised! The cup of the LORD’s right hand will be turned against you, And utter shame will be on your glory. For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you, And the plunder of beasts which made them afraid, Because of men’s blood And the violence of the land and the city, And of all who dwell in it.”
The fourth “woe” is against the one who takes advantage of his neighbor to shame him. The analogy speaks of getting someone drunk to make him behave shamefully. The term “look on his nakedness” was an idiom used then having to do with seeing a person with his inhibitions down so that he would do offensive or embarrassing things.
Instead of shaming the neighbor, the oppressor exposes his own shame. His reward is judgment against him instead of an increase of glory.
While he offers his wineskin to others, the Lord’s cup will be presented to the offender. He will drink the cup of wrath when the time of his judgment comes.
Instead of the creation mandate to “subdue the earth” for God’s glory, the oppressors had abused creation and plundered it for selfish pleasures. The Chadeans were violent toward Lebanon devastating its trees and animals. Isaiah 37:23-24 gives the details of this horrible event, “Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice, And lifted up your eyes on high? Against the Holy One of Israel. By your servants you have reproached the Lord, And said, ‘By the multitude of my chariots I have come up to the height of the mountains, To the limits of Lebanon; I will cut down its tall cedars And its choice cypress trees; I will enter its farthest height, To its fruitful forest.”
They trampled upon another of God’s Creation Mandates. Instead of respecting the image of God stamped upon all humans, they killed them. The last part of verse 17 repeats the poetic refrain from verse 8, “… Because of men’s blood And the violence of the land and the city, And of all who dwell in it.”
His own violence has caused this judgment. No one should be deceived thinking he is getting away with his disgraceful deeds. The wrath of God is a certain thing though it may be delayed for a time to fully reveal their just punishment and the power of the God they have offended.
Woe to him who says to wood, “Awake!”
Habakkuk 2:18-20, “What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, The molded image, a teacher of lies, That the maker of its mold should trust in it, To make mute idols? Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’ To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’ Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, Yet in it there is no breath at all. But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”
The final “woe” is directed to those who treat idols as their gods.
The poem asks about the worth of such man-made idols. What benefit is there in bowing to things carved out of wood, or molded from stone? They can be made to look impressive by covering them with gold and silver, but they are inanimate objects. They can do nothing beyond what we might do with them.
In our 21st Century culture our idols are of a different kind. Some still bow to stone images or wooden idols. Those who don’t worship such things still elevate material things to places of trust. They trust in things they make or buy as if they will bring them peace, prosperity, and power.
Evolutionism makes the matter-energy continuum eternal. It deifies the things God made as if they themselves are the origin of all the space-time universe, including all that’s in it. Nature itself becomes the idol. It makes chance and physical law the cause behind all that happens. It produces a culture in which we humans are just evolving animals with no moral obligations aside from what promotes personal benefits. It closes people’s eyes to any real purpose or meaning in life.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 1:25 wrote of the lost as those, “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
Fallen humans make the thing created the ultimate good. They reassign the glory of the Creator to the things he made.
But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. Those pompous and arrogant humans exalt themselves and take pride in their evil. They refuse to see and admit this important truth expressed in Psalm 11:4, “The LORD is in His holy temple, The LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.”
King Nebuchadnezzar lifted his glory high and sat on his earthly throne in his palace constructed from the gains of oppression. But there is a King above all kings.
This poetic portion of God’s revelation makes it clear that even if we cannot understand why God at times allows evil to seem to prosper, no one will escape His awesome justice. Even the boastful Chaldeans will stand silently before Him as He displays His eternal Sovereign glory.
This five stanza poem delivers two messages:
The first is to the proud and selfish, to those who neglect God’s law and take advantage of his neighbor to get gain, to those who live for their own glory and gain. One day they will be silenced by the Creator they have offended. There will be a pay-day for the debts they have incurred against God.
The second message is to those who rest in the Lord for their hope and righteousness. They are assured that through even the hard and trying times, the Lord is in his holy temple. Nothing happens that his sovereign hand does not use for his glory, and for the ultimate benefit of every one of his loved children. There will be ultimate destruction of those who have oppressed His people.
(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)