God is in the process of responding to Habakkuk’s second set of complaints. The first part of God’s answer is found in Habakkuk 2:2-5 where God declared that in the face of difficulties and perplexities, the righteous live by faith. The righteous do not live by their power, knowledge, wealth, wine, or arrogance. The righteous make a lifestyle out of trusting God no matter the circumstances. Verses 6-20 contain the second part of God’s response to Habakkuk. The main message is woe to the wicked. God sees the acts of the wicked and no one escapes his wrath. In reading these woes we learn what not to do so that we can escape God’s wrath.
You Will Pay For Harming Others (2:6-8)
The first woe is a condemnation against those who make their money by harming others. People who make their living by unjust practices are condemned. This leads to an important point because Christians wonder if God cares what kind of occupation we have. God cares what you are doing to make your living. We are to work an honest living. We are not to be working in an area that will destroy people physically or spiritually. In verse 6 God is particularly identifying those who make themselves rich on loans, implying that these people are charging too much interest. Do not destroy people by what you do for a living. Do not make your earnings by hurting others.
We must remember that just because an activity is legal does not mean that activity is right and approved before the Lord. Just because the world says what you are doing is acceptable does not mean that it is acceptable to God.
Power must never be used to take advantage of others. The Chaldeans have become a powerful nation who are going to conquer much of the earth during its rule. But they are using their power to plunder the nations and spread violence everywhere they go (2:8). This is a message that is very relevant today. Today we are told that you want to be powerful so that you can take advantage of others. Our society glorifies those who can lift themselves up by stepping on others. Woe to those who use their power to take advantage of others. Any authority we have on the job is not to be used for self-advancement or to take advantage of others. Even authority in the home is not to be used to hurt or demean others in the home. We should consider ourselves privileged to possess any power or authority and we must use that authority to display the glory of God.
You Will Pay For Being Greedy and Arrogant (2:9-11)
The NLT does a good job at explaining the idioms that are used in verse 9. The NLT reads, “What sorrow awaits you who build big houses with money gained dishonestly! You believe your wealth will buy security, putting your family’s nest beyond the reach of danger.” (Habakkuk 2:9 NLT) Not only does God condemn those who make their money by harming others, he also condemns people for cheating others. You will read in the scriptures the image of using false scales and unequal weights. Deceiving others and cheating others will receive God’s wrath.
Notice there is also the motivation behind being greedy that is condemned. The motivation is pride. The people think that their wealth will buy them security, keeping them from danger. It is a good thing that this is not a problem today. Of course this is the very problem that exists today in the hearts of most. I need to have a lot of wealth so that I can be secure and protected from the day of calamity. We believe our wealth will keep us from danger. We think that the more money we have the more untouchable we will be. We show we are not declared righteous by God because our faith is not in God but wealth. We have put our hope in having enough money so that we can withstand any troubles. We are supposed to put our hope in God so that we can withstand any troubles. There are two important reasons why we are to put our hope in God and not in wealth. First, we put our trust in God because we love him. The Christian life means that we are trusting him to provide for us and we are not trusting in ourselves to make it through life. Second, we put our trust in God because our wealth can be taken away at any time. Wealth is false security because it does not fix most problems and often is not there when we need it. Even Donald Trump went into bankruptcy (a point we easily forget). Trump’s wealth did not keep him from having family troubles and multiple divorces. Woe to us when we put our hope and trust in wealth as our security. I fear that this is where many of us stumble. We do not give as we ought and do not use our resources to glorify God because we are afraid to trust God to provide. We trust in our bank accounts and in our emergency fund rather than God who delivers us from our emergencies. True security is only found by depending on God.
You Will Pay For Your Bloodshed (2:12-14)
God condemns those who get ahead by bloodshed. The woe again falls on those who are trusting in themselves for their security rather than God. They are relying on their own labors. God points out our foolishness in trying to find security in this world and putting our trust in our actions.
Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? (Habakkuk 2:13 NIV 2011)
Our labor is only fuel for the fire when our labor is not built on God. What an image! Building a life that is not based on God is futility because God is going to destroy this world and all of its labors. We do all of this work in this world and, in the end, what do we have to show for it? We work ridiculous hours at our work and for what purpose? Everything we do that is not in pursuit of God and giving glory to God is simply fuel for the fire. All the effort and all the time will all be burned up and lost. I was watching a television show on Discovery Channel about a railroad tycoon who had the tenacity, wisdom, and braun to make a railway through the Cascade Mountains to Seattle so that the resources of Seattle could be transported to the rest of the world. It was an amazing and dangerous feat. But you know that person’s name is not on the top of our heads and the railway he created is no longer used. How great was all of his efforts? Our labor is only fuel for the fire. What is left of the great Babylonian Empire? Nothing but archaeological relics of a past era. Everything we do that is not built upon pursuing God and glorifying God is an effort in futility. Just ask the writer of Ecclesiastes who repeatedly exclaimed, “Futility, futility, everything is futility.”
You Will Pay For Drunkenness and Violence (2:15-17)
The fourth woe is a picture of drinking parties. Our young people will like to point out that they don’t see anything wrong with drinking parties. The problem is that you do not know the scriptures very well because God repeatedly condemns such behavior (cf. 1 Peter 4:3). Drunkenness is repeatedly condemned in the scriptures. We are not to be dependent on alcohol. Alcohol is not supposed to be the release from life. Our dependence is to be on God.
Further, God condemns people who use alcohol to take advantage of other people. God warns and condemns those who use alcohol to take advantage of others sexually. There have been numerous news stories pointing out how often these things happen. God will wrathfully judge those who get drunk, who get others drunk, and those who use alcohol to take advantage of others.
Notice in verse 17 that God condemns the senseless destruction of animals. I think the reason why becomes fairly clear to us. Such actions show a depravity and darkness in our souls. Is this not the reason for some of the outrage that came against Michael Vick. It shows such a dark, depraved heart to kill animals without cause. If you know me at all you know that I am not an animal fan. I am not an animal activist. I have zero warm feelings for an animal. Animals were given to the earth as food for people, according to Genesis. But we should not want to see animals killed for no purpose. We should not take pleasure in watching the death of animals. God condemned the Babylonians for this vicious behavior.
You Will Pay For Idolatry (2:18-19)
The final woe reveals the foolishness of idolatry. An idol is a tool of deception, causing us to put our trust and security in it rather than God. When we trust our lives to anything but God then we are trusting in something made by humans. What sense does that make? How foolish it is to trust in something that is not alive and does not give life. God is alive and only God gives life. Yet we trust in our riches and in ourselves. What is our idol? What do we trust in? What gives us satisfaction? What gets you through life is your idol. What gives you satisfaction is your idol. What gives you relief is your idol. What you cannot live without is your idol. If there was something taken away from you so that you think you could not survive, that is your idol. God is to be all of those things to you, not these worthless objects. We have all kinds of functional idols but because we do not engrave them in stone or metal we think that we are not idolaters. But our hearts are full of idolatry when we trust in everything else but God.
The Lord Is In His Temple (2:20)
God has declared that he sees the actions of the wicked. He knows that they are doing and has pronounced woes against them. Recall that Habakkuk’s complaint has been that the Babylonians are worse than them. Judah is certainly wicked but the Babylonians were worse. God’s answer has been very simply. God sees their wicked acts. No one escapes his wrath. The Babylonians will pay for their wickedness. Throughout these woes you will notice that God pictures repaying humanity for what they have done. In verse 7 God says the debtors will rise up against those who make their wealth by unjust practices. Verse 8 shows the people plundering the Babylonians because they have plundered the earth. In verse 16 God will make them drink to their shame those who caused others to be drunk. The violence they have committed will be brought back against them (vs. 17).
Jesus taught this point in Matthew 25:31-46. God will do to us what we have done to others. How we have treated others is how God will treat us. We must be forgiving because God has forgiven us. If we do not forgive then God will not forgive us. We need to do good to others because God has done good toward us. We need to be merciful because God has been merciful toward us. God will not be merciful toward us if we do not show mercy to others. God will retract his good toward us if we refuse to see all that God has done for us and act on it.
The Lord is in his holy temple. God is ruling. God sees all that is happening. God is reigning over the earth. Let all the earth keep silence before him. God is ready to respond to the needs of his people. Be silent and watch God at work. In all of our questioning and in all of our perplexity there comes the time where we need to be silent before the Almighty God. Let God be God and know you are the creation. He is the potter and we are the clay. Understand he is ruling and the righteous live by faith in him.