Habakkuk 2 Bible Study Lesson: Five Woes Against Society

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Habakkuk Bible Study Commentary: The Book of Habakkuk - Then & Now

Habakkuk Chapter 2: The Five Woes Against Society

by I Gordon

Habakkuk Bible Study Commentary Chapter 2

Chapter 1 ended with the prophet perplexed that God could use the wicked nation of Babylon to judge an ungodly Judah. Habakkuk had reminded God of Babylon's actions in destroying other nations and questioned how God could use such a wicked people. The 2nd chapter of Habakkuk gives God's answer to these questions. In doing so it lists 5 'woes' against any nation or society that descends to the level that will eventually bring the judgment of God. Yet it also tells us the most important key to living in this age and gives a glimpse into the age to come. There is plenty to look at so let's do just that!

When perplexed... Stop, wait and listen!

Habakkuk 2:1-3 I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the LORD replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.

The actions of Habakkuk in these verses show what a godly man he was. He took time out to separate himself from others and quiet his own soul so that could await and hear God's response. It is essential that when you don't understand something and it is causing you concern that you did as Habakkuk did. When we look at these verses we find that Habakkuk did the following:

1. Inquired of God concerning his problem
2. Was expectant to hear an answer
3. Gave time to wait upon God for that answer  [1] 

Now in this busy world of ours those three simple points are often far easier to write, read and think about than do! But the need to 'wait' upon God is still critical for spiritual enlightenment and growth.  [2]  So God says that the revelation will come but it awaits the appointment time... Wait patiently for it will certainly come  [3]  . This revelation that God gave Habakkuk has a partial fulfillment for the days of Habakkuk and the coming defeat and exile into Babylon. But it goes MUCH further that that! When you read the revelation (which is summed up in the song of Habakkuk in chapter 3) we see that it takes us right to the very end of this age and the return of Jesus Christ! That is why God says that the revelation 'speaks of the end'  [4]  . And look at how the New Testament makes use of this verse in Hab 2:3:

Heb 10:36-37 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay.'

In quoting this verse from Habakkuk, the writer of Hebrews shows us that the Habakkuk's 'revelation' is not a thing... it is a person. Thus the 'it' of Hab 2:3 becomes a 'He' in Heb 10:37 for the true revelation to Habakkuk is the coming of the Messiah - the person of the Lord Jesus. We await Him.

The ONE great need

Habakkuk 2:4-5 See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-- but the righteous will live by his faith-- 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.

In verses 4 and 5 the true need of God's people is seen while they wait for the coming of the Messiah. In these verses the Lord contrasts the attitude of the coming Babylonians with the one great need for His people. The Babylonians (and those in the world in varying degrees), are said to be 'puffed up' and arrogant. Their greed and discontentment leads to an unceasing unrest and dissatisfaction. They always must have 'more'. In contrast with this, the righteous live by faith.  [5]  Those in the world are never at rest. Those in Christ can rest though all fall about them. Now in light of the coming destruction of Judah in the times of Habakkuk and the 'perilous times' that have been prophesied to occur before the return of the Lord, this word and reminder about living by faith is all the more important. The Bible tells us the God will shake both the heavens and the earth. He will do this so that the incidental things that are not eternal and clutter our lives will cease to be important while the things of faith will remain and strengthen (Heb 12:26-29) . Without faith it is impossible to please God so just as you received the Lord Jesus, continue to live in Him (Col 2:6 )... by a living trusting faith that takes God into account and says 'Thank you - You are all that I need!'

Habakkuk's first woe - Theft and a Lust for Control

Habakkuk 2:6-8 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 debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim. (8) Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

The rest of the chapter consists of five 'woes' against the Babylonians. But we shouldn't just think that it speaks to them alone. These same 'woes' that were brought against Babylon could easily be applied to Judah  [6]  at that time as well. And more than that, they could be applied to any world power or ruling class that has dominance and seeks to use that control to exploit, intimidate and steal from those below them. So we note that the first woe from God upon such people involves just that - theft and extortion. Babylon was said to have destroyed lands, cities, nations and people for the resources that they could gain. Sound familiar? What Babylon, the world power at that time does, so have all world powers done throughout the age... and it still goes on  [7]  . Time moves on but the unconverted human heart remains the same. But, as we read in the passage above, '  because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you.'  In other words, the age old truth applies to any powers that operate this way - 'you will reap what you sow'. There is only one exception to this rule and it is found in one place only. It is in the forgiveness that God provides 'in Christ'.

Habakkuk's Second Woe - Greed and Unjust Gain

Habakkuk 2:9-11 Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set 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.

The second woe involves greed and unjust gain. That is, there is a woe against those that would seek to feather their own nest by exploiting others thinking that they would be so high that they would be beyond the reach of problems or ruin. The imagery is that of an eagle that has built its nest so high there is no chance of any predators.  [8]  And yet the scripture tells us that those that have been exploited will eventually rise up against those feathering their own nest at the expense of others. Is this not what we see in our day as protests against corrupt regimes continue in the Middle-East and Northern Africa, while in the West they march and form sit-ins against the bankers and top 1%. Well it is true to say that the greed and unjust gain will not go un-judged. The book of James says:

'Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.    Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The  cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.' (James 5:1-6 )

Eventually all will be brought down to the same level.

'Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!' (Revelation 6:15-16 )

Habakkuk's Third Woe - Violence (yet with a small glimpse of a better time to come!) 

Habakkuk 2:12-14 Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! (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.

The third woe involves those who establish their 'kingdoms' through violence, bloodshed and crime. McGee rightfully comments:  

'This was the method of destruction that built Babylon. They became rich by warfare. My friend, if you stand back and look at the history of mankind, you come to the conclusion that he must be insane the way that he has lived on this earth. And, actually, he is insane - insane with a sinful nature so that he can't even direct his path. He thinks he is right in what he does. People have never waged war without thinking they were doing the right thing. We see here God's condemnation of Babylon, but it can be stretched out and brought up to date and fitted like a glove on any modern nation you choose.' 

And yet from God's view, 'the nations exhaust themselves for nothing.'  [9]  The people's labour will just go up in flame and come to naught. In contrast to this, a far greater day is mentioned here. A day when exploitation, violence and injustice are no more! It is a day when the whole earth is filled with the knowledge and glory of God! Yay... Fantastic. It is fair to say that if all we had to look forward to were 'woes' and 'judgment' it wouldn't take long before we were all pretty down and despondent! But that is far from the truth. The earth's most glorious day is still to come!  [10] 

Habakkuk's Fourth Woe - Drunkenness, Lust & Corrupting Others 

Habakkuk 2:15-17 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 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 man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

The fourth woe involves the corrupting of others. The specific sins mentions are getting others drunk for the purpose of lust and sexual sins. In verse 17 it gives another result from drunkenness - violence. Drunkenness always leads to other immorality and society is filled with its corrupted fruit. In many ways drunkenness, lust and sexual sins and violence sum up where our society is at unfortunately. It is quite scary. It is on our televisions, in our magazines, in the movies, littered over the internet and in our families. For these sins, God was going to judge Babylon. They were known for their drunken orgies and violence and now they were perverting other nations to be like them. And as mentioned earlier, it was right in the midst of one of these 'parties' that God brought down the Babylonian empire as recorded in Daniel 5. Today these acts of immorality have spread everywhere across the world. So when God comes to judge in the last days, the judgement will be worldwide.

With a mighty voice he shouted: "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!.. For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries." Then I heard another voice from heaven say: "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. (Revelation 18:2-5 )

Habakkuk's Fifth and Final Woe - Idolatry

Habakkuk 2:18-20 Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he 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) But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."

The fifth and final woe brought against Babylon is for idolatry. In many ways idolatry is worse than the other sins mentioned in this series of woes for it is an abandoning of God to a false religion and trying to replace the irreplaceable with something that can never satisfy. In the west, at least, we may not have wooden idols carved by man but we still have idols that we worship in place of God. Pleasure, wealth and materialism are all common idols. In fact anything that dominates your life taking the place of God is an idol. The section is introduced with the question 'of what value is an idol?' The answer is of course 'none' but it is far easier to see the stupidity in having a 'wooden' idol than it is a modern example. The result is the same however. False religion, in whatever forms it takes, ends in deception and worthlessness. God's reply? Let the whole earth be silent before Him. In others words, God is saying 'stop the idolatry. Stop all the running to and fro looking for 'the next thing' to find pleasure or wealth or spiritual fulfilment. Stop all the hustle and bustle of modern day life that separates you from God. 'Be still and know that I am God.'' (Psalm 46:10 )


Habakkuk chapter 2 is pretty heavy going. The woes contained within this chapter spelt difficult times for Habakkuk's generation and even more so for the days leading up to the return of Jesus Christ. Habakkuk had previously thought that God was inactive, blind to the sins being committed in his day. Oh how wrong he was! In laying out the five 'woes' God outlined specific reasons for the coming judgement of both Judah and Babylon, and as we have seen, these reasons apply just as well for the world today as they did 2600 years ago. If the days ahead get darker, the key verse in this chapter will become all the more important. That is, 'the righteous shall live by their faith'. It will become critical that the believer has a close walk with the Lord and can trust Him and His sovereign will despite all that occurs on this planet. And, as always, our hope is in the return of the Lord so...

 "...when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:28

 '...wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.' (1 Thess 1:10

[1]   H.A Ironside speaks about the importance of 'waiting on God' and its difficulty for the human heart writing:
 'There is nothing harder for man to do than to wait on God. The restlessness and activity of the flesh will not brook delay, but counts time spent in waiting and watching as so much time lost. It is blessedly otherwise with Habakkuk. As no reply is at once given to his eager, anxious questionings, he takes the attitude of the patient learner who remains silent till the Master is ready to make known His mind.' 

[2] ↩  A couple of verses on the importance of waiting upon the Lord. The first tells us that we should take courage as we wait for the Lord's goodness to be seen. The second tells us that the Lord Himself waits for us to wait upon Him!

Psalm 27:13-14 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.
Isaiah 30:18 Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him.

I have recently been reading a little book by Andrew Murray on the topic called, strangely enough, 'Waiting upon God'. It is a helpful wee book so look out for it at that second-hand Christian bookstore that you visit regularly.

[3] ↩  This obviously applies on a personal level as well as concerning the prophetic revelations given in the Bible. Are you awaiting the fulfilment of a personal promise that God has given you? Then be assured that all things in God have a perfect time to be revealed so though it lingers, wait patiently for it!

[4] ↩  Gaebelin notes: '  That end is the end of the times of the Gentiles, which began with the rising of the Babylonians, and the first great king, Nebuchadnezzar, the golden head in the prophetic image of Daniel 2. When the end of the times of the Gentiles comes, the world-power then, final Babylon as revealed in the last book of the Bible, will be judged and the Lord will be manifested in all His glory. The prophet's business is, as well as that of every believer, to wait for it and not be disturbed if there is delay, for the assurance is given that it will surely come and not tarry. And here faith can rest.' 

[5] ↩  This verse was so important that it is quoted three times in the New Testament! The Believers Bible commentary states:  The three parts of the verse - the just - shall live - by faith, go well with the emphases of the three contexts where they appear:  Rom 1:17  emphasizes "the just"; Gal 3:11 emphasizes "faith"; Heb 10:38 emphasizes "shall live." 

David Guzik notes the following about the importance of the Hab 2:4 in the life of the great reformer, Martin Luther:  'When Luther recovered he went on to Rome and did the tourist things that all the pilgrims did. One day he came to the church of Saint John's Lateran, where there is a staircase said to be from Pilate's judgment hall. It was the custom of pilgrims to climb this staircase, but never on their feet - they painfully climbed a step at a time on their knees, saying prayers and kissing the steps where is was thought the blood of Jesus fell. Luther came to this place and starting doing just as all the pilgrims, because the pope promised an indulgence to all who climbed the steps on their knees and said the prayers. As he did this, Luther remembered the words from Habakkuk: The just will live by his faith. It is said that when he remembered this he stopped, stood up, walked down and went straight home to Germany. Some say the Reformation began on those stairs. 

 "Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because, not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words - 'The just shall live by faith!' 'The just shall live by faith!' - then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God." (Luther, cited in Boice)' 

[6] ↩  Probably don't have space to dwell on it greatly, but it is interesting to study the times of Habakkuk and the corruption and unjust gain that was going on within Judah at that time. The coming judgement of Judah was just. Have a read (please!) of Jer 22:13-19. It contains another 'woe' - this time against Jehoiakim, the king of Judah where God says similar things against him that he does against Babylon here in Habakkuk. Specifically God says '  But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.'  And as we shall see, these things are happening big time in our day as well and are a cause of the many protests occurring around the world.

[7] ↩  For example, last year (2011) saw the overthrow of Gadaffi in Libya by Nato. Though a ruthless dictator who deserved what he got, on what basis was that nation attacked? Amongst the many wicked nations why single Libya out for military strikes? Were they worse than what is happening with the genocide in Sudan for example? Of course not. Far from it! Many have pointed out that Libya had great reserves of gold (144 tonnes was reported) as well as the all important 'black gold' - oil. Others have reported that Libya was trying to trade their oil in a currency other than the US dollar. Republican candidate Ron Paul had the following on his website:  'Iran came under attack in 1953 when it's elected leader wanted to trade oil in something other than dollars. Saddam Hussein came under our attack at the exact time he wanted to stop trading oil in dollars. And now Gaddafi wants to stop trading oil in dollars and look what happened to him.' 

What the world power did in their way in 600 BC is what the world power does in 2011 in its way. Different means, same desire and result. About 20 years ago Larry Norman wrote a song called 'Step into the madness' that had the following lyrics that apply just as equally to today. Nothing has changed.
 'Bankers and controllers make deals on foreign shores. And the CIA ships heroin to finance their secret wars. 

 They sell the madmen weapons then send soldiers to their land. And in the name of God we battle for all the oil under the sand.
This is America, land of the free. Everyone gets justice and liberty, if you got the money.'

[8] ↩  Remember Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel chapter 4? He saw a tree (which was him!) that reached right into the heavens. It was tall and strong and could be seen from the ends of the earth... until the announcement came to 'cut it down'. A year later,  'as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty? The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, "This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you...  " (Dan 4:29-30 ). And of course Daniel 5 has the fall of Babylon (while they party thinking they are safe and secure!) to the Medes and Persians. Both of these are examples of the pride and self sufficient smugness that led to them reaping what they had sowed just as it was mentioned in Habakkuk.

[9] ↩  And really, without God all of our work is in vain and all is meaningless as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes. People try to keep themselves busy and try to keep themselves entertained but behind it all lays an inward sense that we must have been made for something greater. Speaking of this C.S Lewis wrote: '  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. '

[10] ↩  The 5 woes that we are looking at speak of corruption, exploitation, violence, unjust gain and work done in vain. In contrast to all of this read the following prophecy of how things will be when Jesus returns and sets up His kingdom. I will highlight a few things that stand in contrast to the troubling conditions we have been reading about.

Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and  rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and   its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;   the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more    Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days   , or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them;   they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.   For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people;   my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune   ; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food.   They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain   ," says the LORD. (   Isaiah 65:17-25