- The Unbeliever’s Path (2:4-5)
This list of sins, like God’s message itself, was brief but remarkably complete. These sins described first the Babylonians, but were true for most of Judah and Israel as well. In addition, the sins exposed the corruption of the people’s hearts and lifestyles. Note the sins of the self-sufficient: they are deceived and betrayed by…
- drunkenness (wine)
- greed and dissatisfaction
- war and slavery
First, wine is said to betray the self-sufficient. However, wine is only one example. The abuse of any substance has the same effect. The self-sufficient seek to satisfy the lusts of their flesh in any way they can. They live only for themselves. They care more about their own pleasure and satisfaction than they do about the needs of others. The use of the word wine also implied intoxication and drunkenness, not just selfishness. The Babylonians were known for their drunken celebrations and debauchery (see Da. 5). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the abuse of wine was associated with carelessness, arrogance, injustice, and unrighteousness (actually, the loss or forfeiting of righteousness—see Pr. 31:4-7; Is. 5:11-12, 22-23; Am. 6:6).) The abuse of wine leads quickly to all sorts of additional sins and unrighteous behavior. Drunkenness and the abuse of any substance are expressly forbidden by God’s Word. Most of us living today know the pitfalls all too well, and we see the tragic effects of alcohol and drug abuse throughout our communities and cities—perhaps even in our own families. People under the influence of wine or strong drink are much more inclined to become careless, thoughtless, rowdy or violent, sad or depressed, neglectful of duties, intolerant, abusive, and a number of other things. In truth, being given over to wine or strong drink is closely tied to—and leads to—many, many others sins that are often far worse.
Second, the self-sufficient are arrogant. Their pride is evidenced by the fact that they rely on themselves and not on God. They foolishly believe they can meet all their own needs. They do not consider the fact that they were not born by their own power or will. Their birth was by the creative power of God through the laws of nature and birthright that He established. They do not acknowledge or consider that it was God’s desire for them to be born and to live. They stubbornly reject the idea that they have been created for a purpose—a higher purpose than merely living for themselves on this earth. They deny the truth that they need God and that every breath they breathe is a gift from God. Indeed, Holy Scripture says that every hair on their heads has been counted. To reject God is not only folly, but it is also the epitome of arrogance. It is the ultimate pride.
Third and fourth, the self-sufficient are restless, greedy, dissatisfied and ungrateful. The Babylonians were a good example. They were restless for more and more territory, more and more power, more and more wealth, more and more glory—more of almost everything that cannot satisfy the human soul. They were restless because they were greedy. They never had enough and were never satisfied. Like so many today, they were not grateful for what they already had; therefore, they always wanted more.
The example of Babylon shows just how closely linked ingratitude and dissatisfaction are. People who are not thankful for what they have inevitably become dissatisfied. Then they want more and more. They become greedy. This is the very definition of greed: wanting more than we need, more than we can use, more than we can even enjoy. Like the Babylonians, we frequently seek more of everything we can get our hands on, even to the detriment of others. But note a significant fact: if we want more and more of something, it only proves that the thing—whether wealth, position, power, or any other object of desire—does not satisfy us—that it can never satisfy us. Dissatisfaction in life is proof that we are pursuing the wrong things, proof that we are missing the purpose for our existence. People cannot be satisfied if they are missing the whole point of their lives. Every person alive is created for fellowship with God and for honoring Him and His Son. Therefore, we can never be satisfied if we ignore and reject our Creator. Dissatisfaction is proof that we are ungrateful and that we have failed to find the true meaning of life. In fact, dissatisfaction can only be cured by a grateful heart.
Fifth, the Babylonians chose war and slavery as the means to fulfill their lusts. They set their hearts on conquering and enslaving nations to get the many things they wanted—worldly things such as power, revenge, wealth, land, fame, and world domination. They sought all this and went to war because they were dissatisfied. Nothing they owned or accomplished satisfied the depths of their souls. They always felt the need for more. It was this vain pursuit to satisfy their lusts that continuously drove the leadership to war, but it was an empty and futile pursuit. All of the world’s wealth—its riches, knowledge, wisdom, resources, power, glory, fame and honor—could never satisfy them. Only the Lord can truly satisfy. And only the pursuit of God and His righteousness can satisfy eternally. Christ Himself proclaimed that He alone can meet mankind’s deepest needs: (Mt. 5:6). (Jn. 4:14).” (Jn. 6:35).
FIVE WOES (2:6-20)
In 2:6-20 we find what scholars call a “taunt song.” It is the kind of song that a once-oppressed people might direct against its former oppressor. Often taunt songs begin with the word “woe” or “alas.” In this case, there are five occurrences of the word “woe,” each of which marks a stanza within the song.
- Greed – verses 6-8.
Babylon did more than extort a little money here and there. They plundered and ransacked entire nations, robbing them of their wealth. They destroyed and burned entire cities and the areas surrounding them, including all the crops and animals. In this way, they deprived citizens of their livelihood, leaving them with no means to survive. They brought immense suffering to hundreds of thousands of people, including the people of God. Therefore, the Babylonians would be punished accordingly. They would be held completely accountable by the Lord whom they had defied. All nations and people who rob, plunder, destroy, abuse, and murder others will be judged by the living God, the Lord of all the earth. God warns all thieves and extortionist: they will face a terrifying judgment for their evil deeds.
*For Us Today: Greed is a natural but destructive characteristic of the one who will not trust God. If a person trusts God, he does not need to be covetous of more and more material possessions. The Lord is the portion of the righteous. Besides, the Lord amply supplies his need. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke of God’s provision for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and asked: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?… Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:30, 33). If a person trusts God, he does not need to acquire more and more possessions, since he knows God will provide what he needs. If he does not trust God, then the need for things becomes a burden. This world is an insecure place, and the individual is insecure within it. So he works to get more and more in the hope that if he only has a little more land or stocks or capital, he may get by.
It does not work. This is what the verses say clearly. For one thing, they talk about “stolen goods” and things acquired “by extortion.” In the beginning, the person who is trying to build security with things probably intends to be quite honest in doing it. But, somehow, what is acquired is never enough, and he therefore finds himself resorting to questionable and eventually to dishonest practices in the quest for more. The verses also talk about this person’s “debtors,” suggesting that a person like this easily overextends himself and eventually falls prey to the collectors. This is quite contemporary. The people of the Western world are more in debt than they have ever been, and many are losing houses or other things to the collectors. Many are going into personal bankruptcy. These facts are testimonies to the truthfulness of God’s Word and proof of what happens when a person or nation rejects God and lives without him.
- Injustice – verses 9-11.
Picture a nobleman in the Babylonian army. He wants to rise to a high position and enjoy its rewards—to have an opulent house and to be secure in it. So he cuts down a forest that belongs to somebody else and from the trees of that forest makes great beams for his home. Then he destroys someone else’s home and takes the beautiful stone blocks it was made of for himself. When he finishes he has a beautiful house, a “nest on high” (v. 9). But everyone who looks at it knows where the stones and beams came from, and his pride and joy become a cause for shame. When the opportunity arises they will see that the nobleman is treated as he treated others.
- Violence – verses 12-14.
Babylon was built by bloodshed, the blood of innocent victims. It was built by prisoners of war, slave labor that was exploited to the fullest extent. Babylon was proud of what she had built, but God said it wouldn’t last; it was only fuel for the fire. The city of Babylon was an architectural marvel, but their great projects were for nothing. It’s all gone, and today, if you want to see what Babylon was like, you have to visit a museum.
Many are impressed with the model of the city, marveling that such magnificent walls and gates and buildings could be constructed in those ancient days. But wonder should be turned to disgust when you realize that the city was built with slave labor and that the soul of one of those slaves meant more to God than all the buildings put together.
*For Us Today: In contrast to the shame and infamy of Babylon, God promised that His glory would one day cover the earth (v. 14). The “glory” of Babylon didn’t last, but the glory of the Lord will abide forever. Certainly, the Lord was glorified when Babylon fell before her enemies in 539 B.C. (see Jer. 50-51), and He will be glorified when the Babylon of the last days is destroyed, that final great world empire that opposes God (Rev. 17-18). When Jesus Christ returns and establishes His kingdom, then God’s glory will indeed cover the whole earth (Isa. 11:1-9).
The fall of “Babylon the great” is a reminder to us that what man builds without God can never last. The exploiter will eventually lose everything, and man’s “utopias” will turn out to be disasters. We can’t exploit people made in God’s image and expect to escape God’s judgment. It may take time, but eventually the judgment falls.
- Seduction – verses 15-17.
Babylonians had become intoxicated with their own power and wealth. In addition, they intoxicated other nations with their power in order to manipulate and shame them. They mixed their strong drink with wrath and brutality and revealed the weaknesses of the defenseless people they conquered. However, judgment was coming. The Babylonians would be judged for all their violence and immorality. And the punishment would fit the crime. Because they had exposed (made naked) and shamed their neighbors, they too would be exposed and shamed. Because they had sought their own glory, their glory would be stripped away as well, leaving them covered only with shame and disgrace. They would, in fact, spew and vomit back their strong drink, their wrath and brutality. They would gag on their own crimes and cruel treatment of others:
- They would be filled with shame, not glory.
- They would have their sin exposed.
- They would suffer God’s hand of judgment.
- They would be disgraced.
*For Us Today: Seduction is fairly far along the slippery slope of moral decline that this chapter highlights. We can note the progression. First there is greed. Then there is mild injustice, followed by more serious injustice. Next comes violence. Now there is seduction and perversion. How does this concern the unbeliever’s quest for security?” In this way: trying to find security in things and being disappointed there, the unbeliever now turns to personal relations, hoping to find security through love. But he does not know how to love. He does not know what a true, intimate relationship is. All he can do is seduce another person. So he does! And that which should be a thing of glory becomes shame.
Many view seduction as power. Habakkuk sees it as sin. He says that the one who seduces another becomes a seducer; the one who corrupts, a corrupter. These people have their reward.
- Idolatry – verses 18-20.
The Babylonians were certainly guilty of idolatry and false worship, but so were the people of Judah and Israel. Note their tragic sins:
- They created lies.
- They trusted in their own lifeless creations.
- They cried out to lifeless objects for guidance.
The Babylonians carved images to represent the gods of their own imaginations. They bowed down to the lifeless objects in worship and prayed to them for guidance. They sought their blessings and protection—even for the horrific crimes they committed. The Babylonians should have wondered what kind of god would condone and bless such wicked behavior. Such immoral license should have been proof enough that they were believing and trusting a lie. But in their own minds and reasoning, their so-called gods condoned their lusts. So the people prostrated and degraded themselves before the idols of this world, idols both imagined and created by the human mind.
*For Us Today: Tragically, people are no different today than they were in Habakkuk’s day. Despite God’s Word and warnings, the ignorance of idolatry is just as prevalent now as it was then. People of every generation, race, creed, and nation still worship the work of their own hands. They place their trust in the creations of their own imagination. Think of all the uncertain and constantly-changing things in which people place their confidence today…
- modern medicine
- fitness and health
- science and technology
- politics and government
- strong leaders and allies
- strong corporations and businesses
- strong economies
- stock markets
- human ingenuity and innovation
- age-defying products
Think of all the things to which we give our time and money, the things we praise, adore, revere, idolize, and worship. Every one of them is an idol of the modern world…
- sports and athletes
- movies and movie stars
- music and musicians
- concerts and the arts
- the rich and the famous
- successful businesses and entrepreneurs
- the best schools and education
- national pride
- school pride
…the list could go on and on. None of these things is necessarily bad in and of itself. But when we give our first allegiance to anything other than God, that thing becomes an idol. It replaces the importance of God in our lives, capturing the time, attention, and devotion that rightfully belong to the Lord. Think of what an insult it is to God when we replace Him with such trivial passions. None of these things can bring lasting meaning, purpose, fulfillment, or salvation to our lives. Sadly, while people’s souls are at stake, we waste precious time and money pursuing a multitude of things that simply do not matter—they simply do not count in the eternal perspective of things. They are in fact petty in the light of God’s grace. Here’s what God’s Word says about idolatry: (Ro. 1:24-25). (Ep. 5:2-6). (1 Jn. 5:21).” (Ex. 20:3-5). (De. 11:16). (Ps. 81:9). (Is. 42:8).
OUR ONE HOPE (v. 20)
There was only one hope for the Babylonians, the same hope that lies before the whole human race: the Lord (v. 20). In absolute contrast to worthless idols and lies, stands the only living and true God, the Lord Himself. He is the Eternal God, the Creator of everything that is or ever has been. Note both the simplicity and the strength of this brief verse:
“But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (v. 20).
In comparison to the eternal existence and reality of God, everything else is small and insignificant. This is the awesome sense we feel when we read this verse.
- The Lord is in His holy temple. God’s presence abides in heaven, above and beyond the earth. In addition—and in spite of all the evil and wickedness in this world—God’s presence is still here among us on earth. This is the most fundamental and significant truth of the universe—that God exists. He not only exists, but He is the ultimate truth and reality, the ruler of all things. He sits on His throne, seeing, knowing, and caring about everything done on earth, for He created it. By His sovereign hand, He governs and oversees the world and everything in it. Even more, the Lord calls us to come to Him, to worship and fellowship with Him.
- All the people of the earth must come to God and be silent before Him. This statement echoes the words of the Psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). There is no greater wisdom for our lives. The Babylonians’ only hope, one they certainly did not act on, was to turn to the Lord in repentance. This is our only hope, too. We must come before God and be still. To be still before God means to come to Him in reverence and humility. It is to come to Him in worship, prepared to listen and to be transformed. Let us all resolve to be still and come to know the Lord. “Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”
*For Us Today:. The Lord delights in having fellowship with His creation. He invites all people to come to Him for the free gift of salvation and eternal life. He invites all to come for mercy and the forgiveness of sins. Listen to the invitations of God’s Word: (Mt. 11:28).(Mt. 22:4). (Jn. 7:37).” (Re. 22:17). (Is. 1:18). (Is. 55:1).
Good Stuff! Next time we’ll look at chapter 3.
Watch Messages: YouTube-Upwards Church