Woe To The Cruel & Lascivious
Five Woes To The Proud

Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014
Part 2 of 3

In the previous article, we looked at the first two of five woe oracles that God’s people will take up against the Babylonians found in Habakkuk 2:6-20. The first (2:6b-8) has to do with the just punishment of the wicked while the second (2:9-11) has to do with the foolishness and futility of building one’s house and kingdom apart from God.

The Third Woe

The third woe, found in verses 12-14, builds on the first two. Verse 12 says, “Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!”

Not only did the Babylonians build their house apart from God, but they also built it upon blood or bloodshed and crime. Bloodshed here could refer to warfare but it could also refer to the mistreatment of their captives, particularly the use of these captured people as slaves to build their buildings. This cruel practice often resulted in extensive loss of lives.

In recent times, we think of the death railway in Burma and Thailand during the Second World War, where hundreds of thousands of Prisoners of War and civilians were sent to build. The conditions under which they laboured were horrific and a large number of them died as a result. That is a very graphic example of building with bloodshed and iniquity.

But verse 13 records the end result of such a building project. “Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?”

The massive efforts of the Babylonians and indeed of all other nations to build up their city and kingdom will come to nothing. The end of all their labours and endeavours will be fire and vanity.

The word “fire” probably refers to the devastating judgment of God. All the labour and resources that they put into such a building project will be nothing but fuel for the fire. A classic example of fire consuming a city is found in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Fire and brimstone fell from the LORD out of heaven upon those prosperous but sinful cities of the plain. The entire region, which was once very beautiful like the Garden of Eden, went up in a smoke and was completely consumed.    

The words “very vanity” can simply be translated as nothing. The Babylonians and other nations will weary themselves and become exhausted for nothing.

And the source of all this destruction and futility is none other than the LORD Himself. Verse 13 says that it is of the LORD that these things will happen or as one translation has it, “it is the LORD who has determined that these things be so.”

The LORD will expose and destroy all the corrupt and wicked endeavours of mankind. That’s the negative side of the advancement of His kingdom in this earth. But it doesn’t end there. Verse 14 goes on to give us the positive side of things. “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”

Just as the LORD had determined the destruction of the kingdom of sinful man, so He has determined that the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

This prophecy is rooted in two earlier prophecies in the Old Testament.

The first is Numbers 14:21 where the LORD told Moses, “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” The second is in Isaiah 11:9, where we read, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”

Together, these three verses speak of the universal spread of the glory and knowledge of God to all the earth. Dr O Palmer Robertson writes, “The imagery of waters covering the sea for this universal spread of the knowledge of God’s glory inspires optimism. To the farthest corners of the globe the proclamation, the explanation, of God’s glory shall be carried.”

Earlier in the Old Testament, we read of the glory of the LORD filling the tabernacle in Exodus 40:34-35. Moses was not able to enter in as a result of that. Then during the time of Solomon, we read of something similar in 1 Kings 8:10-11, “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.” 

So at the inauguration of both the tabernacle and the temple, we read of the glory of the LORD coming and filling up the whole place so that no one is able to enter in. But now Habakkuk points us forward to a time when the splendors emanating from the presence of God shall fill not just the confined space of the tabernacle/temple, but the whole earth.

There were times in history when the glory and knowledge of God seemed to have practically disappeared from the face of the earth, for example, prior to the flood and during the time of the tower of Babel.

During the time of Habakkuk, it was the Babylonians who ruled the world in wickedness and oppression. The LORD, however, promises to destroy these wicked rulers and cause His glory to fill the earth. Not only will the LORD put a stop to these evil nations, He will also turn the tables on them, so that there will be a corresponding reign and spread of His glory and His ways in all the earth.

And so the Lord Jesus teaches us to regularly pray, “Hallowed by thy name, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” In other words, we desire and pray that God’s name or glory and His kingdom and His will cover the whole earth just as it covers all of heaven.

And how will the knowledge of God’s glory overspread the earth? Through the faithful proclamation of the gospel. Look back to Habakkuk 2:2-4. The LORD told the prophet to write the vision, and make it plain upon tables so that the runner or herald or preacher may run with it. And then He tells him that the vision is for the appointed time, and though it tarry, it will surely come. Finally in verses 4-5, God gives the substance of the vision, namely, that the proud person is not upright in himself but the just shall live by his faith.

It is not through the use of the sword or of political might that the glory of God will fill the earth, but only through the heralding and announcing of the gospel.

The Fourth Woe

The fourth woe is found in verses 15-17. Verse 15, “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!”

This verse describes yet another aspect of the wickedness and depravity of the Babylonians, namely, their drunkenness and immorality. Not only do they engage in these things, but they actively and forcibly involve others in their debauchery.

They are not content with getting themselves drunk. Instead, they give their neighbour drink and make him drunk as well. The phrase “puttest thy bottle to him” can be translated “joining in thy wrath.” The wicked people force others to drink so that they become drunk and join them in their angry and ungodly activities.

This is part of the depravity of fallen humanity, isn’t it? Depraved men are not satisfied with committing evil themselves. They delight in getting others to join them in their evil ways. The apostle Paul mentions this aspect of human depravity when he writes in Romans 1:32, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” It gives them great delight and pleasure to see others indulging in the same sins that they indulge in.

Now it is a well-known fact that the sin of drunkenness often leads to sexual immorality and impurity. We see this in the story of Noah, where after Noah got drunk, he exposed his nakedness. We see this also in the story of Lot and his daughters, who made their father drunk so that they could commit their shameful act of incest. We see this too in the last part of verse 15, “and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!” The Babylonians made their neighbours drunk so that in their drunkenness, they would expose their nakedness for them to look upon.

This verse reminds us of what happened in Genesis 9 between Noah and Ham. After Noah had gotten himself drunk and exposed himself, Ham entered his father’s tent and saw his nakedness. Instead of covering his father, he went out to tell his brothers about it, hoping that they would join him in his sin of taking delight in his father’s folly. Ham was a truly depraved man but his descendants, the Babylonians, were even more depraved in that they were the ones who initiated the drunkenness of their victims.

Well, verses 16 and 17 go on to record the judgment of God upon these depraved ones, “Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD'S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory. For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.”

We are once again brought back to the principle of reciprocation in judgment or the retributive character of the punishment, which we saw earlier in the first woe.

As Babylon has treated others, so the LORD will treat them. They who compelled others to drink and become drunk, shall themselves be compelled to drink and become drunk. They who caused others to be exposed and shamed, shall themselves be exposed and shamed. And they who acted violently towards others shall themselves be covered or overwhelmed with violence.

I’ll like us to notice just two things very briefly. First, verse 17 mentions the violence done to Lebanon. Most probably Lebanon is cited as an example because of the great devastation that it suffered at the hands of the Babylonian invaders.

Nebuchadnezzar’s royal annals indicate that he commanded his army to construct a road to bring the famous cedars of Lebanon to Babylon for its massive building projects. The beautiful forest of Lebanon must have been greatly marred and laid bare by this order of Nebuchadnezzar. A large proportion of the animal population in the forest was probably killed as well because verse 17 mentions the spoil or devastation of its beasts.

The brutal Babylonians did much violence to the plants and animals of the land, not to mention the violence to the land, the city and all its inhabitants as the rest of verse 17 mentions. But all this violence and devastation done to others will come back to them as the Psalmist says in Psalm 7:16, “His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.”

The second thing I’ll like us to notice is in verse 16 where it speaks of the cup of the LORD’s right hand being turned around to them so that they will drink of it. The cup of the LORD is a symbol of His wrath and judgment. Ironically, in Jeremiah 51:7, the Babylonians are described as being a golden cup in the LORD’s hand and all the nations drinking from it. In other words, they served as the instrument of God’s judgment upon the nations, particularly, upon Jerusalem. But now, the Babylonians themselves are about to drink of the LORD’s cup.

This imagery of the cup of judgment continues in the New Testament, where we read of One who had to drink of it in order to fulfil His mission.

Matthew 20:22 says, “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of…?” And again in Matthew 26:42, “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.”

The cup of God’s wrath against sin was most fully poured out on the Son of God while He hung on the cross. He drank every bit of that cup in place of every one of His people.

And because He did that, His people are now given a different cup to drink, namely, the cup of blessing rather than judgment. “After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25).

Linus Chua