Woe To The Cruel & Lascivious
Five Woes To The Proud
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014
Part 3 of 3


We have been considering the five woe oracles against the proud Babylonians found in Habakkuk 2:6-20. These oracles reveal to us why the Babylonians deserve the coming judgment and what they can expect to come upon them.

The Fifth Woe

The fifth and final woe is found in verses 18-20. Unlike the other four woe oracles, this one does not begin with the word “woe.” Instead, it begins in verse 18 with these words, “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?”

This verse speaks of the foolishness and uselessness of making and worshipping and trusting in idols. The Babylonians were idols makers and worshippers. They trusted in them. But the reality is that idols can bring no profit or help to their worshippers. How can they?

Their very origin and construction testify to their uselessness. Idols are formed and brought into existence by man. They have no life or power of their own. What help can they bring? They are “dumb idols” or if you like they are speechless and tongue tied. 

But sadly, idols are teachers of lies and deceptive. They deceive people into thinking and believing that they are alive and can give them the help that they need, when in fact they are dead and utterly impotent.

Verse 19 goes on to say, “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.”

How foolish it is for someone to try and stir up a piece of wood or to awaken a piece of stone in order to receive teaching and instruction from it! If you saw someone standing by the road side doing that, you would think that he is insane. And yet, there is no essential difference between what that person is doing and what those who worship idols are doing. It is all utter foolishness and futility.

A very good example of this is found in the contest between the false prophets of Baal and the true prophet of Yahweh, even Elijah, on Mount Carmel. The prophets of Baal found that, regardless of what they did, it was simply impossible to arouse their gods and get them to act. But in contrast, the God of Elijah, the living and true God manifested His power in a most dramatic way by sending down fire from above to consume not only the water-soaked sacrifice but also the wood and the dust and the water and even the very stones! The entire altar was consumed.   

Verse 19 goes on to say that the idols of the heathen are covered all over with gold and silver, and do not possess the slightest breath in them. They may be very nice to look at but they are nevertheless breathless and lifeless.

In contrast to these speechless and lifeless and helpless idols, verse 20 says, “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” The holy temple refers to God’s heavenly dwelling place, high and lifted up above everything on earth. There He rules and reigns over all as the sovereign of the universe.

1 Kings 8:36 also teaches us that it is from this heavenly palace that God hears and forgives and teaches His people the good way wherein they should walk, and blesses them with good things. These are the very things that the false idols and gods of the heathen are unable to do.

And so because the LORD is in that place of total control and absolutely authority that all the earth is told to hush or keep silence before Him. This is a silence of reverence and fear and submission and worship. 

Conclusion

And so we’ve considered the five woes or woe oracles that the LORD gave to Habakkuk in response to Habakkuk’s question concerning God’s justice in using the Babylonians to punish the Israelites.

Let me briefly recap these five woes. The first focuses on just punishment and retribution of God upon the wicked. The second shows the foolishness and futility of building one’s house and kingdom apart from God. The third builds on the first two and includes both the elements of just punishment and of labouring in vain. The fourth speaks of the debauchery and depravity and violence of the Babylonians and the shame and violence that they themselves will suffer. The fifth woe focuses on the foolish idolatry of the Babylonians.

As we close, I’ll like to answer the question of why the LORD concludes this series of woes upon the Babylonians with a description of their idolatrous ways. Why does He do that?

I can think of at least two reasons. First, because the idolatry of the Babylonians is really the source of all the other atrocities and iniquities mentioned previously. Idolatry and a failure to worship the living and true God is the root sin from which all other sins flow, and it is thus appropriate for the final woe to mention it as a way of summing up all the rest.

But a second reason why the LORD concludes with a woe upon the idolatry of the heathen is so that Habakkuk and all hearing his prophecy may bow in humble adoration of and reverent submission to Him, the Almighty and Sovereign God of heaven and earth.

The wicked will all be justly dealt with in due time and the justified ones, that is those united to Christ, will continue to live by faith in God. These things will be so because God has said so and because He is in His Holy Temple. And because of that, we must hush or keep silence before Him.

Well how did Habakkuk respond to this second word from the LORD? We will see in our next series of articles that it completely transformed him. Habakkuk realised that it was not God who had been inconsistent or unjust, and thus in need of change. Rather, it was he himself who had reacted wrongly to God’s word and he was the one who needed to alter his perspective on God’s ways and dealings with mankind. No longer does he challenge or question God. Instead, he responds with humble praise and submission.

May we do the same, and in so doing, follow in the footsteps of Habakkuk, and especially in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ who humbly submitted to His Father’s will even to the death of the cross.

Linus Chua