Habakkuk – Chapter 2 – Woes and Wine

Last time we noticed Habakkuk 2:4 contrasts the proud and the just. Continuing on in the chapter we discover five “woes” that befall the proud man. We need to keep in mind as we read this chapter God’s interactions with the nation Israel and their conquering nation of Babylon is the backdrop by which we must understand this passage. There are of course applications for the individual in this passage, but we must not lose sight of the greater context. God keeps not only the individual accountable but nations. In today’s “what’s in it for me” church mentality it is easy to forget that God is sovereign. Though we may not be able to detect it Yahweh is constantly engaged in the affairs of nations as well as the lives of individuals.

At a minimum, you should read the twenty verses composing chapter two. Verse six is where we will find the first of five woes.

Habakkuk 2:4-6

            4 “Behold the proud,

   His soul is not upright in him;

   But the just shall live by his faith.

          5 “Indeed, because he transgresses by wine,

   He is a proud man,

   And he does not stay at home.

   Because he enlarges his desire as hell,

   And he is like death, and cannot be satisfied,

   He gathers to himself all nations

   And heaps up for himself all peoples.

          6 “Will not all these take up a proverb against him,

   And a taunting riddle against him, and say,

   ‘Woe to him who increases

   What is not his—how long?

 

I’ve included verses four and five for context. Look at the first part of verse six. Who are the people taking up a proverb against him? According to the last part of verse five, it is all the nations that the proud has conquered. True throughout the ages, often the most condemning voice levied against a perpetrator, is that of the victim.

The word proverb used here is the Hebrew word transliterated “masal”, and denotes sentences constructed in Hebrew parallelism, essentially Hebrew poetic form.

Consider the following from the Faithlife Study Bible.

2:6–20 The woe pronouncements of Hab 2:6–20 are neatly structured into five stanzas consisting of three verses each. Verses 6–8 denounce the imperialist behavior of the Chaldeans (Babylonians); vv. 9–11 condemn the Chaldeans’ covetousness; vv. 12–14 criticize the Chaldeans’ violence; vv. 15–17 censure the Chaldeans’ treachery; and vv. 18–20 address the Chaldeans’ idolatry. While the first four woes deal with the Chaldeans’ sins against fellow humans, the fifth addresses the Chaldeans’ sin against God. The first and fourth woes end in a refrain, possibly a chorus sung by a congregation of people.

Barry, John D. et al. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016. Print.

Here are the five woes listed together.

  • Woe to him who increases What is not his…….(v6)
  • Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house…..(v9)
  • Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed…..(v12)
  • Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor………(v15)
  • Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’…………….(v19)

 

Most, if not all of the woes are somewhat self-explanatory when read and kept in context. I would like to call out the last two.

Why would a woe be issued to someone who gives drink to his neighbor? Don’t be distracted. Keep it in context. This is not a proof text for whether or not consuming alcohol is a sin. This is specifically about making the neighbor drunk for the purpose of “looking on his nakedness.”

“Looking on his nakedness”. Is this some sort of reference to sexual sin? I don’t believe so. Look at verse 16.

          16 You are filled with shame instead of glory.

   You also—drink!

   And be exposed as uncircumcised!

   The cup of the Lord’s right hand will be turned against you,

   And utter shame will be on your glory.

 

The proud conquerer is getting his neighbor drunk to spy on his nakedness, in other words, to spy on his liberty. The experience is designed to discover whether or not this is a people circumcised (in covenant with God) or not. This is to shame the conquered one. The end result?  God declares “utter shame will be on your glory.”

Verses nineteen and twenty conclude the last of the five woes as well as the chapter.

Habakkuk 2:19

          19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’

   To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’

   Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,

   Yet in it there is no breath at all.

 

Maybe this is obvious to you, but the wood and the stone mentioned here are idols constructed by the proud captor. Maybe you don’t see a modern day application for you in this woe because Christian or not, you don’t make nor worship idols. Let me issue a challenge. Do we trust in the things we construct, build, or earn with our money? Do we lean on, or depend on our material possessions for our security? Do we learn from what we own? Has our stuff captured our attention? That is a form of worship.

Here’s the contrast for those wood, stone, gold, and silver things.

Habakkuk 2:20

          20 “But the Lord is in His holy temple.

   Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

 

Do you need salvation? The Lord is in His holy temple. Do you need instruction? The Lord is in His holy temple. Do you need provision? The Lord is in His holy temple. Do you need healing, encouragement, help? The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth, every one of us keep silence before Him. If we are keeping silence before Him, it means we are before Him, or standing in his presence and waiting for Him to speak or do. Keeping silence before Him is an act of placing our trust in Him.

Will you and I drink from the cup of our own accomplishments, or will we drink from the communion cup in loving relationship with our Holy God?

 

All Scripture Quotations from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.


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