The Acts of Justice, Habakkuk 2:4-20

Unimaginable Justice” by Shawn Ashman
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?
​​And to him who loads himself with many pledges’?
7 ​​Will not your creditors rise up suddenly?
​​Will they not awaken who oppress you?
​​And you will become their booty.
8 ​​Because you have plundered many nations,
​​All the remnant of the people shall plunder you,
​​Because of men’s blood
​​And the violence of the land and the city,
​​And of all who dwell in it.
9 ​​“Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house,
​​That he may set his nest on high,
​​That he may be delivered from the power of disaster!
10 ​​You give shameful counsel to your house,
​​Cutting off many peoples,
​​And sin against your soul.
11 ​​For the stone will cry out from the wall,
​​And the beam from the timbers will answer it.
12 ​​“Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed,
​​Who establishes a city by iniquity!
13 ​​Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts
​​That the peoples labor to feed the fire,
​​And nations weary themselves in vain?
14 ​​For the earth will be filled
​​With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
​​As the waters cover the sea.
​15 ​​“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor,
​​Pressing  him to your bottle,
​​Even to make him drunk,
​​That you may look on his nakedness!
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.
17 ​​For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you,
​​And the plunder of beasts which made them afraid,
​​Because of men’s blood
​​And the violence of the land and the city,
​​And of all who dwell in it.
18 ​​“What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it,
​​The molded image, a teacher of lies,
​​That the maker of its mold should trust in it,
​​To make mute idols?
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.
​20 ​​“But the LORD is in His holy temple.
​​Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

* In the Masoretic Text this could be translated as wealth ​​

 Judgment by Faith or Works

In the last reflection we took time to focus on one phrase from verse 4: the just shall live by his faith. Now we will read verse 4 and 5 together to see the broader comparison that the Lord is making between the unrighteous and righteous. While the righteous man lives by faith, the unrighteous man lives by his own might and works. The marks of the unrighteous of man are:

  • Pride
  • Indulgence
  • Crookedness
  • Consumerism
  • Discontentment
  • Greed
  • Unquenchable desires

The Lord enters into His own lament and woes of judgment. Woe is an exclamation of lament, a small word that is filled with great sorrow or distress. The Lord laments the actions of the wicked. Stop for a moment and ponder that. Sin-filled men and women cause the Lord to lament. Your enemies cause the Lord to lament. The Lord’s enemies cause Him to lament. Why?

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

There is work in the waiting; work for us and work for God. While we may see God as slow or inactive in the outside world, it is often times that His work is internal, and He is turning hearts toward repentance. We can’t see the inner working of people’s lives, but God can. He is patient. He is patient because He doesn’t want people (His creation) to perish; however, because of His holy character, He must exercise justice.

I think we often read the judgments of the Lord with a certain satisfaction that our enemies will finally get what they deserve. I also know that some people twist the judgments of the Lord and make it appear that God loves to punish “those sinners”. I invite you to read the judgments of the Lord with sorrow because that is how the Lord starts each judgment: with sorrow. He is saddened that He must be a judge because people have not accepted His grace and mercy in His patient time of waiting.

A judge does not love to punish people; a judge loves to prosper and protect people. A judge does not love dispensing punishment; a judge loves preventing further harm and injustice.


The First Woe

​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?
​​And to him who loads himself with many pledges’?
7 ​​Will not your creditors rise up suddenly?
​​Will they not awaken who oppress you?
​​And you will become their booty.
8 ​​Because you have plundered many nations,
​​All the remnant of the people shall plunder you,
​​Because of men’s blood
​​And the violence of the land and the city,
​​And of all who dwell in it.

The first woe is directed to all oppressive rulers who promote their status and wealth by taking things that do not belong to them. The Lord repeats Habakkuk’s plea from verse 2, how long, and this time the Lord hears it from all the oppressed people.

While the Lord does not provide a timeline as to when the oppressors will be judged, He does provide how they will be judged. Their judgment is a reflection of how they treated people; the plunderers will be plundered. The oppressed will defeat the oppressive. There is a sense of ironic justice where the unjust will experience all the horrors they inflicted on others while on earth and will have to account for their actions in front of a righteous God.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:7-9

The Second Woe

9 Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house,
​​That he may set his nest on high,
​​That he may be delivered from the power of disaster!
10 ​​You give shameful counsel to your house,
​​Cutting off many peoples,
​​And sin against your soul.
11 ​​For the stone will cry out from the wall,
​​And the beam from the timbers will answer it.

Here, the Lord uses an architectural metaphor to reveal the injustice exercised to build up the oppressors’ nests (the idea of being unreachable) and homes. While the wicked seem to be building their homes as displays of glory and success, their homes will actually betray them, and the stones used will cry out against the shameful acts they were forced to build.

There is a beautiful connection between stones and truth in the Bible. Stones are used to demonstrate how truth cannot be changed and they are witnesses of the truth throughout time. Joshua used a stone to be a witness against Israel if they turned from God. And here in Habakkuk, the stones remain true to their witness and cry out because people are no longer living in truth.

And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” Joshua 24:27

Stones also participate in the great praise to their King and Rock, Christ. Their witness is recognized by Jesus upon His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”
He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

All of creation was made by God and for God; in fact, the “whole [of] creation has been groaning” (Romans 8:22) as it waits for Jesus’ return and restoration. There is a desire in all creation to be used for God’s glory and not for shame. Creation wants justice for being abused for evil gain.


The Third Woe

12 ​​“Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed,
​​Who establishes a city by iniquity!
13 ​​Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts
​​That the peoples labor to feed the fire,
​​And nations weary themselves in vain?
14 ​​For the earth will be filled
​​With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
​​As the waters cover the sea.

In the third woe, the Lord promises to judge the people who labor in vain to amass towns and cities. While men focus on themselves and their material possessions, it is all in vain and does not hold weight when compared to the knowledge of the Lord. The word glory (kabowd; כָּבַד) in verse 14 can be translated to its figurative meaning as well: a good heaviness or weight. No amount of wealth, possession, cities, or towns are as heavy as the value of God. Anything gathered and stored on earth will pass away.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:24-27

The Fourth Woe

​15 ​​“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor,
​​Pressing him to your bottle,
​​Even to make him drunk,
​​That you may look on his nakedness!
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.
17 ​​For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you,
​​And the plunder of beasts which made them afraid,
​​Because of men’s blood
​​And the violence of the land and the city,
​​And of all who dwell in it.
18 ​​“What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it,
​​The molded image, a teacher of lies,
​​That the maker of its mold should trust in it,
​​To make mute idols?

In the fourth woe, the Lord condemns those who draw or press neighbors into their unrighteousness and immorality. Yet, beyond just drawing their neighbors into sin, they use the neighbor’s sin against them and mock them. They relish in the shame they cause.

However, the shame they cause will be poured out on them. The Lord calls out Judea in particular here saying that they have lived as though they are uncircumcised. It is the same as if the Lord said: “you who go to church, tithe, pray, and do good deeds – your heart and true nature is known to Me and you are not Mine”. A cutting accusation for those who claim to be followers of the True God, but whose faith proves differently.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 17:21-22

What is at the root of all the unrighteousness? Idolatry. Men turn from their Creator and pursue a god that looks like them and will approve of their actions. They want a god who will always agree with them. They create gods to reflect their heart: lifeless and mute. This way, their gods will not contradict them or convict them.

Idolatry is another way we bring shame to God’s creation – we exult things or ourselves when we were created to worship God.

What is exactly idolatry? In Scripture it is a three-step process: a man worships an image; he then becomes like the image; and the image often destroys the man.

John D. Currid in “The Expectant Prophet

The Fifth Woe

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.
​20 ​​“But the LORD is in His holy temple.
​​Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

The last woe provides us the final comparison between the unrighteous and the righteous. Just like in verse 18, in the fifth woe the Lord clearly states that the heart of all unrighteousness is idolatry. We can create beautiful things, overlaid with gold and silver, but what the gold and silver cover is only emptiness. There is no substance or live-giving qualities to the idols we create. Only God can breathe life into existence.

Notice the contrast between verses 19 and 20. In verse 19 the gods made by the God’s creation (man) are silent, whereas the God of creation causes the world to be stilled and are kept silent. In the end, all of mankind will acknowledge their Creator and will be in awe of His power.

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 14:11

Homework

  • How did it feel reading the woes of judgment with sorrow?
  • What woe convicted an aspect of your life?
  • What role does idolatry play in your life? Are there idols that are preventing you from true spiritual growth?

Singing the book of Habakkuk

“God of Justice” by Tim Hughes

… God of Justice, Savior to all
Came to rescue the weak and the poor
Came to serve and not be served…

Habakkuk: A Journey of Suffering © by Rachael McMullen