Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working through the book of Habakkuk. This short book captures a conversation that the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk had with God during a time of great trouble in his nation.
Everything around him was falling apart – the people were fighting one another, violence ruled the streets, and the judges and lawmakers were corrupt and wouldn’t deal with it. And when a good person finally did stand up, the bad ones would strike him down. If you’ve ever seen the new Batman movies, or watched Gotham on Netflix, then you know what Habakkuk was going through. Think of him as one of the worship leaders in one of the churches in a Gotham City without Batman.
But, instead of donning a black cowl, Habakkuk did what believers do, and starts to pray. His first prayer is a cry for help that contained a very important question: “Why?”. “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you look idly at wrong?” (1:3) God’s answer is that He has not been idle, and has been working out a much bigger plan than Habakkuk could conceive. God’s response is to give Habakkuk a vision of what’s going on, giving him a helicopter ride high above his problems, the city’s corruption, and even Israel’s massive issues. He gives the prophet a global view of what God’s been doing and will do next.
God’s been raising up the Chaldeans, who will later become the Babylonian Empire. God’s plan to deal with what all of what Habakkuk has been complaining about, is to have a powerful enemy rise up and swallow God’s people whole, destroying Jerusalem, and dragging them off into captivity.
This wasn’t exactly what Habakkuk had in mind when he had started praying, so he asks a follow-up question in verse 13: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” In other words, “God, why would you use a more evil nation to punish the lesser wrongs of your own people? That doesn’t seem fair.”
God’s answer to that question comes in an intense section we call the “Woes against the Chaldeans”. His answer, in short, is that no one will be getting away with anything. All sin will be punished, justice will be done, and everyone will get what’s coming to them.
Habakkuk’s prayer started with, “How can you look at sin and not do anything?” And God’s answer is, “I am about to do something – but you’re not going to like it. I’m about to pour my wrath out against sin. That includes all the people you were complaining about in your nation and all those who come against you.” God would use the Chaldeans as a rod of discipline against His children so they would stop doing evil and come back to Him and His Law. And then after, God would turn His righteous wrath against all the wrongs of the Chaldeans. “Don’t worry, Habakkuk, the violence and sin will be dealt with, justice will be done, and no one will be getting away with anything.”
Covering these woes has been an intense experience for me – and I wonder if it has been for you too. Going through this section has been both convicting and difficult. It’s hard to talk about these topics sometimes, but it’s important that we don’t gloss over them in favour of seeking more pleasant topics. I think it is critically important that we come face to face with the sins that surround us and that are inside us or we will never feel the need to come to the Saviour. People who aren’t sick, or don’t know they’re sick, don’t seek out a doctor.
As we’ve been talking about these woes, we’ve covered some big topics. We talked about God’s hatred of sin and the extreme lengths He will go to do deal with it. We’ve talked about how sin starts with pride, which leads to the dangers of addiction, which then, as the sin leads to deeper sins, turns us into greedy and out of control consumers who only think of ourselves.
That’s what these woes are all about – confronting out of control sin with hard truths. A Woe is simply a pronouncement of judgement, a warning against a person who doesn’t realize how dangerous their situation is. They think they’re going along fine, but the trajectory of their sin is leading them to destruction. The prophet pronounces a woe against these people because their sins have been seen by God, and God is going bring judgement against them – but not fire and brimstone from the sky. No, most of God’s plan is to let the natural consequences of their actions bring the judgement against them. Certainly, God would be the guiding hand, but none of that which comes upon them would be spectacular.
The first woe, found in 2:6 was against their greed. “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!” Their greed had gotten out of control, which caused them to take things that wasn’t theirs. They took what other people had so they could have more. This gave us a chance to talk about our own out of control spending and debts, and how dangerous it is to live a life as a “slave to the lender” (Prov 22:7), instead of living with Jesus as our Lord.
The second woe, which we covered last week, was against their self-security. “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!” (2:9) God was telling them how foolish it was to believe that destroying their relationships with the people around them in favour of gathering more wealth would make them safe. This gave us a chance to ask ourselves some important questions about our own sources of anxiety and the foolish and selfish ways we try to mitigate or moderate them, instead of trusting God to meet our needs.
Woe 3 & 4: Self-Centredness
Today we’re going to talk about the third and fourth woe, found in 2:12-17. Let’s read it together:
“Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.”
Both of these woes have something in common, which is why I’m covering them both at the same time. They are both woes against self-centredness.
If you remember the previous sermons, we talked about the downward spiral from pride to sin to addiction to greed. The natural outworking of a life of addiction and greed is self-centredness. We start to believe that the world revolves around us and exists to meet our needs and bring us pleasure. Our addictions and greed make us start to see the world and people around us as objects rather than gifts.
This certainly happened to the Chaldeans (or Babylonians), and we’ve talked about this before. They consumed all they could within their own borders, and then decided to move further out. They weren’t content with what they had, but wanted more and more – at any cost. They didn’t see the world as a gift meant to share, but an object meant to be owned. They didn’t see the people around them as fellow humans, but as enemies who stood between them and that which they desired. Their pride in believing they were their own gods fueled their addictions, which bled beyond their borders, eventually driving them to take over almost the whole world and become one of the largest empires in history.
The third woe says, “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!” (2:12) The fourth says, “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!” (2:15) Notice the similarity there – the exploitation and consumption of their neighbours.
Their need to fuel their addictions and greed has them reaching beyond their borders to get more. But instead of asking for more, or partnering with others to build mutually beneficial relationships, they simply take. They use brute force to get what they want, taking everything in their path, destroying anyone who gets between them and the object of their desire. All that they have, their whole city, is built on “iniquity”, which is simply the word for “sin” or “wrong”. All they had was dripping with the blood of those they had taken it from.
And the next woe is the natural, next step. The Babylonians were famous for their wild drinking and sex parties. The picture here is that of the enemy nation coming into town, taking over the houses, lands and cities, and then corrupting those around them. They did this in two ways: First, by inviting those who they didn’t kill to join them in their sin and second, by forcing the ones who wouldn’t into addiction and sexual slavery.
This was especially condemning because Israel had a lot of laws about drunkenness, sexuality, and indecency. Their scriptures are full of bad examples of people who got drunk and naked and brought themselves and many others a lot of trouble. Noah, Lot, and Samson got drunk, naked and in trouble.
Babylon was a nation of people dedicated to their own self-pleasure and anyone who wouldn’t join their party was either killed or exploited.
Our Babylonian Culture
This all sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? But does it still happen today? It’s tempting to get into a diatribe against the pride, addictions, greed and exploitation that is happening at a national level. Most of us know about alarming rise in binge drinking, drug addiction and pornography use among young people – that leads directly into fueling of what is now being called the “Rape Culture”. Countless articles have been written about how rampant violence and drug addiction is in the pornography industry and the terrible amount of human trafficking and abortions that are happening to keep the sex industry going.
It’s getting pretty Babylonian out there, folks.
We’ve been reading about the insane interest that Canada is taking in legalizing marijuana. We live next to Ottawa, which has for the past five years had “Sexapolooza”, which, though sold to the public as a “consumer trade show”, is simply a public celebration of pornography, cruelty, perversion and sexual exploitation. Abortion could be considered the highest form of violence, and Canada is guilty of murdering three hundred babies every day. We compound our appetite for lust with murder.
And, just like fighting against the Babylonians, we know what happens to anyone who doesn’t fall in line, right? You either join the party by choice or by force – or you’re in trouble. Behind the alcohol, drug and sex trade are people with lots of guns, money and influence. Beware anyone who tries to get in their way.
Our Own Self-Centredness
But I don’t only want to talk about the ills of our nation today – I want to make this much more personal. We may not be able to change the path of the nation, but we can certainly examine the sins that beset our own souls. Self-Centredness, or the belief that the world exists to serve you, is something we all suffer from.
Kay Arthur, in her study guide on Habakkuk says,
“The proud, evil lifestyle of the wicked begins with greed, which in turn leads to self-exultation, which cuts off others. Then, because self is exalted above others, what else would you expect? Violence and bloodshed. Not only do you steal what others have so that you can have more, you abuse anyone who gets in the way of self! Drunk on self and power, you then seduce your neighbours for your own sensual satisfaction. And why not? The idols you worship don’t condemn you! And God, if there is a God, doesn’t notice or get involved in the affairs of mere men!”
This isn’t talking about the excesses of the Babylonian Empire, it’s talking about you and me. We are, every day, faced with the decision to choose to love people or love things. Most of us don’t even think about it. We finish the milk, take the last cookie, and we don’t even think of anyone else. We buy our clothes, buy our groceries, order our coffee, use our cell phone, eat at a restaurant, head off to work, drive our cars, watch our tv shows, visit our websites, and head off to bed without even the passing thought that every single one of those actions has repercussions on others.
Why? Because we are self-centered. Instead of loving people and using things, we use people and love our things. Philippians 3:19 condemns people like this saying,
“Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things…”
What that means is that our desire for earthly things like wealth, possessions, comfort, and pleasure, causes us to override our love for God and others. God says that we should love others sacrificially, but our belly-god just keeps crying out for more until we feed it. Like the Woe to the Chaldeans, if we live self-centred life, driven by our appetites, then our end will be destruction.
A Christian, like Jesus, thinks of God first, and then others second. This concept is all over scripture, and it is presented as a very big deal. How we see ourselves and how we treat others, is directly connected to what is going on in our hearts and our relationship with God. Listen:
Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He answered in Matthew 22:37-40:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In Philippians 2:3 Paul implores the church to work together saying:
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
In James 4:1-3 we read that all of this self-centredness comes from the desires of our heart:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
And in 1 John 4:19-21 we are told that our love for others is directly connected to our love for God:
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
This is pretty serious. Our treatment of others shows our relationship with God. 1 John 2:9 says: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”
Remember, Jesus said, “…if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15) and “…in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2)
Jesus was very serious about how we treat each other. Our relationship with God doesn’t merely exist between us and Him. Making Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour means asking God to change us from self-centred people who worship our stomach and idolize self into people who put God first and others second. “We love because he loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Examples of How We Exploit Others
But, as I said, we all struggle with being self-centred. So much so that we don’t even know that our most regular, mundane activities have ripple effects that impact people both nearby and far off. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and so I want to give you a quick rundown of the kinds of things I mean. (This may get a little weird, but I hope it helps you see my point.)
Remember how I just said that “we finish the milk, take the last cookie, buy our clothes, groceries and coffee, user our phone, eat at a restaurant, head to work, drive our cars, watch tv, visit our websites, and head off to bed without even the passing thought that every single one of those actions has repercussions on others”? Well, they all do.
Let’s start with the milk and cookies that we finished. Where did the milk come from? Who bought it? Was there more? It may just something as simple as drinking the last of the milk, but if we live in a home with other people, then even the smallest actions have ripple effects. The people around us are a gift from God and we are to treat them as such. Not only that, they are also our primary learning ground for how we interact with the world. Our home and family is where we learn how to show love, share, and deal with conflict. It’s also where we learn what happens when we are greedy, or self-centred. Parents and families have the responsibility to help each other grow into people who know that God is the boss, Jesus is Lord, and we don’t exist merely for ourselves.
Next, in our little scenario, we put on our clothes, get in the car, buy some groceries, and grab a coffee. I want you to consider the effects that those actions have on others. Where did bananas, chocolate, tuna and shrimp you bought come from? It’s not only possible, but likely, that they were picked by child or slave laborers. Did you know most of our cell phones, the rubber in our tires, the diamond on our finger, and the clothes on our back can be tied directly to slavery and human rights abuses? Some of the people that picked the fruit on our counters, cotton in our clothes, and cocoa for our Valentine chocolates, and the beans for our morning coffee were stolen from their families, sold as slaves and are never paid. Others who made our electronics were kept in prison-like conditions and worked so hard that some companies have taken to installing nets in high places to curb the rampant suicides among their workers.
Next, we head to work. Of course, these interactions are full of ways that we can be either be self-centred either or show our care for others. What kind of worker are we? Do we show respect to the employer and our fellow employees? Do we steal from work? Do we abuse the vacation and sick-day system? What kind of e-mails do we send? Do we waste other people’s time?
Next, we go to the restaurant for lunch. Again, where did our food come from? Is it a company that respects the environment? Do they respect the local economy by buying from local farmers and producers, or are they ruining lives by putting them out of business? Did we even consider how the company treats their employees? Or are we perpetuating a system that underpays the delivery people, cooks, staff and managers? We just want a hamburger, but what is the human cost required to fill our belly? Does it even cross our minds?
After we’re done at the restaurant, in our little scenario, we finish up work, go home, watch TV and surf the web. We may believe we are merely passive in this process – after all, we don’t produce the shows or the internet content, right? We just and watch. However, I want you to remember what we learned about Babylon.
God’s woe against them was that anyone who didn’t join their party would be forced into addiction or the subject of violence. I want to read that verse again:
“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!” (Hab 2:15)
What was their end goal? Drunkenness and sexual sin.
Viewing Pornography is Exploitation
Every time we witness a sexual act on the TV or the Internet, we are perpetuating a culture of abuse. Babylon used violence and alcohol to entice and force people into performing lewd acts. Our culture and media producers do the same with drink, drugs, money and threats.
I’m not going to get into the abuses that young people, especially young women, suffer in the movie and tv industry, because that is incredibly well documented and we get to witness the destruction of their souls every day in the newspapers. Every day we sacrifice more of our mothers and daughters on the altar of entertainment.
No, what I want to talk about, briefly, is the sex industry. The picture of Babylon is a picture of prostitution, pornography and human trafficking. All around the world, men steal or lure women and children into the sex industry with both promises and threats. Some they flatter, others they intimidate, but it’s always for the same goal – to exploit them.
Addiction is extremely common among prostitutes and pornographers. It not only masks the pain, but oftentimes, the perpetrators will purposely get the girls addicted to drugs and alcohol so they can control their captives. And then either tie them up in legal contracts or literally tie them up with chains so they can’t escape. (“Porn Fuels the Rape Culture“. “Pornography and Human Trafficking” (also here). “19 Year Old Commits Suicide After Shooting First Porn Scene“. Porn Destroys People, Families and Communities. Also check out Porn Harms.)
Remember their motives: Get them drunk so they can look on their nakedness. Listen closely: every time you look at pornography – every time – they are perpetuating a system that destroys lives. One reason people keep falling into the trap of porn addiction is because they think it doesn’t affect anyone else. That is a demonic lie! It hardens our hearts, destroys our marriages, ruins our ability to love, turns women into objects, and perpetrates some of the worst crimes imaginable against people we should be protecting, not exploiting. (Read/Watch this)
Anyone who has ever used a prostitute or looked at pornography is guilty of the same sins as Babylon – self-centred exploitation of others. Every is another excuse for the pornography machine to grab another young women or child and do it again. They make billions of dollars every year – even off their free sites. Even if you’ve never paid a cent for it, your attention to that website, tv show, or magazine, drives the industry.
I could keep going on this all day, but I think you see my point. This world makes it extremely easy to be a self-centred person who exploits others for their own benefit. We do it every day. Why do the banana and coffee slave owners, abusive technology companies, evil corporations, and pornographers keep getting away with it? Because most people don’t know, and most of the ones who do, don’t care.
Let me close with this: God ends each woe with a prophecy about what will happen to these people. He pronounces His woes and then concludes with, “Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the
“Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea…. The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!” (Hab 2:14, 16)
This is a reminder that God is going to deal with these sins once and for all. He’s been showing His patience, waiting for His people to come back to Him, but that patience is limited. “The cup in the Lord’s right hand” is the cup of divine retribution. One day, He will pay back everyone for their wrong.
For some, that payment will be made by Jesus Christ. The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God has looked into our self-centred hearts and though He has judged us as sinners, has also made a way for us to be free from the consequences of our sin. Jesus came and lived as sinless man who could die in the place of sinners. God poured out all of His wrath and hatred against sin onto Jesus.
No one will get away with anything – but for some, who believe in Jesus Christ – the payment for their sin has been made for them. He died for our sins. That’s the Good News. We are terrible sinners, but we have a wonderful Saviour. God was willing to trade the perfection of His Son for our imperfection, so we could be with Him forever.
However, others will not accept this gift, and they will pay for their own sins. God’s hatred of their exploitation of others will be upon their heads. All the shame they made others feel, they will feel. All the pain they inflicted – physical, mental, and emotional – will be brought down upon them. Every tear they have caused someone else to shed will be held against them. The hell they put their captives through will be their home for eternity.
Human Traffickers won’t get away with what they’ve done. Abortionists won’t get away with murder. Doctors that kill their patients for money instead of treating them won’t get away with it. Those that manipulate the system for their own benefit and ruin opportunities for others, won’t get away with it. All sin will be dealt with. God has seen it and deal out perfect justice.
I invite you today to realize you are a sinner and turn to God for forgiveness in Jesus name. And then, as you walk with Him, He will change you from self-centred, to Christ-centred – and you will learn how to live for God and others instead of yourself.
Confronting people’s sin isn’t very popular these days. More and more the world is handing out excuses rather than judgements and punishments. It’s not that I’m advocating for the return of the Salem Witch trials or the Spanish Inquisition, but I do believe that we have lost something incredibly important to human society when we are no longer able (or allowed) to call out evil and declare something a sin.
Even our movies have changed. It used to be that we knew the bad guy because he had the black hat and twirly mustache. He didn’t need much of a back-story – he was the bad guy. “Once upon a time there was a witch who hated everyone…” or “Once upon a time a young girl was sent to visit her grandmother’s house, but when she got there her grandmother was replaced by a wolf…” was plenty enough information for us to know that the witch and the wolf were bad guys.
Not anymore. Now the witch and the wolf have backstories that explain why they went bad. The witch was hurt by an untrustworthy boy she liked, and the wolf came from a broken home in a bad neighbourhood. Implicit in these backstories is that everyone has an excuse for why they do what they do – nothing is their fault. They are merely a product of a broken system. If they had grown up in a different place, with good education and the right meds, then they would be just fine.
Words and stories are very powerful things because they shape our worldview. And if we get rid of words like right and wrong, good and evil, sin and righteousness, then we end up rewriting our understanding of the greatest problem in this world and losing sight of what must be done to change it. If our greatest problem is sin, and the solution is Jesus, then we need to be able to declare that sin exists. But what happens when we stop using the word sin? How can we get to the solution, when we’ve changed what we think the problem is?
Consider the fact that we’ve all but lost the categories for sin today. Last week I read a passage from Galatians 5 which outlined a whole list of sins that God says we need to take seriously, because when we commit these sins we show that we are out of step with Him and are working against His Spirit. The passage went like this:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21)
Now that sounds bad when you use those words, right? “Not inheriting the Kingdom of God” is a big deal, right? This is a problem that needs solving! We need Jesus to fix this!
Well, let’s modernize them and see what happens.
- First, let’s turn “sexual immorality, impurity and sensuality” into “expressing your feelings for someone in a natural way”, “a healthy expression of one’s inner desires”, “dating” and the ever-popular, “safe sex.” That way we can turn something like “adultery” into “a love affair” (that sounds nice, doesn’t it) or “finding my soul mate during a troubled marriage”.
- Next let’s turn “idolatry” into “consumerism”, “a beautiful expression of culture.” and “personal religious constructs”.
- We’ll turn “sorcery” into “silly superstitions”, “using pharmaceuticals to improve life”, “being in touch with mother nature” or “living a naturalistic lifestyle”.
- We’ll change “enmity”, “strife”, “jealousy”, “fits of anger” and “rivalries”, “dissensions” and “divisions” into “having a competitive spirit”, “wanting to be the best you can be”, “winning at all costs”, “survival of the fittest” or simply “being passionate about excellence”.
- We’ll turn “envy” into “looking up to someone more successful than you”, “wanting to get what you deserve.”
- And finally “drunkenness” and “orgies” can become “getting a little carried away at a fun party”.
Ok, so let’s summarize, and we’ll use the modern translation that we’ve just come up with:
“Now, the works of the flesh are… expressing your natural feelings for someone, sharing in the beauty of your culture, living a natural lifestyle, being passionate about excellence, looking up to people more successful than you, and having fun at parties… those who do such things (?) will not inherit the kingdom of God…”
Now, that sounds a little harsh doesn’t it? How can God be against people expressing our feelings, sharing beauty, living naturally, pursuing excellence, and having fun?! Do you see why words are important and how dangerous it is that we are living in a culture that won’t call sin sin?
What we’re about to study today is a passage known as the “Woe to the Chaldeans” and it’s all about calling out sin. We talked a bit about this last week, but I want you to remember the context. This intense section of scripture is full of hard language and threats, but is there for a reason. It’s pointing out how much God hates sin – which is what we talked about last week – but also how He intends to deal with it. Some people are going to be disciplined, others punished. No one will get away with anything.
Christians love to sing “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound”, but in order to understand the first part, we need to understand the “that saved a wretch like me” part. In order to understand forgiveness we need to see what we’ve been forgiven for. In order to understand mercy, we need to see the wrath from which we were spared. In order to comprehend the amazing love of God for His people, and the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf, we have to come face to face with the depth of our sin and depravity, and the weight of judgement that faces each person that doesn’t know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. It’s awesome to talk about amazing grace, but it only makes sense in the light of knowing we are wretches first.
So, as we look at this, let’s keep the context in mind. Habakkuk, a priest in God’s temple, was living in a nation that was almost totally corrupt. Suffering, injustice, violence and sin were everywhere. His heart is breaking and he starts to pray, asking God why He’s not doing anything about it. God sends Habakkuk a vision that explains to him and us how he plans to deal with the sin of His people and, by extension, the sins of the world. God says his plan is to discipline his people by sending their enemy, the Chaldeans (later called the Babylonians), to wipe out Jerusalem and drag the people off into captivity for 70 years.
Habakkuk, a priest in God’s temple, was living in a nation that was almost totally corrupt. Suffering, injustice, violence and sin were everywhere. His heart is breaking and he starts to pray, asking God why He’s not doing anything about it. God sends Habakkuk a vision that explains to him and us how he plans to deal with the sin of His people and, by extension, the sins of the world. God says his plan is to discipline his people by sending their enemy, the Chaldeans (later called the Babylonians), to wipe out Jerusalem and drag the people off into captivity for 70 years.
Habakkuk asks a follow-up question, wondering how God could justify using a greater evil to punish a lesser one: “Why would he use the pagan Chaldeans to punish the lesser wrongs of Israel? Why should the Chaldeans get away with being evil when Israel won’t?”
God’s answer is that He is a God of justice and that no one will be getting away with anything! He’s going to use the Chaldeans as a rod of discipline against His children, and then make sure that the Chaldeans receive their judgement for their sin too. God isn’t slow to act, nor has He forgotten. He’s been patiently waiting for His people to repent, but they won’t. And while they’ve been rejecting Him and His prophets, He’s been preparing the world for a change of empires – the rise of the Babylonians – who though they don’t even believe in Him, God intends to use bring Himself glory and bring salvation to His people.
Last week we talked about the inner workings, the heart, of the Chaldeans – their pride, addiction and greed – and now this week we’re going to get in the specifics of God’s problem with them.
What I want to do over the next few weeks is look at the passage in context and then extrapolate out what those sins would look like today because God’s standards haven’t changed.
The big take-away from this sermon, I hope, is that God is very serious about sin, and we need to be serious about it too. And, perhaps the second take-away is that even when the world seems very dark, God isn’t being idle – He’s being patient – and He’s preparing the world for something even greater. Let’s turn to Habakkuk 2:6-20 and let’s read the passage together and then take it apart piece by piece.
“Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, ‘Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!’ Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.
‘Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.
‘Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
‘Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.
‘What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.’” (Habakkuk 2:6-20)
What are Woes
There are five woes and I want to look at each of them, but first, let’s answer the question: What is a “Woe”?
A “Woe” is a declaration of judgement for the miserable, deplorable condition of the one being addressed. It is not a good thing to receive a “woe”. Someone receiving a “woe” is most often living in a fantasy world, thinking they are doing well, when in fact they are utterly wretched and blind to the truth. They are self-satisfied, and don’t realize their spiritual condition, or the future that awaits them.
A “woe” is a pronouncement of judgement and a warning to someone who thinks they’re doing just fine, and they are found throughout scripture. In Matthew 23 Jesus pronounced woes on the Scribes and Pharisees who thought themselves to be so great and holy, but were in fact under the terrible judgement of God, destined for hell. It’s an expression of grief at the terrible condition of the sinner – people that are so utterly lost, they don’t even know it.
I want today’s message to serve as a sort of woe to each one of us, and perhaps to our friends and neighbours too. I hope that as we read this passage, we will have a realization of the depths of our sin problem and God’s hatred of it. We are far too comfortable with our sin, and it gets us into great trouble. We make excuses for it, play with it, think it no big deal, and start to think that God doesn’t care about it either. We desperately need the conviction of God and the knowledge of our sin, or we won’t come to Jesus. As long as we think ourselves righteous and good – perhaps only needing a little divine help here or there – we will not be on our face asking God for daily forgiveness and crying out in need for His love and presence.
I believe that desire starts with the acknowledgement that we are sinners and that there are serious consequences for our sins: for the believer and the unbeliever! Woe to any of us who do not listen to these words and not feel the weight of conviction on our souls and desire to come before God in repentance. If you can read these words and not feel some kind of conviction, then there is something wrong with your soul.
Ok, so let’s get into them:
The First Woe: Greed
“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!’”
The first woe is against this nation’s greed. We talked about this last week. Their pride, fueled by drunkenness led to addiction which gave birth to an unquenchable greed. Woe to the one who keeps hoarding things they cannot pay for. Notice that these things aren’t theirs!
The first woe is against this nation’s greed. We talked about this last week. Their pride, fueled by drunkenness led to addiction which gave birth to an unquenchable greed. Woe to the one who keeps hoarding things they cannot pay for. Notice that these things aren’t theirs!
This isn’t a woe against materialism, ownership, or having nice things. This woe is specifically against those who take things from others that aren’t theirs. They didn’t work for what they had, they took it from others. They weren’t spending their own money, they were spending other people’s money.
The term “loaded himself with pledges” is a figurative term meaning that these conquering Chaldeans (or Babylonians) weren’t the owners of what they had, but were merely borrowing it. They were extorting money from people, seizing their land by force, and using military might to make their victims into slaves. Woe to them, God says, because that loan is going to be paid back!
What goes around comes around and all of the borrowing you’ve done is going to be taken back. A larger nation will take it from you and give it back – which is exactly what happened when the Persians conquered the Babylonians.
Their sin was greed. They wanted someone else to do the work for them so they could come and take it. They stole other nation’s homes, lands, cities, walls, cattle, money, and people. Instead of building, they plundered. Instead of working, they conquered.
The Chaldeans were doing this on a national level, but we do this on a personal level all the time. Consider the explosion of Credit Card debt we have today. According to a few news articles I read this week, consumer debt is at an all-time high. We might be in a recession, but that hasn’t stopped us from filling up our credit cards and getting new loans from the bank. And it’s not for food and shelter. The big costs, according to the Globe and Mail, are Restaurants, Cars, Home Improvement, and New Furniture. According to the CBC, the debt-to-income ratio for Canadian households is 163.3 percent. That means that for every dollar we earn, we owe $1.64 in debt. If that’s not greed, I don’t know what is. It’s the same thing!
The thievery and conquering of the Chaldean armies is phrased in the language of loans and pledges because they didn’t own any of it! It was merely borrowed from other nations, and ultimately borrowed from God. Their short-sighted thinking had them believing that this world was about the accumulation of good for pleasure, no matter how they got it. And their decision was to take what they wanted from others.
The Gospel Consequences of Greed
Our society runs on the back of this kind of greed. Credit cards, high-interest pay-day loans, tax fraud and evasion, and more, are crippling our society today – and the church. Let’s take a minute to consider the terrible consequences to living a lifestyle of greed, consumerism and debt. Being greedy and seeking to accumulate things you aren’t willing to work for has some huge consequences to your life, family and ministry.
Let me ask you a few questions:
Are you making decisions with your money, or is your debt making decision for you? Proverbs 22:7 says, “… the borrower is the slave of the lender.” What that means is that once you are in debt, you lose a lot of your ability to make decisions.
If God were to call you to give generously to help someone who needs your help today, could you? Or is your money tied up in paying off the debts you have after buying things you don’t need?
If God asked you to pick up stakes and serve Him somewhere else, could you? Or have the decisions you’ve made with your money got you pinned down and unable to be flexible with your future. You have to say, “No God, don’t ask me to do that, I just can’t.”
Do you feel the pull to volunteer more of your time or give more of your energies to your church or your community, but can’t because you need to spend more time at work?
Has it ever crossed your mind that you are doing your family a disservice by working so much – that you need to either pull back the hours, get a different job, or quit altogether – but you can’t because you have too many debts to pay? You feel the pull to be a better parent, grandparent, grandchild, uncle, aunt, brother or sister – and know that you need to make a change, but you can’t because you decided to buy something you didn’t really need.
You’ve made yourself a “slave to the lender”. Your greed has caused you to take something that wasn’t yours. You, like the Chaldeans, have used money that isn’t yours to accumulate things for yourself you weren’t intended to have. You didn’t work and save for them, but instead got someone else to do the work for you.
God is no longer making decisions in your life, and neither are you. The Bank is deciding how many hours you work. Master Card is deciding how great a priority your family is to you. The loan company is your master now, and they get to tell you where you can live and what you can do with your time.
Debt makes you a slave! God’s woe to the Chaldeans was that the ones that they have borrowed from would rise up and destroy them. They thought that their conquering and accumulation would bring them happiness, but all it did was create the opportunity for their enemies to destroy them. It made them gluttonous and weak. It’s the same thing today.
Satan loves it when God’s people are greedy and in debt. It paralyzes them. As long as they are spending their money on themselves and digging themselves into financial ruin, then they aren’t spending their money on acts of mercy, giving generously, sharing with others, or spreading the gospel. He loves it when we’re being greedy and in debt.
So that was the first of the five woes, and that’s all we’re going to cover today. Let me close with the words of Jesus regarding the importance of being faithful with our money. This is found in Luke 16:10-13 and comes after the parable of the dishonest manager. Jesus says:
“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:10-13)
Being greedy and living in constant debt isn’t just a money issue – it declares a spiritual truth. It shows God that He’s not our Master or our God, someone else is. It shows that our priorities are out of whack. It shows that we care more for the things in this world than the people in it.
As a church, we cry out to God to use us for His glory and ask Him why He won’t give us more and more opportunities to obey Him. Is it possible that His answer is, “I gave you a few little things to take care of – a little pile of money, a little house, a little family – and you used it dishonestly and unfaithfully. Why would I entrust you with true riches?
I gave you everything you needed, but you didn’t think it was enough, so you borrowed more from pagans and non-believers. You felt that they were better providers than Me. And now, because of your debt to them, you serve them… and cannot wholly serve me.”
I encourage you to pray about this. Are there any changes you need to make financially? Is there anything you need to take back to the store or sell because you couldn’t afford it? Do you need to ask God’s forgiveness for seeking things He didn’t want to give you? Have you been greedy? Are you being faithful with your finances?