“Won’t all of these take up a taunt against him, with mockery and riddles about him? They will say, ‘Woe to him who amasses what is not his–how much longer?–and loads himself with goods taken in pledge.’ Won’t your creditors suddenly arise, and those who disturb you wake up? Then you will become spoil for them. Since you have plundered many nations, all the peoples who remain will plunder you–because of human bloodshed and violence against lands, cities, and all who live in them.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Judgment finally arrives. Habakkuk–and us with him–have been waiting for this moment to arrive for quite a while. God finally speaks a word of judgment over the Babylonians. They are going to get what’s coming to them. And yet, what exactly is coming to them? Who will deliver it? And what does any of this mean for us reading more than 2,500 years later and on the other side of the empty tomb? For the next few days, that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about.
Let’s start here: This and the next five mini-sections of text are woe oracles. These were a common feature of ancient prophecy and other religious writings. They were warning passages to people who were guilty of a certain kind of behavior or thinking. They were warnings that judgment was coming along with implicit (and sometimes explicit) calls to repentance. Namely, if you repent and quit doing these things, you just might avoid the judgment that is coming for doing them.
Look specifically at who is speaking this particular woe (and, by extension, the rest of them). It’s not God. It is “all these” and “they” who will be doing the mocking. And notice that these woes are set specifically in the context of the ones who are guilty of the crimes being mocked for them. What gives?
This could perhaps be found in a summary statement of the woes, but Habakkuk starts here so we will too. When you survey the bigger picture of judgment across the Scriptures, there are a few times when a judgment is paired with the voices of people cheering on the destruction of the guilty. Who are these folks? These are the victims of the ones being judged. The idea I think this conveys to us is that while judgment is done on behalf of the righteous God who is the one chiefly offended by our sins, it is also done on behalf of those who were the victims of the evil and oppression that is being judged. Judgment, in this sense, is a righting of the scales. It is a bringing back into balance where weight has been pressed hard into one side or the other. And, because there exists a God who is perfect in justice, the scales of righteousness will always be realigned after a time when they have been tipped.
What this means is that it is foolish in the extreme for anyone to think he can get by with injustice for long. Oppression never lasts forever. Those who commit themselves to a way of violence and persecution always find these eventually waiting to consume them. Killers rarely die quietly in their beds. This woe against Babylon, then, is initially taken up by the peoples they have conquered. They are the ones who cry out against them and who mock them for their coming fall from power. This is indeed a part of the justice of God. Those who were oppressed and conquered unjustly are the ones to announce the doom of their oppressors.
Before we get into the woes themselves tomorrow, let’s put this into some perspective for us. Our sins will always eventually mock our downfall. When we walk a path of sin, we are trying to create a fantasy world right alongside the real world and then live there as if the real world didn’t exist. In time, the real world always asserts itself over and against our delusions. In the end, we wind up looking ridiculous. The harder we try and press on in our fantasy worlds, the more people there will be to shake their heads at the nonsense that has come to characterize our lives. We are making a bed that will eventually rise up to meet us.
Although there may be some times along our journeys when righteousness seems to be the position the most detached from reality, in the bigger picture, it is always the safer bet to make. Righteousness–living out of our being rightly related to God–is always the winning number. And when we experience persecution for that, we can rest comfortably–though not pridefully–in the knowledge that we will one day get to smile smugly at those who oppressed us as they face the justice that was heading their way the moment they opted for that path. Our God is just and His justice will always be the final statement on any and every matter.