“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)
One of the principles that spans both testaments of the Bible and in fact can be found in some form across many different religions is that we will reap what we sow. The choices that we make now will eventually become the reality facing us when the future arrives. We cannot live however we please without experiencing the consequences of this. While this may be a bit of a disconcerting idea when we are the ones who are making the poor choices, in general, this should be a point of great comfort and encouragement. Let’s talk about why.
Habakkuk’s first woe focuses in on those who amass what is not theirs. The obvious question out of the gate is this: Who are these folks? Well, in context, this was aimed at the Babylonians. That powerful empire was rich with wealth gained through conquest. They gobbled up one nation after another and took their wealth (usually accumulated and stored in the main temple of their god as was the case with Israel) back to increase their own national treasuries. What’s more, we know they used this stolen wealth to live a lavish lifestyle in their capital city. The Babylonian kings would throw enormous, opulent parties for all their court officials to show just how wealthy and powerful they were.
Here’s what God had to say about this practice: It will not last. Babylon had spent more than they had. They had extended themselves out beyond where they could sustain their lifestyle. This may or may not have been true in raw economic terms, but it was definitely true in spiritual terms. They were eventually going to find their bill coming due and themselves unable to pay. They would become plundered just as they had plundered so many. They would find themselves faced with destructive violence just as they had destroyed so many others with violence. They were going to receive in kind the actions they had delivered to others.
This was all good news for Habakkuk and the people of Israel, but let’s think about this through a couple of different lenses for us. First, what does this kind of thing look like today? Certainly there are individuals whose wealth was amassed on the backs of the people they have victimized in one way or another. Think about men whose wealth has come from the adult film industry. Think about owners of factories who take advantage of and otherwise abuse their workers. But, taking pot-shots at these kinds of easily identifiable villains is too simple. Make it personal. Have you ever gained something for yourself by taking advantage of someone else? Don’t think in strictly monetary terms either. Have you ever gained an opportunity or some advantage or even just a place in line because you took advantage of someone else? That was sin, plain and simple. Don’t follow Babylon’s path to destruction. Repent of that–something we are gloriously able to do in Christ–and walk once again the path of justice that leads to real life.
Second, think about the nature of this promise to Habakkuk and the people of Israel. God’s judgment was coming…but not immediately. This was a vision of a future judgment. What’s more, it was general enough that while it was certainly given with Babylon in mind, it wasn’t necessarily aimed only at them. While there was encouragement here, it was a small encouragement to a people who were yet to be conquered by Babylon. This wasn’t going to prevent their being conquered in the first place. They were going to be victimized by Babylon.
I think this reminds us of something we dare not forget about God’s justice: It doesn’t operate on our timetable. While God’s promise of dealing permanently with all injustice at some future point is grand, that doesn’t help us in the day to day. That may give us the encouragement to keep going, crying, “Come, Lord Jesus,” all the while, but today may still be hard. In fact, it will likely still be hard. God never and nowhere promises instant relief from the effects of sin in this world. Instead, He promises presence. He promises that we will never have to face those effects alone.
Think about why this is and why it matters. As we have talked about before, when God finally moves to right all wrongs, He’s going to right all wrongs. All of them. None are going to be overlooked. And until that day, while He will certainly limit the scope of some, He’s got to walk a very fine line that mostly involves allowing the effects of sins to play themselves out naturally (which often serves to be its own short-term judgment). If He were to start righting wrongs now, where would He stop? Where could He justly draw the line of how far He was going to go before dealing with all of them? What if He dealt with my injustices but not yours? That wouldn’t be right, would it?
God’s justice will come and it will be complete, but until then we endure day by day with His abiding help and presence. Habakkuk’s people had to do the same. In the midst of a worldwide crisis like we are facing today, healing will come. There is a day ahead of us when every disease will be cured and wiped out to be no more. But that day is not yet. We still live in today. And today is still hard. But our God won’t leave us. Our call is to trust in Him, to live out of His character in obedience to His command, knowing that even if it appears evil is winning now, the ultimate victory will belong to our God and all who place their trust in Him. Persevere with hope. Pursue justice and righteousness. Healing is on the horizon.