“Woe to him who dishonestly makes wealth for his house to place his nest on high, to escape the grasp of disaster! You have planned shame for your house by wiping out many peoples and sinning against your own self. For the stones will cry out from the wall, and the rafters will answer them from the woodwork.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How have you come by what you have? Hard work? Probably. Inheritance? Perhaps. Gift from others? Certainly some of it. Did you come by any of it by…less savory…means? Let me change lines of questioning on you. How do you think about money? What does it mean to you? What kind of a role does it serve in your life? These two themes may not seem to have anything to do with one another, but they have a great deal more in common than you might think.
This second woe from Habakkuk seems pretty similar to the first on an initial glance. Both of them are focused on proclaiming judgment on those who have wealth gained by illicit means. But when you get into the details, there are more differences than similarities. The first is more focused on gains gotten by means of illegitimate warfare. What we see here is more economic cheating. That’s just to say: It is worth looking at these separately.
That being said, let’s take a look at what we actually see here. We’ll treat this in three sections (one for each verse), but we won’t take those in order. We’ll go two, three, one.
In v. 10, after identifying the sin, Habakkuk gets to the actual judgment. The household of those who have gotten their gains dishonestly will face the very shame it had been trying to avoid. The sinning these folks have been doing is going to turn out not to be primarily against other people (although it certainly is against other people), but against themselves. In other words, the natural consequences of their actions are going to come back around on them and be their own judgment.
Sin brings shame. It always has since the very first sin that was committed in the Garden. Adam and Eve ate the fruit and immediately hid themselves from one another. Then, they hid themselves from God. When we gain advantages for ourselves whether financial or in some other kind of way, those gains are naturally tainted with shame. We will not be able to enjoy them. The ruin or embarrassment or even just inconvenience we had been hoping to avoid in pursuing them will come around on us anyway. As we have talked about before, sometimes the judgment God sends for our sins is nothing more than the natural consequences they bring. Nothing else need be done because that’ll be enough.
And here’s the thing: Our sin will find us out. It will turn on us and leave us exposed, naked and ashamed. If we won’t own up to it ourselves, the world around us will. That’s the third part of this little judgment. The very rocks of the walls of the houses these folks have built through ill-gotten gains will cry out against them. The rocks will cry and the rafters will respond. The truth will always become known.
Now, of course this is not something that will literally happen, but the poetic point is right all the same. Jesus used similar imagery when the Pharisees told Him to quiet down the folks who were proclaiming Him king as He made His final ride into Jerusalem. If they don’t do it, the very rocks will cry out, He said. He wouldn’t have been able to use such imagery without their minds going here. We read that statement in its immediate context and think it was some kind of a defense of the disciples, and it was, but it was more as well. If it did indeed draw from this woe in Habakkuk, it was a declaration of judgment against the Pharisees who had indeed built their houses through gains made dishonestly.
What’s the point here? There is truth in this world. There is a real reality. It exists whether we willingly acknowledge it or not. We can live in harmony with it—understanding that it is God’s character that defines it and creates the melody we ought to harmonize—but if we choose not to do so it’s not going to change for us. It will remain what it is and by its very nature will eventually expose our dissonance without mercy.
Understanding the judgment a bit better, let’s turn to the sin that prompted it. These folks built their fortunes on dishonest gains. They lied, cheated, and stole to get what they had. That’s bad enough by itself, but look at the reason for their crimes. That matters just as much and—for most of us reading this—maybe even a little bit more. Why did they dishonestly pursue wealth like this? Because they wanted to feel more secure against the pressures of the world. They wanted a secure fortress against disaster. What kind of disaster? It doesn’t matter. These folks were trusting in wealth to be their shield against hard times. This is the real heart of their sin.
This is the real heart of their sin and it is the point of challenging connection for us. Let me ask you that second line of questions from the beginning again: How do you view wealth? What does money mean to you? For many, if not most, people, money represents security. It is what will protect them when life gets hard. It will be their hedge against dangers of all different kinds.
Listen: When money becomes our shield against danger, we will become willing to gain it by all kinds of means whether those are honest or not. Or, to put that another way, when money is our god we will serve it according to its own set of rules, rules which do not always harmonize with the character of the God who defines reality.
Let me remind you of something you already know in your head even if that knowledge doesn’t always penetrate your heart: Money won’t save you. From anything. Salvation is not found in having sufficient resources because life, real life, goes beyond what this world has to offer. If that weren’t the case, money could be an end-all. But it is and so it isn’t.
We are in the midst of a crisis that all the money in the world can’t fix. In whom do you trust when the world starts caving in? Money may be able to buy you a few extra rolls of toilet paper, but it can’t drive a virus out of your system once it has taken root. It can’t take away the fear that grips your soul and leaves you paralyzed. And if you try and turn there, reality itself will reveal the folly of your path. There is only one hope in times like these and He is bigger than mere money. Turn now more than ever to the God who alone can bring life. He may not rescue you or someone you love from the impact of a virus, but the life He offers is entirely larger than what we have in this world. Place your hope there and experience the freedom found nowhere else.