God's Answer (2.5-20; cont.)
b) The punishment of the unrighteous (2.2-20; cont.)
Selfish ambition (vv.9-11). "Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!" In a word, security! This spotlights pride of dynasty. Empire building! The continuance of name and position. The word "house" is not used in a literal sense, but metaphorically for "family". The New Testament warns us against love of position. Diotrephes was censured for this very reason: "I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not" (3 Jn v.9). The Apostle Paul had no such ambitions: "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand" (2 Cor 1.24). We should also remember that security is the obsession of our age. People will do almost anything to achieve material security! But "the just shall live by his faith" (2.4).
Notice, again, the law of sowing and reaping: "Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it" (vv.10-11). Once again, the language is used metaphorically: the very people and materials used by the Chaldeans to build their interests would cry out for judgment on them.
Sinful glory (vv.12-14). "Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!" The Babylonians built gilded cities, imposing temples, and grand monuments, but they did it with slave labour! It was all for their own glory. Man's glory began with Babel: "Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name" (Gen 11.4). It was enshrined in Nebuchadnezzar, of whom God said, "Thou art this head of gold" (Dan 2.38), and he promptly made an image, evidently of himself, completely of gold (Dan 3.1)! Man's glory will end with the destruction of latter Babylon (see Rev 18).
But what will be the result of such self-glory? "Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?" JND has: "Behold, is it not of Jehovah of hosts that the peoples labour for the fire, and the nations weary themselves in vain?". Whilst similar language is used of Babylon (see Jeremiah 51.58), the wording here ("peoples...nations") goes beyond one particular nation. So, it is of God that nations come to power only, ultimately, to be humbled and destroyed. Their greed and ambition is nothing else but "labour for the fire", or destruction. Nations will fall in spite of their towering success and immense power. See, for example, the collapse of the USSR.
In this way, God, who controls history, whether past, present or future, clears the ground for the display of His glory in the world. "For the earth shall be filled [not with oppression and injustice] with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Compare Isaiah 11.9.) This passage, therefore, looks forward to the time when the greatest of all human kingdoms - the kingdom of the Beast, with all its power and wisdom - will be destroyed, and the millennial Kingdom of Christ is established. See Isaiah chapters 11 and 12 etc. This is "the vision" to which vv.2-3 refer. We look beyond the fading glory of this world to the time when "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea". The glory of the Lord will be like the sea: it will cause awe and wonder. Its tremendous power and limitless expanse make it a picture of God's glory which will fill the earth in the same way that the sea covers its bed. The depth of the sea reminds us that there will be nothing superficial about the glory of God! With this in mind, "the just shall live by his faith".
Shameful humiliation (vv.15-17). "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!" Once again, in the context of the passage, the reference is not so much to literal intoxication, but to the cunning subtlety of nations seeking to undermine other nations; beguiling other nations to their fate. On the other hand, the language could depict weaker nations reeling under the power of stronger nations. (See, for example, Revelation 14.8 - "She (Babylon) made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication". But in it all, "the just shall live by his faith". In connection with "the violence of Lebanon" (v.17), M C Unger comments: "The Chaldean, like the successive monarchs of several nations, had cut down the timbers of Lebanon, hunted its wild beasts, and decimated its cattle. His violent and shameful misuse of God's creation - both animate and inanimate - as well as his abuse of the Lord's own people in Judæa, were potent causes of the Chaldean's downfall, and the vindication of the Lord's infinitely holy nature". A case of Biblical ecology!
Senseless idolatry (vv.18-20). "Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach!" Idols are manufactured: "the maker thereof hath graven it...the maker of his work trusteth therein" (v.18). Idols are misleading: the "molten image" is "a teacher of lies" (v.18). Idols are mute: "dumb idols...dumb stone" (vv.18-19). These verses stress the folly of worshipping the labour of human hands (like cars, homes etc.)! They are impressive, but lifeless. No wonder John concludes his first epistle with, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 Jn 5.21). But, "the just shall live by his faith".
After all the activity and noise described in these verses, a voice is heard: "Keep silence". Here is the complete quotation: "But the Lord is in his holy temple [compare Ps 11.4]: let all the earth keep silence before him" (v.20). If there is anything to say, it must be in the language of Romans 11.33-36. Those that worship the "dumb stone" will be dumb themselves. Who is the Speaker? He is "the Lord (Jehovah)". Where is He? He is "in his holy temple". What should men do? "keep silence before him".
Here is the definitive answer to Habakkuk's protest and perplexity. God had not abdicated His government. He is "in his holy temple". Everything is completely under His control. Nothing has changed in two thousand six hundred years. God has not abdicated His government. He is still in absolute control of world affairs.
Now what will Habakkuk say?
To be continued.