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Five Woes Against Tyrants:

Habakkuk 2:6-19 – Part 1

In this next section of our journey through the book of Habakkuk, five woes are pronounced against the tyrants that take Judah captive. We will provide a short introduction in this post and address each woe in a separate post.

Note: We encourage you to click the link above and read the section in Habakkuk this post will discuss prior to reading the post.

Habakkuk asks, How can God use Tyrants to Punish His People?

The five woes that God pronounces against the wicked tyrants serve to answer Habakkuk’s question: “How can God use wicked Babylon to punish His people?” While they are God’s instrument to judge Judah, God makes it clear, through pronouncement of five woes, that once the tyrant’s purpose has been served, Babylon will also face God’s wrath and when Babylon falls, the nations that suffered at their hands will rejoice, taunt, and ridicule Babylon.

To answer the question of why God would use tyrants to punish his people, we must first turn to the very beginning of mankind where God told Adam that to disobey God and eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would bring about the result of death. We know that Adam and Eve did not immediately die physically at the moment they ate the fruit, but they did eventually die physical deaths. Ever since their disobedience in the Garden of Eden, death has been part of this world. The first recorded death in the Bible came about as an act of murder where Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 2:16-17; 4:8).

We also must look at the book of Deuteronomy where we find that God forewarned Israel that if they broke their covenant with Him, the nation would experience exactly what occurred at the hands of these tyrants. Not only did God forewarn the people, but he sent prophet after prophet to call the people to return to him but they refused to listen. They had every opportunity to turn away from their sin and run back to God. But they refused. In Titus 1:2, the Bible tells us that God cannot lie. Therefore, what God forewarned became the reality for Judah.

Woes: The Mocking Songs Ridicule the Tyrants

Thomas indicates that the English rendering for “woe” does not “fully capture the tone of or intent of the oracles. They are mocking songs intended to taunt the oppressor… The oracles ridicule the folly of the Babylonians.”[1] Each of the woe oracles acts as a response to the social injustices of Habakkuk’s day and correspond with the main sins that Habakkuk identified: greed through plunder, exploiting people to become rich and famous, crimes against humanity that built towns with their blood, drunkenness that causes degradation of others, and idolatry. Thomas notes, “Babylon is a foolish nation because their character is shown to be prideful, violent, wicked, and idolatrous. The woe oracles expose and mock this character deficiency, revealing that this nation eats their bitter deserts.[2] The result is that Babylon will experience a reversal of fortunes and these tyrants will come to an end.

The Tyrants will Discover that Tyranny is Suicide

In his commentary on the Minor Prophets, George Adam Smith comments, saying: Tyranny is intolerable. In the nature of things it cannot endure, but it works out its own penalties. By oppressing so many nations, the tyrant is preparing the instruments of his own destruction. As he treats them, so in time shall they treat him. He is like a debtor who increases the number of his creditors. Some day they shall rise up and exact from him the last penny. So that in cutting off others he is but forfeiting his own life. The very violence done to nature, the deforesting of Lebanon for instance, and the vast hunting of wild beasts, shall recoil on him . . . tyranny is suicide.[3] What Babylon gave, Babylon will receive. They may be the tyrants now, but they are bringing their own end on themselves.

God Gave the People Hope

God knew the people would abandon Him and turn their own way, doing whatever they wanted. He knew from beginning of time that His chosen people would make the choices that led them to face captivity. So, even when God forewarned them in Deuteronomy that this would happen, He did not leave them without hope. In Deuteronomy 30, God tells them that when they return to Him, they would once again discover His blessings. Through the prophet Jeremiah God told the people that their captivity would last seventy years and then God would bring them back to the Promised Land because God has plans for His chosen people – a plan to prosper them and not to harm them – plans to give them a future and a hope — a plan that would bring about the Savior of the world.

[1] Thomas, Heath A. Habakkuk. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 124. 
[2] Ibid., 124.
[3] George A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, Commonly Called the Minor , vol. 2 (New York: Armstrong and Son, 1902), 144 (emphasis original). 

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