Biographies can be very revealing. We often discover details that help shed light on the kind of person we read about. In Habakkuk 2:15-20, God gave the prophet Habakkuk a biography of evil. Even though God used a pagan nation to discipline His disobedient people, He destroyed the evil empire He used. Evil cannot forever rule, because the world and everything in it still belongs to God, who has promised that righteousness will one day rule the earth.
In verses 15-16, the prophet wrote about drunkenness, immorality and disgrace. Those of Babylon were not content just to live intoxicated lives; they tried to influence the people around them toward drunkenness. Drunkenness is condemned in Scripture (Proverbs 20:1: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.”). According to Galatians 5:21, drunkenness is a deed of the flesh, and Ephesians 5:18 plainly says, “Do not get drunk with wine.” The last Southern Baptist Convention resolution regarding alcohol was passed at the 2006 national meeting in Greensboro, N.C. That resolution clearly exhorts Southern Baptists to abstain from the use of alcohol.
Babylon was known for drunkenness, which led to sexual sin. Verse 15 implies that the Babylonians were influencing their neighbors to drink intoxicating drink so they could commit immorality, “so as to look on their nakedness.” In verse 16, the Babylonians “drink and expose your [their] nakedness.” O. Palmer Robertson observed: “It is almost a universal principle that the sin of drunkenness is associated with sexual impurity and the degradation of the body.”
The promise of God to the Chaldeans was that they would be filled with shame and disgrace (verse 16). Their glory was evidenced in their conquests and material possessions. They carried out their depraved will with violence and grave injustice. However, God declared: “Utter disgrace will come upon your glory.” Their judgment was captured in the phrase, “The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you.” It was the power of God (the right hand) that brought about the destruction of Babylon.
Verse 17 further emphasizes God’s promised judgment on Babylon. The Chaldeans wastefully destroyed land, needlessly butchered animals, and mercilessly murdered people. Lebanon is mentioned because of its legendary beauty, which was defaced through the violence of Babylon against it. However, that same type of violence and destruction would be turned against Babylon at the height of its prominence. Theologians refer to this as “reciprocal justice.” This idea does not find favor among more liberal theologians, but it is the way of God as revealed in Scripture.
Babylon was also an idolatrous nation. The Babylonians crafted idols and then worshiped what they made. These man-made idols were impressive in appearance, and the empire was noted for its religious system based on its various idols. However, since they did not worship the true God or embrace His truth, they composed their own moral standards, void of truth and holiness. Their idol worship was nothing, at best — and Satanic, at worst.
Idols are not limited to inanimate objects. Today, people often make idols of people, money, their bodies, sex, power, pleasure, position, etc. Idolatry was one of Israel’s besetting sins, and it can be a stumbling block for God’s children today.
Verse 20 has often been misunderstood. The context is judgment. These words appear in Zephaniah 1:7 and Zechariah 2:17, also announcing judgment. It is not a verse admonishing us to keep silent in church. It is a somber announcement of impending doom. The earth is called to hush because God’s judgment is coming.
Maltbie D. Babcock was a pastor who lived from 1858-1901. He wrote a poem that became a hymn, called, “This Is My Father’s World.” One stanza says, “This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget; that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”
Even though God used an evil nation to discipline His own people, He never blesses evil. The Chaldeans prospered for a season through their godless living; however, the evil that appeared to bless them became the cause of their destruction when God brought His judgment against them.