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Consequences for Injustice
Spring Quarter: Justice and The Prophets
Unit 1: God Requires Justice
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 15, 2020
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Habakkuk 2:6-14
Key Verse: Habakkuk 2:12
- List some characteristics and consequences of injustice.
- Contrast “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” with human knowledge and its consequences.
One of the most engrossing scenes in the classic movie “Gone With the Wind” is the burning of Atlanta. The scene is amazing to watch – the intensity of the flames, the collapse of all the buildings. As the city burns, Rhett Butler says to Scarlett O’Hara, “There goes the last of the Old South.” Everything they have amassed was gone with the fire.
Now, the destruction of all that Judah had amassed took several years to accomplish. However, when God had finished with his discipline of the people, the old Judah was just as surely gone.
Today’s lesson comes again from the writings of the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk 2 begins with Habakkuk’s description of himself standing watch on a tower. He’s waiting for the Lord’s response to his objections (Habakkuk 2:1).
Habakkuk sees the destruction, the evil that has befallen his people, and he refuses to accept at its face value what he sees. He understands the evil but there must be a deeper meaning, some hidden clue, which, if he could grasp, would enable him to place the terrible events into a fresh perspective. And this fresh perspective would justify his faith in God. Basic to the prophet’s insistence is the assumption that there is a structure of dependability undergirding the universe and informing all events.
The Lord tells Habakkuk to record on tablets the “revelation” he is about to receive so that a messenger can deliver it (2:2). Though the prophecy could be read and understood easily, the timing was another matter. However, when the time came, events unfolded quickly (2:3).
At this point, God also described the lawless, arrogant attitude and lifestyle of the typical Babylonian leader (2:4, 5). In this way, God stressed that he was not unaware of their faults; nevertheless, he had work for them to do.
I. First Woe
- Unrestrained Greed (V.6)
6a. “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying,”
“Him” refers to the Babylonian Empire, seen here as a single representative person. The word “them” refers to nations and people who are the victims of the Babylonian’s aggression and brutality (Habakkuk 2:5). The Babylonians will experience an unpleasant role reversal. The very people they victimize will be in a position to “ridicule” them (see Isaiah 23:13).
And this ridicule will also include “taunting” what today we might call “trash talk.” It is only appropriate that such language be directed toward the Babylonians, a people who have become known for ravaging other people and their lands and possessions.
6b. “Woe to him who piles up stolen goods…”
“Woe” introduces judgment (Amos 5:18). This particular woe is the first of five within Habakkuk 2 (note also Habakkuk 2:9, 12, 15 and 19). The judgment introduced is directed against the one who takes what is not his, a clear violation of Israel’s eighth commandment (Exodus 20:15).
We should note here that the Babylonians never pledged faithfulness to a covenant with God. Though they have their own laws that prohibit stealing and other offenses, they are not bound by the Ten Commandments in the same way as the Israelites. But the Babylonians still violate what they know to be right. Theft is simply not an issue for the Babylonians in their treatment of conquered nations and people. The wealth of conquered nations is theirs for the taking.
6c. “And makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?”
This phrase “makes himself wealthy by extortion” probably implies involvement in threats of violence. Like any thief or extortionist, the Babylonians’ trade practices burden their trade partners as they have no concern for the needs of others. Habakkuk points out that even the Babylonians’ normal legal practices are unethical and immoral. As we can clearly see, this first “woe” has to do with plundering, taking by violence what does not belong to one. And we see that plundering taking place not only with the Babylonians but in various countries today.
Writing in her book “With All Due Respect,” Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and United States Ambassador to the United Nations, states, “American taxpayers had made a tremendous investment in South Sudan. In addition to supporting its independence, the United States was the country’s largest humanitarian-aid provider. We gave South Sudan $730 million in 2017. But the aid wasn’t getting to the people. Even worse, our aid was being used by the government to prolong the war.” And that’s only one example of plundering.
7a. “Will not your creditors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble?”
- Unexpected Punishment (vv. 7,8)
The word “creditors” refers to those in the previous verse whose possessions have been unjustly taken by the Babylonians. The vagueness of the word could refer to many different groups of people since the Babylonians oppressed many different nations. Habakkuk’s prophecy therefore expresses God’s concern not only for Judah but for all who suffer at the hands of the Babylonians.
Although this verse is addressed to “you” – the Babylonians – this text may never be read by any of them. However, even if they do not read it, they are not really the intended audience. Judah remains Habakkuk’s focus. The prophecy’s intent is to reassure Judah that the people’s oppressors will not always have the upper hand.
God says that the problem will not continue indefinitely. The Babylonians will receive their just desserts. In time, the abuser will become the abused. And the language anticipates the suddenness of Jesus’ return. People will feel quite comfortable when suddenly destruction comes – destruction they cannot escape (I Thessalonians 5:1-3).
7b. “Then you will become their prey.”
The Babylonians take an abundance of spoils from those they conquer. Soon, however, it will be their turn to experience the trauma of powerlessness in the fear of the stronger foe (Ezekiel 39:10 is an example).
Verse 8 again emphasizes the reversal of fortunes that the Babylonians will suffer. Those who have suffered at the hands of the Babylonians and their cruelty will no doubt take pleasure in gaining the upper hand on their tormentor.
Condemning the Babylonians for destroying both “lands and cities” is a way of holding them accountable for the mistreatment that happens throughout every nation where they hold power (read Jeremiah 50:17, 18). They have not just harmed one city or one group of people; everyone who deals with the Babylonians suffers.
II. Second Woe
The second woe uttered by Habakkuk calls attention to the Babylonians breaking of the tenth commandment by their “unjust gain” brought on by covetous desire (Exodus 20:17). The Babylonians are searching for security. They, guilty of widespread violence, try to protect themselves from recrimination by building an impenetrable residence. However, in this case, the very materials acquired unjustly to build the residence (V.9a) take up the cry of the oppressed.
Note that Habakkuk compares the Babylonians to a bird that sets its nest up high in order to escape potential threats. The higher the structure, the more secure is the resident from “ruin” or harm – or so he thinks. The Babylonians want to live in the fortress of an enclave of wealth, which is untouched by the poor and needy.
The prophet’s language echoes again what the prophet Obadiah says of the arrogance of the people of Edom. They have built their dwellings in “the clefts of the rocks,” and they feel safe from any danger (Obadiah 3). But the Lord says, “though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down” (V.4).
The economic growth of the roaring 1920s brought a construction boom to New York City. The wealthy business people in the city sought to live above it all – literally. The idea of a penthouse apartment was born. Those who could afford them built luxury apartments on the top floors of buildings, apartments with views of the city above the crowds.
Habakkuk’s description of the proud Babylonians sounds strongly like the financial high rollers of the 1920s. But just as the financial boom raised them up high, the stock market crash of 1929 brought them down.
Question: what “penthouses” might God be preparing to bring down in our lives?
According to the Babylonian’s worldview, “might makes right.” But God uses their actions for what they really are: a sin against him and against themselves. From the safety of a fortress-home, the greedy continue to oppress the poor. The sin is so serious that God says that the Babylonians have shamed their “own house,” referring to inner character. Therefore, their lives are now “forfeit,” the God of justice will respond with wrath.
Unfortunately, the Babylonians are not alone in their sinful building practices. The prophet Jeremiah, a contemporary of Habakkuk, speaks of how King Jehoiachin of Judah has constructed his house unrighteously. He has done so by withholding fair wages from those who did the work (Jeremiah 22:13). A king who rules God’s covenant people should have a definite understanding of what is required of him (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). But this king has acted no better than the Babylonians.
Consequently, Jehoiachin and his people will find themselves in Babylonian captivity (Jeremiah 22:25-27). This will happen even though the Babylonians are arguably more wicked than the people of Judah. There is simply no security for unrighteousness.
III. Third Woe
Habakkuk now introduces his third woe against the Babylonians. This woe builds on the previous two. The prophet pronounces judgment on the Babylonians for the heartless way in which they have built entire towns and cities.
Building “a city with bloodshed” focuses on the means by which the people came to build. In this instance, violence and injustices account for the prosperity that build the cities. Spilled blood will cry out like the stones and beams in Habakkuk 2:11, and it will cry out for the Lord’s vengeance, even as Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to indict his brother Cain (Genesis 4:10).
Important point! The Babylonians are not alone in their guilt for such unrighteous actions. The leaders in Jerusalem, the site of Solomon’s great temple, built that city using the same resources pointed out by Habakkuk: “bloodshed and injustice.”
To this point, in this series of charges directed against the Babylonians, the Lord’s name has not been mentioned. But now it becomes clear that God is the one who will hold these people accountable for their actions. His intention is that all that the Babylonians have constructed – the houses and towns of which they are so seriously proud – will be cast into the fire. God says that their work will come to “nothing.”
Attention!!! But like many passages from the prophets, the predictions of doom and gloom are not the last word. Habakkuk ends this section with a word of hope. He looks forward to a time when there will be universal acknowledgment of the Lord God. At this time, there will be no holdouts who continue to deny the greatness and majesty of the Lord.
People will learn what real glory is. They will understand that it is not found in the accomplishments of empires such as Babylon, which are destined for the fire as Habakkuk has declared. Rather, real glory is found in the worldwide recognition that the Lord reigns supreme as “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
Thus, a day is coming when “every knee should bow ... and every tongue acknowledges that Jesus Chris is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10, 11). Habakkuk sees that day of global glory coming. That day, true justice carried out by an all-wise God, will be glorious indeed.
What “Gone With the Wind” so dramatically depicted about the 1864 burning of Atlanta is what Habakkuk said awaited the Babylonians. All their possessions would be fuel for the fire (Habakkuk 2:13). And this in fact is the future that awaits the entire world (2 Peter 3:10). Today’s lesson makes clear that God will make certain that justice is carried out against evildoers. There may be escape from the punishment of human laws, but there will be no escape regarding Heaven’s law.
Not long ago, I got hooked on a movie called “Fire Creek,” which starred Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda. The movie was about a town that did nothing about four ruffians that came in and took charge of the town. All kinds of terrible things happened as a result: property was destroyed, persons were ridiculed, a church service was interrupted, a woman was attacked, people were forced out of their homes to attend a wake, and a handicapped man was illegally hung for trying to protect the women.
The point is that because the townspeople did nothing about the injustice, the judgment fell. It always does! When the garbage is not addressed, the town sooner or later becomes a dump.
Let the cries of injustice be heard, and let the call of injustice be answered.
Resources for this lesson
- Name some consequences of modern injustice.
- What are some ways to use Habakkuk 2:14 as a faith anchor in the face of injustice?
- Which problem should take priority in being addressed: greed that leads to injustice, or the injustice itself?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- “2019-2020 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary, Uniform Series, International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 245-252.
- “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII,” pages 645-649.
- “The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI, pages 989-994.
- “The Abingdon Bible Commentary,” by David G. Downey, J.E. McFadyen, pages 806-807.