Habakkuk 2:6-The Nations Conquered by Babylon Will Taunt Babylon
Habakkuk 2:6 “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, “‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?’” (NIV)
Habakkuk 2:6 Will not these, each and every one of them take up a taunt against him accompanied by a mocking poem, enigmatic sayings against him? Specifically saying, “Disaster to the one who amasses absolutely nothing belonging to him. How long will this go on? Namely, disaster to the one who for his own benefit is rich by extortion.” (My translation)
Habakkuk 2:6 continues to communicate the content of this prophecy of the Babylonian Empire’s destruction.
This verse contains a rhetorical question which is followed by two descriptions of the Babylonians and inserted between these two descriptions is another question.
The rhetorical question is posed by the Lord God of Israel and the prophet Habakkuk as well as the faithful remnant of the southern kingdom of Judah in 605 B.C. are the recipients of this question.
The Lord asks “will not these, each and every one of them take up a taunt against him?
Those taking up this taunt song are the citizens from the various nations in the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian regions of the world at the end of the seventh century B.C. who were conquered by the Babylonians.
Those whom this taunt song is against are of course the citizens of the nation of Babylon.
The question demands an emphatic positive response since the contents of Habakkuk 2:6-20 make clear that the Lord will judge the Babylonians for their unrepentant sinful behavior by permitting the nations plundered by the Babylonians to taunt the Babylonians.
The noun mā·šāl (מָשָׁל), “a taunt” pertains to a sarcastic insult, to aggravate someone by deriding or mocking or criticizing them.
In this rhetorical question in Habakkuk 2:6, the Lord God of Israel asserts that this taunt song will be accompanied by a mocking poem, enigmatic sayings against the Babylonian.
The noun melî·ṣā(h) (מְלִיצָה), “a mocking poem” pertains in this context to a poem which mocks another person or persons implying a deliberate and malicious belittling of another.
It is a mocking poem designed to heap ridicule on the object of its scorn by allusive discourse.
The noun ḥî·ḏā(h) (חִידָה), “enigmatic sayings” pertains to the giving of instructions through enigma with the intent of taunting or mocking someone.
Then within this rhetorical question, we have what expositors call the first of five “woes” which appear here in Habakkuk chapter two (cf. Hab. 2:9, 12, 15, 19).
The word for “woe” in each of these verses is the interjection hôy which I translate “disaster to.”
The word indicates dissatisfaction and discomfort and occurs entirely in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament with one exception (1 Kings 13:30).
It can be translated “woe, alas” but in today’s English a better translation would be “disaster” since the word pertains to a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction.
As is the case when the word appears later on in chapter two, the interjection hôy here in Habakkuk 2:6 has eschatological implications meaning it is used to announce a prophecy.
The word expresses God’s dissatisfaction with the Babylonian people expressing the fact that God will surely judge them by bringing disaster to them resulting in their experiencing tremendous adversity and suffering for their unrepentant sinful lives.
So, this interjection is being used by the Lord to emphasize His threat to judge the Babylonians if they do not repent.
This repentance would involve a change attitude toward the God of Israel by trusting in Him.
It would also involve a change of conduct in that after becoming a part of His covenant people by faith in Him, they would live according to His holy standards which are expressed in His Word.
By using this interjection, the Lord is mourning in advance the downfall of the Babylonians if they choose not to repent since He desires all people to repent and be saved through faith in Him (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9).
This attitude of the Lord toward all people is manifested in the Old Testament by His sending the prophet Jonah to the Ninevites who like the Babylonians were cruel and warlike people.
In this first “woe,” the Lord promises “disaster to the one who amasses absolutely nothing belonging to him.”
Again, this speaks of the greed of the Babylonian people who amassed great wealth of land, money and possessions as a result of their conquests of many nations in the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian regions of the world at the end of the seventh century B.C.
If you recall, the Lord in Habakkuk 2:5 condemns the Babylonians for their greed.
The second description of the Babylonians in Habakkuk 2:6 actually explains in greater detail the first description of them in this verse and asserts that for their own benefit, the Babylonians are rich by extortion.
The verb kā·ḇēḏ (כָּבֵד) pertains to possessing abundant material wealth, possessions and property.
The noun ʿǎḇ·ṭîṭ (עַבְטִיט) does not mean “pledges” pertaining to a deposit of personal property as security for a debt, but rather the word in this context means “extortion” since the word pertains to the practice of obtaining from a person by force, intimidation or illegal power.
Lastly, inserted between these two statements in Habakkuk 2:6 is a question which is posed to the gods of the citizens from the various nations from the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian regions of the world who have been conquered by the Babylonians and have had their wealth, land and possessions plundered by them.
This question asks, “how long must this continue that the Babylonians amasses wealth by extortion?”
Therefore, the citizens of these various nations who were conquered and plundered by the Babylonians are depicted here as crying out to their gods for deliverance from this situation and are pleading with their gods to act in delivering them.
Of course, only the God of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah in Habakkuk’s could deliver them since He is the true God whereas the gods of these nations were not gods at all.
These gods were in fact promoted by the fallen angels and Satan.
By His sovereign will, the God of Israel not only raised up the Babylonians to judge the citizens from the various nations in the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian regions of the world at the end of the seventh century B.C. for their unrepentant sinful behavior but He also raised them up to discipline the apostate citizenry of the southern kingdom of Judah.
This first prophetic woe from the Lord in Habakkuk 2:6 was fulfilled in history when the Medo-Persian Empire invaded Babylon and overthrew Belshazzar as recorded in Daniel chapter five.
The Babylonian Empire was plundered by the Medo-Persian Empire and her allies.
Therefore, what Babylon did to other nations, was done to her.
Babylon’s punishment would correspond to the crimes they committed against other nations or in other words, the punishment of the Babylonians would fit their crimes they committed against God and other nations.
This principle is called lex telionis and the law of retribution.
This law or principle means that because of the unjustified violent acts committed by the citizens of Babylon against other nations and because of God’s holy character, the citizens of Babylon would be treated in the same manner they treated other nations.
These verses also bring into view another spiritual law or principle, namely “the law of retaliation.”
This law or principle means that to the degree to which the Babylonians treated other nations and rebelled against God, the Lord would retaliate against them by expressing His righteous indignation against them for their unrepentant ungodly behavior.
He would do so by employing a wicked evil nation like themselves, namely the Medo-Persian Empire and her allies.
The law of retribution is also called lex telionis (cf. Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21; Prov. 12:14; 19:17; Ezek. 35:15; Hos. 4:9; Joel 3:4-8; Jer. 50:15, 29), which means that the people of the Babylonian Empire would be treated in the same cruel manner as they demonstrated toward the citizens of other nations.
Therefore, these verses teach that God not only holds individuals accountable for their conduct but also nations.