“Woe to him who gives his neighbors drink, pouring out your wrath and even making them drunk, in order to look at their nakedness! You will be filled with disgrace instead of glory. You also–drink, and expose your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter disgrace will cover your glory. For your violence against Lebanon will overwhelm you; the destruction of animals will terrify you because of your human bloodshed and violence against lands, cities, and all who live in them.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you value life? I’m fairly certain that you value your own life. I hope you do. You should. You likely value the lives of your kids if you have them. You probably value the life of your more extended family…with perhaps some occasional exceptions for the nuts. But do you value life generally? Perhaps better yet, what does it look like to value life generally? And why does that really matter anyway? Well, as we look at this fourth woe from Habakkuk, we’re going to see just why it matters.
Another woe from this prophet who has been wrestling with God, and this one is the most confusing of the bunch. It seems to cover so many different things that it’s hard to see any one single, unifying theme here that we could take and find some wisdom for our own lives. Fortunately, we don’t have to look to this for application, but God included it for our benefit. Exactly what is this teaching us about Him that we can put into practice as we go about our days?
Let’s talk through some textual details and then we’ll step back and think through what it all means. First, what’s with this image of giving people alcohol in order to make them drunk? This functions in a couple of different ways. The first is fairly literal imagery. Babylon was known for their partying. As we have talked about before, the Babylonian kings would throw elaborate parties intended to showcase their wealth and power. These would often devolve into wild orgies where women in particular would be exploited in all the ways you can probably imagine. Alcohol was at the center of all this. More broadly speaking, alcohol has tended to always be used as a means of taking advantage of someone else with sexual misdeeds in mind. This does not mean alcohol itself is inherently bad, but we cannot ignore the fact that its intoxicating nature has long made it a prime tool for those folks who would have such ill deeds in mind.
Well, take this kind of exploitative practice and broaden it out to a geopolitical scale. Babylon would intoxicate the people they wanted to conquer with promises of friendship and wealth and power–consider the time Hezekiah hosted a Babylonian delegation and showed them all the treasures of the temple–only to come around later and smash those same nations in conquest. The judgment God promises right out of the gate here assures them that they will one day be subject to such exploitation and abuse themselves. Indeed, it was during a wild, drunken, sexually-charged party during the reign of Belshazzar that the Persian army slipped in at night and conquered the Babylonians once and for all. God assures them that as they have taken advantage of people to do violence to them, they will experience the same thing themselves.
That makes some sense, but what about this next part concerning Lebanon and the destruction of animals? What Habakkuk is getting at here is that Babylon’s exploitation of the world, their devaluation of life went beyond simply the peoples they conquered. They didn’t care about anyone or anything but themselves. Lebanon was famous for its incredible forests. Those forests were filled with animals. In their rampaging conquests, Babylon destroyed those without a thought just as they destroyed the people in their path. They carelessly cut through anything that got in their way–forests, animals, lands, cities, and all who lived in them.
Because of all of this, their judgment would come.
Have you sacked any cities lately? How about needlessly destroying forests? Have you massacred a whole population of animals any time in the recent past? Yeah, me neither. We cut some trees down out of our yard a few months ago, but that was to make sure they didn’t fall on our house. I don’t think that’s what Habakkuk had in mind here. I smashed a spider the other day, but he was going to eat me so he had to go. I doubt that destruction will come back to terrify me. So, what do we do with this? What’s the principle here that does matter?
Babylons real crime was not merely the destruction they wrought. Their crime was first one of heart, not action. They didn’t value life beyond their own. They didn’t care about things that didn’t immediately belong to them. That brings us back to that question I asked a minute ago. Do you value life? How would someone know? That’s a whole lot more relevant of a question right now even than it has been for some time.
Can I offer a single example? Are you staying home or otherwise away from people to the fullest extent possible? Last week there was a bit of a fit of national outrage when some Spring Break partygoers brazenly ignored calls for social distancing in order to live it up on the beach and engage in the very kind of drunken carousing that Babylon itself was known to practice. Their flippant attitude toward the coronavirus itself wasn’t what made so many people so angry. Instead, it was their callous lack of concern for anyone else to whom they might possibly spread the virus and for whom it would be a much more serious threat. They didn’t value anyone’s life but their own.
We serve the God who is the creator and source of all life. He is concerned for all life. All of it. And He expects us to share such a concern. He takes it very seriously when we don’t value it. Now, there are some places where we can have reasonable conversations about how exactly that should look, but that it should be our goal is not a matter of debate.
Right now one of the things it means is practicing adequate social distancing and when we do stock up on supplies not buying more than we need (I’m looking at you, toilet paper hoarders). It means checking in on folks who are starting to feel the loneliness of being shut up in their homes a whole lot more than they’d prefer. It means looking for ways to actively, but wisely, serve those folks who really do need to not get out at all for their own safety. More broadly it means putting others first; sacrificing our own preferences, desires, and even needs in the process. It means taking wise care of our environment, the animals with whom we share the planet, and the least, last, and lost of our own species. God values life and He expects us to do the same. Let’s get to it.