The LORD denounces those who commit crimes to build extravagant cities and towns. Their buildings will serve no purpose because they will be destroyed by fire.
God continues to answer Habakkuk’s question, how a righteous God could judge the wickedness of Judah through the Babylonians/Chaldeans, who were even more wicked that Judah (Habakkuk 1:12-15). In Habakkuk 2:6-20, God is making clear that He will judge the Chaldeans in due time.
The third woe in the oracle of Habakkuk 2:6-20 condemns those Chaldeans who built extravagant cities and towns by exploiting the productivity of others. The LORD began by saying, Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence. In ancient Israel, people used the term woe (“hoy” in Hebrew) when mourning a loved one. The term describes despair and agony (Nahum 3:1). In Habakkuk, it suggests that Chaldea was on the verge of judgement.
The term bloodshed is “dām” in the Hebrew language. It is in the plural (“damim”) to express the affective value attached to blood (Ezekiel 22:2; Nahum 3:1). It suggests abundant bloodshed that consistently flows (Hosea 4:2). The Chaldeans murdered many people to build their cities. They did so with much violence. The term violence refers to crime, malice, injustice, or perversity. It tells us that the Chaldeans committed violent deeds, oppressing other people groups and nations to get the power to found their cities and towns. But such building projects would not last long because the all-powerful God would destroy them on the day of His judgment on Chaldea.
The LORD proceeded with a negative question to describe the fruitlessness of building such projects by crime: Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts that peoples toil for fire and nations grow weary for nothing? The word translated as indeed here is the particle “behold,” which often serves to attract the listeners’ attention (2:4). Here also, it serves as an affirmation of what the LORD of hosts was going to do to the proud Chaldeans. The term LORD refers to Yahweh, the self-existent and eternal God (Exodus 3:14). The term translated as host is “sabaoth” in the Hebrew language. It means “armies” and refers to the angelic armies of heaven (1 Samuel 1:3). In short, the phrase the LORD of hosts demonstrates God’s power and emphasizes His character as a warrior leading His angelic army to defeat the Chaldeans.
The rhetorical negative question Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts that peoples toil for fire and nations grow weary for nothing? requires a positive answer. Yes, the LORD of hosts had determined that peoples’ work is only fuel for the fire of His judgement. All deeds of men will be judged (Romans 2:6). God’s judgment is typically depicted as fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-13) and God is called a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29).
It is also from the LORD that nations grow weary for nothing. To grow weary means to become tired or sick of something. In our passage, it appears to apply to Babylon, who is exerting great effort to conquer and exploit other nations. But their empire and possessions will all come to nothing. Their empire and possessions will be taken by the Medes and Persians. Their work will be vain and futile. The exploiter will be exploited. As the psalmist points out, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
The LORD is the all-powerful God who controls the whole world. The pagan gods of the Chaldeans were powerless before Him. In due time, He would destroy the Chaldeans so that His glory might become visible to everyone. As He declared, For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD.
The term earth in this context likely refers initially to the land of Judah. But it also encompasses the lands of all the nations oppressed by the Chaldeans. Babylon’s downfall is chronicled in Daniel 5, where God pronounces their doom through a hand writing upon a wall (Daniel 5:5-6). Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, wrote a passage that is quoted in the Bible extolling the glory of the Lord (Daniel 4:34-37). God also used the Persian king Cyrus as His instrument, to repopulate Israel, and return the Jews to Judea (Isaiah 44:28; Ezra 1:1-4). Ultimately, the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the entire earth (Revelation 14:6) and the presence of God will fill the earth (Revelation 21:1-3).
The term knowledge in the phrase For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD has the same root word used to describe the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:7). It also is used to describe Adam having sexual relations with Eve, so it implies intimacy and relationship (Genesis 4:1). Thus, to know God is to have an intimate relationship with Him, to understand His ways and walk in them.
The term glory in the phrase For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD emphasizes God’s manifest presence, His power, and greatness. His glory would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Glory refers to the essence of someone or something being fully observed (1 Corinthians 15:40-43). Once the LORD destroyed the Chaldeans, the people of the earth would fully observe and recognize His supreme power and dominion over the earth. God’s glory would even be exalted by Nebuchadnezzar, the king who will subdue Judah (Daniel 4:34-37).
God would use the Babylonians/Chaldeans to chastise Judah. But since they glorified themselves and their false gods, the true God would judge them, and through them exhibit His own glory and supreme majesty among all the nations.
This verse reminds us that Jesus Christ will one day exercise His power and dominion over all the earth. Through him, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD (Numbers 14:21). As we await the return of Jesus Christ patiently, we can rehearse the words of the psalmist David: “Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; May the whole earth be filled with His glory! Amen, and Amen” (Psalm 72:19).
12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed,
And founds a town with violence!
13 Is it not indeed from the Lord of hosts
That peoples toil merely for fire,
And nations grow weary for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
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