The five woes which God pronounced upon evil doers restored Habakkuk’s confidence in Yahweh’s commitment to justice. They form the remainder of chapter 2 and have primary and secondary applications as follows.

  1. Primarily the prophecy applies to the Chaldean power which destroyed and oppressed Judah in the prophet’s day. God tells Habakkuk that He had not “turned a blind eye” to the Chaldean’s atrocities, but that “he would reap as he had sown”. So the prophet need have no concern about God’s integrity. Justice will prevail for “God is in His holy temple” (2:20).
  2. Secondarily the prophecy applies to the latter- day Babylonian, or Gogue and his confederates. His objectives and ambitions for world domination are identical to Nebuchadnezzar’s (Ezekiel 38).

Nebuchadnezzar subjected those he conquered to POLITICAL and RELIGIOUS domination. The first three woes deal with political objectives and the last two with religious oppression. When Europe and Russia unite with Papal blessing, we shall see the exact counterpart to Babylon of old. But God has declared there will be no more world empires in human hands. So the plans of Gogue will end on the mountains of Israel, for the God of heaven shall intervene and set up His Kingdom which shall never be destroyed (Dan 2:44).

The details of each woe have a latter day application. The question is beyond dispute when it is realised that verse 14 will only be fulfilled when the head of the wicked is crushed. The purpose of God that “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea” was not fulfilled when Cyrus, the typical “Anointed”, destroyed Babylon of old. But “The Christ” will put all enemies under his feet and “God will be all in all” (Isa 45:1; 1 Cor 15:24–28).

The answer, then, to Habakkuk’s questions (1:12–17) rests upon three great foundations.

  • 2:4 “The just shall live by faith.”
  • 2:14 “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea.”
  • 2:20 “Yahweh is in his holy temple.” He is aware of what happens on earth, and being “holy” will bring justice to light. In view of this, men on earth do well to keep silence and fear before Him (as did Habakkuk—2:2).

2:5 “Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire (nephesh) as hell (sheol—the grave), and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people.”

 This verse summarises the sins against which the five woes are directed. The King of Babylon is represented as being inebriated. In this intoxicated state his pride and ambition know no bounds, and he has lost consciousness of the fact that Yahweh rules in the kingdom of men, that the land of Israel is His, and its people are “the apple of His eye”. And so, like a drunken man, he blunders forth and invites punishment. In like manner Gogue will be intoxicated with the dream of world dominion. When he receives the benediction of the Pope, the “spiritual authority” of the earth, he will believe he acts in a just cause when he presumes to invade the mountains of Israel.

It was Babylon that established the first world empire under Nebuchadnezzar. Following the overthrow of Nineveh, the Babylonian power extended south and even incorporated Egypt. Jeremiah 25 and Ezekiel 25–32 give lists of the nations which comprised the Chaldean Empire.

Even so, in the latter days the great dictator, Gogue, who is yet to arise, will weld together the countries of Europe and the East and cause the great Image of Daniel 2 to stand upon its feet. Ezekiel 38:7 portrays Gogue as a dictatorial power guarding his confederates. “Be thou a guard unto them” (v7).

“But gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people”RSV “He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”

2:6–8 First Woe: Woe To Those Dominated By Insatiable Ambition.

 2:6 “Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!”

 “Shall not all these”—ie, the oppressed nations of verse 5 including the Jewish exiles in Babylon. They took up a psalm against him (Psa 137) in which the words appear, “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones”. Also the oppressed saints in Babylon the Great and oppressed Jewry in Russia during the times of the Gentiles have uttered these same words.

“Take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him”RSV “Their taunt against him, in scoffing derision of him.” From this verse to verse 19 is recorded the taunt which those in tyranny say privately of their conquerors. In five woes they bewail their sorrowful lot. God inspires the song and it is sung therefore from the viewpoint of those who understand the justice and purpose of God. Thus divine intervention is anxiously awaited, for then oppressors shall cease and be punished (Rev 18:6, 20). It therefore applies also to greater events than the Chaldean oppression of Jewry. The Holy Roman Empire in the times of the Gentiles compelled men to become Catholics or else forfeit all privileges and die (Rev 13:15–17). The taunt resembles our hymns in their longing for the Kingdom and the end of Gentilism. Isaiah 14:3–21 records a song of rejoicing at the fall of Babylon. Zion, once the captive, takes it up. The words of Isaiah 14:2 are cited in Revelation 13:10, and so by the Lord’s authority this song too applies to the saints under Papal tyranny.

“Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his” —cp v5, 1:9. A characteristic of powerful unprincipled nations is to exploit the weak. “Their exultant thought is in very deed to devour the oppressed one in a secret place” (Hab 3:4 Roth.). Thus the USSR has “bled white” the East European satellites during the years of occupancy. It is impossible for men of the flesh in power to rule justly. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam 23:3).

We wait for him who will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31; Psa 96:13).

“How long?”—RSV “For how long?”. This has ever been the cry of the oppressed saints as they yearn for the promised day of His kingdom and justice (cp Rev 6:9–10; Ps 89:46; 74:9; 79:5; 80:4; 94:3; 90:13; Dan 8:13).

“to him that ladeth himself with thick clay”— RSV “loads himself with pledges”. “Thick clay” = “pledges” RSV, RV and a cognate of the word is so translated in Deuteronomy 24:6, 10, 12, 13. The idea comes from the ancient custom of creditors collecting pledges on clay tablets from their debtors; that is, Babylon collected pledges of tribute from nations subject to her.

2:7 “Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?”

 “Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee”RSV “Will not your debtors suddenly arise?” Roth “Will not thy creditors suddenly rise up?”

The small nations which have been swallowed up and made subject to harsh tribute are represented as suddenly rebelling against their oppressors (v5). They plunder those who plundered them. In the primary fulfilment we know that Babylon suddenly fell into the hands of Darius the Mede and was duly plundered and destroyed (Isa 44:28). He diverted the course of the Euphrates and dried it up so that the “way of the kings of the east might be prepared” (Isa 41:2; Rev 16:12). By this means, access was gained into the mighty city of Babylon, and while the king and his princes were engaged in revelry she was suddenly taken (Daniel 5). Cyrus set the Jewish captives free, commanded them to return to their land, build the Temple, and re-establish themselves (Isa 45:13; 2 Chron 36:22). In each of these events the work of the anti-typical Cyrus and his “sanctified ones” or saints was foreshadowed (Isa 13:3).

“Rise up suddenly… awake”—The terms recall those used of the resurrection. “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they ARISE. AWAKE and sing, ye that dwell in the dust…” (Isa 26:19; also Dan 12:2). The saints shall awake from the dust of the earth and execute the judgment written upon Great Babylon (Psa 149:1–9; Rev 17:5, 14; 18:2, 6, 21).

In the national resurrection of Israel which we witness in the earth today, we find a people who have thrown off the bands of oppression. But there will come a time of greater trouble for Israel, the “time of Jacob’s trouble”, which will eclipse the past, for two-thirds of the people shall perish. Christ and the saints will break the power of Gogue on the mountains of Israel at the very time when he shall be on the verge of achieving his goal of universal dominion (Jer 30:7; Zech 13:8; Ezek 38:19–23). Following the establishment of the nucleus of the Kingdom of God in Israel, a call will go out for all nations to submit to the King in Jerusalem. Some will surrender, but others will refuse to yield and will not permit their Jewish minorities to go free. Under the leadership of Christ and the saints these oppressed Jews will be organised and marshalled, and “rise up and vex Babylon, and she shall be for booties unto them” (cp Jer 51:20–26; Mic 5:8; Zech 9:12–16; 10:3; Isa 43:1–6).

2:8 “Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.”

 The merciless conqueror shall be judged after the pattern of his own persecutions. This is justice. God judges men according as their works have been: as they sow, so shall they reap. Habakkuk could take solace in this. The duration of Chaldean ascendancy was limited.


(1) Babylon and her satellites, and especially Israel.

(2) Great Babylon—the Catholic oppression of the ecclesia in Gentile times. In the latter days the harlot on the beast will be manifest as a Catholic, Russian and European confederacy which will confront and be destroyed by Christ and the saints (Rev 17:14; 18:6).

“The remnant of the people shall spoil thee”— The nations are invited to “feast on Gogue” once he has been sacrificed (Ezek 39:18–20; Rev 19:17–18). This punishment shall fall on Gogue and his confederacy because of their “violence against the land (Israel), the city (Jerusalem cp Zech 14:2), and of all that dwell therein (Jewry)”.