The three foregoing articles, upon which the woes here are grounded, are very near akin to each other. The criminals charged by them are oppressors and extortioners, that raise estates by rapine and injustice; and it is mentioned here again (Hab. 2:17), the very same that was said Hab. 2:8; for that is the crime upon which the greatest stress is laid; it is because of men’s blood, innocent blood, barbarously and unjustly shed, which is a provoking crying thing; it is for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein, which God will certainly reckon for, sooner or later, as the asserter of right and the avenger of wrong.
But here are two articles more, of a different nature, which carry a woe to all those in general to whom they belong, and particularly to the Babylonian monarchs, by whom the people of God were taken and held captives.
I. The promoters of drunkenness stand here impeached and condemned. Belshazzar was one of those; he was so, remarkably that very night that the prophecy of this chapter was fulfilled in the period of his life and kingdom, when he drank wine before a thousand of his lords (Dan. 5:1), began the healths, and forced them to pledge him. And perhaps it was one reason why the succeeding monarchs of Persia made it a law of their kingdom that in drinking none should compel, but they should do according to every man’s pleasure (as we find, Est. 1:8), because they had seen in the kings of Babylon the mischievous consequences of forcing healths and making people drunk. But the woe here stands firm and very fearful against all those, whoever they are, who are guilty of this sin at any time, and in any place, from the stately palace (where that was) to the paltry ale-house. Observe,
1. Who the sinner is that is here articled against; it is he that makes his neighbour drunk, Hab. 2:15. To give a neighbour drink who is in want, who is thirsty and poor, though it be but a cup of cold water to a disciple, in the name of a disciple, to give drink to weary traveller, nay, and to give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine to those that are heavy of heart, is a piece of charity which is required of us, and shall be recompensed to us. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. But to give a neighbour drink who has enough already, and more than enough, with design to intoxicate him, that he may expose himself, may talk foolishly, and make himself ridiculous, may disclose his own secret concerns, or be drawn in to agree to a bad bargain for himself—this is abominable wickedness; and those who are guilty of it, who make a practice of it, and take a pride and pleasure in it, are rebels against God in heaven, and his sacred laws, factors for the devil in hell, and his cursed interests, and enemies to men on earth, and their honour and welfare; they are like the son of Nebat, who sinned and made Israel to sin. To entice others to drunkenness, to put the bottle to them, that they may be allured to it by its charms, by looking on the wine when it is red and gives its colour in the cup, or to force them to it, obliging them by the rules of the club (and club-laws indeed they are) to drink so many glasses, and so filled, is to do what we can, and perhaps more than we know of, towards the murder both of soul and body; and those that do so have a great deal to answer for.
2. What the sentence is that is here passed upon him. There is a woe to him (Hab. 2:15), and a punishment (Hab. 2:16) that shall answer to the sin. (1.) Does he put the cup of drunkenness into the hand of his neighbour? The cup of fury, the cup of trembling, the cup of the Lord’s right hand, shall be turned unto him; the power of God shall be armed against him. That cup which had gone round among the nations, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, and a hissing, which had made them stumble and fall, so that they could rise no more, shall at length be put into the hand of the king of Babylon, as was foretold, Jer. 25:15, 16, 18, 26, 27. Thus the New-Testament Babylon, which had made the nations drunk with the cup of her fornications, shall have blood given her to drink, for she is worthy, Rev. 18:3, 6. (2.) Does he take a pleasure in putting his neighbour to shame? He shall himself be loaded with contempt: “Thou art filled with shame for glory, with shame instead of glory, or art filled now with shame more than ever thou wast with glory; and the glory thou hast been filled with shall but serve to make thy shame the more grievous to thyself, and the more ignominious in the eyes of others. Thou also shalt drink of the cup of trembling, and shalt expose thyself by thy fear and cowardice, which shall be as the uncovering of thy nakedness, to thy shame; and all about thee shall load thee with disgrace, for shameful spewing shall be on thy glory, on that which thou hast most prided thyself in, thy dignity, wealth, and dominion; those whom thou hast made drunk shall themselves spew upon it. For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts (Hab. 2:17); thou shalt be hunted and run down with as much violence as ever any wild beasts in Lebanon were, shall be spoiled as they are, and thy fall made a sport of; for thou art as one of the beasts that made them afraid, and therefore they triumph when they have got the mastery of thee.” Or, “It is because of the violence thou hast done to Lebanon, that is, the land of Israel (Deut. 3:25) and the temple (Zech. 11:1), that God now reckons with thee; that is the sin that now covers thee.”
II. The promoters of idolatry stand here impeached and condemned; and this also was a sin that Babylon was notoriously guilty of; it was the mother of harlots. Belshazzar, in his revels, praised his idols. And for this, here is a woe against them, and in them against all others that do likewise, particularly the New-Testament Babylon. Now see here,
1. What they do to promote idolatry; they are mad upon their idols; so the Chaldeans are said to be, Jer. 50:38. For, (1.) They have a great variety of idols, their graven images and molten images, that people may take their choice, which they like best. (2.) They are very nice and curious in the framing of them: The maker of the work has performed his part admirably well, the fashioner of his fashion (so it is in the margin), that contrived the model in the most significant manner. (3.) They are at great expense in beautifying and adorning them: They lay them over with gold and silver; because these are things people love and dote upon wherever they meet with them, they dress up their idols in them, the more effectually to court the adoration of the children of this world. (4.) They have great expectations from them: The maker of the work trusts therein as his god, puts a confidence in it, and gives honour to it as his god. The worshippers of God give honour to him, by offering up their prayers to him, and waiting to receive instructions and directions from him; and these honours they give to their idols. [1.] They pray to them: They say to the wood, Awake for our relief, “awake to hear our prayers;” and to the dumb stone, “Arise, and save us,” as the church prays to her God, Awake, O Lord! arise, Ps. 44:23. They own their image to be a god by praying to it. Deliver me, for thou art my God, Isa. 44:17. Deos qui rogat ille facit—That to which a man addresses petitions is to him a god. [2.] They consult them as oracles, and expect to be directed and dictated to by them: They say to the dumb stone, though it cannot speak, yet it shall teach. What the wicked demon, or no less wicked priest, speaks to them from the image, they receive with the utmost veneration, as of divine authority, and are ready to be governed by it. Thus is idolatry planted and propagated under the specious show of religion and devotion.
2. How the extreme folly of this is exposed. God, by Isaiah, when he foretold the deliverance of his people out of Babylon, largely showed the shameful stupidity and sottishness of idolaters, and so he does here by the prophet, on the like occasion. (1.) Their images, when they have made them, are but mere matter, which is the meanest lowest rank of being; and all the expense they are at upon them cannot advance them one step above that. They are wholly void both of sense and reason, lifeless and speechless (the idol is a dumb idol, a dumb stone, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it), so that the most minute animal, that has but breath and motion, is more excellent then they. They have not so much as the spirit of a beast. (2.) It is not in their power to do their worshippers any good (Hab. 2:18): What profits the graven image? Though it be mere matter, if it were cast into some other form it might be serviceable to some purpose or other of human life; but, as it is made a god of, it is of no profit at all, nor can do its worshippers the least kindness. Nay, (3.) It is so far from profiting them that it puts a cheat upon them, and keeps them under the power of a strong delusion; they say, It shall teach, but it is a teacher of lies; for it represents God as having a body, as being finite, visible, and dependent, whereas he is a Spirit, infinite, invisible, and independent, and it confirms those that become vain in their imaginations in the false notions they have of God, and makes the idea of God to be a precarious thing, and what every man pleases. If we may say to the works of our hands, You are our gods, we may say so to any of the creatures of our own fancy, though the chimera be ever so extravagant. An image is a doctrine of vanities; it is falsehood, and a work of errors, Jer. 10:8, 14, 15. It is therefore easy to see what the religion of those is, and what they aim at, who recommend those teachers of lies as laymen’s books, which they are to study and govern themselves by, when they have locked up from them the book of the scriptures in an unknown tongue.
3. How the people of God triumph in him, and therewith support themselves, when the idolaters thus shame themselves (Hab. 2:20): But the Lord is in his holy temple. (1.) Our rock is not as their rock, Deut. 32:31. Theirs are dumb idols; ours is Jehovah, a living God, who is what he is, and not, as theirs, what men please to make him. He is in his holy temple in heaven, the residence of his glory, where we have access to him in the way, not which we have invented, but which he himself has instituted. Compare Ps. 115:3; But our God is in the heavens, and Ps. 11:4. (2.) The multitude of their gods which they set up, and take so much pains to support, cannot thrust out our God; he is, and will be, in his holy temple still, and glorious in holiness. They have laid waste his temple at Jerusalem; but he has a temple above that is out of the reach of their rage and malice, but within the reach of his people’s faith and prayers. (3.) Our God will make all the world silent before him, will strike the idolaters as dumb as their idols, convincing them of their folly, and covering them with shame. He will silence the fury of the oppressors, and check their rage against his people. (4.) It is the duty of his people to attend him with silent adorings (Ps. 65:1), and patiently to wait for his appearing to save them in his own way and time. Be still, and know that he is God, Zech. 2:13.