Habakkuk Chapter 2: verses 15-17
“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbours,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies.
You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming round to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
And your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands
and cities and everyone in them.” (N.I.V.)
The first time I saw people getting drunk was when I was in my early 20s at an office Christmas party. It was a great shock to my sheltered upbringing to see a friend and colleague behaving inappropriately with a man in a senior position for whom normally she had no respect. I witnessed the hangover the next morning and her subsequent depression as she realised what a fool she had made of herself. Fortunately no long term harm resulted. Afterwards people were saying something was wrong with the drink itself! I wasn’t so sure.
It is considered fun at parties to encourage someone else to get drunk. There is a curious fascination in watching others lose their self-control and do things they would not normally do, sometimes compromising normal decency.
There are occasions when the person plying others with drink has a very sinister motive – an opportunity to gain control over the other person’s will, behaviour and life, while they are unable to take proper responsibility for themselves. Sometimes there are devastating consequences.
At the time of Habakkuk God likened the behaviour of the ruthless Babylonians to that of a neighbour who gets someone drunk in order to gawp at them and have them in their power. They had stripped the nations around of their dignity and wealth and gained control of land and riches. They were merciless to both people and animals as they made themselves wealthy through extortion, exploitation and murder. They had ruthlessly destroyed huge areas of Lebanon’s cedar forests and used the timber for their elaborate building programme.
Although we know from earlier in this book that God was using the Babylonians to teach and correct the people of Judah, it does not mean that He approved of what they were doing. In due course, things would be turned around and the Babylonians themselves would be on the receiving end of punishment. All that they did would rebound on them. Where they had sought to glorify themselves they would be put to shame and disgrace. The cup of God’s wrath would be poured out on them. They hardly dreamt of what lay ahead of them.
Much of this has a horribly modern ring to it and makes uncomfortable reading. The use and abuse of power is a serious factor in our world. It may be on a national or international scale, or it could be more local. Powerful people have the ability to exploit others, especially those who are vulnerable. This could also apply in a more personal way – neighbours, friendship groups, even in families when people manipulate and coerce others in order to get their own way. The abuse of children is just one example.
Powerful people have money, health, position, resources, education etc. and are able to make decisions on the part of those who have less.
Power, however it has been obtained, also carries responsibility. Perhaps without us ever considering it seriously, most of us have the ability to exercise power over other people through the way we live. As Christians our lives and all that we have need to be surrendered increasingly to God so that we make responsible use of them. The way we treat other people and their property matters.
One of the most sobering verses in the Bible is in Galations 6:7 – “A man reaps what he sows” (N.I.V.). The way we handle things can be turned back onto us. Accountability is built into life because God is our judge and He is infinitely powerful. He sees everything, nothing passes His notice.
We know, of course that God is merciful and forgives those who truly repent. This is a good time to examine ourselves and the way we use whatever power we have, so that we use it in His service and not in our own.
“In full and glad surrender,
I give myself to Thee,
Thine utterly and only
And evermore to be.
O Son of God, who lov’st me,
I will be thine alone:
And all I have and am, Lord,
Shall henceforth be Thine own.
Reign over me, Lord Jesus,
O make my heart Thy throne;
It shall be Thine, dear Saviour,
It shall be Thine alone.
O come and reign, Lord Jesus,
Rule over everything;
And keep me always loyal
And true to Thee, my King.”
(Frances Ridley Havergal, 1836-79)