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In Habakkuk 2:5--8 we read about the king of Babylon (CEB):

5 ... He opens his jaws like the grave; like death, he is never satisfied. He gathers all nations to himself and collects all peoples for himself.

6 Won't everyone tell parables about him or mocking poems concerning him? They will say: Doom to the one who multiplies what doesn't belong to him and who increases his own burden. How long?

7 Won't they suddenly rise up to bite you? Those who frighten you will awaken; you will become plunder for them.

8 Since you yourself have plundered many nations, all the rest of the peoples will plunder you because of the human bloodshed and the violence done to the earth, to every village, and to all its inhabitants.

It is clear that the passage describes the punishment that will come upon Babylon for their cruel and violent conquests. The other nations of the world will eventually rise against them and plunder them.

What is not clear to me is the start of verse 6: "Won't everyone tell parables about him or mocking poems concerning him?". It presents the entire punsihment as though it is only a parable or a poem. As if it does not happen in reality.

Apparently, the passage would have been perfectly clear without these words. Why are they needed? What is the importance of presenting Babylon's punishment as a parable or a poem?

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Even to this day and even in the secular world, the name Babylon is synonymous with worldliness: a city devoted to materialism and sensual pleasure. It has, indeed, become a parable just as the prophet declared. It appears in song, novel, and poem as that which appeases the flesh for a season, through wickedness, and is ultimately vanity.

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The operative noun in Hab 2:6 is מָשָׁל (mashal) whose meaning is given in the appendix below.

In Hab 2:6, the best translation is probably, "proverb"; that is, Hab 2:6 is a prophecy that "Babylyon" would become a proverbial name as per the NKJV:

“Will not all these take up a proverb against him, And a taunting riddle against him, and say, ‘Woe to him who increases What is not his—how long? And to him who loads himself with many pledges’?

In other versions, the same word in the same place is allowably translated, "taunt", "taunt-song", "ridicule", etc. Thus, "Babylon" would forever become a name associated with decadence and moral turpitude. This prophecy has been fulfilled - even today in western society, "Babylon" is synonymous with a highly materialistic society; this has been so even when the book of Revelation was written in the 1st century.

For example, note the entry for "Babylon" from the urban dictionary https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=babylon

The state, the system, particularly when corrupt or authoritarian. Also the police, as they are the agents of the threat of force that the state derives it's power from.

APPENDIX - BDB entry for מָשָׁל (mashal)

מָשָׁל noun masculine Isaiah 14:4 proverb, parable (of sentences constructed in parallelism, usually of Hebrew Wisdom, but occasionally of other types); — absolute ׳מ Ezekiel 17:2 20t.; construct מְשַׁל 1 Samuel 24:14; suffix מְשָׁלוֺ Numbers 23:7 8t.; plural מְשָׁלִים Ecclesiastes 12:9 2t.; construct מִשְׁלֵי Proverbs 1:1 3t.; — 1 proverbial saying, brief terse sentence of popular sagacity 1 Samuel 10:12; Ezekiel 12:22,23; Ezekiel 18:2,3; הַקַדְמֹנִי ׳מ 1 Samuel 24:14 proverb of the ancients.

2 by-word Psalm 44:15; Psalm 69:12; לְמָשָׁל וְלִשְׁנִינָה Deuteronomy 28:37; 1 Kings 9:7; 2 Chronicles 7:20; Jeremiah 24:9; לְאוֺת וּלְמָשָׁל Ezekiel 14:8

3 prophetic figurative discourse: נָשָׂא מָשָׁל lift up, utter a ׳מ Numbers 23:7,18; Numbers 24:3,15,20,21,23 (all of Balaam); Isaiah 14:4; Micah 2:4 ("" נהי) Habakkuk 2:6 ("" חידה), (compare Job 27:1; Job 29:1 for same phrase under 6).

4 similitude, parable, Ezekiel 17:2; Ezekiel 21:5; Ezekiel 24:3.

5 poem, of various kinds: the ode (Numbers 21:27-30), the 3,000 pieces traditionally ascribed to Solomon 1 Kings 5:12, didactic psalms Psalm 49:5; Psalm 78:2.

6 sentences of ethical wisdom דִּבְרֵי חֲכָמִים collected in the מִשְׁלֵי שְׁלֹמֹה Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 25:1 (Proverbs 10:1-22:16 consisting of 376 couplets chiefly antithetical; Proverbs 25-29 chiefly couplets of an emblematic type, but also occasional tristichs, tetrastichs, pentastichs, and decastichs. To these are appended דְּבָרִים of a more mixed character as to size and content Proverbs 22:7-24:22,23-34; Proverbs 30:1-14; Proverbs 30:15-33; Proverbs 31:1-9; Proverbs 31:10-31; the Praise of Wisdom Proverbs 1:8-9 is prefixed, and an introduction to the whole Proverbs 1:1-7, in which the whole contents are represented as) משׁלים Proverbs 1:1, compare Proverbs 1:6. The references in Job 13:12; Job 27:1; Job 29:1; Proverbs 26:7,9; Ecclesiastes 12:9 are to the same type of wisdom.

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  • I understand that Babylon became a proverb, but I still do not understand the relevance of this to the prophecy on the punishment to Babylon. For the nations that suffered so much from the Babylonian cruelty, what does it matter that, in the future, there will be a proverb for Babylon? Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 13:33
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi - that is the point - Babylon's evil would become so famous that it would become proverbial. Further, it was Babylon's own evil that the ultimate cause of its downfall.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 20:21

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