After three iterations of dialogue between Habakkuk and God (Habakkuk complains – God answers – Habakkuk responds) we reach a very interesting break in the action. Instead of simply recording God’s second response (as he did with the first one), Habakkuk curiously tells us that he assumes a post and waits for God to speak. And instead of jumping right into His part of the dialogue as He did the first time, God gives Habakkuk an introduction and instructs him what to do with His message.
Habakkuk began the dialogue with his complaint that God is absent while Judah devolves into more and more sin. God answered that Habakkuk will not understand but judgment is coming through the evil and brutal Chaldeans – and He described them in vivid detail. Habakkuk responded that he did not understand (picture God saying, “Exactly!”) – how can a God of righteousness and justice use such an unrighteous and unjust people to do His will? Now Habakkuk prepares for God’s second response.
1 – Habakkuk speaks
Habakkuk has just ended his fairly heated response to God. Interestingly, however, he continues to talk. But he does not talk to God – he talks to the reader. He describes what he is going to do while he waits for God to answer him.
He lists three things he will do until God speaks. He uses figurative language and says, “I will stand on my guard post; I will station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch.” The reason he will keep watch is “to see what He will speak to me and how I may reply when I am reproved” (which could mean that he will reply to others who will reprove him when he repeats God’s prophecy about the judgment of the Chaldeans OR that he will reply to God who will reprove him for his doubts and complaints).
After reading this verse the question that comes to mind is “Why?” What is the point of telling us what he is going to do? Why not just record God’s answer as he did in Chapter 1? And what is the point of the military imagery about keeping watch at a guard post and rampart?
Habakkuk (and God, by making sure this is recorded) seems to want us to learn from his actions. He wants to make sure we understand his behavior in the midst of the dialogue as well as his words. He teaches us not only the value of going to God with our concerns and doubts and confusion, he tells us what to do after we go to God.
To understand this verse we must remember its context. Habakkuk’s statement in verses 12-17 of Chapter 1 makes it clear that he is confused, angry, and exasperated. He does not understand God’s actions and is really questioning the justice of what God plans. Yet his reaction is to take his post and wait. He does not run to others – he does not give up the faith – he does not become bitter. His instant reaction to being shocked and horrified by the news of the Chaldeans is to voice his complaint to God and then WAIT.
The verse then gives us some clues as to HOW he waits. Note again the military language. He is going to stand on a guard post and station himself on the rampart (tower) and keep watch. All these refer to a sentry on duty – one who watches for the enemy and sounds the alarm. Habakkuk will wait for God and watch for Him as one who guards the safety of a fortified city. And as one in the military he will not leave his post regardless of circumstances. Habakkuk uses military words to make sure the reader understands that he is not only committed to talking to God, he is committed to waiting on God. He does not understand God but he will endure with God.
To take this further it pays to think through the ramifications of the military metaphor. A sentry stays at his post regardless of his feelings. A sentry stays at his post regardless of whether or not it benefits him directly. A sentry stays at his post regardless of the advice of others (see Job’s wife). A sentry stays at his post regardless of whether or not he understands all the reasons for being there. A sentry does not leave his post simply because his needs are not being met or he is discouraged and frustrated. [Some of the material in this section comes from Tim Keller – Waiting and Living by Faith]
So what does this mean for us? What does waiting on God really mean? And how does Habakkuk’s example translate to our lives? Habakkuk is in the midst of a gut-wrenching trial. Unlike most people he KNOWS bad times are coming and there is nothing he can do about it (and note that God did not say anything about Habakkuk himself being spared). These are the times we wait on God. Trials show what our foundation really is – and trials show our true motives for serving God. The one who continues to serve even in the midst of horrible times is the one who does not leave his post. He waits on God.
What do we wait for? For God to respond to our prayers. For God to finish perfecting us. For God to make us more useful for His kingdom. For God to invade our lives and make Himself bigger to us. For God Himself.
But again, how does this look practically? How do we man the ramparts? How do we stand on our guard post? We continue to serve Him. We continue to pray. We continue to pursue Him through His word. We continue to attend church and serve others. We continue to fellowship with other believers. Waiting on God ultimately means we continue to patiently pursue Him even when nothing seems to happen as a result. We endure to the end. We do not roll up into a self-absorbed ball until the bad times go away.
And that is the key. To wait on God is to actively continue in the faith during the worst of life; when NOTHING accrues to us because of our beliefs and actions. It is during trials that we show the motives behind our faith. And it is during trials that can show we love Him for Him – not because of what He does for us. Job proved Satan wrong because he did not forsake the faith even after all the benefits of belief were stripped from him. And Habakkuk says he will stay at his post even though God has told him that violence and destruction are the only things in his future.
What about the one who leaves his post? What does he look like? He is the one who decides to reject the faith because nothing happens when he prays and nothing goes the way he thinks it should in life (whatever that means – how can we who are finite ever justify complaining to God for what SHOULD have happened? Are we omniscient?). He is the one who becomes embittered because God did not protect him from the death, difficulties and heartbreak of a sinful world. He is the one who says, “I am lonely and discouraged and I am sick of doing right for no benefit – so I will indulge myself (sex, food, alcohol, complaining, etc.) for a bit because nothing really matters anyway.” He is even the one who gives up his devotional life and church attendance because life stinks and nobody cares and “what difference does it make?” The one who leaves his post shows his motives for belief were ultimately his own satisfaction and happiness, not love for God and God’s glory. He wanted a God who served him – not vice versa. [If a man were to leave his wife because she became physically disabled and was no longer able to work around the house – thus no longer providing benefits to him – we would rightfully think him despicable. Yet how is he different from the one who says, “I no longer attend church (or pray or read the Bible or fellowship with other believers) because I stopped getting anything out of it?”]
Note something else about Habakkuk’s actions here. He expects God to answer. He is not happy with God but he fully expects God to answer his pleas (although it is important to remember that he began the book by complaining that God had not answered his prayers – it is OK to cry out during God’s silences as long as we remember that silence does not mean absence). And he is determined to wait until that happens. George Mueller said to pray until God answers. Habakkuk practices that advice by ascending the tower and waiting.
In the midst of difficult times we must never forget that God answers and responds to His children. Remember John’s words in I John 5:14 – And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. Prayers in His will (His word) are heard and answered. We must have faith – even in the middle of horrific and debilitating circumstances when God is silent – that God is in fact with us and has not forsaken us, and that He hears and will answer our prayers. Job cried out for God to show Himself and thought God was not to be found, but God was with him the whole time and heard every word.
2-3 – God speaks
God’s answer is perfect for completing the thoughts of verse 1. Habakkuk says he will wait expectantly for God to show up. And God does in fact show. But His message to Habakkuk is to write down what He hears because the vision he is about to see will be a long time coming. “Habakkuk, you are a good servant to wait on Me – but what I am about to tell you will take so long to come about that you must write it down so it is not forgotten.” MORE WAITING.
We wait on God to answer and we wait on God to act – but we must NEVER forget that God does not wear our watch. Our time and His time are completely different. The timing of everything He does is calculated against the backdrop of eternity. And that is impossible to translate into our language and sense of space and time.
Time, however, does not equate to uncertainty. Note what God says in verse 3. What He is about to tell Habakkuk is for the appointed time and will not fail. God is slow (from our perspective) but never uncertain (II Peter 3:8-9). The flood came 120 years after God first told Noah to build the ark. God allowed the Israelites to live in Egypt for over 400 years. He did not give a son to Abraham until 30 years after first promising one to him. It has been over 2000 years since Jesus promised He would return. Time does not cast doubt on God’s promises or threaten their validity.
God closes with more words about waiting. He tells Habakkuk to wait even though the actions in the vision tarry. And then He says, “For it will certainly come, it will not delay.” This does not seem to make sense. He just said, “Though it tarries, wait for it.” How can something tarry AND not delay? This gives us a clue to God’s perspective. The events in the vision will not take place for over seventy years (the destruction of Babylon) but to God their certainty is not in question. He knows exactly when they will take place – so for Him they will not delay. Once the events are supposed to happen, they will – with no delay. But to Habakkuk’s eyes they will delay to the point that God has to tell him not to give up hope even if they are a long time coming. This is the difference between omniscience and ignorance. To God there is no delay in the appointed time, but to man the appointed time is far away and unknown – and the duration is a long time to remember and hope.
We must understand when we wait on God that the wait may indeed be long. But we must also understand that in God’s eyes He never delays – His actions are always at the appointed time. And the appointed time is always the perfect time. Encouragingly, God understands our perspective too. That is why He tells Habakkuk to wait even though the vision tarries. He does what we cannot – He sees it from both perspectives. And a loving God understands our limited sight and impatience.
Closing Thoughts – Reasons to Wait
The result of waiting on God in Habakkuk is the wonderful prayer of praise and faith in Chapter 3. Habakkuk will exalt God as a result of better understanding His ways. And he will effectively pledge to continue waiting through the tough times he knows are coming. He tells God he will have faith even though he might not understand all that will happen.
James tells us that waiting on God results in our becoming more useful for God’s kingdom. That means from a certain perspective there is a selfish reason to wait. If our desire in this life is to serve God better and better and to become more useful as His instrument – we will wait. James says waiting has a perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (1:4). In this case waiting really means enduring.
Paul describes waiting and enduring in similar terms in Romans 5:3-5. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Note another benefit here – the proven character and perseverance that come from enduring with God through trials make meeting the future trials easier. We become stronger and more able to endure. We lift weights so we can lift heavier weights.
Peter tells us the testing of our faith proves that it is genuine and results in our sharing in the glory and honor of Christ at His coming (I Pet 1:6-8). A paraphrase of this passage is as follows: The living promise of eternal rewards causes you to greatly rejoice even though right now you are going through various trials. These trials, however, are ultimately good things, for they show the proven character of your faith (faith that God’s power works through to keep you in His kingdom). Your faith is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – and since it is much more valuable than gold, which only has value in this life, it is even more important that it be purified. After your faith is proved genuine through the purification of trials you will share in the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ when He is revealed in the last time.
Peter’s last words are vitally important to remember as we wait. We must keep eternity in mind. Focusing on this life and this world alone will sabotage our perspective. We must measure our current circumstances against the promise of a new heaven and new earth. Paul put it like this – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom 8:18).
Finally – what is the alternative to NOT waiting? What or who are we going to run to if we decide that waiting on God through the awful times of life is not worth it? Peter expressed this very thought after a time when many disciples deserted Jesus. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are Holy One of God (Jn 6:68-69). There is only one Holy One of God – are we going to forsake Him when He does not treat us as we expect? Are we really going to decide that our lives will be easier if we rely on something or someone other than Him?
But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold – Job 23:10.