Summary: Wait patiently, it will come to pass
WATCHING FOR THE WORD
When Habakkuk speaks of his message as a burden, it is to convey something of its weightiness. No prophet should take the word of the LORD upon his lips lightly; but neither are those who are truly called to preach able to rest, unless they discharge their duty faithfully (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Habakkuk not only had the Word of God laid upon him, but he proclaimed what he saw. It is as if he was enabled to see into the mind of the LORD. What Habakkuk visualised there, he translated into word pictures to convey the LORD's message to man.
The prophet was perplexed, as are we sometimes, at the LORD's apparent silence in the face of the wickedness of mankind. Iniquity surrounded the prophet then, just as violence and vice surround us today. The prophet's cry is the cry of the righteous in every generation: “How long, LORD?” (Habakkuk 1:2; cf. Psalm 13:1-2; Psalm 74:10; Psalm 94:3; Revelation 6:10).
There is such a thing as a righteous anger at wickedness and violence. This gives rise to the second question: “Why?” (Habakkuk 1:3). The prophet addressed his frustrations to the LORD (cf. 2 Peter 2:7-8). This we are permitted to do, as long as we are reverent and not disrespectful.
The idea of “violence” (Habakkuk 1:3; cf. Jeremiah 20:8) also includes violation of the law, to which the prophet points more specifically in the next verse. Justice “never goes forth”; the wicked encircle the righteous; “therefore wrong judgment proceeds” (Habakkuk 1:4). It is the law of the LORD that has been broken (cf. (Psalm 119:126; Micah 7:3).
The LORD's response to the waywardness of Israel was to raise up the Babylonians against them (Habakkuk 1:6). The only trouble was, they overstepped the mark, and attributed it to their god (Habakkuk 1:11). The importunate prayer warrior made his appeal to the holiness of the LORD and questioned the silence of the LORD (Habakkuk 1:13).
As part of the pictorial message which the prophet intended to convey, we see him next on his prayer tower, watching for the LORD's words (Habakkuk 2:1). Prayer is a two-way transaction, and in addition to our praises and petitions, we need to learn to meditate on the things of the LORD. This includes Bible reading, certainly; but also involves reflection upon the things which the LORD is teaching us in His Word, and through the circumstances of our lives.
We know that the LORD responded in a vision because He says, “Write the vision” (Habakkuk 2:2). “Make it plain” (cf. Isaiah 30:8; Daniel 12:4; Revelation 1:19). In most translations the last clause of Habakkuk 2:2 has been inverted and should probably read something like: “so that whoever reads it will run with it as a messenger to others.” Pass it on.
The LORD exhorts the godly to patience (Habakkuk 2:3). It will come to pass (cf. 2 Peter 3:9), and then the people will know that Habakkuk has been a true prophet. ‘Wait, I say, upon the LORD’ (Psalm 27:14; cf. Isaiah 40:31; James 1:4).
Habakkuk 2:4 contrasts the “puffed up” with “the just”; the “not upright” with “the righteous”. The Hebrew word order of the final clause of Habakkuk 2:4 is significant: “the just by faith shall live.” This is the whole basis of the teaching of justification by faith in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
The end times are upon us, and Habakkuk’s words are written down for us. If we are to be saved, it is to be ‘by grace through faith’ ‘that no man may boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9). May we have the patience to wait: ‘for yet a little while He that shall come will come and will not tarry’ (Hebrews 10:37).