Write & Wait
The First Part Of The Lord’s Second Answer To Habbakuk
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014
Part 1 of 3

The book of Habakkuk is unique in that it records this extended dialogue or conversation between the prophet and the LORD. It was written towards the end of the southern kingdom’s history, sometime in 609-605 BC.

The godly king Josiah had recently passed away and his very ungodly son Jehoiakim had taken over. The Assyrian empire had been defeated and replaced by the Babylonian empire under Nabopolassar and later his son Nebuchadenezzar.

Habakkuk begins his prophecy by issuing his first cry and complaint to the LORD in verses 2-4 of chapter 1.

In this first cry, He complained to the LORD about the terrible lawlessness and violence that prevailed in the land of Judah, and he asked the LORD how long such a situation must continue before He finally brings about His judgment upon the wicked and His salvation of the righteous.

The LORD’s first answer, found in verses 5-11 of chapter 1, was both stunning and unbelievable. The LORD did not disagree with the prophet’s assessment of the moral and spiritual state of the land, but His method of dealing with the problem was staggering.

After warning Habakkuk of that, the LORD then unveiled and identified His instrument of judgment and retribution, namely, the Chaldeans or Babylonians. The LORD Himself had raised up the Babylonian empire for the purpose of judging His covenant people.

Then having unveiled His instrument of judgment, the LORD goes on to describe them in greater detail. They were bitter and hasty, terrible and dreadful, autonomous and proud, swift and fierce, violent and arrogant, and mighty and unstoppable. And most importantly, they were coming for them. 

Habakkuk could hardly maintain his balance. He was utterly amazed and dumbfounded. His head was spinning. The LORD’s revelation was too much for him to handle. His response to the LORD’s first answer is recorded in verse 12 of chapter 1 to verse 1 of chapter 2.

Habakkuk tried to stabilize himself by first talking about and alluding to some of the attributes of God, namely, that He is everlasting, holy, faithful, just, sovereign and pure.

He then went on to question God about His method of judgment. While he agreed that Judah deserved to be punished, he totally disagreed with God’s instrument. How could a morally pure and just God make use of the terribly depraved Babylonians to carry out judgment on His own covenant people, who were relatively less depraved? In Habakkuk’s eyes, such an action was utterly unjust, and inconsistent with the justice and righteousness of God. But Habakkuk didn’t stop there. He went on in verses 14-17 to challenge the Lord’s plan with greater intensity and passion.

Finally, in verse 1 of chapter 2, we read that Habakkuk went to a watchtower and took up a posture of watchfulness to wait for God’s reply to his challenge, and while he waited, he also prepared an answer to the rebuke which he expected from the Lord. But the rebuke which he was expecting and which he was bracing himself for never came. Instead, the LORD, in His mercy and patience, dealt kindly with him by gently disclosing His purpose for the ages.

This second answer of the LORD, found in the rest of chapter 2, so transforms Habakkuk that instead of questioning God further, he responds with a humble prayer and indeed a psalm of praise and submission to God, found in chapter 3.

Now this answer from the LORD may be divided into two parts., We shall begin in this issue to consider the first part, which we may further divide into three sections.

First, the LORD instructs Habakkuk to write the vision (verse 2). Second, the LORD instructs Habakkuk to wait for the fulfillment of the vision (verse 3). And finally, the LORD gives the substance of the vision by contrasting the proud and the righteous (v. 4-5).

The LORD instructs Habakkuk 
to WRITE (v. 2)

Verse 2, “And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.”

The LORD’s second response to the prophet’s question comes in the form of a vision. Remember that prophets served as mediators between God and man. God would speak to them through various means, one of which was the vision, and they in turn would communicate the divine message to the people.

But in addition to giving Habakkuk a vision, the LORD also specifically instructed him to write the vision down. The significance of this is that the vision was not just for the generation of God’s people living at that time but also for the generations to come.

We know that for example in Isaiah 30:8, where the LORD says to Isaiah, “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:” So the writing of the vision is for the time to come.

And what was Habakkuk to write this vision on? Isaiah was told by the LORD to write on a table and a book or scroll. Jeremiah was told by the LORD in Jeremiah 30:2 to write His words on a scroll. Here in Habakkuk 2:2, the prophet is to write the vision on “the tables.”

Now what is unusual or distinctive about this instruction is the use of the definite article “the” and the plural form of the word “table.” Habakkuk is to write it on “the tables.” What is the significance of this?

Well to an Israelite, the idea of inscribing words on tables of stone would immediately remind him or her of the tables of the covenant which Moses received on Mt Sinai and on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. Again and again in the Pentateuch, particularly in Exodus and Deuteronomy, we read about the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant, which contained the Decalogue, inscribed by the finger of God.

By instructing Habakkuk to inscribe the vision which he was about to receive on the tables of stone, the LORD was essentially telling him (and us) that this vision compares in significance with the original giving of the law to Moses.

There is actually a Jewish tradition that says that Habakkuk has reduced all the 613 laws of the Pentateuch to just one. Quite clearly, these Jews saw a connection between Habakkuk’s inscribing of his vision on tables and the Law of Moses.

The last part of verse 2 says, “that he may run that readeth it.” What this means is that having been inscribed on the tables of stone, prophets down the ages will continue to run and proclaim the vision to subsequent generations of God’s people.

Prophets are often described in the Bible as running with their message. For example, Jeremiah 23:21 says about false prophets, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” 

And so, the LORD instructs Habakkuk to inscribe his vision plainly on the tables so that other prophets, even those in subsequent ages, may run with this same message and declare it to the people.

This idea of passing the message down through the ages ties in well with the next section in verse 3, where the LORD instructs Habakkuk to wait for the fulfilment of the vision.

The LORD instructs Habakkuk 
to WAIT (v. 3)

Verse 3, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

Even before giving the vision to Habakkuk, the LORD informs him that the fulfilment and realization of this vision awaits a future time. Habakkuk must not expect it to come to pass in the immediate future.

Nevertheless, the vision of Habakkuk will certainly come to pass. The words “appointed time” speak of God’s sovereign decree and appointment. It is absolutely certain and sure and unshakable. Yes, it may take a while before it happens but that is because God’s appointed time has not yet arrived.

We find the same Hebrew word translated “appointed” or “set” time at least three times in the story of Abraham – Genesis 17:21, 18:14 and 21:2. In each of these verses, the set or appointed time has to do with the birth of Isaac.

As O Palmer Robertson wrote, “Not according to man’s anxiously conceived timetable, but according to the unshakable divine decree the promise would come to pass.”

Habakkuk’s situation paralleled Abraham’s in that he too was anxiously waiting for the vision to be fulfilled and wondering if the covenant people were going to survive till then.

The LORD further encourages Habakkuk with the words, “but at the end it shall speak.” This phrase can also be legitimately translated “and it yearns for the end.” The reason is that the verb “speak” literally means to “pant after” or to “long for” something.  

The vision is personified as longing or yearning to be fulfilled. It is pressing forward eagerly to its completion, and nothing will hold it back. It cannot lie, as verse 3 goes on to say. Ultimately, it cannot lie because God, who has spoken it, cannot lie, and ultimately, it yearns to be fulfilled because that is God’s own will and desire, and God’s will and desire can never be frustrated. 

And so Habakkuk is encouraged to wait patiently for it even though it will be delayed from a human point of view. And even though it seems unlikely to happen from man’s perspective, yet it will surely come.

The author of Hebrews quotes this verse to encourage his readers to patiently wait for the promise of God. He says in Hebrews 10:36-37, “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.”

But notice how the author of Hebrews personalizes the language. Whereas in Habakkuk 2:3, it says, “it will come…” and “it will not tarry,” in Hebrews, it says, “he shall come” and “he shall not tarry.” What this teaches us is that ultimately, when we wait for anything that is revealed in God’s word, be it a promise or a prophecy, we are waiting for the LORD Himself. He is the one for whom we must wait.

In the next issue, we will look at the substance of this vision found in 2:4-5.

Linus Chua

… to be Continued, next issue