As we have noticed, the prophecy of Habakkuk, which is a dialogue between the prophet and God, can be divided into five sections:
• Habakkuk's problem (1.1-4)
• God's answer (1.5-11)
• Habakkuk's protest (1.13- 2.1)
• God's answer (2.2-20)
• Habakkuk's prayer (3.1-19).
In our last study, we left the prophet waiting and watching: "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved" (2.1). Habakkuk expected an answer to the problem. He knew that he was wrong, but wanted to know where he was wrong. He had prayed about the matter, and now he looks expectantly for an explanation and some correction. Notice his words: "I will stand". He was alert and expectant. He expected an answer. Do we expect an answer to our prayers? "I will stand upon my watch (watchtower)." He disentangled himself from the noise and clamour of life. Amongst confusion and lawlessness, he goes to his tower. It is there, as we shall see, that he gets things in perspective. See Psalm 73.16-17: "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end". In New Testament terms, this is the ministry of the "closet" (Mt 6.6). Alone with God! Could God accommodate the man with problems and perplexity? The answer is – "Yes!" This brings us to:
God's answer (2.2-20)
"And the Lord answered me." There is no censure or reproof. Habakkuk had approached God with genuine concern and openness of heart. We can divide the answer as follows: the clarity of the answer (v.2); the certainty of the answer (v.3); the content of the answer (vv.4-20).
i) The clarity of the answer (v.2) "And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." This reminds us of William Cowper's hymn:
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
a) "Write the vision." (The word "write" occurs sixteen times in Revelation.) This reminds us that "no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pet 1.20). The prophets did not write down their interpretation of what they saw: they wrote down what they saw! We will not have to wait long to discover what Habakkuk actually saw! It is important to notice that he was given the vision while standing on the watchtower. He could only see God's purposes from an elevated position. Compare Revelation 4.1. Had John remained on earth in the vision, he would have been utterly perplexed by events on earth, but he was able to see those same events from heaven's perspective. Habakkuk soon realised that the apparent chaos and contradictions around him were actually all under divine control.
b) "Make it plain upon tables." "Engrave it upon tablets" (JND). This reminds us, first of all, of the permanence of God's Word. It is enduring in its importance. It also reminds us of the need to make the Word of God plain to saint and sinner. We must not be enigmatic. The Word of God is not just for private enjoyment: it is to be communicated. We must not therefore embellish or adorn it in any way.
c) "That he may run that readeth it." The Word of God is not sterile. It has not been given to us for academic discussion. It should have a practical effect on our lives. The study of prophecy should speed our feet, and give impetus to our lives. "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness…Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless" (2 Pet 3.11,14).
ii) The certainty of the answer (v.3). "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." God is in control! He has a timetable! Everything will take place at "the appointed time". We can be sure that His timing is perfect. "As for God, his way is perfect" (Ps 18.30). Whilst Habakkuk was not to expect the situation to be resolved immediately, he could be absolutely certain that God would bring everything to a satisfactory conclusion.
Notice other references to God's perfect timing. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son" (Gal 4.4); "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time ('the testimony to be borne in its own times')" (1 Tim 2.5-6); "Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6.15); "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1.7). See also 1 Thessalonians 5.1. We should notice:
a) God has a programme. Whilst world affairs seem to be totally out of control, God has an "appointed time". This necessitates taking a "long view". It is so easy to be immersed in the present, to be so bound up with ourselves and our circumstances, that we lose sight of God's ultimate purposes. See 1 Peter 1.4-5: "An inheritance...reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith, unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time"; 2 Corinthians 4.17: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory"; Romans 8.18: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us".
b) God's programme is certain. "At the end it shall speak, and not lie...it will surely come." Paul reminds us that "whatever promises of God there are, in him is the yea, and in him the amen, for glory to God by us" (2 Cor 1.20, JND). There may be an interval before it is fulfilled, but its fulfilment is certain.
c) God's programme requires patience. "Though it tarry, wait for it." The passage is cited in Hebrews (10.35-37). Note the context: "But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions" (v.32). But persecution had brought the danger of reverting to Judaism. Hence, "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience (Habakkuk, "wait for it"), that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise (as in Habakkuk). For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry." There is a point to patience! We "shew the Lord's death till he come" (1 Cor 11.26). We wait "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away" (Song 2.17). We must "let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1.4).
O blessed hope, with this elate,
Let not our hearts be desolate,
But strong in faith, in patience wait
Until He come.
Notice that in Habakkuk, it is "It will surely come, it will not tarry." In Hebrews, it is "He that shall come will come, and will not tarry. The New Testament interprets the Old Testament in terms of the Lord's return. We must "Wait for it"!
d) God's programme will not be delayed. "It will not tarry." This does not mean that the fulfilment of the vision was imminent, but that nothing could delay the programme when the time comes for its implementation.
To be continued.