The Pulpit Commentary

Habakkuk 2:1-3 (Habakkuk 2:1-3)

§ 5. The prophet, waiting for an answer to his expostulation, is bidden to write the oracle in plain characters, because its fulfilment is certain.

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Habakkuk 2:3 (Habakkuk 2:3)

For . The reason is given why the oracle is to be committed to writing. Is yet for an ( the ) appointed time. The vision will not be accomplished immediately, but in the period fixed by God (comp. Daniel 8:17 , Daniel 8:19 ; Daniel 11:27 , Daniel 11:35 ). Others explain, "pointeth to a yet future time." But at the end it shall speak . The verb is literally "breathes," or "pants;" hence the clause is better rendered, and it panteth (equivalent to hasteth ) towards the end. The prophecy personified yearns for its fulfilment in "the end," not merely at the destruction of the literal Babylon, but in the time of the end—the last time, the Messianic age, when the world power, typified by Babylon, should be overthrown (see Daniel, loc cit .). And not lie; it deceiveth not; οὐκ εἰς κενόν , "not in vain". It will certainly come to pass. Wait for it . For the vision and its accomplishment. Because it will surely come. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (10:37) quotes the Septuagint Version of this clause, applying it to the last coming of Messiah ὅτι (plus ὁ , Hebrew) ἐρχόμενος ἥξει καὶ οὐ μή χρονίσῃ ( οὐ χρονιεῖ , Hebrew); so the Vulgate, Veniens veniet, et non tardabit. The original passage does not primarily refer to the coming of Messiah, but as the full and final accomplishment of the prophecy doubtless belongs to that age, it is not a departure from the fundamental idea to see in it a reference hereto. It will not tarry; it will not be behindhand; it will not fail to arrive ( 5:28 ; 2 Samuel 20:5 ).

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Habakkuk 2:1-3 (Habakkuk 2:1-3)

The prophet upon his watch tower.

I. THE OUT LOOKING PROPHET . ( Habakkuk 2:1 .) Having spread out before Jehovah his complaint, Habakkuk, determined to stand upon his watch tower or station himself upon his fortress, and to look forth to see what Jehovah would speak within him, and what reply in consequence he should give to his own complaint. The words indicate the frame of mind to be cherished and the course of conduct to be pursued by him who would hold communion with and obtain communications from God. There must be:

1 . Holy resolution. No soul can come to speaking terms with God without personal effort. Certainly God may speak to men who make no efforts to obtain from him either a hearing or an answer, but in general those only find God who seek him with the whole heart ( Psalms 119:2 ). Prophets frequently received revelations which they had not sought ( Genesis 12:7 ; Exodus 3:2 ; Exodus 24:1 ; Isaiah 6:1 ; Ezekiel 1:1 ; Daniel 7:1 ), but as often the Divine communications were imparted in answer to specific seeking ( Genesis 15:13 ; Exodus 33:18 ; Daniel 9:2 ; Acts 10:9 ) In the same way may God discover himself, disclose his truth, and dispense his grace to individuals, as he did to Saul of Tarsus ( Acts 9:1-6 ), without their previous exertions to procure such distinguished favours; but in religion, as in other matters, it is the hand of the diligent that maketh rich ( 2 Peter 1:10 ).

2 . Spiritual elevation . He. who would commune with God must, like Habakkuk, "stand upon his watch tower, and station himself upon his fortress," not literally and bodily, but figuratively and spiritually. It is not necessary to suppose that Habakkuk went up to any steep and lofty place in order the better to withdraw himself from the noise and bustle of the world, and the more easily to fix his mind on heavenly things and direct his soul's eye Godward. Abraham certainly was on the summit of Moriah when Jehovah appeared to him; Moses was called up to the top of Sinai to meet with God ( Exodus 24:1 ; Exodus 34:2 ); Jehovah revealed himself to Elijah upon the mount of Horeb ( 1 Kings 19:11 ); Balaam went to "an high place" to look out for a revelation from God ( Numbers 23:3 ); the disciples were on the crest of Hermon when Christ was transfigured before them ( Matthew 17:1 ); and even Christ himself spent whole nights in prayer with God among the hills ( John 6:15 ). Local elevation and corporeal isolation may be usefully employed to aid the heart in abstracting itself from mundane things; yet this only is the elevation and isolation that brings the soul in contact with God ( Matthew 6:6 ). When David prayed he retired into the inner chamber of his heart ( Psalms 19:14 ; Psalms 49:3 ) and lifted up his soul to God ( Psalms 25:1 ).

3 . Confident expectation . Habakkuk believed that his prayers and complaints would not pass unattended to by God. He never doubted that God would reply to his supplications and interrogations. So he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him ( Hebrews 11:6 ). It was David's habit, after directing his prayer to God, to look up expecting an answer ( Psalms 5:3 ), and it ought to be the practice of Christians first to ask in faith ( James 1:6 ), and then to confidently hope for an answer.

4 . Patient attention. Though Habakkuk had no doubt as to the fact that God would speak to him, he possessed no assurance either as to the time when or as to the manner in which that speaking would take place. Hence he resolved to possess his soul in patience and keep an attentive outlook. So David waited on and watched for God with patient hope and close observation ( Psalms 62:5 ; Psalms 130:5 ). So Paul exhorted Christians to "continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" ( Colossians 4:2 ). Many fail to obtain responses from God, because they either are not sufficiently attentive to discern the tokens by which God speaks to his people, or lack the patience to wait till he chooses to break silence.

5 . Earnest introspection. The want of this is another frequent cause of failure on the part of those who would but do not hear God speak. Habakkuk understood that if God answered him it would be by his Spirit speaking in him, and that accordingly he required not to watch for "signs" in the firmament, in the earth, or in the sea, but to listen to the secret whisperings that he heard within himself. So David exhorted others to commune with their own hearts upon their bed (as doubtless he himself did), if they would know the mind of God ( Psalms 4:4 ); and Asaph, following his example, observed the same godly practice ( Psalms 77:6 ). While God has furnished lessons for all in the pages of nature and revelation, it is in the domain of the inner man, enlightened by his Word and taught by his Spirit, that his teaching for the individual is to be sought.

II. THE IN SPEAKING GOD . (Verse 2.) Habakkuk had not long to wait for the oracle he expected; and neither would modern petitioners be long without answers were their waiting more like Habakkuk's. Three things were announced to the prophet.

1 . That he should receive a vision. Jehovah would not leave his dark problem unsolved, would afford him such a glimpse into the future of the Chaldean power as would effectually dispel all his doubts and tears, would unveil to him the different destinies of the righteous and the wicked in such a way as to enable him calmly to endure until the end; and exactly so has the Christian obtained in the Bible such light upon the mystery of Providence as helps him to look forward to the future for its full solution. The vision about to be granted to Habakkuk was

2 . That he should write the vision. Whether a literal writing upon a tablet (Ewald, Pusey) was intended, as Isaiah ( Isaiah 8:1 ; Isaiah 30:8 ) and Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 30:2 ) were directed to write down the communications received by them from God; or whether it was merely a figurative writing (Hengstenberg, Keil) that was meant, as in the ease of Daniel ( Daniel 12:4 ); the intention manifestly was that Habakkuk should publish the vision he was about to receive—publish it in terms so clear and unambiguous that persons who only gave it a casual glance would have no difficulty in understanding it. This has been done, not with reference to Habakkuk's vision merely, but as regards the whole Bible, which is not only "all plain to him that uuderstandeth" ( Proverbs 8:9 ), but is able to "make wise the simple" ( Psalms 19:7 ), and guide in safety "the wayfaring man, though a fool" ( Isaiah 35:8 ). The object contemplated by the writing (literal or figurative) of Habakkuk's vision was

3 . That he should wait for the vision . It might be delayed, but it should come. Hence he should possess his soul in patience. So should Christians wait patiently for the coming of the Lord for their final redemption and for the overthrow of all the Church's foes ( James 5:8 ). The contents of the vision are narrated in the verses which follow.


1 . The dignity of man, as a being who can converse with God; the condescension of God in that he stoops to talk with man.

2 . The duty and the profit of reflection and meditation; the sin and loss of those who never commune with their own hearts.

3 . The simplicity of the Bible a testimony to its divinity; had it been man's book it would not have been so easy to understand.

4 . The certainty that Scripture prediction will be fulfilled; the expectation of this should comfort the saints; the realization of this will vindicate God.

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Habakkuk 2:3 (Habakkuk 2:3)

Waiting for the vision.

In this chapter we have set forth the doom of Babylon. The prophet had given to him glimpses of the future as affecting the adversaries of his people. The Divine voice within him gave assurance that the power of the oppressor should at length be broken. He saw the solution of the dark problem which had perplexed him so much concerning the victory to be gained over his people by the Chaldeans. The triumphing of the wicked should be short, and should be followed by their utter collapse. Yet there would be delay ere this should come to pass. The darkness which brooded over the nation should not be at once dispersed; indeed, it should even become more dense in the working out of the Divine purposes. Defeat must be experienced, the Captivity must be endured, and the faithful and true must suffer in consequence of sins not their own. Still, ultimately, "light should arise," and meanwhile, so long as the gloom continued, it behoved him and his people to trust and not be afraid, assured that in God's time the vision of peace and prosperity should dawn upon them. "Though it tarry, wait for it," etc. ( Habakkuk 2:3 ). The truth suggested is that even the best of men have to experience seasons of darkness—times when everything appears adverse to them, but that it shall not be ever thus with them, that brighter scenes are before them, and that hence their duty in the present is tranquilly and trustfully to wait the development of God's all-wise and gracious purposes. This teaching admits of various applications.

I. TEMPORAL CIRCUMSTANCES . These are not always easy and prosperous. Sources of perplexity may at any moment arise. There may come slackness of trade; new rivals may appear, causing sharp and severe competition; losses may have to be sustained; and in this way, from a variety of causes, "hard times" may have to be passed through. And under such circumstances we should trust and not be afraid, knowing that all our interests are in our loving Father's keeping. He has promised us a sufficiency. "His mercies are not the swift, but they are the sure, mercies of David." We must not be less hopeful and trustful than the little red breast chirping near our window pane, even in the wintry weather. "Behold the fowls of the air," etc. ( Matthew 6:26 ). Then, "though the vision," etc.

II. LIFE 'S SORROWS . These have fallen upon men at times with a crushing weight. All has appeared dark; not a ray of light has seemed to penetrate the gloom. Yet still they have found that, whilst the vision of hope has been deferred, it has been realized at last, filling their hearts with holy rapture. Jacob lived long enough to see that neither Joseph nor Benjamin had been really taken from him, and that those circumstances which he regarded as being against him were all designed to work out his lasting good. Elijah cast himself down in the wilderness and slept. And, lo! angel guards attended him and ministered unto him, new supplies of strength were imparted, the sunshine of the Divine favour beamed upon him, and he who thought he ought to die under a lonely tree in the desert was ultimately altogether delivered from experiencing the pangs of the last conflict, and was borne in triumph to the realms of everlasting peace. The Shunammite had her lost child restored; the exiled returned at length with songs unto Zion. The Egyptians painted one of their goddesses as standing upon a rock in the sea, the waves roaring and dashing upon her, and with this motto, "Storms cannot move me." What that painted goddess was in symbol we should seek to be in reality, unmoved and unruffled by the tempests which arise in the sea of life, assured that there awaits us a peaceful and tranquil haven. Then, "though the vision," etc.

III. SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION . The Christian life is not all shadow. It has its sunny as well as its shady side. The good have their seasons of joy—seasons in which, believing, they can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Yet they have also their seasons of depression. There is "the midnight of the soul," when the vision of spiritual light and peace and joy tarries; and it is then their truest wisdom to trust and to wait, assured that in due time God will make them glad by lifting upon them "the light of his countenance." "Who is among you that feareth the Lord?" etc. ( Isaiah 50:10 ); "Though the vision," etc. ( Habakkuk 2:3 ).

IV. CHRISTIAN WORK . The great purpose of this is the deliverance of men from the thraldom of sin. The vision we desire to behold an accomplished reality is that of the dry bones clothed afresh, inspired with life, and standing upon their feet, an exceeding great army, valiant for God and righteousness. But the vision tarries! Spiritual death and desolation reign! What then? Shall we despair? Shall we express doubt as to whether the transformation of the realm of death into a realm of spiritual life shall ever be effected? No; though the vision tarry, we will wait for it, knowing that it will surely come; for "the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." So Robert Moffat laboured for years without gaining any converts from heathenism, but at length a few were won, and he commemorated with these the death of Christ. "Our feelings," he wrote, "were such as pen cannot describe. We were as those that dreamed while we realized the promise on which our souls often hung ( Psalms 126:6 ). The hour had arrived on which the whole energies of our souls had been intensely fixed, when we should see a Church, however small, gathered from amongst a people who had so long boasted that neither Jesus nor we his servants should ever see Bechuanas worship and confess him as their King." And so shall the faith and patience of all workers for God be rewarded, since the issue is guaranteed and the harvest home of a regenerated world shall be celebrated amidst rapturous joy.—S.D.H.

Habakkuk 2:4 (last clause)

The life of faith.

There are two forms of life referred to in Scripture—the life of sense, and the life of faith. These differ in their bent ( Romans 8:5 ), and also in the issues to which they tend ( Romans 8:13 ). The sincerely righteous man, "the just," has tested both these. Time was when he lived the former, but, satisfied as to its unreality, he now looks not at the things which are seen, but at those which are unseen ( 2 Corinthians 4:18 ). His motto is Galatians 2:20 . "The just shall live by his faith." These words are quoted by St. Paul ( Romans 1:17 ; Galatians 3:11 ), and also by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (10:38). The New Testament writers were diligent students of the Old Testament, and we may learn from their example not to treat those more ancient writings as being of comparative unimportance They, however, use this expression of the Prophet Habakkuk in a somewhat different sense from that in which he employed it, and apply it to the exposition and enforcement of the important doctrine of "justification by faith." The thought possessing the mind of the seer was that the righteous man exercises an implicit confidence in God; and adopting this course is preserved and protected, and experiences tranquillity and happiness under every circumstance of life. In reflecting upon his words our attention may appropriately be directed to some of the circumstances in which "the just" may be placed, with a view to indicating how that, under these, their faith in God strengthens and sustains them, and enables them truly to live.

I. "The just shall live by their faith" in times of DECLENSION IN RELIGION . Such declension prevailed in the age to which this prophet belonged. The mournful words with which his prophecy commences indicate this ( Habakkuk 1:2-4 ). Many similar times of declension have risen among the nations, and when the falling away from the true and the right has been widespread. So also has it been with Christian communities. Watchfulness has been neglected, and prayer has been restrained; there has been a lack of the spirit of Christian unity and concord; there has been the fire upon the altar, but, alas? it has been in embers; the lamp has been burning, but it has given only a flickering light. "The just," under such circumstances, are grieved as they view the state of religion around them, but whilst sad at heart in view of such declension and of the way in which it dishonours God, they are also inspired with confidence and hope. Their trust is in him. They know that with him is the residue of the Spirit." Whilst praying the prayer of this prophet, "O Lord, revive thy work" ( Habakkuk 3:2 ), they can also, like him, express this confident assurance, "For the earth shall be filled," etc. ( Habakkuk 2:14 ). And so it comes to pass that in the season of declension in religion, when many around have lost the fervour of their love and loyalty to God and to righteousness, "the just shall live by his faith."

II. "The just shall live by their faith" in times of NATIONAL CALAMITY . Chastisement follows transgressions to nations as well as to individuals. Judah had wandered from God, and, lo! he permitted them to fall into the hands of the Chaldeans; and it was the mission of Habakkuk to foretell the approaching Captivity. National calamities have been experienced by our own people. Sometimes it has come to us in the form of war. The appeal has been made to the arbitrament of the sword; and even although we have been victorious, the triumph has been secured at an enormous sacrifice of life, with all the bitter suffering to survivors thus involved. Or pestilence has prevailed. The destroying angel has swept over the land, sparing neither the old nor the young, and numbering thousands among his victims. And in the midst of these faith grasps the rich promises of God and rests unswervingly on him. Let the Chaldean warriors come on horses swifter than the leopards and more fierce than the evening wolves, let them in bitterness and haste traverse the breadth of the land, resolved to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs, let them scoff at kings and scorn princes and gather the captivity as the sand, still the hearts of the faithful shall be upborne, for in the time of national calamity, and when hearts uncentred from God are breaking, "the just shall live by his faith."


1 . Some enjoy great temporal prosperity. The temptations of such are

Walking by faith, the good man is preserved from yielding to the influence of these temptations. Strong in faith, he will see that all his prosperity is to be ascribed to him who giveth power to get wealth, and thus pride will be laid low. Strong in faith, he will realize that there are other treasures, incorruptible and unfading, and with mind and heart directed to the securing of these, he will think less of this world's pomp and vanity and show. Strong in faith, he will feel that he has a work to do for God, and that the additional influence prosperity has secured to him ought to be held as a sacred trust to be used to God's glory, and hence he will be preserved from seeking merely his own ease and enjoyment. And strong in faith, he will view himself as a steward of all that he has, and will therefore seek to be God's almoner to the needy around him. So shall he live by his faith.

2 . Others have to pass through adverse scenes; and the faith that strengthens in prosperity wilt also sustain amidst life's unfavourable influences. Resting in the Lord and in the glorious assurances of his Word, his servants can outride the severest storm, quietly acquiescing and bravely enduring. Ruskin remarks that there is good in everything in God's universe, that there is hardly a roadside pond or pool which has not as much landscape in it as above it, that it is at our own will that we see in that despised stream either the refuse of the street or the image of the sky, that whilst the unobservant man knows simply that the roadside pool is muddy, the great painter sees beneath and behind the brown surface what will take him a day's work to follow, but he follows it, cost what it will, and is amply recompensed, and that the great essential is an eye to apprehend and to appreciate the beautiful which lies about us everywhere in God's world. And this is what we want spiritually—the eye of faith, and then shall we see, even in the most opposite of the experiences which meet us in life, God's gracious operation, and the vision shall thrill us with holy joy. "The just shall live by his faith." This life of faith is a life characterized by true blessedness. There can be no real happiness whilst we are opposing our will to the will of God; but if our will is renewed by his grace, if we are trusting in the Saviour and following him along the way of obedience to the Divine authority and of resignation to the Divine purpose, then amidst all the changing scenes of our life our peace shall flow like a river, and we shall experience joy lasting as God's throne.—S.D.H.

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Habakkuk 2:1-3 (Habakkuk 2:1-3)

Man's moral mission to the world.

"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. And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. 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." The prophet, after his supplicatory cry, receives a Divine command to write the oracle in plain characters. because it was certain, although it would not be immediately fulfilled. The first verse is a kind of mouologue. The prophet holds conversation with himself; and he resolves to ascend his watch tower, and look out for a Divine revelation. It is thought by many critics that the watch tower is not to be regarded as something external, some lofty place commanding an extensive view and profound silence, but the recesses of his own mind, into which he would withdraw himself by devout contemplation, I shall use the words of the text to illustrate man's moral mission to the world. Wherefore are we in this world? Both the theories and the practical conduct of men give different answers to this all-important problem. I shall take the answer from the text, and observe—

I. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO RECEIVE COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND . "I will stand upon my watch, and sot me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me." That man is constituted for and required to receive communications from the Infinite Mind, and that he cannot realize his destiny without this, appears evident from the following Considerations.

1 . From his nature as a spiritual being .

2 . From his condition as a fallen being . Sin has shut out God from the soul, created a dense cloud between us and him.

3 . From the purpose of Christ ' s mediation . Why did Christ come into the world? To bring the human soul and God together, that the Lord might "dwell amongst men."

4 . From the special manifestations of God for the purpose . I say special, for nature, history, heart, and conscience are the natural orders of communication between the human and the Divine. But we have something more than these—the Bible; this is special . Here he speaks to man at sundry times and in divers manners, etc.

5 . From the general teaching of the Bible. "Come now, and let us reason together," etc.; "Behold, I stand at the door," etc. But how shall we receive these communications? We must ascend the "tower" of quiet, earnest, devout thought, and there must "watch to see what he will say."

II. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO IMPART COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND . "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." From this we may conclude that writing is both an ancient and a divinely sanctioned art. Thank God for books! That we have to impart as well as to receive is evident:

1 . From the tendency of Divine thoughts to express themselves. It is of the nature of religious ideas that they struggle for utterance. What we have seen and heard we cannot but speak.

2 . From the universal adaptation of Divine thoughts. Thoughts from God are not intended merely for certain individuals or classes, but for all the race in all generations.

3 . From the spiritual dependence of man upon man. It is God's plan, that man shall be the spiritual teacher of man.

4 . From the general teaching of the Bible. What the prophets and apostles received from God they communicated. "When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood," etc. ( Galatians 1:16 ).

III. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO PRACTICALLY REALIZE COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND . "Though it tarry, wait for it," etc. The Divine thoughts which we receive we are to realize in our daily life, practically to work out. Here, then, is our moral mission. We are here, brothers, for these three purposes; not for one of them only, but for all. God is to be everything to us; he is to fill up the whole sphere of our being, our "all in all." We are to be his auditors, hearing his voice in everything; we are to be his organ, conveying to others what he has conveyed to us; we are to be his representatives, manifesting him in every act of our life. All we say and do, our looks and mien, are to be rays reflected from the Father of lights.

CONCLUSION . From this subject we may learn:

1 . The reasonableness of religion. What is it? Simply to receive, propagate, and develop communications from the Infinite Mind. What can be more sublimely reasonable than this?

2 . The grandeur of a religious life . What is it? The narrowness, the intolerance, the bigotry, the selfishness of many religionists lead sceptics to look upon religion with derision. But what is it? To be a disciple of the all-knowing God, a minister of the all-ruling God, a representative of the all-glorious God. Is there anything grander?

3 . The function of Christianity. What is it? To induce, to qualify, and enable men to receive, communicate, and to live the great thoughts of God.—D.T.

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