We observed yesterday that, when he was discontent, Habakkuk took his lament to God. He complained about “iniquity” and “wrong,” about “destruction” and “violence,” and about “strife” and “contention” among God’s people—and that God seemed not to care.
God responded by telling Habakkuk that things were going to get worse. He would indeed purify his people, but he would do so through the instrument of bloodthirsty Babylon. In 1:12–2:20, we read Habakkuk’s response to God’s answer, which takes the form of a second complaint, and God’s reply to Habakkuk’s second complaint.
Habakkuk’s second complaint, in essence, is that it does not appear just to use a nation more wicked than Israel as an instrument to judge Israel. “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (v. 13).
Once again, many of us can relate to Habakkuk’s sense of dis-ease. God’s dealings in our lives are sometimes a complete mystery. We don’t understand why he allows the wicked to prosper. We don’t understand why he allows faithful Christians to die young. We don’t understand why he allows faithful believers to fall prey to violent crime. We don’t understand why he allows Christian leaders to fail so spectacularly. How do we respond when we don’t understand what God is doing? God’s answer to Habakkuk, in essence, is that we live by faith. Chapter 2 offers us four pieces of counsel regarding how to live by faith.
First, we live by faith by looking to the Lord. Having delivered his second complaint, Habakkuk now prepared to hear from the Lord: “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint” (2:1). He pictures himself sitting at a watchpost on the city walls to look for good news. Having delivered his complaint, he anticipates an answer from the Lord that would sustain him and his people.
Like many of the Psalms, Habakkuk gives the Christian permission to complain to God in prayer. It gives us permission to lament and to ask questions. But it also urges us to expectantly look to the Lord for sustaining grace. Even as we wrestle with not understanding what God is doing in our lives, we need to look to him for an answer of hope.
Second, we live by faith by listening to the Lord. The Lord responds to Habakkuk: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it” (v. 2). This relates to the first point, but it shows that looking to the Lord is more than simply sitting idly to hear from him. God speaks to us most clearly in the written word, and if we will “run” in faith we must read what has been made “plain on tablets.” As James Bruckner observes, “The Scriptures are that plain message for us. In the worst of times, the word of God is a resource of hope, comfort, and direction for God’s people.” We must allow the word to inform our hope when God’s action confuses us.
Third, we live by faith by waiting on the Lord. “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (2:3). In 2:4–19, God gives Habakkuk a vision of hope (which he must write and make plain for God’s people to read), but he warns here that Habakkuk and his people must be willing to wait for it. The deliverance he promised would not happen overnight. They must be patient. God was not in as much of a hurry as they were.
The “vision” in these verses is essentially a series of woes that Israel would deliver to the Babylonians. In this context, “woe” is less of a divine curse and more of a way of saying, “How unfortunate for them.” God reveals here that the Babylonians would get what was coming to them. They were indeed, “more wicked” than Israel (1:13) and Habakkuk must not think that God would turn a blind eye to their wickedness. He is just and, even though Babylon was the instrument of his judgement, he would punish their overreach in good time. But Israel must wait for that.
Fourth, we live by faith by worshipping the Lord: “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20). Even when his actions were confusing, Yahweh remained firmly worthy of worship. When he could not be fathomed, he should be adored. Habakkuk and his people must learn to carry on worshipping even when they were confused.
As you reflect on these verses this morning, learn these four keys to walking by faith. You don’t always need to understand what God is doing, but you must always look to the Lord, listen to the Lord, wait on the Lord, and worship the Lord.