1 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 And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
3 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.
4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
5 “Moreover, wine is a traitor,
an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
and collects as his own all peoples.” – Habakkuk 2:1-5 ESV
With the opening of chapter two, there can be little doubt as to whether Habakkuk is unhappy with conditions in Judah and far from pleased that God’s solution was to bring judgment on Judah through the use of the Babylonians. Continuing his dialogue with the Almighty, Habakkuk declares that he is going to stand his ground, like a watchman on a tower, waiting to hear what God has to say to his latest round of questions.
Habakkuk was confident that God would respond and he fully expected it to come in the form of a rebuke. The Hebrew word he used is towkechah and it conveys the idea of a verbal reproof or correction. He saw himself in the middle of an argument with God and was already thinking about how he was going to respond when God was done defending His actions.
The various translations of the Bible have taken slightly different tacts when interpreting the exact thought expressed by Habakkuk in verse one. The ESV translates it as follows:
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.
The New Living Translation puts the emphasis on God, not Habakkuk. The prophet was expecting an answer to his second round of complaints.
I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the LORD says and how he will answer my complaint.
The New American Standard Version takes a similar approach, portraying Habakkuk as waiting to be rebuked by God and already formulating his response.
I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.
It seems that the prophet fully expected his dialogue or debate with God to continue in some form or fashion. He was not going to relent or give up easily. And he was willing to wait, describing himself as a watchman on the wall of a city, scanning the horizon for any glimpse of a possible adversary. Habakkuk saw himself in a war of words with God. But his motive was not anger. He was sincerely concerned for the well-being of his people and was asking for clarification. What he had heard so far had left him confused and struggling to understand how this plan of God was in keeping with His covenant commitment to the people of Judah.
This whole exchange is similar to the one Abraham had with God concerning the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God had announced that He was bringing destruction to those two wicked cities, Abraham had intervened, realizing that his nephew, Lot, and his family were living in Sodom. Abraham had presented God with a question.
“Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” – Genesis 18:23-25 NLT
In response to Abraham’s plea, God agreed to spare the city if He could find 50 righteous people residing within it. And this led Abraham to boldly counter with a slight change to his initial request:
“Since I have begun, let me speak further to my Lord, even though I am but dust and ashes. Suppose there are only forty-five righteous people rather than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” – Genesis 18:27-28 NLT
And again, God agreed to the new conditions. But Abraham was not done. The passage said, “Abraham pressed his request further” (Genesis 18:29 NLT). He continued to lower the requisite number of righteous residents in the hope that he could somehow assure the rescue of Lot and his family. Abraham even begged God to forgive his rather presumptuous and argumentative methodology. “Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak one more time” (Genesis 18:32 NLT). But despite Abraham’s pestering persistence, God continued to acquiesce to his requests. And all of this was motivated by Abraham’s desire for God to spare Lot and his family.
As was the case with Abraham, Habakkuk was not arrogantly attempting to pick a fight with God. He was not arguing for argument’s sake. He had a legitimate concern for the people of Judah. His original petition to God concerned the dire conditions of those in Judah who found themselves surrounded by wickedness. Like Abraham, Habakkuk was concerned for the faithful remnant of God – those righteous few who were suffering in the Sodom-like conditions of Judah.
And Habakkuk, the self-ascribed “watchman on the wall,” got the answer he was looking for. He matter-of-factly states: “And the Lord answered me” (Habakkuk 2:2 ESV).
The first thing God told Habakkuk was to write down what he was about to hear. He was to make a permanent record of God’s response so that it could be disseminated among the people of Judah.
“Write my answer plainly on tablets,
so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
This vision is for a future time.
It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
for it will surely take place.
It will not be delayed.” – Habakkuk 2:2-3 NLT
And God informs Habakkuk that the content of this vision or message was concerning future events. God was answering Habakkuk’s questions, but the prophet needed to understand that the fulfillment of God’s plan was going to be long-term in nature. Habakkuk needed to know that there would not be a quick-fix to Judah’s problem. A solution was on its way, but it would be a long time in coming. And Habakkuk and the people of Judah were going to have to prepare themselves for a lengthy delay.
And God makes it clear that the delay was going to require faith on the part of the people of God. They were going to have to trust Yahweh, ignoring the conditions that clouded their view and keeping their eyes focused on the faithfulness of their God. Unlike the proud, who “trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked” (Habakkuk 2:4 NLT), the people of Judah were to trust in God.
“…the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” – Habakkuk 2:4 NLT
Things were going to get worse before they got better. The situation in Judah would not improve any time soon. In fact, the Babylonians would eventually arrive on the scene, destroying the city of Jerusalem and transporting its citizens as captives back to Babylon. They would remain there for 70 long years, suffering the humiliation of slavery and subjugation to their pagan overlords. But God encouraged the righteous to have faith. Even when all looked lost, He was not yet done. His plan was not yet complete.
This theme of faith in the face of adversity was picked up by the New Testament authors and used to encourage the righteous remnant in their day to remain faithful to the end. Paul told the beleaguered Christians in Rome:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV
He wrote to the believers in Galatia, reminding them that salvation was not based on human effort or through some form of self-righteousness achieved through adherence to the law of God. Instead, it was based on faith.
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Galatians 3:11 ESV
Their right standing with God was based on their belief in the redemptive work of Christ. And yet, they were constantly being bombarded with lies that suggested their salvation required effort on their part. False teachers were claiming that faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. But Paul kept going back to the reality of the message of God: The righteous shall live by faith.
And the author of Hebrews picked up on God’s promise to Habakkuk, utilizing His call to faith, even in the midst of difficulty
“And my righteous ones will live by faith.
But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.”
But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved. – Hebrews 10:38-29 NLT
The context in Hebrews is that of believers who are facing difficulty but who must keep their faith focused on the promise of God.
So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. – Hebrews 10:35-26 NLT
For Habakkuk, the immediate future looked bleak and foreboding. God’s pronouncement that He was sending the Babylonians as His instruments of judgment had left Habakkuk stunned. But God was calling His prophet to remain faithful, trusting that the divine plan would have a happy ending.
But God knew that Habakkuk was having a difficult time getting his mind off of the thought that the Babylonians were going to come out as victors over God’s people. That was more than he could handle. Which is why God assured him:
Wealth is treacherous,
and the arrogant are never at rest.
They open their mouths as wide as the grave,
and like death, they are never satisfied.
In their greed they have gathered up many nations
and swallowed many peoples. – Habakkuk 2:5 NLT
Things are not always as they seem. The success of the wicked, while difficult to understand and even harder to witness, is not the final chapter in the story. The Babylonians would become wealthy and powerful. They would conquer many nations and enrich themselves with the spoils of war. But God wanted Habakkuk to know that He had already written the final chapter of their story. And in the following verses, God will provide Habakkuk with a glimpse into Babylon’s fate.
As bad as things appeared to be, all was not lost. God had a plan. And the futures of Babylon and Judah were part of that plan. But when the coming days became filled with darkness and despair, the righteous would need to live by faith, not fear.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.