Though It Tarry

HABAKKUK served Judah as a prophet shortly before the nation was taken into captivity to Babylon. The nation was in a state of chaos at the time. The book which bears his name presents his message to a considerable extent in the form of a dialogue in which we find the prophet asking questions and receiving answers from the Lord.

Habakkuk’s first inquiry of the Lord pertains to the situation in Judah by which he was surrounded. We quote: “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.”—Heb. 1:2-4

Here we sense the bitter anguish of Habakkuk, brought about to a large extent by the fact that apparently the Lord was doing nothing about the evil that was rampant in the nation. And as we reflect upon this we can sense in it the feeling of God’s righteous people throughout all the ages as they likewise have endeavored to understand why God permitted so much evil and inequity to continue in the earth. The subject of why God permits evil has had a prominent place in the minds and hearts of all who would like to see conditions in the earth better than they have been.

God replied to Habakkuk on this point. “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans [Babylonians], that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it.”—Hab. 1:5-10

Here the Lord is explaining to Habakkuk that he is not overlooking the intolerably wicked situation in Judah, and that he does propose to do something about it. He explains that he will take action against this wickedness in Habakkuk’s own days. This in itself could have contained some measure of comfort for the prophet, for he had asked the Lord, “How long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!” And while Habakkuk did receive assurance from the Lord that action would be taken against the wickedness in Judah, he still did not understand just what the Lord was doing, or why.

Habakkuk’s Question

Not grasping the full import of what the Lord had said concerning the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation, visiting Judah he asked, “Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on inquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?”—Hab. 1:12-14

Habakkuk’s problem now was to understand why the Lord would use a people who were more wicked even than the people of Judah to punish them. In his inquiry of the Lord concerning this he stresses the Lord’s holiness. God, he said, was his Holy One. And what am I to think about the method you are using to put down the wicked situation that exists in Judah? After extending the details of his question throughout the remainder of the chapter, Habakkuk continues (chapter 2, vs. 1), “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 (margin, I am argued with).”

The Lord’s answer to Habakkuk was readily forthcoming. Habakkuk says, “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. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”—Heb. 2:24

This was the Lord’s answer to Habakkuk as to why he would use the wicked Babylonians to punish Judah. Actually, so far as the immediate present was concerned, it was no answer at all. What the Lord really does in his reply is to lift the controversy out of its local setting and give it a world-wide application. In the answer it is also indicated that only the just, on the basis of faith, will be able to understand, appreciate, and live by this answer.

The vision referred to in the answer is that great vision of truth which began to unfold when God said that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, and when it was amplified by his promise to Abraham: “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This was the great vision of truth that permeated the prophecies of the Old Testament. In this great plan of the ages to destroy all evil—even Satan himself—could be understood all the individual and local situations in which men and women have suffered because of sin. Only when this vision is understood is the answer seen clearly as to why God permitted evil.

The Lord explained to Habakkuk that this vision was for an appointed time. Habakkuk could not expect to understand it then, “but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry [seem to tarry], wait for it because it will surely come [in God’s due time], it will not tarry.” If Habakkuk’s faith was able to grasp this assurance, which doubtless it was, he received a great comfort from it because it would assure him that while he could not understand the meaning of all that God was doing at that time there was an explanation which would be forthcoming when in the end the vision spoke.

Our King James Version reads, speaking of the vision, “It will surely come, it will not tarry.” The Septuagint version reads, “Though he may tarry, wait for him; for he will assuredly come and will not fail.” Fundamental to this great vision of truth is the fact that there is a personality associated with it—the great Christ, the Messiah of promise.

New Testament Confirmation

The Apostle Paul understood the significance of the vision promised to Habakkuk from this standpoint. He wrote to the Hebrew brethren, “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. Now the just shall live by faith.” (Heb. 10:36,37) How comforting it is to us today to realize that we are living in the time when this great vision of truth is speaking as it never did before—the day in which he has come—and because of this those who are faithfully watching now understand why God permits evil.

They know also that the end of the reign of sin and death is drawing very near, and in that also they rejoice. With the end of the reign of sin and death there comes a time of joy and happiness when there shall be no more pain and no more death. How glorious to be living in the time when the vision is speaking! While the time has not arrived as yet, we know that it is drawing near when, as the Prophet Habakkuk said, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”—Hab. 2:14

Habakkuk’s Prayer

Much in the second and third chapters of Habakkuk is denunciation against wickedness and wicked people. In verse 20 of chapter 2, however, the Lord gives us assurance that he has not lost control over the permission of evil. We read: “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” How reassuring it is to realize that no matter how much evil flourishes throughout the earth the Lord has not lost control of the situation!

Habakkuk sensed that, despite all that the Lord had threatened and the review of wickedness which he presented, in God’s due time the vision would speak, and that then the great Messiah of promise, together with his associates, would establish peace and righteousness throughout the earth and then the whole earth would be filled with the glory of the Lord.

But Habakkuk, like many of the Lord’s righteous people through the ages, was impatient. He knew that the Lord was capable of taking full control of the situation any time he wished, and could not see the need for waiting for some future day for this to happen. So we have his prayer, “O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.”

First in Habakkuk’s prayer was his acknowledgment of fear when the Lord revealed to him the calamities that were, coming upon the nation. Perhaps he felt that he could not endure even the sight of what this would involve, so he prayed, “O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” In other words, he seems to be asking the Lord not to wait for some distant future time. in which to reveal himself through the vision that would then speak, but even before that “in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” The expression, “revive thy work in the midst of the years,” could be a request for the Lord to take hold of the evil situation in the world right then, bring it to an end, and establish righteousness. Why delay such a glorious outcome?

But this was not the Lord’s will. He knew that there were yet countless millions of people to be brought in to the world who would benefit from the experience of evil. He knew that he had the ability when the time came, through the kingdom of the Messiah, to restore those who had suffered and died meanwhile, and that together all would receive of his blessing when his glory would fill the earth.

Habakkuk Speaks Again

After learning of all the calamities which the Lord would visit upon the wicked, Habakkuk, said, “When I heard my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.”—Hab. 3:16

But despite Habakkuk’s distress and foreboding he maintained his trust in the Lord and expressed his assurance that no matter what happened he would rejoice in the Lord. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vine; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

How sublime is this expression of trust in the Lord! It is the more wonderful when we realize that the one who made it had declared himself to be afraid because of what he had heard the Lord say. His “belly trembled,” his “lips quivered” at the voice of the Lord. “Rottenness” entered into his bones, and he “trembled.” And he expressed a desire to “rest in the day of trouble,” evidently referring to rest in death.

While not much is known about Habakkuk’s personal life he is believed to have been a farmer. And in his expression of trust in the Lord he refers to essentially all the things with which a farmer would be concerned. His fig trees might fail; there might be no fruit on the vine; the labor of the olive might fail, and the fields would yield no meat; the flocks would be cut off from the fold; there would be no herd in the stalls. With all these things occurring in a farmer’s life there would seem to be not much left for which to live, but despite this Habakkuk said, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

It is a joy to serve the Lord under favorable conditions, but the real test of our faith in him and devotion to him results from adversity. In Habakkuk we have a wonderful example of what should be our attitude when the Lord permits trials and tests to come upon us. If we rejoice in the abundance of good things which he supplies today, will we also rejoice in the God of our salvation tomorrow when many or all of these good things are removed? We should be able to, especially since we are living in the time when the vision of truth is speaking and the presence of the Son of man is enabling us to see the glory of the divine plan of the ages.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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