THE PATIENT PROPHET: Message of Justice
“Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can, seldom found in a woman and never in a man,” wrote a perceptive person. There are those who would disagree, especially that women are somewhat patient and men never are. Be that as it may, society is very impatient.
Sit in a fast-food restaurant, stand in a slow-moving line at the bank, or get behind a creeping truck on a two-lane street, and the impatience of people is very evident.
Many are spiritually impatient as well. Christians want instant answers to prayer, instant salvation of a loved one, instant healing of a terminal illness and instant revelation of God’s will for their lives! Who has not thought, God give me patience, but please hurry!
Habakkuk was different! Although he sought answers to his perplexity concerning God’s dealing with Judah, he was patient, for he said, “I will stand. . . set myself. . . to see what he [God] will say unto me. . . ” (v. 1). The prophet knew God would answer him in time, so he waited, but not apathetically. Habakkuk watched eagerly for the revelatory answer from God.
Revelation To The Prophet (v. 2)
Habakkuk’s patience was rewarded with a revelation from God: “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision. . . ” (v. 2). The answer was presented in writing before the prophet’s eyes. The word “vision” (Heb. hazah) means to perceive, and is a supernatural visual revelation to a person while awake.
Habakkuk was to record the vision by legibly engraving it in large letters upon a clay tablet so all those passing by could understand it.
The words, “that he may run that readeth it” (v. 2), has nothing to do with the message being placarded in a public place so those jogging by could easily read it. If this were the case, Habakkuk would have written, that the runner may read it. The idea was that this one who read would run to reveal the joyful news, that in God’s time He would destroy Judah’s enemy and deliver them from Gentile oppression.
Record Of The Prophet (v. 3)
Habakkuk was to commit the vision to writing for two reasons: so others could read it, and to preserve its content, since the fulfillment was yet future, “for an appointed time” (v. 3).
The phrase “appointed time” has reference to the divinely determined decree of God, a specific period in His program. There was the appointed time when Judah’s suffering for her sin will be culminated (Hab. 2:5-13, 15-19). There was the appointed time when Babylon would be destroyed by the Medo-Persian Empire (Dan. 5:25-31). This took place on October 13, 539 B.C. when the Medo-Persians diverted the Euphrates River (which ran under the city walls) and entered the dried water beds of the city before the Babylonians knew what had happened. There is the appointed time which speaks of the future destruction of Gentile world rule at Christ’s second coming (Rev. 17:1-20:3). Clearly, this vision has a prophetic fulfillment at Christ’s coming by the way it is used in Hebrews 10:37. The writer of Hebrews (inspired by the Holy Spirit) changed the “it” (v. 3) to “he” (Heb. 10:37). Thus, “For yet a little while, and he [Christ] that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37). Christ will destroy Satan’s diabolical world system, of which the Babylonians were a symbol in Habakkuk’s day. During the Tribulation, Babylon will again stand for the evil religious (Rev. 17:5) and political systems (Rev. 17:8-17) like the Babylon of old. The political system will destroy the religious system, which in turn is destroyed by Christ at His coming in glory (Rev. 18:20-24).
Those reading the decreed vision were not to become discouraged concerning its lack of fulfillment in their day, “. . . but at the end it shall speak . . .” (v. 3). The word “speak” means to breathe, pant, or hasten. The truth in this vision is pictured as an animated, living (not dead) word from God. The prophecy pants, or hastens towards fulfillment, accomplishing each step along the way that which God desires for it.
Those reading the decreed vision should understand that it will not deceive, “not lie” (v. 3) to them. When God utters a revelation, it will not be false nor will it fail, but it will come to fruition. God’s veracity is seen in hundreds of prophecies which have already been fulfilled.
Those reading the decreed vision should not be disappointed by delay, “though it tarry [linger], wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (v. 3). To man it seems as if God’s promised deliverance tarries, but the providence and purpose of God do move toward fulfillment. They cannot be hurried, nor do they linger, but move toward the appointed time of fulfillment. Time is this way, it seems to move slowly; but one looks back over the years only to say how quickly they have passed.
Yet, God is “. . . not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness. . . ” (2 Pet 3:9). To many people it seems like an eternity since the promise of Christ’s second coming was made more than 2,000 years ago. But it must be remembered that God’s way of counting time differs from man’s. Man compares time to time, whereas God sees time in the light of eternity – “. . . one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet 3:8).
A beautiful pattern for the believer’s walk in the Lord emerges in verse three. First, there is God’s work in the life of any believer. All of life has its appointed times. Solomon well said, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Eccl. 3:1; cp. 2-11). God promised that at the appointed time Sarah would have the son of promise (Gen. 18:14). At the appointed time God provided Rebekah to be the wife of Isaac (Gen. 24:14). At the appointed time God brought a plague upon Egypt (Ex. 9:5). Job believed that God directed in his time of trial and triumph when he wrote, “For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me. . . ” (Job 23:14). Job also said, “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?. . . ” (Job. 7:1). Solomon echoed the same idea when he wrote that man has an appointed “. . . time to be born, and a time to die. . . ” (Eccl. 3:2). Not only are there appointments in this life, but in the one to come as well: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). The believer is born, lives, and leaves this earth all by God’s appointment.
Second, the believer can rely upon God’s Word to guide him through his earthly pilgrimage, for it will “not lie” (v. 3). David revealed something about the Word of God that is almost incomprehensible: “. . . thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” (Ps. 138:2). The
names of God stand for all that He is in His perfection: existence, attributes, wisdom, power, and unchangeableness. And yet He has magnified His Word above His name! In fact, the believer can put more reliability upon the Word of God than upon the works of His hands, “For verily I say unto you [said Jesus], Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mt. 5:18). What encouragement the believer should take from the Scriptures!
Third, the believer needs to wait upon the Lord’s timing for things he desires in life. Dr. V. Raymond Edman has written in his book, The Disciplines of Life, “God’s disappointments are His appointments, that God’s delays are not His denials.”1 But few Christians live as if this were true!
Unlike Habakkuk, many believers are too impatient and unwilling to spend time waiting before God, seeking Him for answers to the why questions of His dealings in their lives. But many of the great servants of God waited in preparation for God to reveal His plan for them. Abraham waited twenty-five years for the promised son, Isaac. Joseph, sold into slavery, waited years to understand why it was allowed, but later said, “. . . for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). Moses spent forty years in the desert of Midian, waiting for the Lord to reveal His will to him. Christ spent thirty years in the obscure village of Nazareth waiting for the time of His ministry.
Dr. Edman has put it well when he said, “Delay never thwarts God’s purpose, it polishes His instrument. . . Delay does not forget God’s servant nor cause His faithfulness to fail; rather, it fortifies their soul and vindicates His name. . . Delay that instructs and prepares saves time, never loses it.” 2
Righteous Principle (v. 4)
God answered Habakkuk’s questions by setting forth a righteous principle. He showed the prophet that there are two types of people in the world. First, the sinner, “Behold, his soul that is lifted up [puffed up with pride] is not upright in him. . . ” (v. 4). The passage has reference to the wicked Chaldeans who were a type of all mankind. Dominated by pride, they have rebelled against God shutting themselves off from salvation.
King Nebuchadnezzar was the epitome of pride until God humbled him (Dan. 4:30-31). He had his kingdom taken from him and was driven into the wilderness where he lived like a wild beast for seven years, until he acknowledged that God was the One who had dominion over kings and kingdoms (Dan. 4:34). Nebuchadnezzar concluded that “. . . those that walk in pride he [God] is able to abase” (Dan. 4:37).
Standing in contrast is the saved man represented by the believing Judeans, “. . . but the just [righteous] shall live by his faith” (v. 4). A righteous man is one who acknowledges his sinful state, humbles himself in repentance before God, and, having received forgiveness, is declared righteous. Habakkuk is not emphasizing justification by faith, as the verse is used in the New Testament, for in this context he begins with the righteous man who has been justified.
The Hebrew language has no word for faith. The word translated “faith” in this passage is “emuna” and means firmness, faithfulness, fidelity. This does not mean that the Old Testament believers were not people of faith, nor were not justified by faith, for Abraham “. . . believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6). When Abraham put trust in God, God reckoned His own righteousness to him, counting him as a justified man.
The word translated “faith” connotes faithfulness, for justifying faith will manifest itself in faithful living before the Lord.
Herein is the answer to Habakkuk’s perplexity. Pride is sin, which leads to death; whereas faith in God leads to justification (righteousness), producing life. The Judeans who exercised faith in God found Him faithful to bring future deliverance. But the proud Chaldeans, though they flourished for awhile, carried seeds of sinful pride which brought them to destruction.
This verse is not only the theme of Habakkuk, but a central passage for three New Testament epistles: Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews.
In Romans 1:17 the emphasis is on, “. . . The just shall live by faith.” The only one who can live by faith is the just man. When the sinner puts faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ to take away his sin, God declares and treats him as justified; his sins are forgiven, and no charge can be laid against him (Rom. 8:1, 31-34). Closely connected to the term justification is the word righteous. To justify a person is to declare him legally righteous in God’s eyes. The justified man has the imputed righteousness of Christ deposited in his life. Thus the justified (righteous) person is able to live by faith. It is his faith (trust in God) that keeps him through times of adversity.
In Galatians 3:11 the emphasis is on, “. . . The just shall live by faith.” Paul quotes this verse to counter the Judaizers who were teaching that a man might be justified through faith, but to retain one’s salvation he must keep the Law in his daily life. Paul counters, Not true. The one who is justified by faith lives by this principle of life too. Man could never gain acceptance by the works of the Law, for the Law only condemned him. This was even true when Israel lived under the Law, for God said to Habakkuk, “. . . the just shall live by his faith.” Thus, the righteous man lives by faith, not by keeping the legalistic system in the Law.
In Hebrews 10:38 the emphasis is on, “. . . the just shall live by faith.” In this context, many of the Hebrew Christians, who had been justified by faith in Jesus Christ, considered turning back to their old Jewish religion because of persecution. The writer of Hebrews tried to fortify them for future trials by reminding them of how they originally exercised faith in Jesus as their Messiah. He encouraged them not to cast away their confidence in the Lord, for He would richly reward them in the future if they stayed true to the faith. They had to persevere until the Lord came, which would not be long (Heb. 10:35-37). If they denounced their faith in Christ and returned to Judaism, they would become apostates, bringing the Lord’s disfavor upon them for the rest of their lives. Quoting from Habakkuk 2:4, the writer shows that a man truly justified by faith will live by faith (Heb. 10:38).
The writer of Hebrews gives further evidence of what it means to live by faith in chapter eleven. In this chapter he describes what true faith is and then illustrates his point from the lives of Old Testament men and women who lived by faith in the midst of severe persecution.
No one knew better what it meant to wait patiently by faith in prayer for God’s appointed time than did Hudson Taylor. Dr. Edman writes, “Hudson Taylor knew the testing that tempers the steel of the soul. Invalided, home at twenty-nine after six years of intensive service in China, he settled with his little family in the east end of London. Outside interests lessened; friends began to forget; and five long hidden years were spent in the dreary street of a poor part of London, where the Taylors were ‘shut up to prayer and patience.’ From the record of those years it has been written, ‘Yet, without those hidden years, with all their growth and testing, how could the vision and enthusiasm of youth have been matured for the leadership that was to be?’ Faith, faithfulness, devotion, self-sacrifice, unremitting labor, patient, persevering prayer became their portion and power, but more, there is ‘the deep, prolonged exercise of a soul that is following hard after God. . . the gradual strengthening here, of a man called to walk by faith not by sight; the unutterable confidence of a heart cleaving to God and God alone, which pleases Him as nothing else can.’ As the years of obscurity progressed, ‘prayer was the only way by which the burdened heart could obtain any relief’; and when the discipline was complete, there emerged the China Inland Mission, at first only a tiny root, but destined of God to fill the land of China with gospel fruit.”3
Believing friend, God has an appointed time in which He will reveal what He has for you in every situation of your life. But like a Habakkuk, you must by faith say, “I will stand. . . set myself. . . to see what he [God] will say unto me. . . .”’
- V. Raymond Edman, The Disciplines of Life, (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1948), p. 79.
- Ibid, p. 80-81.
- Ibid. p. 82.