Christ in the Minor Prophets: No. 2. Habakkuk

Habakkuk 1‑3  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 7
H. P. Barker
No. 2 — Habakkuk
A bright outlook in a day of discouragement.
The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
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 show 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.
Habakkuk was a man who keenly felt the state of things amongst the people of God in his day. Looking around he saw deeds of violence; strife and contention abounded where peace should have reigned. The wicked seemed ever to have the upper hand, and made the righteous groan under their injustice.
It was difficult for the prophet to understand why God should not put an end to such a condition of things. Why did He not intervene in power, for the destruction of evil doers, and the salvation of those that put their trust in Him? How long would He refrain from hearing the cry of His distressed saints? Was there to be no unraveling of the tangled skein of iniquity? no escape from its meshes for those that loved righteousness?
Habakkuk’s perplexity led him to cry to Jehovah, to get into His presence, and inquire of Him concerning the things over which he mourned. As a result, he got a wonderful view of the day of Christ, and learned what God’s path for His people was, until that day should come. In this way he was let into the secret of how to be an overcomer in an age which to sight and sense was dark indeed, but which to faith was bright with the golden light of promises that fixed heart and hope upon One that was yet to come.
How close a parallel exists between the days when Habakkuk lived, and the days in which our lot is cast! As we look around, do we not see even in the circle that professes Christ’s name, much to cause us deepest grief? ‘What of the love of money, the love of pleasure, and other forms of worldliness in which so many Christians are entangled? What of the general coldness of heart and indifference to the claims of Christ? What of the abominable anti-Christian doctrines now proclaimed from the house-top by men who once gave promise of better things? What of the bickerings and strife, the divisions and heart-burnings amongst those who should be found walking in peace and unity? A thousand other things might be mentioned, any one of them enough to make the tears start from our eyes, and to prostrate us before God, crying “O Lord, how long?”
If we feel these things we shall be prepared to learn, as Habakkuk did, what the path is that God would have His people pursue. And our hearts will be held spellbound in anticipation of the bright day when Christ will be manifested, and when earth’s age-long blight will be removed, and the whole scene filled with that which is of God.
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, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling-places that are not theirs.
. . . .
They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.
. . . .
Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.
. . . .
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
In His answer to the prophet’s cry, Jehovah first calls attention to His own work. “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously, for I will work a work in your days.” This is the passage quoted by Paul when preaching Christ at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:4141Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you. (Acts 13:41)), and his use of it shows that something further was in the mind of God, when He uttered the words, than His dealings in judgment by means of the Chaldeans. It is in Christ that these wonderful words find their fulfillment. He is the One that God ever has in view, whatever work He puts His hand to.
Thus when God calls upon Habakkuk to have regard to His work, we may be sure that it is Christ that He has before Him. The way He takes may not be easy to trace; the evidence of His hand being at work may not be clear (save to him who has ‘an opened eye), but all the time God is working, and always with Christ as His great object. If He works in a sinner’s heart, it is that the sinner might be brought to Christ. If He works in the souls of His people, it is that Christ should have a greater place in their affections, and that He should be formed in them. And if He works upon the wider arena of the world’s history, it is all with the same great end in view, the introduction of Christ, as the One to whom supremacy must belong.
The grand climax of God’s work is not yet reached. It was still further off in Habukkuk’s day than it is in ours; but the contemplation of it must have been rest to his heart, especially when God went on to tell him, that He would bring the Chaldeans up against the children of Judah to carry them into captivity, and to be God’s scourge upon them because of their wickedness. For before this work of God could be brought to its culminating point, two things must happen; first, His people must be humbled and taught to walk in His ways; second, the nations must fill up their cup of iniquity, and thus become ripe for judgment.
Of course the atonement of Christ was also necessary, but that is not the subject here. The prophecy, though having a reference to what was immediate, without doubt looks on to the future, when the church will have been taken out of this world (1 Thess. 4:16-1716For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16‑17)), and God will begin to work in the scattered children of Jacob to bring them to repentance, and finally into the promised land again. Then they will cry out to Jehovah, as they see the prevalence of evil and the power of the wicked one. They will wonder that God should allow the oppressor to tread them down, but they will learn that they are being chastened in view of their ultimate blessing; that the iniquity of the nations having risen to a head, they are ripe for judgment; and that God is about to bring to pass that for which He has wrought through all the ages — a universe filled and ruled by Christ.
“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.”
. . . . .
“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
Habakkuk was consumed with grief for his people, as he contemplated the cruel oppressions of the Chaldean enemy. But his heart had caught a glimpse of a brighter day, so he says “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me.”
And as he looked out upon the horizon of God’s future, he saw a wonderful vision of what was to come. The day of its fulfillment was yet far distant, but he was to record the vision, so that in reading it, men might run. That is, I suppose, they were to run, in their affections, from the evil world they saw around them to the bright world of which Habakkuk spoke. Thus they were to hasten towards it, while actually they were to wait for it. Rather let us say they were to wait for Him. For guided by the inspired quotation of this passage in HEBREWS 10:3737For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. (Hebrews 10:37), we find Christ here also. It is He that shall come and will come, and will not tarry. The glory that Habakkuk saw, all shines forth from Him. He is the sun whose beams will illumine the whole realm of God, and it is for Himself that every heart that “loves His appearing” waits.
“Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”
For this, faith must be in exercise. There was, in our prophet’s day, as in ours, an unbelieving generation, who would not believe in the work that God was doing, even though it was told them. On the other hand, there were “the just,” and these would find food for their faith in the vision given to Habakkuk. Faith would make it all so real to them, that their hearts would be connected by faith with the age to come; and this would be, as it were, life to them. They would live, by their faith in that glorious time that was promised, though all around seemed to contradict their hopes.
How happy thus to be able “to look beyond the long dark night and hail the coming day.”
In Christianity, brighter and better hopes are the portion of God’s saints. Their outlook is a heavenly one, and their destiny is the Father’s house. We do not get Christianity unfolded in the Minor Prophets, nor the hopes that belong distinctively to Christians. But He is there, to whom we belong, though in other relationships than those in which we know Him. Here in Habakkuk He is seen to be the object around which all the earthly hopes of the people of God center, as they long for the promised day of the kingdom — the day when Christ, as the promised King, shall come, and take to Himself His great power, and reign.
Habakkus 3:2-5,10-11,13.
“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.
God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise.
And His brightness was as the light; He had horns coming out of His hand: and there was the hiding of His power.
Before Him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at His feet.”
. . . . . . .
“The mountains saw Thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high.
The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of Thine arrows they went, and at the shining of Thy glittering spear.”
. . . . .
“Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people, even for salvation with Thine anointed; Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah.”
The prophecy of Habakkuk ends with what is really a psalm of praise, magnificent in its description of the inauguration of that day. What gives rise to it is a desire on the prophet’s part that the work of God should prosper. The enemy’s handiwork was, alas, only too visible on all sides. But Habakkuk’s soul had been established in the truth that God was working, and would work, for the accomplishment of His own purpose, and he now prays that that work may come into prominence: “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years.”
In accordance with this the prophet is carried on, in spirit, to the great day on which his hopes were fixed. He saw the intervention of God for His people, and the utter overthrow of their adversaries. Had sea and mountains, sun and moon, been made subservient to God’s ways with Israel in the past? Even so shall it be in the future, when pestilence and fire, and other forms of judgment shall announce the advent of Jehovah’s day.
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor 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.
The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.”
This was enough for Habakkuk. His soul had dropped its anchor in the calm haven of God’s sure promise, and he could rejoice in the Lord. Everything around might seem to wax worse and worse; the fig tree might not blossom, nor the vines bear fruit; the olive trees might be barren, and the fields yield no crops; flocks and herds might be cut off from the fold and from the stalls; outward prosperity might all be a thing of the past; the power of evil might be in the ascendant, and those who fear the Lord a small and weak remnant. But the prophet’s eye was not upon things of this sort. From all the failure and discouragement he looked away to the day of God’s triumph, and his heart beat with gladness. He could joy in the God of his salvation. His portion was in “high places,” and he could walk there already by faith. His feet were like those of the hind, able to spring forward from this age of darkness and gloom into the age of glory and joy.
Can we not do the same? We are not dependent for our joy upon environment. Things in the Church, as well as in the world, may be as bad as they can be; defection after defection may take place; “they of Asia” who turned aside from Paul, may be followed by thousands who care little for his doctrine; Christianity, as publicly professed, may be shorn of its glory as a heavenly thing, and its robes besmirched with the filth and mire of earth. But God’s purpose remains firm, and Christ is the One who is going to bring it all into accomplishment. Then let our eye be fixed upon Him. No failure or breakdown can ever intrude into that scene of which He is the center; He makes our feet like those of the hind. We spring, as it were, from the midst of all that surrounds us, right into that other world, where, in its heavenly part we shall dwell with Him, as sons before the Father’s face. These are “high places” indeed, and He makes our feet to walk therein, even now. We are privileged to explore the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.
A Futile Labor
The rat which set to work to gnaw a file supposed himself to be making good progress, as he saw a pile of white dust slowly increasing under his labor. But when he found that he had used up his teeth and made no impression on the file at all, it put a different complexion on the operation.
It is even so with the Scripture of Truth, the cavilers and scholars will wear out their critical teeth in the attempt to destroy it, but when their little day is over and their vaunted intelligence has perished, the Word of God will remain unimpaired in strength, not one jot or tittle of His word shall fail.
A black cloud makes a traveler mend his pace, and mind his home; whereas a fair day and a pleasant way waste his time, and that stealeth away his affections in the prospect of the country. However others may think of it, yet I take it as a mercy, that many times some troubles do conceal my comforts; for I perceive if I should find too much friendship in my inn, in my pilgrimage, I should soon forget my Father’s house and my heritage.
Ruminating upon trouble is bitter work. Children fill their mouths with bitterness when they rebelliously chew the pill which they ought obediently to have swallowed.
Holiness consisteth not in a cowl or coat of black. When God purifies the heart by faith, the market is sacred as well as the sanctuary.
I would rather walk in the dark, holding to the word of my God, than trust in the light of the brightest day that ever dawned.