God governs His world with inscrutable and holy wisdom. We know that He is holy, but part of the reason why this governance is so inscrutable is because He uses so much unholiness to accomplish His holy ends. And this was the central dilemma that Habakkuk faced. The lesson he learns is that waiting for deliverance is one of God’s central instruments that He uses to prepare us for the glory that is coming.
“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 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. 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 . . .” (Hab. 1:1-2:5).
Outline of the Book
The book of Habakkuk is structured in a seven-part chiasm. Although we won’t get to all of this today, you should have this map in your minds to keep you oriented. The text today will take us halfway through the book, and to the central hinge of the chiasm.
A Habakkuk’s first complaint has to do with how long he has to wait for the justice of God (1:2-4);
B We then have Jehovah’s first answer—He will bring in the great armies of Babylon to deal with the corruptions of Judah (1:5-11);
C Habakkuk says that this is even worse. The Babylonians are worse than Judah ever thought of being (1:12-17);
D Wait, God says. He will punish the wicked, and the just shall live by faith in the meantime (2:1-5);
C’ God answers the second complaint, and we read about the woes that will befall the wicked (2:6-20);
B’ Jehovah’s army is the answer to the army of Babylon (3:1-15);
A’ Habakkuk finally resolves his dilemma, and determines to wait on the Lord regardless (3:16-19).
At the end of the book of Job, Job returns to his patience, and God fully restores him. In this book, the prophet returns to his patience, and the book ends with him resolved to wait.
Summary of the Text
Prophecies are often called “burdens,” and this is certainly what Habakkuk had (v. 1)—a burden. Why does God delay in hearing the prophet’s cry (v. 2)? Why does God show Habakkuk corruption if He is not going to do anything about it (v. 3)? Wrongdoers prevail (v. 4).
And so the answer comes. Jehovah will make a short and wondrous work of it (v. 5). He will raise up the Chaldeans, and they will sweep in as a judgment upon Judah (v. 6). Their arrival will be dreadful (v. 7). Their armed might is terrible, and they bring in true fear (v. 8). They will come in violence and devour everything (v. 9). Kings and princes are nothing to them; mighty powers will go down like grass before the scythe (v. 10). The invaders will attribute their prowess to their own false god (v. 11).
Habakkuk hates this. Is not God the God of true and holy judgment (v. 12)? God has holy hands, and so how can He pick up and use such a dirty stick as Babylon (v. 13)? The Babylonians just gather up men like fishermen with a dragnet (vv. 14-15). They worship their own prowess (v. 16), and are the very definition of fat and sassy. And so the prophet laments. God, why do You let them get away with all of this (v. 17)?
We then come to the heart of the book, from which the apostle Paul takes the phrase the just shall live by faith as his thesis statement for the book of Romans. Habakkuk prepares him for the answer (2:1). The Lord says to him that he needs to make sure to get this down plainly (v. 2). Write it in big enough letters that someone just running by could still read it. Though the judgments of God tarry, wait for them because they will not tarry (v. 3). The haughty are bent, but the just shall live by faith (v. 4). The one under judgment, like Babylon, swells and is swollen (v. 5).
This phrase, the just shall live by faith, is the center of the chiasm in this book, and it is used as the thesis statement in the first chapter of the book of Romans. And remember the original context—the just are living by faith as a practical outworking of their theodicy, their defense of God’s ways, and they are doing it in the face of great evils. And so this means that when Paul gets into all the issues surrounding the sovereignty of God in the latter chapters of Romans, he is not messing with the context, or changing the subject. This is what has been in view for centuries.
So Then, Wait for It
The book begins with Habakkuk complaining about how long he must wait (1:1). But when God brings him to the point, He says to wait for it (2:3). The book ends with Habakkuk declaring that he will rejoice (as he waits) for God’s salvation (3:18). The book begins with the lament, “how long must I wait for God’s salvation?” The book ends with the resolve to wait for God’s salvation.
How then shall we wait? Waiting patiently does not mean waiting impatiently. But neither does waiting patiently entail stoicism. Waiting means looking to God instead of looking at the circumstances. The judge of the whole earth will do right, and He will do right at the right time.
Both Sovereign and Holy
The delay that we chafe under is not because God is trying to gather up His resources. He doesn’t need time to get ready. He is sovereign. Neither is it because He is contemptuous of us—no, He is also holy.
God is always ready to deliver. We are not always ready to be delivered. The waiting is part of His preparation. It is something we need. He is waiting because He is doing something in us that glorifies Him.
And waiting is often harder than overt calamity. Calvinists often shine when dealing with manifest decrees from Heaven. When the hailstones are the size of cantaloupes, it is obvious to us that God is up to something. The area where Christians—who profess faith in God’s complete sovereignty—sometimes do not shine is when it looks as though God is doing nothing. I am referring to the times when we have to wait when wickedness and worldliness seem like they are the most ordinary things in the world.
“Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: When the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it. I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: Yea, I sought him, but he could not be found”
Ps. 37:34-36 (KJV)
God’s Word to us remains constant. Stand still. Wait. Watch.
“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever”
Ex. 14:13 (KJV)
And so it is that we can now see the great salvation of the Lord, the salvation that is the pinnacle of all His typical salvations (in the sense of typology). God loves to work using the same methods, over and over. God loves the cliffhanger. God loves to save His people at the very last moment. The nick of time is the place of His excellence. God is the one who developed “just in time” delivery.
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place”
Acts 4:27-28 (ESV)
And in the resurrection of Christ, we see the glory of God’s inscrutable wisdom. Not only can He save us just in the nick of time, the resurrection of the dead, three days after the crucifixion, is the ultimate in deliverance—just after the nick of time.
And so it is, by definition, Christ, your Lord and your Savior, and your complete Deliverance, is never late.