God governs the world with inscrutable and holy wisdom. We know that He is holy, but part of the reason why it is so inscrutable is because He uses so much unholiness to accomplish His holy ends. This was the central dilemma that Habakkuk faced. And the lesson he learns is that waiting for deliverance is one of God’s central instruments that He uses to prepare us for glory.
“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 When 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 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).
Summary of the Text
Prophecies are often called “burdens,” and this is certainly what Habakkuk had (v. 1). 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 (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 (v. 10). They 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. God, why do You let them get away with 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).
So Wait for It
The book begins with Habbakuk 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.
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.
“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” (Exodus 14:13).
And so we 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).
Christ, your Lord and your Savior, is never late.