One of the shortest books of Scripture—the prophecy of Habakkuk—contains important truth which no reverent student of the Word of God can afford to overlook. Brief as it is, it is directly referred to, or quotations made from it, a number of times in the New Testament.
The great apostle to the Gentiles is particularly partial to it, finding in it the inspired authority for the fundamental doctrine of justification by faith, and the certainty of judgment to come upon all who reject the testimony of the Holy Ghost as to the Lord Jesus Christ. Compare Acts 13:40, 41 with Hab. 1:5; and Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38 with Hab. 2:4. There is evidently, likewise, very close connection between Hab. 3:17,18 and the 4th chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians. As it is purposed to look carefully at these passages in the course of our study, they can be passed over now.
Of Habakkuk personally very little is known. Like John the Baptist, he is “the voice of One,” himself hidden; though the exercises of his soul are vividly portrayed in his vigorous and soul-stirring prophetic poem. Jewish tradition asserts that he was of the tribe of Simeon, and he is commonly supposed to have been contemporary with Jeremiah during the latter part of “the weeping prophet’s” ministry. His book would seem to evidence this, as it was written in view of the Chaldean invasion. Of his birth or death we have no record. He is said to have remained in the land when the mass of the people were carried away by the triumphant armies of Nebuchadnezzar.
The form of the book is that of a dialogue, and the structure is exceedingly simple. Habakkuk, oppressed by a sense of the prevalence of iniquity, unburdens his heart to Jehovah, who in grace answers the cry of His servant. The true divisions are easily found. Chap. 1:l-4 gives the prophet’s complaint. Vers. 5-11 are the Lord’s answer. From ver. 12 to ver. 17 we have Habakkuk’s remonstrance. Ver. 1 of ch. 2 stands by itself. There is no immediate reply to the cry with which the previous chapter was concluded. In vers. 2 to 4 the Lord goes far beyond the prophet’s thoughts, and predicts the final bringing in of blessing through Messiah: meantime “the just shall live by his faith.” The actual response to the remonstrance of chap. 1 is given in vers. 5 to 8. The balance of the chapter would seem to be prophetic ministry. Having been made to know the end of the Lord, His servant delivers His word to four classes who walk not in His ways. A woe is pronounced upon each of them: the covetous, vers. 9-11; the unrighteous, vers. 12-14; the intemperate and shameless, vers. 15-17; and the idolatrous, vers. 18-20. Chap. 3 concludes with the prayer of Habakkuk, and is one of the most precious and sublime portions of Old Testament Scripture.
While having its primary application to Israel and Babylon in the dark days following the cut-ting-off of Josiah (the same period covered by the major portion of Jeremiah), this book contains solemn and important principles applicable to all the Lord’s people, and to all seasons. “Written for our learning,” we may well ponder its searching chapters listening like the prophet himself, “to see what He will say unto us, and what we shall answer when we are reproved.”
That God should thus deign to meet the longing cry of His servant’s heart, is for our encouragement and cheer. He regardeth the cry of the humble, but “the proud He knoweth afar off.” “The meek will He guide in judgment; the meek will He teach His way.” Unquestionably, the paramount reason why we get, as a rule, so little out of God’s word, is because of the appalling lack of self-judgment and brokenness before its. Author, so prevalent on every hand. Pride, haughtiness, and self-sufficiency, resulting in headiness and wordy strife, abound on all sides, coupled with grave moral laxity and inability to try the things that differ. True-hearted subjection to God and His Word is very little known or regarded.
In great measure it has been forgotten that there must be a right moral state to enter into the things of God, for “spiritual things are spiritually discerned.” Consequently, carnal, self-complacent Christians, walking as men, are often found seeking to make up for lack of genuine, Spirit-given ministry by receiving or listening to empty platitudes or expressions (true and precious enough in themselves) learned by rote, and given out in a mechanical, parrot-like manner, instead of waiting upon God until His voice is heard in the soul, exercising the conscience of hearer and speaker alike.
In a day like the present, when “of the making of many books there is no end,” it is very easy for any person of average intelligence to acquire a fair mental acquaintance with the truths of Scripture, and to pose, in the presence of less instructed or unspiritual persons, as an oracle of divine wisdom, when in reality the holy eye of God sees nothing but vain conceit and self-sufficiency in it all.
Truth learned by others in deep exercise in the school of God, is often retailed out to admiring crowds of worldly Christians and Christless professors, incapable of true, godly discernment, by men who themselves have known little or nothing of its power in their own souls, or of that subduedness before God consistent with the teachings they set forth.
Especially will this be found to be the case in regard to the teaching of Scripture as to the Church. How many today talk glibly of the one Body and the unity of the Spirit, who do not appear to have a particle of real concern because of their practical denial of that truth by identification with unscriptural and sectarian systems, where the Head of the Church is in practice disowned, and the Holy Spirit is refused His true place; while a human system of clergy and laity takes the place of the divine order laid down in the book of God!
Many doubtless know Jesus as Saviour, and the Holy Ghost as the earnest of their inheritance, who have never learned to truly own Christ as the Church’s one Head, and the Holy Spirit as the controlling power in the assembly. With large numbers this is unquestionably the result of ignorance, and the Great Shepherd of the sheep will take into account the lack of instruction and the faulty teaching in that day of manifestation, now so near at hand, when “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” But, alas, by how many among us can this be pleaded? Knowledge is even boasted of when there is no corresponding concern as to the existing conditions in the house of God, and latitudi-narianism and independency are the order of the day. It is godly exercise that is so sadly lacking, which accounts for the indifference to Christ and the truth everywhere evident.
In Habakkuk we see the very opposite of all this. He is a man deeply exercised both as to the state of his people—yea, his own state and the ways of God in government. Nor can he rest in quietness until he has the mind of the Lord as to it all. His book, therefore, is of special value in our degenerate and Laodicean times, characterized by what another has designated as “high truth and low walk.” It strikingly portrays the working of spiritual sensibilities, and the divine answer to the same, in a man of like passions with ourselves, as each chapter will make manifest.
The Prophet’s Perplexity
The opening verses of the first chapter set before us the deep exercises of the prophet’s soul on account of the fallen estate of the nation of Judah, dear to his heart, not only because they were his people, but because he knew them to be Jehovah’s peculiar treasure; now, alas, so defiled and marred by sin.
“The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. 0 Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear! even cry 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” (vers. 1-4). In a few graphic touches he depicts, as by a master hand, the various evils afflicting the unhappy nation. He takes no delight in thus portraying the sins of those so tenderly loved. It is into the ear of God, not of man, that he pours his complaint. For long he has been crying to Him; and now, overwhelmed with a sense of the hopelessness of recovery, he appeals to Jehovah in accents fraught with deepest anguish and concern. Could it be that his prayer was to go unheeded? If not, how long must he supplicate ere the Lord gave evidence that He had heard and was about to interfere?
He felt, as many another has done, that it were better not to see the evil than to see it only to be burdened thereby, finding no remedy for the state that so distressed his sensitive soul.
There is grave danger, in the present disordered condition of Christendom, that one who is able to see things in the light of the word of God may be similarly affected. Some there are who, quite conscious of the lapsed state of the Church, and aware of the unholy influences at work, can yet be supremely indifferent to it all; manifesting thereby their lack of real heart for what so intimately concerns the glory of God and the welfare of His saints. Others, whose eyes have been anointed and whose consciences have been exercised by the Holy Spirit, are in danger of being unduly oppressed and disheartened by the rising power of the mystery of iniquity. Quick to see dishonor done to Christ and departure from the truth on the right hand and on the left, they are oppressed in spirit by the seemingly irremediable and distressing conditions prevailing.
Needless to say, both are wrong. Indifferent, no truly exercised soul could or should be. But disheartened none need be; for all has been long since foreseen and provided for. It was so with Israel: it is so with the Church. No failure on the part of man can avail to thwart the purposes of God.
In regard to Judah, the greatest danger was from the spirit of strife and contention prevailing among the people, giving rise to spoiling and violence. As a result, the law was ignored, and judgment miscarried. The wicked were in high places, and perverted statutes proceeded from them.
It was surely enough to bow the soul before God, not as one competent to pass sentence upon others, but as one who was a part of that which had so grievously failed. This is where Habakkuk is found. He was one of them that sighed and cried for the abominations done in what had once been the holy city.
Nor does Jehovah ignore His servant’s cry; but He answers him, telling of the chastisement He had prepared for the instruction of His disobedient and rebellous people. “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” (ver. 5). This is the verse quoted by Paul at Antioch of Pisidia, when warning the Jews of the danger to which they were exposed if they neglected the gospel of Christ (Acts 13:40, 41). There, the work so wondrous, in which none would believe though it be told them, was the work of grace wrought out on Calvary’s cross. In the Lord’s reply to Habakkuk’s entreaty, it was His strange work of judgment. Though it seem to be unbelievable, He was raising up the Chaldeans —”that bitter and hasty nation”—to “march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling-places that were not theirs.” Terrible and dreadful, carrying out what they thought were but the purposes of their own hearts, they should come up with their vast and irresistible armies against Jerusalem, like the eagle hastening to its prey! They should be permitted to override all the power and dignity of Judah; as a result of which they would be lifted up in pride, imputing their power unto their false gods. In such manner Jehovah was about to deal with His wayward people (vers. 6-11).
Is there not for us a weighty lesson in all this? Of old, in regard to the Egyptians, we are told that God “turned their heart to hate His people” (Ps. 105:25). In our short-sightedness we might only have seen the energy of Satan’s power; but it was the Lord that used even Satan to chasten His people. So here: He it is who brings the armies of Nebuchadnezzar to the gates of Zion!
And has He not dealt in a similar manner with the Assembly? It is customary to bewail the divisions and the distressing state of Christendom, and particularly of those who have learned the truth as to the Church. But are not these very things the evidences of the Lord’s discipline? He loves His people too well to allow them to prosper and remain a united company when pride and worldliness have usurped the place of humility and the pilgrim character. So He permits the power of Satan to work, and the result is dispersion and scattering. How this should call for confession and brokenness on our part! In Habakkuk’s case, he was amazed that God should so deal with the sheep of His pasture as to give them into the power of the wild beast of the nations. Discipline and chastening he knew were deserved, but he is astounded when he learns who the agent of their punishment is to be. But at once he turns again to the Lord, pouring out his prayer into His ear. “Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, Thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, 0 mighty God, Thou hast established them for correction” (ver. 12). His faith is very simple, and very beautiful. They were in covenant-relation with the everlasting One, who “will not call back His words.” Therefore, however sorely they might be afflicted, it could never be that they should utterly be cut off. Corrected in measure they must be, but cast off forever they could never be without violating the sure mercies of David.
But that so evil a nation should be the instrument in the Lord’s hand for the punishment of His wayward people, passes the prophet’s comprehension. “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity,” he rightly declares; but then asks, in perplexity, “Wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” (ver. 13). He goes on to recite the cruelties and iniquities practised by the Chaldeans; their inhumanity, and their gross idolatry; for of the latter Babylon was the mother. If permitted to take Judah in their net, will they not give the glory to their own prowess, and to their false and revengeful deities? How can so perverse a people be Jehovah’s agency? It is what has perplexed more than Habakkuk—the toleration and use of the wicked to further the counsels of God.
The chapter closes without an answer; but in the next a reply is given that is altogether worthy of God, far transcending the prophet’s highest thoughts, and leading to abasement of soul in His holy presence.
On The Watch-Tower
There is nothing harder for man to do than to wait on God. The restlessness and activity of the flesh will not brook delay, but counts time spent in waiting and watching as so much time lost. It is blessedly otherwise with Habakkuk. As no reply is at once given to his eager, anxious questionings, he takes the attitude of the patient learner who remains silent till the Master is ready to make known His mind.
“I will stand upon my watch,” he says, “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” (ver. 1).
His words bespeak a very right and proper condition of soul. Perplexed and confused by the seeming enigma of God’s ways, he owns he may require reproof, and takes his stand upon the watch-tower, above the mists of earth, and beyond the thoughts and doings of men, where he can quietly wait upon God, and look out to see what He will say unto him.
Such an attitude ensures an answer. God will not leave His servant without instruction if there be a willing mind and an exercised conscience.
As he maintains his lonely watch, Jehovah answers, bidding him, “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that read-eth it” (ver. 2). The oracle about to be revealed is not for the prophet alone, but through him for all men. It is a principle of vast importance, far-reaching in its application. Therefore let him take his stylus and set it forth plainly upon a writing-table, that he who reads it may run and proclaim the message far and near.
“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” (ver. 3). What is to be declared is not for then-present alone. It shall have fuller, wider application in a time of the Lord’s appointment, which was then in the future. Forward to this day of blessing is the prophet directed to look.
We know from Heb. 10:37 that it is really Messiah’s reign to which he is pointed. When the verse is quoted there, the pronouns are no longer in the neuter, but they become intensely personal. To Christ alone do they refer. “For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” When the apostle wrote, He had already come the first time, only to be rejected and crucified. But He is coming back again, coming in a “very, very little while,” as the words might be rendered. When He returns He will put down all unrighteousness, and bring forth judgment unto victory. Then shall that for which the prophet yearned have come to pass. The mystery of God’s long toleration of evil shall be finished, and the reign of righteousness shall have come in. To this period of blessing Habakkuk is to look forward; and meantime, though of the man of self-will it can be said, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him,” yet, however wickedness may triumph, the man of God is given to know that “the just shall live by his faith” (ver. 4).
This is the oracle which Habakkuk had been bidden to write so plainly. This is the word that the reader should run to declare.
Such a reader, and such a runner, was the apostle Paul. This verse is the key-note of his instruction to both saint and sinner. Having read the prophet’s words with eyes anointed by the Holy Ghost, he runs the rest of his days to make them known to others.
Three times they occur in his epistles, and in each place they are used with a different object in view.
When, in the letter to the Romans, he is expounding the glorious doctrine of the righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel (chap. 1:16, 17), he finds in these words the inspired answer to the question raised ages ago in the book of Job, “How then can man be justified with God?” (chap. 9:2; 25:4). Triumphantly he points to the revelation of the watch-tower, and exclaims, “The just shall live by faith!”
When Judaizing teachers sought to corrupt the assemblies of Galatia by turning them away from the simplicity that is in Christ, implying that while it is by faith we are saved, yet the law becomes the rule of life afterwards, he indignantly repudiates the false assertion by declaring that not only is faith the principle upon which they first begin with God, but “the just shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11). Immediately he proceeds to show that “the law is not of faith,” and therefore cannot be the Christian’s standard. Christ, and Christ alone is that. In Him we are a new creation. “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (chap. 6:16).
Again, when, in the treatise to the Hebrews, he is tracing out the pilgrim’s path through this world, from the cross to the glory, he shows most blessedly that only the entering into the power of the unseen can sustain the believer through a life of trial and conflict; and so once more he declares, “The just shall live by faith” (Heb. 10:38). He adds, “But if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him,” which is the first half of the verse in the Septuagint rendering.
Thus the secret made known to Habakkuk so long ago becomes the watchword of Christianity, as at the Reformation it most properly became the battle-cry of Luther and his colleagues.
It was all-important that the lonely prophet look beyond and above what his natural eyes beheld, and thus would he endure “as seeing Him who is invisible.”
So today. Much there is to dishearten and discourage. But dark though the times may be, the man of God turns in faith to the Holy Scriptures, there to find the mind of the Lord. He acts on what is written, let others do as they may. His path may be a lonely one, and his heart be ofttimes sad; but with eager, glad anticipation he looks on to the day of manifestation, and seeks to walk now in the light of then.
Thus his eyes are opened to behold everything clearly, and he is able to estimate the pretensions of ungodly and spiritual men at their true value. The Chaldean proudly boasted of being helped by his gods to overthrow the people of Jehovah. Habakkuk is shown that he is but an instrument used for present chastening, but soon to be recompensed double for all his sins. “Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell (sheol), and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people” (ver. 5). Inflated, and self-important, like the false world-church of the day, Babylon would gather all into its fold, and stifle everything that is really of God. But the hour of doom is coming, when he shall be the sport of the people, and they shall tauntingly cry, “Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!” Suddenly his enemies shall arise, and he shall be spoiled because of his blood-guiltiness and his blasphemy against Jehovah (vers. 6-8).
Meantime, though the times be difficult, and waters out of a full cup be wrung out to the little flock who seek to walk in obedience to God, the trusting soul looks up in holy confidence, knowing that the triumphing of the wicked is short. Thus “the just shall live by his faith.”
In every age, when declension came in, those who would live for God have found themselves in a position similar to that of Habakkuk. Jeremiah, his companion-prophet, felt it most keenly: but grace sustained him through all. And it is well if, in our day, when the word of God is in large measure given up, and human expedients take the place of divine precepts, that we be found walking humbly in the path of faith, able to say, “All my springs are in Thee!”
The woes that follow have their application not only to the king of Babylon, and his cruel, relentless armies, but they declare the mind of God regarding any who are in the same unholy ways.
“Woe to him that coveteth…!” The sentence, uncompleted, causes the special sin to which attention is drawn to stand out all the clearer. It was covetousness that drew the hordes of Chaldea to the gates of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar would add “an evil gain to his house” (literal rendering), that he might magnify himself and “set his nest on high.” But though he might build a costly and magnificent palace by means of the spoil he should take, the very stones would cry out of the wall, and the beam of the timber would answer, exclaiming, “Woe unto him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity” (vers. 9-12). Unrighteousness springs out of covetousness, even as we read, “The love of money is a root of all evil.” That is, lust for wealth is a suited root for every kind of iniquity to spring from.
Covetousness is unquestionably the crying sin of the present day. Insidiously it creeps in and lays hold of the people of God as well as of men of the world. Yet it is a sin against which the word of God warns with fearful solemnity. It has proven the undoing of many an otherwise valiant man, and has destroyed the pilgrim character of thousands.
What, then, is covetousness? And how is it to be distinguished from honorable thrift and a proper use of opportunities whereby to provide things honest in the sight of all men? In our English Bibles four words are used to express the one sin—”covetousness,” “concupiscence,” “lust,” “desire.” Believers are exhorted to be “content with such things as ye have” (Heb. 13:5); we also read, “Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content” (1 Tim. 6:8). Covetousness is the very opposite of this. It is the unsatisfied craving of the heart for more than God has been pleased to give. “Covetousness,” we are told, “is idolatry!” Then it is plain that the covetous man is the one who puts gain between his soul and God. Anything that turns us from heart-occupation with Him is an idol. By this we may readily test ourselves as to where we stand.
The sluggard and the shiftless are not commended by the word of God, but rigorously condemned, and exhorted to thrift and energy. But to run to the other extreme, and to set the heart upon business and the accumulation of wealth, is equally fatal to spirituality. The happy medium is that laid down by the Holy Ghost, who bids us be “not remiss in zeal, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” When He is served, all else will fall into place. I shall then use this world “not disposing of it as my own,” but shall hold all committed to me as His steward.
One cannot but feel that, had we a single eye as to this, we should hear less of pilgrims embarking in doubtful (not to say shady) business schemes and speculations, because of possible large profits; the failure of which oftentimes brings grave dishonor on that holy name by which we are called. It may be laid down as an axiom, that no saint should be in any way connected with any business, however profitable, that could not bear the searching inspection of Him “whose eyes are as a flame of fire.”
If it be otherwise, there may seem to be present success and assured prosperity, but it shall turn out at last as Habakkuk has written, “Behold, is it not of the Lord of Hosts that the people shall labor in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?” (ver. 13). Another passage says, “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of My hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow” (Isa. 50:11). How many, alas, have had to prove this to the full! Laboring in the very fire, they have wearied themselves in the search for vanity; kindling their own fire, and walking in the light of its sparks, they have had to lie down in sorrow, because of their neglect of the word of the Lord.
But however great the apparent triumph of sin in the present time, the outlook is all bright for the man of faith. When the present evil age is passed away, “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (ver. 14). Who that has part in the coming day of glory but would gladly surrender all present gain, were it his to live once more a life of faith during the rejection of his Lord and Redeemer! But it will then be too late to be faithful. For all self-seeking we shall “suffer loss” in the time when those who have held all here in view of the coming of the Lord shall have an entrance ministered unto them abundantly into His everlasting kingdom.
The next woe is pronounced upon him that giveth his neighbor drink in order to encompass his destruction and manifest his shame. It is that wretched hypocrisy that speaks fair, while hatred fills the heart; that unholy dissimulation which leads one to proffer a soothing but brain-intoxicating draught to another in order to accomplish his ruin (vers. 15-17). Terrible shall be the recompense of Jehovah when He makes inquisition for blood! To put an occasion of stumbling in the way of another is to draw down judgment on one’s own head. He who causes one of Christ’s little ones to fall, might better have had a millstone tied to his neck, and be thrown into the depths of the sea!
The final woe is against idolatry, the making and worshipping of the idols in which Babylon boasted. But the idol and its worshiper shall perish together in the hour of Jehovah’s fury (vers. 18, 19). He alone is God over all, blessed forever, now manifested in flesh in our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him” (ver. 20). When He speaks, it is for man to hear, and to bow in subjection to His Word. Thus has Habakkuk heard His voice, and his anxious questionings vanish. His heart is at rest, and his soul awed before the majesty of Jehovah’s glory. May we toe be of the same chastened and humbled spirit!
The Prayer Of Habakkuk
The proper object of divine ministry is to abase the soul in the presence of God, and to draw out the heart to Him in worship and adoration. It was so in the case of Habakkuk. He had been admitted into the secret counsels of Jehovah. His word had been brought home in power to his soul. The result is that he prostrates himself before Him in the attitude of prayer and worship. His prayer-poem is one of the sublimest portions of the Old Testament. While he is, as it were, overpowered by the sense of the majesty and omnipotence of God so that he trembles before Him, nevertheless he looks up with confidence to the only One who can bring revival and blessing to His chastened people, so rightfully under His rod because of their sins.
The term “Shigionoth” in the introductory line indicates that it was set to music. Blessed is it when all our prayers and supplications are thus made to partake of the character of praise! “Be careful for nothing,” we are told, “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God: and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6, 7). Praise well befits the lips of sinners saved by sovereign grace, however trying and perplexing their circumstances at times may be. David could compose a psalm to the same measure when in deep affliction. Psalm 7 is described as “Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the Lord, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.” Cush is generally supposed to be another name for Shimei, who cursed him as he fled from Absalom his son. Shiggaion is the singular of Shigionoth. The actual meaning is not known with certainty; it is supposed to be, “A wandering ode.” In this measure, the prophet pours out his heart to the all-glorious One, who from of old had been the deliverer and the support of His redeemed people.
“O Jehovah, I have heard Thy speech,” he says, “and I was afraid.
O Jehovah, revive Thy work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make known;
In wrath remember mercy” (ver. 2).
The word of the Lord filled him with fear as he realized something of the depravity of his own heart and the state of his people. Like Isaiah, he could cry, “Woe is me I for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” On the ground of merit he has nothing to plead. But as he remembers who it is with whom he has to do, he can supplicate with confidence and assurance for revival and blessing.
Because a people are under the hand of God for their failure to carry out His revealed will is no reason to sink down in despair, and conclude that the candlestick has been removed and all corporate testimony is gone. It is unbelief, not godly subjection, that leads saints to take ground like this. In so writing, one thinks of that movement which in these last days resulted from the recovery of much precious truth which had been treated as a dead letter for centuries. In the practical carrying out of that truth there has been undoubted failure of the most humiliating kind. As a result, God has permitted division and strife to take the place of happy unity and holy fellowship. All this is cause for brokenness and humiliation on our part, but not for utter discouragement. Whatever failure may have ensued, God and His truth abide. “That which was from the beginning” is still with us, that we may order our ways thereby. To make failure a reason for further unfaithfulness is to walk in self-will, and to lose the force of the very lesson that our God would have us learn. Like Habakkuk, we have reason to take a very low place indeed; but, like him too, we can count upon God to be with us in that low place.
For revival he pleads—revival, which we know God was pleased to grant when the chastisement had exercised His people. The remnant, delivered from Babylon, own the grace of the Lord in giving “a little reviving” in their bondage (Ezra 9:8). So, may we be assured, will our God delight to give revival now, though the hour be late, if He discerns among us that same spirit of lowly subjection to His will that we see here.
The wondrous way in which Jehovah of old had led Jacob like a flock through the wilderness, when He came from Teman and shined forth from mount Paran, when His glory covered the heavens and the earth was full of His praise, is what the prophet contemplates as he pleads for present mercy. Vividly does he describe the march of the Mighty One of Israel through the desert, spreading terror and consternation among the heathen and filling His redeemed with exultation and rejoicing (vers. 3-6). He who had thus cared for His people before, would care for them still, however the enemy might rage.
Like a glorious panorama, the marvelous scene is unfolded before his eyes. He sees the fiery pillar going before to drive out the hostile nations and to find out a path for the armies of the Lord. He beholds the floods rolling back to permit His chosen to pass through their beds. He notes the mystic river springing from the smitten rock. He takes up the song of the book of Jasher as the sun and the moon obey the word of a man and stand still in their habitation. He hears the shout of the victor and the wail of the vanquished. And as he realizes that the Shepherd of Israel still abideth faithful, though so dreadfully dishonored, his inward parts tremble and his lips quiver at the voice of the Majesty. Rottenness enters into his bones, all self-confidence is gone, and he trembles in himself, that he may quietly rest in the day of trouble that is so soon to come upon the land; yea, that has already begun, for the invader had even then come up with his troops (vers. 7-16).
All this is but the proof that in Habakkuk’s soul at least revival had already taken place. Oh, to enter more fully into the same spirit!
The last three verses are the expression of a truly revived man who has learned to find all his springs in God. The apostle speaks in a similar strain in the 4th chapter of Philippians. In fact, so closely are his words allied to what we have here, that, as noted in the introduction, it would seem that he had this very scripture in mind when writing his epistle.
“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 my high places.
Unto the chief singer, on my stringed instruments.”
How great the difference in the opening and the closing of the burden of Habakkuk! He begins as a man bewildered and confused, who is filled with questions and perplexities; he closes as one who has found the answer to all his questions, and the satisfying portion of his soul in God Himself. This is most blessed. As we thus are permitted to enter into the varied experiences that this man of like passions with ourselves passed through till the Lord alone filled the vision of his soul and satisfied his every longing, likewise resolving all his doubts and difficulties, we get some little sense of what may be the sustaining portion of our own hearts if He be but permitted to have His own way with us in all things. Crops might fail, flocks might be destroyed, fields might be barren, and cattle be cut off; but God would abide, and in Him was abundant supply to meet every need. He is the God of our salvation. He is the strength of our hearts. What more can we crave?
Happy in this glorious consciousness, Habakkuk, and we too, can walk, in faith, on our high places, far above the mists and snares of earth. Like the goats of the 104th psalm (ver. 18), we will be enabled to mount up to the top of the rocks and dwell in the high hills. Surely if a child of God in the twilight of a past dispensation could so exult and triumph over all circumstances, we who live in the full blaze of the day of grace, may well be stirred up to a holy jealousy, that, continually dwelling “in the heavenlies,” we may daily be found overcoming through the power of faith!
The closing line is the dedication, and is unspeakably precious. The Chief Singer on the stringed instruments is, for us, none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, who as the risen One now leads the praises of His redeemed. As His hand sweeps the wonderful strings of the hearts of His people, what strains of heavenly melody greet the ear of our God and Father, and salute angelic hosts unnumbered who are learning through the Church the manifold wisdom of God. “In the midst of the assembly will I sing praise unto Thee,” He has said, as His Spirit spake through the prophet-poet in the 22d psalm. Whenever His people are gathered unto His peerless name, He is in their midst as the Director of their worship, as well as the Object of their adoration.
Alas, that so many of our hearts are so often out of tune! Only by constant self-judgment and careful walking in the Spirit shall we be maintained in suited condition to add to the sweetness of the great orchestra of the Chief Singer!