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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 Hebrews 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” (Galatians 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” (Hebrews 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” (Hebrews 13:5); we also read, “Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 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” (Isaiah 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!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Habakkuk 2". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany