Minor Prophets: Habakkuk as Watchman


Habakkuk evokes the deer which nimbly “tread upon the heights,” escaping, in the end, the trampling horses of Babylon.

Habakkuk meditated on God’s character and purposes, yet remained troubled by God’s word to him, that Babylon’s armies would be God’s judgment on Judah, and at an undisclosed future time, God would judge Babylon for their bloodlust.

Now, as Habakkuk remained steadfast in the metaphor of a watchman on the wall, God readied the prophet to receive a vision of what was to come.


Blocked Goals and Unfulfilled Desires[1]

The watch tower Habakkuk mentioned in the first verse of chapter two was detached from the rest of the city, a quiet place to concentrate on watching. It is a good practice, to ruminate in quiet reflection when it seems God has not offered a satisfying answer.

Worry and anxious fretting are not so much a sign of ruminating as they are a sign of fear that the desired outcome/answer may not be given.

Goals and desires are not the same thing.

Goal: A ‘goal’ is something a person can accomplish, on their own, such as matters of personal discipline. For example, I can make it my goal to get up at a certain time of day. I do not need anyone else to help me, I am able to accomplish this on my own.

Desire: ‘Desires’ are things people can desperately long for but which cannot be obtained without the help of another.

 HealthyUnhealthy
G O A L SI assume full responsibility for the end result. I am capable of accomplishing the outcome without help. Others’ involvement or response will not change what I can achieve.I assume full responsibility for the end result. Even though the end result requires cooperation from other people and/or circumstancesEven though it will mean I put demands on others or circumstances to meet my personal need/goal.
D E S I R E SMy hoped-for response from myself, others, or circumstances. I may even intensely desire thisI realize I cannot control or put demands on others or circumstances to achieve my desire.I can acknowledge my desires to others and to myselfMy hoped-for response from myself, others, or circumstances. Even though I am capable of assuming full responsibility, I do not.I put expectations on others or circumstances to accomplish (or at least take part in) the outcome.
Healthy and Unhealthy Goals and Desires | From The Lay Counselor Institute

In this chart, I work for the outcomes of my goals, and I pray for the outcomes of my desires.

Often, we can get our wires crossed.

  1. Healthy Goal: I work towards the outcome.
  1. Unhealthy Goal: I become controlling, demanding, and manipulative because I am intent on “making” another person, or circumstances, fulfill my goal. My own sense of need is driving me to frame my desires as goals.
  1. Healthy Desire: I acknowledge my desire to myself, to God, and to others, and hope my desire will be fulfilled.
  1. Unhealthy Desire: I abdicate my responsibility in working towards an outcome I am fully capable of achieving. Instead, I become controlling, demanding, and manipulative because I am intent on “making” another person, or circumstances, fulfill what should actually be my own personal goal.

In Habakkuk’s case

  1. Healthy Goal: As a prophet Habakkuk was given a word by God to deliver to the people, and he did so.
  1. Unhealthy Goal: Habakkuk wisely did not try to “make” the people respond rightly to his prophecies and words of warning. Only God can change the heart’s course.
  1. Healthy Desire: Habakkuk desperately longed that God would judge the wrongdoers in Judah, that God would bring idolatry and injustice to an end, that God would inspire righteousness and righteous living among the people of God. Habakkuk also longed that God would not involve the Babylonians.

These were legitimate desires, one might even say good desires, prompted by love for his people and love for God, fueled by knowing the potential for good in the people and God’s character of goodness, righteousness, holiness, faithfulness, and love. Habakkuk knew that sovereign God was powerful and able to accomplish these desires.

Anger often indicates a blocked goal….that we’ve made a legitimate desire into an illegitimate goal.

  1. Unhealthy Desire: Habakkuk wisely did not try to “make” God do any of those things, nor did Habakkuk keep silent. The only person Habakkuk could expect change of was himself. Rather than succumb to anger, Habakkuk wisely decided to wait on God, and think deeply about what he already knew.

Active Waiting on God

This was not a passive contemplation!

Not at all!

The watchtower as a building was detached, but the person in it was totally focused, on duty, actively watching to see what would happen.

Here is where Habakkuk showed remarkable spiritual and emotional wisdom. He desired a word from God, an answer that could help him process the second two of his three troubled questions to the Lord:

  • Why will You bring in the Chaldeans to decimate Judah?
  • Will You ever bring mercy?

He did not get angry, or try to maneuver, manipulate, bargain, coerce, or in any other way “make” God answer him or change God’s mind.

And Habakkuk accepted God’s statement to his first question, “Why have You not brought corrective justice to Judah?” God had answered definitively: so that their wrongdoing would reach its logical culmination (“fullness of sin”) and the Chaldeans would come as God’s judgement on the nation.

Habakkuk did not question God on this point anymore, for Israel’s history had borne out the consistency of God’s method when it came to the judgment of sin. When sin reached its “fullness” it would be judged, as God had explained thousands of years before to their patriarch Abraham. It would take another four hundred years before God would bring Abraham’s descendants back into the land of Canaan, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

Habakkuk was totally focused, attuned to God’s voice. He was actively watching to see what God would do. Today, you and I can be attuned to the Spirit’s teaching and illumination in the scriptures, patiently waiting on God as we make prayer and reading God’s word a regular part of our seeking God’s wisdom and guidance, and answers.

Habakkuk was patient. And as you and I patiently wait, we will know it is God speaking, when God responds. Sometimes God speaks directly, as the Lord would do with Habakkuk.

  • Sometimes a Biblical passage will suddenly seem to have a poignant relevance to what we are experiencing, or asking God about.
  • Sometimes God speaks through circumstances, or other people.
  • Sometimes the answer is without words, something has shifted inwardly, and we know the answer, with a settled peace.

Habakkuk was persistent in his expectation of God’s response. The prophet stationed himself in the watchtower. He was going to stay there until God’s answer came.

God’s answer to Habakkuk’s Prayer

God honored the prophet’s perseverance, God honored his faithfulness, God honored his expectant waiting.

Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
    it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
    it will surely come
, it will not delay.”

YHWH to Habakkuk, Habakkuk 2:2-3 (NRSV)

God’s answer was not just for Habakkuk, it was for all people, to build up their (and our) faith.


[1] This material comes from my training with The Lay Counselor Institute

[Cover Illustration | Pixabay]

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