3. The Prophet now shows by his own example that there is no fear but that God will give help in time, provided we bring our minds to a state of spiritual tranquillity, and constantly look up to him: for the event which the Prophet relates, proves that there is no danger that God will frustrate their hope and patience, who lift up their minds to heaven, and continue steadily in that attitude. Answer me, he says, did Jehovah, and said. There is no doubt but that the Prophet accommodates here his own example to the common instruction of the whole Church. Hence, by testifying that an answer was given him by God, he intimates that we ought to entertain a cheerful hope, that the Lord, when he finds us stationed in our watch-tower, will in due season convey to us the consolation which he sees we need.
But he afterwards comes to the discharge of his prophetic office; for he was bid to write the vision on tables, and to write it in large letters, that it might be read, and that any one, passing by quickly, might be able by one glance to see what was written: and by this second part he shows still more clearly that he treated of a common truth, which belonged to the whole body of the Church; for it was not for his own sake that he was bid to write, but for the edification of all.
Write, then, the vision, and make it plain; for באר, bar, properly means, to declare plainly. Unfold it then, he says, on tables, that he may run who reads it; that is, that the writing may not cause the readers to stop. Write it in large characters, that any one, in running by, may see what is written. Then he adds, for the vision shall be for an appointed time.
This is a remarkable passage; for we are taught here that we are not to deal with God in too limited a manner, but room must be given for hope; for the Lord does not immediately execute what he declares by his mouth; but his purpose is to prove our patience, and the obedience of our faith. Hence he says, the vision is for a time, and a fixed time: for מועד, muod, means a time which has been determined by agreement. But as it is God who fore-appoints the time, the constituted time, of which the Prophet speaks, depends on his will and power. The vision, then, shall be for a time. He reproves here that immoderate ardour which takes hold on us, when we are anxious that God should immediately accomplish what he promises. The Prophet then shows that God so speaks as to be at liberty to defer the execution of his promise until it seems good to him.
At the end, he says, it will speak. In a word, the Prophet intimates, that honour is to be given to God’s word, that we ought to be fully persuaded that God speaks what is true, and be so satisfied with his promises as though what is promised were really possessed by us. At the end, then, it will speak and it will not lie. Here the Prophet means, that fulfilment would take place, so that experience would at length prove, that God had not spoken in vain, nor for the sake of deceiving; but yet that there was need of patience; for, as it has been said, God intends not to indulge our fervid and importunate desires by an immediate fulfilment, but his design is to hold us in suspense. And this is the true sacrifice of praise, when we restrain ourselves, and remain firm in the persuasion that God cannot deceive nor lie, though he may seem for a time to trifle with us. It will not, then, lie.
He afterwards adds, If it will delay, wait for it. He again expresses still more clearly the true character of faith,—that it does not break forth immediately into complaints, when God connives at things, when he suffers us to be oppressed by the wicked, when he does not immediately succour us; in a word, when he does not without delay fulfil what he has promised in his word. If, then, it delays, wait for it. He again repeats the same thing, coming it will come; that is, however it may be, God, who is not only true, but truth itself, will accomplish his own promises. The fulfilment, then, of the promise will take place in due time.
But we must notice the contrariety, If it will delay; it will come, it will not delay. The two clauses seem to be contrary the one to the other. But delay, mentioned first, has a reference to our haste. It is a common proverb, “Even quickness is delay to desire.” We indeed make such haste in all our desires, that the Lord, when he delays one moment, seems to be too slow. Thus it may come easily to our mind to expostulate with him on the ground of slowness. God, then, is said on this account to delay in his promises; and his promises also as to their accomplishment may be said to be delayed. But if we have regard to the counsel of God, there is never any delay; for he knows all the points of time, and in slowness itself he always hastens, however this may be not comprehended by the flesh. We now, then, apprehend what the Prophet means.
He is now bidden to write the vision, and to explain it on tables. Many confine this to the coming of Christ; but I rather think that the Prophet ascribes the name of vision to the doctrine or admonition, which he immediately subjoins. It is indeed true, that the faithful under the law could not have cherished hope in God without having their eyes and their minds directed to Christ: but it is one thing to take a passage in a restricted sense as applying to Christ himself, and another thing to set forth those promises which refer to the preservation of the Church. As far then as the promises of God in Christ are yea and amen, no vision could have been given to the Fathers, which could have raised their minds, and supported them in the hope of salvation, without Christ having been brought before them. But the Prophet here intimates generally, that a command was given to him to supply the hearts of the godly with this support, that they were, as we shall hereafter more clearly see, to wait for God. The vision, then, is nothing else than an admonition, which will be found in the next and the following verses.
He uses two words, to write and to explain; which some pervert rather than rightly distinguish: for as the Prophets were wont to write, and also to set forth the summaries or the heads of their discourses, they think that it was a command to Habakkuk to write, that he might leave on record to posterity what he had said; and then to publish what he taught as an edict, that it might be seen by the people passing by, not only for a day or for a few days. But I do not think that the Prophet speaks with so much refinement: I therefore consider that to write and to explain on tables mean the same thing. And what is added, that he may run who reads it, is to be understood as I have already explained it; for God intended to set forth this declaration as memorable and worthy of special notice. It was not usual with the Prophets to write in long and large characters; but the Prophet mentions here something peculiar, because the declaration was worthy of being especially observed. What is similar to this is said in Isaiah 8:1, ‘Write on a table with a man’s pen.’ By a man’s pen is to be understood common writing, such as is comprehended by the rudest and the most ignorant. To the same purpose is what God bids here his servant Habakkuk to do. Write, he says—how? Not as Prophecies are wont to be written, for the Prophets set before the people the heads of their discourses; but write, he says, so that he who runs may read, and that though he may be inattentive, he may yet see what is written; for the table itself will plainly show what it contains.
We now see that the Prophet commends, by a peculiar eulogy, what he immediately subjoins. Hence this passage ought to awaken all our powers, as God himself testifies that he announces what is worthy of being remembered: for he speaks not of a common truth; but his purpose was to reveal something great and unusually excellent; as he bids it, as I have already said, to be written in large characters, so that those who run might read it.
And by saying that the vision is yet for a time, he shows, as I have briefly explained, what great reverence is due to heavenly truth. For to wish God to conform to our rule is extremely preposterous and unreasonable: and there is no place for faith, if we expect God to fulfil immediately what he promises. It is hence the trial of faith to acquiesce in God’s word, when its accomplishment does in no way appear. As then the Prophet teaches us, that the vision is yet for a time, he reminds us that we have no faith, except we are satisfied with God’s word alone, and suspend our desires until the seasonable time comes, that which God himself has appointed. The vision, then, yet shall be. But we are inclined to reduce, as it were, to nothing the power of God, except he accomplishes what he has said: “Yet, yet,” says the Prophet, “the vision shall be;” that is, “Though God does not stretch forth his hand, still let what he has spoken be sufficient for you: let then the vision itself be enough for you; let it be deemed worthy of credit, so that the word of God may on its own account be believed; and let it not be tried according to the common rule; for men charge God with falsehood, except he immediately yields to their desires. Let then the vision itself be counted sufficiently solid and firm, until the suitable time shall come.” And the word מועד, muod, ought to be noticed; for the Prophet does not speak simply of time, but, as I have already said, he points out a certain and a preordained time. When men make an agreement, they on both sides fix the day: but it would be the highest presumption in us to require that God should appoint the day according to our will. It belongs, then, to him to appoint the times, and so to govern all things, that we may approve of whatever he does.
He afterwards says, And it will speak at the end, and it will not lie. The same is the import of the expression, it will speak at the end; that is, men are very perverse, if they wish God to close his mouth, and if they wish to deny faith to his word, except he instantly fulfils what he speaks. It will then speak; that is, let this liberty of speaking be allowed to God. And there is always an implied contrast between the voice of God and its accomplishment; for we are to acquiesce in God’s word, though he may conceal his hand: though he may afford no proof of his power, yet the Prophet commands this honour to be given to his word. The vision, then, will speak at the end.
He now expresses more clearly what he had before said of the preordained time; and thus he meets the objections which Satan is wont to suggest to us: “How long will that time be delayed? Thou indeed namest it as the preordained time; but when will that day come?” “The Lord,” he says, “will speak at the end;” that is, “Though the Lord protracts time, and though day after day we seem to live on vain promises, yet let God speak, that is, let him have this honour from you, and be ye persuaded that he is true, that he cannot disappoint you; and in the meantime wait for his power; wait, so that ye may yet remain quiet, resting on his word, and let all your thoughts be confined within this stronghold—that it is enough that God has spoken. The rest we shall defer until to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us labouring under so much weakness, yea, with our minds so blinded that our faith falters at the smallest perplexities, and almost fails altogether,—O grant that by the power of thy Spirit we may be raised up above this world, and learn more and more to renounce our own counsels, and so to come to thee, that we may stand fixed in our watch-tower, ever hoping, through thy power, for whatever thou hast promised to us, though thou shouldst not immediately make it manifest to us that thou hast faithfully spoken; and may we thus give full proof of our faith and patience, and proceed in the course of our warfare, until at length we ascend, above all watch-towers, into that blessed rest, where we shall no more watch with an attentive mind, but see, face to face, in thine image, whatever can be wished, and whatever is needful for our perfect happiness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
3 The reasons underlying the directive of v. 2 are made clear in v. 3. Because the revelation “awaits” a future fulfillment, at “the end,” and its impact extends beyond the present, it must therefore be transmitted and preserved in a permanent form. A further amplification of the important role of the “vision” has come through the discovery that what has been construed as a verb, “it speaks” (weyāpēaḥ) or “hastens” (RSV), is analogous to a Ugaritic noun (ypḥ) meaning “testifier” (NIDOTTE, 2:496–97). With the further possible emendation of “awaits” (Heb. adverb ʿôd, “yet”) to “witness” (Heb. ʿēd), in parallel with “testifier,” we arrive at “for the witness of the vision is for an appointed time; it/he is a testifier to the end, which will not prove false/he will not lie” (cf. Andersen, 198ff.; Roberts, 105ff.).
As in 1:2–4, the “vision” may confound human timing or any expected denouement, as indeed often the Lord’s timetable and agenda differ from that of humans (cf. 1 Sa 13:8–15; Isa 55:8–9; Jn 11:5–21; 2 Pe 3:1–10). However, what may appear slow is nonetheless sure, all based on the certainty of the divine “vision.” Biblical “hope” is not wishful thinking, but instead a perspective based on revelation (Ro 4:18).
“The end” (qēṣ; GK 7891) referred to is definite in Hebrew, but it is not clearly specified; its usage implies the termination of a certain object, activity, or period of time (cf. La 4:18; Eze 7:2–3; 21:25, 29). The immediate context of the “revelation” is the end of the Babylonian oppression (vv. 4–20; cf. Jer 51:13), for which the prophet must “wait” (cf. 3:16). The noun “end” recurs frequently in Daniel (Da 8:17, 19; 9:26; 11:6, 13, 27, 35, 40, 45; 12:4, 6, 9, 13), closely associated with the term “appointed time” (môʿēd; Da 8:19; 11:27, 29, 35; 12:7), as here. In Daniel, however, the time of the end refers to the eschatological termination of Israel’s oppression by wickedness (i.e., chs. 7–12).
Second, the purpose of v. 2—that the reader, or “herald” (NIV) may “run”—is based on the certainty of the “revelation.” There is an “appointed time” for its fulfillment as determined by Yahweh and revealed in Habakkuk’s vision; it will not “prove false” or disappoint (cf. Isa 58:11) but “will certainly come.” In consequence of this assurance, the herald may run with confidence and perseverance the race marked out for him (cf. 1 Co 15:58; Heb 11:1; 12:1). The eschatological vision is further personalized by the LXX, which reads “(the) coming one will come” (erchomenos hēxei), in place of the MT’s “he/it will certainly come” (cf. Mal 3:1; Mt 11:3; Heb 10:37). The logical outcome of this “revelation” is that one should “wait” (cf. Pss 33:20; 106:13; Isa 8:17; 30:18; 64:4; Da 12:12; Zep 3:8).
Verses 2–3 thus provide a suggestive and compressed view of salvation history. Its future development is perfectly determined by God, who allows human beings to glimpse this future as a basis for faith and hope (cf. Ro 8:18–25; 1 Co 15:51–58). However, humans never see the entire pattern of salvation, so that events may seem delayed and disappointing. For this reason believers must lay hold of the future that God has revealed, waiting for it with eager faith and hope that surpass the apparent obstacles to its realization (3:17–19; cf. Ro 4:16–23; Heb 6:11–12, 18–19; 10:32–11:1; 12:1–29).
2:2–3 / Yahweh indeed responds with a revelation (khazon, the noun from the verb translated “received” in 1:1); Yahweh enables the lookout to see something that one could not see with ordinary eyes because it is too far away, or gives insight to the prophet who is seeking it. The bidding to Write down what he sees links with the fact that it relates to events some time in the future. One aspect of this is that writing it down will make it possible to vindicate the claim that Yahweh has said this and that Habakkuk is Yahweh’s prophet. The commission to write it down then implies that Yahweh indeed intends to act, but in a while, not now. Yet Yahweh has a more specific point in mind, related to someone being able to read out the prophecy now and thus make it possible for people to take notice of it; one might compare the dictating and writing in Jeremiah 36, even though that involved a scroll. Admittedly it is difficult to be sure what that precise point is. Perhaps prophets inscribed prophecies on tablets and left them in the temple courts for people to see. The niv then plausibly assumes that to make it plain on stone tablets will mean that a herald (lit., “someone who reads it out”) can run with it. When the moment comes that this revelation is about to be fulfilled, the herald who has to read it out can get about his task with ease. “Make it plain” suggests a declaration that is unequivocal. There is no obscurity about it. Perhaps Yahweh is speaking to the fact that often prophecy is expressed in symbols and images. Only rarely is it concrete in a way that means it can be held accountable. Yahweh here promises something concrete. Revelation is often obscure but immediate, or obscure but distant. This revelation is clear but distant.
But what is the revelation? The rhetoric continues to proceed by building up suspense; there is the comment about waiting (v. 1), then the instruction about writing (v. 2), and now an explanation about time to elapse before the fulfillment of the revelation whose content we have not been told (v. 3). Again, this would fit with the prophecy being a piece of narrative theology, if the readers for whom it is designed are people who have been waiting some time for Yahweh to act.
There will indeed be some time before the moment of fulfillment (v. 3). Habakkuk has implied that one of the problems in the community (as psalms often make clear) is deception; people’s word cannot be trusted (1:4). It would be tempting for people to reckon that Habakkuk’s alleged revelation from Yahweh was something of this sort. Yahweh declares that it will not prove false. But the revelation does relate to the appointed time, to the end (niv has “an” appointed time, but that word also has “the” before it). There is an “appointed time” within Yahweh’s intention to which the revelation relates; the revelation will come true at “the end” of the period that Yahweh has set. “End” (qets) is an ordinary word for the conclusion of a period of time (e.g., Exod. 12:41; Deut. 15:1). It is not a term that would make people think in terms of the End, the “eschaton,” though it may have that meaning in some later visions in Daniel 12 and at Qumran. Prophets do use it to refer to a devastating punishment coming on Ephraim and Judah (Amos 8:2; Ezek. 7:1–7), though there its reference is more existential than chronological. It is the end for them. But those existential connotations might well apply here. The appointed time will come, the end of the time Yahweh has set, and it will mean devastating punishment for Babylon, “the end” for it. In the meantime, Judah must wait in patience and expectancy (v. 3b). Though it linger perhaps reflects the fact that the actual audience of the prophecy is people for whom it has indeed tarried, and it encourages them still to live in expectancy. They will see the revelation’s fulfillment. Whether or not that is so, this is the encouragement and the promise for readers of the book who live under the domination of one superpower or another. Even if the prophecy does not mean action this month or this year, it does mean action and, when its time comes, it will not fail. If there seems a contradiction between “Though it linger” and it … will not delay, we might compare its point with the feelings a couple have about the coming birth of their baby. Pregnancy takes time, but the baby’s time will definitely come.
2:2–3. Habakkuk was instructed to record God’s answer on tablets, an echo of the giving of the law written on tablets of stone (see Ex 24:12; 31:18; 32:16). Record[ing] the message on stone resulted in a permanent but portable message that a messenger could deliver—the one who reads it may run. The message was to encourage the faithful of Judah that the vision of the events was yet for the appointed time, but it would certainly come and will not delay. Babylon did capture Jerusalem, and seemed for a while to be an unconquerable world ruler. Yet within 70 years Babylon would fall to the Medo-Persians, just as God foretold. The Lord’s word is always fulfilled, but often in unexpected ways (cf. Ps 90:4; 2Pt 3:9; Rv 22:20). This verse is quoted in the NT to encourage followers of Messiah to remain faithful to Him until the Lord Jesus returns (Heb 10:37).
God’s certain revelation (2:3)
2:3. Every prophetic revelation demands a certain degree of patience. One must wait for its fulfillment. God’s words to Habakkuk were reassuring: the revelation awaits an appointed time. The prophecy pointed toward a future goal (lit., “it pants toward the end,” like a runner toward the finish line). Reference to the end seems to signify not only the coming destruction of evil Babylonia but the broader fulfillment of the messianic judgment in the fall of “Babylon the Great” at the close of the Tribulation (Rev. 17–18).
One thing is certain: God’s revelation will not prove false. Though the fulfillment seems delayed, it will … come to pass in accord with His perfect plan. For those in Judah about to experience the awesome Babylonian invasion and Captivity, this assurance of fulfillment should have been a great comfort. Their barbaric captors would themselves in God’s due time suffer divine judgment!
The writer of Hebrews referred to this verse in his appeal for persecuted believers to persevere (Heb. 10:37). In his quote, he stressed the messianic significance of this passage in Habakkuk. The day is coming when the King of kings will reign on earth with perfect justice.
Instructions to Record the Answer and Await Its Fulfillment (2:2, 3)
2:2 The Lord commanded the prophet: “Write the vision” (His answer to Habakkuk’s question) so that the one who read it might run with the news (of the downfall of Babylon and the restoration of Judah).
2:3 A. J. Pollock says that this verse refers to the hope of the Jew—Christ’s coming to earth to subdue His enemies, take out of His kingdom all things that offend, and set up His glorious reign, making Israel the head of the nations because He will be at the head of the Jewish nation. When verse 3 is quoted in Hebrews 10:37, the “it” (i.e., the vision) becomes “He” (i.e., the Lord), who will surely come and will not tarry. The NT context refers to the hope of the Christian—the Rapture of the church.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Vol. 4, pp. 63–69). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Armerding, C. E. (2008). Habakkuk. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 624–625). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Goldingay, J., & Scalise, P. J. (2012). Minor Prophets II. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 66–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Rydelnik, M. A. (2014). Habakkuk. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1390). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Blue, J. R. (1985). Habakkuk. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 1512–1513). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1144). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.