Verses 1–4

Here, I. The prophet humbly gives his attendance upon God (Hab. 2:1): “I will stand upon my watch, as a sentinel on the walls of a besieged city, or on the borders of an invaded country, that is very solicitous to gain intelligence. I will look up, will look round, will look within, and watch to see what he will say unto me, will listen attentively to the words of his mouth and carefully observe the steps of his providence, that I may not lose the least hint of instruction or direction. I will watch to see what he will say in me” (so it may be read), “what the Spirit of prophecy in me will dictate to me, by way of answer to my complaints.” Even in a ordinary way, God not only speaks to us by his word, but speaks in us by our own consciences, whispering to us, This is the way, walk in it; and we must attend to the voice of God in both. The prophet’s standing upon his tower, or high place, intimates his prudence, in making use of the helps and means he had within his reach to know the mind of God, and to be instructed concerning it. Those that expect to hear from God must withdraw from the world, and get above it, must raise their attention, fix their thought, study the scriptures, consult experiences and the experienced, continue instant in prayer, and thus set themselves upon the tower. His standing upon his watch intimates his patience, his constancy and resolution; he will wait the time, and weather the point, as a watchman does, but he will have an answer; he will know what God will say to him, not only for his own satisfaction, but to enable him as a prophet to give satisfaction to others, and answer their exceptions, when he is reproved or argued with. Herein the prophet is an example to us. 1. When we are tossed and perplexed with doubts concerning the methods of Providence, are tempted to think that it is fate, or fortune, and not a wise God, that governs the world, or that the church is abandoned, and God’s covenant with his people cancelled and laid aside, then we must take pains to furnish ourselves with considerations proper to clear this matter; we must stand upon our watch against the temptation, that it may not get ground upon us, must set ourselves upon the tower, to see if we can discover that which will silence the temptation and solve the objected difficulties, must do as the psalmist, consider the days of old and make a diligent search (Ps. 77:6), must go into the sanctuary of God, and there labour to understand the end of these things (Ps. 73:17); we must not give way to our doubts, but struggle to make the best of our way out of them. 2. When we have been at prayer, pouring out our complaints and requests before God, we must carefully observe what answers God gives by his word, his Spirit, and his providences, to our humble representations; when David says, I will direct my prayer unto thee, as an arrow to the mark, he adds, I will look up, will look after my prayer, as a man does after the arrow he has shot, Ps. 5:3. We must hear what God the Lord will speak, Ps. 85:8. 3. When we go to read and hear the word of God, and so to consult the lively oracles, we must set ourselves to observe what God will thereby say unto us, to suit our case, what word of conviction, caution, counsel, and comfort, he will bring to our souls, that we may receive it, and submit to the power of it, and may consider what we shall answer, what returns we shall make to the word of God, when we are reproved by it. 4. When we are attacked by such as quarrel with God and his providence as the prophet here seems to have been—beset, besieged, as in a tower, by hosts of objectors—we should consider how to answer them, fetch our instructions from God, hear what he says to us for our satisfaction, and have that ready to say to others, when we are reproved, to satisfy them, as a reason of the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15), and beg of God a mouth and wisdom, and that it may be given us in that same hour what we shall speak.

II. God graciously gives him the meeting; for he will not disappoint the believing expectations of his people that wait to hear what he will say unto them, but will speak peace, will answer them with good words and comfortable words, Zech. 1:13. The prophet had complained of the prevalence of the Chaldeans, which God had given him a prospect of; now, to pacify him concerning it, he here gives him a further prospect of their fall and ruin, as Isaiah, before this, when he had foretold the captivity in Babylon, foretold also the destruction of Babylon. Now, this great and important event being made known to him by a vision, care is taken to publish the vision, and transmit it to the generations to come, who should see the accomplishment of it.

1. The prophet must write the vision, Hab. 2:2. Thus, when St. John had a vision of the New Jerusalem, he was ordered to write, Rev. 21:5. He must write it, that he might imprint it on his own mind, and make it more clear to himself, but especially that it might be notified to those in distant places and transmitted to those in future ages. What is handed down by tradition is easily mistaken and liable to corruption; but what is written is reduced to a certainty, and preserved safe and pure. We have reason to bless God for written visions, that God has written to us the great things of his prophets as well as of his law. He must write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, must write it legibly, in large characters, so that he who runs may read it, that those who will not allow themselves leisure to read it deliberately may not avoid a cursory view of it. Probably, the prophets were wont to write some of the most remarkable of their predictions in tables, and to hang them up in the temple, Isa. 8:1. Now the prophet is told to write this very plain. Note, Those who are employed in preaching the word of God should study plainness as much as may be, so as to make themselves intelligible to the meanest capacities. The things of our everlasting peace, which God has written to us, are made plain, they are all plain to him that understands (Prov. 8:9), and they are published with authority; God himself has prefixed his imprimatur to them; he has said, Make them plain.

2. The people must wait for the accomplishment of the vision (Hab. 2:3): “The vision is yet for an appointed time to come. You shall now be told of your deliverance by the breaking of the Chaldeans’ power, and that the time of it is fixed in the counsel and decree of God. There is an appointed time, but it is not near; it is yet to be deferred a great while;” and that comes in here as a reason why it must be written, that it may be reviewed afterwards and the event compared with it. Note, God has an appointed time for his appointed work, and will be sure to do the work when the time comes; it is not for us to anticipate his appointments, but to wait his time. And it is a great encouragement to wait with patience, that, though the promised favour be deferred long, it will come at last, and be an abundant recompence to us for our waiting: At the end it shall speak and not lie. We shall not be disappointed of it, for it will come at the time appointed; nor shall we be disappointed in it, for it will fully answer our believing expectations. The promise may seem silent a great while, but at the end it shall speak; and therefore, though it tarry longer than we expected, yet we must continue waiting for it, being assured it will come, and willing to tarry until it does come. The day that God has set for the deliverance of his people, and the destruction of his and their enemies, is a day, (1.) That will surely come at last; it is never adjourned sine die—without fixing another day, but it will without fail come at the fixed time and the fittest time. (2.) It will not tarry, for God is not slack, as some count slackness (2 Pet. 3:9); though it tarry past our time, yet it does not tarry past God’s time, which is always the best time.

3. This vision, the accomplishment of which is so long waited for, will be such an exercise of faith and patience as will try and discover men what they are, Hab. 2:4. (1.) There are some who will proudly disdain this vision, whose hearts are so lifted up that they scorn to take notice of it; if God will work for them immediately, they will thank him, but they will not give him credit; their hearts are lifted up towards vanity, and, since God puts them off, they will shift for themselves and not be beholden to him; they think their own hands sufficient for them, and God’s promise is to them an insignificant thing. That man’s soul that is thus lifted up is not upright in him; it is not right with God, is not as it should be. Those that either distrust or despise God’s all-sufficiency will not walk uprightly with him, Gen. 17:1. But, (2.) Those who are truly good, and whose hearts are upright with God, will value the promise, and venture their all upon it; and, in confidence of the truth of it, will keep close to God and duty in the most difficult trying times, and will then live comfortably in communion with God, dependence on him, and expectation of him. The just shall live by faith; during the captivity good people shall support themselves, and live comfortably, by faith in these precious promises, while the performance of them is deferred. The just shall live by his faith, by that faith which he acts upon the word of God. This is quoted in the New Testament (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), for the proof of the great doctrine of justification by faith only and of the influence which the grace of faith has upon the Christian life. Those that are made just by faith shall live, shall be happy here and for ever; while they are here, they live by it; when they come to heaven faith shall be swallowed up in vision.