Uniform 10.05.2014: And Never Stops at All

Habakkuk 2:1-5; 3:17-19

Habakkuk displays an ability to do something that I struggle with, especially in times of crisis or grief: he acknowledges and laments God’s silence while trusting that God will speak again. When I have experienced God’s absence from my life, the idea that God was still there somehow has not provided me with any sort of comfort. Instead, I become frustrated and angry that a loving God could know of my hurt and do nothing to ease my pain.

But the prophet finds a way to believe that God is there, seeing his circumstances and hearing his complaints, even though God says nothing. He pledges to “keep watch” (2:1) for a sign of God’s concern. He will remain alert and ready to receive God’s message, which he trusts will eventually come.

The image of Habakkuk keeping watch for a long-awaited word from God reminds me of the words of Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

The idea that hope is a chatty songbird has helped me navigate some of the darkest times of my life by helping me fight the anger I feel toward God. I bristled against this image at first because it feels so cheerful. When I face a situation that requires hope, like when God feels absent, there isn’t usually much singing going on. But Dickinson’s hope-bird doesn’t offer a fully formed song, just a tune. We don’t have to be able to articulate exactly what we hope for in order to find strength in difficult circumstances. We just have to trust the faint music deep in our souls that “never stops” suggesting that, somehow, things will get better.

This persistent tune helps explain how Habakkuk is able to commit to waiting for God’s message without knowing when it will come. At some deep-seated level, the prophet knows that God can be trusted to answer his concerns. And in response to his trust, God offers Habakkuk assurance that an answer is coming: “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” (2:3). “Keep listening to that hopeful bird’s tune,” God says to Habakkuk and to us. “Eventually I’ll teach you the words to sing along.”


1. How do you typically react when you feel that God does not see you or answer your concerns?
2. What does it mean to “keep watch” (2:1) for God? How can we continue to wait patiently for God when God feels far away?
3. Where do you think Habakkuk finds the confidence and trusts he needs to wait for God?
4. What deep-seated beliefs help you feel hope in difficult times? How have you been able to “sing the tune without the words”?
5. How does God’s response to Habakkuk in verse 3 encourage us to have hope in the midst of our own circumstances?


Emily Dickinson, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –” http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171619.

Reference Shelf

Habakkuk 2:1-5 continues the motif of the prophet’s confrontation, depicting the prophet waiting for a more satisfactory response from YHWH. The subsection includes two reports: a report of the prophet’s dissatisfaction with the previous response from YHWH (2:1) and a report of the vision the prophet receives that reaffirms the wicked will be punished (2:2-5).

In 2:1, the prophet goes to the watchpost to await additional word from YHWH. The prophet has laid out a complaint and petulantly expects a response from YHWH (not unlike Jonah’s reaction in Jonah 4:5). The word “watchpost” can mean either a place on the city walls or a place in the temple where priests, Levites, and prophets are known to have gone to receive visions (see, e.g., Neh 12:9; 2 Chr 7:6; 8:14; 35:2). It can also refer to metaphorical locations used by prophets (see Isa 21:8), especially as they wait for a military attack.

The word “reproof” (NRSV, “complaint”) can mean rebuttal, correction, or counter-argument, as well as punishment or reproof. In the context of Habakkuk 2:1, the speaker has laid a series of questions before YHWH, with the salient features being the pointed questions of 1:13b (“Why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?”) and 1:17 (“Is he [Babylon] then to keep on emptying his net, and destroying nations without mercy?”). In the rhetorical logic of the passage, then, the speaker of 2:1 takes his position on the city wall to await a response from YHWH. However, these questions challenge YHWH for an explanation, thus placing this dialogue in the framework of a debate. For this reason, the argument/counter-argument image makes it more likely that the prophetic encounter should be phrased more sharply: “I will keep watch to see what he will say against me, and how I will respond (lit., “return”) concerning my reproof.” In other words, the prophet expects to be reprimanded for speaking harshly to YHWH but does not intend to back down.

However, in 2:2 God commands the prophet to “write a vision,” so the reader expects a message, but the remainder of the verse conveys instructions about what to do with the “vision” rather than the contents of the vision itself. YHWH answers the speaker with a message to be published.

The meaning of the publication is ambiguous in some English translations. One should probably interpret the reader as “a herald” who is running because of the importance of the message he carries. This interpretation understands the participle “the one who reads” as the subject of the third masculine singular verb and the use of as the direct object of qôr∑< : “so that the one reading it may run.” The word “tablets” is the same word used for the stone tablets on which Moses wrote at YHWH’s command (Exod 24:12; 32:15-16, 19; 34:1, 4, 28-29), though Habakkuk 2:2 does not specify that the tablets were made of stone. At any rate, the verse relays instructions to the prophet concerning the message that follows in 2:4-5. The description of the vision, but again not its content, continues in 2:3. This description reassures the hearers of the vision’s truthfulness and the certainty of its arrival, even if it is delayed. In doing so, 2:3 suggests there will be a delay in the completion of the vision. The vision anticipates an end, but the end of what is not specified.

The vision proper begins with Habakkuk 2:4, though the extent of the vision is debated. The verse contrasts the arrogance of one who exhibits no righteousness with the fidelity of the righteous whose life pleases YHWH. New Testament writings treat this verse as a paradigmatic statement. This comparison continues in 2:5, using wine as a metaphor for the arrogant and greedy.

The NRSV offers a misleading translation of Habakkuk 2:5 in the phrases, “Wealth is treacherous, the arrogant do not endure.” The MT actually has “the wine is treacherous, an arrogant man, and he does not rest.” The MT represents a metaphorical personification of wine as that which has an insatiable appetite. It is not a condemnation of “wealth” as such.
The condemnation of the over-imbibing is a typical wisdom motif. Wine is personified in wisdom texts (cf. Prov 20:1), which often add a decided negative spin on the dangers of wine and its alluring qualities (Prov 4:17; 9:2, 5; 21:17; 23:20, 30-31; 31:4, 6). Habakkuk 2:5a-ba thus functions as an accusation of the arrogant, thus continuing the initial theme of 2:4.

Habakkuk 2:5bb (“He gathers all nations to himself, and collects all peoples for himself” [AT]) switches from a condemnation of drunkenness to military images—images more consistent with the Babylonian commentary that expanded the wisdom material in Habakkuk 1 than with the wisdom material. This sentence thus reflects the editorial adaptation of wisdom material to the political rise of Babylon, much like the interpretive commentary in Habakkuk 1:15-17.


James D. Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Micah–Malachi, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2011) 666-668.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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