(Calvin. Commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk. Part 4)
... Continued from Part 3

Chapter 2. 
Lecture One Hundred and Ninth. 
Habakkuk 2:1 
I will stand upon my watch, 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. 
    We have seen in the first chapter that the Prophet said in the 
name of all the faithful. It was indeed a hard struggle, when all 
things were in a perplexed state and no outlet appeared. The 
faithful might have thought that all things happened by chance, that 
there was no divine providence; and even the Prophet uttered 
complaints of this kind. He now begins to recover himself from his 
perplexities; and he ever speaks in the person of the godly, or of 
the whole Church. For what is done by some interpreters, who confine 
what is said to the prophetic office, I do not approve; and it may 
be easy from the contempt to learn, that the Prophet does not speak 
according to his private feeling, but that he represents the 
feelings of all the godly. So then we ought to collect this verse 
with the complaints, which we have before noticed; for the Prophet, 
finding himself sinking, and as it were overwhelmed in the deepest 
abyss, raises himself up above the judgement and reason of men, and 
comes nearer to God, that he might see from on high the things which 
take place on earth, and not judge according to the understanding of 
his own flesh, but by the light of the Holy Spirit. For the tower of 
which he speaks is patience arising from hope. If indeed we would 
struggle perseveringly to the last, and at length obtain the victory 
over all trials and conflicts, we must rise above the world. 
    Some understand by tower and citadel the Word of God: and this 
may in some measure be allowed, though not in every respect 
suitable. If we more fully weigh the reason for the metaphor, we 
shall be at no loss to know that the tower is the recess of the 
mind, where we withdraw ourselves from the world; for we find how 
disposed we are all to entertain distrust. When, therefore, we 
follow our own inclination, various temptations immediately lay hold 
on us; nor can we even for a moment exercise hope in God: and many 
things are also suggested to us, which take away and deprive us of 
all confidence: we become also involved in variety of thoughts, for 
when Satan finds men wandering in their imaginations and blending 
many things together, he so entangles them that they cannot by any 
means come nigh to God. If then we would cherish faith in our 
hearts, we must rise above all these difficulties and hindrances. 
And the Prophet by tower means this, that he extricated himself from 
the thoughts of the flesh; for there would have been no end nor 
termination to his doubts, had he tried to form a judgement 
according to his own understanding; I will stand, he says, on my 
tower, I and I will set myself on the citadel. In short, the 
sentence carries this meaning - that the Prophet renounced the 
judgement of men, and broke through all those snares by which Satan 
entangles us and prevents us to rise above the earth. 
    He then adds, I will watch to see what he may say to me, that 
is, I will be there vigilant; for by watching he means vigilance and 
waiting, as though he had said, "Though no hope should soon appear, 
I shall not despond; nor shall I forsake my station; but I shall 
remain constantly in that tower, to which I wish now to ascend: I 
will watch then to see what he may say to me." The reference is 
evidently to God; for the opinion of those is not probable, who 
apply this "saying" to the ministers of Satan. For the Prophet says 
first, 'I will see what he may say to me,' and then he adds, 'and 
what I shall answer.' They who explain the words 'what he may say,' 
as referring to the wicked who might oppose him for the purpose of 
shaking his faith, overlook the words of the Prophet, for he speaks 
here in the singular number; and as there is no name expressed, the 
Prophet no doubt meant God. But were the words capable of admitting 
this explanation, yet the very drift of the argument shows, that the 
passage has the meaning which I have attached to it. For how could 
the faithful answer the calumnies by which their faith was assailed, 
when the profane opprobriously mocked and derided them - how could 
they satisfactorily disprove such blasphemies, did they not first 
attend to what God might say to them? For we cannot confute the 
devil and his ministers, except we be instructed by the word of God. 
We hence see that the Prophet observes the best order in what he 
states, when he says in the first place, 'I will see what God may 
say to me;' and in the second place, 'I shall then be taught to 
answer to my chiding;' that is, "If the wicked deride my faith, I 
shall be able boldly to confute them; for the Lord will suggest to 
me such things as may enable me to give a full answer." We now 
perceive the simple and real meaning of this verse. It remains for 
us to accommodate the doctrine to our own use. 
    It must be first observed, that there is no remedy, when such 
trials as those mentioned by the Prophet in the first chapter meet 
us, except we learn to raise up our minds above the world. For if we 
contend with Satan, according to our own view of things, he will a 
hundred times overwhelm us, and we can never be able to resist him. 
Let us therefore know, that here is shown to us the right way of 
fighting with him, when our minds are agitated with unbelief, when 
doubts respecting God's providence creep in, when things are so 
confused in this world as to involve us in darkness, so that no 
light appears: we must bid adieu to our own reason; for all our 
thoughts are nothing worth, when we seek, according to our own 
reason, to form a judgement. Until then the faithful ascend to their 
tower and stand in their citadel, of which the Prophet here speaks, 
their temptations will drive them here and there, and sink them as 
it were in a bottomless gulf. But that we may more fully understand 
the meaning, we must know, that there is here an implied contrast 
between the tower and the citadel, which the Prophet mentions, and a 
station on earth. As long then as we judge according to our own 
perceptions, we walk on the earth; and while we do so, many clouds 
arise, and Satan scatters ashes in our eyes, and wholly darkens our 
judgement, and thus it happens, that we lie down altogether 
confounded. It is hence wholly necessary, as we have before said, 
that we should tread our reason under foot, and come nigh to God 
    We have said, that the tower is the recess of the mind; but how 
can we ascend to it? even by following the word of the Lord. For we 
creep on the earth; nay, we find that our flesh ever draws us 
downward: except then the truth from above becomes to us as it were 
wings, or a ladder, or a vehicle, we cannot rise up one foot; but, 
on the contrary, we shall seek refuges on the earth rather than 
ascend into heaven. But let the word of God become our ladder, or 
our vehicle, or our wings, and, however difficult the ascent may be, 
we shall yet be able to fly upward, provided God's word be allowed 
to have its own authority. We hence see how unsuitable is the view 
of those interpreters, who think that the tower and the citadel is 
the word of God; for it is by God's word, as I have already said, 
that we are raised up to this citadel, that is, to the safeguard of 
hope; where we may remain safe and secure while looking down from 
this eminence on those things which disturb us and darken all our 
senses as long as we lie on the earth. This is one thing. 
    Then the repetition is not without its use; for the Prophet 
says, On my tower will I stand, on the citadel will I set myself. He 
does not repeat in other words the same thing, because it is 
obscure; but in order to remind the faithful, that though they are 
inclined to sloth, they must yet strive to extricate themselves. And 
we soon find how slothful we become, except each of us stirs up 
himself. For when any perplexity takes hold on our minds, we soon 
succumb to despair. This, then, is the reason why the Prophet, after 
having spoken of the tower, again mentions the citadel. 
    But when he says, I will watch to see, he refers to 
perseverance; for it is not enough to open our eyes once, and by one 
look to observe what happens to us; but it is necessary to continue 
our attention. This constant attention is, then, what the Prophet 
means by watching; for we are not so clear-sighted as immediately to 
comprehend what is useful to be known. And then, though we may once 
see what is necessary, yet a new temptation can obliterate that 
view. It thus happens, that all our observations become evanescent, 
except we continue to watch, that is, except we persevere in our 
attention, so that we may ever return to God, whenever the devil 
raises new storms, and whenever he darkens the heavens with clouds 
to prevent us to see God. We hence see how emphatical is what the 
Prophet says here, I will watch to see. The Prophet evidently 
compares the faithful to watchmen, who, though they hear nothing, 
yet do not sleep; and if they hear any noise once or twice, they do 
not immediately sound an alarm, but wait and attend. As, then, they 
who keep watch ought to remain quiet, that they may not disturb 
others, and that they may duly perform their office; so it behaves 
the faithful to be also tranquil and quiet, and wait patiently for 
God during times of perplexity and confusion. 
    Let us now inquire what is the purpose of this watching: I will 
watch to see, he says, what he may say to me. There seems to be an 
impropriety in the expression; for we do not properly see what is 
said. But the Prophet connects together here two metaphors. To speak 
strictly correct, he ought to have said, "I will continue attentive 
to hear what he may say;" but he says, I will watch to see what he 
may say. The metaphor is found correctly used in Psal. 85: 8, "I 
will hear what God may say; for he will speak peace to his people." 
There also it is a metaphor, for the Prophet speaks not of natural 
hearing: "I will hear what God may speak," what does that hearing 
mean? It means this, "I will quietly wait until God shows his 
favour, which is now hid; for he will speak peace to his people;" 
that is, the Lord will never forget his own Church. But the Prophet, 
as I have said, joins together here two metaphors; for to speak, or 
to say, means no other thing than that God testifies to our hearts, 
that though the reason for his purpose does not immediately appear 
to us, yet all things are wisely ruled, and that nothing is better 
than to submit to his will. But when he says, "I will see, and I 
will watch what he may say," the metaphor seems incongruous, and yet 
there appears a reason for it; for the Prophet intended to remind 
us, that we ought to employ all our senses for this end, - to be 
wholly attentive to God's word. For though one may be resolved to 
hear God, we yet find that many temptations immediately distract us. 
It is not then enough to become teachable, and to apply our ears to 
hear his voice, except also our eyes be connected with them, so that 
we may be altogether attentive. 
    We hence see the object of the Prophet; for he meant to express 
the greatest attention, as though he had said, that the faithful 
would ever wander in their thoughts, except they carefully 
concentrated both their eyes and their ears, and all their senses, 
on God, and continually restrained themselves, lest vagrant 
speculations or imaginations should lead them astray. And further, 
the Prophet teaches us, that we ought to have such reverence for 
God's word as to deem it sufficient for us to hear his voice. Let 
this, then, be our understanding, to obey God speaking to us, and 
reverently to embrace his word, so that he may deliver us from all 
troubles, and also keep our minds in peace and tranquillity. 
    God's speaking, then, is opposed to all the obstreperous 
clamours of Satan, which he never ceases to sound in our ears. For 
as soon as any temptation takes place, Satan suggests many things to 
us, and those of various kinds: - "What will you do? what advice 
will you take? see whether God is propitious to you from whom you 
expect help. How can you dare to trust that God will assist you? How 
can he extricate you? What will be the issue?" As Satan then 
disturbs us in various ways, the Prophet shows that the word of God 
alone is sufficient for us all, then, who indulge themselves in 
their own counsels, deserve to be forsaken by God, and to be left by 
him to be driven up and down, and here and there, by Satan; for the 
only unfailing security for the faithful is to acquiesce in God's 
    But this appears still more clear from what is expressed at the 
close of the verse, when the Prophet adds, and what I may answer to 
the reproof given me; for he shows that he would be furnished with 
the best weapons to sustain and repel all assaults, provided he 
patiently attended to God speaking to him, and fully embraced his 
word: "Then," he says, "I shall have what I may answer to all 
reproofs, when the Lord shall speak to me". By "reproofs," he means 
not only the blasphemies by which the wicked shake his faith, but 
also all those turbulent feelings by which Satan secretly labours to 
subvert his faith. For not only the ungodly deride us and mock at 
our simplicity, as though we presumptuously and foolishly trusted in 
God, and were thus over-credulous; but we also reprove ourselves 
inwardly, and disturb ourselves by various internal contentions; for 
whatever comes to our mind that is in opposition to God's word, is 
properly a chiding or a reproof, as it is the same thing as if one 
accused himself, as though he had not found God to be faithful. We 
now, then see that the word "reproof" extends farther than to those 
outward blasphemies by which the unbelieving are wont to assail the 
children of God; for, as we have already said, though no one 
attempted to try our faith, yet every one is a tempter to himself; 
for the devil never ceases to agitate our minds. When, therefore, 
the Prophet says, what I may answer to reproof, he means, that he 
would be sufficiently fortified against all the assaults of Satan, 
both secret and external, when he heard what God might say to him. 
    We may also gather from the whole verse, that we can form no 
judgement of God's providence, except by the light of celestial 
truth. It is hence no wonder that many fall away under trials, yea, 
almost the whole world; for few there are who ascend into the 
citadel of which the Prophet speaks, and who are willing to hear God 
speaking to them. Hence, presumption and arrogance blind the minds 
of men, so that they either speak evil of God who addresses them, or 
accuse fortune, or maintain that there is nothing certain: thus they 
murmur within themselves, and arrogate to themselves more than they 
ought, and never submit to God's word. Let us proceed, - 
Habakkuk 2:2,3 
And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make [it] 
plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. 
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. 
    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 mace it plain; for "ba'ar" 
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 "mo'ed" 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 at 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 "mo'ed" 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 fulfil 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 sees 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. 

(Calvin... on Habakkuk)

Continued in Part 5...

file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvhab-04.txt