A friend of mine recently invited me to think alongside her about the biblical concept of anticipation. When she asked me to search the Scriptures with her for the truth about anticipation and waiting well, I had no idea I would be combing through the words of the prophet Habakkuk for answers to questions I did not even know I was asking. To my surprise, Habakkuk has much to say about anticipation and about what it means to wait well.
Scripture is clear that we are creatures created for waiting; it is a part of what it means to be human. Waiting and anticipation remind us that we are finite, created to exist in time and experience change. We are not like God, the One who is self-existent, self-sufficient, and fully independent – the source and definition of life itself, timeless and unchanging. This is why man “became a living creature” only after God Himself “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). Our total dependence upon God the Creator requires us to wait and experience anticipation, an expression of our inability to be self-sufficient and totally independent. These latter attributes are only for the Creator.
So, if Scripture is clear that we are creatures created for waiting, it must also contain clear directions that will equip us to wait well. This is where the prophet Habakkuk informs our thinking, for he himself was waiting for the salvation of Israel, his own people.
Habakkuk’s opening cry to the Lord is one that acknowledges the tension of waiting – “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2). Habakkuk’s words do not shy away from confessing the tension that is always so present with waiting and anticipation. This tension is purposeful in reminding us of our limits, that we are not like God, the One who is eternally outside of time. There is distinction between him, the Creator, and between us, the creature. He is not confined in the tension of the “already and not yet” like his creatures. Therefore, we can take comfort in this: the tension that exists in waiting exists by God’s design as our Creator.
What is the Lord’s response to Habakkuk and what will he answer concerning Habakkuk’s complaint? The Lord does not relieve the tension of anticipation and waiting that Habakkuk hopes will cease. Truthfully, the Lord acknowledges the tension and encourages Habakkuk to continue to wait with repose, for the word of the Lord will not fail because he who gives his Word does not change (Habakkuk 2:3). Yet this is not the only instruction that the Lord gives Habakkuk. The Lord is also quick to instruct Habakkuk to flee the temptation to alleviate the tension of waiting with fleshly antidotes that indulge our arrogance and greed rather than our holiness and gratitude (Habakkuk 2:5).
Is there any purpose for the tension of anticipation and waiting that we so often spurn rather than embrace? Yes – the Lord’s design is purposeful in all things. The tension of waiting and anticipation pushes us towards worship because the Lord, our Creator, commands our worship. Anything used to alleviate the tension of waiting, a tension that should draw us to worship him who designed for that tension to exist, is idolatry. We are creatures created for waiting, we are creatures created for worship, and who we worship matters. Where we direct the attention of our hearts as we navigate the tension of waiting matters.
This is why, when the Lord confronts and condemns idolatry in Habakkuk, the Lord contrasts himself as the One, True, Living God by comparison to the lifeless, breathless false gods that both Israel and the surrounding pagan nations worshiped:
“But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before Him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
The imagery that the Lord uses here is important. The picture the Lord gives us of himself in his temple reminds us of that we are to worship the God who is timeless and eternal, the God who does not experience change or alter his purposes, and therefore, the God who is sovereignly exercising authority over all creation and all change that we wait for and anticipate. When God commands our silence, he is commanding our reverence and our worship. This command is not one that negates our productive, worshipful activity, but it is a command that condemns our clamoring and questioning that serve to reveal the ingratitude rooted in the arrogance of our hearts. What right does the creature have to complain before his Creator? This is why Habakkuk opens and concludes his closing prayer in worship and gratitude before the Lord:
“O LORD, I have heard of the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear… I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me read on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:1, 18-19).
God, the Lord, he who commands all change and has designed for us to worshipfully wait – he always acts for the salvation of his anointed (Habakkuk 3:12). Because he is eternal, steadfast, and unchanging, our salvation is secure, and our waiting is purposeful, created by Divine design for our worship.