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Hide and Watch

by Tim O'Hearn

The George Seuratt painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte, which is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago, is a pointillist painting about 6.8 feet high and 10.1 feet wide. It is so large that to take it all in you have to stand practically at the other end of the room in which it is hung. Imagine, then, trying to look at the painting from only a couple of feet away. All your eyes can really comprehend are a couple of feet square of what look like random dots on the canvas. This is essentially what the prophet Habbakuk saw of history; just a tiny portion that was virtually unrecognizable as anything. Yet the message of his prophecy is, “hide and watch.”

The nation of Judah was in trouble. They had stopped following God, and as a result He was bringing the Chaldean army against them.

I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. (Hab 1:5-7)

The prophet did not understand. Here was one of the most wicked nations of his time, about to destroy the nation of Judah. How could God stand by and watch that happen?

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? (Hab 1:13)

Judah, for all its wickedness still professed a belief in God. They were hardly righteous, but they were certainly more so than the Chaldeans. Surely God could not use a more wicked nation to punish His people.

At the start of what we call chapter 2, Habakkuk says he will stand upon a watchtower and see what God will say to him. He will hide and watch. And that is what God wants him to do, because he is about to explain himself.

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. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. (Hab 2:3-4)

God says wait. You don’t see the big picture, Habakkuk, because you are standing too close. What you don’t see is that the Chaldeans will also be punished for their wickedness. They don’t realize that they are merely a tool in the hand of God. In their pride they will be brought low. “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab 2:20)

What God told Habakkuk about Judah and Babylon applies today. Too often we are standing too close to the picture to see the whole thing. We see a dog, and miss all the people in the painting. We see the wicked seeming to prosper, and the righteous suffer.

God told Habbakuk first of all not to compare one person to another. Don’t say that the Babylonians are more wicked than the Judeans, so it isn’t fair to use them to punish. Likewise, we must not compare our righteousness to that of others. After all, we have no righteousness of our own without Jesus. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5:21)

Beyond that, we do not know what God is working in the big picture. All we see is our own little corner, but God says to hide and watch. He is working in ways we cannot comprehend. We may not always be able to step back and see more of the picture, but just seeing a small part we know that the larger picture is there.

And we know to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose, that all things work together for good. (Rom 8:28)