Watch Keeping

Habakkuk 2:1-3
David A. Davis
November 19, 2023
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We have an 85 lb. black lab whose name is Rooney. You may remember seeing the video of Rooney interrupting my sermon recording in our living room very early in the pandemic. When Rooney came into our home as a puppy, I was not really ready for another dog. I was outvoted 3 to 1. Two of the people voting in favor were no longer living in our house. Rooney is now 8 years old. One of Rooney’s favorite things to is to sit with Cathy and me on our back patio, especially at night. Our house backs up to Smoyer Park. So when we sit on the patio there are no lights to be seen. With our string of lights turned on, you can’t see a thing beyond the pavers that form the patio. Rooney goes to the very edge of the patio, sits down, and keeps watch. He won’t move until we go inside like he is protecting us from deer, fox, rabbits, squirrels. I have never asked Rooney whether he is keeping watch into the darkness with his eyes or with his ears but I am guessing it is both. Watch keeping.

“My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Ps. 130) “For God alone my soul waits in silence, from God comes my salvation.” (Ps. 62) “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27) Watch keeping.

From the prophet Habakkuk: “I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what the Lord will say to me and what the Lord will answer”.  Watch keeping. The prophet’s image is one of standing guard, being a lookout. Habakkuk announces that he will take his place high atop the wall. It is a very large wall that surrounds the city. He will ascend to a strategic point up on the wall; a corner, the highest point, or just the right spot with the best panoramic view. One doesn’t climb up to the watch post to enjoy the view. It is a spot to keep an eye on the movements of enemy forces or watch preparations for battle. Watch keeping is where protection begins. It is a place for vigilance. It is an environment with an edge to it not to be confused with a retreat setting or an oasis for reflection. It is not one of those Old Testament mountaintops but like those places of theophany where God spoke to Moses and Elijah, Habakkuk announces that he intends to watch and wait for a “Word from the Lord.” When Habakkuk demands an answer from God, he goes to the watch post. He turns to watch keeping. “I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what the Lord will say to me and what the Lord will answer”.

There is not much to know about Habakkuk. There is not much information about the prophet in the Hebrew bible. Historians of antiquity and bible scholars don’t’ add much more. Habakkuk was a prophet of God. A prophet who most likely lived in or around Jerusalem. The ancient city had expansive walls and plenty of watch posts and ramparts. Habakkuk was a Hebrew prophet at a time when Babylon was the empire of the day. That means that the city was in ruins. Jerusalem was under siege. The prophet’s world was crumbling around him. Not much more can be said about Habakkuk. The prophet’s call, however, is to watch keeping.

The book of Habakkuk is just three chapters. Chapter 1 is Habakkuk’s complaint to the Lord. After the few verses I read to you, chapter two is the Lord’s response. Chapter 3 is identified as the prophet’s prayer though Habakkuk’s very strong complaint should be understood as a prayer, a lament as well. The lament begins like this: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you, ‘violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong doing? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” It is the prophet calling on God to look around. “I’m not sure which world you are watching over but my world is falling apart. Evil carries the day. Violence never seems to stop. The bad guys always seem to win. You should be astounded at the nations that thrive. Righteous leaders are no where to be found. Aren’t you the God of old? Aren’t you the one to do something? Aren’t you the one who is supposed to make a difference?”

Habakkuk and his timeless complaint. He doesn’t stop there. “By the way Lord, I am getting tired of asking and pleading and getting nowhere. Nothing changes. So I am just going to climb up there to the watch post, stop my complaining and wait. I will wait to hear and watch to see what you have to say.”  You and I may not know a whole lot about Habakkuk but a whole lot of us have been to the watch post. Waiting for some answer, some explanation, some purpose that is yet to be revealed by the Lord of All.

Then the Lord answers Habakkuk. It’s a short book so the prophet didn’t have to wait long. “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets so that a runner may read it. 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.” God reassures Habakkuk there is still a vision even for these days; for the here and now. A vision of God’s future. If you don’t see it, you don’t grasp it, you don’t understand it. Be patient. It is surely coming.

When the vision, the assurance, the promise comes, the Lord tells the prophet to make it plain. Write it so that the people can carry it with them on the journey. Write it so they can read it and comprehend it along the way. So the runner can know it along the way. The vision, the assurance, the promise, the comfort, the message is sure and true. God is here, the world belongs to God, you belong to God. Despite all the signs to the contrary in crumbling world, God is steadfast and true and full of mercy, love, and grace. And as the Lord affirms and proclaims to the prophet, “The righteous live by faith”. The righteous shall live by faith rather than answers and certainties. Share the vision in a way that it is not just etched in stone but etched into the hearts of those called by God “to run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12).

In Habakkuk’s prayer that concludes the book, the prophet offers praise and adoration. In our small group this week studying the prayer of Hannah and the prayer of Mary we had a good discussion about whether prayer always has to start with praise and adoration. One can’t help but notice Habakkuk starts with complaint and moves later to praise and adoration. His prayer of praise and adoration is a prayer that God would come and save God’s people; that God’s people would endure. He also acknowledges there will still be waiting and a need for patience. Amid the watching and waiting, Habakkuk finishes the prayer:  “Yet……I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord is my strength.” Amid watching and waiting, yet… I will rejoice. The prophet of such strong complaint. The prophet of such strong praise. And in between Habakkuk went to the watch post. Watch keeping.

During these last weeks of this series on ways to pray from the Old Testament, I have found myself re-reading Anne Lamott’s short book on prayer entitled Help Thanks Wow. Len Scales discussed this book in the first Adult Education class of the series last month. In the section on prayer as simply asking God for help, Anne Lamott writes this: “One modest tool for letting go in prayer that I’ve used for twenty-five years is a God box. I’ve relied on every imaginable container- from a pillbox, to my car’s glove box, to decorative boxes friends have given me. The container has to exist in time and space so you can physically put a note in it, so you can see yourself let go, in time and space”

She goes on her practice of jotting down the prayer requests that are the most distressing and heavy on her heart. She takes the note, folds it up and sticks in the box and closes the box. “You might have a brief moment of prayer” Lamott says, “it might come out sounding like this: ‘Here. You think you’re so big? Fine. You deal with it. Although I have a few more excellent ideas on how best to proceed’. Then I agree to keep my sticky mitts off the spaceship until I hear back”.  She tells of waiting for response that surely won’t be a voice or skywriting but a time when you know again who God is and who you are. “Maybe after you put a not in the God box you’ll go a little limp, and in that divine limpness you’ll be able to breath again….Breath is holy spirit. Breath is life.” Lamott tells of a friend of hers who is a priest who told her that “through prayer, we take ourselves off the hook and put God on the hook, where God belongs.”

In sharing her twenty-five year practice of the God box, Anne Lamott is sharing her version of the watch post. Her version of watch keeping. Hearing and seeing and being claimed again and again by a vision from God. Clear and easy answers? Not so much. But an assurance that there is a vision for the here and now. A promise of God’s presence and a reminder deep within that God’s future is real. An almost mystical affirmation that God is still in control. For at the end of the day, and all through the night, the righteous shall live by faith.

From complaint to praise and a vision of the promise of God that comes right smack in the middle of it all. From complaint to praise, with a visit to the watch post right in between. You remember Jesus said “Come unto me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”.  How many times have we heard it, read it, pondered it. The invitation of Jesus. It is an invitation from our Lord and Savior’s to bring your complaint to him, even when, especially when your life or the world feels like it is crumbling. Jesus’ invitation to come to the watch post with him. Jesus invites us to meet him at the watch post. Jesus invites us to come watch keeping. “Come unto me”.

Jesus is our watch post.