Habakkuk: Part III – The Just Shall Live By Faith

May 5, 2018
Warren Henderson

Habakkuk 2:2 – 3:19

In this third installment of a three part series, Warren Henderson takes us through the personal struggles that the prophet Habakkuk experienced in the life of faith – valuable lessons for believers in any age as they work through the problem of evil.

The prophet had questioned God’s method of chastening Israel, so he expected to be corrected (2:1). Although undoubtedly nervous about God’s response, Habakkuk was willing to receive God’s reproof to better understand His mind. God honored this attitude with a response which greatly benefited Habakkuk.

The Lord’s Second Response (2:2-4)

The Lord tells Habakkuk to write down the revelation on clay tablets to preserve it for others to read later, understand, and to herald throughout the land (2:2). Every prophecy issued by God has an appointed conclusion; some are immediate, some have near-term fulfillments, while others relate to the distant-future. All prophecies of God are true, but as the Lord tells Habakkuk, some require more patience to conclude in His timetable (2:3).

The destruction of Babylon and release of exiled Jewish captives seventy years afterwards was such a prophecy (Jer. 25:11). The crux of God’s message was: “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith” (2:4). The Chaldeans were high on themselves; they were ripe for judgment. It is natural for the wicked to exalt themselves and pursue their own lusts when God does delay by mercy their judgment (2 Pet. 3:3). In contrast to the condemned, the righteous seek to live humbly before God and be guided by faith during such delays.

Verse 4 is quoted three times in the New Testament to explain the broader experience of enjoying spiritual life in Christ through faith (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Romans emphasizes that those justified in Christ should be characterized by “just” behavior. The Galatian reference focuses on the necessity of “living” in the resurrection power of Christ’s life to please God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us the necessity of genuine “faith” to progress in the work of the Lord.

The message to Habakkuk (and to us too) is that trusting God and obeying His Word results in life (communion with Him), while pride and rebellion lead to death (separation from Him; Rom. 6:23). Habakkuk was not to trust in his emotions, but rather to have faith in God and His choices: God would chasten Judah, judge Babylon, and in the process, exalt His great name. The greatest good is accomplished when man lives by faith and trusts God with his fate.

While the main focus of Habakkuk’s prophecy concerned the future chastening of Israel and Babylon’s fall, its ultimate fulfillment relates to Christ’s second coming and Israel’s spiritual restoration. The writer of Hebrews quotes these verses with a slight modification to confirm this reality: “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Heb. 10:37-38).

The apostle switches the neuter pronouns in Habakkuk’s statement to the masculine to speak of Christ’s future coming. When Hebrews was written, Christ had already suffered Calvary, experienced death, burial, resurrection, and had been exalted to the Father’s throne in heaven. But that is not the end of the story; Christ is coming back again in power and majesty. At His second advent, He will put down all injustice and wickedness in the earth, obliterate Israel’s enemies, and restore the Jewish nation to a place of honor in their land. The writer says that this will all happen in “a little while.”

No doubt Habakkuk was thrilled to know God’s near-term plan for refining Israel and destroying Babylon, but what he deeply yearned for would not come until much later. True faith invigorates the soul with hope! Faith permits believers to discern and hold to the truth. Genuine faith enables God’s people to humbly press on despite the toils of ministry, the contradiction of sinners, and the sorrows of living in a sin-cursed world. The self-willed person will utterly fail in accomplishing anything for eternity, but not so for those justified in Christ and who live by faith.

The Lord’s Woeful Song (2:5-20)

The Lord then describes the character of the Babylonians which deserved retribution. They were arrogant, greedy, restless drunkards who would not be satisfied until they had conquered all peoples and nations (2:5). However, their insatiable appetite for power and riches would end – God would smash their empire in His timing. The remainder of God’s message in conveyed in a satirical song having five stanzas. Each stanza contains three verses and is associated with a particular “woe” (vv. 6, 9, 12, 15, 19). Those who had suffered Babylon’s brutality would be encouraged later by singing this taunting proverb after her judgment.

The first woe was levied because of Babylon’s brutal abuse and selfish exploitation of the nations, the second a rebuke of Babylon’s self-indulgence and self-exaltation. The third woe was spoken to rebuke her prolific iniquity, and the fourth for her indignity and inhuman treatment of those she conquered. The last stanza commences with a question rather than a woe: “What profit is the image” (2:18). God’s final woe expresses His condemnation to those who revere and serve lifeless images and reject the true life-giving God (2:19). The poem climaxes in verse 20: “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (v. 20). Jehovah is not silent and He rules from His throne. The Lord’s song against Babylon had an invigorating effect on Habakkuk, as shown in chapter 3.

Habakkuk’s Doxology (3:1-19)

Having learned about God’s plan to chasten and restore His wayward people, the prophet poses no more quandaries or protests; rather, he concludes his oracles with a hymn that is mingled with praise, a passionate plea, and thanksgiving. After first exalting the Lord, Habakkuk submits his only request: “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (3:2). Habakkuk yearned to witness the greatness of God’s power as He fulfilled His promises, especially in showing His mercy to Israel.

Having stated his request, the prophet launches into a doxology that recalls God’s previous feats of power and mercy: God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt, and leading them through the wilderness into the Promised Land (3:3-16). Habakkuk affirms his confidence that God after chastening His people in Babylon, would return them to the Promised Land (3:17). He then declares one of the strongest statements of faith found in Scripture: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (3:18).

The God-fearing prophet began his journey burdened with complaints and quandaries, but he concludes it by singing praises to His incredible God. Once weighed down with burdens and hindered by tunnel vision, Habakkuk had been transformed into a joyful prophet experiencing the blessing of God’s presence. God had said that “the just shall live by faith” (2:4) and indeed, this is how the believer enjoys “the victory that has overcome the world” (1 Jn. 5:4). Happy is the believer who rests in Christ above (Eph. 1:3, 2:6) and can by faith say, “the Lord God is my strength” (3:19) for He rules over all that happens below too!