"The Just Shall Live by His Faith"

The book of Habakkuk is a book about faith.  Let's first of all notice the theme of the book.  In reference to all that the prophet says which will be examined in this article, God responds by saying…

Habakkuk 2.4:  “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.”

These words are quoted three times in the New Testament.  We find them in Romans 1.17, Galatians 3.11, and in Hebrews 10.38.  The original words are found right here in Habakkuk 2.4.  

Notice that there is a word that is in this declaration that we do not find in the three times that it is quoted in the New Testament.  The prophet looks around him and sees all the sin surrounding him and cries out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry out to you.”  And God’s answer is, you need to live by your faith.

The Context of the Book of Habakkuk

The name Habakkuk means, “he who embraces”, and when you look at the three chapters that comprise the book, you will find that this prophet who was brokenhearted, heavy burdened by what he saw, was indeed embraced by God.

Let’s go to the book of Habakkuk and look at the overall context in which this book was written.  The context can be established in the first four verses of the first chapter.  

Habakkuk 1.1:  “The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw.”

The word “burden” translates a word that describes something that a beast of burden would carry.  It was a heavy weight.  The prophet was weighed down carrying a heavy burden.

Notice also that this is the burden which was seen by the prophet.  It was a burden "which the prophet saw."  If we were to go back to Exodus 4, we would read about the definition of a prophet.  God told Moses that He was going to give him the words to say to Aaron.  Moses was then going to tell Aaron what to say to Pharaoh.  God then refers to Aaron as the spokesman for Moses.  

In Exodus 7, we reflect on this arrangement, and God said to Moses in verse 1 that Aaron is to Moses a prophet.  

A prophet is a spokesman.  So you are reading the book of Habakkuk about a man who was a spokesman for God, and this spokesman for God had a broken spirit being burdened by what he saw.

Note how this book of prophecy begins.  

Habakkuk 1.2:  "LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?  Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save."

Habakkuk is constantly talking to God, and God seemingly does not hear.

If you look at a map of Palestine, you will find that there are two nations that make up Israel.  This division happened because of what was done by Solomon’s sons.  As a result, you now have Northern Israel which is comprised of ten of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Right above them on the map was the nation of Assyria.  Because of the sins of the Northern kingdom and their unwillingness to repent and turn from their sins, God sent Assyria after them.  Assyria destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, brought many of the Israelites into slavery, and you never hear from them again. 

Then there is the second part of the divided kingdom which is to the south.  This Southern Kingdom is known as Judah, and it was comprised of two tribes which are the tribes of Judah, and the tribe of Benjamin.  Eventually, the southern kingdom was also destroyed and the Israelites were brought into slavery.  A nation known as the Babylonian nation rose up, made their way to the southern kingdom, destroyed Jerusalem, and carried the Jews back to Babylonian captivity where they were made to be slaves for 70 years.  

It is sometime after the Northern kingdom fell into Assyrian captivity and sometime before Judah fell into Babylonian captivity that Habakkuk arrives on the scene.  When he does, he is disturbed and troubled because of what he sees in the behavior of his fellow Jews in Judah.  

He mentions in verse 3 about the “plundering and violence.”  He is distraught about the strife and contentions.  In verse 4…

Habakkuk 1.4:  “Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth.  For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.”

Things have become so bad in the nation of Judah that it was as if the Law of God has no impact on the lives of his brethren.  That led him to say that “the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth.” 

He saw all the sin and iniquity that was caused by his own brethren in southern kingdom of Judah.  He saw the violence, the strife, the contentions, the oppression of wickedness over good, and the perversion of justice.  He is troubled and brokenhearted, so he prays to God in verse 2, “How long shall I cry out?”

The prophet was discouraged and brokenhearted.  He was troubled by what he saw, and he did not understand why God continued to allow it all to happen.  It is in that context that God tells the prophet that he needed to live his life by his faith.  

Three times, he asks the question why  (Hab. 1.3,13,14).  Why does God allow this to happen?  Why doesn’t God do something about this?  God answers the prophet and says, “the just shall live by his faith”  (Hab. 2.4).   

Unfolding the Book of Habakkuk

As the book of Habakkuk unfolds in three chapters, the prophet is discouraged, brokenhearted, and troubled by what he saw.  He did not understand why God continued to allow it all to happen.  God tells him to have faith.  When you unfold the book of Habakkuk, you will discover that God tells this prophet to believe in three things.  

Chapter 1:  Habakkuk Needed to Believe in God's Involvement.

When you look at chapter one, God responds to the discouragement and troubled prophet by reminding him that He was at work and involved in the affairs of mankind.  Habakkuk asked, “How long shall I cry out?”  God responds in verse 5…

Habakkuk 1.5:  “Look among the nations and watch — Be utterly astounded!  For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.”

God tells him to look among the nations and watch.  God tells the prophet to open his eyes.   Look around.  Pay attention.  Watch what is about to happen.  

God tells him to be utterly astounded.  Not only was he to watch, but what he will see will utterly astound him.  It will blow you away.

God tells him that He will work a work that will be so astounding, he won’t even believe it.  The prophet is troubled and cries out to God wondering how long his cries are going to go unanswered.  God responds by telling the prophet to watch because God is going to do something that will be astounding.  

God then expounds on what He has planned.  Here God says He is going to be involved in the affairs of man, and then gets specific.  

Habakkuk 1.6:  “For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs.”

God planned on raising up the Chaldeans.  They are described as…

  • “a bitter and hasty nation”  (v. 6)
  • They march “through the breadth of the earth to possess dwelling places which are not theirs”  (v. 6).  This is a war mongering nation.  They set out to conquer the nations around them.
  • “They are terrible and dreadful” (v. 7)
  • “Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.”   This is an arrogant nation.  They are very high on themselves. (v. 7)
  • “Their faces are set like the east wind…”  (vs. 8,9).    They come like a tornado and leave nothing but death and destruction in their path.  

Habakkuk says, “I have been crying out to you because of all the iniquity around me.”  God answers, “I’ve been working.  I’ve got plans.  I’m going take this nation to the East, this bitter, hasty, violent, war mongering, terrible, dreadful nation, and I am going to use them as My belt, as My switch, to discipline My people.  The point?  God was still involved and cared about His people.  

To the prophet, it was as if God didn't care.  God responded by saying that He does care about what is going on, and He was in the process of dealing with it.  

The just shall live by faith.  He was told to believe that God was still involved and cared.

Chapter 2:  Habakkuk Needed to Believe in the Character of God

Chapter 2 flows from a context that actually begins in chapter 1.12.

When we come to Habakkuk 1.12, we find the prophet in a conundrum.  What God has just told him violated his very concept of God.  He looked around him and saw violence and oppression.  God then tells him that He is going to take care of it by taking a nation that is far worse than the Israelites to punish them.  To Habakkuk, that just didn’t make any sense.  

Habakkuk 1.13:  “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.  Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?”

Habakkuk is asking God a question.  God said that the Chaldeans were a terrible and dreadful people  (Hab. 1.7).  God said that they were bitter and hasty  (Hab. 1.6).  In contrast, God is pure and good.  He is not supposed to involve Himself with people like the Chaldeans.  How can God use them to punish the Israelites?  How can God allow someone from another nation come in a destroy a people more righteous than they?  How can God do that?  

The book begins with the prophet asking God why He isn’t doing something about the evil committed by his brethren.  God responds by telling him that He has a plan.  God is going to bring the Chaldeans and use them to punish the Israelites.  He then responds asking God how He can do something like that.  The Chaldeans are worse than the Israelites.  Habakkuk was questioning the character of God.

When we come to chapter 2, he realizes what he just did.  So he says at the beginning of chapter 2...

Habakkuk 2.1:  “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected.”

When God told the prophet that He was bringing the Chaldeans against Israel, it didn't make any sense, so he questioned God.  Now he is ashamed of what he said.  He climbs up into a tower and watches to see what God will say.  Habakkuk crossed the line by questioning God’s character.  Now he is going to wait and see how God is going to correct him.  

When you keep reading chapter 2, you find that God does indeed correct the prophet.  He corrects him by showing him that the Chaldeans are also going to be punished for their own wickedness.  (Hab. 2.9,12,15,19)

Now watch what has happened so far.  Habakkuk says that he cries out to God, and God does not hear.  He complains that there is violence and oppression in Judah, and it is as if God does not see, because He isn’t doing anything about it.  

God replies that He is watching and He is involved.  He tells the prophet that He is bringing the Chaldeans against Judah to punish them.  Habakkuk asked God why He would do such a thing.  They are worse than Judah.  He then realizes that he crossed the line by questioning God.  He climbs into the tower and waits for God to correct Him.  

God tells him that the Chaldeans are indeed a wicked people, and when He is done using them to punish Judah, He is going to turn around and punish them.  It is in this context that God tells Habakkuk in verse 4, “the just shall live by his faith.”  

God was not going to side with the Chaldeans and get involved with a wicked nation.  Habakkuk needed to trust in the character of God    

Chapter 3:  Habakkuk Needed to Believe that God Works on His Own Time

Do you believe that God is involved in your life at this very moment?  Do you believe that this God in whom you believe is a God of goodness?  Let’s not forget that God works on His own time.  When God does not act when we want Him to act, we may find ourselves like Habakkuk asking God, “how long?”  

I would suspect that you have asked that same question.  You may not have used the same words, but it is likely that you have prayed to God and asked, “why?”  

When we come down to chapter 3, the prophet utters a prayer.  He had been reminded that God is involved and cares about what is going on in the affairs of man.  He has been reminded that God is good and does not leave wickedness unpunished.  Now the prophet utters a prayer.  

Habakkuk 3.1:  “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, on Shigionoth.”  

Shigionoth is a big word that carries this idea of someone who has been through so much and has seen so much that he is just beside himself.  Here is Habakkuk who is reeling and staggering over what he just discovered concerning what God had planned.  So he utters this prayer on Shigionoth.

As we read through Habakkuk 3.2-7, we read this prayer as he is talking about God.  He refers to His brightness, His hand, His feet, His ways.  As we get down to verse 8, we see a change as the prophet begins talking to God.  

Habakkuk is just reeling at what He discovered.  He realized that God does care.  God is the God that he thought that He was.  So he starts writing about God, and then he starts writing to God.  He now realizes that he needed to put his faith in God, for the just live by faith.  

You and I are to live every day of our lives by faith.  God Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Literally, the word “forsake” means to leave down and out.  God promises that He will never leave you down and out. (Heb. 13.5,6).  

If we are to survive the temptation and trials that bring us down, we must live a life believing that God cares and is involved in our lives.  We must believe that the God in whom we trust is a God of goodness.  We must believe that God will act, but it will be in His time.  

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