Note: Dr. Sam Horn is host of The Word for Life radio program.
by Dr. Sam Horn
Theological Perspectives from Habakkuk
Part Two: Learning to Live by Faith (2:2-20)
So what is the godly man to do when the wicked seem to prosper? He is to continue to be godly. He is to continue to faithfully wait upon the Lord and to serve Him in gladness and righteousness. In short, the godly man must live by faith when his world is upside down!
The Proclamation of Faith (2:2)
Finally, God’s answer arrived. “Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it!” He instructed Habakkuk to do three specific things.
First, he was to preserve the Answer/Vision by writing it down on tablets of stone. In this statement, God gave Habakkuk similar instructions to the ones He gave Moses for the inscribing of the Ten Commandments. Just as God’s answer for life and blessing in Moses’ day was preserved on tablets of stone, God’s answer for blessing during Habakkuk’s day was to be written on tablets!
Second, he was to proclaim the Answer/Vision clearly and plainly. Not only was God’s answer so important that it was to be permanently preserved—it was to be plainly stated and made available to all! God had not given just a private word of comfort to a curious and confused prophet—this was intended to be for all of God’s people.
Third, he was to emphasize the need to perform according to the Answer/Vision (“That he may run who reads it”). There is debate as to what this phrase means. One idea is that Habakkuk was to make the answer so clear and so plain that a person running by would be able to read the message without having to stop! A better interpretation understands “run” as a reference for living and ordering life. As one read the message, he would then organize and live his life accordingly. In other words, he was to perform and act according to the vision! His life would be marked by an obedience of faith!
The Implementation of Faith (2:3)
God assured Habakkuk that what He was about to reveal to him would in fact come to pass in its appointed time. Habakkuk was to wait patiently for God to act in His time and in His way! God’s plans and timetables are never affected by man! He will act at exactly the appointed time, and though it seem to be delayed to us, it will come right on God’s schedule.
The Revelation of Faith (2:4-5)
These verses contain the central phrase to all of God’s dealings with His people in any age—“The just shall live by faith!” As the tablets given to Moses revealed the way of life and blessing, so the message Habakkuk engraved on these tablets would reveal the way to true life!
God contrasts the man who lives by faith and the proud man. The man who is proud has a soul that is not upright. He is lost! Rather than looking to God and trusting Him, this man looks to himself and takes pride in his abilities and agendas. At the heart of pride is self—self-reliance, self-gratification, self-independence. At the heart of faith is dependence on another—in this case, God! Whereas the proud man has an unsaved soul, the man who lives by faith is called “just.” He is saved!
There are some who argue that Habakkuk is simply observing that the righteous man who continues to live faithfully to God’s covenant law would be spared from judgment. In this view, “faith” is simply another term for “faithfulness.” However, Habakkuk seems to be saying more than this. Like Abraham of old, a man who depends totally on God (a man who has faith) is made just. Because of his faith, and as a result of being made just, he will live! There is no doubt that both Testaments teach that the justified man will live in faithful obedience. Faithfulness (obedience) is the fruit of saving faith. So, in contrast to the proud and independent Babylonians whom God will ultimately destroy, Habakkuk announces that God will give life to all who give up their independence and turn to Him in faith! Such ones will evidence faithfulness in their lives as they wait for their deliverance.
The Vindication of Faith (2:6-20)
God announced five “woe” oracles upon proud Babylon. In contrast to the just man who, because of his faith in God, would live, this arrogant nation would die! God announced their immanent and sure demise in a series of five very graphic “woe” statements revealing what He would do to them for their sins. Each woe is stated in terms of poetic justice, indicating that God would devise a punishment according to the crime.
First, the Plunderer Would Be Plundered (2:6-8). Babylon is depicted as having increased goods by seizing and taking the goods of another—now what he had taken would be taken from him. He who had so often plundered would now be thoroughly plundered!
Second, the Secure Would Be Exposed (2:9-11). Babylon had a lust for power—they thirsted for conquests! In order to establish a secure place where they could plunder and pillage in safety, they attempted to set up an invincible city! Like a bird of prey who built its nest high on a rock or crag, Babylon sinned without fear because they believed they dwelled in safety. God would tear down their “safe nest,” and the very materials used in the constructions would cry out against this nation!
Third, the Expansionist Would Be Thwarted/Reduced (2:12-14). Babylon boasted in her buildings and in the expansion of her empire and power throughout the world! She would often conscript workers from those she captured and have them build monuments and cities to spread her glory and power—God said all of this would be in vain! Her workers would build— but what they built would end up burned with fire! It would not last. In spite of her best efforts to expand her influence and power to all the earth, Babylon would soon be toppled and destroyed. Even her memory would fade until no one even remembered her mighty kings and monuments. In contrast, God’s influence and power would spread throughout the whole earth! All the world would know Him! (2:14).
Fourth, the Shameless Would Be Shamed (2:15-17). In their violent pursuit of power, there was no limit to the shameful deeds this nation would do against other nations, lands, and people! Babylon was a nation know for drunkenness (e.g., Belshazzar). Often they would use drink to get others to do shameful and abhorrent deeds. However, now they would be the ones forced to drink—this time, the cup of wine would be forced down their throats by the right hand of Jehovah! They would now be the ones exposed and shamed before the world!
Finally, the Idolater Would Be Powerless (2:18-20). The final woe is pronounced against them for their worship and attendance to lifeless idols. Rather than devote their attention and service to the true God of Heaven, they were willing to serve and attend to lifeless idols made by their own hands. While the Babylonians were busy dressing their idols in gold and waking them up and appealing to them for teaching, God was in His holy temple! While the lifeless idols needed the Babylonians to speak and call their names to create for them an existence, God was so real and powerful that the entire earth was silent before Him! While the Babylonians had to provide for and protect their gods, God provided for and protected His people!
Part Three: Responding to God’s Presence in History (3:1-15)
Habakkuk was also given a picture of God’s future work in His world—to judge wicked nations, to chastise a disobedient people, to build His glorious Kingdom! He responded to this fearsome and awesome revelation by pouring out his heart in praying and singing. As he faced the future work of God, he worshiped! In worship he drew strength for himself and for others by reflecting and recounting the wonderful and, at times, terrible work that God had done in the past!
By Means of a Prayer
When Habakkuk heard God’s answer to his questions, his first response was to obey God and write down the vision. His second response was to utter a prayer. In this prayer, he acknowledged openly that God’s speech had produced fear in his heart. How would he handle his fear? By focusing on God’s works of the past and remembering the future works that God had promised to do! He handled his fear by focusing on the person and character of God! His prayer had been addressed elsewhere in issue more thoroughly. Let us note three simply observations regarding what Habakkuk prayed for.
First, Habakkuk asked God to revive His work. He prayed that God would revive the work necessary for the carrying out of His program and purpose. In this case, Habakkuk was actually be praying for God to do the work of judgment and discipline that must be done before the glorious work of setting up the kingdom could proceed. In a very real sense, this petition is the Old Testament version of the New Testament prayer—“Thy will be done, Thy kingdom come!” Far from praying selfishly, Habakkuk modeled the prayer of faith. “Lord, do whatever work has to be done in order for Your ultimate purpose to be accomplished—no matter what that work may mean for me!”
Second, he asked God to bring about clear understanding. Habakkuk asked that in the midst of the years—while this was going on in the present world—that God would make His work clear and known! Habakkuk, like Asaph before him, had agonized over the seeming incompatibility between what God was doing or not doing in the world around him and the character of God. God had graciously given him a wonderful and clarifying explanation. Habakkuk longed for others to understand what God had shown him so that they might rightly understand God’s actions and His purpose and respond as people of faith should respond—in faithfulness!
Finally, he asked for God to be merciful in the midst of discipline. The word “wrath” here carries the idea of strong disturbance or troubling. Judah was facing a time when she would be shaken to her very foundations. Everything that defined her as a nation externally would be taken from her—her king, her Jerusalem, her temple, her freedom, and even the visible presence of her God. In all of this necessary “shaking,” Habakkuk pleaded for God to remember mercy in the midst of His necessary but painful discipline.
By Means of a Psalm
In times of trouble when God seems distant or absent, God’s faithful people have always encouraged others by singing. Often the intent of their song was to get a doubting and at times disobedient people to focus on God’s plan and purpose for them both in the immediate circumstance as well as in the distant future. One very effective way to accomplish this is to direct people to the future by pointing them to the past!
In his song/psalm Habakkuk recounted the mighty deeds and acts of God for His people throughout their history as His chosen nation. In graphic language Habakkuk walked the nation through the path of God’s deliverance from Egypt in the days of Moses and the early judges (Othniel and Gideon, 3:7). God did all of this for the express purpose of delivering and saving His people (3:13). Habakkuk’s point was this: What God did in the past, He would do again in the future!
So how does it all end? How did Habakkuk respond to all that God revealed in answering his original questions? He responded with the same response God desires from all who live by faith—with a resounding “yes!” to God’s purposes and plans! His response consists of two important elements that must be true of ours.
First, Rejoicing in the Midst of Present Anguish: 3:16. Habakkuk acknowledged that he “heard” God’s answer, and it had a profound physical effect on him. His body trembled. His lips quivered at the thought of what God was about to do. His bones ached and lacked strength. His legs trembled so they could not support him! Even though he understood and accepted God’s decision to use the Babylonians to discipline Judah—he fully recognized what this meant in real life, and it produced deep sorrow, anguish, and even fear! In the midst of this description of his fear is a request that he would rest (be at ease and trust) in that day when God would trouble Judah. As painful as the experience was just thinking about what God would do, Habakkuk prayed that he would not resist God when God actually brought about the judgment!
Second, Trusting in the Face of Anticipated Adversity: 3:17-18. Habakkuk realized that the day had come and gone for repentance. Judah had squandered away her last opportunity to avert God’s judgment. It would come with terrifying certainty. And it would bring devastating consequences and hardship for everyone who dwelt in the nation—righteous and unrighteous. Knowing all of this, Habakkuk determined that God’s purposes are more important than his personal provision and well-being. If having no figs, grapes, olives, or sheep would advance the grand purpose of a loving and wise God, then Habakkuk was for it!
We must be careful to note that this was not a stoic acceptance to endure at all costs, to take whatever would come and survive. Habakkuk was determined to do more than just endure for God. He was absolutely determined to enjoy God no matter what was going on around him. His joy would not be in his circumstances but in His relationship with God! God would be His joy and His strength.
Habakkuk contains the best declaration of what it means for justified men and women to live by faith. Faith here is more than salvific or theological—it is personal and practical. It operates in the marketplace of life when troubles come. God did not have to always provide health, wealth, and happiness so that the man who lived by faith would continue to live faithfully rejoicing in God. This man had trusted God with eternal matters—he would confidently continue forward, believing that God was trustworthy in earthly mundane matters no matter how difficult and dark the days might be. People who have been made just by faith really live! And they live faithfully all the time! No matter when, where, or what is going on around them. When life falls apart at the seams, the man who lives by faith goes forward, rejoicing in the God in whom he has believed!
Dr. Sam Horn is pastor/teacher at Brookside Baptist Church (Brookfield, WI). He received a B.A. in Bible, M.A. in Bible, and Ph.D. in New Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC). In 1996, Dr. Horn joined the administration of Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) as vice president for academic affairs. In 2000, he assumed the position of executive vice president. While at BJU, he served as faculty member and director of extended education. He is an experienced pastor, conference speaker, and board member of several Christian organizations. He and his wife, Beth, have two children. This article is reprinted by permission of Brookside Baptist Church.