Sermon: Habakkuk: A Prophet of Faith (Part Two)
Living by Faith
Martin G. Collins
Given 27-Aug-16; 71 minutes
In my last sermon on the book of Habakkuk we saw that Habakkuk’s first dialogue with God took place in the first eleven verses of Habakkuk 1. In verses 1-4 Habakkuk, the prophet, asks God how long He will allow the wickedness of Judah to go unpunished and the people of Judah sin with impunity and justice perverted.
God’s startling answer is given in verses 5-11. He is raising up the fierce Babylonians as His rod of judgment upon sinful Judah. The Chaldean's will come against Judah swiftly, violently, and completely. The coming storm from the east will be God’s answer to Judah’s crimes.
This answer leads to Habakkuk’s second dialogue with God in Habakkuk 1:12—2:20. Here the prophet is more puzzled than ever and asks how the righteous God can punish Judah with a nation that is even more wicked than her. Will the God whose eyes are too pure to approve evil reward the Babylonians for their cruelty and idolatry?
Habakkuk stands upon a watchtower to wait for God’s reply and the Lord answered with a series of five woes: of greed and aggression in Habakkuk 2:9-11; of violence in Habakkuk 2:12-14; immorality in Habakkuk 2:15-17; and idolatry in Habakkuk 2:18-20.
God is aware of the sins of the Babylonians, and they will not escape this terrible judgment. But Judah is guilty of the same offenses and stands under an even more serious condemnation. The Eternal concludes His answer with a statement of His sovereign majesty in Habakkuk 2, where He says:
We left off in my last sermon, with Habakkuk changing his perspective on the situation. Just as a sentinel is set to keep an eye on that which occurs outside a fortified city, so the prophet Habakkuk stations himself in spirit to await God’s answer to his inquiry.
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.
So he is willing to hear what God has to say, and he is even more willing to see what his response should be when he is corrected.
The thought is not that Habakkuk actually went to a watchtower, but that he assumed an attitude or outlook of anticipation and watchfulness. It was in a spiritual sense of inward preparation. Prophets are compared to watchmen. For example, notice what the Eternal said to Ezekiel here in Ezekiel 3.
Ezekiel 3:17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me.”
That is the basic responsibility of all watchmen and prophets, to hear a word from God's mouth and to warn those under his care or responsibility. A watchman must faithfully watch, wait, and hear what God will order; and then act with necessary changes in his own life and by warning others.
Not only are God’s ministers watchmen, but also every member of God’s church must be a faithful watchman. This is vital in order to produce good works; and also to distinguish truth from error, and we are responsible to do this every single day.
In verse 17, the Eternal says to Ezekiel, “hear a word from My mouth.” The word “hear” is translated here from the Hebrew word shama. It is from a root word meaning “to hear intelligently,” and implies attention and/or obedience. It means more than just hearing something, it means to take it to heart.
It is also translated in other scriptures as: attentive, consider, diligent, discern, obey, perceive, regard, and understand. So when God tells us to “hear a word from My mouth,” He is saying “pay attention to what I have to say and diligently consider it, understand it, and obey Me!” It is a pretty strong command.
So we see here in Habakkuk 2:1, that the prophet is expecting to do more than just listen to what God has to say. He is determined to hear in this biblical sense and he will diligently consider it.
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.”
Then, notice Habakkuk’s reaction later. In Habakkuk 3, the prophet shows he was diligently considering what God said to him.
Habakkuk 3:2 O Lord, I have heard your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; n wrath remember mercy.
And in verse 16 he says:
Habakkuk 3:16 When I heard, my body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones; and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble. When he comes up to the people, He will invade them with his troops.
Needless to say, Habakkuk was paying very close attention to what God was telling him to warn Judah about.
Any parent will recognize the utter frustration when your child is not paying attention to something important you have to say to them.
A child will sometimes only hear the words coming out of your mouth, but they are not attentive. You say, “Do you hear what I am saying?” You know your child heard you and you discern he is not taking it to heart.
When your child is truly listening to you, he is going through a thought process of recognition and contemplation. If this is the case, it is more likely that he will follow up with action and he will act upon what you have told him. However, his action depends on how much he understands or is willing to abide by.
In a sense, as a child of God, this is the thought process Habakkuk went through. He recognized that what the Eternal had to say was so important that he must diligently consider it and he must take it to heart. However, he did not fully understand what God said to him. He was puzzled by it.
In verse 4 of Habakkuk 2, we have the content of the vision given the prophet which is the answer to his puzzlement set forth in Habakkuk 1:12-17. What is said here later became the watchword of Christianity, and is the key to the whole book of Habakkuk and is a central theme of all the Scriptures.
Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.”
The key word here is “faith.” The circumstances of life sometimes appear to contradict God’s revelation concerning His power and purposes.
Habakkuk struggles in his faith when he sees people flagrantly violate God’s law and distort justice on every level, without fear of divine intervention. He wants to know why God allows this growing iniquity to go unpunished. God is working out His plan in His time, not ours.
When God reveals His intention to use Babylon as His rod of judgment, Habakkuk is even more troubled, because that nation is more corrupt than Judah. God’s answer satisfies Habakkuk that he can trust Him even in the worst of circumstances because of His matchless wisdom, goodness, and power. God’s plan is perfect, and nothing is big enough to stand in the way of its ultimate fulfillment.
The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 10.
Romans 10:17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Habakkuk heard what God said, but his faith was still weak. Therefore, obviously this hearing is necessary. God does not condemn people for not believing what they have not heard, but He does get disappointed in those who do not believe a message actually delivered to them.
Since this is true, in order for Abel and Enoch to have been faithful, God must have spoken to them, although the fact of His making known His will to them is not actually recorded. But we know by their faithfulness that they did heard what He said and obeyed.
Hebrews 11:4-6 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
But in the case of Noah, the fact is distinctly stated; and the word used to inform us of this is somewhat unusual.
Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
So Noah was told by God what had not happened yet, but was going to happen.
In verse 7, the apostle Paul uses the Greek word chematizo meaning to be divinely instructed. Its meaning is best arrived at by its usage in ancient Greek. The KJV renders it “warned of God,” the ESV renders it “warned by God,” and the NKJV renders it “divinely warned.”
The first use of it in the New Testament is of the wise men being divinely warned to return another way. Then, of Joseph being warned by God to turn aside to Galilee, of Cornelius being divinely instructed to send for Peter, and of Moses’ divine instruction as to the making of the Tabernacle.
We learn from this how the report, which Noah believed, was heard. Noah’s faith came by hearing this report, and the report came to him by the Word of God, because he was divinely instructed. So in order to be divinely instructed, hearing has to be involved.
Today we see the Word of God in reading the Bible, but we do not hear it. Only His Spirit allows us to “hear” His words in the way that we are meant to.
There is no other way by which Noah could have heard of the coming of the judgment of the Flood. There is no other way by which he could have known he was to be delivered out of it or how he was to be saved through it. There was nothing in what he saw to give him any indication of what was coming.
If he had considered it from the outward appearance, he could never have concluded what would be the end of the things that were seen. But he was divinely instructed concerning them, and these he considered according to the fundamental definition of faith as laid down here in Hebrews 11.
Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
Noah heard the divine instruction and he believed it. So, he knew what others did not know, because what he knew was not yet seen.
If he looked at things as they appeared, he would have seen building, planting, and marriage and giving in marriage going on. He would have seen outward progress and advancement, missing the immoral and hateful hearts which are not seen.
Noah would have looked through his own eyes at the world, and from what he saw said, “It doesn’t seem all that bad.” Only relying on what he saw he would not have had the faith to build the Ark!
Others thought the progress was upward and the advancement was onward, but Noah knew that it was downward to destruction and onward toward judgment. “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall the coming of the Son of man be.”
The world views life strictly from a physical perspective. Noah viewed life from the perspective of being divinely warned in what he heard from God, and he believed it.
People look around the world today and see progress in the fields of science and technology. They see the advancement of outward things. They discuss social problems but they judge by the outward appearance. They say, “It’s not that bad; I want things to continue as they are.”
Those who are divinely instructed by the Word of God do not judge all these things that are seen. We know what is to be the end of it all.
We are divinely instructed that it will end in a disaster, not of water, but of fire. What a privilege to be divinely instructed concerning the “things not seen as yet.” And how blessed we are to believe God and as a result be well pleasing to Him.
If, like Enoch, we walk with God, we walk by faith and not by sight, we must not judge the course of events as they appear outwardly in the eyes of the natural man. We must not be deceived by things that people call progress.
It is interesting to note that in politics the extreme left call themselves “progressives.” In the turn of the 19th century that used to be a term to describe the communists. Now they are reintroducing that word back into the political system. So we see the deception in that aspect as well.
We must not be misled into fellowship with people in what they mistakenly call “good works,” because we know that the only things that are good works are those things God has prepared us to walk in.
God’s instruction is especially with regard to things not as yet seen, and if we believe what He teaches us concerning them, we will be moved with godly fear, as Noah was, and will obey Him as Noah did.
Noah’s faith led to obedience and therefore, true obedience is the obedience of faith. He prepared an ark and saved his household, by which he condemned the world. In II Peter 2:5, Noah is especially singled out and called “a preacher of righteousness.” But it was what Noah did that condemned the world, not what he said.
Even the world understands the principle, actions speak louder than words. Take Lot for example. Lot’s preaching to his sons and their wives was unheeded by them, because his deeds belied his words. When he proclaimed the news concerning the coming judgment of Sodom, he seemed like one who talked nonsense to his sons-in-law.
Why? Because he had first lifted up his own eyes and chosen all the plain of Jordan. Then he pitched his tent near Sodom. Then he dwelt in Sodom. Then he sat in the gate of Sodom, which means that he took part in the government of Sodom and fulfilled the duties of human citizenship.
No wonder he seemed like a hypocrite when he warned the men to whom he had given his daughters in marriage and told them of the imminent judgment of Sodom. What Lot did judged himself. What Noah did condemned the world, because though he was in it, he was not of it. And this is a state we must be in as citizens of heaven.
He did not spend his time trying to improve it, because he knew it was soon going to be destroyed. He did not waste his energies in entertaining its inhabitants, because he knew that the Flood was coming which took them all away. His seat of government was not on earth because he believed his God who was in heaven, and that is where his citizenship was—in heaven.
The days of Lot are coupled by Jesus Christ with the days of Noah, and also with the future coming of the Son of Man in His day in Luke 17:26-28. So reference to those days is, therefore, relevant to today.
Lot was a righteous man. He believed God in some things but evidently not all. He was judicially acquitted before God, and his sin was not imputed to him. Nor was righteousness imputed to him to the degree that it was with Abraham.
And that is why, though forensically righteous, Lot is not included in the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 11, even though he was Abraham’s nephew.
Noah’s faith, however, was evidenced by his obedience and that is why his preaching is mentioned as being very special. He is the only one of all these elders who is singled out in II Peter 2:5 as a “preacher of righteousness.”
The word translated “preacher” is significant. It is not the word for an evangelist or a preacher of good news. It means a herald, one who makes a proclamation, a bearer of great news.
Noah was a herald of the coming judgment of God. The righteous Noah was a herald of God’s righteous judgment. By faith, Noah acted on God’s warning of things not yet seen.
Romans 1:17-19 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith [not by sight].” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
So Noah was proclaiming God’s wrath against the ungodly and against all ungodliness. But it was what he did that condemned the world. What he proclaimed was only the guarantee of that impending judgment.
Noah and Abraham were tried, persecuted and wavering, and tempted to draw back to perdition, but they were warned, helped, comforted, and encouraged. Now let us relate this to the New Testament Church and down to us today.
Hebrews 10:32-37 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated [or minds were opened], you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry.”
In verse 35, the word confidence is literally “boldness” in the Greek, referring to their confident hope in God. We are not to throw it away, and to become timid, disheartened, and discouraged. We are to bear up unwavering under all our trials, and to maintain a steadfast faithfulness in God’s will.
Abel believed God and did His will, and received divine acceptance with God. Enoch believed God. He believed that God would come to execute judgment, but before that he knew that He would deliver him from his enemies.
Noah believed God, and being divinely instructed by Him, he was a witness against all the sinners who persecuted him for what seemed like insanity to them. But Noah persevered, while the Flood came and took all the wicked away.
The one thing common to all these great faithful witnesses was that each one stood alone with God and for God, and that nothing but believing what God has said will enable anyone to stand alone here on earth, and live again with Him in His Kingdom. Faith is required!
The common thread here with each one of these faithful witnesses was that each stood alone with God. We have to be careful that we do not refuse Jesus Christ, who has given divine instruction concerning these things to us.
Abel, Enoch, and Noah suffered loss of all things, but were all delivered. They stood alone, but God was with them to instruct them as to things not yet seen.
That is why these believing Hebrews were not in darkness as to the future. They were not to judge eternal realities by the outward appearance. That is why we cannot look at what we see out in the world and judge it, because we do not see anything but the outward appearance.
This tells us that, in all our witness to God, faithfulness is the one great requisite, and the one great measure of success. Faithfulness requires obedience and reverence to God. We are commanded to be faithful in our testimony and witness. “The just shall live by his faith.”
Now faith is an unshakable belief that God will do everything He has promised to do even before there is visible evidence to that effect. Essentially, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. One very important characteristic of faith is that it persists steadily and patiently in looking to God the Father and His Son.
What God has begun to do He can continue to do. The beginning of the work of calling us was a miracle. So if He can initiate a miraculous work He can keep it going. What He has already begun He can continue and He does in His people. The apostle Paul encourages us with this in,
Philippians 1:6-7 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.
As long as we are clear about God’s plan of salvation for each and every one of us, we should have no doubt. Without Christ we are utterly hopeless. It does not matter how long we have been in God’s church; we are dependent on Him for every step. Without Him we can do nothing.
We can conquer our doubts by submitting to Him and by obeying Him. The way to answer doubts is to look up at God and Christ, not down at the raging waves of trials.
We cannot live on an initial faith, which is what Peter seems to have been trying to do. He started off with great human faith and then instead of going on with faith he tried to live on it by itself. Let me illustrate this.
The children of Israel had to collect the manna each day except on the Sabbath. That is the way God does things. He does not give us enough for a long period of time, but just enough to satisfy the need so we can learn the lessons involved before we receive more.
That is why we have to become content with what we have before God will change our situation. Contentment is great gain in many ways. He gives us an opportunity to learn to use what He gives before giving more.
God works the same way when giving us other spiritual gifts. If we do not make good use of them He does not give us more power to do them. We need a fresh supply every day of spiritual power.
Peter’s serious error was that he looked away from Christ. It is the “fight of faith.” We are walking on turbulent waves and the only way to keep walking forward is to keep looking at Him, Jesus Christ.
Initially, Peter did not have the kind of faith needed for what he attempted. He had faith to step over the side of the boat. But when he began to fully appreciate the consequences of what he had done by stepping out on faith, his own human faith broke down. Jesus showed Peter that he really only had little faith because he had doubted.
Energetic Peter needed something in addition to his own faith, a different kind of faith, a faith that would not break down in the face of adversity. This is not a faith that he could work up himself.
Some people make the excuse that they just cannot seem to work up enough faith. What they mean is, they do not believe God’s inspired written Word. God says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
Romans 10:14-21 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.” But Isaiah is very bold and says: “I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me." But to Israel he says: “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people."
So the Israelites heard the words of the prophets, but what they heard did not sink in. In verse 17, Paul summed up the argument. One can come to faith only through hearing the Word of God, and the specific message that must be heard is the word of Christ, that is, the good news that Jesus Christ, as the crucified and risen Savior, is coming to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
Now Paul did not condemn people for not believing what they had not heard, but he complains of those who did not believe a message actually delivered to them.
Obviously, a message was necessary, and that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the divine message. Therefore, it could not be right to condemn those who had not obeyed the Word of God because they had not heard it.
This is not to say that God has not instilled in every human being a sense of right and wrong. He has put in everyone that basic knowledge so they are without excuse. Everyone on earth has that inner sense or knowledge of what is right and wrong.
In a sense, this is part of what Habakkuk struggled with. This is why God was going to punish Judah—who had heard the Word of God—by the hand of the Chaldeans, who were evil according to God’s standards, but who had never heard the Word of God.
Their condemnation was not the main issue. They were merely to be a tool used by God. The Chaldeans would receive their judgment later in history, by the hand of the Medes and Persians.
The issue was that Judah had rejected God and was receiving destruction as her just reward.
Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
This is a caution to each and every member of God’s church. You and I have heard God’s Word, we know God’s truth and we are accountable for what we know. Therefore, God holds us to a higher standard and we would be foolish to compare ourselves with people in the world in determining how “good” we are.
Paul also says that we are fools if we compare ourselves among ourselves. We are not to compare ourselves with any other human being. Instead, we should compare ourselves to a worm. Compared to a worm you look good; compare yourself to God and you are the worm.
In Romans 10:16, Paul records Isaiah as saying:
Romans 10:16-17 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
When Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing,” it is not meant that all who hear actually believe, because that is not true, but that faith does not exist unless there is a message, or report, to be heard or believed.
Unless there is something made known to be believed, this shows the importance of the message, and the fact that people are converted by the instrumentality of truth, and of truth only.
Now let me shift gears here and ask a question. Did Jesus have to work up His own faith? When Jesus ministered as the Son of man, He said, “I can of myself do nothing” and “The Father that dwells in Me, He does the works.”
Jesus had, by the Spirit of God, the gift of healing, as mentioned in I Corinthians 12:9. Peter had it. Paul had it. Only a few of the faithful had it.
God wants us to believe Him, to believe what He says, to believe He is willing and able. And He wants us to believe it is His will to do what He promises, and believe He will do it.
A serious question we should ask ourselves is: Do I have to “work up faith” to believe God is able and that He will keep His promises?
Paul tells us that true Christians walk by faith, not by sight. What we see or feel has nothing to do with it. Jesus said, “According to your faith let it be unto you.”
Jesus knew that, humanly speaking, He could not do what He had to do in His life without having more than just simple human faith. He had to live without sinning even once, something even the most enthusiastic, energetic, zealous human had never done, and never could with his own resources.
Jesus prayed earnestly to His God and Father for the faith. He needed to live a life that would qualify Him to be Savior.
Hebrews 5:7-8 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
Jesus knew that without the faith that could come only from God, He could no more live a life free of sin than He could walk on water. He was flesh and blood, and His weight and the force of gravity made that impossible too.
But Jesus did walk on the water. Jesus had the kind of faith that could overcome impossible odds, the kind of faith that could move mountains if need be, and its power came from God the Father.
Matthew 17:20-21 So Jesus said to them [His disciples], “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Of course, we have to ask in a way that is according to His will. To know His will we must faithfully seek and obey Him. If we do not ask according to His will, we will not get the results we seek.
So when Jesus walked across the Sea of Galilee, it was not just a stunt to impress His friends. And by letting Peter fail He was not treating him lightly. He wanted to teach him a lesson because he had so much more going for him and so much more for him to do. The other disciples learned about Christ’s power over the elements and His compassion and love for them.
The words that Jesus spoke to Peter as he walked him back to safety probably remained ringing in Peter’s ears for the rest of his life: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter doubted because he lacked the kind of faith he needed to keep going. His human reasoning told him that he was in an impossible position, and that even abundant human faith could not sustain him.
Over the years and after many more well-intentioned mistakes, Peter grew to understand this even more as leading apostle. He often found himself in seemingly impossible positions where his human faith and patience would have been stretched beyond the breaking point.
Peter was often in trouble with the authorities. He was thrown in jail. He had to spend years countering the influence of false teachers, and eventually he suffered martyrdom. But he had learned where to go to get the strength he needed, and we can see from his two epistles that he had become the epitome of faith and patience.
Those early years of the church must have tried even Peter’s energy and enthusiasm to the extreme. God used Peter’s strong personality and leadership to encourage the church through some anxious and stressful times, times that threatened to drown the faith of others.
This man who nearly drowned in the Sea of Galilee had learned, though, that his best was not good enough. He had learned to go to God to seek that kind of faith that only God can give.
The apostle Paul put succinctly in writing to the Ephesian brethren, what Peter had learned.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.
God often tries our patience, but He never fails us if we obey and believe Him unwaveringly. If the answer seems delayed in coming, remember, James said, “the trying of your faith works patience.” What is the trying of your faith? It is the waiting for an answer or intervention.
The development of patience is one of the purposes of our existence. So if God puts us to the test and tries our faith, rejoice and praise Him for using this experience to create in us more enduring faith and greater patience, which are the two high points of holy character.
If God has promised, that is all we need. If God delays, He has a reason. So trust Him and keep on trusting Him.
The ancient Israelites believed that riches were an evidence of God's blessing. They based this on the promises God gave the Israelites through Moses early in their history.
It is true that God promised material blessings if they obeyed, and material loss if they disobeyed. But to the unconverted ancient Israelites, the only way God could teach them was through rewards and punishments.
Good parents teach their young children in a similar way. However, the highest kind of obedience is not based on a desire for reward or the fear of punishment. It is motivated by love and faith.
In His life and His teaching, Jesus tried to show the people that inner spiritual blessings are far more important than material gains.
God sees the heart, and He wants to build character. Salvation is the gift of God in response to faith. Material riches are not a guarantee that God is pleased with us.
James 1:2-8 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Doubting is a vacillating between trusting God and trusting the world or one’s own natural abilities. This makes a person like a wave of the sea, a picture of instability and uncertainty.
A person who doubts God’s goodness dishonors Him. Such a person must not assume that he will receive anything from God, since he is unsure whether God is good or will do good. He is a double-minded man, that is, of “two minds,” torn between God and the world, and is therefore unstable in all his ways.
Faith is a settled trust and confidence in God based on His character and promises as revealed in Scripture. It looks to God’s promises and says nothing is impossible.
Now in spite of appearances to the contrary, God is still on the throne as the Lord of history and the Ruler of the nations, meaning that He has all-control over them. God may be slow to wrath, but all iniquity will be punished eventually. He is the worthiest object of faith, and the righteous person will trust in Him at all times.
The kind of faith that Habakkuk describes, and that the New Testament authors promote, is continuing trust in God and clinging to God’s promises, even in the worst of times.
The contrast in Habakkuk 2:4 is between people of faith and people who arrogantly trust themselves and leave God out of their lives. The course the wicked choose offers no inner satisfaction no matter how successful such people seem on outward appearance.
Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.”
“Soul” there in the Hebrew is the word napso, which means soul of life and also includes the idea desire or appetite. So it means that his soul, his desire, his appetite, is not upright. The second half of this scripture implies that the just are upright and that the upright live by faith.
The word “just” there in Habakkuk, comes from the Hebrew word hassadiq which implies that he is living by his commitment to the commands of God's law.
Habakkuk 2:4 is the central revelation of this important and quite contemporary prophecy. The verse is God’s answer to the questions Habakkuk raised in the opening sections of his prophecy.
Habakkuk was troubled by ungodliness in Israel. But when God revealed that He was about to use the Babylonians to punish His people, Habakkuk asked how God could use the ungodly to punish those more righteous than themselves, His people.
It was a daring moral question because Habakkuk was asking whether God was doing right. The prophet waited intently and apprehensively before the answer came. The answer, which begins with Habakkuk 2:4 and continues to the end of the chapter, has to do with God’s judgment upon the Babylonians.
Just because the foreign army would pride itself on its strength and have a moment of triumph over Israel in its conquests did not mean that the Babylonians were justified in God’s sight. They were not. Judgment would fall on them too eventually.
The wonderful thing about Habakkuk 2 is not the large part of it that speaks of judgment on the Babylonians in verses 6-20, but rather the one verse, verse 4, that speaks of the life of the believer in a time of crisis: “The just [righteous] will live by his faith.” This is a great text and so great so that Paul felt obligated to use it multiple times.
We have an easy way of approaching verse 4, because the places where it is quoted in the New Testament, once in Romans, once in Galatians, and once in Hebrews, are explanations of the three main parts of the verse.
Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Galatians 3:11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”
Hebrews 10:38 “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
In the original Hebrew language, the important part of Habakkuk 2:4 “the just shall live by his faith,” has only three words (translated here as): 1) “The justified man” Who is he? What is justification? 2) “by his faith.” What is faith and how does it function? 3) and “will live” How should one live in the sight of God?
Romans is our commentary on the justified man. Hebrews is our commentary on faith. Galatians is our commentary on the Christian life. We look to these books to understand what Habakkuk 2:4 means.
The revelation to Habakkuk shows that a person can be justified in the sight of God. In ourselves we are not righteous before our conversion. Instead of being righteous, we were sinners and therefore under God’s just wrath and condemnation.
How can a person who is a sinner and under God’s condemnation attain righteousness? The answer, of course, is that nobody can attain to righteousness. No human being is capable of perfect goodness.
Justification and righteousness are God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ. This is what Romans explains. We cannot attain salvation and eternal life by our own good works. Instead, we must receive what God has done for us in Christ. The foundation of our Christian life is not what we can do for God but what God has done for us.
Next we ask: How do we receive God’s gift? The answer is found in the another word in verse 4 “by faith.”
Habakkuk 2:4 “but the just shall live by his faith.”
The book of Hebrews is the New Testament commentary on it. According to Hebrews, particularly Hebrews 11, faith is believing God and acting upon that belief. But before, faith comes hearing.
In the long list of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, each is shown to have done something as an expression of belief. Abel believed God and offered a better sacrifice than Cain did. Enoch believed God and pleased Him by his long and faithful life. Noah believed God and built an ark to the saving of his family.
Abraham did several things. He believed God and obeyed him in setting out for the Promised Land. He made his home in the land like a stranger in a foreign country. He was enabled to become a father in the engendering of Isaac, and later he offered Isaac as a sacrifice at God’s command.
Isaac believed God and blessed Jacob and Esau according to God’s direction. Jacob believed God and blessed Joseph’s sons. The list goes on, and in each case showing how faith expressed itself in activity, in the works of faith. “Faith without works is dead.”
It is important to stress faith’s action because we have a definition of faith in today’s pop-culture that reduces it to mere intellectual assent and that is therefore far less than what the Bible means by belief.
We can meet somebody on the street today here in the Southeast of the U.S. and say to him: “Do you believe in God?” and the person will answer, “Of course I do. What do you think I am, an atheist?” He does not want to be an atheist, so he says he believes in God. But this does not necessarily mean that he is a Christian or that this faith makes any difference in his life.
Belief does not include intellectual assent. We must believe that there is a God and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. We also must remember that Satan and his demons believe that there is a God.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
But faith is far more than this. This is the context of the use of Habakkuk 2:4 in Hebrews. It occurs just before Hebrews 11, in chapter 10, where the author writes:
Hebrews 10:37-39 “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.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. [That is, the person who has God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in him.]
Clearly, the “faith” Hebrews is talking about involves commitment. Is your faith a conviction or a preference? This commitment carries on throughout life, which is what the third woe in Habakkuk 2:4 is all about.
The word does not say that the righteous shall begin by faith and then proceed on some other principle. It does not say that the righteous shall draw on faith from time to time as faith is needed. It means “the righteous will live continuously by his faith.” That is, the righteous will operate on this principle of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, so long as life lasts.
The book of Galatians stresses this principle. Paul had gone to Galatia during his early travels and had taught the people of Galatia the whole counsel of God.
He had taught that Jesus Christ had died for them and had explained the meaning of His death. He had taught the truth of the resurrection and had explained that they could have newness of life in Christ. He had taught them about the Holy Spirit and Christ’s expected return. He had taught them about Christian ethics and the necessity of studying the Bible.
As he unfolded this, the church was soundly established, grew, and prospered. However, some time after he had gone away, he heard that those who had begun by faith were now ceasing to live by it. They had begun to adopt Jewish ordinances and add other ceremonies and traditions.
When he received this news, Paul was shocked. Immediately he wrote back to warn them that they had adopted a different gospel, one that could truly enslave them. Paul uses Habakkuk 2:4 to challenge living only by the law.
Galatians 3:10-11 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”
The only way to live is to live by faith. This world may crumble around us; all that we know and love may vanish, but the righteous will live by his faith. He will live by faith in the One who keeps us, not only in the moment of our initial belief in Jesus Christ as Savior, but in every later moment of life as well.
The life of faith mentioned in this key verse of Habakkuk 2, is nevertheless only one of two distinct paths the chapter sets before us. One is the way of faith. The other is the way of unbelief. The contrast is seen in verse 4 itself.
Habakkuk 2:4 “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith. “
The way of the righteous is the way of faith in God. The way of the wicked is the way of drawing back from faith in God; it is the way of drawing back to perdition.
The first way submits to no one. The second submits to God and trusts Him. The person who chooses the first way is arrogant and self-serving. He says, “I don’t need religion. I can take care of myself. I can do it without God.”
Habakkuk goes on to apply in words this general rule, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him;” which in part is directed initially at the Chaldeans, in part at all oppressors and, in part, yet more fully, to the end and to the antichrist.
Habakkuk 2:5 “Indeed, because he transgresses by wine, he is a proud man, and he does not stay at home. Because he enlarges his desire as hell [or in Hebrew, sheol], and he is like death, and cannot be satisfied, he gathers to himself all nations and heaps up for himself all peoples.”
This is talking about a man, who, all he wants to do is conquer and oppress and enslave others.
“Transgresses by wine” here represents all abuse of alcohol. The person who abuses alcohol is unstable in all his ways. He is not settled; and he cannot be relied upon especially in times of tension, difficulty, or tragedy.
Certainly, alcohol is a deceiver and an alcoholic is overconfident and self-assured because he has deceived himself with the use of it. When wine is abused it becomes a means to loss of self-control. In this way it takes away the understanding of God’s people. Solomon says in Proverbs,
Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
Proverbs 23:32 at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.
Also, Hosea 4 says:
Hosea 4:11 Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart.
Wine can have a spiritual meaning to it. It can be something good, but the “wine of transgressions” is something totally different.
As wine first cheers you, then deprives you of all reason and makes you susceptible to any deceit, so also does pride. As alcohol deceives, how much more are you deceived under the influence of pride?
How enormous can desire get according to Habakkuk 2:5? “He enlarges his desire as hell.” Hell here is from the Hebrew word sheol which is the place of the dead where everyone went, yet which never filled up. Proverbs 30 sheds light on the context of: “he enlarges his desire as hell.”
Proverbs 30:15-16 The leech has two daughters—Give and Give! There are three things that are never satisfied, four never say, “Enough!” The grave, the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water, and the fire never says, “Enough!”
The arrogantly proud are like death because of their unbelief. They are faithless. They never have enough. They have an insatiable for power.
Romans 11:20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear [or, stand in awe of God].
The bulk of the rest of chapter 2 of Habakkuk shows the course and dismal end of the ungodly.
As we have seen so far, the theme of this prophecy concerns the problems of faith in the face of apparent difficulties which seem to hinder the fulfillment of God’s promises.
These difficulties are grappled with and solved in the light of God’s continuing revelation. It is for God to know what His purposes and directions are. It is for Him to decide what the results are to be.
If we walk by sight and judge by outward appearances and live by the things that are seen, we will certainly fail. Even as Moses and Elijah and Jeremiah and other of the most faithful servants of God failed sometimes for this reason.
We have seen two ways of life depicted in Habakkuk 2:4-5—the way of life and the way of death. In this we see two types of character and the way of God’s dealing with each on the basis of fundamental divine principles.
The proud, puffed up, dishonest, drunken, dissatisfied Chaldean will have death. The just, godly, righteous Israelite will have life through faith in the living God. God could not make the responsibilities and issues more clear than He has this. And they hold good for all time.
Even in small doses, genuine faith is powerful. This is not due to the power of the faith itself but to the power of God in whom faith is placed.
Jesus tells His disciples that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed they will be able to move mountains if it is according to God’s will. Certainly, nothing will be impossible for a disciple with mustard-seed-sized faith, though the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds.
Faith is like an open door into a relationship with God. It is like a shield that protects God's soldiers when they are under spiritual attack.
In my next sermon of this series on Habakkuk, we will analyze the five woes upon the wicked Chaldean oppressor. The woes are taken up and spoken by all the nations and peoples mentioned in Habakkuk 2:5-6 who have suffered at the hand of the cruel oppressor.