With this last question, the prophet was not only concerned about God’s reputation, but also about the promise God had made to preserve a lineage for the Messiah through the kings of Judah descended from David. If God used Babylon to judge Judah, would that taint His reputation? And would the judgment bring the Messianic line into jeopardy as Judah faced the wrath of God at the hands of a ruthless nation?
He asked, and God answered. In Habakkuk 2:2-4, the Lord begins answering his questions through a vision. He instructed Habakkuk to write the vision down on tablets. He was not told to use scrolls, but to engrave the vision, God’s answer to his questions, in stone. This was a permanent message, a vision given not only for Habakkuk, but for the people of God who faced judgment, and even for us, all these generations later. It was a message that was to be run with, that is, proclaimed for all to hear.
In Habakkuk 2:3 we see that the vision was for an appointed time, though that time was still off in the future. The fulfillment in the judging of Judah and the consequential judgment of Babylon for its own wickedness was sure to come, but was still something that was a ways off. These judgments were to be taken as FACT:
It would be in the Future, at the Appointed time in God’s plan, Certain to come to pass just as God through the prophets explained it, although it would Tarry, that is, it would take time to come, and to pass, and the people needed to take hope in God’s sovereignty, and in His promises of grace and mercy should they repent. Overall we see in the introduction to this vision an admonition to be patient while enduring suffering.
Our true hope in the face of judgment is found in Christ. The Septuagint (LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament), presents verse 3 with these words, “if he tarries, wait for him.” So it was not only the coming judgment that would tarry (“it”), but the end of judgment through final redepmtion by the Messiah (“he”), that would eventually come to pass. The writer of Hebrews verifies this interpretation as he presents a quote of this verse from Habakkuk and uses it to point specifically to Christ (Heb 10:37).
So what is this vision? What is the Word that came from the Lord to Habakkuk? It begins with a contrast of the proud and the righteous.
The proud are puffed up. In fact the very word used here in Habakkuk 2:4 means “bloated.” The proud, no matter what he thinks or believes about himself, is not upright in his soul. While he may depend upon himself, his own inherent goodness, and his own ability to do what is right and to be right with God, he has been fooled by his fallen nature. The proud cannot be righteous. The proud cannot produce righteousness, goodness, or holiness. The proud, depending upon himself, cannot justify himself before God. He cannot be right with God in any way, shape, or form.
The proud will be judged. Why? Because as the Scriptures tell us, a man who thinks he is good in and of himself is a fool and a liar. Paul tells us in Romans 3 about the proud:
10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
Even Jesus said in Matthew 19:17:
No one is good but One, that is, God.
So the proud man fails to see that true righteousness and goodness must come from a Source outside of himself. But a proud man, bound by his very pride, cannot admit this to be true.
However, in contrast to the proud man we see that the just man lives by faith. This simple truth is presented win only three Hebrew words in Habakkuk 2:4 to describe the righteous, or just man. They are three words that mean:
1. The justified man
2. By his faith
3. Will live
Let’s briefly examine these three statements given in contrast to the proud man.
1. The justified man is a man who is guiltless before God. He is just, right, good, and in God’s eyes, free from sin. Romans 8:1 tells us about such a man:
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Further, Paul quotes Hab. 2:4 in Romans 1:16-17 to show us who the just man is.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
The righteous man, the man who is justified, is a man who has experienced the power of the Gospel. He has believed in Christ and by that faith has been declared to be right with God. He now will be held legally guiltless before the judgment seat of God.
2. By his faith he has been declared righteous and will live. Faith is the act of knowing the truth, assenting to it, and acting upon it. It is steadfast trust. It is not mere knowledge or a compilation of facts. Knowledge on its own only makes us proud and puffed up. It is not mere assent, that is a mental agreement with the facts we know. It is trust, embracing what we know, agreeing with it, and then living accordingly.
Without faith it is impossible to please God. But those in Hebrews 11 who have faith all prove their faith by what they do as a result. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. By faith Enoch did not die. By faith Noah built the ark. By faith Abraham obeyed God and travelled to a foreign land. The chapter goes on and on demonstrating that those who have true saving faith do good works as a result of believing.
Faith is not a work. And the works done as a result of faith are not joined with the faith. It is this steadfast trust in Christ that motivates us to endure, to press on, to do what is right no matter the consequences.
3. The righteous man, by his faith, will live. We are justified by faith, but we also live by faith. The man who is right with God continuously lives by continuing faith in Christ who never fails. We do not find life by keeping the law. The law on its own only brings condemnation and death. Galatians 3:11 tells us as much, reiterating this point, “The just shall live by faith.”
Each moment, each step, each decision, each circumstance of our life in Christ must flow from faith, from unyielding trust in Him, in Who He is and in what He has done for us. This faith then is not a one time act, but a way of life.
So in the beginning of Habakkuk’s vision we see that the proud, self sufficient man cannot be right with God. The man who is justified is the man who is living by faith. He trusts God, not himself. He relies on Christ’s righteosness because he knows that he has none of his own.
We see then that the great truth of the gospel is that we are justified by faith alone. However, saving faith is not faith that is alone, it is faith that works continuosly as we live moment by moment day by day in the grace God has given to us freely by His Son.
To learn more about what it means that the just live by faith, join us this Sunday, November 21, at 10:30 AM, as we study Habakkuk 2:2-4 in the fourth message in our series titled “Triumphant Faith.” This week we will see that “The Just Shall Live by Faith.”