“Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it because it will surely come; it will not tarry. Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith'” (Habakkuk 2:2-4, NKJV)
The book of Habakkuk is one of my favorite in the Bible. We know Habakkuk wrote his prophecy some time before the siege and capture of Jerusalem in 586 BC by the Babylonians because his prophecy was actually a prediction of the Babylonian conquest of Judah.
In this short book Habakkuk asked God two challenging questions and God answered both in Chapters 1 and 2. Then, Habakkuk offered an inspirational prayer that concludes with a memorable proclamation of faith in Chapter 3 that we will consider in the following post.
But the significance of the book of Habakkuk is that it contains one of the most familiar (and powerful) verses in the Bible–both Old and New Testament–that is a fundamental premise of our Christian theology. And, you know it, whether you know it comes from Habakkuk or not!
Like many good citizens today, Habakkuk was concerned about injustice in his nation, the kingdom of Judah. Habakkuk wondered why God allowed such oppression to proliferate among His chosen people: “Therefore the law is powerless and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (vs. 1:4).
God responded that He was, in fact, planning to do something about the injustice in Judah by sending the Babylonians to invade the land and take the Jews into captivity.
This was not the response Habakkuk was expecting from God and he was not exactly satisfied with God’s strategy for serving justice on Judah. Habakkuk probably had something less calamitous in mind than the downfall of his country when he addressed God about the state of injustice in Judah.
So, Habakkuk tried to rationalize his argument on confronting injustice in the land with a follow-up question to God: Why would God use the wicked (Babylonians) to punish the righteous (Judahites)? “Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (vs. 1:13).
That’s when God answered back with the aforementioned familiar and powerful verse: “The just shall live by his faith!” (vs. 2:4).
Maybe you thought the Apostle Paul came up with this notion in his introduction to the Book of Romans in 1:16-17: “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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.”‘ (Think “justified” when you read “just”.)
Paul was a learned Jewish scholar, a Pharisee and he knew his Jewish Bible, the Old Testament. Paul was quoting from Habakkuk when he wrote to the Romans. And, Paul knew that justification or righteousness before God has always been by faith and not religious practices or family origins.
This theological position is the backbone of Paul’s treatise on salvation by faith in Christ in the book of Romans. Justification by faith has always defined the relationship between God and humanity since creation.
So, God reminds Habakkuk something that he already knew–God’s chosen people are not those who follow certain religious practices or traditions, lived in Judah, or had Jewish parents. None of those things made you a justified person.
Rather, God’s chosen people are those whom He has justified–those who believe in Him and His Mercy and live accordingly!
While injustice may be manifested collectively, it’s really a personal problem. If injustice pervades a society, there’s something spiritually wrong— individually and collectively: “Behold the proud; his soul is not upright in him” (vs. 3).
So, the best way to fight against injustice in a society…. be justified personally by faith!
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24, NKJV)