Live by Faith — the Gospel in Habakkuk

For other entries in this series, click here.

I am fortunate.

I don’t say that only because i’m marrying the love of my life in fourteen weeks. I don’t say that because i know where my income will be coming from next month. And i don’t even say that because i haven’t caught COVID-19.

I am fortunate because even though the world is suffering right now, and even though i have been unemployed since March 13, 2020–i will probably still be on August 3, 2020–i know that the book of Habakkuk exists.

(And now, so do you!)

Habakkuk. While not the most minor of the minor prophets, it is still an often overlooked book in the back of our Old Testaments. This is most unfortunate because Habakkuk’s message is immensely pertinent to us today.

Habakkuk ministered to the southern kingdom of Judah before it fell to Babylon c. 600 BC. The book’s outline explains the setting well:

  • Habakkuk cries out about the peoples’ sinfulness (1:1-4)
  • God reveals His plan of judgment for the peoples’ sin (1:5-11)
  • Habakkuk complains about God’s answer (1:12-2:1)
  • God’s final response to Habakkuk–the five “woes” (2:2-20)
  • Habakkuk’s realization (3:1-19)

Habakkuk starts out by complaining about the evil and wickedness surrounding him–in the lives of his own people. God responds by promising that the evil would be dealt with. God explains that He is raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to invade Judah. Habakkuk is staggered. All of a sudden, in his mind, Judah doesn’t look all that sinful: The Chaldeans are much worse than Judah; certainly, God won’t use evil to punish evil. (Because of chapter 3’s content, we can be certain Habakkuk saw more in God’s statements than he describes in the first two chapters.)

Habakkuk promises to wait expectantly for God’s reply and carefully listen so that he can respond accurately (2:1). God responds by pronouncing five woes against Babylon–in other words, promising Babylon that they would suffer themselves what they do to Judah. (These woes also likely indict Judah as being just as guilty as Babylon.)

Before describing the woes, though, God gives a contrast. You can act with pride and be judged, or you can live by faith and be righteous. At the end of God’s speech, He says:

But the LORD is in His holy temple;
let everyone on earth
be silent in His presence.

Habakkuk 2:20 (HCSB)

At this point, the book could end; in fact, it likely does. God convinces Habakkuk no reply is necessary.

Chapter 3 is a poetic addition by Habakkuk describing his reaction to God’s revelations. The psalm rounds out the entire book by showing that Habakkuk was going to live by faith.

I believe the thesis statement in this book is found in 2:4, primarily because Habakkuk’s faith was strengthened as a result of his dialogue with God. God tells Habakkuk, “The righteous one will live by his faith.” Or, in my own words:

The only way to survive difficult times is to exercise faith in God.

This is especially pertinent today. In 2020 we see the world’s economy falling apart. Because of what Habakkuk writes in 3:17, we know that a failing economy was one of his biggest fears. But he reconfirmed and restated his faith in God, despite the unfortunate situation. When we are afraid, we must run to God by faith.

The problem is that we are fallen humans whose faith will never be what it should be. Our faith is too often doubt, and our doubts lead us to sin. Too often, we are Habakkuk in chapter 1. How can we become Habakkuk in chapter 3? How can we become the Habakkuk of faith despite the disastrous circumstances surrounding us?

The answer is the same in our day as it was in his. Though, to be fair, it is much clearer in our day than it was in his. The author of Hebrews explains:

For yet in a very little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay.
But My righteous one will live by faith;
and if he draws back,
I have no pleasure in him.

Hebrews 10:37-38 (HCSB)

The Coming One is Jesus. Habakkuk described Jesus as well. There are several places where the literal Hebrew says “Jesus” or “Messiah.” However, i’d like to limit this discussion to two passages (three concepts).

In 3:2, Habakkuk has come to terms with God’s plan. This is not to say that Habakkuk has come to like God’s plan. I don’t believe we are required to like God’s wrath. In fact, if we get great joy from thoughts of God’s wrath–why? It should cause us terror, as Habakkuk said in 3:16.

I heard, and I trembled within;
my lips quivered at the sound.
Rottenness entered my bones;
I trembled where I stood.
Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress
to come against the people invading us.

This same thought caused Jesus to sweat drops of blood. If we get joy from thoughts of God’s wrath, we need to spend some time reflecting on why that is. It should cause us terror.

But in 3:2, Habakkuk pleads with God for mercy.

In ⌊Your⌋ wrath, remember mercy!

In this way, Habakkuk is begging God to preserve His people. By doing this, he is asking God to keep the messianic line alive. He is asking God to send Jesus. Paul says as much himself in Romans 9:4-5 when talking about the physical origin of Jesus.

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises.  The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.

Emphases added.

If God allowed Babylon to annihilate Israel, then we would still be in our sins, cut off from God, and hopeless.

God allowed Babylon to come in and violently oppress–and exile–the people of Judah. Habakkuk was shocked to hear that God was going to use such violence against His people (cf. 1:13). Surely sin doesn’t deserve that intense of a response!

God must punish sin. Sin can’t exist in His presence. As such, Babylon was really only a metaphor for God’s wrath against sin. Habakkuk said, “In Your wrath, remember mercy!” because it wasn’t enough to merely allow Israel to survive so that Jesus could enter the scene. God would pour out His wrath on Jesus–on the cross–so that we could be shown mercy.

And so often, peoples’ responses mirror Habakkuk’s: How can that be fair? Why would God use something so horrible to punish sin?

But ultimately, the only question that matters is: Have you placed your faith in Him yet?

Habakkuk says something else in 3:14.

You pierce his head
with his own spears.

Because God revealed what He did in chapter 2, Habakkuk knows that Babylon will be judged for what they did to Judah. Their violence will be turned on their own heads. This goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15.

I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.

When Babylon was destroying Judah, Babylon pridefully thought they couldn’t be defeated. But God brought the Medes and Persians against Babylon and turned Babylon’s violence against Babylon. When Jesus was on the cross, Satan thought he had won. But Jesus crushed his head using the very method Satan thought would eternally defeat Jesus.

The book of Habakkuk is hugely Christ-centered. I pray that you can see it from this brief blog post.

More than that, though, i pray that you are a believer in Christ.

Have you believed?

The honest truth is that if you haven’t, your sin will fall on your own head for eternity.

Live by faith and trust Jesus today!

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura

Thanks for reading.

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