(Part 12 in a series of posts on Habakkuk.)
We last left Habakkuk standing on the watchtower waiting for God’s answer to his question: “Is God fair?” Now in verses 2-5, God answers Habakkuk. God gives him a revelation, a vision of what will happen in the future. The Babylonians will also be judged for their sin. Meanwhile the righteous will live by faith, trusting God to act justly in his own time.
Habakkuk 2:2-5 – 2 Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. 4 “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright — but the righteous will live by his faith — 5 indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples. (NIV)
God’s answer to Habakkuk is threefold: 1) the answer awaits an appointed time; 2) Babylon’s actions are not justified in God’s sight; and 3) the righteous will live by faith.
1) God’s answer awaits an appointed time. (verses 2-3)
God tells Habakkuk to write down the content of the revelation. Habakkuk is to write it plainly on tablets so that a herald may run with it. These verses are a little difficult to translate, but the basic gist of it is that Habakkuk should write it down and make it plain for all to see. There is an appointed time for its fulfillment, and when that time arrives the revelation will not prove false. It will not happen right away, but Habakkuk should wait for its fulfillment in God’s perfect timing. God’s word is certain. The fulfillment of the revelation will neither be early or late. God’s answer awaits an appointed time.
2) Babylon’s actions are not justified in God’s sight. (verses 4-5)
Next, God assures Habakkuk that Babylon’s actions are not justified in God’s sight. God is using Babylon to bring judgment to Judah and the other nations, but that does not excuse Babylon’s sin. Babylon is puffed up, unrighteous, drunken, arrogant, restless and greedy. He conquers nations not out of concern for God’s justice but because of his own arrogance and greed. He is drunk on wine and power, and his drunkenness will betray him. In fact we learn from Daniel 5 that drunkenness was part of what led to Babylon’s eventual downfall. Babylon will be judged for its sin, but all in God’s timing. In fact, the rest of chapter two outlines Babylon’s many sins and the judgments that are coming because of those sins.
This was the answer that Habakkuk needed to hear. Habakkuk knew that God was sovereign and holy, but he also knew that Babylon was wicked and prospering. And that did not make sense. It threw into question God’s justice: “Is God fair?” But now God had made it clear that Babylon would be judged for its sin after all. Now Habakkuk knew that God was sovereign, holy and just. Babylon would be judged for its sin. Meanwhile, God says, the righteous will live by faith, trusting God to act justly in his own time.
3) The righteous will live by faith. ( verse 4b)
This one phrase right at the end of verse 4 – “the righteous will live by faith” – is one of the most important verses in the whole Bible. It is quoted three times in the New Testament, twice by Paul, in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, and once in Hebrews 10:38. This is the verse that revealed the gospel to Martin Luther and launched the Reformation. It is a wonderful verse, both in its Old Testament context, and in its New Testament fulfillment.
For Habakkuk the verse meant that he should live by faith while he waited for God’s righteous judgment to fall on Babylon. The word “live” is also a confirmation of his earlier statement in chapter one: “O LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die.” (Habakkuk 1:12) Why would the people of Judah live and not die? Because of their own righteousness? Not a chance. God was bringing the Babylonians to judge the people of Judah because of their sin. They would live because of their faith in God who had bound himself in a covenant relationship with his people. They would be righteous by faith, not by their own works.
The full implications of this verse are brought out in the New Testament through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel, or good news, is that even though we are sinners and do not deserve to go to heaven, Jesus died on the cross for our sins that we might be forgiven. That’s why Paul writes in the book of Romans 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes . . . For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written” – and then he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 – “The righteous will live by faith.”
It is not your righteousness that brings you to heaven. It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ who died for you. Christ’s righteousness saves you when you put your faith in Jesus Christ, even as Habakkuk put his faith in God’s love and faithfulness rather than in the people of Israel. “Lord, you are from everlasting. Therefore we will not die. The righteous will live by faith.”
(Looking ahead: Next time we will look at Babylon’s sins and God’s judgments in 2:6-20.)