Suppose you lose your job because a person who “has it in for you” misrepresents something you have done. Why did God allow this bad person to succeed? Suppose you experience some great disappointment—the death of a child or spouse, the breakup of a marriage or an engagement, a failure to get into school. Doesn’t God care? You are not perfect, but why should someone who is not even a believer have it good while you lose out?
When we face problems like this, how we respond is critical. When things go wrong, some people tend to withdraw. They stop going to church or serving, then isolate themselves until “things get better.” Others conclude that they must have been wrong about God and renounce all belief in him. Both are common but not helpful.
How should we deal with problems that shake our faith? The book of Habakkuk shows us how. In chapter 1 we see Habakkuk questioning and wrestling with God. It is ok to have faith and still have questions, this is healthy. God is there and in our struggle we are drawn closer to Him. He responds when we question.
In Chapter 2 we see Habakkuk waiting. What should we do in these times we are waiting for God’s answer?
WAITING PATIENTLY (2:1)
Habakkuk says he says he will “stand at my watch.” This is a reference to being in watchtower, which built on the walls of the city from which a watchman could keep a sharp eye out for an enemy. A tower provided a new vantage point. So when Habakkuk says that he is going to stand at his watch and station himself on the ramparts, he is saying, “I have been down on the ground my problem and have not been able to solve it. Now I am going to leave it with God and wait.”
The prophet had lodged his complaints. He had pleaded with God for answers to the burning questions of his heart. Now, he knew that he must wait. But he would not wait idly by, nor would he be impatient. He set his heart and mind to stand watch. He determined to be diligent and purposeful, to focus his whole existence on listening for the voice of the Lord. Like a guard or sentinel, he would watch for God’s answer and not abandon his post until it came.
Image: Habakkuk retreated to one of the mountaintop stations from which guards watched for the approach of enemy armies. As Habakkuk looked over his own nation’s countryside he was determined to find the reasons why God permitted injustice. We too need to take time out to meditate and to struggle with life’s important issues.
*For Us Today: We must be patient in prayer. We can be sure that our prayers are heard. But we do not always receive the answers we want, nor do we always receive answers immediately. The Lord responds in His perfect timing and according to His will. Therefore, every child of God needs to wait patiently when seeking answers from the Lord.
People with little or no faith are impatient. They are not willing to wait. Like an impulsive child, they demand an answer immediately, and if they do not get it, they grow impatient and move on to the next thing. But true faith requires patience, and patience brings about maturity in Christ. Therefore, all believers are called to be patient in prayer. We must wait expectantly for answers and be willing to stand watch. This simply means that we must focus our minds on listening for the voice of God, being prepared and ready to receive His Word. This may require us to change our priorities. We may have to rearrange our schedules to spend more time in God’s Word and in meditation. We may even need to seek new friends or godly counsel. The point is that if we truly want to receive answers from God, we must do whatever it takes to prepare ourselves. We must not only wait for answers but also wait expectantly, in faith. Like Habakkuk, we must be alert and ready to act when the answer comes.
*For Us Today -Expect God to Speak: Habakkuk says that he “will stand at” his watch and “look to see” what God will say to him. How do we look for God’s answer? How does God speak? The primary way is through Scripture. Sometimes God directs us by what used to be called “intimations,” deep personal feelings concerning the way we should go. He frequently directs us by what we call “open or closed doors.” That is, God provides an opportunity or takes it away. These things occasionally enter in. Still, the primary (and ultimately the only fully reliable) way of knowing God’s direction or answer to our perplexities is through Scripture. Anyone who has made a habit of reading the Word of God regularly knows how that happens. We have a problem, have been unable to solve it, and have left it with God. It may be that we have even forgotten about it temporarily. But one day we are reading a passage of the Bible and suddenly a verse leaps out at us and we recognize at once that it contains the solution to what has troubled us. It is God’s answer to the problem we previously left with him.
GOD’S ANSWER AND REVELATION (2: 2-3) “The Lord answered.” What beautiful words! Imagine the prophet’s emotions at this point in his long conversation with God. He had stood watch and waited expectantly, likely for a very long time. Now, God’s message had finally come and Habakkuk was ready to receive it.
What did the Lord say? God’s first instruction to the prophet was to write down the vision. Habakkuk was to record the Word of God. This was a critical message; therefore, it had to be recorded for all people to read. It had to be preserved for those living both then and now, for the whole human race. People in future ages would need to read and hear about God’s message to all mankind.
These are words that are difficult for some people to accept: “an appointed time.” God told Habakkuk that His plan for dealing with evil—for establishing justice on earth—would be revealed according to God’s timeframe, not Habakkuk’s time frame nor that of any other human being. This meant that once again the prophet had to wait. God’s vision plan would be fully disclosed and fully accomplished in God’s perfect time.
God’s message to Habakkuk spoke of “the end” (NIV) (v. 3). This refers to the end of Babylon’s dominance AND to the end times when Christ returns. (He. 10:37-38; 2 Pe. 3:3-13). This verse suggests that God’s revelation—His ultimate plans for Babylon and the last days—is moving toward its end. This did not mean that God’s revelation would be fulfilled quickly or according to Habakkuk’s desired timeframe. It meant that the fulfillment of God’s plans would not be delayed beyond the time He had appointed—not even for a moment. In fact, though the end may seem to be delayed, it will surely come. God’s judgment of evil and His establishment of justice on earth are certainties. They will be accomplished at their appointed time. All of history is moving toward this climactic finish.
*For Us Today: God commanded Habakkuk and the people to wait. The command was meant for us also—all who read and hear God’s Word today. Again, patience is required. This is because we live between the time of God’s revelation and the complete fulfillment of His revelation. God has promised to execute perfect justice on earth, to bring all things to a perfect end. He has revealed His plans to us through His Word. As believers and ministers of His Word, we cannot wait passively; we must stand watch, be alert, be ready to act. Until that day of fulfillment arrives, we must do everything possible to share God’s revelation—His Word—with the whole world. See also: (Mt. 24:44). (Mk. 13:35). (Js. 5:8). (Re. 3:11).“ (Re. 22:7, 20).
TWO PATHS (2: 4-5)
The life of faith mentioned in this key verse is only one of two distinct paths. One is the way of faith. The other is the way of “un-faith” or unbelief. the greater part of this verse deals with the unbeliever. It begins, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright…(NIV)” Then there is a dash, followed by “but the righteous will live by his faith” (NIV), followed by another dash. Then the passage continues, talking about the unbeliever. (vv. 4-5).
The way of the righteous is the way of faith in God. The way of the unbeliever is the way of rejecting God. The first submits to God and trusts God. The second submits to no one. The person who chooses the second way is arrogant. He says, “I can take care of myself. I can do without God.” The bulk of this chapter shows the course and dismal end of the ungodly.
A. The Righteous Path (2:4)
We have an easy way of approaching this verse, because the places where it is quoted in the New Testament (In Romans (Rom. 1:16-17), in Galatians (Gal. 3:10-11), and in Hebrews (Heb. 10:37-39). are explanations of the three main parts of the verse. In the original language, the Hebrew says:
- “the justified man” (Who is he? What is justification?) Romans is our commentary on the being justified.
- And “by his faith” (What is faith? How does it function?) Hebrews is our commentary on faith.
- “will live” (What is the Christian life? How does one live before God?). Galatians is our commentary on the Christian life.
We turn to these books to understand what Habakkuk 2:4 means.
*For Us Today:
What does it mean to be Righteous or Just? The revelation to Habakkuk shows us that a person can be righteous (or justified) before God. In ourselves we are not righteous, instead being righteous we are 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? How can one become perfect? The answer is that nobody can attain to righteousness. No one is capable of perfect goodness.
How do we get it then? It is God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ. This is what Romans explains. It shows that the justified person is the one who has ceased trying to please God by his own efforts and who has turned to Jesus instead for the righteousness that God gives freely. This is what it means to be a Christian. It means to stop trying to attain heaven by our own good works and instead to 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. Therefore, the entrance into that life is not by working but by receiving. It is opening our hands to God’s gift. Paul speaks of this by saying at the very beginning of Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 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: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17).
How do we receive God’s gift? The answer is found in the second word in Habakkuk 2:4: “by faith.” The Book of Hebrews is the New Testament commentary on it. What is faith? According to Hebrews, particularly Hebrews 11, faith is believing God and acting upon that belief. In the long list of the heroes of the faith in chapter 11, each is shown to have done something as an expression of belief. Abel believed God and offered a better sacrifice than Cain did (v. 4). Enoch believed God and pleased him by his long and faithful life (v. 5). Noah believed God and built an ark to the saving of his family (v. 7). Abraham, the author’s chief example, did four 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; later he offered Isaac as a sacrifice at God’s command (vv. 8-9, 11, 17). Isaac believed God and blessed Jacob and Esau according to God’s direction (v. 20). Jacob believed God and blessed Joseph’s sons (v. 21). The list goes on, in each case showing how faith expressed itself in activity.
It is important to stress faith’s action, because we have a definition of faith in our day 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 and say to him, “Do you believe in God?” and have the person answer, “Of course I do. What do you think I am, an atheist?” He does not want to be an atheist, so 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 includes intellectual assent. We must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). But faith is more than this. In salvation matters, it means trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who died in our place and thus also turning from sin to follow him.
How Do We Live? This commitment carries on throughout life, which is what the third word 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 says “the righteous will live [continuously] by his faith.” That is, the righteous will operate on this principle twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year—so long as life lasts.
The Book of Galatians stresses this principle. Paul uses Habakkuk 2:4 to challenge living by the law. He says, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'” (Gal. 3:10-11). The only way to live is to “live by faith.” This world may crumble about our ears. 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.
In the next post we will examine the rest of chapter 2 and those who live by pride and unbelief.
Watch Messages: YouTube-Upwards Church