"Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:4 HCSB)
Habakkuk has been called “the doubting Thomas of the Old Testament.” But, if we would be honest, we must admit that there is much about us that would give rise to doubts within us. We live in a perplexing world that vexes us. The dark shadow of what we don't know can seem to eclipse the sunlight of what we do know.
We can deduce from the message of the book that Habakkuk was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. Both men lived in a time when God was moving in judgment on His people. The Chaldeans--otherwise known as the Babylonians--were on the march toward Middle East domination. They were going to bring God’s discipline on Judah.
Habakkuk could see it unfolding--and that was the perplexing problem--the Chaldeans were pagans--bloodthirsty, unmerciful, butchers who worshipped false gods. None would argue that the Jews deserved chastisement. The prophet grieved over the sin of his people. But, to use these horrible heathen--for them to prosper from Judah's pain--that didn't seem right! What in the world was God up to, if anything?
I have asked the same question. There are some things that don't seem to add up. Life can be like a puzzle--but with some key pieces missing. Have you ever questioned God? We all do from time to time.
Scripture helps us. God has revealed things that we could not otherwise know. He doesn't tell us all we would wish to know, but what we need to know. He gives us enough light to enable us to take the next step of faith. God did that for Habakkuk and as we read his record of these revelations, we will be be strengthened in having persevering trust in perplexing times.
As muscles cannot grow stronger without resistance, so faith is built by the pressure against it. Faith is that important. We are saved by faith, walk by faith, live by faith, conquer by faith, die in faith and then by faith inherit all God has promised as faith gives way to sight when we see Christ and enter His glory.
Habakkuk 2:4 is the key verse--and is so vital as to be repeated three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38). It would not be an exaggeration to say this verse is one of the most significant in all the Word of God.
All those who claim to be Christians today might well be Roman Catholics, if not for this verse. The Holy Spirit used this Holy Scripture to shine into the darkness of despair that tormented a monk named Martin. Try as he might, he could not escape the thought that he was a condemned man. No amount of religion--no devotion to ritual could relieve him. Then his eyes fell on this truth--a man is righteous before God by faith! Martin Luther rediscovered this fundamental fact--faith in Christ alone saves sinners. Faith is how the Christian life commences in justification, conquers in sanctification and consummates in glorification.
Habakkuk's central verse is at the core of real life--how eternal life begins and how it is lived out each day.
Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.
There will be dark times. There always have been; there always will be. Habakkuk was in one and it was only getting darker. Can you identify?
We may not be run over by a locomotive yet, but we are sitting on the tracks and hear the whistle blowing. The storm may not have arrived, but we can see the lightning flashing. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse may not be in sight, but we can feel the tremors of their hoofbeats.
These are vexing, perplexing times. There are more questions than there are answers; more problems than there are solutions.
But isn’t that why we have to walk by faith and not by sight? The world says, “Seeing is believing” but God says, “Believing is seeing.”
William Cowper presented this message powerfully in a musical piece called, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" He speaks of how God forms faith:
"Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will."
The Devil will do everything in his power to bring us to a crisis of faith. The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God and Satan is in the business of denying, diminishing and destroying faith. He understands the power of faith, if we do not. Just read Hebrews 11, if you question its importance! "Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6 HCSB)
Habakkuk faces THE CRISIS OF TRUSTING GOD in chapter one.
"Why?" That's the big question, isn't it? Habakkuk poses that question four times in chapter one. We can sum these up under two headings.
He asks WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SIN? (v.1-4)
"How long, Lord, must I call for help and You do not listen or cry out to You about violence and You do not save? Why do You force me to look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates." (Habakkuk 1:2, 3 HCSB)
Habakkuk could plainly see the sinful acts of people, so surely God could. It broke his heart, so why did God seem oblivious to what was to him so obvious? He knew God had power to intervene, but instead appeared indifferent.
Do you wonder why God allows sin? Why did he place the forbidden tree in Eden? Why did he create an angel, He knew would become the Devil? Why? It's a perplexing proposition, to be sure.
God's response to Habakkuk is worse than his question! God gives an answer, but it isn't what he wanted to hear. The Lord shocks the prophet’s sandals off. He will use the wicked as His whip on the backs of His children!
"Look at the nations and observe--be utterly astounded! For something is taking place in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it.
Look! I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter, impetuous nation that marches across the earth's open spaces to seize territories not its own.
They are fierce and terrifying; their views of justice and sovereignty stem from themselves.
Their horses are swifter than leopards and more fierce than wolves of the night. Their horsemen charge ahead; their horsemen come from distant [lands]. They fly like an eagle, swooping to devour.
All of them come to do violence; their faces are set in determination. They gather prisoners like sand.
They mock kings, and rulers are a joke to them. They laugh at every fortress and build siege ramps to capture it.
Then they sweep by like the wind and pass through. They are guilty; their strength is their god." (Habakkuk 1:5-11 HCSB)
My soul! The Jews had broken God's commands and needed to be chastened, but by the Chaldeans? That crowd was so wicked that they should have been first in line for a beating! Yet, God says that they will be His means of correcting His children.
This wrings another "why" from Habakkuk's lips, WHY WOULD GOD USE SINNERS? (v.5-17)
"[Your] eyes are too pure to look on evil, and You cannot tolerate wrongdoing. So why do You tolerate those who are treacherous? Why are You silent while one who is wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself?" (Habakkuk 1:13 HCSB)
It is about that time, Satan--the Accuser--slithers up and softly hisses, “How can you trust a God like that?” That was his strategy in attacking Job. Why do the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous often suffer? Why would God use sinners? How can this be fair?
Jesus addressed this. He taught:
"At that time, some people came and reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And He responded to them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well! Or those that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed--do you think they were more sinful than all the people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well!" (Luke 13:1-5 HCSB)
We tend to place sin in relative categories--some awful, others moderate, some sort of--but God weighs all sin as exceedingly sinful! (see Rom.7:13)
There will be a day of reckoning when all inequities are made right--but not yet. For the time being, the patience of God is allowing sinners the opportunity to repent.
"The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.
But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that [day] the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed." (2 Peter 3:9, 10 HCSB)
Judgment delayed should not be interpreted as justice denied. However, when God begins to move against sin, He starts with those closest to Him. Judgment must begin at the house of God.
"For the time has come for judgment to begin with God's household, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?
And if a righteous person is saved with difficulty, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?
So those who suffer according to God's will should, while doing what is good, entrust themselves to a faithful Creator." (1 Peter 4:17-19 HCSB)
The difference in that judgment is as great as the distance between heaven and hell. The fire we face as God's children is to forge our faith and refine us by removing the dross, so we will glitter in glory. That fiery trial is on earth. The fire in the unrepentant's future is for retribution and they will suffer in agony for eternity.
The crisis of faith leads to THE CONSIDERATION IN TRUSTING GOD in chapter two.
Habakkuk is stopped in his tracks; driven to his knees. Now he can listen and learn.
There is A REQUEST (v.1)
"I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint." (Habakkuk 2:1 HCSB)
Habakkuk seeks the face of God. His face may feature a frown of perplexity, but at least it is directed upward. The Lord knows we have doubts, why not express them? How can we drive away the doubt and strengthen our faith? If we look around us we will be embittered, but if we look above us, we will be empowered! Let us be:
"keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne.
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won't grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2, 3 HCSB)
That is the consideration of faith!
The request brings A RESPONSE (v.2-20)
"The Lord answered me: Write down this vision; clearly inscribe it on tablets so one may easily read it.
For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late.
Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:2-4 HCSB)
Faith doesn't supply every answer, but faith is the answer! Faith finds its foundation and force in God's clear Word. While we may not comprehend all we would like to grasp, we can consider all we need to be held in the grasp of God's mighty hand.
The Lord reassures the prophet judgment is coming. He will take care of the Chaldeans in due course.
"Since you have plundered many nations, all the peoples who remain will plunder you--because of human bloodshed and violence against lands, cities, and all who live in them." (Habakkuk 2:8 HCSB)
In the present there will be groaning in this age, but there is the promise of glory in the age to come.
"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord's glory, as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2:14 HCSB) We will understand it better by and by!
But, for now, we rest in the sovereign, sometimes inscrutable, ways of God. "But the Lord is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence." (Habakkuk 2:20 HCSB)
There is a time for sincere questions, but we can reach a point where we stop and come to a time of silent consideration. He is God. We are not. God doesn't need our advice.
The prophet goes from the crisis of faith, to the consideration of faith and this brings THE CONQUEST BY TRUSTING GOD in chapter three.
Faith may be tested—but real faith will be triumphant!
TRIUMPHANT TRUST BRINGS REVIVAL OF VISION (3:1-15).
"Lord, I have heard the report about You; Lord, I stand in awe of Your deeds. Revive [Your work] in these years; make [it] known in these years. In [Your] wrath remember mercy!
God comes from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise.
[His] brilliance is like light; rays are flashing from His hand. This is where His power is hidden.
You come out to save Your people, to save Your anointed. You crush the leader of the house of the wicked and strip [him] from foot to neck. Selah (Habakkuk 3:2-4, 13 HCSB)
Revival is a fresh vision of God. That’s what happened then and needs to happen today. Habakkuk experienced the Lord in power and glory. When God shows up, everything settles down.
TRIUMPHANT TRUST BRINGS REASSURANCE OF VICTORY (3:16-19).
"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.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights!" (Habakkuk 3:16-19 HCSB)
It would not be an easy road for the prophet to travel. But, the hard road would end in a wonderful destination. The short-term prospects were fearful, but he now had reassurance of victory at last. He could stare trouble in the face and triumph over it through his trust in God. The Lord's revelation of Himself to him gave him reassurance in Him.
He had nearly stumbled. His doubts had driven him to the brink of despair, almost plunging off the precipice. Then, the light of God's glory broke through. Habakkuk could see the narrow path of faith and his steps became stable--now, surefooted as a deer.
We need to get to that place. We can get to that place! Don't argue that your troubles are greater than your trust--because it isn't about the immensity of your difficulties, or the impotence of your resources, but the immeasurable power of your God--that is what matters.
Jesus promised, "I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world." (John 16:33 HCSB) We follow our Lord into perplexing times, but in Him find a persevering trust!