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THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH –
The BOLD WONDER of HABAKKUK CONTINUES to this DAY,
an INSTRUCTION in RIGHTEOUSNESS and SALVATION.
How lovely is this Old Testament rubric, this thrust of the whole book of Habakkuk - along with its parallel emphasis on WAITING for it, it will surely come, the judgment of God, and the redress of evil, the salvation of God for His people in His final tribunal and address of power to an errant world, and to the vices of the violent. That aspect is found first in Ch.2, and then as to the coming of the Lord, in Ch.3.
Of great profit it is to ponder the setting. Habakkuk had protested to the Lord about the habit of the vile and violent people to attack other people as if they were fishermen with nets, cunningly contriving the downfall of their brethren, without heart, without thought and without feeling except for gain. Both justice and equity fled while the powerful abused their positions. WHAT, then of that ? he daringly asked the Lord. I will see what He will reply, mused the prophet; and in all this, we must first of all understand that this was an exercise in the Lord, who both moved the man to enquire in his concern, and provided the answer for the instruction of us all.
The just, the just person, the one who stands upright in the presence of God through God's own acceptance of him, is not seen as the man who manages perfection, for none do. Even the prophet himself is bent with the tempests of troubled heart and disquieted soul, his spirit churning within him. It is the sort of situation to which Jesus responded, it seems, in New Testament times when He had come personally to earth in that prodigious exercise of divine patience and education, which put His own fellow, God the Son, into the arena so that direct inter-relationships could prevail, beyond the episodic and the spiritually ministered communions. How did Jesus respond then to such a situation as this: it seems in this way - OH YOU OF LITTLE FAITH! That tender refrain seems to mirror very well the exceedingly tender reply of the Lord to his troubled prophet in Habakkuk.
Some do not realise just how tender the Lord really is. HE INVENTED motherhood, for example. He also invented discipline; and many who rebel and revolt find that justice is not bendable when one is set to correct the Lord. Truth is not defilable. It is still the truth, say what one will. So much rebellion pandemically sweeps through the world that some libel the Lord and slander His spiritual beauty as if He were severe: like a Father, He can be severe to ruinous rebellion: there are times when the ruin of severity being partial, and the ruin of rebellion being total, it is kinder to be vigorous in discipline.
Paul puts the point like this: "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness..." (Romans 11:22). And HOW did they fall ? in truculent continuation of rebellions aplenty amidst continued mercies, lightly assumed.
We must now listen to the beginning of the Lord's reply to Habakkuk's query.
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.
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith." That is from 2:2-4.
What then is here ?
1. GOD WILL ACT in this matter.
2. The definitive action will not be for a long time.
3. Proud people, as distinct from the meek, the humble, the lowly, the lovers of God, grab and grasp (as is shown later in this chapter explicitly and in much detail); but by contrast the people whom God accepts, deeming them righteous, these are different to those.
4. These, God's people,
live by a stability (cf. Isaiah 33:6, where this is linked with
"the fear of the Lord", "knowledge" and "wisdom", yes that along with "strength of salvation"), by firmness of foundation. In what ? for we have here a CONTRAST between the way of life of the one, the proud, and the other, the "righteous".
In this: that they are willing to obey the divine command humbly, the one just given, instead of grasping covetously, oppressing with inequity and perversion of justice, and setting their "nest on high".
WHAT divine command has then just been given ? This: WAIT FOR IT!*1 and what is the context of that command ?THIS: IT WILL SURELY COME. WHAT will surely come ? THIS: THE VINDICATION OF GOD'S HOLINESS, THE REBUKE TO THE PROUD, THE SALVATION OF HIS PEOPLE IN MOST MANIFEST FORM (Habakkuk ) AND JUST JUDGMENT THAT IS FINAL.
HOW do you wait for it ? By
faith, by stability, firmness of construction within you, by being stably
founded. Faith, as James declares, is a living thing, and FAITH WITHOUT WORKS
IS DEAD. The faith here is just the same. IF YOU HAVE IT, USE IT. A sure
foundation in what ? In waiting for the Lord to do what He is going to do,
which answers all the question of the prophet about the spreading cancer of
corruption so manifest in this world (cf. I John 5:19, John 14:29-31). In what
is this reliability and stability toward the Lord to be seen
then ? In the patience continuance in the expectation of His doing just what He says, in His having a program to meet all that, in His promises which themselves also are sure, stable and well-founded. And what is such a patient waiting in confidence in the One who requires it, but this: FAITH.
The particular KIND of steadfast stability, firm founded certainty which is in mind in Habakkuk 2:4 is this: It is a willingness to wait in the entire assurance that, being just as He has said, God will rescue His people in salvation and, both in short-term*2 judgments and in the final assizes of fiery justice, fulfil the needs of judgment. Thus is the parallel to Isaiah 33:6 complete. You see there indeed, both aspects, the rescue on the one hand and the eventual judgments on the other, in Isaiah as he continues his theme, in 33:10-18.
So in Habakkuk, seeing the proud live by rapine and plunder, inequity and cruelty, we see how the just is to live: by his faithful stability in the direction of God, His utter assurance in His word and total reliance on His pronouncements, plan and purposes.
This is a huge declaration, wonderfully seized by Paul who saw its depths and applied it in Romans 5.
The faithfulness of God had seemed almost impugned to the prophet by the wild excesses in this world, and God returns the point to the prophet: it is YOUR faithfulness, stability and steadfast reliability in ACCEPTING what is being told you which is to distinguish YOU from the PROUD. You MUST WAIT, and that is HOW you will live, stably entrusting yourself to Him who so commands. The farmer, as Paul tells Timothy, must wait for his crop; and we, set in a world of many dark devices, as the whole glorious episode of freedom to those made in God's image has its fantastic outcome through grace, we await it with confidence, with faithfulness that means faith, with conviction which is appropriate to the wise Parent above, whose policies will have their fruition, and whose forbearance will result in the end in a magnificence of the Kingdom of Heaven, into which none is forced, where the sheer candour of light will be the parallel to the steadfast faith in the hearts whose trust is in Him (cf. Ephesians 2:19-3:21, II Peter 3:19, I Peter 1:17-22).
It has thus its active side in faith and passive in patience; but there is an activity of faith which is most active, as seen in Hebrews 11:14-40, where the power of God is seen at work in this very earth, as in the longsuffering of God, His will and love is exemplified in marvellous actions of His people, which He enables them to write in the book of history, exhibiting His concern, care, capacity and wonder.
DO YOU live by faith in Him ? Not fickle shadows of self-fulfilment or self-indulgence: not by this, as if God were a comfortable old arm-chair made for you to lounge in, rather than the Friend to surpass all friendship, the loved one to bring the essence of love to light, the Loving One from whom the whole panoply of family and friendly beauties take their course, as a stream from the mountain snows in their purity, dazzling in the sunshine of reality.
And that faith ? We HAVE waited long, and the magnificence of Jesus Christ has come to earth, the patience of God has been shown in HIS PERSON, while He grew to manhood, and suffered, endured and told and showed and taught and re-taught and loved and died as planned, to rise as programmed and to defeat death in that wonder that makes life not only livable, but eminently desirable, that eternal life which was with the Father, and as the Son came to earth ( I John 1:1-4). THIS part of the glory, the noble wonder of humility even to sacrifice for sin, the powerful grace of defeating disease and not charging, death and rising: this has already come. THIS section of the program and purpose for the earth being FILLED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GLORY OF THE LORD AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA (Habakkuk 2:14) has already alighted. It has touched down on this world. It has thus been imbued it with the presence of the Lord, a world which of course did not appreciate it very much, amidst the survival techniques of the priests and the Gentile Governor Pilate alike, with the envy of the priests for dissavour as the New Testament attests. Even PILATE knew that, we read (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10)!
The marvel of the incarnation has been given nearly 2000 years ago, and the other wonder, His return from heaven (cf. 3:3-16, Acts 3:19-21, 1:1-11), the Father bringing salvation with His Messiah (3:13) in that incandescent ending which is predicted: that comes like an express train passing, rollicking through the stations till the final platform. The pace seems even now to be speeding into overdrive proportions (see SMR Chs. 8-9); and the end as sure as speedy, is approaching like a dock into which some huge liner is pressing its enormous bulk, as if to collision. And there WILL be collision with the inequities, selfish survival techniques of man, imagining vainly that survival secures arrival, and that creation is dependent on such gross follies as these.
"The just shall live by his faith"; and that faith, it is the channel not only of comfort, but of a sure standing in the sight of God which includes that salvation of His Messiah, just as with Abraham (Genesis 12,22), his sure conviction (cf. Hebrews 11:17-20) was rewarded, and the coming of the Messiah even then was indicated, that blessing through an offspring which should, rather than the sacrifice of a son, suffice for the deliverance of those who should take it, amongst the WHOLE of mankind, any nation, all nationalities. Abraham was JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, as Paul tells us in Romans 4-5, and in Genesis we read of this BEFORE ever he offered Isaac, that being a mere FRUIT OF FAITH. He was justified at the first, when he BELIEVED GOD (Genesis 15:6), as Paul makes so very clear.
The conferment then, of this status of "righteous" arrives not by works, but by faith, and being provided, it reaches to the depth of the heart in rest. The Lord knows what He is doing and He is doing it surpassingly well. It is HE who has PROVIDED THE RAM, caught in the thicket of the ecclesiastical thieves, according to program.
But this aspect we have already treated extensively in Item 17 above.
Meanwhile, like Paul, being
justified, indeed, as the word of God twice says in Romans 5 (1, 9 cf. Titus 3:5-7,
Ephesians 2:8, and Biblical Blessings, last chapter), HAVING BEEN JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, REJOICE (5:11) in His atonement,
His making of you at one with Himself. If not, if that is, you are not yet a
Christian, then receive Christ raised from the dead, and jettison your sins
with the rest which were the driving cause of His willingness to die,
sacrificially surrendered for the redemption of all who come in faith to Him.
For more on allied areas:
*1 The time before the appointed consummation of God's provisions in both salvation and judgment is not near, at the hour of Habakkuk's writing. Not merely is it something to WAIT for, in the context of that need to be re-assured implied in "it will SURELY come" (cap.added); but it is said to be two more things to the point here.
A) Though it tarries, wait for it!" This is explicit. It IS going to be in a huge historical process which has its crevasses and its peaks, and this must be appreciated.
B) "At the end it will speak!" This narrows the case more definitely. In the end of the ages, in one sense, when there is only ONE STEP to the end: CHRIST CAME. On the other side, the last days bring you to the very time of judgment itself in its final motions (cf. Joel 2:30-32, Acts 2:17ff., Micah 4:1, Jeremiah 30:24, Genesis 49:1, Isaiah 2:2).
*2 The short-term judgment is massive, however, not minimal. In this case, it was the invasion by the empire of Babylon, with just that tenacity of purpose, disregard of obstacles and ruthlessness which was a just and fitting rebuke to the inequitable harshness and ruthlessness of the very undivine commerce and politics which had been wrought for so long in Israel. The proportionality of the cause and the effect, though the latter was ALONG DELAYED with MANY CALLS to repentance, harshly unheeded, is something that strikes a very due awe into the watchful heart.
Yes, it is not that no interim judgments existed, that no divine rebukes were forthcoming at all in the meantime, before the final judgment. That is not the case at all. It is just that it is a preliminary. What then shall we say of such preliminaries in judgment, what is the nature of it?
It is not so total as to remove freedom its divinely crafted opportunities of guile or goodness, right or wrong, moral splendour or minimal miserableness of heart. It is not so small as to leave man unwarned. It is wise, for God is very deep! His understanding indeed is "without number" or infinite (Psalm 147:5). His is also delightfully kind as you see in Habakkuk 3:17-19; for Habakkuk is delighted with strength even if adversity should reach some seeming crescendo:
God is my strength, He will make my feet like deer's feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills".
Indeed, as Psalm 145 declares with that splendour of divinely given certitude:
is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy,
The Lord is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works...
The Lord upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down...
The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works."
And note the next part, for
it is quite crucial to all:
"The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth."
It even proceeds to his
loveliness of divine grace:
"He will fulfil the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them..." Indeed it is so.
The term used for "faith" here, implying -
as Harris, Gleason and Waltke point out in their Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, established lives, reflecting His faithfulness in their own sure attitude towards God (II Chronicles 19:9, Psalm 119:30, I Chronicles 9:22) -
denotes stability, fidelity.
It is conviction, certainty with which the prophet is to wait for it, THE FINAL OUTCOMES OF GOD, "for it will surely come" - though that is not yet. As Paul says,
"We were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees ?
"But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance."
The very redemption of the body is one of those things we await in the consummation, for which the stupendous power so far displayed in the creation and resurrection, is a preliminary testimony, as is the account, the witness of the Spirit of God in our hearts, who believe (Romans 8:22ff., 1:1-4, I Cor. 15).
The situation at first envisaged in the book of Habakkuk, like that in Romans, is the present consuming power of the curse, and in the earlier sections of the writing of the prophet especially, there is traced the parallel cursed seeming conduct on the part of the many, within this: unredeemed and looking like it! Indeed, in Habakkuk 1, we find the prophet, in the face of the eager, delusive appeal of "might is right" plunder, pride and arrogance, as one appalled and revolted. In such a debased environment, however, he finds that there is a certainty of a foundational kind, exactly as in Romans 8:18-31, in which life is to be lived. The stable, assured fidelity of mind, conviction of heart, imbued with the stability of God, is the way; for -
"WAIT FOR IT, FOR IT WILL SURELY COME" - 2:3.
What will come ? Redemption, rebuke, judgment and purification, all consummated in their time, when the courts are held, the worlds are stricken and the time is up.
Who then will come ? The One "whose ways are everlasting" (Habakkuk 3:6), and He will come for "the Salvation of your Anointed", providing for His Christ, the Gentiles for His inheritance (Isaiah 49:6, Psalm 2:8, 117), over whom He will rule (Jeremiah 23:5-6, 3:16-17); and the action will be one of drama and determination (Habakkuk 3:16).
For this then the prophet is the wait with a persistent, insistent, stable and assured fidelity: for the just will live by his faith (2:4). It is not yet. It will come. In the interim, a steadfast reliance on God is required, whatever the nets of violence may do (Hababkkuk 1:4,13-16), in their corrupted craft and violence. Receiving from Him who is stable, the means through being so founded, to be stable and unequivocal through trial, is the essence of the application in Habakkuk. God will act, first with the Babylonian discipline on Israel (Hab. 1:5ff.) in Habakkuk’s own day, later more fully on the world (Hab.3:3-16, cf. Isaiah 24). Meanwhile ? faith!
Again we see the same word (emunah), in Proverbs 12:22: "Those who deal with faithfulness are His delight" - a concept with is entirely parallel to this: "Without faith you cannot please God" - Hebrews 11:6). Once more we find it, in II Chronicles 19:9, where Jehoshaphat, the righteous king is telling the officials to deal justly. With faithfulness, reliability, scrupulous conscientious zeal, from a steadfast heart, resting in the entirely faithful God, they must deal. THIS is the faithful man who deals by faith, walks in it, and of whom it may be said: "Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times" and, "the fear of the Lord is his treasure" -Isaiah 33:6.
It is this faith, assured, stable, conviction, issuing in fearless action, embraced by hope, imbued with certainty, by which the just shall live.
Accordingly, the negative shute is just as clear, decisive and defined as the positive; but of course, in the opposite direction, with the contrary outcome. As Isaiah declares to the evasively religious and chronically troubled king Ahaz (Isaiah 7),faced with potential military disaster and set in a formula of sanctity which denies the fact -
"Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God: ask it either in the depth or in the height above."
But Ahaz said,
"I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!" (Isaiah 7:11-12). In this phase at least, he appears the wriggler: and the reply ?
"Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also ?" (Isaiah 7:13). He missed the blessing, the powerful amazing blessing (ask it high to heaven, low to the depths!) and so became merely the instrument for hearing of the blessing to come! What was offered was unlimited; what was gained was according to his faith, or lack of it!
Obviously, we are in the unlimited dimensions of divine mercy and profundity of grace, those which in the end led the Son of God to be crucified on earth, as planned from the beginning and before the world so much as was. Yet in the face of this, just as the Christian, ALREADY provided with this Son (I John 5:12, Romans 8:32) has this vast provision, and acts in faith, so as one opposed, Ahaz acted in scribal seeming deviousness. He declined to ask and his answer was as if to make it a virtue actually to call in question the propriety of OBEYING A DIVINE COMMAND, namely ‘ASK’ - ask in whatever depth or dimension of the Lord, the matter requires. That was the authority the Lord gave him. That was what he declined to utilise!
How much worse, when this command was set in the celestial magnitudes the prophet was inspired to offer! How much worse yet, when the answer is clothed in sanctity, as if it were to "TEMPT" the Lord (a sinful thing) to OBEY the Lord. That is expressly Ahaz’ stated thought. The essence of liberalism was already in his heart, it would seem, and certainly displayed itself ingeniously in this instance. Here is the very perfection of infidelity, instability, non-certitude, of anti-emunah, to use our Hebrew topic word in this end-note!
Thus it is here, in Isaiah 7, in fact verse 9, that the prophetic ultimatum which is the nether end of the glowing graciousness of the granting of such an offer, appears. He declares:
you will not believe,
SURELY you will not be established!"
Here the verbal root for our topic word is used in two different forms, "believing" being one usage, and "established" in the passive, another. The "believing" is literally, "cause to be established". You participate in the stability and certainty of things WITH stability and certainty. So it has been, is and remains for spiritual exercises in the presence of the Lord. It is a matter of certitude, being established, with the grace and place of the Lord established in your heart, His word ruling.
Christian, ask therefore, that your joy may be full, for the great and precious promises are not limited: ask in His name, for His will and for what is needed to perform it (John 16:23, II Peter 1:4). For the end of the Age, wait; for the use of its opportunities, ask! That provision was made for Ahaz then. For himself and his nation, he missed the opportunity of a lifetime.
offer - Ask and it shall be given you, that the Father may be glorified in the
Son, is given to you now (Matthew 7:7, John 14:13, 16:23-24) - ask in Christ’s
The servant is not greater than his master, but his Master is given a name above every name, and to Him all power is given (Philippians 2:9, Matthew 28:18-20).