52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 24
Habakkuk, Righteousness and Faith
Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God.
Habakkuk, Righteousness and Faith
II. Questions Asked
A. First Question (1:2-11)
B. Second Question (1:12 - 2:1)
C. Central Question
A. Central Answer of the Book
B. Fundamental Things Required of His Disciples
Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.
On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.
Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.
Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.
Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.
The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.
The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.
In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.
The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.
Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.
The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death. But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.
The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.
The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.
I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.
Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.
This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.
Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.
Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.
Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.
Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?
1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.
Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”
Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.
Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.
Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.
Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.
The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.
Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.
The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.
Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.
Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.
Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.
Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.
Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.
What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.
Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.
In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.
The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.
Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.
During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.
The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.
Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.
We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.
In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.
Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.
Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.
The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.
James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.
1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.
The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.
The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.
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The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.
Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.
Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.
Let’s pray. Father, we confess to you that everything in our natural self and almost everything in this natural world diverts our attention from you and from what is true. We are thankful for the witness of creation. We are thankful for your special revelation scripture; these things that pull us to you. But Father, the power of flesh and the power of sin is strong and it is so easy to look at life and forget what is really important, and that is You. Father, we pray that as we walk through Habakkuk’s life and the challenges that he had, and your call to him to be faithful, that we would hear the same challenge ring in our ears. In Jesus name, Amen.
The prophet Habakkuk prophesied somewhere around 640 to 610 B.C. Assyria had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel about 80 years before he started and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, where Habakkuk was from, had actually seen a spiritual revival. But by the time Habakkuk came on the scene it had degraded back down to being a wicked place. The rich were oppressing the poor, they were in control of the Law Courts and there was no justice. Habakkuk’s world was not a pretty place. The book of Habakkuk contains his discussion with God about this not so pretty place. Normally, in the prophets, we hear God speaking through the prophet to the people. But in this book we get to hear God and the prophet talk back and forth to each other, and twice in this short book Habakkuk asks God a question and God answers, and then in Chapter 3 we get to read Habakkuk’s response to God’s two answers.
First Question (1:2-11)
The first question and answer starts in Habakkuk 1:2-11. What we have in this section is one of the classic statements on what is called the problem of evil. The underlying premise for Habakkuk is that God is a righteous and a just God. That He will reward righteous and that He will punish wickedness. That is the underlying assumption and is stated in verse 13. Tension comes about in the problem of evil in Habakkuk’s life, as he believes this but it appears that evil is triumphing in reality, that God in fact is not rewarding righteous and punishing wickedness. that is the tension of Habakkuk’s life, between what he believes to be true about God and what he sees in reality. Habakkuk 1:2-4: "O LORD, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? Or cry to you violence and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me. Strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteousness and so justice goes forth perverted. Judah is not a pretty place during Habakkuk’s life. It is an honest question that Habakkuk is asking God. He is pouring out his heart and he is being bluntly and painfully honest, because the presence of unrighteousness and the presence of wickedness is painful to Habakkuk. It hurts! Have you ever been in that kind of situation yourself? When you are looking at a situation, perhaps in your life or in another's life, and you see that that person is a liar and does not seem to get caught; that the unfaithful spouse does not seem to suffer any consequences. And you look at these kind of situations and say, “That’s not right, God!” “That’s not fair! You are a righteous and a just God; you have committed to rewarding righteousness and punishing wickedness. What is going on?” That is the problem of evil and that is the problem that Habakkuk is facing. Well, God answers Habakkuk. God does not always answer people in the Bible, Romans 9, Job; God does not always answer questions. But there is something about Habakkuk and how he asks the question that calls God to answer and He does. He tells Habakkuk that “I am going to punish Judah’s sin. It will be punished. I am going to punish them by sending them the Chaldeans.” Just another name for the Babylonians. The Babylonians are going to come and they are going to destroy the Southern Kingdom of Judah as punishment for their sins. Look at Habakkuk 1:5-7: "Look among the nations and see wonder and be astounded, for I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told." In other words, this is going to really surprise you, Habakkuk, what I am about to do. This is not something that you would expect. "Behold I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the Earth to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome. Their justice and dignity go forth from themselves…" And the discussion of the Babylonians continues. In other words, God tells Habakkuk “There is a limit to my patience. I will only put up with injustice and wickedness for so long and there is coming a time in which I will punish the wickedness in Judea.”
Now, interestingly, He never tells Habakkuk when He is going to do this. We know from history that it happened in 586 B.C., probably some 30 or so years after Habakkuk started prophesying. The Babylonians came down and captured and destroyed the Southern Kingdom of Judah. But Habakkuk is never told when it was going to happen. So God answers Habakkuk’s first question, but instead of solving the problem, in Habakkuk’s mind, God has only made it worse. Because in Habakkuk’s mind, as bad as the Judeans are, the Babylonians are worse! So we move into his second question that starts at verse 12. And please, when you see verse 12, see the faith. There is faith all the way through verse 12.
Second Question (1:12-2:1)
Habakkuk’s second question: "Are you not from everlasting, O LORD, My God, My Holy One. We shall not die." (In other words, the nations shall not perish.) "O LORD, you have ordained them (the Babylonians) as a judgment and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof." You see, that is a great statement of faith. It is Habakkuk saying, “Okay, I accept your answer. I understand it. You are going to use the Babylonians to punish the sins of the Judeans, but I still do not understand why you are using the Babylonians!” Look at verse 13: "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? You see, Habakkuk is reasserting his faith in the goodness and the perfection of God. You are not an evil God. You are a good God. Let me supply antecedents. “Why do you idly look at the Babylonians? Why are you silent when those wicked, wicked Babylonians swallow up the Judeans? Even though they are bad, they are not as bad as the Babylonians.” Do you see Habakkuk’s problem? “Why are you using something even worse to punish something that is bad?” That was why God’s first answer made Habakkuk puzzled that much more. So God answers, starting at 2:2 and following. Look especially at verse 3. God tells Habakkuk: "For still the vision awaits its appointed time. It hastens to the end. It will not lie." In other words, I am going to tell you what I am going to do. I am going to tell you in a vision what I am going to do. And that vision will come to fruition. What I am saying is going to happen. And God says, I am going to tell you what is going to happen, and it surely will happen. If it seems slow, wait for it! It will surely come. It will not delay. God is saying, I am going to answer your question. I am going to take care of the Babylonians, but I am going to do it when I am jolly well ready to do it. God doesn’t work in our time frame. When we see wickedness and unrighteousness, when we see things that are not fair, we tend to quickly jump to judgments and say, “God, you need to do something about it! This is how you have to do it! And, oh by the way, you need to have done it yesterday!" But God says “I am going to deal with this problem, Habakkuk, but I am going to do it when I am ready to do it, and your job is to be patient and is to wait for me to do what I am going to do.” Then there is a series of 5 woe statements starting in 2:6, where God makes it very clear that He will turn around and destroy the Babylonians for their sin once He has used them to punish the Judeans for their sin. God is truly a righteous and just God who will reward righteousness and who will punish wickedness, but only when he is jolly well ready to do that. Once again, Habakkuk is not told when this is going to happen. We know, again from history, that it happened in 539 B.C., about 47 years after the Babylonians destroyed the Southern Kingdom, and they themselves were conquered and destroyed as a nation. It is interesting that Habakkuk probably never saw it. Habakkuk probably died before the Babylonian empire was punished for their sin. Yet he was called to believe that God would punish their wickedness.
Okay, all of that is kind of theological and historical backdrop to the central question of the Book of Habakkuk. The central question of the Book of Habakkuk is, How do you live in the in-between time? How do you live in the meantime? On the one hand there are certain things that we know. We know that God is righteous. But, over on the other hand, we look at experience and we see that the righteous are not yet fully rewarded. We know that the wicked are not yet punished, or not yet fully punished. So those are the 2 sides. That was the promise and the fulfillment.
There are certain things that we know about God to be true: He is a just and a righteous God. But we do not always see righteousness rewarded. We do not always see wickedness punished. So the question is, How do we live in the meantime? How do we live in the in-between time of what God has said he is going to do and when he actually does it? Is that clear? I have struggled with trying to figure out how to make this clear. When you finish today, please talk to each other and to your kids to make sure they understand this concept of promise and fulfillment. Of God’s character and God’s promises and the fulfillment of that and how we live in the middle. Make sure you understand that, please. For example: How do you live if the middle, when you go to school and it is the immoral student who gets all the attention and the modest student gets no attention at all. You see, that is living in the meantime. That is living in the in-between time. You go to work on Monday and perhaps it is the unethical person who is going to get the promotion, and the hard-working, ethical person sits where they are on the corporate ladder and squeaks by. We sang earlier, “We are the broken, you are the healer.” That is over on this side, and yet, as we look at life, we see teenage daughters that struggle every day with pain. We see people whose blood flow does not come back to their leg and it has to be amputated. And we have to live in the middle. And how can you be a God who is good and powerful and righteous and just and yet these are the kinds of things that we experience day in and day out. How do we live in the middle of all that? How do we live in the tension? That is the central question of the Book of Habakkuk, and probably why it should be earmarked in your Bibles and read frequently.
Central Answer of the Book
The answer is in Habakkuk 2:4. It is probably one of the top 10 verses in the entire Old Testament. It is quoted 3 times in the New Testament, twice by Paul, as pivotal arguments for his theology. This is one of those critical, critical verses in the Old Testament. God tells Habakkuk, “Behold his soul [meaning the Babylonian soul] is puffed up. It is not upright within him. But the righteous shall live by his faith." The life of righteousness, the life of the person who is right with God, is characterized, is permeated by faith. It is our faith that enables us to live in the tension between what we believe and know about God and what we see day in and day out. Let’s talk about faith for a moment. I think we generally think of faith mostly in connection with becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. When we talk about faith, what we are often talking about is how do I become right with God? Well, we believe that you do not become right with God by works. We do not believe that we become right with God by doing certain things. We do not come to the foot of the cross with things in our hands. Look how good I am. I am so much better than my neighbor. I gave $10.00 once when I was a kid. I mean, we do not come to the cross with things in our hands, do we? Those are works and they will all fail because there is nothing we can give in exchange for our soul. So we talk about coming to the cross, coming to Christ, and believing not by earning favor with God, because you cannot, but by simply believing that we are sinners, that we are called to repent of our sin, that we are separated from God, and we simply believe that what Jesus did on the cross is sufficient to pay the penalty for our sins. That is normally the context when we think of faith; that is what we think of. In fact, this is what Paul pulls out of these verses. When he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, this is the main point that he is trying to make, that we become right with God not because of what we do, but because of our faith. Because of what we believe happened on the cross. But there is more to God’s answer to Habakkuk than just that. You will notice in most of your Bibles that you have a footnote on the word “faith” and the footnote says “or faithfulness.” The Hebrew means both. The righteous shall live by his, or her, faithfulness. Now what does that mean? It means that, yes, we do become a disciple of Jesus Christ by faith. That is how our relationship with Him begins. By believing, by having faith, that He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. But then we live every single day being faithful to Him. Do you see the difference? We start being a disciple of Jesus Christ by faith. We believe certain things about Him. But then that faith permeates our lives that day in and day out, when we look at the problems and the yucky stuff of this life and we may not understand it, we continue to be faithful to God. When we look at the problems we say “I don’t understand all of this, but I will live knowing that You are righteous and that You are just and that You are fair, and that You are good and that You are powerful. And every day we reassert our faith in Jesus Christ. We reassert our faith in God; and we are faithful to Him. The other place that Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted is Hebrews 10. This is precisely the point that the author is making in Hebrews 10. The whole book of Hebrews is concerned with apostasy. It is concerned with people leaving the Christian faith, of abandoning it because of persecution. And so while there is a lot of good theology in Hebrews, the practical point that the book is trying to make is that you must persevere. You must endure. You must continue to live a faithful life. The quotation is actually in Hebrews 10:38, but the context starts at verse 36: "For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised." (He quotes Habakkuk 2:4) and then in verse 39, "but we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." You see, the author of Hebrews understands, and Paul did too, that there is more to Habakkuk 2:4 than just that initial issue of faith. That initial issue of faith is to permeate our lives that day in and day out it calls to us to persevere, to hang in there, to keep believing God, to keep the faith and to not give up on it. The just shall live by faith. The just shall live by faithfulness. Do you understand the distinction? It is one of those things where you just have to mull this one over for a while, perhaps. Habakkuk’s response then is in Chapter 3, and there is a discussion of the Exodus and God’s saving work in the Exodus. Then in the second half of Habakkuk 3:16, there is his explicit statement of faith, that "I will continue day in and day out to have faith in God, no matter what I see, I will continue to be faithful," And Habakkuk says, "Yet I will quietly wait [same word that we saw in 2:3] for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. To come upon the Babylonians who are going to invade the Judeans." I think this is why God answered Habakkuk. All the way through this book Habakkuk is a man of faith who has honest questions of God and he wants to understand, because the presence of wickedness is so painful to him. And yet he is a man of faith and God responds, and Habakkuk responds in faith and he says, “Okay, I will quietly wait because I believe that You are who You say You are, that You are going to do what You say You are going to do.”
Habakkuk never saw God fulfill His second promise, and yet he was going to quietly wait because he believed that He would. And then, in two of the greatest verses in the Old Testament, verses 17 and 18, Habakkuk looks ahead to the agricultural devastation that is sure to come when the Babylonians come and listen to what he says. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail, the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold, there be no herd in the stalls," In other words, no matter how bad it gets, God, no matter how bad the destruction, no matter what they do to our fields, no matter what they do to our animals--and this is an agricultural economy, this is their life!-- And Habakkuk is saying that he does not care how bad the experience is, he will rejoice in the LORD. He will take joy in the God of his salvation. Habakkuk’s faith is not passive. There is no sense of resignation. There is no sense of fatalism. It is active! He said, “I am going to rejoice! I will take joy!” You see, Habakkuk’s faith has freed him, the shackles of fear have fallen off and he has been freed up. Not to be passive and say “Okay God, I guess you are going to keep your will, I’ll sit.” There is none of that in Habakkuk! But even in the face of extreme disaster, Habakkuk will be faithful and that means that every day he is going to rejoice in God! He will joy in God, his Savior! He will laugh in the face of difficult circumstances. He will say “So what! So what Babylonians! I still believe. I will be faithful."
Fundamental Things Required of His Disciples
What does God require of his disciples? What is the most basic, fundamental thing that God requires of you and me? At the very bedrock of our existence, what does God require of us? It is not to feel good about Him and to feel good about ourselves. It is not to go to church, read our Bibles, believe the right things, do good things and do not do bad things. Those are all good things that are to characterize our life, but ''none'' of them are the most basic, fundamental, bedrock kind of thing that God requires of you and that He requires of me. The most basic, fundamental thing that God requires of you and me is that we have faith! Hebrews 11:6: "Without faith it is impossible [(not difficult, it is impossible)] to please God." No amount of church going and doing the right thing and not doing the wrong things and reading our Bibles will please Him. If that is all that we do but do not have faith, if we are not faithful day in and day out, then we are not pleasing Him. It is faith that is the most fundamental, basic level of pleasing Him. God calls you and me to have faith, no matter what happens. To believe that He is righteous and just. To believe that He will reward righteous, that He will punish wickedness, that His ways are always the best, and then to live every single day, no matter what be the circumstances, no matter what comes up in front of us. And we say, “I may not understand this, God. My husband still divorced me. I don’t understand how this can be, but I believe that You are good and powerful and righteous and just and that is enough." That was God’s answer to Job, by the way. He never explained the courtroom scene to Job. He asked, “Am I enough?” and Job said “Yes, You are enough.” This is again what is going on in Hebrews 11, starting at verse 1. This is the great chapter on faith, where the author of Hebrews holds up the giants of faith in the Old Testament. Hebrews 11 starts, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." That is what God wants! God wants us to live our lives with absolute assurance, absolute conviction even though we cannot see it. That is at the bedrock of what makes God smile more than anything else.
But as you go through the giants of faith in Hebrews 11, look at the examples of faith. Abel offered a sacrifice to God. Enoch did not have to die. Noah built an ark. Day in and day out, year in and year out and finally went in. Abraham left his home. Sarah believed that she would have a child. Abraham offered up his only son because he believed that God would raise him from the dead. Jacob had faith and blessed his children. Joseph had faith and asked that his bones be taken from Egypt when God took the children of Israel, eventually, back to the Promised Land. These are all examples, not of what we call saving faith, not the faith by which we become disciples, but these are all examples of the faith where day in and day out, as we meet life head on and it does not seem to be right and fair, we still say “I believe and I will live faithful to my God.” It is a freeing kind of faith. Oh that we could all be freed by that kind of faith every day of our lives. To see our faith, to see our faithfulness permeating every aspect of our life. That in the face of apparently insuperable odds we still believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. No matter how good or bad life becomes, we still believe God is righteous. We still believe that God is just. No matter what I see and no matter what I hear, I still believe that God’s ways are best! And that the world’s ways are worse. This is the kind of faith that frees us from this world. It frees us from the need of being accepted at school. Because we believe that knowing God is sweeter than friends.It is the kind of faith that frees up young girls; frees them up from the need of wearing tight shirts that do nothing but sell their bodies, because they believe it is better to be clothed in righteous and adorned with modesty (1st Timothy 2:9). It is the freeing kind of faith that frees up young boys and young men from being sexual predators in order to prove themselves, because they believe that sex is a bond only to be enjoyed in marriage. It is the kind of faith that frees us up from spending our lives trying to earn financial security--and there is no such thing--but still we look at the world and we strive for the bigger house, the more toys, the greater luxury. But the faith that frees, in the language of Hebrews 11, says “No. We are strangers and we are exiles. We are seeking a heavenly homeland. This world is not my home, I am just passing through." That is what we believe. That is what we know to be true. Despite everything the world says to us, in the meantime, we say “God’s ways are best and this world. Praise the Lord, this is not my home! I do not want it. I do not even think I want the New Jerusalem and New Heaven, frankly. I want out of here. I want to go home! That is what faith does. Faith frees you when you see beyond the hurts and the pains, the disappointments and the sorrows of life. It frees us up so that we can look in the face of what Habakkuk calls “iniquity, destruction, and violence,” and our faith says, “God is still who He says He is. He is righteous and He is just.” Our faith says, “God will do what He says He will do when He is jolly well ready to do it. He will reward righteousness and he will punish wickedness. In the meantime, I will, by the power of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God, be faithful to Him, living out my convictions. Never wavering. Never straying. Always being true.
The question of Habakkuk is very straight forward. It is very simple. Do you believe God? That is Habakkuk. Do you believe God? Will you be faithful to Him day in and day out, in every day of pain and uncertainty? In every day of comfort and apparent security. Will you cry out to God, ”Though the fig tree should not blossom nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls. Even when it rains on the Palouse at harvest time I will rejoice in the LORD. I will take joy in the God of my Salvation. That is the question of the Book of Habakkuk. Will you and I have faith and will you and I live faithful lives, every day, no matter what the world throws at us?
Let’s pray. Father, the problem of evil is one of those fundamental issues that everyone struggles with. We confess that it is a struggle when we see the pain and the suffering and hurt and what appears to be such unfairness around us. It is difficult, Father, to understand. Yet, Father, by faith we do believe that You are a righteous God, that You are a just God, that You are a good God, that You are a powerful God. These are things that we believe and these are the things that we cling to most, Father, when we face difficult times on every day. When we are trying to figure out what clothes to wear, what jokes to tell, how hard to work at work, all these good things that you have called us to do. First and foremost, Father, may we be faithful to you. May we, in everything we say and do, and everything we do not say and do not do, may we bring glory to you by being faithful, holding to our convictions, and continuing in our belief and our faith in You. In Jesus name, Amen.
There is something freeing about caring what the world thinks. There is something freeing in knowing that we are only here for a blip and we get the joyous responsibility of being faithful to our God. I would encourage you to go out and in the face of persecution, in the face of conflict, and just laugh at it. Because our God is powerful and He wins! I have read the last book in the Bible. We win and They lose. Go forth with that conviction.
“The righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
- What is the “Problem of Evil”? What are some examples you have personally experienced?
- Have you ever seen God use an evil person/thing to punish another evil person/thing? What did you think of it at that time? After reflection, would you think differently of it now?
- Has God ever asked you to believe something, even though years later you still have not seen the fulfillment of His promise? What are some things you can do to help yourself continue in your faith over the years?
- What are ways in which the world tells us God is wrong and we are challenged to believe God is right? This is the hard question. Try to be specific, thinking of whatever situation you live in — school, neighborhood, work, etc.
- What are some ways in which you have struggled to be faithful to God?
- What does a life permeated with faith look like?