Habakkuk: "The Righteous Shall Live By His Faith."
Minor Prophets Series #9
Perhaps of all the minor prophets, Habakkuk's prophecy hits home to many of us.
He asks the question that comes to mind when righteous individuals suffer the
consequences of living in a sinful society. Is it fair that the righteous suffer
due to the faithlessness of their neighbors? Why don't just the criminals suffer
for their acts of crime? Why must the innocent also suffer?
It is as plain as can be. Throughout history, when governments are corrupt, everyone suffers. When a nation suffers for its immorality, even those who have remained steadfast suffer the consequences of the immorality. We see it plainly in our own society today. Innocent people live in fear in their crime-ridden neighborhoods. Drug addicts and gangs prey upon the innocent to support themselves. Diseases that are spread by immorality find a way to affect even those who have never partaken in the immoral acts which cause them. Corruption and fraud in government costs everybody. Honesty becomes an outdated concept to most. Moral principles and standards as taught in the Scriptures, and those who choose to live by them, are regarded as foolish and mocked by the entertainment and news media.
What is in store for our nation? As things grow progressively worse, and society falls apart as our once sacred institutions collapse, must the righteous also suffer with the guilty? The book of Habakkuk both asks and answers that question as well as gives other information concerning such downfalls of nations.
Background to Habakkuk
"The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw. 'How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and wilt Thou not hear? I cry out unto Thee, 'Violence!' Yet Thou dost not save...therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore, justice comes out perverted." (HABAKKUK 1:1-4). Habakkuk was written around 612 to 606 B.C. A series of prophets had warned that the consequences of apostasy from God would ultimately lead to the downfall of the nation of Judah and captivity. Habakkuk writes just previous to the beginning of the fulfillment of these warnings. Chaldea, or Babylon, had been growing in power and spreading out to consume the other nations around it. The Assyrians, the ancient enemies of both Israel and Judah, had been conquered by the Chaldeans in 612 B.C. This, too, had been in accordance with the prophecies. As more nations fell to this new empire, it was drawing ever closer to Judah. Habakkuk's message is given just before Judah itself is invaded. The first invasions and the carrying away of the first group of Judah's population will occur in 605 B.C. Judah's fall will be complete in 586 B.C when Jerusalem is destroyed and the last deportation is made.
The Reason for Judgment
"Why does Thou make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. " (HABAKKUK 1:3). The book begins with Habakkuk complaining about the wickedness that pervades the land. In the first four verses he complains about the violence, iniquity, wickedness, destruction, strife, contention, lack of law, and perversion of justice in the land. His is a cry unto God to do something about it. He felt the same sorrow as he witnessed the corruption of Judah as any righteous American feels when he considers America's own similar dilemma. We can well imagine a lump in Habakkuk's throat as he looks at the temple standing in Jerusalem but no longer used to glorify Jehovah. It would be much like hearing the National Anthem of our own country, seeing our flag fluttering in the breeze, and remembering the noble principles upon which our own nation was founded but which now seem to be discarded. Habakkuk thus asks, "How long will I call for help, and Thou wilt not hear?" They say to be careful what you ask for because you may get it.
"Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days - You would not believe it if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs." (HABAKKUK 1:5,6). The warnings had been coming for generations. The people had not responded. There had been some good times under good leadership, but much of Judah's history had been like taking two steps backwards for every step forward as far as their spirituality and morality were concerned. So the Lord tells Habakkuk that the time has come. Habakkuk had wanted the Lord to do something drastic, and the Lord informs Habakkuk that this has been His plan all along. He is raising up the Chaldeans to punish Judah for their infidelity. They will fly like an eagle swooping down to devour and collect captives like sand and laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble to capture it (HABAKKUK 1:8-10). Habakkuk had pleaded for the injustice and wickedness to cease in Judah, and God promises it shall for Judah will fall into the hands of Chaldea.
"Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look upon wickedness with favor. Why does Thou look with favor upon those who deal treacherously? Why art Thou silent when the wicked swallow up those who are more righteous than they? (HABAKKUK 1:13). It is important to see that Habakkuk's objection is based upon his belief in God's justice and righteousness. As wicked as Judah has become, Chaldea is much worse. How could God allow Judah to be punished by giving them into Chaldea's hands? At least there are a few righteous persons left in Judah. What will happen to them when the Chaldeans invade? And will not this be looked upon by the Chaldeans as some kind of reward? That they can get by with being as wicked as they want to be and gain from it at the same time?
The Lord's Assurances and Lessons to be Learned
"I will stand on my guard post and station myself upon the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved." (HABAKKUK 2:1). Habakkuk has stated his case and feels it is a pretty good one. He awaits an answer and it comes. He is told to write it down (2:2).
"Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him." (2:4). The Lord knows that the Chaldeans are wicked. They are not conquerors because they are interested in doing the Lord's work and punishing Judah for their sin. They are conquerors because they are wicked, greedy and treacherous. The day will come when Babylon, after having served God's purpose, will itself be invaded, looted and destroyed. "The cup in the Lord's right hand will come around to you, and utter disgrace will come upon your glory." (see 2:6-17). Chaldea will get away with nothing! Likewise, there will be a day of reckoning for all who do wickedly. Even those today who suppose they are getting away with committing sin and mock those who try to live righteously.
"But the righteous will live by his faith" (2:4b). Whatever happens, those who are righteous will live by their faith. Whether the Chaldeans come or not. Whether the moral climate improves or not. In all circumstances, good or bad, the righteous continue to live by faith. Our faith is not tied to prosperity or poverty; sickness or health; the morality or lack of it in others. It is tied to our God and His word (ROMANS 10:17). Whatever happens to our own nation today, the righteous shall live by his faith.
"Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength..." (HABAKKUK 3:18,19). Habakkuk now understands. Come what may, He will continue to trust in God, even in the most terrible of storms. He will be secure and happy, even as his nation falls and everything he knows is swept away. He knows that even in the darkest hour, the righteous will never be forgotten by God. Whatever is in the future for our own nation, be sure to always remember that.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 4.9; September 1997