Habakkuk 2:4-20 – Living by Faith When Nothing Makes Sense

After telling Habakkuk to record what he is about to see and to wait for the appointed time for it to occur, God now gives Habakkuk the actual message.  God assures Habakkuk that though He will use the Babylonians it does not mean they will go unpunished.  Their sin and violence are not outside of God’s control and though they will serve God’s purpose they will ultimately be brought to justice.  In His words to Habakkuk, God gives a lesson specifically about the Babylonians, but really about His sovereignty in a wicked world and how He works throughout history.  Even in perplexing and horrific circumstances God is in control and nothing escapes His notice.  Justice delayed is not justice forgotten and the wicked will not escape.  God is in His holy temple.

Two Types of People (4)
God begins by pointing out that there are two types of people in the world.  The proud one has a soul that is not right.  The righteous lives by his faith.  Only two people – one who lives by his faith and one who does not.  One who sets his hope and confidence on God and one who sets them upon himself.  No other options exist – live by faith or live by something else.

Living by faith, in essence, means living in total trust and dependence on God.  God says it, so I must live by it.  God says it, so it is true.  Nothing else need be explained.  The righteous live with their eyes on God and their commitment set on His word.  Habakkuk really sums up what this means at the end of his prayer in 3:17-19.  Though the world around me falls apart, I set my hope on God and know that in the end I will be delivered.  Faith means taking the bare Word of God and acting upon it because it is the Word of God.  It means believing what God says simply and solely because He has said it – D Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Living by faith does NOT mean holding on to an irrational hope in the midst of circumstances that defy understanding.  God does not call us to that.  As Christians we can sometimes buy into the world’s definition of faith – that it is an emotional and unfounded hope that contradicts all empirical evidence.  God does not call us to irrational beliefs.  He instead calls us to KNOW Him.  If we know Him we know His nature – that He is faithful and just and loving.  And we know He cannot violate His nature and cannot lie or sin.  And we also know that He promises never to leave us or forsake us and promises to work all things together for the advancement of His kingdom.  And the advancement of His kingdom benefits us.  If that is true, then we know that no matter what difficult circumstances we face or how hard our lives are, He is in control and is with us and is working things out for His own GOOD purposes.  That is living by faith.

God explains with these words that it is times like Habakkuk is about to live through that test what a man lives by.  The Chaldeans are coming and destruction and violence are coming with them; horrific times are imminent.  When circumstances like these are present in life it shows who lives by faith and who does not.  Habakkuk needs to know that he will not understand or like everything God will do – he must live by his faith.

Those who do not live by faith are proud – they do not need God and live for only themselves.  Those who live by faith are righteous – they need only God and live only for Him.  Pride is really at the heart of any rejection of God.  The man who rejects God effectively puts himself in God’s place.  He has no need of God because he is the driving force of his own life.  This will come back at the end of the chapter, but the proud erect idols in their own image because their lives are ultimately all about themselves.  God already alluded to this in regard to the Babylonians when He said their strength is their god (1:11).

[Verse 4 is quoted several times in the New Testament.  Paul refers to it twice – Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 – both times in reference to the gospel.  The writer of Hebrews quotes the Septuagint version of the verse in 10:38 – and relates it to waiting for the second coming of Christ.]

The Fate of the Proud (5-6a)
God uses the rest of His message to describe the wickedness of the Babylonians and the ramifications of that wickedness.  In so doing He demonstrates to Habakkuk the fate of the one who does not live by faith – and reinforces the benefits that accrue to those who do.

Note the characteristics of the proud mentioned in verse 5.  He is haughty – he has an appetite like death – he is never satisfied – he gathers and collects.  The proud man is continually on a search for satisfaction yet he is never satisfied.  His life is a continual pursuit of more.  This is the overarching description of the proud – always searching and never finding – always searching with no awareness that the search is in vain.  The descriptions of the proud in this verse are the basis for the remainder of the chapter.

It is interesting that God says, “…wine betrays the haughty man” in reference to the Babylonians.  When Babylon falls to Persia (Daniel 5), king Belshazzar and his court will be in the midst of a drunken feast and will be caught completely unaware (except for the handwriting on the wall).

God says five woes will be pronounced on the proud Babylonians by the very people Babylon torments (Will not all of these take up a taunt song against him).  The survivors of Babylon’s violence will taunt him with their lament over his destruction. Woe to him who increases what is not his.  Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house.  Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed.  Woe to him who gets his neighbors drunk in order to look on their nakedness.  Woe to him who depends on lifeless idols.  All these are characteristics of the Chaldeans and with each God says they will be punished.

For How Long (6b)
God makes an interesting comment along with the first woe.  He adds “for how long” after the woe itself.  This seems to be another reference to having to wait on God.  The one victimized by the proud exclaims, “For how long?”  For how long will the wicked prosper without ramifications?  For how long will justice be absent?  This is similar to Habakkuk’s cry in 1:1.  God’s justice is oftentimes frustratingly slow from a human perspective.  But we must not miss that this is God talking (His vision describing the taunts of the surviving captives).  God recognizes this reaction and includes it in His oracle – He knows His timing is hard to understand for His creatures.  We serve a wonderful God who knows our weaknesses and our frustrations and is sensitive to them all. 

By the same token, we must understand that impatience and frustration with God’s timing are nothing new – they were as prevalent in Habakkuk’s time as they are in ours.  As long as man has existed and has interacted with his Creator he has struggled to understand God’s actions and timing.  We are not unique when we wonder how in the world God can be acting in our current circumstances or how He can be silent when everything seems to be wrong.  It is exactly this kind of situation that tests our living by faith.

Sinning Against Yourself (10)
In verse 10 God makes another interesting observation about the wicked.  He says, “So you are sinning against yourself.”  What He means is that the ramifications of sin always catch up to the sinner – in this case the people who steal from others in order to build safe houses will themselves suffer calamity (they bring shame to their own house).  Since sin always ultimately harms the sinner, the sinner effectively sins against himself.  Sin is thus not only wrong but stupid. [David tells us in Psalm 51 that all sin is ultimately against God – this verse simply reminds us that the ramifications of sin are always against the sinner.]

The Search for Glory Ends in Disgrace (12-16)
Verses 12 through 16 give another aspect of the wicked.  Part of their endless search is for their own glory.  Their pride shows itself in their lust for glory and acclaim.  Yet in their search two things happen – their work is in vain (13) and they are filled with disgrace rather than honor (16).  The very thing they search for is turned against them.  They will work for it with no results and the only thing they will ultimately find is disgrace.  They search for glory but utter disgrace will come upon them.

Verse 14 tells us why this is.  There is no glory worth seeking outside of God’s glory.  The earth exists for God’s glory – anyone seeking his own seeks in vain.  Anyone seeking his own glory in a world destined to be covered with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will find only disgrace.  This is how creation works – and its origins and laws cannot ultimately be violated.

Pride Leads to Idolatry (18-20)
Verses 18-20 give us the last characteristic of the proud.  They are idolaters.  Since the proud do not recognize the true God they make their own to replace Him.  They worship speechless idols in the vain hope of satisfying their need for worth and purpose.  Idolatry always goes along with pride.  Pride demands that we take our rightful place in the center of the universe.  Thus there is no room for a God who is not in our own image.  Since we make our own idols, their purpose is always to meet our needs and provide for our happiness.  Though they are in various shapes and have various characteristics, idols always ultimately represent the true god of the idolater – himself.

God contrasts idols with Himself in verse 20.  Unlike an idol that is overlaid with gold and silver and has no breath at all inside it, the Lord is in His holy temple.  Idols are lifeless and worthless but God reigns over all the earth.  The proud show their foolishness by choosing to worship what they create rather than the One who is sovereign over all creation.  Idols are silent in response to people; people are silent in response to the majesty of God in His holy temple.  When we see God as He really is our questions about His actions and His ways cease. 

Light in the Midst of Darkness (14 & 20)
Verses 14 and 20 provide light and hope in the midst of the darkness of the sin of the proud.  The list of the sins of Babylon is horrific and the Babylonians themselves represent all that is evil in the world.  Yet God reminds us that regardless of how the wicked act and regardless of how much power they accrue, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord and the Lord is in His holy temple.

These verses are baseline truths that cannot be taken out of context.  They are similar to I John 5:13 where John reminds his readers that they know they have eternal life.  Regardless of anything else and regardless of circumstances or people – we know we have eternal life and we know God is in His temple and we know that someday the earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory.  Do the wicked prosper?  Yes.  Do innocent people suffer?  Yes.  Do indescribably bad times afflict God’s children?  Absolutely.  Do children disappoint us?  Do jobs go away?  Does health fail?  Do people let us down?  Yes to all.  But there will come a day when the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth like the sea.  And regardless of the degree of sin and heartache we see around us God is in His holy temple and reigns over all.  Nothing is outside of His authority and in the end He wins.  We know these truths and must speak them to ourselves every day.  They are the ultimate trump cards when all other reason forsakes us.

God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint with five truths:

  • God’s children will always struggle to understand His ways.
  • The righteous will live by faith – faith in God’s word and nature. 
  • The wicked will ultimately reap what they sow – justice ALWAYS comes.
  • God is in control – nothing is outside of His sovereignty.
  • God ultimately wins.

The dialogue with Yahweh is over.  He has responded to, though not directly answered, Habakkuk’s questions about the suffering of the righteous and the success of the wicked.  Habakkuk accepts Yahweh’s responses.  The only response left for Habakkuk is worship.  The book does not end with the completion of the dialogue but concludes with the prophet’s song of praise.  Habakkuk’s sung prayer of response to Yahweh’s monologue struggles with a new shape to his faith in God. 
– James Bruckner                                                                                                       

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