Paul likes to quote Habakkuk 2:4, but he did it in at least a couple of different ways. And yet he is always right, led of the Holy Spirit to make that quote. “The just shall live by faith.” What did Paul mean by that statement, and what did Habakkuk mean by it by 626 years before Paul?
Before we get to Habakkuk, let’s start with Hebrews 10.
Please turn to Hebrews 10 and take a look at verses 1-6: “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he (the Saviour, the Son of God) cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.” The general theme of Hebrews is that the Old Testament foreshadows the coming of the Messiah. But all those Jewish ceremonies and rites were very weak illustrations at their very best. For example, there were the multitude of blood sacrifices. If those sacrifices were perfect, then they would have been done once and then were unnecessary. If they were perfect, they would have perfected the offerer, and he would have been fit for the presence of God from that day forward. But it is “not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” And so they were repeated hundreds and thousands of times in obedience to God and in faith in His promises.
But then came the Anointed Son of God, who offered himself without spot, stain or sin before God. Verse 12 – “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”
Verse 32 – “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. NOW THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”
Chapter 10 then leads us into the greatest chapter on living by faith in the Word of God. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report.” Then he illustrates his message with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel and a host of others.
Those people became righteous at the time that they put their faith in the Lord, and they lived righteously by the same principle of faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” By faith Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” By faith “women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.” The people of Hebrews 11 obtained spiritual life by faith, and they continued to live consistent godly lives by faith in the promises of God.
The quote came from Habakkuk, but was that really what the Old Testament prophet was thinking?
Paul’s second reference to Habakkuk 2:4 is to be found in Galatians 3.
Please turn to Galatians. The Christians in Galatia were facing a problem similar to what Paul was addressing in Hebrews. But the Book of Hebrews was thinking about Jews who were trying to be saved through keeping the law. The Galatians were Christians who were being told that they had to become Jews and keep the law in order to complete or augment their salvation by faith.
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Paul then returned to the same classic example of faith that he used in Hebrews and will use in Romans. “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abrahm, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” According to Paul’s doctrine, to be “justified” is to be declared righteous by the most righteous God. The sacrifices of bulls and goats can’t make the offerer perfect or even justified. And yet when David, Abraham, Moses and others made those offerings they were declared righteous. The key element was not the animal and his blood, but the faith that they placed in God and His promises.
And with that perhaps we should look at Habakkuk.
This prophet served the Lord at about the same time as his more famous colleague Jeremiah. Perhaps they were in different cities. One of the differences was that Habakkuk’s prophecy begins & ends before the arrival of the Babylonians.
He starts with the same kind of burden that has weighed down so many other righteous men. “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.” With verse 5 the Lord replies that He is going to do something about the sins of Israel, by sending the powerful and egotistical Chaldeans to bring God’s judgment upon the wicked nation. This is not just a message for Habakkuk; this is what he is to preach to the sinners around him. How similar this is to Noah and his generation. But Habakkuk’s ark is the Lord Himself. In the rest of the chapter the prophet turns back to thinking about the Lord. “Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?”
In chapter two, the Lord and His prophet go back and forth, but the theme is the same. “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” So the Lord told Habakkuk to write down the prophecy and make it available to everyone. Put it in the newspaper, buy some radio and TV time and make sure that everyone knows: God has ordered and ordained that the blood-thirsty Babylonians are coming. It won’t be tomorrow, but it will be soon – that is guaranteed by God. The wicked, the proud, the self-righteous and pseudo-intellectuals won’t believe you, Habakkuk. But the justified will believe, and they will flee into the wilderness, saving their families and their lives.
What made the difference between the unbeliever and the believer? It was whether or not they were righteous. Go back to Habakkuk 1:4 and notice the two characters there: the wicked and the righteous. The word “the righteous” is “tsaddiyq” ( tsad-deek’ ). That word is translated “the righteous” 162 times, and 42 times it is translated “the just.” It isn’t talking about the outward lives of these people; it is talking about their nature and character. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says: there is not a just man – a tsaddiyq – upon earth, that doeth good, & sinneth not.” By nature there is no such animal as a “tsaddiyq” – but by the grace of God there is. And the just shall continue to live, in just the same way that they came to life and became righteous – by faith.
This is the thought that Paul has in mind in all his writings.
And that takes us back to Romans 1:16-17.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
There is a sense in which the judgment which fell upon Judah through the Babylonians, is a type or picture of the wrath of God which shall fall upon all the wicked in the world. The death of the unbeliever will not only be physical, but eternal and inescapable. But those to whom God gives clear minds, regenerated hearts and the witness of the Holy Ghost will flee to the mountain of God’s salvation. And they will make that flight because they believe God, they have faith in what the Lord has said. They are made both safe and just because of their faith.
Remember this morning I told you that for the child of God, Christ is that person’s righteousness? The sinner is not only made righteous through Jesus’ sacrifice for him, but he becomes righteous in Christ. Now look again at verse 17 – “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” The word “righteousness” of God is “dikaiosune” ( dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay ). And it shouldn’t surprise you that the word “just,” describing the believer is “dikaios” (dik’-ah-yos). And that word is translated “righteous” more often than it is “just.”
So what is the point of this exercise tonight? Not only is it to teach you a little of the wonderful details of the Word of God. But it’s also to remind you once again to flee from the wrath to come by putting your faith in the Lord and His promises. “The just shall live by faith.”