I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
and collects as his own all peoples.” – Habakkuk 2:1-5 ESV
Habakkuk has asked God two primary questions so far: “When?” and “Why?” In responding to Habakkuk’s first question, God simply told the prophet how He was going to deal with the violence and iniquity taking place in Judah: He would send the Babylonians. That news led Habakkuk to question why God would ever consider using a pagan nation to do His bidding, especially to punish His own people. And now, the indignant prophet tells God that he is going to sit and wait for God’s answer, like a guard standing in the watchtower on the battlements of a city wall. And Habakkuk is fully prepared to continue his dialogue with God if the answer if the answer he received is not to his liking. He seems to warn God that his response will be dictated by what God has to say to him.
And, as before, God answered Habakkuk. He tells the prophet that he will receive a vision and that he is to put it in writing on tablets. He is to write it clearly and legibly so that whoever reads it can run and tell others what he has seen. The vision will involve future events. In other words, it will be prophetic in nature, but it will all take place. Knowing Habakkuk’s tendency toward impatience, God tells him, “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed” (Habakkuk 2:3 NLT). It’s as good as done. And by having Habakkuk write the details concerning the vision in stone or clay tablets, God emphasizes the permanence and inescapable nature of what is to come.
The author of the book of Hebrews quotes from this verse in an attempt to encourage the believers in his day to remain faithful to the end and trust God for what He has promised to do.
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” – Hebrews 10:35-37 ESV
God is always faithful to keep His word. What He says He will do, He will do. He keeps His promises. And the author of Hebrews goes on to say, quoting from verses four of Habakkuk chapter two: “but my righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38 ESV).
God now gives the prophet His vision of what is to come. He speaks of the unrighteous and the righteous, the faithful and the unfaithful – those who trust in themselves and those who place their trust in God.
“Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” – Habakkuk 3:4 NLT
The apostle Paul will also quote this verse on two different occasions, emphasizing the “righteous”.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” – Galatians 3:11-12 ESV
Paul used the words of God given to Habakkuk the prophet to emphasize and promote the key to righteousness before God. It is based on faith in God and faithfulness to God. In Habakkuk’s day, the people of Judah had not been faithful to God. They had turned from Him time and time again. They, like their northern neighbors in Israel, had worshiped false gods and proven themselves to be unfaithful to the God who had chosen them and redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. They had turned their back on the one who had given them the great king, David. The land in which they lived had been the result of God’s gracious provision for them. And yet, they had filled it with idols.
And, to provide Habakkuk with a symbol of unrighteousness run rampant, God tells him to look at Babylon. They are the epitome of arrogance and pride. They are puffed up by their military success and their many conquests. They trust more in themselves than they do in God. In fact, they don’t trust in Yahweh at all. They have their own gods whom they worship and give credit for their many victories in battle. And they use their growing wealth as proof of their gods’ divine blessings. The word in verse five should probably be “wealth” and not ”wine”. Most of the more reliable manuscripts contain “wealth” and it would make more sense given the context. The New Living Translation renders verse five this way:
Wealth is treacherous,
and the arrogant are never at rest.
They open their mouths as wide as the grave,
and like death, they are never satisfied.
In their greed they have gathered up many nations
and swallowed many peoples.
The greed of the Babylonians was insatiable. They couldn’t get enough. They were never satisfied with their conquests or the plunder they provided. They were the ultimate consumers, swallowing up everyone and everything in their path. They lived by what they could see, take, and enjoy. They lived by sight and immediate gratification. But God tells Habakkuk that the righteous are to live by faith. Faith in what? In God. The people of Judah were to put their hope and confidence in the God of their ancestors. He had proven Himself faithful time and time again, and He would do so again. The righteous are those who place their faith in God, not money, military might, false gods, other nations, or any other earthly resource. God tells Habakkuk that “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV). The people of Judah would live through what was coming, but they would have to trust God with the results. They would survive the coming of the Babylonians and their deportment as slaves. The righteous would be those who kept trusting in the faithfulness of God – in spite of the circumstances that surrounded them.
Too often, our faith and our faithfulness is based on our circumstances, not on God and His faithfulness. We take a look at what is happening around us and to us, and begin to doubt our God. We question His faithfulness because we don’t like what is happening to us. We doubt His love because we can’t fathom how a loving God would allow us to experience what we are going through. But God would have us remember that the righteous live by faith. And Paul would have us remember that the righteous are those who endure because they know their God can be trusted.
God is trying to remind Habakkuk that his hope is to be in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is to trust in the God of David – the covenant keeping God who never fails to keep His promises and fulfill His commitment to His people. Just because the Babylonians were coming did not mean that God was done with Judah or turning His back on them. The book of Numbers gives us some powerful words of reminder concerning our God.
God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT
God can be trusted. So, as His people, we are to put our trust in Him. The righteous belong to Him and rely upon Him. They do not circumstances dictate or determine their trust. They don’t let the presence of bad times diminish the goodness of their God. They accept the good and the bad as having come from the hand of a loving, faithful God who knows what He is doing and whose plan for them can always be trusted. Like Job, we need to be able to say, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). God was going to do something great for the people of Judah. But first, they would have to experience something painful and inexplicable. Yet, they were to keep their faith in God. He was not done yet.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.