“The righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4)
It wasn’t the kind of answer he wanted. The faithful prophet Habakkuk cried out for God to judge his corrupt people, to end the violence, preserve the weak and restore justice. “How long shall I cry to you ‘violence,”‘ he pleads, “and you will not save?”
Justice would be on its way, God promised, recompense against Judah’s wicked rulers, but by the bluntest of instruments. “I am rousing the Chaldeans,” he declared, “that fierce and impetuous nation.” Swift as leopards they speed towards the prey. They slaughter nations like a fisherman nets his catch — “guilty men, whose own might is their god.”
What kind of answer was that? If the Chaldeans conquered Jerusalem, what future could there be for God’s people? Wouldn’t this kind of devastation prove that God was too weak to save his people, that Marduk of Babylon was the true king of gods? Habakkuk folds his hands, and cries out again, “I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.”
Another answer soon comes, not an easy one, but a word of hope. The proud will not prevail, God promises. Ultimately they will meet their just end, “but the righteous will live by faith.” God will sustain those who trust him. Through all the perils of conquest and exile, he will still hold them tightly. There will be a future for God’s promises. The covenant will not perish. The psalmist repeats the same promise. “Fret not yourself because of evildoers . . . commit your way to him … Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”
Paul urged Timothy to that same kind of faithful perseverance, holding fast to God’s promises. Though in chains, he still lives by faith, and speaks with boldness, “I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” Jesus commends just this kind of faith to his disciples, promising that it will lift up deep-rooted sycamores and cast them into the sea.
God does not promise his people worldly success, or easy answers to the quandaries of existence. He doesn’t attend them like a snappy waiter or dole out special favors for obeying his will. But for those who cling fast to him in trials, there will be a future, a glorious hope which nothing of this world can destroy. The faith forged in adversity will not fail; indeed it is the only way to true, abiding life.
Look It Up
Does Habakkuk mean the same thing by “faith” in 2:4 as Paul when he quotes the passage in Rom. 1:17?
Think About It
How have difficult times strengthened your faith?