Habakkuk 1:1–3, 2:1–4
1 The threatening oracle which the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 How long, Lord, must I cry for help, but you do not listen? I call out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save! 3 Why do you cause me to see injustice? Why do you overlook misery? Devastation and violence confront me. There is strife, and tensions rise.
1 I will stand at my watch post and station myself on the city wall. I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer he will give to my complaint.
2 Then the Lord answered me. He said: Record the vision and write it plainly on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 Indeed, the vision is waiting for the appointed time. It longs for fulfillment and will not prove false. If it seems slow in coming, wait for it, because it will certainly come and will not be delayed. 4 Look, his soul is puffed up and is not righteous within him—but the righteous one will live by his faith. (EHV)
On my shelf, I have an 11-volume set of books called “The Story of Civilization” by husband-and-wife team Will & Ariel Durant. It covers the whole history of the world. Volume 4 is called “The Age of Faith.” Shortly thereafter comes the volume “The Age of Reason Begins.” The implication is that faith is out of date and has been replaced by reason. But what’s so reasonable about rejecting God? Look at the growing chaos in the lives of so many Americans as they abandon God and the church. How is it reasonable when supposedly educated, intelligent people deny basic facts like the scientific truth that life begins at conception and children are born either male or female? And these are the people who call faith foolish and the basic truths of the Bible out-of-date.
There’s no doubt that faith and reason are sometimes at odds. Reason tells us life is a series of random events, where faith tells us that God is in control. Reason tells us that life is not fair, whereas faith tells us that God makes all things work together for good. Reason tells people there is no such thing as a soul and there’s no life after death. Faith, on the other hand, is what gets us to eternal life instead of eternal death. That’s what the Lord reassured Habakkuk of in today’s text: “The Righteous Shall Live by Faith.”
Habakkuk needed that reassurance. 2,631 years ago, Habakkuk complained, How long, Lord, must I cry for help, but you do not listen? I call out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save! 3 Why do you cause me to see injustice? Why do you overlook misery? Devastation and violence confront me. There is strife, and tensions rise.
His complaint seemed reasonable. King Josiah, one of the truly great Kings of Judah, had died. He had fought valiantly to reform Judah, but his reforms died with him. Judah reverted to its long downward spiral of unbelief and rebellion against God. Like all kingdoms and nations which start off noble, eventually the end must come. Judah was about to fall.
Jewish Society’s moral decay reflected its spiritual decay. As the people of Judah abandoned God, rulers were unjust, judges and magistrates were unjust, and finally everyman was unjust, immoral, and wicked. Habakkuk’s question and prayerful complaint is “Why, O God, do you tolerate this? Why don’t you intervene and bring back justice?” He and the remaining believers in Judah were not out for blood and guts vengeance. But they longed for days when justice actually had meaning, when people could still distinguish between right and wrong.
We ought to be able to easily relate to Habakkuk’s complaint. While in America, we’re still not as bad off as Judah was in 609 BC, we are certainly witnessing the spiral downward that results when God and His Word are mocked by most of those leading our society. Christians who work in the public school system are resigning because they’re commanded to teach things that clearly contradict Scripture. They’ve been pushed to the brink. Our ELS is seeking to recruit some of those teachers into being certified for our own schools. There are Christian judges being forced from the bench simply because they believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s virtually impossible for a serious Christian to get a position teaching at any major university.
Habakkuk was frustrated and so are we American Christians. Sadly, when the upper crust become morally and spiritually corrupt, soon enough so does everyone else. I read this week how much more acceptable so-called same-sex marriage is in opinion polls that it was just a few years ago. Fewer and fewer believe there is such a thing as absolute truth. How unreasonable is that?! But it takes work to be informed. It takes fortitude to stand up for truth. And it takes faith, finally, to know what truth and morality truly are.
If we believe in the One True God like Habakkuk, and see our country crumbling, how can we not also cry out to God in prayer for help, as he did?
God heard Habakkuk’s complaint and replied: “Look at the nations and pay attention! Be completely dumbfounded, because I will do something in your lifetime that you will not believe, even though you are warned ahead of time. 6 Watch, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that savage, reckless nation. They will sweep across the whole width of the earth, seizing lands and homes that do not belong to them. 7 They are frightening and terrifying. They invent their own standard of justice and their own values. 8 Their horses are quicker than leopards and fiercer than wolves that prowl at night. Their war horses come galloping. Their war horses come from far away. They fly like vultures swooping down to devour. 9 All of them come to commit violence. Their hordes blow by like the desert wind and sweep up prisoners like sand” (Habakkuk 1:5–9).
What made God’s prophecy so utterly amazing to Habakkuk and his congregation, is that for years, the mighty Assyrian empire had been threatening Judah. Everyone feared them invading. But then, as if out of nowhere, God raises up a fierce new power, the Chaldeans (or Babylonians). They swiftly defeated the seemingly all-powerful Assyrians. Then they swept away the world’s other great power of the day, Egypt, at the famous Battle of Carchemish, and then they came after Judah. In 605 BC, they stood at the gates of Jerusalem, demanding the brightest and best of Judah’s young men as war booty. They were the first to go into exile. Thirty years later, the rest of Judah would be taken, and the city of Jerusalem levelled. But for now, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took captive its leading young men to minimize the risk of anyone fomenting a rebellion against him and his tribute taxes. That’s how it came about, that in direct answer to Habakkuk’s complaint about the violence and corruption in Judah, Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego wound up in Babylon, serving in Nebuchadnezzar’s royal court.
“But wait!” Habakkuk questioned one more time. “What about the bad Babylonians? Is it really a good idea, God to have really bad guys come and conquer our bad, but not-quite-as-bad kingdom?”
God doesn’t answer that question directly. He has never chosen to give us all the details of His plans for the nations. But, nevertheless, He tells Habakkuk that these Chaldeans will get what they’ve got coming too, in time. The Babylonians—and every nation that puts its trust in its own military might and prowess—will get their just desserts in time, after they have served God’s purpose. God does not abide idolatry forever. And any nation that trusts in its own strength and military power will be destroyed. It happened to the Nazis and Imperial Japan, and then the Soviet Union in the last century. If America continues to abandon God, we will also be swept away as were the Babylonians soon enough by the Medes and the Persians.
In the meantime, God has a special message for those who believe in Him while surrounded by corruption and unbelief. He tells us to wait and watch and pray, patient and confident that God will rescue us one way or another: Indeed, the vision is waiting for the appointed time. It longs for fulfillment and will not prove false. If it seems slow in coming, wait for it, because it will certainly come and will not be delayed. 4 Look, his soul is puffed up and is not righteous within him—but the righteous one will live by his faith.
The parallels to today are pretty obvious to the faithful. While the righteous cry out to God in prayer as they see God’s law flouted, justice perverted, right called wrong and wrong called right, God is listening and watching. He is meticulously recording names, dates, and times, and charting His intervention. When unborn babies are being slaughtered in the name of convenience, while greedy politicians and Planned Parenthood call it health-care… When judges usurp the place of God and decree that God’s natural order is not real… When those who believe in God are sued into silence and bankruptcy or driven from their means to make an income and provide for their families… God is watching and sees it all. When the Scriptures are not only ignored, but publicly mocked, the righteous can trust that God is not blind, but patient and planning. “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. To be sure, whatever a man sows, he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Wait for it: The Righteous Will Live by Faith
While we patiently await God’s inevitable intervention and just retribution, we can and must take comfort in God’s Wonderful word of promise to Habakkuk and all believers: “The Righteous Will Live by Faith.”
St. Paul quotes this famous passage in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 as the central theme of Scripture, namely that through faith in Jesus Christ, we will transcend this evil world and its wicked kingdoms and live and rule with Christ in all eternity.
Of course, we too are guilty of wickedness and sin. But the Lord has led us to repent of our sins, deny the flesh and follow Him in faith. Through faith in Christ, we are cleansed and forgiven and declared to be God’s righteous ones. Therefore, We Will Live by Faith. There is no greater force on earth than faith in Christ. Faith in Christ overcomes every foe—even death and the devil.
God sees all. He sees the injustice of the “elites.” He sees the persecution of His true church. He sees the rot and corruption within the visible church. He sees the Christian foundations of Western Christendom being undermined and destroyed. He will not wait forever. In Habakkuk’s day, God’s answer came within just a very few years. Who knows, but that the Lord will intervene in dramatic and amazing ways—suddenly—in the very near future. Will He send a wave of terrorism as a scourge the way He sent the Babylonians to Judah? Or will He let our country destroy itself from within like ancient Rome? As we wait patiently for His judgment and rescue, we focus our eyes on Jesus Christ our Savior, Who washes our sins away and promised us rescue: “The Righteous Will Live by Faith.”
With his questions answered, Habakkuk sang in his final chapter: “O Lord, I have heard the report about you, and I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. In the midst of our years revive those deeds. In the midst of our years reveal them again. In your rage, remember to have mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).
Wait for it: The Righteous Will Live by Faith. The wicked will be cut off. God will not be mocked. Faith conquers and saves. All this will happen and we will see it. Habakkuk was inspired to sing and dedicate his hymn to the choir director to be sung with stringed instruments:
16 When I hear about it, my stomach churns.
The sound makes my lips quiver.
My bones decay,
and my knees tremble,
as I wait for the day of disaster to come upon the people who attack us.
17 The fig tree may have no buds.
The vines may have no grapes.
The olive tree may fail to produce.
The fields may yield no food.
The sheep may be cut off from their flock,
and there may be no cattle in the barns,
18 but I will delight in the LORD
and rejoice in God who saves me.
19 The LORD God is my strength.
He will give me feet like a deer
and make me leap along the high hills. (Habakkuk 3:16–19a).