The Righteous Shall Live By Faith
A sermon on Habakkuk 2:2-4 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 4/1/01
Imagine yourself in central Israel on Wednesday this week, on your way to work, waiting for a bus. The bus pulls up; you wait while several passengers get off. A man steps off, pauses in front of the bus, fiddling with something under his jacket – and then there is a tremendous explosion. You collapse in pain – and later find that the man standing next to you died, as well as the bomber and another getting off the bus.
What kind of world do we live in? Is this world governed by a good, all-powerful God? How can such events happen?
The book we started to study last week, Habakkuk, was written for exactly this world. This book faces directly the problems of injustice and unrighteousness in the world, and our response. And we saw last week that God wants us to be troubled by sin and its effect on the world. But recall that Habakkuk models for us the right response to such evil in the world:
We saw first that Habakkuk cried out for justice. He himself felt pain because of the impact of evil on the world around him. God answered his cry with a promise that He would deal with the problem of evil and injustice in Judah – by sending the Babylonians to destroy the country! We considered last week that, for Habakkuk, this was as shocking as one of us being told in 1970 that God was going to deal with the problems in American society by sending the USSR to conquer us!
In the remainder of the first chapter, Habakkuk responds with confusion. We too should respond this way when perplexed by God’s actions:
He remembers God’s promises;
He recalls God’s character;
He asks: How are your actions consistent with your character and promises?
He waits for God to answer.
That’s where we left Habakkuk last week: Disturbed, not understanding, but confident that God will answer, and determined to wait until He does. We suggested that this was good place to stop – for so often, this is where God leaves us: waiting.
We’ve waited a week; Habakkuk may have had to wait much longer. God does answer His prophet, in an astounding 19 verses, through the end of chapter 2. What does God say?
He could have said what He said to Job: “Job, I am your Creator. I am so far above you, I am so far beyond your understanding, I am so much more powerful than you, that you cannot understand me. You are to trust me. You are to believe in me. So repent and believe!” And Job does.
God does tell Habakkuk to believe. But He tells Him much more. In verse 4, God speaks to Habakkuk words that are quoted three times in the New Testament – the essence both of the gospel and of how we are to live the Christian life. And then in the rest of the chapter, God answers Habakkuk’s question about the Babylonians by saying He will judge them. But He does much more in these verses. He pronounces five woes on the Babylonians, in each case showing clearly that they are NOT living by faith. By these negative examples, God teaches us the true meaning of living by faith.
I plan to take 6 sermons to go through this chapter: today, during which we will look closely at verses 2-4, and then one sermon for each of the 5 Woes. So listen carefully as we read. Pay particular attention to verses 14 and 20, which are helpful for understanding today’s section:
1 I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.
2 Then the LORD answered me and said, "Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. 3 "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. 4 "Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.
5 "Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man, So that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, And he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations And collects to himself all peoples. 6 "Will not all of these take up a taunt-song against him, Even mockery and insinuations against him And say,
'Woe to him who increases what is not his-- For how long-- And makes himself rich with loans?' 7 "Will not your creditors rise up suddenly, And those who collect from you awaken? Indeed, you will become plunder for them. 8 "Because you have looted many nations, All the remainder of the peoples will loot you-- Because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, To the town and all its inhabitants.
9 "Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house To put his nest on high, To be delivered from the hand of calamity! 10 "You have devised a shameful thing for your house By cutting off many peoples; So you are sinning against yourself. 11 "Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, And the rafter will answer it from the framework.
12 "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed And founds a town with violence! 13 "Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts That peoples toil for fire, And nations grow weary for nothing? 14 "For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.
15 "Woe to you who make your neighbors drink, Who mix in your venom even to make them drunk So as to look on their nakedness! 16 "You will be filled with dis-grace rather than honor. Now you yourself drink and expose your own nakedness. The cup in the LORD'S right hand will come around to you, And utter disgrace will come upon your glory. 17 "For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, And the devastation of its beasts by which you terrified them, Because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, to the town and all its inhabitants.
18 "What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it, Or an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork When he fashions speechless idols. 19 "Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, 'Awake!' To a mute stone, 'Arise!' And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, And there is no breath at all inside it. 20 "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him." (Habakkuk chapter 2, NAU)
We’ll consider today’s topic under four headings:
The Importance of the Revelation
The Certainty of the Revelation
The Content of the Revelation
The Response to the Revelation
Verses 2 and 3 serve as an introduction to God’s response, telling us first of all: “Listen! This revelation is important!” Look at verse 2:
Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run.
Habakkuk is to write down this vision – as Habakkuk anticipated, God gives him an answer not only for himself but for all Judah (and for us!). The words translated “inscribe it on tablets” imply that the words are to be large and clear. The idea is either:
“Write this clearly on a tablet, in big letters so that the herald sent to proclaim the message can read it and announce it even while he runs.”
Or, “Write this in big letters on a tablet and post it right by the main road, so that all those passing by – even those who are running – can read the message.” Today, perhaps He would have said, “Post it using neon lights!”
In either case, the idea is “This is so important, everyone needs to know it!”
Verse 3 tells us the revelation is certain. There are two parts to this; first of all, the revelation is certain to occur:
For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
Now, we still don’t know what this vision is. But we know it is going to happen! “It will not fail;” or this could be translated, “it will not lie” or “it will not prove false. There is no question this revelation is going to happen.
Not only is it going to happen, it is going to happen at exactly the right time:
Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay
This is a strange statement. It appears contradict itself: “though it tarries, . . . it will not delay.” But look at the two halves of this sentence: The first half is addressed to whom? What the subject of the clause “wait for it”? My 10-year old is learning sentence diagramming; when I asked this question in family devotions this week, he spoke right up: “The subject is an implied ‘you’!” Exactly. So the first half of the sentence is addressed to Habakkuk or people of Judah (or us!). “Though it tarries” therefore means, “though it seem to tarry from your perspective.” The second half of the sentence, on the other hand, states objective fact: “For it will certainly come, it will not delay.” So this sentence means: “Though to you it looks to be tarrying, you wait! It will come at exactly the right time!”
John Calvin, in his fine commentary, puts it this way: “The Prophet intimates, that honour is to be given to God’s word, that we ought to be fully persuaded that God speaks what is true, and be so satisfied with his promises as though what is promised were really possessed by us.”
This is the difficulty for so many of us, isn’t it? We say we believe God, but we get real frustrated with His timing, and begin to doubt His promises:
God’s promises are certain! And they will be fulfilled at exactly the right time! They will not delay one minute more than is necessary to bring God the greatest glory and His people the greatest good.
That’s the general message of this verse. But what’s the specific message? We still haven’t answered the question, “What vision or revelation is God talking about here? What is so important, and certain to happen?”
Clearly the revelation is in large measure the answer to Habakuk’s question: How can a perfect, holy God use the evil actions of evil men to accomplish His purposes? Doesn’t this violate His very character?
What is the answer to this question from the first two chapters of Habakkuk?
There are a couple of clues in chapter 1, verses 5 and 11. God begins His answer to Habakkuk with these words:
Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- You would not believe if you were told.
Then He says the Babylonians will conquer Israel. But He concludes:
They will be held guilty, They whose strength is their god.
What will bring about astonishment and wonder is NOT ONLY God’s judgment through the Babylonians, but also His holding them guilty.
God elaborates on verse 11 in 2:5-20, detailing the wrong attitudes and actions for which He will punish the Babylonians – and all who reject Him. But these verses do something more than show that God will always display His justice. Look again at verses 14 and 20:
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.
God states here His ultimate purpose: To display His glory through the world.
Let’s make this very clear: The revelation that is so important is not only, “I’m going to destroy with the Babylonians;” nor is it only, “I’m going to punish all evildoers”
No. The revelation is: “I am working ALL THINGS TOGETHER with PERFECT TIMING so that MY NAME IS EXALTED over all the earth. EVERY CREATURE will bow before ME in silence.”
So do you see why He said, “Wonder! Be amazed! Look up at the nations!”
When God says He is working ALL THINGS together for good, He means ALL THINGS. So, God says, “Yes, Habakkuk, my use of the Babylonians is consistent with my promises and with my character – because in ways that you can’t comprehend, those actions are necessary for my filling the earth with my glory. And that’s where my character will be seen to its fullest extent!”
There are two possible reactions to this revelation, and God provides them both in verse 4:
"Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.
The first response is that of the proud one who says, “Wait on God! No way! I’m going to run my own life, make my own wealth, build up my own security, accomplish something important, and make something of myself, so that I’ll be honored! And I’ll worship a more reasonable God!”
This person is walking by sight, not by faith. He does what seems reasonable, what seems to make sense. In the passage, “the proud one” refers first to the Babylonians, but then God uses them as an example of all who do not live by faith. Think how appropriate this picture is. The Babylonians were a people:
Yet the Babylonian empire, powerful as it was, in the end was one of the briefest world powers of all time. Babylon will be taken over by the Medes and Persians within 70 years.
And even at height of the empire’s power, God lays low the emperor. As recorded in Daniel 4:30 King Nebuchadnezzer contemplates his greatness one night, saying, "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” And what does God do? He causes Nebuchadnezzer to go crazy, forcing him to eat grass like and animal for seven years, “until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.”
God continues to show His power over Babylon to the very end. As Daniel tells us in chapter 5, the final emperor, Belshazzar, holds a great feast for thousands, exalting himself and praising Babylonian deities. God sends a hand to write on the wall that Belshazzar has been weighed in the scales and found wanting; the empire will be taken from him. When called to interpret the writing, Daniel reminds the king of what God did to Nebuchadnezzer, then speaks directly to Belshazzar:
22 "Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, 23 but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven; . . . But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and your ways, you have not glorified.
That very night, Babylon falls
But the fall of Babylon does not mean the end of references to Babylon in Scripture. Most importantly, in the book of Revelation, Babylon is pictured as an enticing prostitute – a picture of the entire world system opposed to God, luring people away from God – particularly in Chapters 17 and 18, where her destruction is prophesied.
So the unrighteous live by sight, exalting themselves above God, gathering for themselves the things of the world, trying to earn glory for themselves. In Habakkuk 2:4, “the proud one” refers specifically to Babylon, but more generally to all those who live by sight and not by faith, all those who accept the world’s values and find satisfaction in the world. As Paul tells us in Romans 8,
7 the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; . . . 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
God speaks so much of the Babylonians in chapter 2 of Habakkuk in order to clarify what He means by living by faith. He provides a negative example of living by faith to draw into starker contrast the right response. We will focus on each of these negative examples in the next five sermons, and learn much more about living by faith.
But for today, let’s note that this famous verse – quoted three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38) – provides the answer to two different questions, as reflected in the way the verse is quoted. The first question is: “OK, the Babylonians are unrighteous in God’s eyes, and are subject to judgment; how can I become righteous before God and live?”
The answer? The righteous will live By FAITH! We become righteous by believing! We become righteous by believing all of God’s promises – believing his faithfulness, his goodness, his sovereignty, and especially his promise of a Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
The second question: “I am righteous before God, by grace through faith; now, how should I live my life?”
The answer? The righteous will LIVE by Faith! The righteous will live a life of faith! We live the life of faith by believing all of God’s promises, doing exactly what we saw Habakkuk do last week: When faced with evidence of a crazy world, remind ourselves of God’s promises, remind ourselves of God’s character, and wait. We live by faith.
You see how these two questions differ, but have the same answer? The first is the question of justification: How can I become right with God? The second is the question of sanctification: How can I live a life worthy of God’s calling? And the answer to both is: Have faith in God! Believe His promises! Hold on to 2 Corinthians 1:20 and all it implies: “For as many as are the promises of God, in Christ they are yes.” Hold on to Romans 8:28, and all it implies:
we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Recall Habakkuk’s central question: “God, how is your action of using the Babylonians consistent with your holiness, purity, and sovereignty?
What is the answer? “They will reap what they sow; and they will get the opposite of what they want so badly – instead of getting glory, honor, security, accomplishment, and riches, they will lose all, and be disgraced. But my plans are much greater than the punishment of the Babylonians! I’m working all things together for my glory! The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea!”
Do you want to be a part of this? God says, “You will get what THEY want, you will become an heir of everything, and I will be glorified -- if you live by faith! And this is what it means to live by faith:
“So, Habakkuk, the question is much bigger than how can I use the Babylonians to punish Judah. I'm also using the Babylonians to show you and all believers for all time what it means to live by faith, and what is the opposite of living by faith. For if you don't live by this kind of faith, you too will die. But the righteous one, the one just in my eyes, will live by faith.”
So my friends, there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who live by faith and those who live by sight. Faith means believing what God has said simply and solely because He has said it. And in the end God will fulfill all the desires of those who believe in Him. Apart from Him, those who live by sight will eventually find only frustration.
So what kind of person will you be?
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 4/1/01. The Calvin quote is from his Habakkuk commentary.
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