-The Book of Habakkuk is a classic example of what we would call a theodicy. It serves as a defense of the goodness of God in the midst of evil. A theodicy aims to solve the paradox of His general providence in a world of pain and misery. How could an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God allow people to go through bad things? Why do evil people seem to prosper while the righteous suffer, being continually trampled on? Why is perfect justice not always inflicted on evildoers in this world? Questions of this nature plagued Habakkuk’s mind in the situation of his day and countless other people throughout the course of human history.
Habakkuk was troubled deeply by the corrupt society in which he lived. The laws of the prophet’s own nation were not being enforced. Justice was not a thing to be found in that land. Faithlessness toward God abounded. Habakkuk wondered how a righteous God could be silent and allow these things to come to pass. Why does He stand by and do nothing? The prophet raised such questions not in a state of doubt, but faith. While God did not specifically answer the why behind that man’s questions, the response given aroused a greater sense of perplexity than he originally had. How could a righteous God use Babylon, a nation more wicked than Judah itself, as an instrument of divine judgement?
The underlying theme of the Book of Habakkuk is that we can place our trust in God because of His sovereignty. He is working things out for the good of those who love Him. Whether things seem impossible to us is irrelevant to God. He will right the wrongs of evildoers in His own perfect timing. His plan will prove satisfactory to us in the grand scheme or complete picture of all events when they are brought to a close. The Book of Habakkuk contains a passage that is quoted twice by the Apostle Paul in the context of our justification before God, particularly in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11. The text being discussed is cited in its entirety as follows:
“Behold, as for the impudent one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous one will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
Paul sees in this passage the foundation of the message of the gospel in which man is declared righteous by God apart from the merit of good deeds. The prophet’s words are certainly broad enough to fit with Paul’s application of them. His message could be paraphrased in this manner: “the one justified by faith shall live.” Habakkuk 2:4 is the only text besides Genesis 15:6 that brings together faith and righteousness in the Old Testament. Thus, we see the reason for Paul appealing to them in his argumentation against Law observance for justification in Romans and Galatians. A righteousness that comes by faith is antithetical to a Law righteousness.
The Apostle Paul’s point of emphasis in Romans 1:17 is that the person who has been justified by faith is to live a life of faith. He interpreted the Prophet Habakkuk’s words which were originally delivered to a faithful remnant that appeared to be on the brink of utter destruction as being words of hope for lost humanity. The condition for Jews to receive blessings and protection from God under the Old Covenant is the same for Christians under the New Covenant: faith. A man cannot obtain a just standing before Him without faith. Faith, righteousness, and life are things that are intimately connected to each other. God is our source of comfort and security, whether we live or die.
Paul in Galatians 3:11 gives weight to Habakkuk 2:4 with the intent of making the point that one is justified in the sight of God on the basis of faith and that alone. It is this kind of a life that glorifies Him. It is that kind of a life that brings honor to God. The statements made about Paul’s citation of Habakkuk in Galatians are equally true about the similar instance found in Romans. The Apostle Paul’s teaching of living by faith is to be contrasted with the Law’s requirement of “doing” in order to have life (Deuteronomy 27:26; Leviticus 18:5). The latter way brings about death and is therefore of no avail to us in getting a righteous standing before God.
Some translations of the Bible use the word “faith” in Habakkuk 2:4 (New King James Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, etc.), while others have “faithfulness” (New International Version, New English Translation, Young’s Literal Translation, etc.). A man who has faith is one who trusts in God. His character is honorable and reliable. His ways are morally upright. A man who has faith in God will also believe His promises. The Apostle Paul would have derived his understanding of faith from the Old Testament Scriptures. It would prove beneficial to us if we did the same.
The Concordia Self-Study Commentary, by Martin Franzmann and Walter H. Roehrs, p. 639, has the following note on the meaning of the word faith in Habakkuk 2:4:
“The word faith occurs only once in Habakkuk (2:4); but his whole prophecy is a word of faith, faith agonized, questioning, seeking, finding repose in God, and jubilant, finally, in assurance of God’s love, and all this in the face of the obstacle to faith posed by God’s scandalously mysterious governance of history. When Paul quotes 2:4 in his thematic statement of justification by faith in Ro 1:17, it is only fair to assume that he is quoting with a consciousness of this original context of faith in Habakkuk. For Paul, as for Habakkuk, faith is confronted by an action of God which is offensively enigmatic, namely, the weakness and foolishness of the Cross; for both Paul and Habakkuk faith is faith without works, for both it is “quietly waiting” for God to do His saving work. For both, faith is not one aspect of man’s existence before God but the whole of his relationship to Him.”
David W. Kerr, in the Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 877, writes:
“…Paul, in comparison with Habakkuk, enlarges infinitely the scope of the word “live,” for he applies it to life to come, to the sphere of salvation or eternal well-being in distinction from merely temporal well-being. That the apostle is justified in doing so will readily be granted by Christians, since the NT writers employ many forms and figures of the OT with a fullness of meaning far transcending that which they had for believers under the older dispensation. Finally, the antithesis between the principle of active faith and that of meritorious law-works as a means of salvation is, of course, a part of the apostle’s own argument. It is a logical development from the nature of faith itself.”
Elmer A. Martens, in the New International Version Zondervan Study Bible, p. 1834-1835, writes:
“2:4 the enemy. Babylon (either collectively or its king) or anyone who is arrogant and follows evil desires (elaborated in vv. 6-19). puffed up. A person who is haughty, arrogant, self-sufficient, and presumptuous (Num 14:44). desires are not upright. Examples are listed in v. 5 (see note). the righteous person. The one whose faithfulness (see NIV text note) is anchored in the God who triumphs over evil (3:3–15, especially v. 13; cf. Gen 15:6; Isa 26, especially vv. 1-8; Ezek 18:9). The righteous person trusts God in the darkest of times, holding fast to the conviction that God’s promises will be fulfilled (2 Cor 1:20). The teaching that people are saved by grace through faith (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Eph 2:8) includes the call to live by faith (Heb 10:38–39; 11:17; Jas 2:22-23).”
The New King James Version Study Bible, edited by Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, and H. Wayne House, has this footnote on Habakkuk 2:4:
“2:4 The proud refers to the Babylonians, who exalted themselves and boasted of their conquests and power. His soul is not upright in him: The Babylonians had no regard for God, His commandments, or His people. the just shall live by his faith: True righteousness before God is linked to genuine faith in God. A proud person relies on self, power, position, and accomplishment; a righteous person relies on the Lord.”