Habakkuk #2

Bible Passage: Habakkuk 2:2-20

Big Idea of Message:

While it appears that evil is going unpunished, in his time the Lord brings justice to all by sparing the ones who live by faith in him.

Learning to Live by Faith

The Proclamation of Faith (2:2)
The Implementation of Faith (2:3)
The Revelation of Faith (2:4–5)
The Vindication of Faith (2:6–20)
Inordinate Greed (2:6–8)
A Hunger to Dominate (2:9–11)
Atrocities (2:12–14)
Debauchery (2:15–17)
Idolatry (2:18–20)

Habakkuk 2:2-20

2 Then the LORD answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
4 “Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.
5 “Indeed, because he transgresses by wine,
He is a proud man,
And he does not stay at home.
Because he enlarges his desire as hell,
And he is like death, and cannot be satisfied,
He gathers to himself all nations
And heaps up for himself all peoples.
6 “Will not all these take up a proverb against him,
And a taunting riddle against him, and say,
‘Woe to him who increases
What is not his—how long?
And to him who loads himself with many pledges’?
7 Will not your creditors rise up suddenly?
Will they not awaken who oppress you?
And you will become their booty.
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
All the remnant of the people shall plunder you,
Because of men’s blood
And the violence of the land and the city,
And of all who dwell in it.
9 “Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house,
That he may set his nest on high,
That he may be delivered from the power of disaster!
10 You give shameful counsel to your house,
Cutting off many peoples,
And sin against your soul.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall,
And the beam from the timbers will answer it.
12 “Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed,
Who establishes a city by iniquity!
13 Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts
That the peoples labor to feed the fire,
And nations weary themselves in vain?
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 him who gives drink to his neighbor,
Pressing him to your bottle,
Even to make him drunk,
That you may look on his nakedness!
16 You are filled with shame instead of glory.
You also—drink!
And be exposed as uncircumcised!
The cup of the LORD’s right hand will be turned against you,
And utter shame will be on your glory.
17 For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you,
And the plunder of beasts which made them afraid,
Because of men’s blood
And the violence of the land and the city,
And of all who dwell in it.
18 “What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it,
The molded image, a teacher of lies,
That the maker of its mold should trust in it,
To make mute idols?
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’
To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
Yet in it there is no breath at all.
20 “But the LORD is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

So central to the whole of Jewish thought was Habakkuk 2:4b that the Talmud records this famous remark made by Rabbi Simlai: “Moses gave Israel 613 commandments. David reduced them to eleven [Psalm 15], Micah to 3 [Micah 6:8], Isaiah to 2 [Isaiah 56:1], but Habakkuk to 1—‘the righteous shall live by his faith [Hab. 2:4].’” Jewish scholars felt that these words—only three words in the Hebrew text—fairly summarized the message of the whole Bible.

Preacher’s Commentary Series

Question: Why Do You Look With Favor On Them? (Hab. 1:12-2:1)

Answer: They Will Also Be Judged For Their Sins (Hab. 2:2-20)

What, then, we ask, is the meaning of that strange clause, “That he may run who reads it?” While it is true that the Lord is economical in how He expresses Himself, there can be no doubt what the subject and the main verb of this clause are. The subject, expressed by a participle both in the Hebrew and the Greek LXX, is “the one reading” (“or heralding”). The main Hebrew verb is “he may [or “will”] run.” But the English translations invariably exchange syntactical places between the two verbs and come up with something like “so that he who runs may read it,” making the syntactical error of transposing the main verb into the subject and shifting the participial subject into the main verb. But the original text has it the other way around: the vision was given to Habakkuk so that a reader might run, not so that the one running might be able to read it quickly. Habakkuk 2:2

How shall we interpret the expression, “so he may run who reads it”? S. R. Driver (75) understood the expression to mean that the writing was to be so clear and distinct that a person on the run could read the message. In 1964, J. M. Holt argued that Habakkuk was not using the word “run” literally for running off in haste or in alarm, but as a poetic device to refer to the way one was to live (walk, or run) in obedience to God (JBL, 82 [1964] 301). According to Holt, Habbakuk was saying that the writing was to be published so that the reader would know how “to run,” i.e. how to live according to the will of God. Brownlee notes that the verb “run” is used for the work of a prophet in Jer 23:21. Therefore he suggests that “runners” here were all those who passed by and read the message to the illiterate who came along (Hommages, 263).

Ralph L. Smith, Micah–Malachi, vol. 32, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1984), 106–107.

Habakkuk was to wait in faith for God to act. He was assured that judgment on evil would surely come. It will not be late (v 3). But Habakkuk was not to wait with folded hands and bated breath for all this to happen. He was to live a life of faithfulness (v 4). The evil one is puffed up with pride and he will fall (vv 4, 5), but the righteous will live by being faithful to his covenant with God.

Ralph L. Smith, Micah–Malachi, vol. 32, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1984), 107.

God is attending to His business, and Habakkuk must attend to his. Running the universe is not his task. That burden belongs to God. But Habakkuk has his task, and let him faithfully perform it. Thus he will live in moral sincerity and in moral security that righteous living brings in the midst of external calamities. That is the way for a righteous man to live in an evil world”

Ralph L. Smith, Micah–Malachi, vol. 32, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1984), 107.

If Habakkuk was to live by his faithfulness, steadfastness, or trustworthiness, how do the NT writers get a doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ out of these words? The answer is to be found in the way the LXX translated these verses. 2:3b–4 are quoted from the LXX in Heb 10:37–38 and by Paul in Rom 1:17 and Gal 3:11. The longer quotation in Heb 10:37–38 reads: ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἠξει καὶ οὐ χρονίσει·ὁ δὲ δίκαιός μου ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται, καὶ ὲὰν ὑποστείληται, οὐκ εὐδοκεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου ἐν αὐτῷ “The coming one will come and he will not tarry. But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back my soul has no pleasure in him.” The writer of Hebrews was interested in this passage because of the LXX’s use of “shrinking back.” He was trying to get his readers not to “shrink back.” He put no emphasis on living by faith. But Paul quoted only a portion of this passage, ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται, left out the pronoun μου and read “but the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11). NT writers adapted OT scriptures to fit their purposes.

Ralph L. Smith, Micah–Malachi, vol. 32, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1984), 107.

The prophet (and we his readers) must remember, though, that God does not calculate time as we do. Habakkuk’s original request for God’s intervention had been triggered by God’s perceived delay in dealing with Judah’s sin (1:2; “O Lord, how long”). But the delay was not an indication that God was not going to do anything; it only meant that God would act in His appointed time. Other biblical writers would learn the same lesson:
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise,
as some understand slowness.
He is patient with you,
not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.”
—2 Peter 3:9 (NIV) Habakkuk 2:3

Of course the question arises as to just how a person can be declared by God to be righteous and justified before all of God’s holy standards. The answer so many are ready to give on behalf of the Old Testament saint is that he or she had to remain an observant Jew by practicing all that the law commanded: “faithfulness” was the operational term in the Old Testament according to most interpreters.
But the phrase “by his faith” in Habakkuk 2:4b cannot be understood in that way. Exegetes have too quickly assumed that the Hebrew )emûnâh should be translated as “faithfulness” or “steadfastness.” “Faith” or “trust” is the preferred rendering of )emûnâh in a number of passages in the Old Testament. This is particularly noticeable in those passages where the way of “falsehood”is being contrasted with the way of one who can be trusted to tell the truth (see Ps. 119:29–30; Prov. 12:17). Those who “trust” will tell the truth, for they believe that God will defend them. Habakkuk 2:4

The point to remember, then, after studying all the evidence for translating )emûnâh as “faith” or “trust,” is best stated by H. S. Bryant: “It must be carefully maintained that neither the Old nor the New Testament separate faith from its fruits of faithfulness. The distinction between faith and faithfulness is somewhat artificial, for in the long run they are the same thing. The Bible knows nothing of a true faith which does not hold fast its confidence to the end. Habakkuk 2:4

To fully appreciate the deceptive powers of wine, one need only recall that drunkenness was responsible for the downfall of the Babylonian empire. Daniel 5 records how, on the night the empire fell, King Belshazzer sent for the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem and offered toasts to the gods of Babylon from these sacred goblets. It was then that the handwriting appeared on the wall and the sudden end to the Babylonian’s arrogance came. Habakkuk 2:4

It is not always possible to say where or when God will intervene and demonstrate that He is still Lord of history. But it is possiblefor all who are justified by faith to live—and that does not mean merely to “tough-it-out.” Surely we see the judgments of God in fallen nations: a Saddam Hussein silenced in his bunker far beneath the surface of the earth, a Hitler ending his life in his bunker, a Mussolini strung up by his feet.
  But God still warns all tyrants, dictators, presidents, and any who have authority over people to mark their step, for the five-fold woes are just samples of what awaits those who are not only bellicose in their threatenings against others, but also resistant to God’s principle of life: trusting the only name that is above every other name for salvation (Acts 4:12). Just people live because they have been declared justified in that they have put their trust and faith in Him and Him alone. Is it any wonder that this theme became the rallying cry for the Reformation? May it be the rallying cry for a revived church once again as some continue to cry out “How Long, O Lord?” But God is in His heaven and He will mark iniquity. He will act decisively. And He will declare justified as many as trust in Him as Abraham did long ago and as Habakkuk urges in our passage. Habakkuk 2:6