The righteous will live by his faith
“Living by his faith”
Principle and application at the end of royalty in Israel
The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.
How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1:1-4 NIV)
A very compromised situation
When Habakkuk pronounces his prophecy, there are still some twenty years before the end of the kingdom of Judah. The capture of Jerusalem and therefore the exile to Babylon will take place in 586 BC
The last smart king of Israel, Josiah, who was devoted to God, died in 609. His descendants will precipitate the fall of the kingdom.
During the reign of Jehoiakim, the situation is already very compromised. The prophet denounces injustice, severely disrupted social relations…
Habakkuk’s prophecy in context
After the death of Solomon, the kingdom is divided. The kingdom of Israel in the north, ruled by idolatrous kings, is destroyed in 722 by Assyria.
The kingdom of Judah in the south declines until the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon in 586.
Fall of the kingdom of Judah provoked by evil kings
The fall of the kingdom is precipitated by bad idolatrous, brutal and unscrupulous kings like Manasseh, Amon, and the successors of Josiah (2 Kings 21: 1-9, 16, 20-22).
Then God decides “to punish Jerusalem and Judah as he did Samaria” (2 Kg 21:13).
A time of standstill in the judgment because of Josiah
Josiah repented on hearing the book of the Law read (the books of the existing AT in his day). He undertook a religious and political reform, which resulted in a period of standstil in the judgment.
He will not see, during his lifetime, the misfortune that was going to sweep over the country.
But his reform does not resolve the situation in depth. After his death his successors hasten to cause people to forget it.
A pivotal period
The kingdom of Judah is a terrain of political and military confrontation between political blocs in conflict.
The decline of Assyria began in 612 with the fall of Nineveh.
The rising power, the Babylonian empire of Nebuchadnezzar gives it the final blow in 609
Egypt, the other great power, first supports Assyria. She plays the referees by changing sides for the benefit of the stronger.
Alliances which change with the wind
In 609, Jehoiakim, son of Josiah, was put on the throne of Judah by Pharaoh Neko. Consequently, the people are imposed a heavy tax in silver and gold for the royal treasury of Egypt (2 Kings 23: 34-37).
In 605 change of program
In 605 Nebuchadnezzar, the conqueror of Egypt, takes Jerusalem. Jehoiakim maintained on the throne then becomes vassal of Babylon (2 Kings 24: 1-3). This implies commitments to be respected. Another heavy tax, this time for the royal treasury of Babylon.
It’s like the subprime crisis or the Panama papers. Who will pay? Not the king and his personal safe nor the state fund. Not the banks, not the richest. The population, the poorest too, are taxed.
This injustice organized by the king and his supporters breaks the solidarity established by the reform of Josiah in the society of Judah. Injustices, quarrels, conflicts multiply.
A fearful and desperate situation
Habakkuk asks his questions to God in this anguished context of injustice and abuse.
No solution, no rescue?
How long must I call for help without being heard
Why … such injustices? Without you delivering us … indifferent to our torments.
Contempt for the Word of God.
The law is not respected … the right is not guaranteed (v.4). The wicked keep the righteous from acting. The judgments are corrupt.
Political injustices, threats and murders
Habakkuk denounces a situation of moral and spiritual degradation, of gross injustice. Israel should behave like the people of God. He forgot it, king and leaders in the lead.
Jehoiakim is furious at having to submit to Babylon. He charges it to all those who do not agree with him.
Jeremiah, who lives at the same time, commands the king to respect his obligations to Babylon. Jehoiakim burns the roll of Jeremiah’s first prophecies and threatens him with death. (Jeremiah 36).
Ouriyahu, an opponent prophet, fled to Egypt. He is brought back by the king’s henchmen and murdered (Jeremiah 26)
A process still well known today in certain high spheres to make disappear the opponents: Bulgarian umbrella, polonium or traffic accidents without explanation.
God’s response: an unexpected intervention
Look at the nations and watch– and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own. Habakkuk 1.5-6 NIV
Treason and illusions. The situation will get worse.
In 603-602, Jehoiakim becomes allied with Egypt. He rebels against Babylon and refuses to pay the required tax.
Jeremiah describes Jehoiakim as an unscrupulous, brutal and criminal man, with no respect for the word given (Jeremiah 22:17).
But for now, do not worry. At the shelter in his palace embellished at the expense of the taxpayer (Jeremiah 22) the king corks his eyes and ears. He knows nothing, he does not want to know.
The Babylonian army is still far, the king counts on the alliance with Egypt. The role of the Temple is to protect them as a magical place.
They imagine it by repeating “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7) … The illusion will not last long.
The revolt of King Jehoiakim is the prelude to the siege of Jerusalem of 597 during which he will die.
Who sows the wind will reap the storm. God lets things take their course
LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, LORD, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? Habakkuk 1.12-13 NIV
Babylonians, instruments of punishment
Selected by God to exercise judgment
It is in order to execute the judgment that you have raised up this people, and you have made it strong for it to be the instrument of punishment (v. 12).
Difficult to accept.
For Habakkuk it is difficult to understand: Why do you keep silence when the wicked swallow one more just than he (v.13)
Why does the most holy God use a pagan, brutal nation to settle his accounts with his own people? He chose this people, he made a covenant with them.
Will God, the protector of Israel, allow his people to be destroyed?
Why does he make no distinction between the just and the wicked, between Jehoiakim, the impious and brutal king, and the faithful Jews who suffer and die because of him?
This idolatrous people (Babylon) offer sacrifices to their net, burns incense in honor of their net (v.16). Will they continue to draw their sword to slaughter other nations without pity (v.17)?
The alliance with God manifested through obedience
Israel’s relationship with God is based on the covenant that God made with His people.
Respect for the covenant is manifested through obedience to the Law of God.
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19.5-6 NIV)
Rupture of the covenant – idolatry: invasions and deportation
Israel breaks the covenant. They separate from the Law of God. And this is manifested especially through idolatry. Idolatry means choosing another God and at the same time another system of values. Power, money, sex…
The LORD will exile you … in a nation that neither you nor your ancestors knew; And there you will be enslaved to other gods. Deuteronomy 28:36.
Force-imposed system of values
He will send against you a distant nation whose language you will not understand. Deuteronomy 28:49
Nor will you understand their values of morality and justice. But you will undergo them
The Babylonians whom God sends against Israel have moral values and standards of justice quite different from his own. They will impose them by force.
If the Word of God is not the norm, arbitrary and binding values take its place
Justice needs an ethical basis. If the Word of God is not the norm of justice, then it is another norm that takes its place.
That is the risk we run today. Some modify the laws of the state to remove references to biblical morals, while claiming to preserve the biblical values. This creates an air call towards much more arbitrary, violent and binding standards, which are frankly pagan. For example, the whim of street opinion, the policy of a dictator, etc..
God will intervene at the appointed time
Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright– but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. Habakkuk 2.2-4 NIV
Waiting for God’s time
Literally, for vision is still for a fixed time. It pants towards the end and it will not be misleading. If it delays, wait for it, for it surely comes, it will not be deferred.
God has set a time to intervene. He does not reveal at once the content of the prophecy…
He warns at first that it will appear to be late. The disastrous events of the Babylonian invasion will last a long time, so it will take patience.
Decide to trust him
In difficult days, when everything goes wrong, when the wicked prevails, when God seems far or indifferent, there is only one solution. Remember the promises of God and decide to trust Him. “The righteous will live by faith”.
Prophecy accomplished in a time and at the end of time
This prophecy which pants towards the end will be accomplished by the fall of Babylon in 539 and by the return of the Israelites to their land.
In a time: return of a remnant of the exiled people
God the LORD promises to preserve a remnant of his people, to bring back his scattered sheep, according to the prophecies of Jeremiah 23.3:
And I will gather the rest of my sheep from all the countries where I have driven them;
I will bring them back to their pasture; They will be fertile and multiply.
Judgment of Babylon
The military success of Babylon will lead her to arrogance. She will be seduced by the deceptive illusion of unlimited power.
Babylon is not sovereign. God is. The power of Babylon will come to an abrupt end with the Persian conquest in 539. The instrument of judgment is judged in its turn.
At the end of time: judgment of every power opposed to God
It also concerns the time of the end. Then all human pride, all power of the world that opposes God, and of which Babylon is the image, will be destroyed.
Then there will remain only the triumphant Church gathered around the glorious Lord, the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God founded on humility, according to the beautiful book of St. Augustine.
Puffed up with pride or deflated with fear, two not so contradictory attitudes
The most versions translate Verse 4 by puffed up :
See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright– but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness. Habakkuk 2.4 NIV
Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him; but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2.4 ASV)
Or by lifted up :
Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
(Habakkuk 2.4 KJV)
or by proud
Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4 NAS)
But some versions lean on the Greek text of the Septuagint ἐὰν ὑποστείληται (ean uposteleite) and translate
If he should draw back, (= delated by fear) my soul has no pleasure in him: but the just shall live by my faith. (Habakkuk 2.4 )
In Hebrew two consonants have changed places: afal = swell and alaf = faint, come down, deflate
Behold, puffed up, (or failing), not right his soul in him, but just in (or by) his faith (or fidelity) will live. Literal translation
This translation was chosen by Hebrews 10.38
Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. (Hebrews 10.38 KJV)
And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” (Hebrews 10.38 NIV)
Puffed up one day, deflated the next day: two attitudes basically not so contradictory.
Let us think about the actuality of the brexit. Some had swelled up in words, attracted by power. But they soon became deflated, when it was necessary to consider exercising it in conditions that were no longer ideal. On the contrary.
Infused with pride reminds one of the Babylonians and their powerful army which destroys everything on its way. Or perhaps of the evil king Jehoiakim and his counselors. They believe themselves strong because they rely on their alliance with Egypt. The proud is the one who relies on his own works, on his personal achievements to get along without God.
To come down, to deflate is probably better suited to the context:
Habakkuk … speaks to the Israelites, especially to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
They suffered the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 605. And one can expect the worst … with the revolt of Jehoiakim.
The prophet no longer calls for national repentance to avoid catastrophe. It’s too late. The Babylonians will be the instruments of God’s justice. Since the abominations of king Manasseh, the destruction of the nation has been decided.
Jehoiakim too, the proud and rebellious king, will be deflated and lamentable at the time of his death. Jeremiah prophesied that he would have the burial of an ass.
Giving everything up? NO: “The righteous will live by his faith! “
So when the situation is like this, when the judgment of God is certain, when there is nothing more to do, when misery, invasion, destruction are inevitable, why not give everything up…?
NO ! When the judgment is certain, the only question is: “How can I save my life, how can I escape the wrath of God?” Habakkuk answers: “The righteous will live by his faith! ”
The only right attitude is faith – trust in God despite the difficult or desperate situation.
People faithful to God will die at the same time as the impious and the idolaters during a new siege in 597. Even more so during the destruction of the city and the Temple in 586 BC.
“The righteous will live by his faith”
Faith is fidelity, faith that lasts. It resists opposing circumstances, the wear and tear of time.
The righteous is the one who keeps faith and trust. God will grant him life, salvation for eternity. It is not obedience to the Law of Moses, ultimately impossible to fulfill. This faith goes beyond sight, this faith is not limited to the immediate result. It is a trust that looks beyond, a hope that firmly relies on the promises of God.
The righteous has faith and his faith saves him.
A message of salvation…
Habakkuk’s message is very close to the Gospel: the righteous has faith and his faith saves him.
…lived by Abraham,
A man of the Old Testament has already lived it out.
Abraham trusted the LORD, and the LORD declared him righteous (Genesis 15: 6).
…accomplished by Christ
However, the death of Christ alone establishes a true link between righteousness, justice and faith. Justice because Jesus died for us because of our sins. He paid our debt to God. Faith because we put our trust in Christ who freed us from the debt of our sin, God considers us righteous.
The righteous will live by faith: the basic principle of the Christian life…
The apostle Paul quotes and explains this twice in the letter to Romans 1:17 and in Galatians 3:11. We find an application of it in the letter to the Hebrews.
…to live out at any time
If things do not go well at all, above all, do not drop God. It would be a disaster. It is better to remember Habakkuk and his call to trust: “the righteous will live by his faith”.
Take time to think about it, maybe in a quiet place to avoid being disturbed in your reflection. Remember the good God does to you in various circumstances. And then, make the decision to believe, to trust, despite anything. Pray God that he will strengthen you in your decision to remain faithful. Then his peace will come upon you, a peace perhaps without brilliance but a lasting and solid peace.
And for events in today’s world, do not believe that the solution will come from any political decision, from the intervention of any providential person. It is God the master of events. He always holds the world in his hand.