“Behold among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously; for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” Habakkuk 1:5 “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry ... The just shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:3-4
Though many lessons may be learned from Habakkuk’s prophecy, I will restrict my comments to three classic verses found in the first two chapters of his vision. Each is quoted in the new Testament with comment by the Holy Spirit. Habakkuk 1:5 – Pivotal To Spreading The Gospel The first of the three, Habakkuk 1:5, reads, “Behold among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously; for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” In the new Testament, Paul paraphrased it this way: “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no way believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:41 KJV). Paul’s words in the synagogue at Antioch proved to be pivotal in spreading the gospel, for they marked that point when the joyous heathen response moved the Jews to jealousy. It was too much for them to bear when Paul and Barnabas said, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
This contrast is interesting in the light of Habakkuk 1:5 which states, “Behold among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously.” At first this seems to suggest that the Gentiles were destined to reject the message of God. But the Jews at Antioch were the children of Israel among the Gentiles! Many of the Jews remained dispersed throughout the empire of the “Medes and Persians” (Dan. 5:28) when the captivity in Babylon ended. This meant that the same message preached in Jerusalem would be repeated worldwide. It also implied that the Jews among the Gentiles and the Gentiles themselves would be eligible for the gift of eternal life. So when the Gentiles in Antioch heard the gospel “they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). For if “God so loved the world” (Jn. 3:16) then this same love would take in all the nations throughout all earth time. Similarly, the love of God which existed before the foundation of the world will survive in the new heavens and the new earth without end.
Habakkuk 2:3 – Looking For The Lord’s Return
The second quotation from Habakkuk 2:3 reads “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” We are therefore grateful to the Holy Spirit when in Hebrews 10:37 He explains these mysterious words to mean, “For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” In other words, Christians are not waiting for a heathen invader but ever looking upward for the return of the Son of God from heaven (Lk. 21:28).
Habakkuk 2:4 – How The Just Shall Live
Before commenting on the third quotation, “The just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4), we must first consider this verse in the Habakkuk setting. in this regard the promise of survival referred to physical life preserved in a scene of mortal Danger. The main threat was the invasion of judah by the Chaldeans. For that “bitter and hasty nation” (Hab. 1:6) was renowned for cruelty and killing. The threat was real and irreversible despite the reforms of good king Josiah. So in Habakkuk 2 the king of Babylon is personified as death.
The chief point of Habakkuk 2:4 is that those who knew God and trusted in Him were promised that their lives would be guaranteed. So the message of that day was that only the wicked would be devoured by the advancing enemy. For example, Daniel’s three friends not only survived in Babylon but thrived. Though brutally persecuted, they emerged unscathed from the burning fiery furnace (Dan. 3). But note that those who cast them into the furnace were themselves burned to death by the intense seven-fold heat. And, in the case of Daniel himself, the plot to have him eaten by lions came to nothing when God instead fed the conspirators to the wild beasts (Dan. 6:16-24).
In this respect, when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem they honored Jeremiah and also spared the lives of all those justified by faith (Jer. 40:2-4). And before the invasion, God preserved His prophetic servant when he was cast into a waterless pit (Jer. 38:6). God also promised to preserve Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian eunuch who risked his life to save Jeremiah (Jer. 39:17).
Whereas God spared the iives of those justified by faith in those days, let no saint today suppose that he or she is impervious to martyrdom. For the apostle Paul, who later so brilliantly expounded Habakkuk, was himself martyred for Christ in the Roman arena. Also the preservation of the saints in the days of Habakkuk was no barrier against the inevitable invasion of the land with the destruction of the temple. nor could the judgment of those who refused to repent be revoked, no matter how much the righteous pleaded their cause (Jer. 38:20-23). Therefore, we must never tell sinners that if they accept Christ they will thereafter become immune to pain, age or illness.
In the light of new Testament explanation, the promise of life transcends the original guarantee of life preserved in adverse circumstances. So the just will indeed live forever when “the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven” (1 Th. 4:16). For concurrently “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53).
• Habakkuk 2:4 In Romans 1:17
When Paul set out to prove that salvation was by faith alone, he used the promise of Habakkuk as a proof-text, and we find “the just shall live by faith” quoted in Romans 1:17. despite the fact that it had been stated without comment in Habakkuk, it was destined to become the foundational text of Paul’s expository masterpiece.
Also, since Paul wrote to the Galatians eight years before he wrote to the Romans, he had already used the same text to prove that the Law of Moses, having condemned the whole world, could never save a wretched sinner (Rom. 3:19). in Hebrews 10:38, the Spirit of God deployed the same quotation in connection with the life of faith lived in the light of the Lord’s promised return.
It is in Romans that Paul reveals the gospel meaning of the text that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). For despite the preservation of life during the Captivity, the greater blessing hidden in the text was that of eternal life. Therefore God said through Daniel the prophet that “they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). The Son of God confirmed that He would be crucified in order that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:15).
• Habakkuk 2:4 In Galatians 3:11
Paul was not a man who let heresy go unchallenged. So when judaizers tried to lure the Galatians into keeping the Law of Moses, Paul intervened with instant condemnation: “if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9). This means that those who preach another gospel and make the “people to trust in a lie” (Jer. 28:15) will perish and both the deceivers and the deceived will be cast into eternal “perdition” (2 Th. 2:3; 1 Tim. 6:9).
The Law of Moses never saved a single soul. Even today the Jews concede that there are over 600 statutes and commandments to be kept, apart from which no one shall survive the wrath of God. So to reinforce the message, Paul wrote, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them’” (Gal. 3:10). Then he wrote, “But that no man is justified by the Law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Gal. 3:11). And then he proceeded to prove that to redeem us from this same curse, Christ Himself became accursed of God upon the cross: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13).
• Habakkuk 2:4 In Hebrews 10:38
The final quotation is in Hebrews where the writer stated, “now the just shall live by faith” (Heb. 10:38). However, to understand this application of Habakkuk 2:4 we must consider it in its new Testament context, for therein the quotation is closely linked with the promise of the Lord’s return: “For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37). From this we deduce that the Spirit is referring to the Christian’s life of faith which is based upon the any moment rapturous expectation of the Son of God’s return from heaven (1 Th. 1:10). Indeed John himself referred to the same when he wrote that “every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3).
Present Promise Versus Premature Expectation
The same quotation in Hebrews reveals that the treasurable truth of Christ and His coming lay hidden in Habakkuk 2:3: “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Hebrews 10:37 proves that Habakkuk 2:3 was an unmistakable reference to the coming “of the Lord in the air” (1 Th. 4:17). However, we must learn the difference between the Lord’s coming quickly and His coming soon. Twenty centuries have passed since the Lord said, “Surely I come quickly” (Rev. 22:20). Even allowing that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8), we can hardly say that the Savior ever said that He was coming soon. However, that He will come quickly is not in doubt. That is to say, He will catch us in the circumstances of the moment (Rev. 16:15). If we are not where we should be or are found doing what we should not be doing, we shall indeed “be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).
In this sense, the passing of the centuries is not a considerable criterion when “the vision is yet for an appointed time” (Hab. 2:3). So no matter how long the time in between, we must never say “My lord delayeth his coming” (Mt. 24:48). For “He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37). Nevertheless we have mostly overlooked the Scripture, “After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them” (Mt. 25:19). However, while philosophy may debate the length of a piece of string, faith knows that already 20 centuries comprise “a long time” in any language. So the longer He is absent the sooner He will return!
At the same time, let us temper our expectations with these wise words of the beloved disciple, John: “Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die. Yet Jesus said not unto him, ‘He shall not die, but, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?’” (Jn. 21:23). And so, it may be that many precious saints will yet fall asleep before they are “caught up together” with the living “to meet the Lord in the air.” However, whether dead or alive at His coming, all those justified by faith shall dwell forever “with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:17).
By Tom Summerhill
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org