“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
Habakkuk 2:4 is not only the theme verse for the entire book by the prophet, but it also serves as the transitional verse between the doubting Habakkuk with the trusting Habakkuk. The object of both Habakkuk’s doubt and faith is God.
Let me say something I have previously said in this column. Everyone who has ever lived, is presently living, and will live, was, is and will be a person of faith. The question is “faith in what or who?” Additionally, the statement “the righteous shall live by faith” may also be correctly translated “the one who by faith is righteous shall live.”
When God says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,” He is referring to the nation of Babylon and its ruler Nebuchadnezzar who personifies the Babylonian’s arrogance. To be puffed up means to be swelled with false pride and haughtiness, like the swelling which occurs from a tumor. To not be upright means to not be just or conformed to a righteous standard. This crooked condition is not due to anything outside of the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar, but rather it is within them. It is a fitting and appropriate description of their spiritual condition before the LORD.
In contrast, those who are in a right relationship with Yahweh are not only declared righteous but also live in obedience to the LORD. This obedience is an evidence of faith meaning to trust in, commitment to, dependence upon and a worship and honoring of God. As Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “Genuine love for Jesus manifest itself in obedience to His commandments.”
The phase “shall live” refers to right here and now. The believer in Christ is presently not only alive and delivered from the penalty of sin, but also alive and continually delivered from the power of sin. Eventually God will deliver each believer from the very presence of sin when God calls us home to heaven.
Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted three times in the New Testament: twice by the Apostle Paul (Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 3:11) and once by the writer of the Book of Hebrews (10:37-38). Paul refers to Habakkuk 2:4 to emphasize the fundamental God given instrument by which believers are joined to Christ: faith. It is by faith alone in Christ alone that a sinner becomes justified by grace alone. Hebrews 10:37-38 cites Habakkuk 2:4 to stress the importance of faith in the believer’s continual sanctification. Faith in Christ is not a one-time deal so to speak but rather a continuing reality in the person and work of Christ in the believer’s new life in Christ.
Dr. Sproul explains that, “The Lord here (Habakkuk 2:4) discloses the essential distinction He makes between the wicked, the Babylonians, and the righteous, the remnant of Judah. The wicked take paths that lead to death and defeat; the righteous by faith take a path that leads to life and victory. His distinction and the promise it contains for the righteous bring a word of comfort to Habakkuk. It also marks the turning point in his personal struggle over the Lord’s use of the wicked Babylonians as a rod of judgment against His people.”
Dr. Sproul concludes by saying, “One who lives by faith is a righteous person in the sight of God. The righteous live by trust. In other words, the thing that characterizes the righteous person above all else is an abiding trust in God and His promises. Because righteous people trust the Lord, they continue to believe Him even when He seems slow to act. They do not just believe in God—they believe God. Because they believe the Lord, they are faithful to Him and they obey Him—truly though imperfectly— out of their deep loyalty to Him.”
Which path are you presently traveling through this life? Are you a person of faith in some object other than Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, or are you a person of faith alone, by God’s grace alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone? It remains a question of life or death.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!