"And the Lord answered me." Last month we looked at i) The clarity of the answer (v.2), and ii) The certainty of the answer (v.3). Now we go on to consider:
iii) The content of the answer (vv.4-20). As we have noticed, Habakkuk is told to, "Write the vision" (v.2), and that "the vision is yet for an appointed time" (v.3). The vision itself is now disclosed to Habakkuk. God answers the protest and perplexity of his servant by enabling him to see two things: God's judgment of the wicked, and God's glory in the world. In connection with the first, we must notice, amongst other things, the fivefold use of "Woe" (vv.6,9,12,15,19). In connection with the second, we must notice that "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (v.14). This passage emphasises two important matters: (a) The pathway of the righteous (v.4), and (b) The punishment of the unrighteous (vv.5-20).
a) The pathway of the righteous (v.4). As we will see in greater detail, God will judge the wicked in the world, and He will display His glory in the world. But how are God's people to conduct themselves as they wait for this to take place? We have already seen that they are to wait with patience: "though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry" (v.3). We now learn that they were to wait in faith. "The just shall live by his faith." This is emphasised by means of a comparison - "Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith". Notice therefore:
Those that are "not upright". They are marked by self-confidence and pride. They are "lifted up". Undoubtedly, in the first instance, this refers to the Chaldeans who had made a god of their own power (1.11, JND): "This his power is become his god" (1.11, JND); "whose might is his god" (RV). Nebuchadnezzar exemplifies this: "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (Dan 4.30).
Those who are described as "the just". They are marked by "faith". "But the just shall live by his faith". That is, by resting on what God has said. Note that the word "faith" itself only occurs twice in the AV Old Testament, here and in Deuteronomy 32.20, but it translates a Hebrew word occurring some fifty times in the Old Testament. Its first occurrence is in Exodus 17.12: "Moses hands were steady". See also Lamentations 3.23: "Great is thy faithfulness". It emphasises the link between behaviour (faithfulness) and belief (faith). This is the secret of an upright life in the circumstances described in 1.2-4. It is the faith of a lifetime, rather than the faith of a moment. This is also cited in Hebrews 10.38, "For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith". So it is a case of continuing in faith, waiting for the coming of the Lord and for future glory, although subject to perplexity and pressure. This is how men like Daniel and Ezekiel lived in the midst of Babylonian supremacy, when all seemed lost. They lived in view of the promises of God.
We should note the different emphasis in each of the three New Testament citations of Habakkuk 2.4. Romans 1.17: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith". It has been nicely said that Habakkuk is "the great-grandfather of the Reformation". Galatians 3.11: "But that no man is justified by the law in his sight, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith". That is, by faith as opposed to works. Hebrews 10.38-39: "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul". The Old Testament saints lived by faith.
b) The punishment of the unrighteous (vv.5-20). It is significant that the Chaldeans are not mentioned by name. This does not mean, of course, that they are excluded from the passage, but by omitting direct reference to them God sets out the reasons for judgment on all wicked nations. We must notice, however, that the judgment of the Chaldeans, and of all wicked nations, is not God's ultimate purpose. Having brought the nations of the world to nothing (v.13), He will then fill the world with His glory (v.14). The reasons for judgment are set out in the passage.
Sinful acquisition (vv.5-8). "Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!" (v.6). "Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people ("peoples", JND)." The expression, "he transgresseth by wine" ("the wine is treacherous", JND), evidently refers, not to literal wine (although that can be "treacherous": remember Noah and Belshazzar), but to the heady wine of success. "Intoxicated by ambitious conquest, he roams the earth to enlarge the borders of his realm" (M C Unger). The expression, "neither keepeth at home", emphasises the desire for territorial expansion. The Chaldeans wanted world domination: "all nations...all people" (v.5). This is a warning to us against covetousness, and prosperity through greed. The Chaldeans were intent on theft and plunder. The believer is to display the reverse: "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth" (Eph 4.28). In a society marked by consumerism and materialism, "the just shall live by faith".
The principle of sowing and reaping, found everywhere in Scripture, is applicable here. See vv.6-8: the very oppressed peoples would "take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb ("riddle", JND) against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!". The words "that ladeth himself with thick clay", evidently mean "ladeth himself with pledges", that is, pledges of tribute money which would have been written on clay tablets. The Chaldeans crushed weaker nations in order to secure financial gain, but they would reap where they had sown: "Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them? Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein". See also v.10. So God will do right by His holy character! Habakkuk's statement was absolutely correct - see 1.13. Compare also divine judgment on Edom (Obadiah) and Nineveh (Nahum).
To be continued.