The following comes from Chapter 2 of Bruce’s book “When God Makes No Sense”
Have you ever had your faith in God shaken? Most of us have. Have you ever prayed about something only to find it worse the next day? What do you do when God responds to your prayer in a way that doesn’t make sense or confuses you? You want to scream, “No, God, you are not supposed to work that way!” Habakkuk is helping us see how to hold on to the unshakeable God when he makes no sense.
Yesterday, we saw our perplexed prophet cry out to God in frustration. Habakkuk could not understand why in the world God was allowing violence and injustice to keep happening right in front of him. Did he not see what was going on? Did he not care? And why was he not answering Habakkuk’s prayer? Habakkuk was so frustrated that he was hearing nothing from God.
Then as we saw, God answered Habakkuk, but not in the way he had hoped. God’s solution made Habakkuk even more frustrated, confused and angry. God said he was going to bring the ruthless Babylonians to crush the people of Judah who had turned away from him.
Habakkuk was so upset that he burst before God in prayer with no typical prelude such as, “Dear Lord,” or a confession of sin. He was upset with God. God’s answer was so bewildering. It had Habakkuk spinning. What did Habakkuk do with his concerns? He did not go down to his fellow prophets and say, “Hey guys, you are not going to believe what God just told me. How could he do something like this?!” He did not run away from God. Habakkuk ran to God.
Read Habakkuk’s response.
Habakkuk 1:12–2:5 (NET)
Habakkuk Voices Some Concerns
1:12 Lord, you have been active from ancient times;
my sovereign God, you are immortal.
Lord, you have made them your instrument of judgment.
Protector, you have appointed them as your instrument of punishment.
1:13 You are too just to tolerate evil;
you are unable to condone wrongdoing.
So why do you put up with such treacherous people?
Why do you say nothing when the wicked devour those more righteous than they are?
1:14 You made people like fish in the sea,
like animals in the sea that have no ruler.
1:15 The Babylonian tyrant pulls them all up with a fishhook;
he hauls them in with his throw net.
When he catches them in his dragnet,
he is very happy.
1:16 Because of his success he offers sacrifices to his throw net
and burns incense to his dragnet;
for because of them he has plenty of food,
and more than enough to eat.
1:17 Will he then continue to fill and empty his throw net?
Will he always destroy nations and spare none?
2:1 I will stand at my watch post;
I will remain stationed on the city wall.
I will keep watching, so I can see what he says to me
and can know how I should answer
when he counters my argument.
The Lord Assures Habakkuk
2:2 The Lord responded:
“Write down this message! Record it legibly on tablets,
so the one who announces it may read it easily.
2:3 For the message is a witness to what is decreed;
it gives reliable testimony about how matters will turn out.
Even if the message is not fulfilled right away, wait patiently;
for it will certainly come to pass—it will not arrive late.
2:4 Look, the one whose desires are not upright will faint from exhaustion,
but the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness.
2:5 Indeed, wine will betray the proud, restless man!
His appetite is as big as Sheol’s;
like death, he is never satisfied.
He gathers all the nations;
he seizes all peoples.
What did Habakkuk affirm about God’s character?
What questions did Habakkuk have for God?
In short, what seems to be Habakkuk’s frustration with God? In other words, what did not make sense to him?
What several things did God tell Habakkuk to do (2:2–3)?
What contrast do you see in verse 4? How does verse 5 amplify the first half of verse 4?
Habakkuk started in a good place, with the character of God. He rehearsed some of what he knew about God. When everything is falling apart and nothing makes sense, you can always fall back on the unchanging character of God. He is steady. In a sea of confusion with waves crashing all around him, Habakkuk clung to the life buoy of God’s character. He gave six descriptions of God: Lord, active, eternal, sovereign, immortal, protector.
Having established his character, Habakkuk sprung his big question, “God, you are the holy, sovereign God, so how could you empower the Babylonians and use them since they are clearly ruthless, evil people?” Habakkuk presented what he saw as a clear case against God.
Habakkuk thought he had God in a logical trap with no apparent way out. If God is moral and powerful, a protector of human life and justice, then how in the world could he use evil people who violently murder and abuse people?
Habakkuk was horrified at the atrocities; at God’s indifference, and mostly that God seemed to have caused this to happen. Habakkuk demanded in essence, “How long is this going to go on God? How could you possibly have not just allowed, but even enabled, all this evil?! I do not get it.”
Habakkuk prepared himself to receive God’s answer. He said he would wait like a military guard sitting on a watchtower (2:1, NLT). He prepared himself for God’s rebuke and some kind of answer, though I don’t think Habakkuk could imagine how God could possibly answer his questions adequately. The contradiction between God’s character and what was happening was too obvious and stark.
God did not rebuke the prophet. He never said that Habakkuk should not have asked those kinds of questions. He was not offended. Rather, he answered with clarity and strength.
We find the key truth of this section in Habakkuk 2:4. Verses 4 and 5 go together by setting up a vivid contrast. The proud, unrighteous people will perish, but the righteous, by faith, will live. Verse 5 amplifies verse 4 by further describing this type of unrighteous person as proud and restless. This person is full of self-confidence, even presumption. Historically, this was the Babylonians and by application, it describes many today who turn away from God in their earthly success. The earth is filled with such people.
Look at the second half of verse 4 because it is one of the most important phrases in the entire Old Testament. “The righteous will live by faith” or as the NET Bible translates it, the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness.”
The word translated “faith” or “faithfulness” is the Hebrew word ‘emunah. Is ‘emunah in Habakkuk 2:4 picturing faith in God that makes us righteous or is it picturing faithful living which a righteous person should do to please God? In the immediate context, God was answering Habakkuk’s question about the unfair Babylonian invasion that was brutally crushing his people. God’s answer was that Habakkuk and his people were to be faithful to him in the face of it, and thus they would live.
Yet there doesn’t have to be a conflict between “by faith” or “by faithfulness.” As one commentator put it, “Faithful living and trust . . . are inextricably bound together.” The Hebrew term ‘emunah in all its forms and uses encompasses both trust and faithfulness. The Bible does not know of a true faith that is not faithful. And a faithful life comes from trust in our faithful God. “In other words, faith and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin.”
Paul quoted Habakkuk 2:4 as the theme for his entire amazing book of Romans.
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” — Romans 1:17, NIV
We are accepted by God through faith in Jesus Christ and then we live by faith.
Salvation is only by faith. You cannot work your way into God’s graces. You could never do enough good to get into heaven. Rather, salvation is a gift based on what Jesus Christ did on the cross. Your salvation is not free; it is very costly to God. If you have never done so, I urge you to trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior. God will forgive you. He will make you righteous before him by putting Christ’s righteousness to your account.
In spite of confusing circumstances, live by faith, faithfully following God’s Word that will certainly come to pass. God never explained why he was using the Babylonians. I doubt Habakkuk could have understood and neither could we. The point is not to understand everything God does and why, but rather to trust in God and faithfully follow his Word.
Tomorrow, we will see that God will hold Babylon accountable, as he does all people.
What are connections between “faith” and “faithfulness”? What does it mean to “live by faith(fulness)”? How do you need to live by faith/faithfulness?
Look up and read the three places in the New Testament that quote Habakkuk 2:4: Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38. How do these authors each use the quotation from Habakkuk? (Note: Their uses are not the same.)
The complete text of When God Makes No Sense: A Fresh Look at Habakkuk is available on Amazon. Bruce will donate all profits from the sale of his book this month to Christ Fellowship’s Love Fund to help those in need.
James Brucker, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah: The New Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 236.
 Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 438.