|by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy
The writings of Habakkuk were well known to the authors of the New Testament, who did not underestimate the significance of Habakkuk's ministry. Although Habakkuk wrote during a unique time of crisis, when God was bringing a corrective judgment upon the people of Judah, the authors of the New Testament recognized that the teachings of Habakkuk are foundational for a correct understanding of the entire Christian walk of faith.
Habakkuk wrote about 600 years before the birth of Christ. He lived in a time of many prophets, among them Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Nahum. Babylonia was coming into power, threatening the security of Judah. The Babylonians were fierce warriors. They conquered the Assyrians to the north. The Egyptians under Pharoh Necho marched northward to stop them from further expansion. But in 605 B.C. at the historic Battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar soundly defeated the Egyptians. With Egyptian power largely broken, the Babylonians had free reign to consolidate and expand their power over Palestine.
As Habakkuk watched the Babylonians grow in strength, he wondered why God would allow pagans to become so powerful. He also wondered why God would allow those who had been faithful to Him to be overrun by such terrible warriors. In Scripture reminiscent of Job or of Abraham's discussion with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Habakkuk frankly but respectfully entered into conversation with the Lord. God told Habakkuk that He was about to use the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to bring judgment upon the people of Judah. The Babylonians would not fare better than the people of Judah, for the Babylonians would face judgment for their own sins later on. In the meantime, the Babylonians would be used as God's instruments of judgment, and it was the task of those who sought to be faithful to God to endure the difficulties of the coming days.
The coming years would include the military conquest of Judah culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the "Babylonian captivity," a period of seventy years when many Jews were deported to Babylon to serve those who had conquered them. Jermiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel wrote of those trying times.
In the midst of God's message is this charge: "the righteous will live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). The self-confident pride of the Chaldeans (1:7,10-11, 2:4) and, indeed, all who sin (2:9-19) is in stark contrast to the humble confidence in God that is characteristic of God's people. The arrogance of the sinner is based upon what is immediately obvious, whether success in some endeavor (such as military conquest) or reliance upon tangible objects like idols (1:15-17, 2:18-19). The person who knows God relys upon the character of God and His Word. Habakkuk would witness terrifying and discouraging events. No miracles of deliverance would make the presence of the living God obvious to His people. Instead, the knowledge that God had forecast these events and promised a future time of salvation (2:14) was to sustain His people as they lived through these difficult times.
Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in no less than three places in the New Testament: Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. In each case, this verse is used to help explain the very basis of our spiritual fellowship with God. In Galatians and Romans, Paul argues that faith in God's work through Jesus Christ can do for us what our "good works" can never do. Abraham himself, father of all Jews, entered into relationship with God by faith. All who desire to be true children of Abraham must also enter into a saving relationship with God by trusting in the character, word, and work of God.
Just as Habakkuk was asked to trust God regardless of circumstances, so, too, each true child of God must trust Him regardless of what the world seems to indicate. Hebrews 10:38 is at the beginning of a discussion of faith that continues through chapter 11 into chapter 12. After pointing out that none of those who were faithful received all that they hoped for and deserved while here on earth, the author of Hebrews turns our attention to "Jesus the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart" (12:2-3). Indeed, when others saw only defeat, when all of His disciples deserted Him and one denied knowing Him, when Roman soldiers mocked Him, when Herod and Pilate shared a joke about Him, when the Jewish religious leadership slapped Him around and spat upon Him, Jesus was able to go on to conquer the cross because of His faith. He saw beyond what was happening to what He knew would happen because of His faithfulness. In other words, Jesus saw "the joy set before Him," His resurrection and the salvation of all those who wished to turn to God, as if those events were already accomplished. He "saw" what was unseen because His hope and trust were in the realities of the one true God.
This is not a "leap of faith," which has nothing to do with true Christian faith. True Christian faith has its basis in the reality of God, His character, and nature as revealed by God in history. The Gospel begins with John the Baptist because the character of the witnesses to Christ, including John the Baptist, is of the utmost importance. Most, if not all, of the twelve disciples had been a part of the religious revival led by John the Baptist, a revival that stressed personal righteousness. It was not morally questionable men who lived with Jesus and observed His life and glory, but men who would not lie. Perhaps the clearest statement of the importance of the witnesses to Christ's resurrection is in I Corinthians 15, although Luke reminds his readers that his interest is in relating "the exact truth," and both Peter and John stress that they were first hand witnesses of what they proclaim about Christ (II Peter 1:16, I John 1:1-3). A "leap of faith" says, "no matter what you see about you, believe anyway," Christian faith says, "the evidence in favor of Christianity is stronger than the evidence around you that may seem to disprove it, take a stand on the strongest evidence, the resurrection of Christ." Or, to be more precise, the leap of faith says, "the evidence for Christianity is irrational," while Christianity says, "the evidence for Christianity provides a rational reason to ignore daily circumstances as the basis of your faith."
A Christian faith built upon circumstances lives or dies moment-by-moment according to what seems to take place. A Christianity built upon certain historical events is an eternal faith with a foundation in the real world. If Christians believe in God's desire to draw them close to Him in spite of the coldness of the world around them, it is because Christmas is always a part of their thinking. If Christians continue to believe in a resurrection to eternal life in spite of the prevalence of decay and death around them, it is because the triumph of Christ at Easter lives in their hearts.
The faith described in Scripture is not a faith in events in themselves, but a faith in the reality, nature, and character of God Himself. It is faith in the reliability of a living, supernatural, supreme Person. We are not called to have faith in salvation, but in a God who saves; in healing, but in a God who heals; in Divine intervention, but in a God who rules history - all in the time and manner that He chooses.
Walking by faith does not preclude miracles. Certainly God has used miracles to validate the ministries of His servants, especially the work of the early apostles (Hebrews 2:4), and God often intervenes in a supernatural manner to bring people to Him (Acts 10:1-7). However, if the Christian life is one of constant, predictable, visible miracles, there is no longer a walk of faith, but a walk by sight. It is for a reason greater than the need to maintain variety that God did not continue to provide manna and quail to the Israelites who entered the promised land, but forced them to produce their own sustenance.
The witch doctor, medium, whirling dervish, native high on narcotics, all seek assurance of the supernatural in an altered state of consciousness or a type of physical manifestation. The idolator seeks it in some tangible object such as wealth, a "charm," object of worship, holy place, or some other physical religious object.
Paul had something far different in mind as he explained faith. The re-ordering of three pieces of Scripture helps us to understand his teaching without, I believe, doing violence to the texts themselves: "for we walk by faith, not by sight," "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen;" "for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one hope for what he sees?" (II Corinthians 5:7, 4:18, Romans 8:24).
For Peter, faith is the basis for all Christian actions. The Christian does not decide what is right or wrong according to the results, but according to what pleases God (I Peter 1:14-19). If those actions lead to suffering, that is not an indication that God is absent or doesn't care, for those circumstances have nothing to do with the Christian's true status or reward (I Peter 1:3-9, 4:19).
Faith is not just the entrance into the Christian life, the means whereby we receive God's grace, faith is the proper posture of the Christian toward God throughout this age. This does not preclude any manifestation of God's presence and glory as He chooses, it does preclude making the presence of these a requirement for Christian spirituality, worship, or security.
First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 3, March 1995.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
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