Clinging to Christ
There is an appointed day of wrath and judgment. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). The God who made us has "appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).
If you do not live in the conscious awareness of that fact, in the conscious awareness of the fact that you must soon stand before the holy Lord God in judgment, in the conscious anticipation of eternity, you are living in a fantasy of unreality. You are living as a fool, in a dream world, refusing to face the facts of reality. Soon, you and I must stand before that august bar of divine judgment called, “The Great White Throne” (2 Cor. 5:10-11; Rev. 20:11-15).
To live in unbelief, to live in contempt of and rebellion against Christ is to store up for yourself wrath against the day of wrath and the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:5). In that day there will only be two groups of people, the just and the damned, the justified and the unjustified, the righteous and the wicked, those who are eternally saved and those who are eternally damned.
If ever you come to face that fact, if ever you come to grips with reality, you will be forced to ask some questions. You will be compelled to ask, “How can I live before God?” “How can I escape the wrath and judgment of God in that great day when he consumes the world in his holy terror?” “How can I be just with God?” If you are not asking yourself such questions, you live in utter naivety, with your head in the sand. If such questions have become matters of concern to you, if you would know how to escape the righteous judgment of God and the fury of his unmitigated wrath in hell, read the Book of Habakkuk.
There is a statement found in Habakkuk 2:4 that is quoted three times in the New Testament. ― “The just shall live by his faith.” In Romans 1:17 the emphasis is on righteousness, the righteousness of God that we receive by faith in Christ. In Galatians 3:11 the emphasis is on faith. Paul is declaring that believers do not obtain righteousness by their own works, but by faith in Christ alone. In Hebrews 10:38 the emphasis is on life, on living by faith. The Holy Spirit there declares that those who have been made righteous, receiving the righteousness of God in Christ by faith in Christ, live throughout their days on this earth by that same faith, trusting Christ.
Habakkuk seems to have all three of these ideas in mind. He tells us that sinners obtain righteousness and life by faith in Christ and that, being made righteous, God’s people live by faith in Christ. We know that that is Habakkuk’s message, because he sings praise to Christ our Savior in the prophetic song of chapter 3. "Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah" (v. 13; compare Matt. 1:21).
In a word, Habakkuk’s message is this: There is only one way to live. If we would live, if we would escape the wrath and judgment of God, we must live by faith, clinging to Christ. Indeed, Habakkuk’s name means “embrace, or cling,” and his message is just that. If we would live, we must live by clinging to the Lord.
The meaning of the word “Shigionoth” is doubtful. Some suggest that it means “ignorance.” Others think it means “stringed instrument.” Perhaps it is best to give it both meanings. Certainly, it is best to do so here. Habakkuk is here declaring, “Though I am ignorant before him, I will bow to my God, worship him, and sing praise to him upon my stringed instruments.” His song begins with a prayer, ends with a determined contentment of faith, and everything between is praise.
This is the prayer with which Habakkuk begins his song. ― "O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy" (3:2).
He heard God’s pronunciation of wrath, and was afraid, not for himself, but for those the Lord was determined to punish in his holy indignation. God’s prophet was not unmoved by the fact that multitudes were to perish forever. He bowed to God’s revealed purpose; but he was terrified at the prospect of multitudes under the everlasting fury of the holy Lord God.
Then, he prays for God’s church and kingdom. ― (1.) He prays for the Lord to revive, that is to preserve, his work in the midst of his judgment. Then, (2.) he prays for the Lord to make himself known in the midst of the years of darkness and desolation, in the midst of his judgment. And (3.) he calls for the Lord God, in wrath, to remember mercy.
This was Habakkuk’s situation. Judah was going to be invaded by the Chaldeans (Babylonians). The invasion took place at the end of the sixth century B.C., when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. The Lord revealed this to his prophets long before it actually took place. He told them plainly that Judah was going to be punished for her sin, and that the instrument he would use to punish Judah would be Babylon. Unlike Joel, Zephaniah, and Amos, Habakkuk does not mention the possibility that judgment might be averted. He does not call for national repentance. It is too late for repentance. Instead, he declares the inevitable destruction of Judah and, beyond that, the doom of the Chaldeans themselves.
Yet, he declares that the only way to escape the coming wrath and judgment of God is by faith, by believing God. Though judgment is certain, he declares that those who believe shall live. Carrying the heavy, heavy burden the Lord God had put upon him, Habakkuk cries out in 1:2-4 that Judah is full of violence, strife, and contention, that the nation had utterly cast aside God’s holy law. “Therefore,” he says, “judgment proceedeth.”
In verses 5-11 the prophet faithfully declares the precise method by which the Lord God would destroy the nation. He was raising up the pagan, idolatrous, ungodly, barbarian Chaldeans, a vile, immoral, wretched people, to execute his wrath against a people who professed to be his people and appeared to be far more righteous than those who would destroy them. It was a prophecy so contrary to nature and reason, that when it came to pass the people would deny that God did it, though he had plainly told them he was going to do it (1:5).
Assurance of Life
Now, look at verse 12. Here the prophet of God speaks with absolute confidence, assuring God’s true saints, the true believers, among those who professed faith in him, that God’s judgment by which he would destroy the rest would not destroy them. ― "Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction."
In verses 2 and 3 the prophet cried beneath the heavy weight of his burden. “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!…Why dost thou show me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance?” Then, at the end of the chapter (1:13-17), he asked the Lord to explain himself to him, to explain to him why he would choose to use the Chaldeans to punish Judah? His question is, “How is it you, O Lord, God who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, will execute your wrath upon Judah by a people even worse than they?”
These were not the questions of a rebel, or a reprobate unbeliever, but the questions of a faithful man perplexed by God’s providential works. We might not be honest enough to put them into verbal expressions; but they are questions that frequently disturb us too. Are they not? These questions remind us of David’s great struggle in Psalm 73.
We must admit that we have struggled with the same questions. The earth is filled with glaring inequity. The wicked do seem to prosper while the righteous suffer. After raising the questions, Habakkuk resolves to wait for God's answer. We would be wise to do the same, and to lay the answer to heart.
In chapter 2 Habakkuk stands upon his watchtower to await God’s answer, and the Lord gave it to him in a vision. He does not tell us what he saw, but it must be assumed that the rest of his prophecy is the result of the vision God gave him. I say that because God commanded him to write out the vision and make it plain (Vv. 2-3). And the declaration of God’s vision was first and foremost a word of instruction, reproof, and assurance to Habakkuk and to us (v. 4). Let us hear the instruction, bear the reproof, and rejoice in the assurance. ― “The just shall live by his faith.”
The first thing we learn is that God is running things right on schedule (2:3). Our time and God's time are not measured by the same clock. Israel offered sacrifices for centuries in anticipation of Christ, the coming Sacrifice by whom sin would be put away. The Jews, in unbelief, fell into idolatry and were cast off by God, because, they refused to live by faith. They stumbled over the Stumbling-Stone. Going about to establish their own righteousness, they refused to submit to the righteousness of God, never realizing that, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” “The just shall live by his faith.” But they refused to believe and perished.
Yet, ''when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5). You can count on it, not one thing willed, purposed, predestined, and/or promised by God will fail to be accomplished, and accomplished in exactly the way and at the precise time God has ordained. A thousand years are as a day in God's sight. He never gets in a hurry, and he is never late.
This is God's answer to all Habakkuk’s questions and his answer to our own questions as well. ― ''The just shall live by his faith'' (Hab 2:4). As I mentioned at the beginning of this study, this great statement made by God to Habakkuk is repeated three times in the New Testament. Each place describes a specific aspect of Christ’s all-sufficient and infallibly effectual work on behalf of his people as our Surety and Substitute.
The first New Testament quotation is found in Romans 1:17. It follows Paul’s declaration, ''For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom 1:16). Then the says, ''For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith'' (Rom 1:17).
In Romans 1 Paul is standing, as it were, upon the threshold of his great Epistle on Justification, in which he shows us how sinners are made righteous and just before God, not by works, but by grace. In the Book of God, we are given an inspired record of his wondrous work of redemption by Christ, a record of redemption accomplished by the righteousness and blood of his darling Son. Faith believes God’s witness, says, “Amen,” to the testimony of God concerning his Son, and believing the record God has given concerning his Son, believing God, we receive righteousness, free, unconditional, irrevocable and eternal justification. Faith does not make us righteous. Christ did that at Calvary (Rom. 4:25). Faith receives the atonement and the righteousness brought in by it (Rom. 5:11). Like our brother Abel, believing God, offering God the blood of his own Son, we obtain witness that we are righteous (Heb. 11:4).
The second quote is in Galatians 3:11. ― “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for, The just shall live by faith.” Here, Paul is saying much the same thing as he wrote in Colossians 2:6. ― “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” The Galatians were being tempted by false preachers, Judaizing legalists, that, having been saved by grace (justified by grace), they must now keep themselves and make themselves perfect, that they must sanctify themselves by their own works.
Paul is not confusing justification and sanctification, but clarifying them. In the context (3:1-10) he is clearly addressing the matter of sanctification. He is telling us that both are found in Christ, that both are received by trusting Christ, that both are works of grace received by faith. He is saying, “If you could make yourself perfect by works, you could justify yourself by your works. But that is evidently impossible, “for the just shall live by faith!’”
In Galatians 3:11 Paul is talking about the believer’s walk of life in this world. Just as we are saved by faith, we continue in life by faith.
We see Habakkuk’s words again in Hebrews 10:38. Here the Holy Spirit is talking about perseverance and the assurance of it (Heb. 10:39). When the night is darkest, faith pierces the darkness and, seeing the light of God’s promise and grace in Christ, refuses to quit. Faith, like Habakkuk’s name implies, “embraces and clings to Christ.”
Habakkuk tells us that judgment is coming. Every proud rebel shall be destroyed. But, even in the midst of the providential calamities of divine judgment in time, and when the great and final day of wrath shall come, those who live by faith have their eyes on One who is the Anchor of their souls, knowing that he is in his holy temple (2:14, 20). ― "For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea."
Certainly, this is talking about that last day, when judgment is over and God makes all things new. It is equally certain that this is talking about this gospel age, in which the gospel of God’s free, sovereign, saving, grace and glory in Christ is spread over all the earth, even as God destroys the nations by the great whore of false religion, Babylon.
Still, there is more. If you have a marginal translation, you will see that the words of verse 14 might be translated, “the earth shall be filled by knowing the glory of the Lord.” That is to say, “We who believe God, who live by faith, knowing the glory of God in Christ, see the fulness of God’s purpose in all things through all the earth” (Rom. 8:28-39). This is exactly what our Lord declares to be the case in John 11:40.
The Book of Habakkuk closes with Habakkuk’s great prayer of praise and faith. He gives us a great description of God’s majesty. He declares the wondrous history of God's dealings with his people in bringing them into Canaan, which portrayed the far greater blessedness that is ours in Christ, as we behold him who is the brightness of the Father's glory (Heb. 1:3).
Three times in this prayer Habakkuk uses the exclamation, ''Selah,'' a word found nowhere else in the Bible except in the Psalms. This word is a call for us to pause, be silent, and consider. Someone suggested it means, “Listen to the divine illuming, to the divine light.” How we need this silence of soul before the Lord God in these days! Let us pause and listen to the divine light.
As it was upon Mt. Sinai that the whole earth was full of the glory of God (vv. 3-4), so it is now. If only we had eyes to see it, the whole earth is full of God’s praise. One day soon, all things shall show forth his praise.
Even when God marches through the earth in wrath, with his glittering sword drawn, he is riding upon his “chariots of salvation” (v. 8), and goes forth for the salvation of his people by Christ, his anointed (vv. 12-13).
We are justified by faith; we walk by faith; we will be delivered by faith. This is the vision God gave the prophet of old. Habakkuk declares, “God is working out his eternal purpose of grace for the salvation of his people. In wrath, he does remember mercy. He is making himself known. He is preserving his church and kingdom. Blessed be his holy name!”
Knowing this, the troubled, heavy-hearted prophet closes his song and his prophecy with a marvelous declaration of determined faith, bowing to the wisdom, goodness and grace of God’s adorable providence, even when it appears dark and difficult (vv. 17-19).
"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments."