Today’s reading: Habakkuk – Zephaniah.
Wrestling is at the heart of Habakkuk. The prophet was wrestling with God when he wrote the book. Why were the wicked prospering? What was God up to as he delayed judgment? When would God act and make things right? Habakkuk lived in Jerusalem at a time, before the exile, when the wickedness of Judah’s political and religious leaders seemed ripe and overdue for judgment.
Martin Luther was wrestling with God 2,000 years later when Habakkuk took center stage in his thoughts. He was struggling with assurance of salvation, and failing to find peace with God by his own works, when the reality of “the just shall live by faith” blazed into his soul.
“Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because, not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words – ‘The just shall live by faith!’ ‘The just shall live by faith!’ – then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God.”
Habakkuk’s wrestling brought him face-to-face with God’s answer that he would act soon by sending Babylon to punish Judah. Luther’s wrestling put an end to his struggle to find peace with God, and helped launch the Reformation. The New Testament writers understood the significance of God’s statement to Habakkuk, using it three different times to magnify each of the three key words.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from 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 1:16-17
The just person is the righteous person. They are righteous because they have been restored to a right relationship with God. They have been justified, declared legally innocent of all charges. This righteousness is the character of the man or woman of faith. Living by faith is the lifestyle of the just or righteous person.
“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.'” Galatians 3:10-12
Paul’s point in Galatians is that eternal life comes by faith. The one who finds life finds it by faith, not by keeping the works of the law. Another way to state the same fact is that the person who lives a life of faith is the one who will gain eternal life.
“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” Hebrews 11:36-39
The writer of Hebrews stressed that faith was the necessary ingredient for salvation. We keep believing in order to receive what God has promised. Perseverance or patient endurance describes the faith that assures salvation.
Habakkuk began by questioning God’s methods, but he ended by living out the righteous faith that God ordained. He was able to speak words of hope that have set an example for all who wrestle with difficult situations. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Image by Diogo Martins on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0