The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

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The Season after Pentecost 2022  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  14:14
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The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

At the start of his most influential letter, Paul says this:
Romans 1:16 ESV
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
And then he says:
Romans 1:17 (ESV)
For in it the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ) is revealed from faith (ἐκ πίστεως) for faith (εἰς πίστιν), as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
This quotation is from our Old Testament reading this morning. Paul is quoting Hab 2:4, and given the way in which Paul quotes this passage here and in Galatians 3, its significance for Paul is obvious.

But what does it mean?

Often it’s suggested that Paul isn’t really aware of the OT context for many of his quotations. In this case, it’s suggest that Paul is aware that this particular phrases exists somewhere in the Old Testament and so he uses it because it helps him make his point. If that’s the case, then there’s no point in looking at Habakkuk for Paul’s understanding of faith because Paul doesn’t have Habakkuk in mind. To find out what Paul means, we only need to look at what Paul has said.
However, as some of you know, I am not convinced that Paul is as contextually unaware as some scholars say he is. I think he knew his “Bible” well, and I think you should too. Plus, Habakkuk is our reading this morning and not Romans 1, so I want to look at what Habakkuk meant when he wrote the words...
Habakkuk 2:4b (ESV)
... the righteous shall live by his faith.
The book of Habakkuk was written sometime near the fall of Assyria and the rise of Babylon, so probably between 640-615 BCE, so about 2600 years ago. At the start of the book, the prophet makes a complaint to the Lord. He wants to know why the Lord permits violence and iniquity even among the people of God. Habakkuk is a bit sparse on historical details, so we’re left to fill in the blanks a bit, but it appears that in 1:2-4 the prophet complains that God’s people are not who they are supposed to be God continues to allow it. The people’s sin goes unchecked, the law is useless, and there is no justice, or more precisely, what justice their is is perverted.
Habakkuk 1:4 ESV
So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
God’s answer to this complaint is shocking. It spawns Habakkuk’s second complaint. God says,
Habakkuk 1:5 ESV
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.
Knowing what God is about to tell Habakkuk, I can picture the prophet going, “Uh oh. ‘Even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me’? That doesn’t sound good.” And it’s not good. God says, in answer to the people of my people, just like I raised up the Assyrians to judge Israel, so now I am raising up the Chaldeans to judge Judah.
Habakkuk 1:6–11 ESV
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
To which I can hear Habakkuk reply, “You’re going to do what? through whom?” Guilty men? Whose own might is there God? That’s who you’re going to use to solve the problem of violence and iniquity in the land? But that can’t be God.
Habakkuk 1:12 ESV
Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
You’re from everlasting. You’re Holy. You’re my God.
Habakkuk 1:13 ESV
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?
Notice that phrase, “more righteous than he.” How can God use the an unrighteous, godless (in terms of serving the true God), unholy people like the Chaldeans to judge his people, who might be bad, but certainly they are more righteous than the Chaldeans. How can you, a holy God, permit this?
Habakkuk continues for a bit, saying some more bad things about the Chaldeans, and he uses a metaphor that we might call fishers of people, but instead of fishing for the people’s salvation, the Chaldeans are capturing the whole world in their fishing nets and devouring them. Remember that the prophet said that their own might as their God. Now he says,
(the singular he here refers to the Chaldeans as a whole or possibly to their king)
Habakkuk 1:16–17 ESV
Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?
If God will use unrighteous people to bring judgment on the righteous, what then? Will God let the unrighteous reign forever? Will he let them devour nations and cities and towns forever? Will they live by their might and power and privilege and prestige forever? No. For God answers the prophet and declares that judgment will come upon the unrighteous, but not yet, for the vision of that judgment still awaits its appointed time.
Habakkuk 2:3 ESV
For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
The one who lives like the Chaldeans, God says, like people who trust in their power, their privilege, their prestige, and their prosperity, those people are puffed up. Their souls are not right within them.
Habakkuk 2:4 ESV
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.
But in contrast, the righteous shall live by faith, which means, in the midst of a world full of sin, in the midst of a world full of violence and wickedness, in the midst of a world where God can even use the unrighteous to judge the righteous, that God’s people, the righteous, must always live in hope of the day when God will set the world to rights.
Habakkuk 2:3 ESV
For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
And in case you can’t see the punchline here, that vision, that appointed time for which the righteous must wait faithfully, that day is announced in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the announcement of the death and resurrection of Jesus in which God has judged the powers of this world and begun to set the world to writes so that one day the vision of Habakkuk will come true and the earth...
Habakkuk 2:14 ESV
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Not just filled with the glory of God, for the glory of God is always there. The angels sing of it. We say it and sing of it. But knowledge… recognition… of that glory by the whole world. Ask yourself, how do waters cover the sea? They can’t be separated, and that’s the point. A day is coming, when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as waters cover the sea. A day is coming when God’s righteousness will stand forth and all the wickedness in this world will be judged and all the world will be turned upside like Mary said it would, and to live by faith, as Habakkuk says and as Paul says, is to wait in hope for that day, a day which has already begun in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Habakkuk 2:3 ESV
For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
It may feel like that day will never come, but it will, and to wait for it is to live by faith.
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