The Old Testament Presents... Reflections of Christ
by Paul R. Van Gorder
The prophet Habakkuk probably lived and proclaimed the message of God in the days of Josiah, the last [good] king of Judah. We may assume this because Josiah observed the Passover and attempted to purify the temple [following a long period of national neglect toward the service of the Lord]. As Nahum had to bear the burden of Nineveh, so Habakkuk was chosen to bear the burden of Judah, who would soon fall to the Babylonians. These Chaldeans were to be used of God for the punishment of the Jews.

Habakkuk's prophecy, like that of Nahum, consists of three brief chapters. His name means ''embracing.'' Not only did this name demonstrate his great love for God's people, but it also indicates that amid the gathering judgments, he was safe in the embrace of God's love. Like most Old Testament prophets, Habakkuk saw judgment, dispersion, and future glory. The prophet's mind and message are centered upon Jehovah Himself.

  1. The Prophet Pleads for Judah (ch. 1)
  2. God's Response: Judgment and Promise (ch.2)
  3. The Prophet's Prayer and Song (ch.3)
In Chapter 1, the announcement was made of the coming of the Chaldeans. Habakkuk earnestly entreated God to spare His people and deal justly with their enemies.

In Chapter 2, the prophet is in his watchtower, patiently waiting to hear how the Lord would respond to him. He learned that the vision was for an appointed time, ''but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry'' (v.3). This promise reaches beyond Habakkuk's day and brings us to the close of this present dispensation. Then follow four woes upon Babylon (v.9, 12, 15, 19). Babylon symbolizes the world's evil. But in the midst of this declaration of coming judgment, is a wonderful promise that breaks out like sunshine through the storm: ''For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea'' (v.14).

In Chapter 3 are recorded a prayer and song of the prophet that take in the whole history of God's relationship with Israel. The book closes with a lofty expression of the confidence of faith (v.17,18).

The keynote of faith rings throughout the entire prophecy. That resounding theme is introduced as follows: ''...the just shall live by his faith'' (2:4). This follows a dialog between Habakkuk and God, in which the prophet complained that God had permitted him to see only the iniquity of Israel (1:3). When Habakkuk learned that God was going to send the Chaldeans upon Judah as punishment for their sins, he challenged God. He asked why the Lord would use the heathen nation, when they were so much more wicked than God's covenant people. In fact, Habakkuk raised one of the common questions of the ages, ''Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity; why lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?'' (1:13). Much the same attitude was expressed by the psalmist when he wrote, ''For I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked'' (Psalm 73:3).

You and I must admit that the earth is filled with glaring inequity. The wicked do seem to prosper while the righteous suffer. And I'm sure you've asked the same question, perhaps in a different way.

We should pay close attention to the answer God gave the prophet Habakkuk. It will help make us better Christians, better servants of the Lord, and less inclined to complaining. Observe that Jehovah's answer began with the command to ''write the vision.'' The world needs this message; preserve it. ''...make it plain upon tablets'' (2:2); that is, carve it in stone, put it on the signposts so that every passerby can read it. In essence, Jehovah was saying that He wanted everyone to know His answer to the prophet's question.
The first thing we learn is that God is running things on schedule (2:3). Our time and God's time are not measured on the same dial. For centuries, Israel had to offer sacrifices for sins. They pointed toward Christ, the coming sacrifice for sins. But Israel became tired and lapsed into idolatry. Yet, ''when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son'' (Galatians 4:4). You can count on it-- not a single promise will fail! A thousand years are as a day in God's sight.
These truths are steppingstones to the theme verse of the book (2:4). It is God's answer to all the questions of Habakkuk, and it's His answer to the questions of our own souls as well. It's expressed in the words, ''The just shall live by his faith'' (Hab 2:4).
That great statement made by Jehovah to Habakkuk is repeated three times in the New Testament. All three express an aspect of the sufficient work of Christ on behalf of the believer. Although the truth is developed in the New Testament, the seedplot is in the Old, here in Habakkuk. We will benefit from a brief look at the three places the statement appears in the New Testament.
  1. Romans 1:17.
    This verse follows the well-known statement of the apostle, ''For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ'' (Rom 1:16). Paul continued, ''For in it is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith'' (Rom 1:17). The apostle is standing on the threshold of the great epistle of justification. This doctrine includes not only the wiping away of the believing sinner's guilt and the penalty of sin, but also the placing of the believer in a righteous position before God. God has left us a record, the Bible, telling us what He has done. By faith, we accept it. This is the initial step in the pathway of belief. Abel is the first example of this, because the Scripture says, ''By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous'' (Hebrews 11:4).
  2. Galatians 3:11.
    The next use of these words from Habakkuk is as follows: ''But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for, The just shall live by faith'' (Gal 3:11). Why did the apostle Paul use this quotation in writing to the Galatian Christians? Well, they had begun by faith. Paul had preached; they had believed. But now they were tempted to go back to the works of the law as a principle of the Christian walk. The apostle, therefore, showed them that just as they were saved by faith, they were to walk by faith. This is how Abraham ''looked for a city whose builder and maker is God'' (Heb 11:10) and did not know the place where he was going (Heb 11:8). In addition, he did not know how the seed was to be born (Heb 11:11). Nor did he know why Isaac would be offered and then raised (Heb 11:17-19). All of this speaks of the walk of faith.
  3. Hebrews 10:38.
    This quotation of the verse from Habakkuk appears in the context of scriptural teaching about the believer's assurance. When the night is blackest, faith pierces the darkness and sees the coming of morning.
         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. He let His servant know that He was working out His eternal purposes; He lets us know too. Here is a promise for our faith to rest upon: ''For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea'' (Hab 2:14).
         As in previous books of the Old Testament, the name ''LORD'' is the name ''Jehovah.'' This is the covenant-keeping God of redemption; it is the Lord Jesus Christ. Habakkuk's own faith shown through the shadows of great trial, and this song welled up within his heart: ''Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation'' (3:18). Who is the ''God of salvation''? ''Thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins'' (Mat 1:21).

See the Book Notes on Habakkuk for a verse by verse study of this book.

Return to table of contents for ''The Old Testament Presents... Reflections of Christ,''
written by Paul R. Van Gorder, Copyright 1982 by RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI.
Used by permission [within The Book from].
Further distribution is not allowed without permission from RBC.

For another brief look at this book of the Bible,
see the related chapter in Christ in All the Scriptures, by A.M. Hodgkin.

Go to The Book opening page.