Habakkuk II. Justification By Faith. Its Development.

Key Notes: Faith is indispensable. But knowledge and obedience are also required. Loss of justification by faith in Church history. Faith: facts, obedience, reliance.

Habukkuk 2:2–4 contains a key doctrine. It is used three times in the New Testament, twice by Paul and once the writer of Hebrews. It was so important that it became the theme of the Reformation.

Ribbi Simlai (a sage of the Talmud in the early 300’s AD) said this about Habakkuk and the Law:
            Moses gave Israel 613 commandments.
            David reduced them to 11. The godly….
                        Walks blamelessly,
                        Does what is right,
                        Speaks truth from his heart,
                        Does not slander with his tongue,
                        Does no evil to his friend,
                        Takes up no reproach against his neighbor.
                        In his eyes a reprobate is despised.
                        He honors those who fear the Lord,
                        Swears to his own hurt and does not change,
                        Does not put out his money at interest,
                        Does not take a bribe against the innocent.
                        He who does these things shall never be moved. Psalm 15
            Micah reduced the commandments to three.
                        Do Justice.
                        Love mercy.
                        Walk humbly with your God. Mic.6:8
            Isaiah reduced them to two.
                        Keep justice.
                        Do righteousness. Isa.56:1
            Habakkuk reduced them to one.
                        The just shall live by faith.Hab.2:4

So for Judaism, as for Christianity , Hab.2:2–4 is a pivotal passage.

2:3–4 "For still the vision awaits its 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.
Behold he whose soul is puffed up/proud is not upright.
But the righteous by his faith shall live."

The vision will evidently unfold. It may be ten years until the Babylonian attack. The one whose soul is puffed up is the treacherous, arrogant, greedy, drunken Babylonian, since the text goes immediately on to talk about the invaders and their fate with five "Woes".
“The righteous by his faith” determines who shall live through the invasion: those who trust in the Lord. We need to explore the meaning of these important words in the OT and the NT.

Our English Bible depends on the Hebrew Masoretic text. The Greek OT (LXX), however, is important because it was used extensively by Paul and other NT writers in quoting and interpreting the Old Testament. So we will study contrasts between the Hebrew and the Greek. The Greek translation (LXX, 200BC) of Hab.2:3–4 reads differently from the authorized Hebrew OT version in several important ways.

The Hebrew text, on which our authorized OT version relies, says "If it seems slow, wait for it."
The Greek translation is " If he tarries, wait for him"  This suggests that the vision involves a person.Thus it becomes a Messianic reference. Hebrews 10:37 makes it clearer: “For yet a little while and the Coming One shall come and shall not tarry. “ Christ is coming-- again.

"The righteous shall live by his faith." in the authorized OT version becomes “the just shall live by my faith” in the Greek. This implies that the faith in question belongs to God. The NT confirms this. ( "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing.....Eph.2:8–10)

"He whose soul is not upright in him shall fail" in the authorized OT version is "If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him" in the Greek. This points the finger of concern to the convert who has a tendency to backslide, rather than the Babylonian who is already condemned.

Summing up, the vision will unfold in time. The Babylonian captivity is part of the answer. The coming of Messiah is the next answer. The just shall live--and live by faith--and not draw back.


Justification by faith was known to Abraham in 2000BC.
“And be believed the Lord and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Gen.15:6

This truth has been lost repeatedly and must be recovered. The concepts in Hab.2:2–4 were obscured  after the Exile. Disobedience in the form of idolatry was perceived to be the sin for which Israel had been exiled. Doing the Law became very important. Ezra was a model. “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to do it and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Ezra.7:10

By the time of Christ, legalism was deeply rooted in the minds of the most devout of Israel. Jesus fought against the Pharisees because it was obvious that they had an external morality but no change of heart. When the crowd asked Jesus “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Jn.6:29

*Justification would not  “ come through works of the Law, but through faith in Christ”. (Gal.2:15–16). In the next chapter of Galatians,  Paul quotes Hab.2:3
“Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law, for ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’; but the law does not rest on faith, for ‘he who does them shall live by them.’” Gal.3:11–12

*Justification depends on the righteousness of God.
“I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’.” Rom.1:16–17 with Hab.2:4 again

*Justification is a gift of God’s grace through Christ's atoning sacrifice.
“…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith. “ Rom.3:23–25

*Justification is reckoned to our account as a covenant transaction, an acquittal from penalty,
“It will be reckoned to us who believe in Him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.” Rom.4:24
It is reckoned to us just as it was to Abraham. “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” Rom.4:3

Some truths of the New Testament were blunted by the early church. The creed was very important because the deity of Christ was being challenged by at least six heresies. The Apostles Creed, the Nicean Creed and the Athanasian Creed were early efforts to crystallize the Scriptural teaching on the Trinity and the Deity and humanity of Christ. The moral rule of faith, The Didache, was also important. Assent to the authority of the bishops kept the untutored early believers on track. So the creed,  the moral rules and the church’s authority were emphasized. Faith in these became the passport to baptism. Then one could rest in the church. So faith became a vote of confidence in the church even if one did not understand the details. As one young modern put it “You join the community and the community carries you into heaven”. Faith in Christ became faith in the Church.

Further, in Catholic doctrine righteousness comes by degrees, and not by decree. It is infused by participation in the sacraments. That makes justification the same as sanctification. The Church demanded and received total control of the spiritual life of its members through the sacraments. Luther did not understand the system. He took holy orders. He celebrated Mass. He confessed to Staupitz until his confessor was impatient. Penance did not work. He slept on a board in the cold. He went on pilgrimage to Rome and climbed the steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral on his knees.

Staupitz sent him off to study and teach theology. Luther was teaching Romans. He .says
“I had greatly longed to understand Paul’s letter to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression ‘the righteousness of God’ because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and acts righteously in punishing the unrighteous….Night and day I pondered until…I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.” (quoted in Romans, J. Stott; IVP,’94; p.21)

Faith is a much harder concept to discuss than justification. The Hebrews had no noun-form for faith. They used several words usually in verb form which convey faithfulness, firmness, trustworthiness, trusting in God, holding on with confidence. Th essence is that faith is something you do rather than a thing in itself.

We must accept the fact that as a gift from God, our faith gets us no merit. (Jesus’ description of great faith and little faith is a puzzle. My impression about “great faith ” is that it involves miracles Jesus did —miracle faith-- rather than saving faith.)

If we acknowledge that we have no merit in ourselves, then our faith has no merit either. Yet it is indispensable to salvation.
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Heb.11:6
And having faith is necessary to “keep their souls”. Heb.10:39

Faith is a gift.
“By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift from God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Eph.2:8

There appear to be three components to saving faith:
            A. Facts that we assent to. We must know the truth of what God says.
            B. Obedience to God’s word, an action step toward God.
            C. Reliance on God. We must rest our whole weight on Him.

A. If our faith consists only of facts, we are reminded that the demons believe in one God, too. (Jm.2:19) Faith that deals only with truth, facts, and doctrine makes good theology, but not salvation.
B. If faith consists of obedience only, doing the commandments, we are legalists.
C. If faith consists only of reliance on God, without facts or obedience, we are mystics.
A+B. If we have facts and obedience to the law without reliance on God, we are like Pharisees. Their religion was only outward, superficial, hypocritical.
A+C. If we have facts and trust in God but no obedience to the will of God, we are lawless Antinomians and in danger of moral ship-wreck.
B+C. If we have faith in God and obedience, but little knowledge of the truth, we can drift into Mormonism or other non-Christian religions. “Trust and obey” is not enough.

The hardest of the three parts to grasp is that we must rest our whole weight on God, take a tight hold of God and not let go. The idea that we can choose to lose our salvation is on the face of it, absurd. Why would an almost drowned person wish to fall back in the water after being rescued ? Go back to choking and gagging and suffocating and panic?

In our times, regeneration has been the central theme. “New Life” in Christ is the rallying cry. The second emphasis is on the presence of the Holy Spirit. The other doctrines are not much talked about. Being justified by faith is not popular. God must not be thought of as judge. People are not sinners, they are just “broken”. You can  see that  “the whole counsel of God” has been neglected in preaching for the last 50 years. Know it anyway.

In a word, Hab.2:2–4 has again disappeared from the purview of believers. Will we end up with faith without obedience or facts—mysticism?