We have all experienced asking God for something and waiting for an answer or the result we request. The prophet asked the Lord why the wait: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not hear? Or cry to You ‘Violence!’ and You will not save? Why do You make me see iniquity, and why do You idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Hab 1:2-4)
And then we see His first response to the prophets question because of his limited vision: “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.” (Hab 1:5) We see this Scripture used again in the New Testament, with a warning attached: “Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.'” (Acts 13:40-41)
Most of us are not patient people, but we should see Habakkuk’s example of calling out to the Lord, and then waiting to see what He will say (Hab 2:1), because the Lord will respond: “And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 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. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2:2-4)
This nation had become proud or “puffed up.” As a result, they were unrighteous and facing God’s judgment. Sound familiar? In contrast, the righteous (or the “just”) would live by faith in God. By contrast, the righteous are humble in God’s eyes and won’t face God’s judgment. Hab 2:4 is quoted three times in the New Testament. Paul quotes it in Romans, emphasizing the idea that righteousness by faith is for both Jews and Gentiles: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” (Rom 1:17)
Then, in another epistle Paul stresses that we are justified or made right before God by faith. The Law has no ability to justify anyone. “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” (Gal 3:11) As Habakkuk recorded, people have always been saved by faith, not by works.
The book of Hebrews also reminds us of this message in the context of reminding us that we will struggle, but we must remember where our confidence should come from (not ourselves): “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings” (Heb 10:32) And he goes on to say, “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” (Heb 10:34-35)
We are further reminded of God’s message throughout His Scripture: “For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.'” (Heb 10:37-38)
Christians are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), and we walk in faith (2 Cor 5:7). Only by faith in Christ are we made righteous (Rom 5:19). Paul further expounds on this truth: “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal 2:16)
It is Christ’s righteousness that saves us, and the only way to receive that gift is to trust in Him. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) When Habakkuk wrote, “The righteous shall live by his faith,” he was echoing a timeless truth first modeled in Abraham’s life (Gen 15:6). The righteous man will “live” in that he will not face God’s judgment; rather, in return for his faith in God, he has been given eternal life.