The righteous shall live by faith.
For most Bible students, that sentence may be the only thing that comes to mind about the book of Habakkuk. This is understandable given its multiple uses in the New Testament (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). We who hold to the doctrine of sola fide cherish this great truth, and for good reason.
But is that the only thing worth cherishing in the book of Habakkuk? In the words of Paul, me genoito . . . By no means! The great truths of Habakkuk come to life as one discovers the message of the entire book.
The book opens with the question of how long the Lord would allow his servant to cry for help and yet receive no salvation. The Lord quickly interrupts the prophet’s lament and heightens the situation with this declaration:
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.
What is this “work” that God is going to do? In the immediate context, the “work” is God raising up the Chaldeans, a violent and impetuous nation, to carry out judgment upon His disobedient people. This understanding seems clear from the first half of the book.
However, this is not the end of the story, for we see another instance of the Lord’s “work” in Habakkuk 3. There the prophet prays that the Lord would revive His “work” and make it known “in the midst of the years.” The work called for in the prayer of chapter 3 is none other than an act of “mercy” (3:2) and a renewal of God’s work of “salvation” (3:13). In fact, Habakkuk takes joy in the God of his salvation (3:18). The “work” that God was doing was more than an act of “wrath” (3:2); it was an act of “salvation.” Thus, we see the purpose of the book: The righteous person will live by faith, patiently awaiting God’s work of salvation.
As for us who live on this side of the cross, Paul agrees. In Acts 13:41, Paul clearly understood Habakkuk’s message. The “work” that God was doing was none other than the salvation that was to be found in God’s “anointed” (a term mentioned in Hab 3:13). The events surrounding the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, were the fulfillment of the book of Habakkuk.
Habakkuk had cried for God to rescue him from a people of violence, from the consequences of God’s judgment, and had committed to trust the God of his salvation. We have the privilege of enjoying the fulfillment of Habakkuk’s prayer. The salvation that Habakkuk was patiently waiting for is ultimately found in none other than the Son of David, through whom men are forgiven, through whom men are made righteous. Habakkuk was willing to wait patiently in faith for God to complete His work. Are we?