Faith in the Midst of Despair

KEY VERSE: “The just shall live by his faith.” —Habakkuk 2:4

SELECTED SCRIPTURE: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:17-19

HABAKKUK was greatly distressed because of the iniquity and strife he observed among his people. He apparently had prayed much about this matter, asking the Lord to correct it, but nothing had changed. In this prophecy, he beseeches the Lord again: “O Lord how long shall I cry and thou wilt not hear; even cry unto thee of violence and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou show me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the Law is slacked and judgment doth never go forth, for the wicked doth compass about the righteous, therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.” The prophet was evidently disturbed that God seemingly paid no heed to this deplorable situation.

Then the Lord revealed to Habakkuk his intention to punish Israel at the hand of the Chaldeans. (vss. 5-11) The prophet did not understand this, and wondered why God would use those who were even more unrighteous to punish his people. (vss. 12-17) After expressing these thoughts, Habakkuk said that he would stand upon his watch to see what the Lord would answer. The Lord’s answer was this: “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet 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.”—Hab. 2:2,3

We know that the vision which the prophet was instructed to write, and to make plain upon tablets, pertains to the time of our Lord’s second advent, because the Apostle Paul, referring to these words of Habakkuk makes this application clear in his letter to the Hebrews. After commending the brethren to whom he was writing, on their willingness to take joyfully the spoiling of earthly goods, he reminds them that they did this because their hope was in heaven. He refers to this hope as “A better and enduring substance” (Heb. 10:34), a “great recompense of reward” (vs. 35), and receiving “the promise.” (vs. 36) He further states that the fulfilling of this heavenly promise would be at the time of Jesus’ second presence.

From the human standpoint this was still a long way off, and in the apostle’s writings there is evidence that to the Lord’s people in the Early Church, his coming seemed to tarry. Daniel, in prophecy, symbolically pictured those who lived further down in the Gospel Age as looking forward to the time when “Michael shall stand up,” and saying, “How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?” (Dan. 12:1,6) And even we who are living at the end, in the very time of our Lord’s second presence, feel a sense of tarrying, waiting for the fruition of our heavenly hope. But the apostle reminds us it is in reality only a “little while” and, in the words of Habakkuk, God says, “It will not tarry.” (Heb. 10:37) And then, quoting again from the prophet, he reveals that this waiting has been a vital test of faith from the very beginning of the age until its end. “Now the just shall live by faith.”—vs. 38

How similar is our situation to that of Habakkuk’s, as we see various godless influences threatening the world. But unlike many people who wonder why the Lord does not take action against these enemies, our faith is strengthened because we have the vision of his Word, and understand that these fearful changes in the world play a role in the passing away of this present order, preparatory to Christ’s kingdom.

Like Habakkuk, we can be resolute in our faith, and put our full trust in the Lord regardless of the waiting or hardships required. In the closing verses of his book, the prophet writes a beautiful expression of his faith, in words that also give voice to ours, viewing its setting as a prophecy of our time. “He stood, and measured the earth, he beheld, and drove asunder the nations, and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow.” (Hab. 3:6) Out of this trouble will come forth the proclamation, “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him.”—Hab. 2:20

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