I have had the opportunity to study of of the most succinct statements of the gospel in the entire Bible, let alone the Old Testament:
“Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
The third and final clause in this verse (“But the righteous shall live by faith.”) is essentially composed of three words, but built on the broad context of Scripture, it contains an ocean of truth.
The first word, translated “righteous” or “justified” is a word with a meaning well established by the Scripture. It has a clearly forensic, legal flavor. In other words, it speaks not of a personal righteousness but of a legal declaration of innocence (Job 13:8, Exodus 23:7, Isaiah 5:23).
The means of this legal declaration is rooted in the reference that this verse has to Genesis 15:6 which states that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” The word for “belief” is the same translated as “faith” by Habakkuk (technically our third word) and refers not to the work of “faithful-ness” but of belief, or trust. The word “righteousness” is the same root used in Habakkuk of the “righteous” man.
Habakkuk’s thrust is on the second word, “live”. God’s answer to the prophet’s inquiry is meant to instruct him how he ought to proceed in light of the evil going on all around him. Grammatically, the word “live” is attached to faith, as in “the justified shall live-by faith.” faith is the guide post for daily living in a fallen world.
However, the context also clearly implies that the means of salvation is also through faith. This is what Paul was hitting on when he quoted Habakkuk in Romans 1:17. Paul cleverly unpacks both aspects of this passage in his letter to the Romans. In chapters 1-5 he explains how the just-by-faith shall live, and in chapters 6 and following he explains how the justified shall live-by faith. It is a brilliant unpaking of all that God revealed to Habakkuk so many years earlier.
As history has unfolded, so too has the content of God’s revelation ergarding salvation. While Abraham simply trusted in God in obeying His command to move out of his homeland to a land of God’s choosing, so we place our faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ:
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son,born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
“He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
God’s Word is incredible. So much historical and cultural context is established so that the means for eternal life and daily living can be stated in a mere three words. How can we see this and conclude that His Word is anything less than divine. The more I study it, the more I am convinced, as God explains to Habakkuk in the rest of chapters 2 and 3, that our faith is based in Someone real and powerful.
Praise God for His sufficient, holy Word!