‘The righteous shall live by faith’Published on: 14.10.2021
By: Dr. Juergen Buehler, ICEJ President
Lessons from Habakkuk for our stormy times
The days we live in are truly challenging times. The year 2021 has started out with more worrisome news: new mutations of COVID-19, talk of businesses collapsing, and disturbing scenes from the Capitol building of the United States. The global pandemic has impacted not only our economies, but also the way we worship and fellowship as believers. Around the world, a post-modern ‘cancel culture’ threatens to erase everything which defined our traditional Judeo-Christian values.
Indeed, it seems that everything which can be shaken is being shaken. Many ask: Where is God in all this? Why are our prayers not answered?
For me, the book of Habakkuk holds more relevance today than ever before. The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time when he did not understand the world anymore – and more importantly he did not understand God anymore. As you read this, I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire book of Habakkuk and have your Bible ready as you read along. Allow me to take you through the three chapters of a prophetic book that I believe many of us can identify with today.
The book of Habakkuk differs from other prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet did not receive a message directed to Israel, but it is more the very personal dialogue of a troubled man of God with His Creator.
From the very beginning, Habakkuk voices his complaint to God: “How long must I call for help but You do not listen!” (Habakkuk 1:2-4) The prophet comes straight to the point: Lord, my prayers are not answered! In addition, he feels God is just looking on as injustice spreads, and strife and conflicts abounds. He sees the people of God and the law being paralyzed (v. 4) and losing their impact in the land. Instead of righteousness, he sees injustice and violence taking over.
God’s first response
God’s response (vs.1:5-11) was definitely not what the man of God expected: God instructed him to observe what is going to happen, not only in Israel but among the nations. “I will raise the Babylonians … that ruthless and impetuous people” (1:6). They will come to destroy and to take captives wherever they go. In other words, God told him: “You think it is bad now? Just wait, it is going to get even worse and …. I am in the midst of it.”
In fact, God told Habakkuk: “I am doing something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5)
The man of God
Let us take a step back and consider exactly who Habakkuk was. He was not your average Sunday church-goer who once a week bothered to go to the church to fulfil his religious duties. He was not a complainer upset that his prayers did not get instantly answered. We are dealing here with one of the great men of God from ancient times. Habakkuk was one of the few persons whose writings ended up in the Bible. His declaration that “the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4) is one of the most quoted Old Testament verses in the New Testament. A compatriot of Jeremiah, he was a man of prayer and heard the voice of God like few did in his generation.
It was this unique man of God who saw his prayers going unanswered. His “how long shall I cry” (v. 1) was the despair of possibly many years of prayer for revival in Israel, and yet he saw nothing happening. And honestly, that might be the situation of many dear men and women of God in our times, who have hoped and prayed for another revival for decades. Truth be told, it has been a long time since we have seen revivals like Azusa Street, the Welsh revival, and the Wesleyan or Pietist revivals, in many Western countries. “How long” might be the cry of many believers today.
And God’s response to the prophet is even more puzzling: “You would not believe it if I told you!” I remember hearing one of the new prophetic voices recently being asked: “Where were the prophets that foretold of the current global pandemic?” The lady was sincere in answering: “I most likely would not have believed it if God told me about a coming global pandemic.” I was refreshed by her honesty.
Many people question the role of the prophets today, particularly after the recent US election many prophetic when voices foresaw Trump winning a second term. Like Habakkuk, they most likely would not have believed such a dramatic turn would happen to their beloved nation. It is easy to judge them in hindsight. But knowing many of them personally, I know that they – like Habakkuk – hoped most of all for revival in the USA. They hoped, like me and many of us in Israel, that another term of Donald Trump would continue to strengthen Israel and would strengthen Christian values not only in America but in other nations as well.
Habakkuk’s third response
Yet after God’s reply, Habakkuk was even more perturbed. The pagan Babylonians would be allowed to judge the people of God? This was highly upsetting for him. “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” the prophet asked (1:13).
But then Habakkuk made a decision that became a game-changer, both for the prophet and for the outlook and tone of his entire message.
The watch tower
In that moment, Habakkuk recognised that he desperately needed to hear from God. He understood that old paradigms and concepts would no longer work. The focus now shifted from asking God to hearing from Him.
God still speaks today, but maybe we need to reorient our hearts to hear the new thing He is doing in the world today. We all need to remember that the Bible is full of passages that difficult times will come to the world. Lawlessness will increase, He will judge the world through earthquakes, wars and even pestilences, and yes eventually there will be even a globally orchestrated war on the saints. I do not know what lies ahead, but could it be that we are entering into a new season when things will become even more difficult for the Western church? Yet, as we draw close to Him and seek His face, God promises that He will draw near to us and will answer our plea!
Instead of praying what he always prayed, Habakkuk went on his watch tower to receive the divine insight for his time. We need to realise that many of the changes of 2020 will be irreversible. What worked in years past might not work today or even tomorrow. This is a time when each one of us is called to go up to our personal watch tower to pray and seek the Lord as never before. We need to hear the new thing God is doing.
The light house
As Habakkuk listened, God spoke to him! God’s new revelation changed the perspective of the prophet. God did not change His purposes, but He allowed the prophet to see the world how God saw it. The Lord told him to write down plainly what He was about to share with him so that others could read it (2:2). That means God gave him not just an answer for his own questions, but what he heard would help others down through time as well.
Habakkuk’s watch tower of prayer turned into a lighthouse of guidance for others. God used him in turbulent times to be like the sons of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32). This unique tribe understood the times and the seasons they lived in and also knew what they ought to do. The result was the people were at their command. God looks for these lighthouse people today – people who can give hope and direction in these stormy times.
The righteous shall live by faith
At the same time God affirmed to Habakkuk His immovable purposes. “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.… but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:3-4)
Shakings would surely come, God said, yet the righteous shall live by faith! The most needed quality we need to strive for in these troubling times is faith. Do not allow the confusion and challenges of our time to rob your faith. In spite of all the chaos around us, God is seated on His throne. This was the vision of Isaiah when one of the greatest kings of Israel died a tragic death. He saw the Lord seated on His throne and the train of His robe filling the Temple (Isaiah 6:1).
Or to put it in the words of the prophet Daniel: When confronted with death and all the wisemen and magicians of Babylon were at the end of their wisdom, Daniel was full of faith and declared… “but there is a God in heaven!” (Daniel 2:28) It means that in the midst of confusion, economic hardship, and all our unanswered questions, it is our faith in Jesus Christ that will carry us through. The righteous shall live by faith!
God is still at work!
Finally, God affirmed to Habakkuk what he could not believe anymore. In the midst of judgement and chaos, God’s salvation purposes with mankind continue full speed. Like a powerful ray of light penetrating the darkness, God announces: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) This is not just a theological or prophetic statement of the future, but an invitation of God to take an active part in His salvation purposes. Coronavirus or a new US administration will not and cannot stop God’s purposes!
Habakkuk’s New-Found Faith
The prophet Habakkuk’s first reaction was to embrace God’s will. “I heard your report” (3:2). He still did not like it and was filled with fear and trembling (3:2+16), yet he could see that God was at work. He saw pestilence and pandemics “at God’s heels” (3:5), and high places were shaken as the Lord came to visit the earth. But Habakkuk understood that He came not to destroy His people, but was coming on a chariot of salvation (3:8) and that God “went out for the salvation of His people, His anointed” (3:13).
This should make us consider that the greatest revivals of recent decades have not taken place in the Western democratic, free-market countries, but in developing nations still fighting poverty in Latin America and Africa, and in places like China and Iran and even more recently in the turbulent Arab world.
In one of our weekly Global Prayer Gatherings recently, we heard an amazing testimony from our branch director in the Philippines, Pastor Stephen Mirpuri. Through November and December last year, we prayed for his region after it was horribly struck by a typhoon. Entire villages were completely submerged in water. Many people lost everything. Yet he just reported how revival broke out in this hard-hit region and only in his churches over 3,000 people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
God indeed works in mysterious ways. But He does work! Therefore, Habakkuk received divine faith in the midst of his challenging times. His hunger for revival in Israel was not quenched but even strengthened. “O Lord, I have heard the report of You, and Your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)
Maybe the greatest time for the Church in the West is still ahead of us. His work is not dependent on any earthly government. In the midst of the pandemic and great political upheaval, let us make Habakkuk’s prayer our prayer: Lord, revive Your work and in wrath remember mercy!
Habakkuk’s attitude was now different from his seemingly legitimate complaints at the beginning of the book. He was able to make one of the most profound statements of faith in the Bible: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17ff)
His faith and his joy became independent of the outward circumstances, because he saw the Lord was in control! Don’t despair of your own disappointment or lack of understanding and even wavering faith. Remember even a great man of God like Habakkuk struggled with the happenings of his day. It is this book by a struggling prophet which invites us to plead our case before the Lord and He will indeed answer!
Finally, Habakkuk made one more profound statement, and this is how his book ends:
“God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:19, ESV)
The chaos and shakings became the territory of triumph for Habakkuk. God strengthened him with His strength and gave him “feet like deer” treading on “high places.”
There is no doubt we live today in complex and difficult times. Reading this verse, I was reminded of a documentary on mountain goats. They are able to navigate the highest and seemingly impossible terrain of the Rocky Mountains with uttermost ease. God promises this supernatural gift to us. The capability to navigate the new realities of the COVID-19 period, or the coming economic hardships, or a new government not to our liking. He will give us not only His strategies, but also His divine empowerment.
Remember! As we man our watchtower, He might turn it into a lighthouse for others. And most importantly, keep trusting in the Lord because “the righteous shall live by faith!”