The Just Will Live By Faith
June 1, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today's first reading was from the book of Habakkuk. It is a small book with only three chapters in all. Though we might know the names of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the name of the prophet called Habakkuk may be a person we don't know. However, the final phrase we read today, "The person who obeys God will live by faith," is a phrase that is quoted three times in the New Testament scriptures. What's more, The Epistle To The Disciples At Rome, chapter one and verse seventeen, which is one of the quoted passages, is the scripture passage that became the fulcrum by which the reformationist Martin Luther rediscovered the gospel. Today I would like for us to pay close attention to God's message given to us through this book of Habakkuk.
Oh Lord, How Long Will It Be?
2. Hardly anything is known about the prophet Habakkuk. We can see from just the contents of his book, that he was a prophet active in about the year 600 B.C.E. It was the period of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. His period of activity coincides with that of the prophet Jeremiah.
3. And now, when you listen to the prophet, what kind of picture do you imagine of him? [Is it a picture of] a character standing tough in his faith alone by himself and speaking the word of God boldly and confidently to a people in a time period that was in rebellion against God? Is that the kind of image [you get] of him? But when we read the book of Habakkuk, the first thing we see is the words of his lament [and complaint].
4. "Oh Lord, how long, even though I cry out seeking for your help, don't you ever hear me? Even though I plead to you, 'Injustice!,' you do not help me. Why do you let me see catastrophes and do you cause my eyes to fix upon hardships?," (1:2-3a).
5. Habakkuk laments before God. Is it strange for a person who might be a prophet to lament? Yet, we can also make the case that this lament is because he is a believer. Because he has believed and prayed and prayed, he is lamenting. Even though he has kept in prayer, it seems that the current situation has not changed any. Therefore, he laments and makes an appeal to God.
6. "Atrocities and injustices are before me, disputes are taking place, quarrels are coming up. The law has become powerless, righteousness is never shown. Those who go against God surround the righteous. Even if righteousness is ever shown, it is perverted," (1:3b-4).
7. The period of king Jehoiakim was truly just like this prophet had said it was. His father was named Josiah, and this king Josiah was a person of faith who followed the Lord. He was known as the king who put religious reforms into effect. In King Josiah's period Judah was in the process of recovering its system of order as the people of God. But after King Josiah died, the reforms ran aground, and it all went back to square one: The oppression of the weak that came from the ruling class, the disputes which were endlessly being unreeled, the righteous judgments that were constantly being perverted by those who went against God. Those who obeyed God were an overwhelming minority and they were utterly powerless. Habakkuk was also among them.
8. He cried out in prayer to God seeking. Believing in the one who was able to restore order again out of the chaos, he kept in prayer. However, he grew weary of praying and praying. Though a long time has elapsed, nothing is changing. Therefore, he appeals to God with "How long will it be?"
9. What Habakkuk is experiencing here is also what we experience when we keep in prayer, isn't it? When it looks like the situation is not changing at all, we too grow weary in praying. It seems to us that God isn't listening to us. The words of [our] prayers seem to vanish into thin air to no avail.
10. However, God did give the following answer to Habakkuk when he lamented and appealed to him with "How long will it be?"
11. "Look across the various nations, and watch closely, and you should be greatly surprised. In your time period one thing is being done. Even though it is being told to you, you will probably not believe it. Look, I am waking up the Chaldeans," (1:5-6).
12. It's not that the words of [his] prayers have not been heard. Indeed, God has already been working on it. But it wasn't in the way that Habakkuk was thinking. God has been working in a way that even if it were told to you you would never believe it. [He] said he was raising up the Chaldeans.
13. The Babylonian Empire back then was in the process of announcing the Chaldeans as the rulers. Babylonia had already caused the fall of Nineveh. This same Babylonia had become a huge menace even for Judah. It says that these very things are already the work that God has done. [And] it's not only that. God stated that they would occupy various countries, and worse, coming speedily they would trample down even Judah and commit tyrannical atrocities against it.
14. "They are frightening and fierce. From them, judgment and government come. Their horses are faster than leopards, more agile than the evening wolves, their calvary prances. The calvary comes from far away, they fly like the eagle attacking its game. After they come, they will all commit atrocities. Every face will turn forward, they will gather prisoners like one gathers sand," (1:7-9).
15. The prophet was likely in continuous prayer and asking for the restoration of order from God. But, God was about to thoroughly destroy that order now by using the Chaldeans. He says to Judah, which is busting out with atrocity and lawlessness, that the Chaldeans are coming at this time and will commit [more] atrocities.
16. At first glance, the reality [of Habakkuk's world] appears to be getting worse and worse. But it is not because God hasn't answered [his] prayers at all; nor is it because God is absent. The prayers of Habakkuk, in which he had kept praying and lamenting in regard to the current situation in the land of Judah, were certainly being heard. The Lord had already begun to move. But it was not in the way that he thought.
The Just Will Live By Faith
17. Habakkuk had straight-out accepted the word of God. He accepted the invasion of the Chaldeans as judgment directed at Judah. But, would Judah end up destroyed before the military might of Babylonia? Did God intend to destroy Judah finally because of its sin? No, it is unlikely that there would be such [ultimate destruction]. Habakkuk persistently states his trust in the Lord.
18. "Oh Lord, are you not from eternity past my God, my holy one? We will never die out. Oh Lord, you have prepared them in order to judge us. Oh God the Rock, you have established them to chastise us," (1:12).
19. Even Babylonia is in God's hands and power. God is using Babylonia to chastise Judah, not to destroy it. Habakkuk doggedly believes that God's plan is to save Israel.
20. But then suddenly Habakkuk gets this thought here. Supposing that it is for chastising Judah, but will not the fact that Babylonia is in control lead to much greater evil being in control than Judah's evil [had ever been]? Habakkuk raises that question before God.
21. "Your eyes are too pure to look at evil. While closely watching the toils of the people, they are never left as they are. And yet, why are you silent while closely watching the deceivers? Even though those who go against God are devouring those more righteous than themselves ... ," (1:13).
22. The deceivers are the Chaldeans. When you think about it, aren't they more evil than Judah who is undergoing the chastisement? Aren't they "the ones going against God?" Why does God permit their atrocious acts? So, the justice of God will not truly come to pass in this world, will it? Habakkuk takes up issue with that.
23. I think we can understand his doubts pretty easily. God may be making much use of them, yet Babylon's raising its head and ruling doesn't totally look as if the good plan of God is ever going to get ahead anywhere. Even if the sin of the Chaldeans was judged, and if some other empire was to be used, then still evil persons would surely raise their heads to power. Therefore then, no matter how long the time may be that passed, the rule of God will not come to pass. The justice of God will not come to pass. Neither the order nor the peace that God wills will come to pass. Isn't it turning out the way [I am saying]? The questions from Habakkuk [to God] are the same as those that generations of people have wondered about and asked. For instance, take this question, "The things God does don't ever get ahead, do they?" Even today, we often times have that same kind of thinking, don't we? Even in regard to our lives, or in regard to our every day familiar little worlds, or in regard to the entire world, it doesn't seem that any of it is heading towards the perfect rule of God, unto ultimate salvation.
24. Yet, Habakkuk still keeps turning to God. He has not thrown away [his] hope. From this point on it is today's scripture reading, and he is doggedly trying to hear God's address to him. Believing that God will make it clear!
25. "I am on duty as a sentry, I am watching out standing on top of a fortress, I am looking at what will God say to me and what he will answer to my appeal.
26. The Lord answered me and said. "Write the vision down, record it clearly upon a tablet so that you can read it even while running. For, there is one more vision for the set time. It is hastening to the time of the end. I will never deceive anyone. Even if it may be getting late, keep waiting. It will surely come, [I am] never late. Look at the haughty! His heart cannot be just. But, the person who obeys God will live by faith.'," (verses two through four).
27. As it is written afterwards, this "vision" is God's plan, which is heading for the "time set" by God, "the time of the end." It is the plan of God heading for ultimate salvation. It is the promise of God's salvation, the hope God is giving. [He] says, "Write it down." [He] says write it big and clear upon a tablet, so that you can read it even while running. Why? Because the promises of God are hastening towards the time of the end. In the eyes of humankind it doesn't look as if the plan of God is getting anywhere at all towards making progress; much rather, it looks even as if the process of salvation is going backwards. "But it isn't!," God informs Habakkuk. He says that it is progressing at full speed to "the set time," "the time of the end," that is, to the time of salvation's consummation. Therefore, what a person ought to do is simply "wait." We are to wait trusting. "Even if it may be getting late, keep waiting. It will surely come, [I am] never late." And then the Lord says, "The person who obeys God will live by faith."
28. When translated literally, the phrase translated "the person who obeys God" is "the just," "the righteous." "The just will live by faith," says the Lord. Habakkuk is lamenting and taking issue with the fact that there is no righteousness in the country of Judah, "The law has become powerless, righteousness is never shown. Those who go against God surround the righteous," (1:4). He indeed said it [loud and clear], he made his appeal that the righteous are only an overwhelming minority. Furthermore, in regard to Babylonia's rise to power, in the final analysis, he took up issue with there being no righteousness in it [either], saying, "And yet, why are you silent while closely watching the deceivers? Even though those who go against God are devouring those more righteous than themselves ..." That's right, and we too are always taking up issue with [other folks] not having righteousness, especially society, those around us.
29. But now, God is requiring of Habakkuk himself, that he be righteous. What is the righteousness which God requires? What kind of person is "the righteous" whom God wills? He says it is the person who will live by faith. It is the person who lives trusting God and his truth in all respects, in every situation. "The just will live by faith." Long ago once, God had found that righteousness in Abraham. In Genesis chapter fifteen the following is written.
30. "Abraham believed God. The Lord acknowledged it as his righteousness," (Genesis 15:6).
31. That same faith the Lord required of Habakkuk. He required it of Paul as well. He also required it of Martin Luther. And he is also requiring [that same faith] of us as well. "The righteous live by faith."