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from fear to worship: Habakkuk 1-2

It’s true that Minneapolis has a higher crime rate than the national average. Of the total crimes, 23% were violent, while the rest were property crimes (Minneapolis Crime Dashboard 8/10/2023). Although the corner of West Broadway and North Lyndale Avenue is dubbed “murder station,” there are other neighborhoods with elevated crime rates as well: Hawthorne, East Phillips, and Ventura Village. Mix in with this all those grainy surveillance videos of random acts of violence that we see on our screens, and we’ve got another pandemic: “fear.”

“Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise” (Hab 1:3).

When violence penetrates a society, it feels like God’s word is “paralyzed and justice never prevails” (Hab 1:4). That’s what happened to Judah. Habakkuk wondered why God didn’t do anything about it. Doesn’t God care? We learned in our previous Devo Tip that God does care—and he’s moving “the nations” to deal with our plight (1:5).

Yet to Habakkuk’s shock, God was moving on one specific nation to stop the violence in Judah. “I am raising up the Babylonians, a cruel and violent people” (Hab 1:6). What? The Babylonians had no respect for life or laws or justice or borders. They were “a law to themselves … they mock kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities” (1:7-10). How do you deal with people that don’t give a rip? You can’t. “But they are deeply guilty,” God told Habakkuk, “for their own strength is their god” (1:11).

Why would God orchestrate history in such a way that a nation known for its violence would bring an end to the violence in another nation? No wonder Habakkuk struggled to understand. “You chose Babylonians for your judgment work? You gave them the job of discipline? You can’t be serious! … This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous and you stand around and watch … Are you going to let this go on and on?” (Hab 1:12-17, MSG). My translation: “Really God? This is messed up! There must be another way to stop the madness!” 

What’s God going to say to my questions?” Habakkuk asked himself. “I’ll wait to see what God says, how he’ll answer my complaint” (Hab 2:1, MSG).

Here’s God’s answer: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright” (Hab 2:2-4a). God wants to make sure that it’s “written in stone” (so to speak) to make it clear for everyone—including us. Agents of violence are not excused for “piling up stolen goods … destroying lands and cities and everyone in them … and plotting the ruin of many peoples … building a city with bloodshed and establishing a town by crime” (2:5-12). God will set things right at the right time. “If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time” (2:3).

OK, we need to be patient. Justice is on the way. But how are we supposed to live in the meantime? God tells us: “The righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4b). What does that mean? Whose “faithfulness” is God talking about here? The Hebrew text reads, “shall live by his faithfulness” (or by his faith), but the Greek text reads, “shall live by my faithfulness” (or by  my faith). Which is it? Do we live by our faithfulness to God? Or by God’s faithfulness? Big difference, right?

Paul helps us out. When he quotes this passage, he leaves out “his” and “my”! He just simply states: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; cf. Heb 10:38). Why? It is because of God’s faithfulness that we can live by faith at all.

The gospel reveals God’s faithfulness to rescue creation through his Son. We believe and now live by faith because we know the end. “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives.