The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness, but the vision awaits its time; it hastens to its end—it will not lie. If it seems slow wait for it, it will surely come, it will not delay. With this assurance before him, Habakkuk had come to learn as we all must do, that, “The just shall live by faith”.

2:4 “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith”.

 “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him”– R.V. “Behold his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him”. The word for “lifted up” (Heb “aphal”) comes from a root meaning “to swell” and hence it has a figurative meaning “to be elated” and hence to “be lifted up” or to “presume”. It is significant that the word is used in only one other place, namely Numbers 14:44, where faithless Israel disregarded the Divine oath which had decreed they would perish in the wilderness: “But they presumed to go up unto the hill top”, and were smitten by the Amalekites unto Hormah (“utter destruction”). This was the penalty for being “puffed up” and failing to heed the Word.

Now these words of verse 4 enunciate a Divine principle which applies to all, but note the following:

  1. In the immediate context the words apply to the prophet himself. Habakkuk’s unbelief and defiance of the spoken Word in 1:15–19, if persisted in, would have placed him in this category. God had told him that He would work a work which he would “not believe, though it be told him” (1:5). God was correct. But at length Habakkuk did humble himself. He relinquished the fortress of his argument when further instructed in the purpose and ways of God (2:5–20). When he appreciated that oppressors would be requited according to their ways and that Israel would prevail in spite of the Chaldean holocaust, he steadied himself and resolved to patiently await the outworking of God’s purpose (3:16–19).
  2. By this principle the haughty Babylonian would fall (cp 1:10; 2:5). He was proud and lifted up, and devoid therefore of faith. He must be unjust and die.
  3. Application to Jewry in Hebrews. These words are cited by Paul in Hebrews 10:38. The form of the words is different, viz. “Now the just shall live by faith: if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him”. The words are cited from the Septuagint Version. The essential meaning is the same. Drawing back or “shrinking” from the Word is the same as being “conceited” (Hab 2:2 Rotherham) or puffed up with pride so as not to heed it. It is applied to Hebrew converts who were returning to Judaism and had lost or were losing faith in the Gospel.

“But the just shall live by faith”– This is the corollary on which the New Testament doctrine of faith is built, and it is thrice quoted directly (Gal 3:11; Rom 1:17; Heb 10:38). Faith is the first ingredient of acceptable worship (Heb 11:6). It does not come by birth or natural intuition but by close attention to the Word of God (Rom 10:17). It is a powerful commodity, “for by it the elders obtained a good report” (Heb 11:2). Hebrews 11 expounds faith’s capabilities—what men possessing it were able to do. Where the vision of faith is lacking, disobedience follows and so “people perish”, but happy is he that knoweth the law of God and keeps it (Prov 29:18; Luke 11:28; John 13:17). He will gain “victory” over his own wayward inclinations and the trials of the world (1 John 5:4).

So “faith” leads to obedience which “justifies” before God, Who will make all such “live”—the just shall live by faith, the “faith which works by love” (Gal 5:6).

In the context of the prophecy, Habakkuk had claimed Israel was more “righteous” than the Chaldean (1:13). Actually the opposite was the case because the Jew had the light of the prophetic Word to guide him but rejected its message. God here defines righteousness. Habakkuk himself was guilty for he initially did not believe the Word. The right attitude involved humble acceptance of the fact that God is always right. This puzzling message should have been received in faith and the reason behind it meekly sought.

As it was, Habakkuk misjudged God’s words, and alleged that He would allow the Chaldean to slay forever (1:17 RSV), and that Israel would die (1:13). Compare his attitude with Abraham’s (Gen 15:6).

Faith and Righteousness

 In Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 the same principles are taught:


Notice that the Hebrew words for “Just” and “Righteousness” are cognates, as are also the words for “Faith” and “Believed”.

These quotations are the two principal references used by the apostles to teach the doctrine of the righteousness of faith. Notice Paul’s use of Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4 and Galatians 3:6; and also James’ reference in his epistle (2:23).

The instruction to look back to Abraham to find out how God would justify sinners was given by Isaiah (50:1-8). He recommended that those who “followed in righteousness”, “look unto Abraham their father, and unto Sarah that bare them, for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him”. There is only one occasion in the Genesis record where “righteousness” is mentioned in conjunction with Abraham, namely, Genesis 15:6. From this passage then, the intelligent Jew would find out what it was that pleased God, namely, “Faith”. Works without faith then, were dead. In Abraham’s case faith alone initially brought him into favour with God. Abraham, the “saint”, however was justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac—the works being an evidence of virile faith (Jas 2:22, 23; Heb 11:17). This principle applies to all of Abraham’s children (Gal 3:7). Righteousness is imputed unto them when they believe the gospel. In those circumstances the grace of God operates and forgives their sins. Faith then becomes the driving force behind good works (1 John 5:4). So by “works”, faith is fulfilled or “made perfect” (Jas 2:22). Hence in the case of those justified by faith, “by their fruits ye shall know them”. This is the rule of judgment to be applied in the day of Christ (Matt 7:20; 16:27; Jas 1:22, 23).