4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—
5 indeed, wine betrays him;
he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
and takes captive all the peoples.
(Habakkuk 2:4-5 NIV)
Today, we see the beginning of the Lord’s answer to Habakkuk’s second question. In verses 2 and 3, the Lord told Habakkuk to record what He was about to say, for the message was of utmost importance. Today, we learn why.
In verse 4, the Lord contrasts the soon-to-be captors of Judah, the Babylonians, with those who are living for Him.
The Lord revealed that the heart of the Babylonians centered on their selfish pride. When the Lord said the enemy was “puffed up”, the phrase refers to pride – what we would say today as “having a big head”.
The Lord goes on to say that the enemy’s desires are not upright. Remember what the Lord said about the Babylonians in His first answer to Habakkuk?
“… they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor.” (chapter 1, verse 7)
“They mock kings and scoff at rulers.” (chapter 1, verse 10)
“… whose own strength is their god.” (chapter 1, verse 11)
Scripture records God’s thoughts about the Babylonians’ prideful and self-centered attitude. Scripture also records the very words of the Babylonian leader, King Nebuchadnezzar:
The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’
(Daniel 4:30 NASB, emphasis mine)
If you want to see how that self-centered pride and arrogance worked out for Nebuchadnezzar, read Daniel 4:31-33.
The Lord then takes one simple phrase, and summarizes the whole of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation:
“- but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness – “
The Lord is telling Habakkuk (and us) that He requires faith (NIV, faithfulness) to call someone “righteous”. This is not only coming to Christ by faith but living out each day in faith.
Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, described what the Lord means in verse 4 to “live by his faithfulness”:
“The faith which saves is not one single act done and ended on a certain day: it is an act continued and persevered in throughout the entire life of man. The just not only commences to live by his faith, but he continues to live by his faith: he does not begin in the spirit and end in the flesh, nor go so far by grace, and the rest of the way by works of the law.… Faith is essential all along; every day and all the day, in all things. Our natural life begins by breathing, and it must be continued by breathing; what the breath is to the body, that is faith to the soul.”
This command to live by faith is true in the Old Testament and is carried over into the New Testament as well. We see this phrase specifically referenced three times in the New Testament:
- Romans 1:17 – For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
- Galatians 3:11 – Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”
- Hebrews 10:38 – “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”
The Lord goes on to describe the Babylonians’ restlessness, greed, and covetousness in verse 5. The Lord tells Habakkuk that all these material possessions and power did not meet or fulfill their deepest desires.
There is so much more that I could write about this one little phrase – “the righteous will live by faith”. The Lord has a lot to say about the Babylonians, but this one little phrase sums up what He expects of Habakkuk, of His people, and of us.
May we spend the rest of our lives not complaining about the injustice and the state of the world around us. Instead, let us focus on living out God’s call to live by faith.