Who are the righteous in Habakkuk 2:4, and what does it mean to live by faith?


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

“His soul” is a symbolic reference to Babylonia. This nation had become proud or “puffed up.” As a result, they were unrighteous and facing God’s judgment. In contrast, the righteous (or the “just”) would live by faith in God. By contrast, the righteous are humble in God’s eyes and will never face God’s judgment.

Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted three times in the New Testament. Paul quotes it in Romans, emphasizing the idea that righteousness by faith is for both Jews and Gentiles: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17

Then, in Galatians, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11

Here, Paul stresses that we are justified or made right before God by faith. The Law has no ability to justify anyone. As Habakkuk had recorded, people have always been saved by faith, not by works. Habakkuk 2:4 is also quoted in Hebrews 10:38.

In the third century, Rabbi Simla noted that Moses gave 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands. David reduced them to eleven commands in Psalm 15; Isaiah made them six (Isaiah 33:14-15); Micah bound them into three (Micah 6:8); and Habakkuk condensed them all to one, namely—“The righteous shall live by faith”

Christians are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and we walk in faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). Only by faith in Christ are we made righteous (Romans 5:19). Paul further expounds on this truth in Galatians 2, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Galatians 2:16

It is Christ’s righteousness that saves us, and the only way to receive that gift is to trust in Him. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36).

When Habakkuk wrote, “The righteous shall live by his faith,” he was echoing a timeless truth first modeled in Abraham’s life (Genesis 15:6). The righteous man will “live” in that he will not face God’s judgment; rather, in return for his faith in God, he has been given eternal life.

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© 2020 Tony - Antonakis Maritis