One of the values of Biblical Theology is that it promotes the voices of the Minor Prophets. Habbakuk’s prophecy encapsulates macro themes from the Old Testament and lays a foundation for understanding the New Testament. Habakkuk did not specify those who reigned in Judah during his ministry, but the themes and tone of his writing parallel the events following the death of Josiah, when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem (2 Kgs 24:10-25:21). Habakkuk was an insightful, prayerful preacher who knew the character of his God and was in tune with the spiritual situation of his day. Habakkuk’s role in the storyline of Scripture cannot be overstated. The New Testament authors employed Habakkuk’s prophecy to explain justification in Christ alone and the faithful response God requires of those who receive His grace in Christ.

Justification in Christ Alone

God raised up the pagan Chaldeans to discipline the people of Judah. Habakkuk and the people of Judah could not understand what God was doing. In Hab 1:5-11, the prophet recorded God’s answer to his inquiry about the apparent discrepancy between God’s covenant loyalty to His people and the rise of the Chaldeans. The Lord said to Habakkuk, “Look! I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter, impetuous nation that marches across the earth’s open spaces to seize territories not its own” (Hab 1:6). God’s work in Habakkuk’s day was different than the prophet or the people expected. But if Judah failed to recognize that God had raised up the Chaldeans to discipline them and send them into exile, then the people of Judah would lose their lives fighting against God.

Paul employed the words of Habakkuk during his first missionary journey when he preached in Antioch of Pisidia. Paul reviewed salvation history from the captivity of Israel in Egypt to the rule of King David to the resurrection of Jesus. Paul argued that Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated Jesus’ superiority even over Israel’s great king David and employed Hab 1:5 as evidence that his listeners should believe upon Jesus as Savior. Paul warned his audience in Pisidian Antioch that though God’s offer of salvation in Jesus differed from their expectations, only through Jesus could anyone be justified. “So beware that what is said in the prophets does not happen to you: ‘Look, you scoffers, marvel and vanish away, because I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will never believe, even if someone were to explain it to you’” (Acts 13:36-41), Paul said.

The Faith(ful) Response of the Justified

In Hab 2:2-5, the prophet recorded God’s answer to his second prayer, when he asked how God could work through the wicked Chaldeans in order to accomplish His holy will. The Lord replied, “The vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late. Look, his ego is inflated; he is without integrity. But the righteous one will live by his faith” (Hab 2:3-4). In the Lord’s declaration of what would happen to the Chaldeans—and how God’s people should live in the meantime—the authors of the New Testament saw themes that applied to their audiences.

Paul employed Hab 2:4 to help unify the divergent Jew/Gentile audience in Rome. He wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom 1:16-17). Paul urged Jews and Gentiles in Rome to hold tightly to their faith in Christ—lest their national distinctions pull them apart (Romans 9-11; 15:1-7). After Paul evangelized the region of Galatia, those who argued that Gentiles needed to show their salvation by observing the historical practices of Judaism (including circumcision and food laws) began to have influence in the region. To counter this heretical insurgency, Paul took up Hab 2:4 saying, “All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law.’ Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because ‘the righteous will live by faith’” (Gal 3:10-11).

The author of Hebrews likewise saw in Hab 2:4 instruction for his audience—those who needed to persevere in their current struggles as outcasts of the synagogue community, exiled from the social and financial securities available to Jews within the Roman culture. Habakkuk urged his audience to trust in the Lord for vindication in the day when He destroyed their enemies, and the author to the Hebrews wished the same for his readers. He encouraged them to be confident saying, “In yet a very little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and obtain life” (Heb 10:35-39).