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Romans 1:17 & Habakkuk by Robert Dean
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 32 secs

Justified by Faith Shall Live
Romans 1:17
Romans Lesson #009
February 17, 2011
www.deanbibleministries.org

Romans 1:17 NASB “For in it {the} righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS {man} SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’”

This is an extremely important verse; it sets out the theme of the whole epistle. “For in it,” i.e. the gospel. The use of “gospel” here isn’t the narrow use in the sense of only that message which is required to believe in order to have eternal life but Paul uses the gospel to refer in a plenary sense to the whole realm of theology that flows out of the gospel. In other words, the doctrines that are fundamental to Christianity.

The “righteousness of God is revealed” introduces the topic, the subject matter, of Romans. It is to explain the righteousness of God in relationship to mankind, to human history, how God’s righteousness has been violated by the human race and how God’s righteousness is satisfied by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross; and how the righteousness of Christ, then, is imputed or credited to the account of the person who believes in Christ so that they are saved not on the basis of what they have done but on the basis of the righteousness that they possess from Christ. This is the basis for God saying that they are justified.

This is a tremendous verse but there is a little controversy about it: how should it be translated? Should it be translated, “The justified by faith shall live”? Or should it be translated, “The justified shall live by faith”? In the first way of translating it the emphasis is on how those who are justified by faith shall live in their Christian life after salvation. In this first formulation, “The justified shall live by faith,” it is just a fine shade of a difference but it puts the emphasis on the fact the post-salvation life is by faith. The first puts the emphasis on being justified by faith; the second puts the emphasis on living by faith. So we have to answer this question—and it is another quote from the Old Testament, coming from Habakkuk 2:4. We have to understand how Paul is using it because the meaning he is giving this phrase in Romans 1:17 isn’t exactly the meaning that Habakkuk had when he originally wrote this.

There are four ways in which the Old Testament is quoted and used in the New Testament. This is based on how the rabbis used quotes from the Old Testament in different ways, using what we refer to as fulfillment language. The first is the idea of literal prophecy-literal fulfillment. This is where an event or a verse in the Old Testament clearly is predicting something, saying that something is going to happen in the future and then when it is fulfilled in terms of prophecy the New Testament quotes it as fulfillment. Example: Matthew 2:5, 6. 

The second use is called literal historical event. It is not a prophecy; it is not predicting anything. It is simply describing a historical event or situation but it is a type or shadow or picture of something that would take place in the life of the Messiah or the future history of Israel. So in Matthew 2:15 we read that Joseph and Mary, after they were warned by the angel, went down to Egypt with baby Jesus so that He would survive the slaughter of the babies by Herod, and they were there until the death of Herod, “that is might be fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophets, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’” That is a direct quote out of Hosea talking about the historical exodus from Egypt. This also connects with a statement in Numbers 24 in the prophecy of Balaam indicating that the Messiah would come out of Egypt. This is a picture, a foreshadowing of what would happen in the individual life of the Messiah. It is a typological fulfillment.     

The third use is an application. It is not a type, it is looking at a series of historical that happen and then there are another set of historical things happening at the time of the New Testament and the writer is simply saying something like, This is like that. It is an analogy where, let’s say, five or six things that are the circumstances of the original event, only one of which is analogous to what is happening at the time of the writing. It is that that is used as an analogy. E.g., Matthew 2:17, 18, which describes the slaughter of the infants by Herod in Bethlehem. What we have to recognize is that this refers back to the historical situation (Jeremiah 31:15) that occurred around 598–586 BC during one of the conquests by Nebuchadnezzar when a group of hostages were taken and deported to Babylon. The Jewish mothers were seeing their children being taken away and would never see them again and they are weeping for them. Ramah is a village north of Jerusalem, but this is being applied to the weeping of the mothers in Bethlehem and Bethlehem was south of Jerusalem. At the time of Nebuchadnezzar the children were being deported but in the time of Jesus the infants were being killed. The writer, Matthew, is applying this and saying what was happening of Jesus with the slaughter of the infants and the mothers weeping over the murders is like what happened at the time of Jeremiah 31:15. That is the literal history and application.

The fourth use is a summary where, for example, Matthew says that Jesus returned from Egypt and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth “that is might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” Nowhere is there a prophecy that says that the Messiah was going to be called a Nazarene. But every place we live there is somebody down the road that is thought of as being less bright, less intelligent, less talented than where ever we are, and they are made fun of. In Israel in the ancient world it was Nazareth. The summary is that “Nazarene” stands for somebody who is just backward, uneducated, and not really going to contribute anything to society. This reflects the teaching of the Old Testament teaching about the Messiah, especially in Isaiah chapter 53: that He would be despised and rejected among men. Nazarenes were despised and rejected by their neighbors, so this is a summary of different things that are said about the Messiah being rejected by His people.

So how is Paul using Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17? The original quote, Habakkuk 2:4 NASB “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.”

Habakkuk is a book that answers the question that everybody asks at least once in their life, if not many times in their life: Why do bad things happen to good people? This is really what Habakkuk is asking. He precedes that question with the question: Why don’t bad things happen to bad people? In other words, he is looking around at all the people and they are all losers, all disobeying God over and over again. It has been going on for a long time: God, why don’t you judge them? Then he realizes that God is going to judge them and there are a lot who are not necessarily participating in the evil so how come God’s judgment is going to happen upon those who are innocent? So these questions are basically around how God judges in human history, and why is there evil, why is there suffering for people who are not evil, and why isn’t there more suffering for people who are evil? These are basic questions that anybody asks.

We don’t know anything about Habakkuk as an individual other than he lived in the southern kingdom some time just prior to the invasion of the southern kingdom by Nebuchadnezzar. His name means to embrace, in the Hebrew. Luther wrote of him: "Habakkuk signifies an embracer or one who embraces another, takes them to his arms. He embraces his people and takes them to his arms." That is, he comforts them and holds them up as one embraces a weeping child to quiet it with the assurance that if God wills it shall soon be better.

The exact time of this prophecy is not known. Some think it was as early as the reign of Manasseh. There is a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 1:5 and in that God says, “Because {I am} doing something in your days…” So it couldn’t have been as far back as Manasseh because Habakkuk wouldn’t have lived as long as from Manasseh to the time of 586 BC, so it was relatively close. The setting comes at a time when the Assyrian empire has been waning and they are finally defeated in 609 BC by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar and his father Nabo-polassar at the Battle of Carchemish. Israel was surrounded by her enemies. One of the characteristics of this time was that the people were in out and out rebellion against God in some of the most horrible ways as they were practicing the fertility cults with all of the sexual perversity that went along with it. It was a time of violence, a time of conquest by the Babylonians, a time of instability and chaos, crisis and war. Internally it is a time also of violence, of people doing whatever they want to do, a time of rejection of God and the Mosaic Law and rebellion against the prophets.

Yet there was still a remnant of believers in Judah who were worshipping God and Habakkuk is one of those. He was a righteous man and when he saw what was going on around him—all of the depravity and violence—he said: God, it can’t be long before you are going to judge these people.

Habakkuk 1:2 NASB “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save [or, You will not hear and deliver from the sin that is taking place].” It is as if God is insensitive; He just isn’t doing anything about it. [3] “Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause {me} to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises.” He is a little self-absorbed, a little self-righteous. [4] “Therefore the law is ignored [Hebrew word means to be numbed, chilled or frozen] And justice [application of the Law] is never upheld [is powerless]. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted.”

Nobody can get justice. If you don’t have justice then there is no value for life or property or a future because everything is in limbo, in turmoil. There is no stability, everything is destroyed because there is no rule of law and there is nothing but corruption among those who are ruling. This is the cycle of civilization that occurs time and time again. When the ruling elite, whether they are elected, business elite that is put into power, some sort of oligarchy, once you lose this foundation of righteousness and integrity then instability and uncertainty comes in. That is what we are seeing today. There is nothing that is more embarrassing to this country than most of the people who are operating either in the civil service or in Washington as elected leaders. They have no sense of objectivity, they are more concerned about their own power and preserving their own political power and whatever base they can establish that gets them some kind of extra money (and there are all kinds of hidden deals that take place in Washington), and the corruption just gets worse and worse.

But the leaders always reflect the people. If the people don’t have integrity and virtue the leaders will not have integrity and virtue. And the more the culture moves in the direction of absolute licentiousness and moral relativism the more the fabric is destroyed that is necessary to produce the kind of integrity and leaders to do the right thing. It gets to a point in a culture where when people who want to do the right thing come along—in a culture that has slipped to the point where moral relativism has become the norm, and those who hold to an absolute standard are viewed as the enemy—they become ridiculed and are attacked.

Then the Lord gives Habakkuk a reply. Habakkuk 1:5 NASB “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because {I am} doing something in your days— You would not believe if you were told.” Look at the nations. Quit focusing on the domestic issues and look at what I am doing on the grand chessboard of human history and nations. Assyria has been destroyed and I am raising up Babylon; you are going to be astounded at what is going to happen. These pagan Chaldeans are going to be my instrument to bring judgment upon Judah. Judah has been unrighteous, yes; I have given them time.

The bottom line questions: Why do bad things happen to good people and why does evil exist and God seem to allow it to exist and continue? It is because God gave the human race freedom. We have freedom to do wonderful things and freedom to do evil things, and you can’t limit one without limiting the other. So when God allows man to make those choices God is going to give them the rope to hang themselves and to go to the extent of their depravity. And God is always going to be calling them back to change, to repent, to turn back to Him, because once God stops it stops, it is over with, it is the end. There is judgment coming and they are destroyed. God gives them grace and extends their time, gives them opportunity to turn back to Him. That is His grace, but ultimately the time will come when God has to bring that judgment. Now is the time and He warns that He is bringing judgment against the nation of Judah. He is going to do it through the Chaldeans.

Habakkuk 1:6 NASB “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, That fierce and impetuous people Who march throughout the earth To seize dwelling places which are not theirs.” There are twelve things listed in the next verses that describe the Chaldeans. Fierce, which is that they are bitter in temper, angry and violent in warfare. They are impetuous, which means they are swift, fast. They march throughout the earth, which means their armies are continually conquering new places. They are dreaded and feared, they strike terror. They listen to no one but themselves; they set their own standards and agenda and are a law unto themselves. They are described as more fierce than evening wolves; the idea of being keener, sharper, more attuned to what is going on. They can respond quickly in the battlefield to what is happening. They swoop down on their horses like eagles—surprise attacks. Their faces are set like the east wind, which indicates that they are set hard; they are not going to succumb to compassion. They gather captives like sand—they defeat so many there are just multitudes of captives. They scoff at kings; they don’t care about the rulers of these other countries. They have the ability to conquer anything that is thrown up in their path.

So God’s description of the Chaldeans in vv. 5-11 basically spells out the horrors of being defeated by the Babylonians, and the conquest and what was in store for the southern kingdom of Judah, as they would come under Nebuchadnezzar’s gazes. Three different times he would invade and only the last time would he conquer and destroy Jerusalem and the first temple.

Then Habakkuk’s question: You are a holy God, how can a holy God use these wicked people? God’s answer is that He is the one who controls history and He can raise up whomever He wants to to bring judgment upon His people for their violation of His Law. Habakkuk 1:12 NASB “Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct. [13] {Your} eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness {with favor.} Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?”

Then there is a description of what this conquest will be like. Habakkuk 1:14 NASB “{Why} have You made men like the fish of the sea, Like creeping things without a ruler over them?” Why do you allow this to happen? is what he is asking. God’s answer is broader than the individual situation. He thinks in terms of the scope of history and pictures how He is going to use this to bring judgment upon Israel for the purpose of eventually raising them up so that they are a nation that is righteous and worships and glorifies Him. 

We get into chapter two which begins: Habakkuk 2:1 NASB “I will stand on my guard post [a mental watch] And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.” He is going to observe this and write about it. He understands that he will be corrected by God.

The answer that God gives. The opening salvo from God is in verses 2-5, and this is where we see the quote that shows up in Romans.  Habakkuk 2:2 NASB “Then the LORD answered me and said, ‘Record the vision And inscribe {it} on tablets, That the one who reads it may run.

Then starting in verse 6 five woes are announced against Judah, and when it is over with Habakkuk is going to recognize that God is the one who is sovereign. The conclusion in verse 20 is: “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.” He recognizes that he was judging God’s way of conducting Himself in history and he understands the justice of God and how it has worked itself out in the history of Israel. He is basically saying no one has the right to judge or question God’s ways. Why? Because we do not know all that God does.

In verse 2 God instructs Habakkuk to write down the vision. This will serve as a warning to those who read it to pay attention to it. Habakkuk 2:3 NASB “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. [4] Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” Who is the proud? The Chaldeans. They are the proud, the arrogant, and even though God is using them to bring discipline against the southern kingdom of Judah that does not absolve them of their guilt and arrogance. Judah is wrong and needs to be punished for their rebellion against God; the Chaldeans are wrong but God is going to use them in their unrighteousness to punish Judah, and then God in turn will bring judgment upon the Chaldeans. There will be justice in history; God does not forget.

 There is a parallelism here. “Behold, as for the proud one…” This is an analysis of this group; they are called proud. Then there is a diagnosis. What happens to the proud? It comes in verse 5: “And he is like death, never satisfied.” What happens to the proud? He dies. In contrast to the proud we have the just. They are going to live. “But the righteous will live by his faith.” The question is how this is going to be translated. The word order in the Hebrew: “The righteous by his faith shall live.”

The word translated “faith” here is the word emunah. There is a lot of controversy over how this is translated. Most translations translated before the last 20-20 years consistently translate this as “faith.” The contrast is between the pride of the Chaldeans and the faith of the believers in Judah. This is the only place in all of the Old Testament where emunah has the idea of faith; in every other place it is “faithful.” So there are some modern translations which translate it “faithful,” but there is a judgment that is being pronounced on both the proud and the just. The judgment is that the proud will die; the just will live. You can’t pronounce the judgment if you have an open-ended value. The open-ended value is faithfulness. How do you know if you have been faithful or not? It doesn’t fit the contrast. It is not a contrast between the unfaithful and the faithful, it is between the proud (those who have no faith) and those who have faith. This is why most commentators and translators understand that this should be translated “faith” and not “faithful,” and it is accurately translated that way.

“The just by his faith…” They are righteous by faith. Abraham was declared righteous for his faith in Genesis 15:6. He is declared righteous on the basis of his faith, not on the basis of works. Works do not make us righteous enough. Isaiah 64:6 NASB “And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” So the point in verse 4 is in contrast to the proud who die. The one who is justified by faith shall live.

There are five woes that are announced. The word “woe” in the Hebrew is hoy. It is the basis for a judgment. In the first (vv. 6b-8) the judgment is on the transgressors, the Chaldeans because of their ill-gotten gains. They have taken too many spoils and this is unrighteous, so God will spoil the spoils of the spoiler and plunder the plunderer. The second woe (vv.9-11) focuses on the covetousness and self-exaltation. They see themselves as the ultimate; they ignore God, they focus on evil gain, and for that they will be judged by God. In the third woe (vv. 12-14) they are building their empire on the death, destruction and violence done to those they conquer. So they are going to be judged for their tyrannical oppression of captive people. You can never build yourself up on the basis of destroying others. The fourth woe is for their violent conquest of others (v.15). The drunken person is typically used as a picture of conquest of someone who can’t control himself. The Chaldean lust for power and conquest leads to their destruction. They are drunk on their power, their lust, and they will become conquered as a result of that. That applies also for any individual and any nation. When the leaders is business and government serve themselves at the expense of their customers or the citizens then they become ruled by their own lust and passion, and they will be easily destroyed because they become slaves to their own sin nature. The fifth woe: Judgment is pronounced upon them again because of their dishonesty and unrighteousness (v.19). The judgment is upon their idolatry because they are worshipping idols of wood and stone that they have overlaid with gold and silver.

The conclusion: “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.” God will bring judgment at the right time and in the right way.

This causes a change of thinking on the part of Habakkuk. His prayer is in chapter three. He recognizes that at the beginning he questioned God’s judgment because God didn’t do things the way Habakkuk thought God ought to do things. But when God explains it he gets it. He recognizes the principle of Isaiah 55:8, 9 NASB “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For {as} the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” In those verses God makes it clear that He is the sovereign God who rules history and He is going to do things the way He deems best because He is omniscient and He knows all the facts. When man, the creature, comes along and says God should have done it this way or that way he has a microscopic, infinitesimal amount of data and he is trying to extrapolate from this grain of sand sized knowledge, and he thinks that that grain of sand is the size of the universe. What God does is just because that is His essential nature, and this is the conclusion that Habakkuk comes to. Habakkuk 3:19 NASB “The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ {feet,} And makes me walk on my high places.”

The life that he is talking about here is fullness of life even in the midst of judgment and defeat, the life that God has for every person who is a believer. When we look back at verse and the phrase “justified by faith shall live” he is talking about the mentality of the believer who can surmount any circumstances and difficulties because he is walking with God and therefore can have the fullness of life.

If we plug that into Romans chapter one that is exactly what Paul is talking about. Romans 1:17 NASB “For in it {the} righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS {man} SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’” Just as the righteousness of God was revealed for Habakkuk, so it was revealed for us in the way God deals with the believer and the believer’s life. But the one who is justified by faith shall live. In the last part of Romans chapter one through chapter four the focus is on how a person becomes justified before God. It is by faith and not by works. In Romans 5 onward the issue is the result of justification by faith. In chapter 5 the believer has piece with God. Chapters 6–8 talk about the believer’s life and how he can live in service to God. Chapters 9–11 focus on how God’s righteousness is demonstrated in His dealings with Israel and that Israel will eventually will be saved. Then there is final application in chapters 12–16. So this lays out the outline of the book; that those who are justified by faith shall live. That is what Romans is all about.