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Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Righteous Shall Live By His Faith (Devotion)



Over the past three months I’ve been working on memorizing Habakkuk 3.17-19a. I’m not there yet, but one of the benefits of weekly working on this passage is that it gives me generous times of reflection. Below are some of my ruminations that have come from working on these verses.

To begin with, two of Habakkuk’s three chapters are deliberations between Yahweh and the prophet. In chapter one Habakkuk is fed up with the immorality among his people and he tells God so. The LORD responds by saying he’s bringing judgment and the instrument of his justice will be brutal, blasphemous Babylon. Habakkuk swallows hard, and then in vexation sputters out, “How can you do that?! How can you use a thoroughly immoral and god-hating nation like Babylon to inflict justice on your people who are still more righteous than those pagans?” God responds in chapter two with two sets of answers. The final (and longest answer) is that Babylon will be brought down in judgment one day as well. But his primary (and shortest answer) is “I know it makes little sense to you, and the reasons are beyond you, but remember “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2.4b). It’s in this consternation over evil and war and destruction that this powerful and potent statement comes: “the righteous shall live by his faith.”

Next, chapter three is Habakkuk’s prayerful, worshipful response. Chapter three is a Psalm meant to be used in public worship (see the first and last sentences). Then the prophet portrays God in hard and frightening ways: pestilence and pandemic running around his feet like a litter of yapping puppies; lightning flashing from his hands; arrows flying; tents ripped up by whirlwind; plundering and pillaging, bloodshed and booty, cosmic contamination and catastrophe spilling out at his direction. It’s a horrific, unsettling scene.

But the prophet concludes that Psalm in these words:  Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3.17-19a). Here is one level of what it means that “the righteous shall live by his faith.” To paraphrase Habakkuk: even if the booths at the Farmer’s Market are bare, the grocery store is empty, the gas pumps are dry, the city water system broken, nevertheless I will trust you! Even if life seems hollow, my ministry futile, my marriage dried and shriveled up, my health crumbling and coming apart at the seams, nevertheless I will trust you! Here is someone who has come to understand “the righteous shall live by his faith.”

Fellow ministers, do you feel like all you’ve done for the past years or decades has only produced empty branches with withered leaves? Remember, “the righteous shall live by his faith.”

Moms and dads, have you toiled in loving, disciplining, directing and leading your children, and yet now that they are older teens or adults they have left that all behind to seek their own destinies in ways that break your hearts? Remember, “the righteous shall live by his faith.”

Husbands and wives, after years of attempting to love and honor your spouse, has your marriage become a dry and weary land where there is no water; dusty, desiccated, dehydrated? Remember, “the righteous shall live by his faith.”

There are so many others directions we can take this passage. God never promised us a free and easy life; he never assured us that if you believe in Jesus he’d fix all your problems; he never guaranteed successful marriages, wonderful children, prosperous ministries, thriving careers, and booming health. Instead, in the clouds and confusion, heartbreak and hurt Remember, “the righteous shall live by his faith.”

And that faith of the righteous will be able to say, along with the prophet: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3.17-19a).

Mike

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