The Rebuttal, Habakkuk 1:12-17 & 2:1-4

“The Debate” by Eleni Gemeni
12 ​​Are You not from everlasting,
​​O LORD my God, my Holy One?
​​We will not die.
​​O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment;
​​O Rock, You have marked them for correction.
13 ​​You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,
​​And cannot look on wickedness.
​​Why do You look on those who deal treacherously,
​​And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours
​​A person more righteous than he?
14 ​​Why do You make men like fish of the sea,
​​Like creeping things that have no ruler over them?
​15 ​​They take up all of them with a hook,
​​They catch them in their net,
​​And gather them in their dragnet.
​​Therefore they rejoice and are glad.
16 ​​Therefore they sacrifice to their net,
​​And burn incense to their dragnet;
​​Because by them their share is sumptuous
​​And their food plentiful.
17 ​​Shall they therefore empty their net,
​​And continue to slay nations without pity?
Chapter 2

1 I will stand my watch
​​And set myself on the rampart,
​​And watch to see what He will say to me,
​​And what I will answer when I am corrected.
2 Then the LORD answered me and said:
​​​“Write the vision
​​And make it plain on tablets,
​​That he may run who reads it.
3 ​​For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
​​But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
​​Though it tarries, wait for it;
​​Because it will surely come,
​​It will not tarry.
4 ​​“Behold the proud,
​​His soul is not upright in him;
​​But the just shall live by his faith.

When faced with something that seems unbelievable or sudden, it is common for us to analyze it and extrapolate the logic from the situation. If we can redefine information that we receive, we can filter it and process it on our own terms. Habakkuk’s rebuttal tries to logically process the Lord’s awe-founding reply to his lament.

We can see Habakkuk recounting the truth that he knows from the scriptures and his experience: God is everlasting, Lord, the Rock, holy, and pure. If God is all these things, then… how can this be the response? There is a disconnect between Habakkuk’s knowledge of who God and how God is acting.

  • If the Lord is just and pure, how can He look upon wickedness and do nothing?
  • If the Lord is just and pure, how can He hold back when the wicked are triumphant?
  • If the Lord is just and pure, how can He allow evil men to capture, humiliate, and kill a chosen people?
  • If the Lord is just and pure, how can He let an evil nation rejoice and praise false gods?

Habakkuk also reminds God of a promise: we will not die (v. 12). Another prophet, Jeremiah, also knew of this promise as the Lord repeated it several times to Judah; ““But even in those days, declares the LORD, I will not make a full end of you” (Jeremiah 5:18). Lord – if we will not die, how can you let this happen? Don’t You remember Your promises?

When we put God into our “logic box” and try to filter His unfathomable character and eternal-perspective, the outcome will rarely make sense. Logically (humanly speaking), if the Lord is just and pure, then He cannot allow anything unjust or filthy to succeed. But when we look around in our broken world, this simply is not true. So, again, we are left with “why, Lord, why?”

While it looks like things are out of control behind the scenes there is a God who has not surrendered authority.

A.W. Tozer

In the dialogue, we can see the desperation and frustration in Habakkuk’s rebuttal. He does not hold back his emotions, his reasoning, his voice – this is an important lesson for us! When Habakkuk struggled with doubt, fear, and anger at what was happening, he did not walk away from the Lord. Instead he brought his questions and doubts to the Lord and waited for the Lord to respond. He waited and stood watch for an answer.

Chapter 2 starts with Habakkuk’s wait and to us, it appears that the Lord responded quickly. However, we don’t know how long he had to wait. What we do know is that Habakkuk didn’t just sit and wait, he prepared himself for the Lord’s response and stood watch as well.

How often do we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s answer? More times than not, we lament and pray and then just wait…almost like we are making wishes and hoping they will come true. But there is work in the waiting that should not be neglected. We should be preparing our hearts for the Lord’s response and be ready to act when we start to see Him working.

The true answer to all our prayers is for the Lord to return and restore His creation. When we are praying, are we focused on the true answer to prayer or are we looking short-term and self-focused? How would our prayer life change if we prayed like the Lord was returning any moment – what we would be asking for or what would we want to be different?

Waiting is hard and it can be monotonous. But if we wait without preparation and expectation of the Lord’s return, we will become like Israel who became complacent in waiting for the promised Messiah that they were not ready when He appeared in the flesh.

When the Lord responds, He tells Habakkuk to write down the vision plainly so that men may read it and be warned to run. This vision will unfold, so Judah mustn’t get lazy in the waiting period because it will come suddenly and then it will be too late. Jesus told his disciples the same thing: keep watch.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25:13

Hopeful: I believed that all was told me was true. I needed Christ’s righteousness to live, and I thought if I quit praying for it, I would die in my sin. Then this verse came to mind, “If it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, and it will not tarry.” So I continued to pray until the Father showed me His Son”.                 
Christian: How was He revealed to you?”                 
Hopeful: One day I saw Him – not with my eyes, but with my heart. The Lord Jesus looked down from heaven on me, saying “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” And I replied, “Lord, I am a very great sinner.” He answered, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And my heard was full of joy, my eyes full of tears, my love running over in the ways of Jesus Christ…
The Pilgrim’s Progress (Abridged) by John Bunyan

A pivotal verse in Habakkuk is 2:4, the just shall live by his faith. The phrase “by his faith” can be translated as “steadfast reliance” and “trust that “perseveres.”  Even though the unrighteous prevail, the Lord instructs us to wait for the appointed time. Until that time, we must live by faith.

If the phrase the just shall live by his faith sounds familiar, it is because the apostle Paul infused this principle in his letters to various churches and it is quoted three times in the New Testament.

In Romans, Paul reassures us that the gospel is the power of God and it reveals a righteousness, that is imputed to those who live by faith. God’s wrath will be made plain to those who refuse the gospel, but those who hold fast to God’s word (truth) will be saved.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. Romans 1:16-19

In Galatians, Paul compares the law and faith. If we live under the law, we are cursed to forever fall short of its standard. We cannot be justified by the law. But God has justified his children, and by faith we are given the gift of the Spirit through Christ; we share in Christ’s righteousness. We no longer live by the law, but by faith.

So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "the righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Galatians 3:11

Finally, the author of Hebrews (often thought to be Paul) rallies us to persevere. Do not shrink back – our Savior is coming and does not delay! We are among cowards, but we must be bold and stand firm so that we will be delivered. How can we do this? By faith. So, what is faith? The elements of faith seem appropriately outlined in Hebrews 10:36-39:

  • Faith fixes its eyes on Christ and His return.
  • Faith receives God’s verdict of righteousness.
  • Faith does not draw back, even in the midst of suffering.
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. Hebrews 10:36-39

Ultimately, the just or righteous do not live by belonging to a particular nation or following a set of rules. They will live by faith and not by sight. “Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see. This is why the ancients were commended” (Hebrews 11:1).

In the Lord’s eternal perspective, His words from Habakkuk sparked the Great Reformation in Europe. The reformer, Martin Luther, wrestled with the concept the just shall live by faith – the standard to live a just life is so high that he cannot hope to attain such a life. What did it mean to live by faith? And why is this consolation in the suffering that we endure? 

I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would appease Him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul’s became to me a gate to heaven.

Martin Luther
Luther’s Works, Vol 34, ed. Helmut L. Lehmann
(Minneapolis, MN. Fortress Press, 1960), 337

If we look back at the chaotic, earth-shattering moments in our lives, we may notice that the Lord does not come to immediately save us, and His answers seem to be counter-productive for our lives. He draws us into waiting, desiring that we wrestle in prayer and preparation. If we don’t do the work, how can we be ready to accept His provision for our lives? Faith is formed in the waiting.


  • How do you put God into a “logic box”? How did God break through the box and change your perspective?
  • What are your thoughts on how John Bunyan applied Habakkuk 2:3 in the dialogue between Hopeful and Christian?
  • How would your prayer life change if you prayed like the Lord was returning any moment – what you would be asking for or what would you want to be different?

  • How can you apply the just shall live by faith in your own life?

Singing the book of Habakkuk

“Torn” by Tenth Avenue North

… And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends…

Habakkuk: A Journey of Suffering © by Rachael McMullen