Habbakkuk 2:4 serves a critical role in Paul’s explanation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Apostle quotes it as the key prooftext for demonstrating that eternal life is granted to those who trust in Christ and not in themselves for their righteousness before God (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). Consequently, Habakkuk’s way of life can also help us understand the nature of saving faith. Note that in Habakkuk 3:17–19, the prophet affirms his trust in our Creator even if he should suffer crushing poverty. Clearly, we should understand that authentic faith holds fast to the Lord no matter one’s outward circumstances. Those who possess saving faith trust in God not only in plenty but also in want.
The Lord graciously blesses His people, and we should not be ashamed to enjoy His good gifts. Yet as suffering and hardship are often God’s means for refining and strengthening our faith, we must remember that faith really proves itself in times of great adversity. The author of Hebrews demonstrates this in today’s passage, as he places a special highlight on those who trusted God in the midst of the greatest diffculties imaginable. Certainly, many old covenant saints accomplished great things through trusting in God (Heb. 11:32–34). Many of these same saints and others, however, persevered in faith during periods of tremendous pain. Moses did not take the easy way out of holding on to his status as an Egyptian prince; rather, he embraced exile and later opposed the strongest king on earth. He did so because he trusted in God and by faith identified himself with the covenant community (11:24–28; see Ex. 2:11–12:51). He left the temporary pleasures of worldly wealth and fame for the sake of eternal blessings that were yet unseen. Only by faith could he have done this.
Other old covenant saints did the same, enduring death, dismemberment, scourging, homelessness, and much more (Heb. 11:35–37). To the spiritually blind, this appears to be foolishness. But in God’s view, “the world was not worthy” of these faithful men and women (v. 38).
God’s evaluation, of course, is the only one that matters. The world remains unworthy of those who persevere in faith. As we press forward in trusting in the Lord even when it is most difficult, we are conformed to the image of Christ, who did the same (12:1–2). Moreover, like Him we will finally receive the joy set before us.