What does it mean to be the people of God when they have fallen deep into idolatry and sin? This is where we got to in our last post in this series. Israel, the light of the nations, has become deeply entangled with evil and the very promises and righteousness of God is in question. God is about to send Israel's enemy, the Babylonians, as an instrument of God's wrath against his own people, the Torah possessing covenant people:
"Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own. Dread and fearsome are they; their justice and dignity proceed from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more menacing than wolves at dusk; their horses charge. Their horsemen come from far away; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, with faces pressing* forward; they gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and of rulers they make sport. They laugh at every fortress, and heap up earth to take it. Then they sweep by like the wind; they transgress and become guilty; their own might is their god!" Habakkuk 1.5-117891011
Habakkuk is of course a book full of woe and puzzlement. The Babylonians are marching against Israel; all seems lost. What is God up to in allowing it? By way of answer, the prophet is given a vision, but it is a vision for the future, to be revealed at a later date (Hab 2.3). At the moment, God's true people, the righteous within a sinful nation, "will live by faith". The tree may be cut down, but a shoot shall sprout out of the stump of Jesse. Being a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will no longer mean belonging to the people of God. Possession of the Torah will not be enough. It will be those with faith that shall be called righteous. It will now be those who have faith in God's faithfulness to his promises who will be known as the saints of the Most High God.
What does this mean in practice for the prophet? It means believing that God will eventually punish the idolatrous and violent nation (2.5-20), that God will remember mercy in the midst of wrath and bring salvation to Israel (3.2-19). As Israel goes into exile, there will be a remnant that shall remain faithful to YHWH, and shall await the fulfillment of God's promises for Israel and the world (cf Isaiah 10.20-34).
If only it were that simple...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.