Habbakkuk was living in interesting times. Judah was heavily influenced by the idolatrous culture of Assyria on one hand, but rebelling against it with the other; and playing playing politics with Egypt as well. Assyria was in its death throes as an empire, with the Chaldeans and Babylonians on the horizon. We first see him complaining to God about the evil world he lives in. God's answer: Judah's punishment is coming--and the punishers will get theirs in due time as well. God's answer: 'What you are seeing is people puffed up with pride, greed, and evil desires; but those who are righteous and faithful will live.' God's promise sounds simple, but this is one of the most powerful prophetic words in Scripture. The idea of "faithfulness" goes back to the beginnings of the Old Testament. A classic example is Abraham, who recognized God's faithfulness to him and whose "faith was counted to him as righteousness." We see it in Moses, and the obedience of the whole list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. We see it in Psalm l: 'Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.'
With the coming of Jesus, we see the word coming into the Greek as "faith", which is an attitude of the mind and soul as well as obedience in action. What Habakkuk saw in his day was the tendency of mankind to fall into sin, but the challenge from God is to be faithful. What Jesus brought is a whole new thing: instead of trying to be faithful to a system of law, realize that this is a dead end (literally) and recognize a new life through a commitment in faith to the Lordship of Christ. The apostle Paul picked up the word to Habakkuk: 'I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed by faith: as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."' (Romans 1:1-17) Paul expands on this in Galatians: 'Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law..but the law does not rest on faith..Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law..that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. '(Galatians 3:11-14) It is not our righteousness that saves us, but we gain righteousness as a gift of God through faith.
"Faith" in the Biblical sense is not something that we talk ourselves into as a way of manipulating God. The writer of Hebrews relates it to confidence:' Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful..do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. "For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him."' (Habakkuk 2:3-4 quoted in Hebrews 10:37-38) 'Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. ... And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek, him.' (Hebrews 11:1,6) God is faithful; and we know that faith brings us life.