First of all, in Habakkuk 2:4, we see the character of the godly and the character of the ungodly contrasted in as simple of terms as you can get. Speaking probably of the Babylonian king in particular, and also of the Babylonians in general, God tells Habakkuk that “…his soul is puffed up…” Ultimately, the root of all sin is arrogance. The idea that we don’t have to obey God or His word, that we can make our own decisions and define our own morality, is at the root of every sin that people commit. When someone cheats on their taxes, timecard, or spouse, they are in effect saying “What I want is more important that what God commands”. Therefore, they have set themselves up as a higher authority than God. When you find sin in anyone’s life, you will find pride at the root of it. Because of this pride, God declares that “[his soul] is not upright within him”. The proud person who will not repent of sin whether he recognizes it or others love him enough to point it out to him is not right with God.
Now, God tells us how a person can be right with him—how that person can live. He tells us how that person can avoid judgment and eternal damnation. If someone wants to be justified before God, there is one path that they can follow: faith. God tells us that those who will be declared righteous are so declared because of their faith. It is not because they kept the law or earned enough credits with God because of their good works. Praise God!!!! Nothing I’ve ever done or am capable of doing is anything more than filth in the sight of the Lord Almighty. I don’t have the strength to faithfully follow God. Even if I could keep some of the commandments, I can’t keep all of them. I know what the end of my journey would be if it depended on me and my strength, on what I’ve done. But because God is so good and so merciful, He chose before the foundation of the world to save people and those whom He would save He gave the faith that their heart lacked and couldn’t possibly produce. Righteousness, therefore, comes not by works but by faith. And that faith couldn’t come from a proud person who believes they’ve got this whole “right with God” thing covered. The faith that saves a person can only come from a heart that says “Have mercy on me, God, a sinner!”
Now, God gives us a glimpse inside the heart of the proud man—probably specifically with Nebecanezzer in mind. However, the principals are timeless and apply no matter where you look. That being said, let’s look at the first part of verse 5 in a few different translations.
Habakkuk 2:5 (ESV) Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest.
Habakkuk 2:5 (NIV) indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest.
Habakkuk 2:5 (NLT) Wealth is treacherous, and the arrogant are never at rest.
Habakkuk 2:5 (KJV) Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man,
So, as you can see in these verses, there seems to be some discrepancy as to what is being said here. Is it wine or wealth, or for that matter the man himself, that is treacherous? Is it because he drinks too much? Again, I must remind the reader that while I know enough Greek to make an educated guess here or there in expositing the New Testament, my Hebrew is limited to what little I picked up from the movie “Crossing Delancy”. So, I can’t tell you exactly what God had in mind when He inspired this scripture. However, we know of the Babylonian king’s pride (Daniel 4:28-33) and we know the Babylonians were not afraid to get drunk no matter what was going on, like say, an enemy invasion (Daniel 5). Further, as we read the rest of the verse, I think we see the underlying principal. There is an underlying restlessness for the proud, wicked, godless person. Generally, people without God have a hole in their heart that they try to fill with everything. They find all their pursuits empty and they never have enough. Specifically, the Babylonians demonstrate this fact in their endless quest for conquest. They seemingly could never have enough bloodshed, or conquer enough land, to satisfy them. In fact, they became the first world power, quite literally conquering “all nations…all peoples”, of the Western world anyway.
So, probably more than 200 years before the birth of Christ or before Paul would write Romans and Galatians, we see here that God revealed what makes a person right with Him, faith. He had done so as far back as Genesis, and it is found elsewhere in the Old Testament. The fact is, friends, that righteousness by faith has always been and always will be the only way a man or woman can be saved. Praise God that it doesn’t depend on us.