The DIVINE RESPONSE, Habakkuk 2:4

by H. Ray. Dunning

This verse really is the climax of the book, for in it we have the culmination of the prophet's search. Unfortunately the text is quite corrupt.

His soul which is lifted up is not upright in him. There seem to be alternate readings, both of which the KJV has adopted and which literally would read: "Behold it is puffed up; not right is his soul in him." The Am Feshka commentary supports "puffed up" rather than "not made straight" (Taylor, op. cit., p. 988). By changing one letter in the Hebrew word for the second reading, the RSV comes out with the very good, "He whose soul is not upright in him shall fail." This has strength because it thus takes the form of an antithetic parallelism with two subjects in contrast: the "wicked" (so Aramaic paraphrase) and the just.

The Septuagint has a somewhat different implication and the New Testament quotation of this verse in Heb. 10:38 follows this rendering: "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." It is this also which Smith-Goodspeed follows in its translation, "Verily, the wicked man-I take no pleasure in him."

However the verse be phrased, the meaning is clear. Men like the Chaldeans who are puffed up with the sense of their own value, yet who are not right in God's sight, will soon perish. "They are like the chaff which the wind driveth away" (Ps. 1:4). This is God's answer to Habakkuk's first problem. Cook makes an excellent summary: "In one short saying, the two general aspects of the prophet's inquiry are dealt with; the pride and injustice of the invader are dealt with, and the just man is assured of life, i.e., preservation from evil and salvation on the condition that he hold steadfastly to the principle of faith"( Farrar, op. cit., p. 165).

The just shall live by his faith. The word rendered faith is the Hebrew emunah, from a verb meaning originally "to b firm," and is used in the Old Testament in the physical sense of steadfastness (Smith, op. cit., p. 140). Thus the better rendering is "faithfulness." Faith is a word for which, in the New Testament active sense, the Hebrew has no equivalent-though the term "believe" is derived from the same root as emunah."(IB, VI, 989).

Emunah is the word used to describe the uplifted bands of Moses, which were steady (Exod. 17:12). It is also used of men in charge of money who "dealt faithfully" (II Kings 12:15). It is closely akin, if not identical, to the English idiomatic statement "Hold steady," implying that if one does not "bolt," the circum stances that surround him will alter. Lehrman's suggested meaning of the intention of this exhortation is good: "The righteous Israelite, who remains unswervingly loyal to the moral precepts, will endure, although he has to suffer for his principles; whereas the wicked, who enjoy a temporary ascendancy through their violation of right, are in the end overthrown and humbled" (Op. cit., p. 219).

So, as Farrar says, this oracle "contains all that is necessary for the justification of God and the consolation of man" (Op. cit., p. 168).

The Septuagint translated emunah by pistis (faith). It was this translation which the New Testament writers made use of and thus incorporated the vision of Habakkuk into the very heart of the Christian preaching (kerygma). Paul quotes this clause twice (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11) in support of his doctrine of justification by faith. By it he "intends that single act of faith by which the sinner secures forgiveness and justification." It is also quoted along with the last clause of v. 3 in Heb. 10:37-38 to illustrate the benefits of faith.

In 1:12 and 2:1-4 we see "Living by Faith." The text, The just shall live by his faith. (1) Faith in God's holiness, His justice, His might, 1:12; (2) Faith demonstrated and rewarded in watchful prayer, clearer vision, and obedience, 2:1-3 (G. B. Williamson).


This is by H. Ray. Dunning, and is from Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, pp. 277, 78. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City: Kansas City, Mo. Copyright 1966 by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City.


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October 22, 2002