Grace Theological Journal 1.1 (Spring 1980) 43-69.
[Copyright © 1980 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
digitally prepared for use at
RELATING TO HABAKKUK 2:4b
GEORGE J. ZEMEK, JR.
THE worthy reputation of Hab 2:4b in both Jewish and Christian
circles is well attested. For example, "the Talmud records the
famous remark of R. Simlai (Makkot 23b), 'Moses gave
commandments. David reduced them to 10, Isaiah to 2, but Habak-
kuk to one: the righteous shall live by his faith.'"1 New Testament
theology is also built upon that text's firm foundation. Concerning
Paul’s utilization, Johnson appropriately asserts: "'The just shall live
by faith,'--it is, without question, near the soul of Pauline the-
ology."2 Historically, the testimony of the text as a theological
benchmark continued to grow. The preeminent illustration of this
phenomenon was the text's catalytic effect in leading to the Reforma-
tion: "Habakkuk's great text, with his son Paul's comments and
additions, became the banner of the Protestant Reformation in the
hands of Habakkuk's grandson, Martin Luther."3 Consequently,
Feinberg's appraisal of Hab 2:4b should not be regarded as an
overstatement: "The key to the whole Book of Habakkuk. . . the
central theme of all the Scriptures."4
In spite of this reputation, the text has occasioned many critical
investigations. These studies range from those immediately associated
with the text to those which are tangential; in terms of result, they
range from those which are destructive to those which are construc-
tive. This endeavor is intended to be a general survey of the most
significant challenges relating to Hab 2:4b.
Since the text is particularly strategic, every conservative student
of the Word of God has the theological responsibility of sharpening
his focus on the tensions manifested by these studies. Also, this
*The author would like to thank Mr. William D. Barrick for his labors in
reference to the revision of the format of this paper for publication.
1 S. M. Lehrman, "Habakkuk," in The Twelve Prophets, Soncino Books of the
Bible, ed. by A. Cohen (London: Soncino, 1948) 219.
2 S. L. Johnson, Jr., "The Gospel That Paul Preached," BSac 128 (1971) 327.
3 Ibid., 328.
4 C. L. Feinberg, The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets: Habakkuk. Zephaniah,
and Malachi (New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews, 1951) 23.
44 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
responsibility cannot be avoided merely because an ultimate resolu-
tion of all the tensions is improbable.5
The occasion of these tensions is related
primarily to the "
tual, hermeneutical, exegetical, and theological problems raised by
the use of Hab 2:4 in the New Testament."6 A corollary to this
central concern is the alleged Paul/James antithesis between faith and
works. However, when all the scriptural data is synthesized, the
arguments are found to be complementary, and a biblically balanced
A larger, concentric corollary involves the scriptural data which
may be systematized within the doctrine of the perseverance of the
saints. Larger yet is the concentric corollary of divine sovereignty and
human responsibility. In all of these cases and from the reference
point of an exegetical, systematic theology, the issues are not illumi-
nated by an either/or methodology but by a both/and sensitivity. The
key word of biblical and systematic studies in theology must be
It is expedient to examine the text of Hab 2:4b first. There are at
least two good reasons for this tack: textual variants are minimal, and
consequently, the line becomes a poetical reference point which
provides important clues concerning the interpretation of the more
difficult lines within the immediate context.8
The major textual problem concerns the third masculine singular
suffix attached to hnAUmx<. Brownlee summarizes the pertinent data:
5 Concerning a tangentially but yet vitally related discussion on the significance of
the genitive qeou? in the phrase dikaiosu<nh qeou? within its context (i.e., Rom 1:17a; cf.
Hab 2:4b quotation in Rom 1:17b), Cranfield honestly concludes that "the last word in
this debate has clearly not yet been spoken. It would therefore be irresponsible to claim
that the question has been conclusively decided either way" [italics added]. C. E. B.
Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (ICC;
Cranfield represents only one facet of the tension related to the present study.
6 Johnson, "The Gospel That Paul Preached," 338, n. 31.
7 Cranfield carefully describes the Protestant/Catholic tensions over dikaiou?n. His
recognition of both distinction and concord with regard to justification and sanctifica-
tion is noteworthy. Cranfield, Romans, 1. 95.
8 In the light of the textual complications of vv 2:4a and 2:5a, the latter reason is
particularly significant. Cf. D. E. Gowan, The Triumph of Faith
in Habakkuk (
John Knox, 1976) 45; C. F. Keil, Minor Prophets, in vol. 10 of Commentary on the Old
in Ten Volumes, by C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch (
n.d.), 2. 73;
Adams, and Co., 1845) 303.
9 For extended discussions, see: W. H. Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation of
Habakkuk," JBL 82 (1963) 322ff.; J. A. Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 45
Instead of vtnvmxb in Hab. 2:4, G, Aq., and Old Latin read ytnvmxb
It is no loss that the word in vii. 15 [i.e. 1QpHab] is no longer extant,
for in the script of the scroll v and y could not have been distinguished.
The interpretation Mtnmx ("their faith") at viii. 2, however, fortunately
confirms the 3rd per. suffix. T's NvhFwvq interprets also the 3rd sing.
suffix--the plural number being merely a part of the translator's free
representation of the thought. The Palestinian recension reads
en pis[e]i autou with MT against G's ek pi<stewj mou . . . . In the
N.T. neither suffix is attested (Rom. ; Gal. ; Heb. ), but
the interpretation is consonant with the 3rd pers.10
Semantic considerations pertaining to qyDica
1. General considerations. With the introduction of the semantics
of the qdc words, the battle for balance in this study commences. To
a greater or lesser degree, every scholar's presuppositions color his
interpretation of the data. Generally speaking, Hill's treatment demon-
strates commendable balance. Dodd's treatment is based upon a
legitimate footing; however, at times, he becomes eccentric to the
right. His footing is worthy of citation:
It is evident that this study of the Greek renderings of qdc has an
important bearing upon the uses of diakiosu<nh, di<kaioj, dikaiou?n in
the New Testament. In particular, the Pauline use of these terms must
be understood in the light of Septuagintal usage and the underlying
Hebrew. The apostle wrote Greek, and read the LXX, but he was also
familiar with the Hebrew original. Thus while his language largely
follows that of the LXX, the Greek words are for him always coloured
by their Hebrew association.12
Problems of Habakkuk II. 4-5," JTS 28 (1977) 10ff. [note pp. 17-18 for further
bibliography]; P. J. M. Southwell, "A Note on Habakkuk ii. 4," JTS 19 (1968) 614-16
[a good synopsis of the data with the texts conveniently printed]; F. Delitzsch,
Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, trans. by T. L. Kingsbury (2 vols., reprinted;
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 272-73 and nn. 195, 196. In n. 196, Bruce outlines the various
ways that the LXX witnesses position the possessive mou with di<kaioj. Ibid., 273 n. 196.
10 W. H. Brownlee, The Text of Habakkuk in the Ancient Commentary from
(JBLMS 11; Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1959) 44-45. Concerning the
mou of the LXX, it "could mean either 'because of my [sc. God's] faithfulness' or
‘because of his faith in me.'" Cranfield, Romans, 1. 100. It is obvious that the active
and passive options of pi<stij contribute to this ambivalence. For further comment on
the diversity of the possessive pronouns in
J. Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1869) 244.
11 For an excellent discussion of the root qdc, with generally credible syntheses,
D. Hill, Greek. Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soterio-
Logical Terms (SNTSMS 5; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1967) 82-162 [i.e., chap.
4, "The Background and Meaning of DIKAIOSUNH and Cognate Words"]; note
especially pp. 82-98.
12 C. H. Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935) 57.
46 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
It will be seen that Barr's slightly left-of-center polemic will help to
check indiscriminate extensions of the aforementioned principle,
regardless of the specific words involved (e.g., qdc, Nmx, etc.).
After an etymological survey of the root qdc (cf. Ugaritic,
Phoenician, and Arabic).13 Hill concludes:
On the basis of these illustrations of early usage it is difficult to
assert with confidence a single primary meaning of the root qdc. The
most we can say is that they suggest that the fundamental idea of qdc
available to us is that of conformity to a norm which requires to be
defined in each particular case.14
Turning to the Old Testament, it is first necessary to note that there is
a "two-fold application of the qdc-terms"15: ""The application of
qdc-words to Yahweh" and ""the application of the qdc-words to
Cranfield's survey adequately presents the most significant data
and exposes the judicial and ethical subcategories:
Where sedek is used in connexion with the conduct of persons, it refers
to the fulfillment of the obligations arising from a particular situation,
the demands of a particular
relationship. As far as
cerned the supremely important relationship was the covenant between
God and His people; and sedek in the OT is to be understood in the
context of the Covenant. The adjective saddik is used to describe those
whose conduct and character, whether specifically in relation to the
administration of justice or quite generally, are characterized by sedek.
But [italics added] there are passages in which saddik used of
of the individual Israelite, refers to status rather than to ethical
condition (see, for example, Ps. 32:11 in the light of vv. 1, 2 and 5; Isa.
60:21). The cognate verb used in the Qal, can mean (i) "be just," "be
righteous" (e.g. Job 35:7; Ps. 19:9 [MT:10]; 51:4 [MT:6]); (ii) "be in
the right" in the sense of having a just cause (e.g. Gen. 38:26); (iii) "be
justified," "be declared righteous" (e.g. Ps. 143:2; Isa. 43:26). In the
Hiph’il (and occasionally in the Pi’el), it means "justify," "declare
righteous," "acquit" (e.g. Exod. 23:7; Deut. 25:1; Prov. ): there is
also one place (Dan. 12:3), where the Hiph’il seems to mean "make
righteous," "turn to righteousness.”17
13 Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, 82-83.
14 Ibid. Cf. Cranfield, Romans, 1. 94.
15 Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, 86-96. This data should be carefully
surveyed. For treatments of a popular nature, see: A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the
Old Testament, ed. by S. D. F. Salmond (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907)
R. B. Girdlestone, Synonymns of the Old Testament (reprinted;
Eerdmans, 1973) 158ff.; L. J. Kuyper, "Righteousness and Salvation," SJT 30 (1977)
16 Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, 86-92 and 93-96.
17 Cranfield, Romans, 1.94.
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 47
The existence of an ethical sense in some occurrences of qyDica in
the Old Testament must not be disputed: "On many occasions. . . the
'righteous' are those who, in humility and faithfulness, trust in
Yahweh, despite persecution and oppression: those who seek to live
uprightly and without pride of heart, depending on Yahweh for
protection and vindication."18 However, the question remains whether
it is valid to categorize qyDica in Hab 2:4b as "just, righteous, in
conduct and character. . . towards God."19
2. hqAdAic; in Genesis 15:6. As previously intimated, the judicial
implications concerning the nature of any man who is designated qyDica
are not always given due credence. To Habakkuk or any godly Jew, the
background of God's dealings with Abraham would be foundational:
"Then he [i.e., Abraham] believed [Nmix<h,v;] in the LORD; and He reck-
oned it to him as righteousness [hqAdAc; Ol. hAb,w;H;y.ava]" (Gen 15:6).20
Of particular significance to this study is the observation that the roots
of the two key words of Hab 2:4b (i.e., qyDica and it hnAUmx<) are associated
in this important verse from the Pentateuch. Also related to this
judicial phenomenon is the delocutive employment of the Hiphil of
qdc (i.e., qyDic;hi, to "pronounce in the right," "justify").21 These observations
are germane to a balanced understanding of qyDica (and hnAUmx<) in Hab 2:4b.
Gowan believes that the term has a judicial nuance, based upon
the occurrence of qyDica in antithetical contexts: "The word. . . is used
in a situation of controversy and contrast, to denote those whom God
favors."22 This argument does favor a non-ethical employment of
qyDica in Hab 2:4b, but it presents a slightly different perspective, one
which cannot be ignored in the light of the larger context:
18 Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, 94. Hill's discussion of the ethical usages
of qyDica is excellent. He points out that such usages are inextricably related to
the attributes of the Lord associated with the qdc-group of words [cf. the same
phenomenon in reference to the Nmx-group] (ibid., 92). Furthermore, "the suggested
threefold development in the history of the qdc-words may be of guidance in the
understanding and interpretation of other religious and theological terms. This devel-
opment takes the word from an association with man and his life (in this case, the
‘righteousness’ of the king) to an association with Yahweh, and back again to man,
with a richer content and colour drawn from its relation to deity" (ibid., 97).
19 BDB 843. For an extended development of this ethical category, see: Dodd, The
Bible and the Greeks, 42ff.
20 For an important discussion of Hab 2:4 as it presupposes the foundational truths
of God's dealings with Abraham (e.g., Gen 15:6) along with Paul's "Christian
Midrash" see: E.
E. Ellis, Paul's Use of the Old Testament
1957) 117, n. I; 119-20. Cf. W. B. Wallis, "The Translation of Romans -A Basic
Motif in Paulinism," JETS 16 (1973) 22.
21 R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax.. An Outline (2nd edition;
22 Gowan, The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk, 42. It is fair to assume, however, that
Gowan’s thesis and conclusion concerning qyDica in Hab 2:4b have been affected to a
degree by his desire to demonstrate an antithetical substantive in hlAP;fu (2:4a). Ibid.
48 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
The just (Hebrew, tsaddik), the righteous one, is the one who has
been vindicated, whom God has declared to be right. There is a legal
background to this word; it denotes the winner in a case at law in some
of its Old Testament uses. So it is not restricted in its reference to a
purely internal quality of goodness which one may possess. It is used in
situations of controversy to denote the side which is right. Its opposite
is wicked (Hebrew, rasha’), and we saw the two words paired in 1:4 and
3. The Greek renderings.24 An important generalization is noted
Where the Hebrew conception of righteousness differs from the popu-
lar Greek conception we may put it thus, that whereas for the Greek
dikaiosu<nh is always being pulled over from the broad sense of
"righteousness" to the narrower sense of "justice," the pull in Hebrew
is in the opposite direction.25
In the light of this, it is obvious that the Septuagint's renderings of
the qdc-words modified the di<kaioj words. These changes primarily
reflect divine and covenantal influences found in the Hebrew word.
NT usages basically follow this pattern:
That Paul's use of the words di<kaioj, dikaiosu<nh and dikaiou?n (and
also of dikai<wma and dikai<wsij) reflects his familiarity with, and is to
a very considerable extent molded by, the LXX use of them to render
words of the sdk ( group is clear, and is generally agreed. . . . But, in
spite of the general agreement on the importance of the LXX here,
there is far from being general agreement as to the precise significance
which these words have in Paul.26
Ironically, it would seem that these observations and clarifications
magnify the interpretive challenges relating to Hab 2:4b.
Semantic considerations pertaining to hy,Hyi
This kind of life must be understood within its biblical frame-
To live is not merely to exist, in Hebrew thought. One is not really
alive when sick, weak, in danger or with a damaged reputation. To be
alive is to have vigor, security and honor. So this verse does not merely
tell us how we can barely hang on to some feeble thread of existence in
23 Ibid., 41.
24 See: Hill, "di<kaioj and Related Words in Greek Usage," in Greek Words and
Hebrew Meanings, 98ff.
25 Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 45. For specific comparisons and contrasts, see:
Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, 102-3.
26 Cranfield, Romans, 1.95. Concerning the verb (i.e., dikaiou?n), he especially notes
that "none of the occurrences. . . can be at all tolerably explained on the basis of the
word's use in secular Greek." Ibid.
49 ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b
times such as Habakkuk describes; no, it speaks of being richly and
fully alive. That interpretation is confirmed by -18.27
Hill corroborates this interpretation, but with an ethical emphasis:
Man's life, however, is more than simply length of days and
abundance of possessions: it consists rather in what he is by virtue of
his goals and ideals. . . . The pessimistic outlook which characterizes
Ecclesiastes focuses attention on enjoyment, but in Proverbs the ideal is
the good life, the life of righteousness. “In the paths of righteousness is
life" (Prov. ; cf. ; ); wisdom is the source and means of
life (3:2; ), and the fear of the Lord leads to life (). . . . We
recall the utterance of Deut. 8:3, “Man lives (hy,H;yi) by everything
which proceeds from the mouth of the Lord" Only by faithfulness,
that is, by loyalty to Yahweh and his covenant, will the righteous man
live (Hab. 2:4). In these instances the verb hyAHA connotes not only
physical survival in a time of disaster, but also living in right relation to
Ethical responsibilities, however, must not be used to distort the
ultimate, theocentric foundation of biblical life. The most significant
aspect of the Hebrew understanding of “life," is “its dependence on
God."29 Consequently, it is appropriate to classify the hy,H;yi of Hab
2:4b under the heading of the “pregnant sense of fulness of life in
Semantic considerations pertaining to OtnAUmx<B,
The significance of hnAUmx< in Hab 2:4b and in its mediate
connection (i.e., through the Greek rendering pi<stij) to the NT
references supersedes all the other hermeneutical challenges of this
1. The usage of hnAUmx<.31 The feminine noun hnAUmx< in the OT
primarily connotes “firmness, steadfastness, fidelity."32 Of particular
27 Gowan, The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk, 42-43. Cf. H. S. Bryant, “The
Meaning of Habakkuk 2:4" (unpublished Bachelor of Divinity thesis, Grace Theologi-
cal Seminary, 1966) 27-29, 34-36. Against this reference being merely an eschatological
one, see: R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans
(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1936) 87-88. Cranfield combines the abundant and eschato-
logical life perspectives: Cranfield, Romans, 1. 101.
28 Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings, 165.
29 Ibid., 168.
30 BDB 311.
31 See esp.: “’Faith' and -Truth'--an Examination of some Linguistic Arguments,"
7 of: J. Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (
1961) 161-205. Also: ibid., 161, n. 1; and A. Jepsen, "NmaxA,” TDOT 1. 292ff.
32 BDB 53. For a helpful survey in chart form listing every occurrence, the KJV
rendering, point of reference, and meaning, see: Bryant, -'The Meaning of Habakkuk
50 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
significance is the employment of the word in the sense of "faithful-
ness."33 When referring to God, this usage reflects a divine attribute
often paralleled with his ds,H, or his qd,c, (cf. Pss 88:12; 89:2, 3, 6, 9,
25; 96:13; 98:3; 119:90; 143:1; Isa 25:1; Hos [all versifications
from Hebrew Bible]). The word has a passive meaning in the over-
whelming number of cases; note the following excerpts from Light-
It will thus be seen that hnvmx properly represents the passive sense of
pi<stij, as indeed the form of the word shows. . . . Thus in its biblical
usage the word hnvmx can scarcely be said ever to have the sense
"belief, trust," though sometimes approaching towards it. . . . Unlike
the Hebrew, the Greek word seems to have started from the active
meaning. . . . In the Old Testament, there being no Hebrew equivalent
to the active meaning, pi<stij has always the passive sense, "fidelity,"
"constancy," unless the passage in Habakkuk be regarded as an
Thus, there would be no debate regarding the significance of
hnAUmx< in Hab 2:4b if its usage was determined by statistical precedent.
For this reason, many would conclude that "’emunah seems. . . to
emphasize one's own inner attitude and the conduct it produces"35
and that its significance is "constancy in executing and fulfilling the
commands of God through all uncertainty and conflict."36 Neverthe-
less, the usage of hnAUmx< in Hab 2:4b could be regarded as transitional
and consequently could be construed to bear a double sense (i.e.,
both active and passive ).37 In the light of this possibility, further
pursuits are necessary.
2. The theoretical root [NmaxA]. After a survey of the cognates of
Nmx (e.g., Arabic, Ethiopic, South Arabic, Syriac, etc.),38 one might
be led to conclude unreservedly that "the basic idea underlying the
root is that of firmness or fixity"39 and that:
33 Ibid.; cf.
usage category 3. Also, see usage category 4 in:
34 J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (reprinted;
Zondervan, 1957) 155, 156. Lightfoot's whole excursus, "The words denoting 'Faith,'"
should be studied; it is a valuable synopsis (ibid., 154-58).
35 Jepsen, TDOT 1. 317.
36 G. Quell and G. Schrenk, "di<kh, di<kaioj, dikaiosu<nh," TDNT 2. 177. Cf.:
"The idea [in Hab 2:4b] is that of unwavering hold of the word of God against all
contrary appearances" (O. Michel, "pi<stij," NIDNTT 1. 597).
37 Lightfoot, Galatians, 155. The contention that the usage of hnAUmx< in Hab 2:4b is
transitional and that it actually attains to an active meaning is actively supported and
delineated by Barr: Semantics, 201.
38 Cf. Barr, Semantics, 185-86.
39 Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 66. Dodd, along with others, would also argue
that "the Greek translators show themselves aware of this by occasionally translating
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 51
When a Hebrew heard the various words derived from the root ‘mn,
the basic idea that came to his mind was apparently "constancy."
When they were used of things, they meant "continual"; and when they
were connected with persons, "reliability."40
Nevertheless, Jepsen interjects a crucial qualification: "However,
derivatives could have special meanings in any given context."41 This
qualification is the polemical standard of Barr:
Even assuming, therefore, that the "ultimate" etymology of words
of the root ‘-m-n is "firmness," we have here an illustration of the
harm of paying excessive attention to the most ultimate etymology and
failing to consider what forms were current at the relevant times and
what senses they bore in actual usage. Extant forms are not derived
directly from the ultimate etymology or from the "root meaning."
There is a detailed and often complicated history for each form; the
fact that for lack of knowledge we often cannot trace it does not mean
that we can suppose it does not exist.42
The significance of Barr's statement is more clearly seen if it is
remembered that the Qal perfect of Nmx is not attested in biblical
Built upon the above semantic hypothesis is Barr's suggestion that
historically there are really two spheres of the evolution of the usage of
hnAUmx<.43 The discussion of this debate will be restricted to the biblical
data. Dodd's introductory comments are germane:
In the vocabulary of religion and ethics the verb is chiefly used (i) in the
niphal participle, which bears the passive meaning "made firm," "con-
firmed," "established," and so "trustworthy," "faithful"; and (ii) in the
hiphil, which means "to be convinced," "to trust."44
On one side are those who would historically relate the usage of
hnAUmx< exclusively to the Niphal verbal. Many would argue that in the
absence of corresponding substantives for the Hiphil's active sense
the words from this root by such expressions as sthri<zein, sth<rigma" (ibid.).
However, Barr registers some legitimate objections to such arguments. Cf. Barr,
40 Jepsen, TDOT 1. 322-23.
41 Ibid., 323.
42 Barr, Semantics, 187. For Barr's polemic against the "fundamental meaning"
syndrome which leads to the "root fallacy" complication in relation to Nmx, see: ibid.,
161ff. He argues against "an illegitimate confusion of theological and linguistic
methods" (163). His argument is well taken; however, theological presuppositions are
never totally set aside, as illustrated sporadically within his own discussion.
43 See his argument: ibid., 186-87.
44 Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 66.
52 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
(cf. Aramaic xtAUnmAyhe, "faith")," "the substantives tm,x<, hnAUmx<,
represent the sense of the niphal, 'steadfastness,' 'trustworthiness,'
'faithfulness'"45 Therefore, hnAUmx< would be taken to denote "trust-
worthiness, the frame of mind which can be relied upon."46
On the other side are those who would emphasize an overriding
relationship of hnAUmx< to Nymix<h,. Barr argues that " . . . the whole
structure built upon the supposed 'fundamental meaning' of the root
collapses as soon as real attention is given to the verb he’emin
'believe"'47 This relationship (i.e., of hnAUmx< to Nymix<h,) is developed to
support an active sense for the substantive (i.e., hnAUmx< = "trustful-
ness, the frame of mind which relies on another"48). Vitally related to
this argument is the discussion of the function of the Hiphil of Nymix<h,.
This is adequately attended by Barr, who opts for an "internal-
transitive" function as opposed to a "declarative-estimative" function.49
Up to this point, the examination of this semantic debate has not
been complicated by mediating positions; however, there are many
who rightly contend that construing hnAUmx< as exclusively passive or
as exclusively active upsets a fine biblical balance. For this reason, a
mediating position is undoubtedly the preferable way of striving for
theological harmony of all the scriptural data. Unfortunately, there
are varieties of mediating positions which multiply the complexity of
this pursuit for balance. At least two major varieties are worthy of
mention. For convenience, they might be labeled lexical (i.e., the word
hnAUmx< as it relates to both its active and passive historical spheres)
and contextual (i.e., the context of hnAUmx< in Hab 2:4b, especially the
relationship of qyDica in its largest context). Presuppositions are also
obvious in these mediating positions; however, as previously inti-
mated, this is unavoidable. Consequently, a continuous evaluation of
one's presuppositions is mandatory in order to determine whether
they are valid or invalid as measured by the theological totality of
Eadie's generalization concerning the hnAUmx< of man serves as a
fitting introduction to a mediating position: "The idea of steadfast-
ness expressed by the Hebrew noun implies faith."50 An essentially
45 Ibid., 68. cr. ibid. 59ff.; Lightfoot, Galatians, 155; and, Barr, Semantics, 173,
46 Lightfoot's delineation of the passive sense: Galatians, 154.
47 Barr, Semantics, 164. For some pertinent observations on pisteu<ein with the
dative paralleling –Bi Nymix<h,, see: Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 66-68.
48 Lightfoot, Galatians, 154.
49 Barr, Semantics, 176ff. His argument corroborates his earlier assertion that "the
subject of the verb he’emin is frequently or normally a man" (ibid., 164).
50 Eadie, Galatians, 244.
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 53
credible argument for a balanced conception of hnAUmx< may be noted
in Keil's presentation:
hnAUmx< does not denote "an honourable character, or fidelity to convic-
tion" (Hitzig), but. . . firmness (Ex. xvii. 12); then, as an attribute of
God, trustworthiness, unchangeable fidelity in the fulfillment of His
promises (Deut. xxxii 4; Ps. xxxiii. 4, lxxxix. 34); and, as a personal
attribute of man, fidelity in word and deed (Jer. vii. 28, ix. 2; Ps. xxxvii.
3); and, in his relation to God, firm attachment to God, an undisturbed
confidence in the divine promises of grace, firma fiducia and fides, so
that in ‘emunah the primary meanings of ne’eman and he’emin are
combined. This is also apparent from the fact that Abraham is called
ne’eman in Neh. ix. 8, with reference 10 the fact that it is affirmed of
him in Gen. xv. 6 that hOAhyBa Nymix<h,, "he trusted, or believed, the
Lord;" and still more indisputably from the passage before us, since it
is impossible to mistake the reference in hy,H;yi OtnAUmx<B, qyDica to Gen.
xv. 6, "he believed (he’emin) in Jehovah, and He reckoned it to him
It is obvious that a balanced conception of hnAUmx< in Hab 2:4b
will avoid the error of taking the words to mean that one is justified
by character. It will also avoid synergistic conceptions of the non-
biblical variety.52 At the same time, hnAUmx< may be conceived of as a
"fruit of faith": "faithful faith" or "steadfast trust."53 Bryant, after
discussing the active and passive options for hnAUmx< and leaning
towards an emphasis upon the former, concludes:
It must be carefully maintained that neither the Old nor the New
Testament separate faith from its fruits of faithfulness. The distinction
between faith and faithfulness is somewhat artificial, for. . . in the long
51 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2. 73. "And in addition to this, ‘emunah is opposed to the
pride of the Chaldaean, to his exaltation of himself above God; and for that very
reason it cannot denote integrity in itself, but simply some quality which has for its
leading feature humble submission to God, that is to say, faith, or firm reliance upon
God” (ibid., 74). For more discussion on the theocentric footing of an anthropological
manifestation of fidelity, see: C. von Orelli, The Old Testament Prophecy of the
Consummation of God's
trans. by J. S. Banks (
1885) 325-27; Delitzsch, Hebrews, 2. 200; and J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older
Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962) 314. For corroborations of a mediating
position in general, see: Ellis, Paul's Use of the Old Testament, 119-20; Johnson, "The
Gospel that Paul Preached," 340, n. 31; Lightfoot, Galatians, 154ff.
52 A good illustration would be the DSS pesher of Hab 2:4b. For discussion, see:
Bertram, "sunergo<j, sunerge<w," TDNT 7. 873.
53 Bryant, "The Meaning of Habakkuk 2:4," 32, 41, 62. Cf. von Orelli's "believing
fidelity (i.e., a trusting faithfulness based upon God's fidelity; C. von Orelli, The
Twelve Minor Prophets, trans. by J. S. Banks
54 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
run they are the same thing. The Bible knows nothing of a true faith
which does not hold fast its confidence to the end.54
The preposition b attached to hnAUmx< is obyiously instrumental.
Von Orelli suggests that the "b introduces the efficient medium of the
preservation of life, as in Ezek. xviii. 22."55 Also, the whole phrase
(i.e., OtnAUmx<B,) should be taken with hy,Hiyi, not with qyDicav;.56
The larger context
The book. An awareness of the destructive attempts to transpose
major sections of chaps. I and 2 of Habakkuk enables the interpreter
to identify eccentric contextual associations relating to Hab 2:4b.57
The traditional order of the text of the first two chapters constitutes
the larger context:
The text, as it now stands, permits a perfectly natural development of
the prophet's thought; in reality, the development becomes more vivid,
for instead of one problem that perplexes the prophet we have two, and
instead of one divine reply we have two. Surely there is nothing
impossible or improbable in this. . . . On the whole, the. . . interpreta-
tion, which requires no omissions or transpositions, seems to satisfy
most completely the facts in the case.58
54 Ibid., 49; cf. 44-49. Michel concurs: "To sum up, it may be said that he’emin and
‘emunah describe a living act of trust in the OT, and also the dimension of human
existence in a historical situation" (Michel, "pi<stij," 597). Cf. W. Eichrodt, Theology
of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), 2. 285. Herein it would be
profitable to compare the evidence from Gen 15:6/Rom 4:3 and Gen 22:1-19/Jas 2:14:-
55 Von Orelli, The Old Testament Prophecy of the Consummation of God's Kingdom,
325, n. 2.
56 Cf. Keil,
Minor Prophets, 2. 73; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of
Epistles to the
Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians (
burg, 1937) 143-44; and the forthcoming discussion of e]k pi<stewj; in Rom .
57 For discussions of the major critical conjectures, see: A. Jeffers, "A Commentary
on the Book of Habakkuk" (unpublished Master of Theology thesis, Grace Theologi-
cal Seminary, 1960) 14-17; C. L. Taylor, Jr., "Introduction and Exegesis of the Book of
in The Interpreter's Bible, ed. by G. A Buttrick, et al. (
Abingdon, 1956), 6. 975-77; G. A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets (
Habakkuk," AJSL 18 (1901-2) 94ff.; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969) 932-37.
58 F. C. Eiselen, The Minor Prophets (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1907) 467-68.
Refutations of transpositions based upon elaborate chiastic fabrications are neither
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 55
The "placarded revelation"59
In Hab 2:2-3, the prophet is given instructions which clearly
suggest the priority of this NOzHA" (v 2). These verses "form the
introduction to the Word of God, which the prophet receives in reply
to his cry of lamentation addressed to the Lord in ch. i.12-17."60
Though Keil would include v 1 of chap 2 in this introduction, it is
better to regard Hab 2:1 as transitional. It is the climactic summons
of the prophet's second lament (i.e., -2:1).
Verse 2 is particularly significant: "Then the LORD answered me
and said, 'Write down [bOtK;] the vision and make it plain upon the
tablets [tOHl.uha-lfa] in order that one who reads it may run.'"
Interestingly, Holt paraphrases the last part of v 2: "'so he who reads
it may live obediently.'"61 He, of course, is taking CUr metaphorically
(cf. metaphorical j`lahA; cf. also CUr in Ps 119:32, and the running
metaphors of the NT, e.g., I Cor 9:24-27, Phil 3:l3-14, etc.). This
view is at least worthy of some consideration in the light of the
ethically climactic context. tOHlu.ha generates most of the discussion
which ultimately pertains to Hab 2:4b. It has been suggested that the
article implies particular tablets which were displayed publicly;62
however, this is an unnecessary conjecture.63 "The article. . . may
only designate the tablets which were to be employed for the purpose.
It may merely indicate these as definite in the mind of the speaker."64
The plural termination has been employed to substantiate a
larger scope (cf. below) for this "placarded revelation."65 But, the
desirable nor credible. Cf. H. H. Walker and N. W. Lund, "The Literary Structure of
the Book of Habakkuk," JBL 53 (1934) 360. For outlines and discussions of the
traditional order, see: Eiselen, The Minor Prophets, 464-65; von Orelli, The Old
Testament Prophecy of God's Kingdom, 323-24; and Hendriksen's contextual para-
phrase: Hendriksen, Exposition of Galatians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968) 127-28.
59 I.e., Brownlee's appropriate terminology pertaining to this contextual challenge:
Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk," 319.
60 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2. 67-68.
61 J. M. Holt, "So He May Run Who Reads It," JBL 83 (1964) 301. For a
presentation of the traditional interpretations of the words involving facility in the
communication and/or dissemination of this vision, see: Henderson, The Twelve Minor
62 E.g., T. Laetsch,
Bible Commentary: The Minor Prophets
1956) 330; cf. Ewald's view as delineated in Henderson, The Twelve Minor Prophets,
63 Cf. P. Kleinert, "Habakkuk" in Minor Prophets, trans. by C. Elliott, in Commen-
tary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. by J. P. Lange (
64 Henderson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, 301.
65 Kleinert so argues: "The reason that several tablets are mentioned here, and not
one, as in Isaiah [8: 1], is found in the rich and various contents of the five-fold woe"
(Kleinert, "Habakkuk," 22).
56 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
plural could also be explained in the following manner: "The 'tablets'
or 'plaques' represent multiple copies, each of which is to be set up in
a prominent place."66 It is no wonder that Laetsch admits that "just
how long the inscription to be written by Habakkuk was is hard to
tell."67 Nevertheless, a survey of the pertinent syntactical data and the
major positions is required.
1. Its scope. Five separate viewpoints concerning the length of
the inscription can be distinguished; two view it as short, and three as
long. The two "short" views are summarized adequately by Brownlee:
Scholars who look for a brief text as the placarded revelation of
Habakkuk usually restrict it to 2:4, interpreting 2:5-6a as an introduc-
tion to a taunt song over
the fall of
An American Translation links vss. 4-5 together in a separate para-
graph, and the RSV has followed suit. The argument for including
these two verses is that the particles we’af ki at the beginning of vs. 5
The –yKi Jxav; is syntactically important. This fact must be recog-
nized regardless of the problem involved. It is suggested that the
either/or option might be sensibly replaced by a both/and perspective
in reference to the development of the argument. It seems best to take
the binder as "and furthermore,"69 or "moreover, in addition."70
Emerton's suggestion will be accepted: "The words we’ap ki, with
which verse 5 begins, link it to verse 4 and suggest that it is part of
God's answer to the prophet . . . ."71 Consequently, v 4 can be
understood as the crucial lesson of God's disclosure which was to be
recorded (i.e., the unrighteous one's essence is perverted), and vv 5ff.
66 Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk," 321. On the parenthetical
data of v 3, see: W. H. Brownlee, "The Composition of Habakkuk," in Hommages a
Andre Dupont-Sommer (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1971) 264. For eschatological remarks
which should be reviewed guardedly, see: F. Delitzsch, Hebrews, 2. 198-99. For a
profitable discussion of the exegetical data of v 3, see: Henderson, The Twelve Minor
67 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 330. Cf. Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation of
68 Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk," 321 (Brownlee offers a
commendable survey of the data and issues: ibid., 119-25). Cf. Lehrman's option for vv
4-5: Lehrman, "Habakkuk," 219. Also, von Orelli (for v 4): von Orelli, The Old
Testament Prophecy of the Consummation of God's Kingdom, 323-24, 327.
69 BDB 65.
70 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 332. Cf. his discussion: ibid., 331-32. For an expanded
treatment of the syntactical possibilities (including a potential correlation with the hn.ehi
of v 4), see: Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problem of Habakkuk 11.4-5," 1-2,
4-5. Cf. Brownlee, "The Composition of Habakkuk," 265, n. 2.
71 Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 57
could be conceived of as the consequent lesson (i.e., the unrighteous
one's actions are perverted).
Only one of the three major suggestions for a longer scope is
worthy of development. The other two, the "vision" to be recorded
refers to the revelation of 1:5-11, and the NOzHA should be taken
literally as a reference to the theophany of chap. 3, are surveyed by
Brownlee. They are not viable options.72 The viable suggestion per-
tains to the rw,xE clause commencing at v 2:5b. This binder suggests
that the divine disclosure to be recorded is not to be restricted
exclusively to the contents of Hab 2:4-5a. Keil notes that "the
allusion to the Chaldaean is evident from the relative clause which
follows, and which Delitzsch very properly calls an individualizing
exegesis to dyhy rbg."73
Prior to a contextual summary, it must be noted that there is also
a piece of logical syntax which continues this interwoven disclosure;
the obvious antecedent of Ml.Aku hl.,xe (v 6) is Mym.ifahA-lKA, who are the
objects of the oppressor's tyranny.74 Based upon the above observa-
tions, it is most likely that the "placarded revelation" extends beyond
the disclosure of v 4. It is suggested, therefore, that v 4 be considered
the primary "general principle to be applied in a particular case as
here with the ungodly Chaldeans."75 (The revelation of Hab 2:5a
could be viewed as a secondary or supplemental maxim.)
The immediate context
"The immediate context of vs. 4b (i.e., vss. 4a and 5a)," Gowan
concedes, "is about as difficult as any part of the Old Testament to
understand."76 Three major problems are usually cited. First, it is
often assumed that there is a "lost subject"77 in Hab 2:4a. As an
part to righteous, which occurs in the second half of the verse; 'the
wicked' would be normal and is found in the Aramaic paraphrase
72 See: Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk," 319-21.
73 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2. 75; cf. 2. 71. Cf.: Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation
of Habakkuk," 321 (however, see: Brownlee, "The Composition of Habakkuk," 265).
On the discussion of rw,xE introducing an independent relative clause, see: GKC
74 Cf. Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 3.
75 Bryant, "The Meaning of Habakkuk 2:4," 59-60. Cf. von Orelli's "mashal-like
principle" (The Old Testament Prophecy of the Consummation of God's Kingdom, 327)
and Brownlee's "aphorism" ("The Composition of Habakkuk," 265). For further
discussion on these general principles and their application to the nearest historical
reference point (i.e.,
76 Gowan, The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk, 44.
77 Brownlee, "The Composition of Habakkuk," 265.
58 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
(Targ.)."78 Second, it is also argued that a leading verb in the same
line is missing (i.e., one parallel to the hy,H;yi of 2:4b).79 Finally, it is
alleged that the reference to "wine" in Hab 2:5a is incongruous;
Gowan facetiously brings this out when he comments:
In the RSV, "but the righteous shall live by his faith," is followed by,
"Moreover, wine is treacherous," and somehow that doesn't seem the
place for a temperance lesson. This is a really frustrating passage for an
exegete, for it seems that now we have come to the pivotal point of the
book, and we're not sure what verse 5a means! 80
Habakkuk 2:4a. Southwell looks for the "'missing subject'" in
hn.ehi; he conjectures that it should be revocalized hne.ha from the root
h.Un, rendering it "the eminent man."81 However, it is best to under-
stand hn.ehi in its normal sense as an interjection: "behold!"82 It is
usually an "interrupting call for attention."83
hlAP;fu presents a seemingly impossible challenge of decipherment.
A broad perspective on the problems involved is gained by Keil's
general comment: "The early translators and commentators have
taken this hemistich differently. They divide it into protasis and
apodosis, and take hlAP;fu either as the predicate or as the subject."84
Emerton's synopsis of the factors contributing to the complication is
The difficulty is to determine the meaning of the obscure word
‘uppelah, and to find the right way of construing it with the other
words in this part of the verse. The word appears to be the third person
feminine singular perfect pu’al of ‘pl. B.D.B. distinguishes between two
different roots ‘pl. To root I belong the noun ‘apalim, "hemorrhoids,”
and also the place Ophel, to which B.D.B. ascribes the meaning
"mound, hill." The Arabic noun ‘afalun, "tumour," is compared, and
it is suggested that the meaning of the Hebrew verb is "swell." The
ever, some would argue that such a subject (viz., the Chaldean) is "inferred." Cf. Keil,
Minor Prophets, 2. 72.
79 For conjectures which are tailored to fit this assumption, see Emerton's survey:
Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 15-16.
80 Gowan, The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk, 44.
81 Southwell, "A Note on Habakkuk ii.4," 616-17. He deletes hrAw;yA-xlo on
metrical grounds. For an outline of his position with challenges of its weaknesses, see:
Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 13-14.
82 Cf. the Ugaritic hn II (UT 391) and the Akkadian annuma, "now" (KB 238).
83 KB 238-39; BOB 243-44. Cf. Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of
Habakkuk 11.4-5," 11. The possibility of a syntactical correlation with the yKi Jxav; of
v 5 has previously been mentioned as a possible option; however, more evidence is
desirable. Cf. Brownlee, "The Composition of Habakkuk," 265.
84 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2. 72.
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 59
only place where the verb occurs in the Hebrew Bible is Hab. ii. 4, and
B.D.B. expresses doubt about the correctness of the text. Root II
occurs in Num. xiv.44 . . . . B.D.B. thinks that the verb there perhaps
means "be heedless," and compares Arabic gafala, "be heedless,
neglectful, inadvertent," It may be noted that none of the ancient
versions of Hab. ii.4 supports either of the two meanings of the root
given by B.D.B. The LXX has [e]a>n] u[postei<lhtai ("If he should draw
incredulus est," the Peshitta wab'awwala the [sic] ("and in the wicked
man") or wab'awla’ ("and in iniquity"), and the Targum rassi’ ayya’
To this needs to be added a significant observation by Brownlee:
"hlpvf at vii.14 confirms both text and vocalization of Mt 2:4
In spite of the significance of the last piece of evidence, there still
remain "theories that find in ‘uppelah a word for blameworthy
person" and "theories that find in ‘uppelah a word denoting the
downfall of the wicked."87 Most advocates of the former theory offer
their suggestions based upon the assumption that hlAP;fu is "strictly
antithetical to qyDoca."88 Supporters of the latter theory consider hlAP;fu
to be antithetical to hy,Hyi. Emerton adds a conjecture of his own. It
85 Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II,4-5," 11. A
suggested rendering of the LXX would be, "If he draw back, my soul is not well
pleased with him." And, for
him" Cf. Taylor, "Introduction and Exegesis of the Book of Habakkuk," 988. On
u[poste<llw, see: LSJ 1895-96; TDNT, 7. 597-99. For more commentary on the Greek
see: B. F, Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (
337-38; and Bruce, Hebrews, 272, n. 195. Cf. Drive’s undesirable conjecture
Minor Prophets III," JTS 39 (1938) 395. For undesirable conjectures based
upon the Syriac, see: Kelly, "The Strophic Structure of Habakkuk," 103, n. 15.
hlAP;fu for hlAv;fa.” Henderson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, 303. Brownlee's synopsis of
the data is pertinent: "The versions seem to have read quite differently. G's rendering
u[postei<lhtai, Aq's nwxekeuome<nou, and the Palestinian recension's. . .[s] kotia all
seem to be based upon Jlf, which in the Pu'al means "be covered, obscure, swoon."
T is too paraphrastic to be of assistance here, nor can one be sure of the Vorlage of the
Latin; but in both is the thought of unbelief read into the verb, an interpretation which
could rest upon Jlf taken to refer to a giving-up in despair through insufficient
faith in the promises of God. . . .G. R. Driver. ..suggests that the Vorlage of Aq. and
V was lpfh, which after the Arabic . . . he interprets to mean 'the heedless man'"
The Text of Habakkuk in the Ancient Commentary
86 Brownlee, The
Text of Habakkuk in the Ancient Commentary from
87 Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 14, 15.
88 Henderson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, 303. He suggests that hlAP;fu be con-
strued as "an abstract noun, used elliptically for hlAP;fu, a man of arrogance or
presumption, and so to be rendered adjectively, the proud, presumptuous, &c." (ibid.).
60 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
would fall into the latter category "denoting the downfall of the
wicked." Its advantage is that it does not change the consonantal text
but only divides hlpf into hlo JfA. He construes the following
portion of the line as a relative clause (as do others), and renders the
line: "Behold, he whose personality within him is not upright will fly
away (i.e., pass away, perish [i.e., antithetical to hy,H;yi in 2:4b])."89
Though there are advantages to his conjecture, its. "weakness is its
Lexically, an association with lpf I is preferable.90 In view of
the likely parallelism with hrAw;yA-xlo,91 a metaphorical extension of
hlAP;fu is the best interpretation:
His soul is puffed up. hlAP;fu, perf. pual of lpafA of which the hiphil only
occurs in Num. xiv.44, and that as synonymous with dyzihe in Deut. i.43.
From this, as well as from the noun lpefo, a hill or swelling we get the
meaning, to be swollen up, puffed up, proud; and in the hiphil, to act
haughtily or presumptuously.92
An apparently similar lexical survey undergirds von Orelli's conclu-
sion: "Such hollow self-exaltation has been from the time of Gen. iii.
a mark of a world estranged from God, and has its root in ethical
Syntactically, there still remains the problem of rendering this
verb in the light of the remainder of the line. Considering the force of
hn.ehi and the concord of gender, it seems best to render it indefinitely
as a maxim and appositionally with the climactic addition of the
assertion which follows it: "Behold, it [i.e. his internal self, cf.
OBowp;na] is swollen, his soul within him is not level; but a righteous
one should live by his faithfulness."
The rwAyA in hrAw;yA-xlo most likely possesses a metaphorically
extended sense (i.e., ethical).94 Brownlee suggests the rendering
One will observe... that the translation "humble" for yasherah is
according to the context. The root idea in this figurative word is
89 Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 16-17.
90 Cf. KB 723.
91 Cf. Henderson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, 302.
92 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2. 72.
93 Von Orelli, The Old Testament Prophecy of the Consummation of God's Kingdom,
94 Cf. Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 11;
The Bible and the Greeks, 42ff. On the full
writing in the
The Text of Habakkuk in the Ancient Commentary
general data with the important cognates, see: KB 413-14.
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 61
"level," not "vertical"--although the well-nigh universal English trans-
lation "upright" would seem to suggest the latter. The verb is used for
the leveling of hills and valleys in Isa. 40:3. In Hab. 2:4, where levelness
is antithetical to "puffed up," it is clear that the word means humility.
The essence of sin according to all the Hebrew prophets is pride and
rebellion. . . .95
wp,n, (in OB Owp;na), of course, has a wide range of usage.
In this context, the word nepes seems to denote something like 'per-
sonality,' and the clause in which it appears should probably be
translated 'his personality within him is not upright.' . . . If so, it says
that the person to whom it refers has a bad character.96
Habakkuk2:5a. Lehrman notes that Hab 2:5a is "a very difficult
verse which has been variously explained by the older commentators
and given up as unintelligible by the moderns."97 The variants
represented by the versions here present the greatest challenge.98
Nyiy.aha is the leading challenge. An excerpt from the text found in
treacherous"99). Emerton argues for this variant and bolsters his
contention with evidence which would support the fact that "a saying
about the treacherous nature of wealth would be in keeping with
what is said about it in wisdom literature. . . ."100 Certainly, this
reading is worthy of consideration.101
Nevertheless, the Hebrew text as it stands is not unintelligible.
Textually, it should be noted that "the paraphrastic renderings of T
and V suggest a Vorlage in appropriate agreement with MT."102 Nyiy.aha
also has proverbial connections (cf. Prov 20:1; Hos ; Isa ; Jer
23:9; Eccl ).103 Historically, a maxim concerning "wine" would
95 Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk," 324-25. The objective
negation (xlo) of the text should be noted.
96 Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 11.
97 Lehrman, "Habakkuk," 219.
98 Cf. Brownlee's detailed outline of the textual data: Brownlee, The Text of
Habakkuk in the Ancient
99 Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 8.
l00 Ibid., 8. Cf. his evidence, 8-9.
101 Emendations based upon the Greek renderings are totally unacceptable. For an
example, see: Brownlee, "The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk," 324. For argu-
ments against conjectures based upon the Greek readings, see: Emerton, "The Textual
and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 1-2, 9.
102 Brownlee, The Text of Habakkuk in the Ancient Commentary from
“dvgby Nvh (or dygby Nvh) at vii.3 is a radical departure from Mt 2:5 dgb Nyyh"
103 Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 7.
62 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
be particularly appropriate as its truth could be related to and
illustrated by the Chaldeans (cf. Daniel 5).104
Keil's summary of the second portion of the line is helpful:
The following words ryhiyA rb,G, are not the object to dgeOB, but form a
fresh sentence, parallel to the preceding one: a boasting man, he
continueth not, xlov; introduces the apodosis to ryhy rbg, which is
written absolutely ryhiyA only occurs again in Prov. xxi. 24, and is used
there as a parallel to dze: a]lazw<n (LXX), swaggering, boasting.105
hv,n;yi is apparently a denominative hapax legomenon: "move, walk to a
place (nomads to pasture)."106 From this, it is possible (based upon an
Arabic parallel) that the intent of hv,n;yi would be "reach one's aim."107
A suggested rendering for Hab 2:5a would be: "Wine is treacherous,
a proud man, and he will not be successful." An advantage of this
rendering is that it is somewhat analogous to the divergent metrical
pattern already recognized and accepted in 2:4a. This rendering is one
rejected by Emerton (on the basis of its personification) after com-
parison to two other renderings:
(b) Wine deals treacherously with the proud man, and he will not be
successful. (c) Wine is treacherous, and the proud man will not be
successful. Translation (b), which understands the verb bgd to take a
direct object as in Ps. lxxiii. 15, should probably be rejected, because
the natural division into lines of poetry is against it. In translation (c),
the first two words of the second line are understood to be in casus
Logical parallels. In the light of the multiplicity of challenges
relating to Hab 2:4a and 2:5a, it might seem that the immediate
context is basically unintelligible. However, it should be obvious
already that the basic argument of the passage is not obscured.
Logical parallels compensate for particular points of uncertainty.
Gowan's reconstructions, although they do not harmonize totally
with previously chosen options, do lead to a proper understanding of
the crucial issue:
104 Cf. Lehrman, "Habakkuk," 219; Henderson, The Twelve Minor Prophets, 304.
See, also: Laetsch, Minor Prophets, 332-33.
105 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2. 75. Concerning ryhiyA, see: Emerton, "The Textual and
Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II. 4-5," 5.
106 KB 601. Cf. BDB 627.
107 KB 601 (note their uncertainty). On both the significance of the Arabic parallel
and challenges concerning the pointing of the verb as a Qal, see: Driver, "Linguistic
and Textual Problems: Minor Prophets III," 395; and Emerton, "The Textual and
Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 5.
108 Emerton, "The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5," 6.
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 63
If we find that we cannot have any real confidence (at present) in
any of these suggestions, then clearly the crucial question for us is
whether there is still a possibility of understanding vs. 4b in terms of its
larger context, and I believe that there is. A contrast certainly is being
presented between two ways: the way of vs. 4b and that of vs. 4a and
possibly also 5a. So "life" in4b is contrasted with the distortion of the
person in 4a, and possibly also with the lack of endurance in 5a.
"Righteousness" in 4b is contrasted with that negative quality of which
we are uncertain in 4a and perhaps also with treachery and arrogance
in 5a. What makes the difference between the two ways is faithfulness,
and so we must try to see how that speaks to all that has gone before in
Three times in the NT Hab 2:4b is employed in crucial lines of
argumentation. There are contextual affinities between Paul's lines of
argument in Rom and Gal ; however, these contexts are
essentially different from the contextual thrust of Hab 2:4b.110 The
employment of Habakkuk's text in Heb (cf. vv 37-38), however,
does reflect a degree of affinity in reference to OT and NT contexts.
Ellis' generalizations concerning these phenomena are helpful as a
footing upon which to build an investigation:
Hab. 2.4 is cited by Paul (Rom. 1.17; Gal. 3.11) to show that
righteousness is not achieved through obedience to the law but through
faith; the author of Hebrews uses the same passage to describe the
proper attitude of the Christian toward the trials of life. In each case
the life of the true believer rests on faith, but the application of the
It is difficult to discern how many and how valid are Ellis' presup-
positions in reference to the last sentence in this quote. It is appro-
priate to reiterate a major reason for the multiplicity of hermeneutical
challenges relating to Hab 2:4b and its employment in the NT. Many
interpreters have approached the problem in reverse by noting Paul's
109 Gowan, The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk, 45.
110 Attempts to harmonize plenarily the OT and NT contexts, aside from some
peripheral benefits, have not convincingly proved their case. Cf. M. H. Franzmann,
Concordia Commentary: Romans (St. Louis and London: Concordia, 1968) 34-38.
Regarding the employment of Hab 2:4 in the NT, see Bryant, "The Meaning of
Habakkuk 2:4," 36-42. For general principles pertaining to NT quotations from the
(including divergencies), see: E. J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (
Eerdmans, 1957) 149-50.
111 Ellis, Paul's Use of the Old Testament, 93. Carefully compare his related
argument: ibid., 117-21.
64 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
citations in their context first; then, standing upon this presupposi-
tional base, they work back to the original passage in order to
interpret it. There is a need for an ultimate perspective which is
systematic in scope; however, the aforementioned procedure must not
be the means to that end.
Prior to a cursory examination of the NT passages, the major
problem concerning the usage of pi<stij needs to be remembered: "It
is to be observed that the Greek word pi<stij; is ambiguous. It means
both 'faithfulness,' and 'belief' or 'trust.'”112
In spite of the fact that Paul's usages contextually suggest a
different thrust of argument (or at least a different emphasis) from
the original context, some would still insist that he is employing
pi<stij in a manner similar to the original hnAUmx<. These arguments
follow various paths, but one of the most common suggestions is that
all the contexts are emphasizing the faithfulness of God.113
Romans 1:17. Most of the phenomena of the Greek rendering
(e.g. Rom 1:17b) have been previously discussed in conjunction with
the Septuagint's renderings of the Hebrew text of Hab 2:4b (cf.
above),114 but a consideration of related factors in the immediate
context of Rom 1:17b is necessary.115
It was noted that the dikaiosu<nh qeou? in Rom 1:17a has been
construed in various ways.116 The major problem here is ". . . whether
dikaiosu<nh refers to an activity of God or to a status of man
112 Dodd, The Bible and the Greeks, 69. Cf. W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, A
Critical and Exegetical
Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (ICC;
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1915) 31-34. See also the previous discussion on hnAUmX<. Cf.:
"When hnAUmx< as pi<stij is given a more general sense in R. ; Gl. . . . this is not
wrong but it is certainly a development of the original meaning" (Quell and Schrenk,
TDNT 2. 177, n. 12).
113 E.g., T. F. Torrance, "One Aspect of the Biblical Conception of Faith," ExpTim
68 (1957) 111-14. Cf.R.
114 0n e]k
pi<stewj, cf. H. A.
Galatians (Winona Lake: BMH, 1976) 88; on the importance of the object of faith, see:
Lenski, Romans, 83; on the mou of the LXX, review: Johnson, "The Gospel That Paul
Preached," 339-40, n. 31; on the construing of e]k pi<stewj; with zh<setai, review:
Lenski, Romans, 87; Wallis, --The Translation of Romans -A Basic Motif in
Paulinism," 17-22; J. Denney, "
Greek Testament (reprinted;
Galatians, 245-46; and for a summary, see: Lightfoot, Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul,
115 Cf. Johnson, "The Gospel That Paul Preached," 329ff.
116 Cf. n. 5. On di<kaioj, also review: Sanday and Headlam, Romans, 30-31; and n.
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 65
resulting from God's action, righteousness as a gift from God."117 To
this must be added the related matter of the nature of the genitive
qeou?.118 Without denying the essential truths pertaining to the former
position, Paul's total argument would seem to confirm the intent of
the latter--the word refers to man's status.
Another point of contention in this debate is the compound
prepositional phrase e]k pi<stewj ei]j pi<stin. Harris' survey merely
scratches the surface:
A myriad of proposals have been made in regard to the meaning of the
phrase ek pisteos eis pistin, such as: from the faith of the preacher to
the faith of the hearer; from God's faithfulness to man's faith; from
smaller to greater degree of faith (cf. apo doxes eis doxan, 2 Cor. );
from faith as a starting-point to faith as a permanent condition. But
it seems more natural to construe ek as indicating not the source or
starting-point ("from faith") but the basis or means ("by faith;" as in
Hab. 2:4), with the eis pistin either intensifying the effect of ek pisteos
(thus, "by faith from first to last," New International Version), or
denoting the goal of God's impartation to men of a righteous status
("leading to faith"). On either of these latter views, faith is portrayed
as the vital and perpetual characteristic of Christian experience.119
Harris’ last suggestion, in the light of a broad theological scope, is
worthy of particular consideration; it might be roughly construed as
folows: the first pi<stij emphasizes an active nuance, and the second
pi<stij , being goal oriented (i.e., ei]j), emphasizes a passive nuance.
The second view (i.e., “from God’s faithfulness to man’s faith”) has
been employed in an attempt to bolster the contention that God’s
fidelity is the major argument that permeates both the contexts of
1:17b and of Hab 2:4b.
contribution of such arguments, but he exposes their essential flaw:
It is fully admitted that wherever there is faith there is always the
faithfulness of God and of Christ to which that faith is directed and
from which it takes its origin. In other words, faith always involves this
polarized situation. . . . It is one thing to say that our faith always
involves a polarized situation; it is another thing altogether to say that
faith is a polarized expression.12O
117 Cranfield, Romans, 1. 96
118 Cf. ibid., 96-98; Lightfoot, Notes on the Epistles of St. Paul, 250; Johnson,
“The Gospel That Paul Preached,” 333-35.
119 M. J. Harris, “Appendix: Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testa-
ment,” NIDNTT 3. 1189. Cf.: “Appendix B: From Faith to Faith”: J. Murray, The
Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 1. 363-74; Johnson, “The
Gospel That Paul Preached,” 336-37; Cranfield, Romans, 1. 99-100.
66 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
In the light of all the data undergirding these synopses, Meyer's
general conclusion concerning Rom is accepted: "Finally, . . . to
understand pi<stij ei]j pi<stin in the sense of faith in the faithfulness of
God. . . , is to introduce what is neither in the words nor yet sug-
gested by the context."121
Galatians 3:11. A similar tension arises when the context of Gal
3:11b is compared with that of Hab 2:4b.122 Ramsay's contextual
survey pays particular attention not only to the utilization of Hab
2:4b in Gal 3:11 but also to Gen 15:6 in Gal 3:6:
The phrase e]k pi<stewj is used only once in the Septuagint,
Habakkuk II 4 --"The just shall live by his faith." Paul took this
saying, connected it with Genesis XV 6--"Abraham believed in the
Lord, and he counted to him for righteousness"--and found in the
two the proof of his doctrine of the righteousness that is of faith --
dikaiosu<nh th>n e]k pi<stewj.123
This interpretation of the data is certainly more credible than that
proposed by Longenecker: "The context of Gal. indicates that
Paul interpreted Hab. 2:4 [italics added] as human trust and reliance,
not as human faithfulness or even the divine faithfulness of the LXX
rendering ek pisteos mou.”124 A more careful approach would be
"that Paul has used the Habakkuk passage analogically. The principle
of justification by faith in the promises of God and not in human
endeavor, initially set forth so clearly in the story of Abraham, is found
also in Habakkuk" [italics added].125
tension demonstrates a greater degree of hermeneutical insight, as
seen in the following excerpts:
The particular sense which the words bore for Paul and which he
intended them to convey to his readers is undoubtedly to be deter-
mined rather by Pauline usage in general, and by the part which the
sentence plays in the apostle's argument, than by the meaning which
the original Heb. had for the prophet. By these considerations. . .
pi<stewj bears its usual active sense, required by the context, "faith."
. . . The use of the passage with the active sense of pi<stij involves no
121 H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistle to the Romans
(New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1889) 52-53.
122 Cf. R. A. Cole, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (TNTC;
Eerdmans, 1965) 96-98; Lightfoot, Galatians, 138-39; and P. R. Jones, "Exegesis of
Galatians 3 and 4," RevExp 69 (1972) 477-78; Hendriksen, Galatians, 128.
123 W. M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on
124 Longenecker, Paul: Apostle of
125 Johnson, "The Gospel That Paul Preached," 338-39.
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 67
radical perversion of its meaning, since faith in this sense might easily
be conceived to be an ingredient or basis of faithfulness.126
A contextual affinity between Heb 10:38 and our passage is
demonstrable. Dods' extremely brief summary brings out the most
significant data concerning Heb 10:37-38:
In Habakkuk the conditions are similar. God's people are crushed
under overwhelming odds. And the question with which Habakkuk
opens his prophecy is e!wj ti<noj kekra<comai kai> ou] mh> ei]sakou<seij
The Lord assures him that deliverance will come and will not delay. By
inserting the article, the writer of Hebrews identifies the deliverer as the
Messiah, "the coming One." Cf. Mat. xi.3; Luke vii.19; Jo. vi.14. o[ de>
di<kaioj. . . . "And the just shall live by faith," i.e. shall survive these
troublous times by believing that the Lord is at hand!128
The de< introducing Heb functions disjunctively:
The position of the last two clauses of the citation is reversed to avoid
connecting u[postei<lhtai with o[ e]rxo<menoj . . . If the author of Heb-
rews had retained the original sequence, this clause would have referred
to Christ himself, since the author had already made "the coming one"
definitely refer to Christ. In the new position this clause is connected
with di<kaio<j mou, which is now the subject of the last part of the
quotation. The inversion places of; at the beginning of the verse, which
now indicates the change of subject, the new subject now being the
Christian (cf. x. 39).129
Robertson notes that Heb 10:38b (cf. Hab 2:4a, LXX) is a "condition
of third class with ean and the first aorist middle subjunctive of
126 E. D.
Galatians (ICC; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920) 166-67.
127 0n OT quotes in Hebrews, see: G. Howard, "Hebrews and the Old Testament
Quotations," NovT 10 (1968) 208ff. Howard challenges Westcott's universal recogni-
tion of the LXX in Hebrews; however, when he comes to Heb 10:37-38, he labels it
"LXX Influence" (ibid., 210).
128 M. Dods, "The Epistle to the Hebrews," in The Expositor's Greek Testament
lines in Heb 10:38 from Hab 2:4 (LXX), see: ibid.; Westcott, Hebrews, 337. Cf.
Delitzsch, Hebrews, 2. 199,201; T. W. Lewis, "'. . . And If He Shrinks Back' (Heb. X.
38b)," NTS 22 (1976) 90 (cf. n. 3); "Additional Note on X. 37f. On the quotation from
Hab. ii. 3f.": Westcott, Hebrews, 347-48. On the alleged reference to Isa 26:20 in v 37,
see: H. A. Kent, Jr., The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972) 213,
contra R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to: the Hebrews and the Epistle
of James (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966) 369. On the eschatological impact of v 37, see:
K. J. Thomas, "The Old Testament Citations in Hebrews," NTS 11 (1965) 316.
129 Thomas, "The Old Testament Citations in Hebrews," 316.
68 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
hupostello, old verb to draw oneself under or back, to withdraw, as
already in Acts 20:20,27; Gal. 2:12."130 Consequently, and also in the
light of the larger context of Hebrews 11, Hoyt interprets the major
thrust of the message of Heb 10:38-39 (cf. Hab 2:4) as follows:
Those who are truly Christian will continue in persistence to the
very end (38, 39). The just shall live by faith daily. Those who draw
back have never come within divine pleasure.131
Reflecting on the important precedent set by usage, it must be
stated that the "Heb. ‘emunah, translated 'faith' in Habakkuk ii.4
(LXX pistis) means 'steadfastness' or 'fidelity.'”132 Therefore, the
emphasis in Habakkuk is on sanctification.133
It should be observed, however, that an "emphasis" does not
abrogate secondary factors reflected in the immediate and larger
contexts. The two spheres of development pertaining to the verbals
from the Nmx-complex must at least be recognized in reference to the
hnAUmx< of Hab 2:4b. More importantly, the background and judicial
implications of qyDica must be noted. This is corroborated by the
association of the roots Nmx and qdc in this single short line.
These factors enlarge the scope of study, because they imply a
background which ultimately finds its antecedent in Abraham. Con-
textual associations with the foundational truth of Gen 15:6 are not
only likely in Hab 2:4 but also in the larger contexts of the Pauline
citations (cf. Rom 4:3, 9, 22; Gal 3:6). Abraham was justified by faith
(compare Gen 15:6 with Romans 4), but biblical faith manifests itself
in fidelity. Within this sphere, it is legitimate to render Hab 2:4b as
follows: "'Through his fidelity of faith he shall live!'”134 Ethical
implications are preserved but not at the expense of an intricate
biblical balance. This is important, because "faith and faithfulness . . .
cannot be separated. . . . Both are present in his [i.e., Habakkuk's]
book, even though his emphasis is on faithfulness."135
130 A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (
131 H. Hoyt, Christ-God's Final Word to Man: An Exposition of the Epistle to the
132 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (TNTC;
Eerdmans, 1963) 80.
133 Wallis "The Translation of Romans --A Basic Motif in Paulinism," 21.
134 Von Orelli, The Old Testament Prophecy of the Consummation of Gods
135 Gowan, The Triumph of Faith in Habakkuk, 43, 44. Cf. Gowan's whole discus-
ZEMEK: HABAKKUK 2:4b 69
Paul's use of Hab 2:4b in Rom and Gal 3:11 appears to be
at first glance a radical departure from the thrust of the context of the
OT passage. "But that does not mean that Paul was wrong in taking
Hab 2:4 as the great theme verse for his teaching about justification
by faith."136 It must be remembered that:
Paul does not teach justification by faith in a vacuum. Faith does
make one righteous both forensically and, increasingly, in actuality,
because faith issues in the e]n Xrist&? relationship.137
Once again, a full circle has been drawn. From this perspective, it is
best to conclude with Westcott that "'faith' (in the Pauline sense) and
‘faithfulness to God' (which is what the Prophet had in mind), in the
long run, are the same thing."138
136 Ibid., 43.
137 Ellis, Paul's Use of the Old Testament, 119.
138 F. B. Westcott,
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