Habakkuk 2:4, the heart of the entire book of Habakkuk, referring back to the statement of Genesis 15:6,[i] and in light of other Old Testament texts that promise salvation to believers,[ii] states: “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”[iii] The great fact that the just shall live by faith was to be engraven plainly upon tablets.[iv] The ungodly, whether unbelieving Israelites[v] or idolatrous Babylonians,[vi] are proud, their souls lifted up; in contrast, the people of God, those who are just, shall live by faith.[vii] Habakkuk sets before Israel the example of Abraham—the patriarch was justified by faith alone, and his faith, because of saving character, produced a life of persevering obedience (cf. Genesis 22). In such a manner, Habakkuk affirms, the people in his day needed to experience true conversion by faith and evidence the reality of that conversion in a life of faithfulness. A life of open rebellion was unacceptable, but one of mere outward rigorism or moralism would also not suffice, for without a root of faith and a renewed heart, all religious and moral actings were vain (Isaiah 1:10-15; Hebrews 11:6). The word faith [viii] (‘emunah) in the verse, a noun related to the verb believe in Genesis 15:6, means in Habakkuk 2:4 a steadfast trust which results in faithfulness, combining the ideas of faith and of faithfulness that flows from it.[ix] It is used for stedfastness and steadiness,[x] God’s truthful faithfulness,[xi] human faith, truthfulness, and faithfulness,[xii] and what is true and faithful in itself.[xiii] Other words in the ‘aman word group, that of belief/faith/faithfulness,[xiv] mean faithfulness,[xv] verily, truly, indeed,[xvi] trusting, faithfulness,[xvii] faith, support,[xviii] constant,[xix] and firmness, faithfulness, truth.[xx] Thus, as Genesis 15:6 indicates that believers are righteous, Habakkuk 2:4 indicates that those who are just are those who live by faith—and faithfulness is impossible without faith, for those who have, through the instrumentality of faith, embraced Jehovah as their own God and trusted in His promise of redemption through the Seed, will also characteristically trust in God and live their lives as the people of God out of the faith that is the fundamental or radical root of their spiritual life. Righteousness, life, and faith, in both their earthly “already” and their eschatological “not yet,” are indissoluably connected.
For strong evidence for the fact that in Habakkuk 2:4 is properly rendered faith, and that faithfulness is a result of faith, see the comment on Habakkuk 2:4 in The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, O. P. Robertson, NICOT; note also that ‘emunah is translated in the LXX by pistis with some frequency. “The context . . . justifies pi÷stiß, even in the sense ‘trust’ . . . and it was so translated by Symmachus, Aquila, and Theodotion, and in the other Greek versions” (Lightfoot, Galatians, on 3:11). Furthermore, the meaning “‘belief, trust’ . . . [for] ‘emunah. . . seems decidedly to have [been] adopted . . . in the rabbinical Hebrew” (Lightfoot, Commentary on Galatians, sec. “The Words Denoting ‘Faith’”). Warfield comments:
The notions of “faith” and “faithfulness” lie close to one another, and are not uncommonly expressed by a single term (so pi÷stiß, fides, faith). . . . “[F]aith,” in its active sense . . . occurs in the Authorized Version of the Old Testament [in] Deuteronomy 32:20 where it represents the Hebrew NUmEa, and Habakkuk 2:4 where it stands for the Hebrew ‘emunah; and it . . . [is] really demanded in . . . Habakkuk 2:4. The very point of this passage . . . is the sharp contrast which is drawn between arrogant self-sufficiency and faithful dependence on God. The purpose of the verse is to give a reply to the prophet’s inquiry as to God’s righteous dealings with the Chaldæans. Since it is by faith that the righteous man lives, the arrogant Chaldæan, whose soul is puffed up and not straight within him, cannot but be destined to destruction. The whole drift of the broader context bears out this meaning; for throughout this prophecy the Chaldæan is ever exhibited as the type of insolent self-assertion (Habakkuk 1:7, 11, 16), in contrast with which the righteous appear, certainly not as men of integrity and steadfast faithfulness, but as men who look in faith to God and trustingly depend upon His arm. The obvious reminiscence of Genesis 15:6 throws its weight into the same scale, to which may be added the consent of the Jewish expositors of the passage. Here we have, therefore, thrown into a clear light the contrasting characteristics of the wicked, typified by the Chaldæan, and of the righteous: of the one the fundamental trait is self-sufficiency; of the other, faith. This faith, which forms the distinctive feature of the righteous man, and by which he obtains life, is obviously no mere assent. It is a profound and abiding disposition, an ingrained attitude of mind and heart towards God which affects and gives character to all the activities. Here . . . the term . . . in the Old Testament . . . rises to the full height of its most pregnant meaning. (“The Biblical Doctrine of Faith,” Warfield, in Biblical Doctrines, vol. 2 of Works).
In both the Old and New Testament, “[t]he trusting man (NyImSaAm = pisteu/wn) is also the faithful man (NDmTa‰n = pisto/ß.”(pg. 198, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 6, Kittel).
[ii] A goodly number of texts of this sort are found in the Old Testament that do not specifically contain the word believe; cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6-10; Isaiah 55:1-3; Jeremiah 3:22; 4:4; Hosea 14:2, etc. Such an employment of other terms for saving faith and conversion appears in the New Testament also, of course (Matthew 7:13; John 6:37, 57; 10:9; Revelation 22:17, etc.).
[iii] :h`RyVjˆy wñøtÎn…wmTaR;b qyäî;dAx◊w wóø;b wäøvVpÅn hñ∂rVvÎy_aøl h$DlVÚpUo h∞E…nIh
e˙a»n uJpostei÷lhtai oujk eujdokei√ hJ yuch/ mou e˙n aujtw◊ˆ oJ de« di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stew¿ß mou zh/setai (LXX; note that 2:4a is not at all literally translated)
Ecce qui incredulus est, non erit recta anima ejus in semetipso; justus autem in fide sua vivet. “Behold, he that is unbelieving, his soul shall not be right in himself: but the just shall live in his faith.” (Vulgate)
:N…wmy◊yåqtˆy NOwhVfv…wq lAo aÎyåqyîdAx◊w NyElIa lDk tyEl NyîrVmDa NOwhVbIlVb aÎyAoyIvår aDh (Targum Jonathan)
[iv] Habakkuk 2:2. The word Aj…wl, employed in Habbakuk 2:2 of the tables upon which the message that the just shall live by faith was to be engraved, was also employed of the tables of the ten commandments (Exodus 24:12).
[vii] In Habakkuk 2:4b, the accentuation of :h`RyVjˆy wñøtÎn…wmTaR;b qyäî;dAx◊w indicates that the affirmation of Habakkuk is: “the just, by his faith shall live” or “the righteous shall live-by-his-faith,” rather than “the just by his faith, shall live” or “the righteous-by-his-faith shall live.” That is, the Hebrew accents support the translation of the Authorized Version: “the just shall live by his faith.”
[ix] “hÎn…wmTa . . . from ’âman, to be firm, to last[,] [denotes] firmness (Ex. 17:12); then, as an attribute of God, trustworthiness, unchangeable fidelity in the fulfilment of His promises (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 33:4; 89:34); and, as a personal attribute of man, fidelity in word and deed (Jer. 7:28; 9:2; Ps. 37:3); 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 ’ĕmūnâh the primary meanings of ne’ĕmân and he’ĕmīn are combined. This is also apparent from the fact that Abraham is called ne’ĕmân in Neh. 9:8, with reference to the fact that it is affirmed of him in Gen. 15:6 that h¡DOwhyèA;b N™ImTaRh◊w, “he trusted, or believed, the Lord;” and still more indisputably from the passage before us, since it is impossible to mistake the reference in h`RyVjˆy wñøtÎn…wmTaR;b qyäî;dAx◊w to Gen. 15:6, “he believed (he’ĕmīn) in Jehovah, and He reckoned it to him litsedâqâh.” It is also indisputably evident from the context that our passage treats of the relation between man and God, since the words themselves speak of a waiting (chikkâh) for the fulfilment of a promising oracle, which is to be preceded by a period of severe suffering. “What is more natural than that life or deliverance from destruction should be promised to that faith which adheres faithfully to God, holds fast by the word of promise, and confidently waits for its fulfilment in the midst of tribulation? It is not the sincerity, trustworthiness, or integrity of the righteous man, regarded as being virtues in themselves, which are in danger of being shaken and giving way in such times of tribulation, but, as we may see in the case of the prophet himself, his faith. To this, therefore, there is appended the great promise expressed in the one word h`RyVjˆy” (Delitzsch). And in addition to this, ’ĕmūnâh 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. The Jewish expositors, therefore, have unanimously retained this meaning here, and the LXX have rendered the word quite correctly pi÷stiß. . . . The deep meaning of these words has been first fully brought out by the Apostle Paul (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11: see also Heb. 10:38), who . . . makes the declaration oJ di÷kaioß e˙k pi÷stewß zh/setai the basis of the New Testament doctrine of justification by faith” (Comment on Habakkuk 2:4, Commentary, Keil & Delitzsch). That is, “in Habakkuk 2:4, faith was simply an unwavering trust in God’s word. In contrast to the overbearing disposition of the wicked, the believer, like Abraham in Genesis 15:6 and Isaiah in Isaiah 28:16; 30:15, put an immovable confidence in the God who had promised his salvation and the coming Man of promise. It was a steadfast, undivided surrender to [Jehovah], a childlike, humble and sincere trust in the credibility of the divine message of salvation” (pg. 196, The Promise-Plan of God, Kaiser).
[xi] Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 33:4; 36:6; 40:10; 88:11; 89:1, 2, 5, 8, 24, 33, 49; 92:2; 96:13; 98:3; 100:5; 119:75, 90; 143:1; Isaiah 25:1; Lamentations 3:23; Hosea 2:20.
[xii] 1 Samuel 26:23; 2 Kings 12:15; 22:7; 2 Chronicles 19:9; 31:12; 34:12; Proverbs 12:22; 28:20; Isaiah 11:5 (the faithfulness of the incarnate Messiah); 59:4; Jeremiah 5:1, 3; 7:28; 9:3; Habakkuk 2:4. Note also 1 Chronicles 9:22, 26, 31; 2 Chronicles 31:15, 18 where those put in office were to be trustworthy or faithful and act in fidelity (cf. KJV margin).
[xvi] NEmDa, Numbers 5:22; Deuteronomy 27:15–26; 1 Kings 1:36; 1 Chronicles 16:36; Nehemiah 5:13; 8:6; Psalm 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48; Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 11:5; 28:6. Also hÎnVmDa, Genesis 20:12; Joshua 7:20. Also MÎnVmUa, Genesis 18:13; Numbers 22:37; 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 6:18; Psalm 58:1. Also MÎnVmDa, Ruth 3:12; 2 Kings 19:17; Job 9:2; 12:2; 19:4–5; 34:12; 36:4; Isaiah 37:18.
[xvii] NUmEa, Deuteronomy 32:20 (unconverted Israelites as “children in whom is no faith”); Proverbs 13:17; 14:5; 20:6; Isaiah 26:2.
[xix] hÎnDmSa, Song 4:8; 2 Kings 5:12; the likely significance of the name of the river and of the region from which it flows.
[xx] tRmTa, used of God’s faithful truth (Genesis 24:27; 32:10; Exodus 34:6; 2 Chronicles 15:3; Nehemiah 9:33; Psalm 25:5, 10; 26:3; 30:9; 31:5; 40:10, 11; 43:3; 54:5; 57:3, 10; 61:7; 69:13; 71:22; 85:10–11; 86:11, 15; 89:14; 91:4; 108:4; 111:7–8; 115:1; 117:2; 119:43, 142, 151, 160; 132:11; 138:2; 146:6; Isaiah 38:18, 19; 61:8; Jeremiah 4:2; 10:10; 42:5; Daniel 9:13; Zechariah 8:8), of true, faithful, and right things (Genesis 24:48; Deuteronomy 13:14; 17:4; 22:20; Joshua 2:12; 2 Samuel 7:28; 15:20; 1 Kings 10:6; 22:16; 2 Kings 20:19; 2 Chronicles 9:5; 18:15; 31:20; 32:1; Nehemiah 9:13; Esther 9:30; Psalm 19:9; 45:4; 51:6; Proverbs 3:3; 8:7; 11:18; 14:22; 16:6; 20:28; 22:21; 23:23; Ecclesiastes 12:10; Isaiah 39:8; 42:3, 9; 59:14, 15; Jeremiah 14:13; 26:15; Daniel 8:12, 26; 10:1, 21; 11:2; Hosea 4:1; Zechariah 7:9; 8:19; Malachi 2:6), acts (Genesis 24:49; 47:29; Joshua 2:14; 24:14; Judges 9:15, 16, 19; 1 Samuel 12:24; 2 Samuel 2:6; 1 Kings 2:4; 3:6; 17:24; 20:3; Psalm 15:2; 145:18; Proverbs 14:25; 29:14; Isaiah 10:20; 16:5; 38:3; Isaiah 48:1; Jeremiah 9:5; 23:28; 28:9; 32:41; 33:6; Ezekiel 18:8, 9; Micah 7:20; Zechariah 8:16), and individuals or groups of individuals (Genesis 42:16; Exodus 18:21; Nehemiah 7:2; Proverbs 12:19; Jeremiah 2:21; Zechariah 8:3).