The Prophetic Picture of Habakkuk 2:3-4

For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it, Because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, the proud, his soul is not upright in him, But the just shall live by his faith.”(Habakkuk 2:3-4 NKJV)

A friend of mine emailed me these verses along with a commentarial note from the Jewish Publication Societies Study Bible or Tanach. Here is the commentary on this passage. In reference to verse 3, it states, “This verse is associated in Jewish tradition with the coming of the Messiah and is reflected in the language of the twelfth principle of the thirteen principles of faith of Maimonides.” (1) Neither of us had ever heard of this verse, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry” as referring to the coming of Messiah. And this reference is not from just some ordinary everyday rabbi. This is from Maimonides, or Ramban as he is sometimes referred to, is generally regarded as one of the greatest rabbinical minds in history. This really peaked my interest. Hence, I began to delve into the Hebrew of this passage.

The first word of the verse, in Hebrew, refers to “the vision.” It is the word from which “seer” is derived in the Old Testament (Strong’s # 2377); hence, vision is an appropriate translation. The next word blew me away when I read it. It is the word “moed” (Strong’s #4150) and has the meaning of “an appointed time.” Its use in Scripture gives us a clearer picture of what this “vision” is about. When God would visit Israel above the mercy seat and talk with Moses face to face, that was said to be a “moed.” An appointed time where God will meet with mankind. I’m beginning to see inside the mind of Ramban here. The essence of what we are reading thus far is this, “the prophetic vision of the appointed time when God will meet with mankind face to face.” This is exactly what Maimonides had in mind when he labeled this passage as Messianic. He was correct. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of this passage. The appointed time when God would put on flesh and meet mankind face to face on their turf, was an appointed time which had been prophesied about for years prior. The final word in the first part of that verse is also interesting. It means literally, “to blow.” (Strong’s 6315) A possible translation for what we have thus far could be, “The prophetic vision of the appointed time when God will meet with mankind face to face will blow, even if it tarries, wait for it, because it will surely come to pass.” The Keil and Delitzsch commentary writes, “The prophecy is for the appointed time; it relates to the period fixed by God for its realization, which was then still far off. The vision had a direction towards a point, which, when looked at from the present, was still in the future. The goal was the end, the Messianic times, in which the judgment would fall upon the power of the world.” (2) This sets the stage for the next verse.

“Behold, the proud, his soul is not upright in him, But the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) The obvious point being made here is a juxtaposition of the unrighteous versus the righteous. One position of selfishness and one position of selflessness. Even in the dire circumstances presented in the book of Habakkuk, the lifestyle of the righteous doesn’t change. They continue to live a live of dependency upon God. The JPS commentary catches this point as well. It writes, “According to one of the Rabbis in b. Mak. 23b, this saying encapsulates all the commandments…In its original context the saing is clearly interwoven with the first part of the verse. The saying there focuses on a person whose life is swollen and crooked. Then the verse moves to the opposite pole, a pious person who keeps his or her trust in the LORD under the dire circumstances described in the book, ie, when the righteous are asked to wait while those who do not deserve worldly power wield it over them.” (3) I thought the first part of this commentary was interesting. Mainly, the Rabbinical thought recognized that faith fulfilled the law. That the righteous will live by faith and the external evidence of this faith is to love the Lord and to love all others regardless of their behavior. Of course, the verse “the just shall live by faith” is rich within Christian history. It was the battle cry of the Protestant reformation. A closer look at the Hebrew will reveal a little more than how the verse is translated.

The first word in the verse is the Hebrew word, “zaddikim.” (Strong’s 6662) In modern Hebrew, if one is considered pious, the are referred to as a “Zadik.” (the im ending on the Hebrew noun makes it plural) this man is the embodiment of piety, holiness, and love. The next word is one that is also very familiar, it is “emunah” (Strong’s 530) It is the word from which “amen” is derived. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament describes it as, “it is used to refer to those whose lives God establishes.” (4) So far, the meaning of verse reads, “The righteous, holy, pius person, God will establish them because of their trust in Him.” The last word is the most transforming of all the words in the verse. It is a derivative of the verb, “haya” (Strong’s 2421) It is the word from which “YHWH” is derived. “The verb involves the ability to have life somewhere on the scale between the fullest enjoyment of all the powers of one’s being, with health and prosperity on the one hand and descent into trouble, sickness, and death on the other.” (5) Additionally, the longer that one lives this lifestyle, the more transformed into the image of YHWH they will become. So, let’s put all this together. The full meaning of the Hebrew here reads, “The righteous/pious/holy person is established by God’s because of their dependency upon Him as they love Him and all others, fulfilling the law, and as they continue in this lifestyle, they will become more like Him.” It is my opinion that it is of no coincidence that the verse follows something so strongly Messianic. No wonder Luther was quickened to it. This also matches Paul’s understanding of the verse when he writes, “ For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is reveal from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17) Paul has this same understanding. Mainly, that a person quickened to life by faith in God, will begin a transformation of becoming more like God as they move from faith to faith. The longer a person lives in faith, the more they love God, love others, they will become more like God.

 

Endnotes

1. Berlin, Adele, Brettler, Marc Zvi, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, page 1229.

2. Keil, C.F., Delitzsch, F., Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass., 2004, volume “The Minor Prophets”, page 400.

3. Ibid, Berlin, page 1229.

4. Harris, R. Laird, Archer, Gleason, L., Waltke, Bruce K., Theological ?Wordbook of the Old Testament, Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL, 1980, page 522.

5. Ibid, 279-280.

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