Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.— Habakkuk 2:4
Over the past few days, we have been examining how this powerful verse was used in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. The verse was applied differently in each of the instances. We learned about justification, life, and the superiority of faith over works. We now return to Habakkuk to consider how HABAKKUK uses this verse. Instead of only highlighting one of these points, I believe the Lord intended on Habakkuk embracing the full, complete picture that it is by FAITH that the JUST shall LIVE. Now, the word order in the Hebrew language does seem to emphasize one part of the verse, and we’ll explain why. But when we examine the verse in its entirety and also in the context of the full message of Habakkuk, we’ll see a fuller picture.
First, let’s just highlight something about word order. In English, the standard word order for a sentence is subject-verb-object. In Hebrew, the standard word order is verb-subject-object. When word order is changed in Biblical Hebrew, it is often to emphasize a word or an aspect of the message. Very few times in English will we change the word order for emphasis (The sentence I just wrote had its word order changed for emphasis). Instead, we will usually verbally emphasize a word by putting more energy into saying the word or type the word out in CAPS, bold, or italics. For instance, consider the following sentence:
The man took out the trash.
Now, we could emphasize the sentence in the following ways:
- The MAN took out the trash.
- This emphasizes the PERSON who took out the trash. The woman did not take it out. The child did not take it out. The MAN took it out.
- The man TOOK OUT the trash.
- This emphasizes what the man DID to the trash. Where is the trash? It’s no longer in the kitchen. It is TAKEN OUT.
- The man took out the TRASH.
- This emphasizes WHAT was taken out. The dog wasn’t taken out. The dishes weren’t taken out. The DOG was taken out.
In Hebrew, the first and last examples would have been taken care of by word order. In Hebrew the standard way of writing the sentence is, Took out the man the trash. To emphasize the man, they would write, The man took out the trash. To emphasize the trash, they would write, The trash took out the man. There are other ways to emphasize words in Hebrew like repeating words and writing verbs in a different form.
Back to our verse in Habakkuk 2:4. In Hebrew, the word order is, The just-by his faith-shall live, instead of the normal word order, Shall live-by his faith-the just. So when the Lord spoke to Habakkuk, he was emphasizing how it was the JUST who will live by his faith. Habakkuk was concerned about the wickedness of his own people and why they weren’t being punished. When God’s plan of judgment was revealed whereby He would use an even more wicked people, the Chaldeans, to judge his people, Habakkuk complained as to why God would tolerate the wickedness of the Chaldeans! Then, when Habakkuk quiets himself to listen to God’s response, the Lord responds by explaining that the wicked will perish but the JUST will live. Instead of openly rebuking Habakkuk for his complaints and his disappointments in the Lord’s ways, the Lord comforts him by reminding him of the everlasting life he has in his heart. It’s almost as if the Lord is saying, “Habakkuk, I know you’re upset at the wickedness around you. I know it’s a discouraging place to be. But Habakkuk, these other people don’t have what you have. They have rejected me. You haven’t. They will perish. But you have an everlasting life. You will live eternally with me in holiness and peace because you are accounted with the Just.” Praise the Lord! That’s what our precious Lord is saying to each of us who have been washed in the blood. It upsets us how wicked the world is with their open sin and violence. It’s discouraging! The wicked continue to reign and get their way, but it is the JUST who have everlasting life! Praise the Lord for his abundant grace in saving a wretch like me and giving me an everlasting life this world doesn’t have. I am grateful I won’t be going through a judgment like the wicked will go through. I am counted with the JUST! This is how the Lord opens up his revelation to Habakkuk – with comfort! “Habakkuk, you are counted with the Just.”
Well, I thought we would get farther than we did, but we’ll continue with the rest of this verse tomorrow. I’m just completely in wonder of the grace and mercy shown to Habakkuk in the Lord’s gentle, comforting response to Habakkuk’s complaints.
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness”
– Lamentations 3:22-23