Habakkuk 2:4

I’ve searched the archives and can’t find that this verse has been discussed before. So let’s give it a spin…

Look, the one whose desires are not upright will faint from exhaustion, 1 but the person of integrity 2 will live 3 because of his faithfulness. 4

Habakkuk 2:4, NET

John Hobbins did a series last year on Habakkuk and I’ve enjoyed reading all those posts again. His take on this verse is found here: Habakkuk 2:4

I’ve assumed that when Paul quoted this verse that 1. it was well known to his readers and 2. that he was playing with the traditional interpretation. He and his readers presumed that this verse was an affirmation of the Jewish idea of righteousness leading to blessing or salvation. And Paul in Galatians 3:11 and later in Romans 1:17 uses that verse as a springboard for his concept of righteousness coming not from ourselves but from God. Phew, I can feel the centuries weighing on my shoulders. And libraries of books written by theologians far wiser and devout than I’ll ever be. So maybe I’ll cut to my exercise:

1. Pick a version of the Bible

2. Show the renderings of Habakkuk 2:4 and Galatians 3:11.

3. Why do you think the translators might have chosen these renderings?

4. How might you render both these verses if you were publishing a version of the Bible?

I will start things off with the Bible our family uses, the Contemporary English Version.

1. The CEV


Habakkuk 2:4

“I, the Lord, refuse to accept
anyone who is proud.
Only those who live by faith
are acceptable to me.”*

Footnote: 2.4  Only … me: Or “But those who are acceptable to me will live because of their faithfulness.”

Galatians 3:11

No one can please God by obeying the Law. The Scriptures also say, “The people God accepts because of their faith will live.”*

Footnote 3.11 The people God accepts because of their faith will live:  Or “The people God accepts will live because of their faith.”

3. The translation is clear and idiomatic which are high values for the CEV. The footnote for Hab. 2:4 shows that they were open to the other reading of this verse.

4. I might like a rendering that is more in keeping with the wider passage, i.e. that those who are wicked will be punished but those who are “faithful,” i.e. righteous will be spared.

OK, now it’s your turn.

12 thoughts on “Habakkuk 2:4

  1. WoundedEgo says:

    Because “Paul’s Bible” was Greek, the Hebrew is irrelevant at best, and actually very confusing and misleading. Paul is merely quoting an LXX verbatim.

  2. Bob MacDonald says:

    great question – nicely framed –
    1962 Jerusalem Bible
    See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights
    but the upright man will live my his faithfulness
    he flags, he corr.; M.T. ‘It is distended (=full of pride?), it is not at rights, his soul within him. Vulg ‘He who is unbelieving’. Greek ‘If he flags, my soul is not pleased with him; but the upright man will have life for his faith in me.’

    pointers to Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11, Heb 10:38

    Rom 1:17 – the upright man finds life through faith
    Gal 3:11 – the righteous man finds life through faith
    Heb 10:38 – The righteous man will live by faith
    but if he draws back, my soul will take no pleasure in him

    (does God have a soul)?

  3. John says:


    Habakkuk 2. 4

    The reckless will be unsure of himself,
       while the righteous man will live by being faithful;*

    * Or by his faithfulness (cp. Romans 1. 17; Galatians 3. 11)

    Galatians 3. 11

    It is evident that no one is ever justified before God in terms of law; because we read, ‘he shall gain life who is justified through faith’.

  4. John Hobbins says:

    Since I don’t think Hab 2:4 was ever about the life-saving effectiveness of faithfulness to God’s moral teachings, though that principle too is taught in both the Old and New Testaments, I like Alonso-Schoekel’s free poetic translation of Hab 2:4 (Biblia del Peregrino):

    El animo ambicioso fracasera’;
    el inocente, por fiarse, vivira’.

    The ambitious soul will crash;
    the innocent, by trusting, will live.

    It’s about trusting in God and in particular, the vision of the triumph of good over evil that the prophet is given in Habakkuk chapters 2-3.

    The same Bible’s translation at Gal 3:11 is traditional but compatible with the above:

    el justo por creer vivira’.

    The just by believing will live.

    Here is another attempt at translating MT Hab 2:4:

    It is swollen, unguided,
    his appetite within him;
    but the straight shooter will live by faith.

    On this reading, the text contains a critique of the will to power of the Chaldean superpower of the prophet’s day. It is a swollen and unrestrained appetite. Though all evidence on the ground points in the other direction, the straight shooter puts his trust in God’s ultimate victory.

    For a Christian like Paul, that means trusting in God’s victory through the crucified and risen Jesus.

    Or the text might be taken in its more general sense, as a call for endurance in the midst of trials. So Hebrews 10:38.

  5. David Ker says:


    Gracias for the Spanish version. Me gusta.

    Punctuation makes all the difference on this one:
    (O justo por fé) viverá
    O justo (por fé viverá)

    A more explicit translation in Portuguese would be:
    O justificado por sua fidelidade se salvará
    The one justified by his fidelity will save himself.

    Interesting to note that the revision of the version you mention has been changed:

    4 El ánimo soberbio fracasará;
    pero el justo, por su fidelidad, vivirá.

    (You just can’t escape NPP…)

  6. Mike Sangrey says:

    For many years now I’ve thought Habakkuk shows two things: A God that stands undeniably committed to his people; and, two, that his people are defined by those who trust him. Commitment and trust are wed in PISTIS. According to Habakkuk, God will rescue his people; and his people, no matter what happens, determine to rejoice in the Lord, their savior.

    So, I take Habakkuk 2:4 as an intended ambiguity with two meanings: God’s commitment to justice benefiting a specific remnant of people, and, two, these people defined by their trust in this God. PISTIS is commitment and trust. The very interesting rhetorical device is that these two meanings are not only both used, but refer to two different things: God and his people.

    Thus Galatians 3:11 explains the Habakkuk quote by showing how the Messiah delivers the justice by an act (indeed, a life) which clearly showed God’s commitment through him. And it also goes on to say, “what was promised…might be given to those who believe.” Both ideas are there.

    The Romans 1:17 text works identically. However, the explanation is much, much fuller and encompasses 1:18 through 3:28. Both ideas are there, too.

    How to translate the text? O!, wow, that’s a good question. Double entendre is infamous for its difficulty in translation.

    Righteous people will live because of both commitment and trust.

    That doesn’t say more than it should; but it doesn’t say less, either.

    Lastly, let me end with a sidebar since this is one of my favorite hymns, originally written in German in 1630 by Johann Heermann. It always comes to mind when I think of Habakkuk 2:4. Here are some of the stanzas.

    O dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken
    That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken?
    Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession, —
    What dark transgression?

    They crown Thy head with thorns, they smite, they scourge Thee;
    With cruel mockings to the cross they urge Thee;
    They give Thee gall to drink, they still decry Thee;
    They crucify Thee.

    Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?
    It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish;
    Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit,
    This I do merit.

    What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!
    The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;
    The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
    Who would not know Him.

    The sinless Son of God must die in sadness;
    The sinful child of man may live in gladness;
    Man forfeited his life and is acquitted, —
    God is committed.

    Whate’er of earthly good this life may grant me,
    I’ll risk for Thee; no shame, no cross, shall daunt me;
    I shall not fear what man can do to harm me
    Nor death alarm me.

    But worthless is my sacrifice, I own it;
    Yet, Lord, for love’s sake Thou wilt not disown it;
    Thou wilt accept my gift in Thy great meekness
    Nor shame my weakness.

    And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven
    To me the crown of joy at last is given,
    Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,
    I, too, shall praise Thee.

  7. formiko says:

    Here is the Esperanto translation on Hab 2:4-
    Vidu, kiu estas malhumila, ties animo ne estos trankvila en li; sed virtulo vivos per sia fideleco.

    “See the one who is proud, his spirit will not be quiet in him;
    but the virtuous man will live by his faithfulness”

    The German goes like this:
    Siehe, wer halsstarrig ist, der wird keine Ruhe in seinem Herzen haben; der Gerechte aber wird seines Glaubens leben.

    “See who is lifted up is not upright in his heart, but the righteous shall live by faith.”

  8. Rich Rhodes says:

    The interesting NT citation for Hab. 2:4 is not Gal. 3:11, but Heb. 10:37-38. In fact it’s Hab. 2:3b-4.

    Hab. 2:3 (διότι ἔτι ὅρασις εἰς καιρὸν καὶ ἀνατελεῖ εἰς πέρας καὶ οὐκ εἰς κενόν ἐὰν ὑστερήσῃ ὑπόμεινον αὐτόν ὅτι)
    ἐρχόμενος ἥξει καὶ οὐ μὴ χρονίσῃ
    4 ἐὰν ὑποστείληται οὐκ εὐδοκεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου ἐν αὐτῷ
    ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεώς μου ζήσεται

    Heb. 10: 37. ἔτι γὰρ μικρὸν ὅσον ὅσον,
    ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἥξει καὶ οὐ χρονίσει:
    38. ὁ δὲ δίκαιός [μου] ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται,
    καὶ ἐὰν ὑποστείληται, οὐκ εὐδοκεῖ ἡ ψυχή μου ἐν αὐτῷ.

    Clearly the intent is to quote the LXX, but the order of the clauses is different, and the lead up to the part about waiting is different. If we caught a pastor playing as loose with Scripture nowadays, we’d be all over him.

    Maybe the translation of NT quotes of the OT don’t have to be any more similar to their OT counterparts than makes sense in context.

  9. WoundedEgo says:

    >>>Heb 10:39
    But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

    It is interesting that “believe” is pitted as an opposite to “draw back.”

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