Lighter posting this week, as I am devoting my mornings to preparation for a sermon this Sunday on Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by faith.” I am going to examine the meaning of of “faith” (Hebrew emunah, steadfastness, fidelity), which I refer to as “steadfast trust,” in light of the rest of the book, and in light of the New Testament’s usage of this verse (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38-39). I have three points:
1) Faith trusts in God even when the unthinkable happens (chapter 1-2, especially 1:5-11).
2) Faith finds joy in God, not circumstances (3:16b-19).
3) Faith looks to God, not achievement, for justification (2:4; cf. Romans 1:17).
In other words, biblical faith, defined as steadfast trust and reliance in God, is the means by which the righteous seek understanding amidst confusion, joy amidst suffering, and a righteous status before God. Its a new, counter-intuitive orientation to the fundamental things which all humans seek: knowledge, happiness, righteousness.
Something interesting I learned this past week during my study is that Jewish rabbis, as well as the writers of the New Testament, regarded Habakkuk 2:4 as a particularly important verse within the Old Testament. A Palestinian Rabbi in the 3rd century A.D. once addressed the question of how many rules the Hebrew Bible required:
“Moses received 613 precepts; David reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15) but Isaiah reduced them to six (Isaiah 33:15-16) but Micah reduced them to three (Micah 6:8) … but Amos reduced them to two (Amos 5:5)….”
Then Habakkuk 2:4 is cited as reducing all of Old Testament to religion to one commandment (Cf. Francis I. Anderson, Habakkuk [Doubleday, 2001], 216). So not only for the authors of the New Testament, but among Jewish rabbis, Habakkuk 2:4 was taken as a kind of summary statement of the essence of true religion. More posts to come on this, hopefully on issues surrounding Paul’s usage of the verse and the meaning of emunah…