Righteousness and Faith
Righteousness and Faith
The most famous utterance of Habakkuk is undoubtedly 2, 4 , “the just man, because of his faith, shall live,” which acquired pivotal importance in the theology of Paul (Rom 1, 17; Gal 3, 11 ). In its original context, “faith” does not have the pregnant sense that it has in Paul. It is simply the trust in God that enables one to wait for the future, closer perhaps to hope than to faith in the traditional Christian sense. The contrast here is between the rash man (the fool, in the terminology of Proverbs) and the one who is able to take a longer view. The person who judges only in light of the immediate present sees no justice in the world and may be tempted to conclude that there is no divine control. The righteous, or wise, person, in contrast, trusts that justice will prevail and is content to wait for it.
The faith of Habakkuk finds its most poetic expression in chapter 3 . The description of the theophany, which has God come in triumph as a warrior, stands in a long tradition of such hymns (compare Dt 33; Jgs 5; Mi 1 ). The early hymns of this kind referred to God's past activity on behalf of Israel. Habakkuk expects such a manifestation in the future. It will be directed against “the people who attack us” ( 3, 16 ), presumably the Babylonians, although Jewish oppressors may also be included. What the prophet envisages is a decisive intervention of God, to wipe out all wickedness and oppression. In this he is close to the kind of future hope that we find later in the apocalyptic literature, except that he does not envisage any judgment of the dead. It is not surprising then that Habakkuk was popular in apocalyptic circles. The Dead Sea Scrolls include a commentary (called a pesher) on Habakkuk, which interpreted the prophecy with reference to the history of the Qumran sect (taking the Chaldeans as the Romans). The notion that “the vision still has its time” (Hb 2, 3 ) is echoed in Daniel 8, 17 , in a context where people were again asking “how long, O LORD?”
The faith of Habakkuk is a faith against appearances: “Though the fig tree blossom not nor fruit be on the vines … Yet will I rejoice in the LORD” ( 3, 17f ). It is based on the conviction that God is just, and so justice must ultimately prevail. The only question is “how long?” It is a question that has been repeated in every generation and has yet to receive a final answer. In the meantime, those who share the faith of Habakkuk find strength to go on. The value of such faith does not depend on the fulfillment of its expectations but on its power to transform the lives of the faithful.