Faith or Faithfulness in Habakkuk 2.4?

jesus-paulHabakkuk 2.4 is the verse from the Minor Prophets made famous by the Apostle Paul:

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

But there is a footnote next to the word, “faith” in the ESV, which states an alternative translation would be “faithfulness.”

Which is it? In many contexts faith and faithfulness do not need to be opposed to one another. There are many places in the Bible, for example, where members of God’s covenant people are called to continue to trust in the Lord without wavering rather than lose faith in Him and turn to other gods or other lords. So trusting in the true God is also faithfulness to his covenant.

That fact is probably related to the reason why the word can go either way in Hebrew and Greek.

But there are other contexts where something totally different might be going on. “Faithfulness” can have moralistic overtones. I can have two employees, both of whom I regard as my friends, but one might be much more diligent in showing up to work on time, or not skipping work, or doing above and beyond the minimum expectations. The latter one might impress me as the more “faithful” worker.

So what about Habakkuk 2.4? How should it be translated.

I think the context demands we prefer “faith” to “faithfulness.” The issue in Habakkuk is whether or not God can be trusted to deal with evil when he seems to be doing so by bringing about more evil. Is God trustworthy?

God’s statement is that those who trust in Him, despite the questions they have and the tribulations they undergo, are the ones he regarded as righteous. Thus, Habakkuk ends with one of Scripture’s most beautiful calls to faith:

I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

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