Saturday, October 01, 2005

Having a Hack at Habakkuk

What is Habakkuk about?

Habakkuk, henceforth denoted by H, basically deals with the question of God's justice, mercy, and, ultimately God's being God, sovereign over history, upholding His covenants, etc.

Here's the structure:

(1) H has asked or prayed to Yahweh to intervene in the violence, injustice, and the corruption that has taken place in H's sphere [Judah, approx. 6th century BC ?], yet Yahweh has, at least in H's eyes, not intervened and set things aright. Thus, H asks "How long, O Lord?" In other words, how long will H [and others] suffer while God, who is supposedly omnipotent and omniscient, stands by, and, in H's eyes, does nothing. 1:1-4.

(2) Yahweh condescends to answer H's question. In a nutshell, Yahweh is going to respond to the sins and the injustices that H has seen by doing something that would offend the sensibilities of godly men [such as H]. Yahweh's response will consist of His raising up the Babylonians --- a cruel, pagan, merciless, bloodthirsty, and savage people --- and His permitting the Babylonians to invade Judah. That is, God will use a wicked and pagan people to punish Judah. 1:5-11.

(3) But God's using a wicked and pagan people to punish Judah, and, in fact, a nation that [in H's eyes] is even more wicked than Judah, to punish Judah, seems like it is itself a miscarriage of justice and what is right. Yahweh's eyes are too pure to look upon evil, Yahweh, by His very nature, cannot tolerate wrong. And yet, H laments that Yahweh's punishment of the evil and evildoers in Judah will consist of using a corrupt [and unwitting] agent [the Babylonians] to scoop up those of Judah in the same fashion as fish are scooped up in a dragnet. Thus H issues his concerns. 1:12-17.

The NET translation of 2:1: "I will stand at my watch post / I will remain stationed on the city wall / I will keep watching, so I can see what he says to me / and can know how I should answer / when he counters my arguments. "

He has voiced his complaint to Yahweh [1:2-4], and Yahweh has answered a first time [1:5-11]. H has then voiced concerns [or another complaint] in 1:12-17. What is the function of 2:1? It seems that, using sentinel imagery, H is stating that he will await Yahweh's response to his complaints. Furthermore, in what appears to be a display of humility and an awareness of God's wisdom [even if such wisdom is not understandable or obvious to men such as himself], H realizes in advance that Yahweh will "counter" H's complaints. If I understand this correctly, H is admitting that, even if he cannot for the time being understand Yahweh's logic or wisdom, H knows that, Yahweh being who Yahweh is, He will be just, as He, being Yahweh, must be.

(4) Yahweh indeed answers H.

(a) The first part of the response is 2:2-5.

[2:2] Write down the revelation / and make it plain on tablets / so that a herald may run with it. [2:3] For the revelation awaits an appointed time; / it speaks of the end / and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; / it will certainly come and will not delay. [2:4] See, he is puffed up; / his desires are not upright --- / but the righteous will live by his faith [or faithfulness] [2:5] Indeed, wine betrays him; / he is arrogant and never at rest. / Because he is as greedy as the grave / and like death is never satisfied, / he gathers to himself all the nations / and takes captive all the peoples. [NIV]

[[The NET has for 2:4b but the person of integrity [or the righteous] will live [or be preserved] because of his faithfulness [or faith]. ]]

This first part of Yahweh's response to H seems to be stating that Babylon, the pagan agent of Yahweh's judgement on Judah, the agent whose role in Yahweh's judgement offends H's sensibilities, will itself fall. However, it will not fall right away. Babylon's existence will "linger," but in the end H is not to doubt that Yahweh is the sovereign Lord of history. [And, Babylon did fall around 540-539BC, some six to seven decades after the time period placed on H's writing by conservative scholarship.]

The pronoun he refers either to a typical Babylonian, or, more probably, the leader of that bloodthirsty pagan nation. He is puffed up with the arrogance of being a power, even though his acquisition of power has come by the shedding of blood and the impartation of misery to others. When Yahweh states that "his desires are not upright" this is probably a reference to continued bloodlust, powerlust, glorylust, or whatever. Whatever be the case, the "he" wants more and will get it by any means possible.

But, in contradistinction to "him," the righteous will live by his faith. What exactly does it mean to say that "the righteous will live by his faith" ? To this student, what appears to be the natural meaning of this statement is this: the righteous will live in the sense that his earthly life and political survival will be maintained, and this living is due to his faith [or faithfulness]. And, in turn, what is meant by faith [or faithfulness]?

(i) Is it trust in Yahweh?
(ii) Is it staying loyal to the Torah?
(iii) Is it both (i) and (ii) ?

I go with (iii).

In a Qumram commentary on Habbakuk, 1QpHab 8:1-3 states [taking this from Schreiner's Romans commentary, p 83] "The interpretation concerns all those who practice the law in the house of Judah, whom God will deliver from the house of judgementbecause of their struggle and their faithfullness to the Teacher of Righteousness." Also, Cranfield [p 101] indicates the following: "That it [i.e. Habakkuk 2:4b] came to be of special importance for some Jews is indicated by bMakk. 23b, which tells us that Rabbi Simlai (c. AD250) had asserted that the 613 commandments received by Moses had been summed up by David in eleven commandments (Ps 15), by Isaiah in six (Isa 33:15f), by Micah in three (Mic 6:8), by Isaiah again in two (Isa 56:1), and finally by Amos in one (Amos 5:4), but that Rabbi Nachman ben Issac (about AD350) had substituted Hab 2.4b for Amos 5.4 as the summary in one commandment."

Even more important though is just how Habakkuk himself views the statement that "the righteous will live by his faith[fulness]." While not seeming to interpret this passage for us in as definitive a way as we'd like, Habakkuk states in 3:19 that Yahweh is his strength, that Yahweh gives him firm footing, and that Yahweh enables him to go on the heights [whatever that means]. Does this indicate that H views the statement "the righteous will live by his faith[fulness]" as meaning political or earthly survival on the basis of mere trust in Yahweh? It seems to, but, one shouldn't be dogmatic about this.

[[My interest in studying H comes not from intrinsic interest in H itself, but from Paul's usage of 2:4 in Romans 1:17, where Paul cites "the righteous shall live by faith" as confirmation of the fact that in the gospel the righteousness of God is being revealed, and this righteousness is wholly by faith from first to last. I'm trying to understand Paul's justification --- if indeed it can be understood to a modern Westerner --- for using Hab 2:4.]]

(b) We've just covered the first part of Yahweh's second response to H [2:2-5]. The second part of Yahweh's second response to H [2:6-20] is Yahweh pronouncing woes on Babylon [or the king of Babylon].

(i) Woe to him that piles up plundered goods
(ii) Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain
(iii) Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
(iv) Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors...so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. [I'm not sure what this is getting at.]
(v) Woe to him who sas to wood, "Come to life!" [This is a condemnation of idolmakers, but, more generally, it points to the foolishness of idolatry. What man makes must be inferior to man, and yet some men make things and accord to them the honor and reverence due to Yahweh.]

The second response concludes: "But Yahweh is in His holy temple; / let all the earth be silent before him." The silence is presumably related to the silence one has in a forensic setting while awaiting the judge's verdict [or, here, the judge's condemnation].

(5) After Yahweh's second response [with its two parts] concludes, the third chapter begins with what appears to be a mixture of a prophecy, prayer, and a psalm.

The prayer [3:2] is for Yahweh to repeat the heroic deeds of yore [in H's eyes] and to show mercy, presumably to H and those who are faithful to Yahweh. The heroic deeds of yore probably are a reference to the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan.

On the other hand, 3:3-15 seems to be more prophetic imagery. The main point here is that Yahweh is powerful and able to not just inflict His will and desires on the world, but He is easily able to do so, for He is Yahweh. Of particular interest is 3:13a: "You came out to deliver your people, / to save your anointed one" [NIV] "You march out to deliver your people / to deliver your special servant." [NET] Who is the "anointed one" [or the "special servant"]? The two most obvious candidates appear to be Israel viewed as a single people or a Davidic King. Whatever be the case, 3:3-15 in street terms would basically say that Yahweh is one bad dude with a 'tude, the king of His block.

Now upon the exposition of Yahweh's might in 3:3-15, we come to an interpretational question in 3:16-19. The NIV translates as follows:

[3:16] I [that is, Habakkuk] heard and my heart pounded
my lips quivered at the sound
Decay crept into my bones
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
[3:17] Thogh the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls
[3:18] yet I will rejoice in the LORD
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
[3:19] The Sovereign LORD is my strength
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

What is clear is that despite not seeing how God's wisdom is manifested in the course of action [or inaction] described earlier in this short writing, H submits humbly to Yahweh: H shall wait pateiently for day of calamity, H will rejoice in Yahweh though there be famine and the essentials of life appear to be lacking. Indeed, H views Yahweh as his strength --- Yahweh is the ground, source, and sustenance for Habakkuk's entire being. This much is clear.

What isn't clear from the text is whether H is saying this in a starry-eyed awe of the transcendent majesty of Yahweh or if H is saying this with a sick stomach and a sad countenance. Or, is H sick to his stomach over a judgement coming upon Judah even though H admits Yahweh's power and wisdom and such? This last possibility doesn't seem far-fetched. I remember similar situations, when I was caught doing something wrong by a teacher or a parent, and would have that pit-in-the-stomach feeling that all caught kiddie culprits have when their parents or teachers are about to pronounce their punishment towards them.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Jehovah's Scribe said...

The name is JEHOVAH.

Monday, October 10, 2005 1:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

H. is echoing Job: though you slay me yet will I believe.

Monday, October 10, 2005 2:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Abu Daoud said...

"The righteous shall live by faith..." I did some work on Habakkuk in grad school and I remember reading some commentaries suggesting that the Hebrew indicated an object, ie, "the righteous shall live by faith [in it]," that is, the promise of coming judgment.

Another possibility. FYI.

Friday, October 14, 2005 2:03:00 AM  

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