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The Just Shall Live by his Faith

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The Just Shall Live by Faith

v'tzaddik be'emunato yich'yeh

by John J. Parsons

Habakkuk 2:4 (BHS)

"But the just shall live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:4)


THE TALMUD (Makkot 23b-24a) says, "Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, David reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15), Isaiah to six (Isaiah 33:15-16), Micah to three (Micah 6:8), Isaiah reduced them again to two (Isaiah 56:1); but it was Habakkuk who gave the one essential commandment: v'tzaddik be'emunato yich'yeh, literally, "the righteous, by his faithfulness - shall live."  In the New Testament, the apostle Paul had (earlier) distilled the various commandments of the Torah to this same principle of faith (see Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38).

This small phrase, consisting of only three Hebrew words, is perhaps the pivotal axis upon which our salvation turns, since it distills the requirement that we are justified by our faith in God, and not by "works of righteousness which we have done" (Titus 3:5).

The Hebrew word translated as "faith" (emunah, derived from the Hebrew root 'aman, meaning to nourish, to make firm and strong), is perhaps better translated as "faithfulness" or "loyalty," rather than "belief" in something (i.e., intellectual assent). Emunah suggests perseverance, fidelity, and steadfastness -- notwithstanding appearances or circumstances that might tempt us to waver or hesitate in our commitment.

"Faith and works," then, might be seen as two sides of the same coin. Our behavior will reveal what we really believe; and what we really believe will become manifest in our behavior… If you struggle with sin in a certain area, then that becomes an invitation to examine yourself to see where your commitment really lies.

Ultimately, just as we were declared tzaddik – "righteous" – by trusting in the finished work of Jesus as our Sin Bearer before the Father, so we are to live (chai) in the same way – by means of trusting in God's daily provision.  We were freely justified when we first came to the Lord in our brokenness, and we are freely sanctified by continuing to trust that God will sustain us throughout our lives.

God is called El Emunah – "the Faithful God," and the tzaddik shall live by putting his or her trust in the faithfulness and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, "whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30).


Habakkuk 2:4 Transliteration

vetzaddik be'emunato yichyeh.

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