“The Righteous Live By Their Faith” In A Holy God: Complementary Compositional Forces And Habakkuk’s Dialogue With The Lord -- By: Ernst R. Wendland

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 42:4 (Dec 1999)
Article: “The Righteous Live By Their Faith” In A Holy God: Complementary Compositional Forces And Habakkuk’s Dialogue With The Lord
Author: Ernst R. Wendland


“The Righteous Live By Their Faith” In A Holy God:
Complementary Compositional Forces And Habakkuk’s Dialogue With The Lord

Ernst R. Wendland*

I. Introduction

The three Hebrew words of Hab 2:4b (וצדיק ב־מונתו יחיה wĕṣaddîq beʾĕmûnātô yhyh) constitute the best-known and theologically most significant statement in the poetic book of this late seventh-century BC prophet. However, as set within its original textual environment, the utterance appears at first glance to be not much more than an aside, 1 a fleeting positive contrast that occurs within a strong word of divine denunciation. The aim of this essay is to advance the proposal that, contrary to its surface appearance, this concise expression forms the thematic core of Habakkuk’s entire message. It thereby functions as the semantic kernel from which the complete text may be organized and interpreted with respect to structure, style, content and purpose.

I will begin by examining the two major compositional constituents of syntagmatically oriented “progression” in much Hebrew poetic discourse. These are the thematic line, which is highlighted by a text’s overall structural arrangement, and the dramatic line, which realizes its various rhetorical motivations, both large and small. Such forward progression is, in turn, balanced and defined by the accompanying paradigmatic forces of internal textual “cohesion,” which is effected largely by various types of repetition, both formal and semantic. As far as the “prophecy” of Habakkuk is concerned, 2 the compositional interaction of progression and cohesion is viewed as being generated and governed by the work’s thematic nucleus, namely, the final three words of chap. 2 v. 4: “the righteous man—by his steadfast faithfulness—he lives!” This terse utterance is crucial in pointing toward a resolution of the great theodicidic debate in which the prophet is engaged: How and why does a just and holy God continue to do business in an unjust, iniquitous world?

* Ernst Wendland is an instructor at the Lutheran Seminary and a translation consultant for the United Bible Societies based in Lusaka, Zambia, P.O. Box 310091.

And what significance or implication does the answer have for those who put their steadfast trust in him? These are issues of timeless relevance, hence a message which needs to be communicated also in this new millennium in the m...

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