The second half of Habakkuk 2:4 (…the just shall live by his faith) is quoted three different times in the New Testament epistles: Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11 and Heb 10:38. That makes it a pretty important verse – one that every believer should take pains to understand. When I studied this verse in the original Hebrew, I was astonished by the unexpected results! This verse offers a much deeper understanding of Paul’s teaching.
Who is the Just Man?
The word translated as ‘the just’ is the Hebrew word צַדִּיק (tsaddiyq) and means just, lawful, righteous.
- This word was commonly used as a title: a tsaddiyq was a man who faithfully followed Torah, because, as Moses taught, it shall be our righteousness [tsedequah], if we observe to do all these commandments before YHVH our God, as he hath commanded us. (Deut 6:25) His behavior was just because he followed the just instructions (Torah) of YHVH.
- Y’shua’s brother, James, was known as Ja’acov HaTsaddiyq (James the Just) because he was famous for his careful adherence to Torah. As a result, James was not only the head of the Jerusalem Church; he was also considered the top spiritual leader in all of Israel, even by the Pharisees. (See Hegesippus)
We can see this usage in the Greek NT, too:
Then Joseph her husband, being a JUST [Greek: δίκαιος dikaios – righteous, observing divine laws] man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. Matt 1:19
And they [the parents of John the Baptist] were both RIGHTEOUS [Greek: δίκαιος dikaios – righteous, observing divine laws] before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of Adonai blameless. Luke 1:6
This scriptural view of righteousness was summed up by Moses, who wrote, as we have seen, it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before YHVH our God, as he hath commanded us. (Deut 6:25)
To be accounted righteous means, in scriptural terms, to have shown oneself desirous to be conformed to the Torah of YHVH out of love for Him and His Ways.
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Y’shua. Rev 14:12
‘Faith’ meant something different to First Century Believers, too
In the modern church, we tend to equate ‘faith’ to a mental belief in something. This was not true for the apostles and their Hebrew converts to Messiah (the first Christians). In Hebraic thought, ‘faith’ was a verb!
We see this in Habakkuk 2:4, where the second half of the verse offers an even more interesting and significant phrase: “… shall live by his faith.” The word translated as ‘faith’ has nothing to do with mental belief. It is the Hebrew word אֱמוּנָה (em·ü·nä’) and means firmness, fidelity, steadfastness, steadiness. 
Habakkuk is telling us that the man who steadfastly (faithfully) observes Torah will live!
And Y’shua agreed: … But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. (Matt 19:17 b) For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [Heaven and earth are still with us.] Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:18-19)
Paul certainly understood this – He was a well-trained Pharisee and knew the scriptures intimately. His traditional understanding of Habakkuk is apparent in his statements to the Roman believers:
17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness [… thy Torah is the truth. Ps 119:142] ; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made [including Mankind], even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: [Rom 1:17-20 KJV]
Paul is telling us that the wrath of God will come against any man who does not live according to God’s ethical (Torah) standards (righteousness), because the principles of His character and ethical standards have been made plain to all through His creation: they are without excuse. If one ignores that plain revelation, he will die. If he does know the specifics of Torah and still willfully and unrepentantly transgresses it, then Torah will testify against him and he will die.
This is why Paul tells us a little later in Romans 2:12, For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law…, and (Rom 6:23), … for the wages of sin is death [implied: for all men]. Thus Torah affects every man, so that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Rom 3:19) God “will repay [pay in the same coin] each person according to what they have done.” (Rom 2:6, where Paul is paraphrasing Ps 62:12 and Prov 24:12, both of which refer to Torah)
Praise God that – for those in Y’shua – His Torah instructions still inform us of what HE considers to be righteous, so that we can be conformed to HIS ways, but Torah no longer has the power to condemn the ‘faithful’ to death! (Rom 8:1) Paul spends a lot of time explaining this!
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Rom 7:12
…[but] the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law [Torah]…. Rom 8:7
Paul echoes his Master’s teaching when he says:
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or [slaves] to obedience, which leads to righteousness? Rom 6:16
Y’shua [said] No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Luke 16:13 Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. John 8:34
Paul continues: You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…. Rom 6:18
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law. Rom 7:25 (That’s a GOOD thing!)
But if Messiah is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. Rom 8:10
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.. Rom 8:13
The misdeeds of the body are sin, and John tells us, Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law [Torah]. 1John 3:4 John agrees with Paul that righteousness is submission to Torah – the Law of God. Rom 8:7
That the righteousness of the law [Torah] might be fulfilled [Grk πληρόω plēroō: accomplished, performed] in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. Rom 8:4-5
What is the Spirit’s part in this? Among other things,
“… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.“ John 14:26 NIV.
He can’t teach (explain) or remind us if we have not taken the first critical step of STUDYING the Word. It is for this reason that we are often instructed
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing [correctly teaching and using] the word of truth.” (2Tim 2:15, NKJV)
Remember that when 2Tim 2:15 was written, the only “word of truth” available was the Tanakh (Old Testament). We are expected to have THAT Word (as well as Y’shua’s teachings) in our memory so that the Holy Spirit can use it to direct us. As we meditate on it, he leads us into a deeper understanding of the Word.
“Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:11, NKJV)
There is MUCH more to this teaching, but I will not take the space to discuss it here. We are in the process of writing an article entitled The Book of Romans as part of our series, What Did the Apostles Teach? and will post it as soon as possible. In the meantime, I welcome your questions and urge you to read some of our other articles (published at The Coming Kingdom) that discuss this concept.
© John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, 2014. Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Lamb’s Servant Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to John and Sue Wyatt and The Lamb’s Servant Blog, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 In Hebrew understanding, faith is something we DO – it is, as the Book of Hebrews says, …the substance [a tangible result of action] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1) (The things not seen refers to our otherwise invisible belief in Messiah.)