The Meaning of Habakkuk 2:4 Explained

Habakkuk 2:4

KJV: Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.

YLT: Lo, a presumptuous one! Not upright is his soul within him, And the righteous by his stedfastness liveth.

Darby: Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him: but the just shall live by his faith.

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

What does Habakkuk 2:4 Mean?

Verse Meaning

Proud Babylon was not right in doing what she did but was puffed up with pride and evil passions. In contrast, the righteous one will live by his faith (cf. Genesis 15:6). By implication, Babylon, the unrighteous one, would not live because she did not live by faith (trust in God) but by sight and might. She sought to gratify her ambitions by running over other people rather than by submitting to God"s sovereignty.
This verse appears three times in the New Testament. Paul quoted it in Romans 1:17 and emphasized "righteous." Faith in God results in righteousness for both Jews and Gentiles. He used it again in Galatians 3:11 but to stress "live." Rather than obtaining new life by obeying the Mosaic Law, the righteous person does so by faith. In Galatians Paul was addressing Gentiles mainly. The writer of Hebrews also quoted this verse in Hebrews 10:38, but his emphasis was on "faith." It is faith that God will reward in the righteous. In this case the original readers were primarily Jews. In all three cases "live" has the broader reference to eternal life, but here it is mainly physical life that is in view. Thus this verse is clearly an important revelation in the Bible, even its essential message.
"It takes three books to explain and apply this one verse!" [1]
This is the key verse in Habakkuk because it summarizes the difference between the proud Babylonians and their destruction with the humble faith of the Israelites and their deliverance. The issue is trust in God.
""The just shall live by his faith" was the watchword of the Reformation, and they may well be the seven most important monosyllables in all of church history." [2]
"The underlying theme of the book may be summarized as follows: A matured faith trusts humbly but persistently in God"s design for establishing righteousness in the earth." [3]
Bruce stated the theme of the book as "the preservation of loyal trust in God in face of the challenge to faith presented by the bitter experience of foreign invasion and oppression." [1]
The Hebrew word "emunah, "faith," can also mean "faithful" or "steadfast." It can also mean "integrity." [5] Did the Lord mean that the righteous will live by his trust in God or by being faithful to God, by being a person of integrity? Scripture elsewhere reveals that both meanings are true: trust and integrity. However in this context "faith" or trust seems to be the primary meaning since the Babylonians did not trust God whereas the Israelites did. Both the Babylonians and the Israelites had been unfaithful to God.
"The discrepancy between "faith" and "faithfulness" is more apparent than real, however. For man to be faithful in righteousness entails dependent trust in relation to God (e.g, 1 Samuel 26:23-24); such an attitude is clearly demanded in the present context of waiting for deliverance ( Habakkuk 2:3; Habakkuk 3:16-19)." [6]
"This is the first of three wonderful assurances that God gives in this chapter to encourage His people. This one emphasizes God"s grace, because grace and faith always go together. Habakkuk 2:14 emphasizes God"s glory and assures us that, though this world is now filled with violence and corruption ( Genesis 6:5; Genesis 6:11-13), it shall one day be filled with God"s glory. The third assurance is in Habakkuk 2:20 and emphasizes God"s government. Empires may rise and fall, but God is on His holy throne, and He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords." [7]

Context Summary

Habakkuk 2:1-20 - "the Just Shall Live By Faith"
Having prayed, the prophet expected an answer and looked out for it. When it came, there would be no mistaking it. But until we see eye to eye, we must live by simple faith in God. Note that wonderful clause in Habakkuk 2:4, which is referred to so often afterward. See Romans 1:17; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:11. Life in this age, as in that, may be obtained and maintained by faith in the ever-living God. Through long waiting-times the only source of continued life is the faith which draws all from God. From Habakkuk 2:5 onwards, the prophet enumerates Babylon's sins: her pride, love of strong drink, rapacity, and violence. It could not be God's will that the mighty city should flourish on the anguish of the world.
From scenes of anarchy and riot which foretell Chaldea's doom, we pass into Jehovah's temple, where peaceful silence reigns! Let us live in that secret place! "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him!" [source]

Chapter Summary: Habakkuk 2

1  Unto Habakkuk, waiting for an answer, is shown that he must wait by faith
5  The judgment upon the Chaldean for unsatiableness,
9  for covetousness,
12  for cruelty,
15  for drunkenness,
18  and for idolatry

What do the individual words in Habakkuk 2:4 mean?

Behold the proud not is upright His soul in him but the just by his faith shall live
הִנֵּ֣ה עֻפְּלָ֔ה לֹא־ יָשְׁרָ֥ה נַפְשׁ֖וֹ בּ֑וֹ וְצַדִּ֖יק בֶּאֱמוּנָת֥וֹ יִחְיֶֽה

הִנֵּ֣ה  Behold 
Parse: Interjection
Root: הִנֵּה  
Sense: behold, lo, see, if.
עֻפְּלָ֔ה  the  proud 
Parse: Verb, Pual, Perfect, third person feminine singular
Root: עָפַל 
Sense: to lift up, swell, be lifted up.
יָשְׁרָ֥ה  is  upright 
Parse: Verb, Qal, Perfect, third person feminine singular
Root: יָשַׁר 
Sense: to be right, be straight, be level, be upright, be just, be lawful, be smooth.
נַפְשׁ֖וֹ  His  soul 
Parse: Noun, feminine singular construct, third person masculine singular
Root: נֶפֶשׁ  
Sense: soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion.
בּ֑וֹ  in  him 
Parse: Preposition, third person masculine singular
וְצַדִּ֖יק  but  the  just 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Adjective, masculine singular
Root: צַדִּיק  
Sense: just, lawful, righteous.
בֶּאֱמוּנָת֥וֹ  by  his  faith 
Parse: Preposition-b, Noun, feminine singular construct, third person masculine singular
Root: אֱמוּנָה  
Sense: firmness, fidelity, steadfastness, steadiness.
יִחְיֶֽה  shall  live 
Parse: Verb, Qal, Imperfect, third person masculine singular
Root: חָיָה  
Sense: to live, have life, remain alive, sustain life, live prosperously, live for ever, be quickened, be alive, be restored to life or health.