_live_ vs. _XYH_

Alviero Niccacci sbfnet at netvision.net.il
Fri Dec 8 08:28:53 EST 2000

At 7:01 PM -0500 12/6/00, Bryan Rocine wrote:

>The twenty or so English translations of Hab 2:4b that I
>checked translate the Hebrew _YIXYEH_ as some form of
>_live_, *but*...
>English _live_ can mean not only a.) to have life ("the man
>that had the heart attack still lives") but also b.) to
>conduct one's life ("he lives righteously" or "he lives like
>a bum").  I suspect that BH _XYH_ does not have this range
>of meaning, the Hebrew root meaning only a.) to have life.
>I think the meaning b.) to conduct one's life, is expressed
>by BH _HLK_ and perhaps some other words or idioms.  I
>notice that in English, to express that something has life
>we usually opt for the adjective _alive_ rather than the
>verb _live_.  This preference might be further indication of
>different semantic ranges for the English _live_ and the BH
>This distinction between _live_ and _XYH_ would have impact
>on our understanding of, for instance, Hab 2:4 VETSADYQ
>BE'EMUNATO YIXYEH "But  the righteous one lives by faith."
>The meaning of the sentence is that the righteous one is
>sustained in life by his faith, that is, as he has faith.
>The sentence is not saying directly that the righteous one
>*conducts* his life by faith.  I think we might translate
>the notion of the Hebrew more precisely "But the righteous
>one is sustained by his faith."

Hi Bryan!

I think that on order to understand Hab 2:4b, one has to investigate 
the relationship between justice and life. It is repeatedly stated in 
the OT that the life of human beings depends on justice. Justice is 
understood, e.g., as correct behavior towards one's neighbor--see 
Deut 16:20: "Justice, justice you shall follow, that you may live 
(lema`an tixyeh); thus you shall inherit (weyara$ta) the land which 
the Lord your God is going to give you"; or as intelligence of God's 
Law -- Psa 119:144: "Justice are your testimonies for ever; give me 
understanding that I may live (we'exyeh)"; or as a conduct according 
to God's plan of salvation--Zeph 2:3: "Seek the Lord, all you humble 
of the land, who have done his commands; seek righteousness, seek 
humility; perhaps you shall be hidden on the day of the wrath of the 

Note that the PURPOSE of following justice is to live (Deut 16:20; 
Psa 110:144), i.e., to be spared in the day of the wrath of the Lord 
(Zeph 2:3), and the CONSEQUENCE of justice is to inherit the land 
promised to the Fathers. Purpose and consequence are clearly 
distinguished in BH by specific grammatical constructions--lema`an + 
yiqtol and weyiqtol (both volitive), on the one hand, and weqatal 
(non-volitive), on the other.

Similar dynamics are found in other texts in which the Lord's 
"statutes and ordinances" (amomg other phrases) are mentioned in the 
place of justice; see Lev 18:5; Deut 8:1; 11:8; 12:1; Ezek 20:11; Neh 

I think that Hab 2:4b is understandable within this horizon. The 
interaction between gratuity on God's side (promise) and justice on 
the side of a human being who believes and conforms him/herself to 
the divine plan, constitutes the way the Old Testament conceives 
*justification*. Justification is taking part in God's justice in 
human life.

I can not speculate on the meaning of life. I would only say that by 
doing justice a human being is given life and thus he is enabled to 
enjoy the land promised to the Fathers--with all that this involves. 
There are, of course, texts that show that justice does not spare 
from (untimely, unhappy) death. Contrasting views like these are 
meant to leave room for God's freedom in governing the world 
according to his sovereign plan of salvation. In my opinion, this 
also means that life and death are not simply understood in a 
physical way in the Old Testament. But we know that common opinion 
thinks differently.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
Alviero Niccacci

Studium Biblicum Franciscanum      Tel. +972 - 2 - 6282 936
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