_live_ vs. _XYH_ (life => relationship)

Dan Wagner Dan.Wagner at datastream.net
Tue Dec 12 17:42:01 EST 2000

Alviero Niccacci says, "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."

I agree. Another evidence, more explicit perhaps, is Deut. 30:19-20. "I have
set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life,
in order that [_LEMA(AN_] you and your descendants may live [_TIXYEH_] to
love Yahweh your God, to obey His voice, and to cling to Him; because *He is
your life* and your elongation of days to dwell in the land...." 

The "living" of v. 19 is summed up in terms of loving, obeying, and clinging
in v. 20 (metaphors for personal devotion). Furthermore, although "He is
your life" 
[_HU) XAYYEYKA_] could also be, "This is your life," the 3MS pronoun is then
referencing the loving, the obeying, and the clinging to Yahweh. I prefer
the first, i.e., God Himself (by relationship to Him) was considered to be
the essence of life. But in either case, the possibility that "life" in the
OT is uniquely physical is excluded. 

I take Lev. 18:5 similarly, "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My
judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by/in them." Ezek. 20
emphasizes the same (quotes it 3X), esp. when he finally climaxes at v. 25
with contrasting "statutes" (note change to MP from consistent FP for divine
statutes in context) and judgments which are "not good" and by which man
cannot "live." Physical life is not the issue.

"In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death"
(Prov. 12:28) cannot be talking about physical death (cf. also Dahood's
comparison w/ Ugaritic in context of search for immortality). Psalm 32
pictures the agonizing, broken relationship nearly void of spiritual life,
since God does not hear a person as long as he "sees" (is aware of)
unconfessed iniquity in his heart (Psm. 66:18). "One who turns away his ear
from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination" (Prov. 28:9; cf.
15:8, 29). In Lam. 3 there is a connection between Yahweh covering himself
with a cloud so that He hears no prayer (44) in contrast to later looking
down to see and consequent redemption of "life" (v. 58). 

Life in the OT, then, was summed up in terms of an open, active relationship
with Yahweh. I don't necessarily dispute your comments on the relationship
of life & justice, but would shift the focus to make it more personal.
"Life" was not through mere justice alone (i doubt the gentiles would have
been thought of as experiencing "life" even if they were just; the promises
did not extend to anyone outside of the covenant relationship), but justice
within the context of *maintaining* a dynamic relationship with God. Yahweh
was the "fountain of living waters" (Jer. 2:13).

Similar to Peter Kirk, my translation might be, "The just one maintains life
by his faith[fulness]." I'm not getting into the faith-vs.-faithfulness
issue (cf. LXX, NT), except to say that ultimately there is little
difference, and that the verse does not teach that righteousness is obtained
through human accomplishments/merit (works). The main point is that the
proud (self-sufficient) is contrasted to the just who is dependent on God
and thus maintains fellowship by faithfulness in the relationship. 

Dan Wagner

-----Original Message-----
From: Alviero Niccacci [mailto:sbfnet at netvision.net.il]
Sent: Friday, December 08, 2000 08:29
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Re: _live_ vs. _XYH_

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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