In the Bible, no less than in the movies, history is understood as a morality play. Ethical closure, furthermore, a satisfactory ending, is almost universally anticipated. Deserved consequences will be meted out. On the national and international levels, history, no matter how bleak, unjust, and catastrophic for a time, will be put on course once again. The following concepts form the background against which the ethical closure the book of Habakkuk anticipates is intelligible. I build on the discussion of George Sher (see bibliography).
(1) A self is constituted by its history of moral agency.
(2) A wrongdoer’s wrong confers an unfair advantage on the wrongdoer. Deserved punishment operates symmetrically by inflicting a proportionate disadvantage on the wrongdoer.
(3) The past extends its normative reach into the future.
(4) A future event may rectify an event of the past.
The above points are subject to qualification and even radical relativization. They nonetheless underpin the hope of ethical closure to which the book of Habakkuk bears witness. Hab 2:1-8 anticipates by faith a rectification of past wrongs. Here is a fresh translation of Hab 2:1-8:
my lookout I stand,
I stand guard on the rampart.
I keep watch to see
what he will say through me,
what you* will reply to my reproof.
יהוה answered me.
Write down a vision,
make it plain on tablets,
so that he that reads it
the vision is a witness* for a set time,
a voucher of the end,
it will not delude.
If it tarries, wait for it,
for it will surely come,
it will not delay.
is swollen, not restrained,
his appetite within him;
but the upright will live by faith.
How much more so, when rashness* is treacherous.
the arrogant man,
but he will not abide,
is as wide as Sheol.
is like death
that cannot be satisfied;
he gathered all nations to himself,
collected all peoples to himself.
not all of them
take up a song about him?
A barbed* epigram
one will say* at his expense:
the one who amasses what is not his!
How long can he* make heavier
the debt accruing to him?
Shall not your creditors
May those who make you tremble awake,
and you be despoiled by them!
all remaining peoples will plunder you
on account of the spilled-blood of man
and violence to the land,
against towns and all who live in them.
*An asterisk marks a departure, however slight, from the received text. In an appendix to this series, all of Habakkuk will be set out poetically, in Hebrew and in translation, with a brief textual commentary.
George Sher, Desert. Studies in Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987)
This post is part of a series:
- The Book of Habakkuk: An Introduction
- The Prophet as Intercessor
- Faith-based Religion
- Assurance of Things Hoped For
- Habakkuk 2:4
- Anticipated Closure