The Victor

Hab 2:13-14 Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Various translations yield very different phrases, but regardless of the translation used the basic meaning is the same. God sovereignly ensures that the efforts of the proud to sustain their glory eventually fail. Vanity produces nothing of value. Pride against God ends in fiery destruction. There is no doubt or question as to the final victor at the end of the struggles. No matter how many false gods we put our faith in, in the final analysis all will come to nothing and the only God left is God Almighty.

About Lance Ponder

Christian author of "Ask James one"; public speaker; husband and father. Available to speak on Creation and the Gospel.
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13 Responses to The Victor

  1. Todd Beal says:

    | …that peoples labor merely for fire |

    Lance, what is the meaning of the word “fire” within this context?

    • Lance Ponder says:

      Good question. Here’s the NET version of verse 13:

      Be sure of this! The LORD who commands armies has decreed:
      The nations’ efforts will go up in smoke;
      their exhausting work will be for nothing.

      Upon reviewing a number of other translations it looks like the ESV I quoted in the post is probably closest to the literal meaning of the original text, though the NET probably best captures the meaning of the phrase. Human effort comes to nothing. Our works will be tested by fire. What is not wrought of God will indeed go up in smoke. Effort apart from God is wasted. I realize this sounds a bit like works based salvation, but this isn’t about salvation. Salvation is about faith. Reward is about works. Faith without works is dead, so there’s a relationship and it is only our silly human need to put God and His word in a human box that forces us to turn it into an either/or kind of thing. Scripture does not include the phrase “works without faith is dead,” although you can see it does say essentially as much throughout scripture. Even Martin Luther only wanted to communicate as much in his thesis. He didn’t want to divide the church, he wanted to set it aright.

      • Todd Beal says:

        Thanks, that makes sense.  It is interesting how the ESV retains the meaning of the original word, but the NET more accurately captures the meaning of the phrase.  I get more out of the NET rendering than I do from the ESV.  I wish there were some way for the two to reconcile.

    • Lance Ponder says:

      Hey, check out Mal 4:1 too:

      For indeed the day is coming, burning like a furnace, and all the arrogant evildoers will be chaff. The coming day will burn them up,” says the LORD who rules over all. “It will not leave even a root or branch. [NET]

      The next few verses add to this, but hey, you get the idea…

      • Todd Beal says:

        Yeah, again, the ESV captures more of the KJV wording, but to be honest, I get more meaning out of the NET.  Would it be accurate to say that the NET – at least in these two passages – is just as accurate as the ESV because it more accurately translates the words in terms of the complete meaning (individual words and context)?  To me, a translation is no less accurate if a particular choice of words better serves the original meaning, especially in this case where the NET captures the meaning of the words themselves along with the meaning of the phrase.  Don’t get me wrong, I chose the ESV for the very quality with which I am taking issue.  But for accuracy of complete meaning – if indeed the NET is as accurate as it appears – I prefer the NET rendering of these two passages.

        By the way, I do like the flow of the ESV text better than the NET.  In places, the NET abruptly stops and starts; it feels somewhat jerky.

        • Lance Ponder says:

          Erg. Hmph. Yeah, I agree that the very thing I like is what I find myself taking issue with also. And after serious thought I’m inclined to go with ESV over NET here because it doesn’t try to think for me. Having said that, I really don’t know enough about the original language to comprehend which is truly the better rendering.

          I just looked up the NIV and NLT for Hab 2:13. The NIV reads more like the ESV and the NLT reads more like the NET. Go figure. I’m not sure, but I’d call it a tie. 😉

  2. Todd Beal says:

    Lance, these are the ESV Study Bible notes from my online account.

    Hab. 2:13 Lord of hosts. Yahweh is the commander of the heavenly armies, all of which do his bidding; see note on Amos 3:13. peoples labor merely for fire. God controls man’s destiny and will punish injustice; thus, Babylon’s cities will ultimately be destroyed or given to others. Even the people of Judah were chastened for similar practices (Mic. 3:10).

    I understand what the commentary is saying but it seems to dance around the wording of the phrase, “peoples labor merely for fire”.

  3. Todd Beal says:

    Well anyway, I have learned a lot through our conversation.  I went to the NET site to introduce myself to their online version.  They appear to have their act together.

    Thanks a lot for your information, Lance.  As always, its been a pleasure.

  4. Lance Ponder says:

    Todd – I just finished reading through the review of the NET that you linked above. It was quite tedious, but it confirmed several things I was wondering about. I’ve come across several places in Zechariah where the NET really leaves me wondering. I’ve also seen lots of places where they offer the literal Hebrew in the notes and no good reason not to make the text itself read as literal. I’m troubled by this. As I move forward in my writing I’m going to be very careful when it comes to using the NET. I do really like it in places, tho, so I suppose its really going to take some careful review when doing any critical study work. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Kudos for finding it.

    • Todd Beal says:

      I thought you would find this interesting, Lance. I found the originating link at the end of the Wikipedia article, “New English Translation” (very informative).

      I enjoy the extensive translation notes included within the NET – unheard of in other translations. I also enjoy the phrasing when, in particular passages, the context meaning leaps across the page: I simply get it.  However, across the board, it does not achieve what I had initially thought.

      The ESV accurately translates the original meaning of the phrase while primarily remaining strictly loyal to the individual words within the phrase – good but I wish for more. Similar to the KJV, it sometimes leaves a difficult to grasp passage meaning.

      The NET, in certain passages, accurately translates the original meaning of the phrase by carefully selecting only those words that are contextually equivalent to the original language word-set. This achieves a contextually rendered translation that accounts for both essential literal and dynamic equivalent translation styles while remaining true to the original text –  a transparent rendering of the original meaning for both the individual words and phrases, one in terms of the other (a complete translation).

      Unfortunately, the NET does not consistently maintain this translation style, and I will continue to use the ESV as my authoritative scriptural source until it or another translation does.

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