Root: צדק (tsade-dalet-qof)
Sounds like: tze’dek
What does it mean to be righteous? For many people righteousness is assigned to people who act holier than thou or self-righteous… people who point fingers and see themselves as better than someone else. But this is not how the Bible sees righteousness. Others assign righteous to those who follow a moral compass of what is good and right and pure. But it is much more than that. To be truly righteous is to reflect the face of God; and to find righteousness within ourselves we have to look inward and then seek God in an outward way.
Righteousness [tsedeq] and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You. How blessed are the people who know the shouts of joy! O YHWH, they walk in the light of Your countenance.
Righteousness is Seeking YHWH
If righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne then it needs to be at the core of who we are as children of God. If we want to live and possess what God offers we must pursue righteousness:
Righteousness, righteousness [tsedeq tsedeq] you shall pursue so that you may live and possess the land which YHWH your God is giving you.
צדק צדק תרדף למען תחיה וירשת את הארץ אשר יהוה אלהיך נתן לך׃
Hebrew has no punctuation: no question marks, no apostrophes, no exclamation points… so one of the ways to create emphasis is to duplicate words. Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue was meant to stand out. This was not a passing suggestion; this was a command. Seeking out righteousness would put you on the right path.
[Side note: almost all Bible translations translate Deuteronomy 16:20 as “justice” you shall pursue. The Hebrew language has another word for justice, mishpat, which we’ll look at next week. The translation of these two words- righteousness and justice- are a bit of a tangled mess throughout most OT translations, frequently flip-flopping between the two].
Righteousness: Bearing God’s Image
Although we are to pursue righteousness, it doesn’t buy us anything. YHWH was motivated to eliminate wickedness, not avenge the righteous. We are to be righteous on our own merit without expectation of reward:
“Do not say in your heart when YHWH your God has driven them away from you, ‘Because of my righteousness [b-tsid’aqi] YHWH has brought me in to take possession of this land.’ Rather, it is because of the wickedness of these nations that YHWH is dispossessing them before you. It is not because of your righteousness [lo v-tsid’qat’ka] or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to take possession of their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that YHWH your God is driving them out from before you, and in order to confirm the oath which YHWH swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Know, then, that it is not because of your righteousness [lo v-tsid’qat’ka] that YHWH your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people. Remember, do not forget how you provoked YHWH your God to anger in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against YHWH.
We don’t deserve God’s goodness because we are righteous. YHWH will carry out His plan for salvation whether we are righteous or not!
However, He does love His righteous people because they are living up to their potential as His image bearers. In David’s Psalm of Deliverance he sang:
2 Samuel 22:21-27
“YHWH has treated me in accordance with my righteousness [k-tsid’qati]; in accordance with the cleanliness of my hands He has repaid me. For I have kept the ways of YHWH, and have not acted wickedly against my God.
For all His ordinances were before me, and as for His statutes, I did not deviate from them. I was also blameless toward Him, and I have kept myself from my wrongdoing. So YHWH has repaid me in accordance with my righteousness [k-tsid’qati], in accordance with my cleanliness before His eyes.
With the one who is faithful You show Yourself faithful, with the blameless one You prove Yourself blameless, with the one who is pure You show Yourself pure, but with the perverted You show Yourself astute.”
Being righteous meant something! It meant that you were reflecting God’s goodness. To be unrighteous was to be adversarial to God’s goodness… and to emit a tarnished reflection. We are YHWH’s children; YHWH is righteous, and we are to reflect His righteousness! When we are not righteous we are not representing Him… we are not bearing His name… we are taking His name in vain.
When Job’s friends tried to justify why his life had suddenly turned to suffering, they accused him of unrighteousness, but Job was adamant that that was not the case:
Job again took up his discourse and said,
“As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has embittered my soul, for as long as life is in me, and the breath of God is in my nostrils, my lips certainly will not speak unjustly, nor will my tongue mutter deceit.
Far be it from me that I should declare you right; until I die, I will not give up my integrity. I have kept hold of my righteousness [b-tsid’qati] and will not let it go. My heart does not rebuke any of my days.”
Job knew that maintaining righteousness put him on God’s side. He was bearing God’s image and what was being done to him had nothing to do with his being unrighteous. He was a blameless child of God… and God rewarded him for his loyalty which he maintained throughout his adversity.
Salvation and Righteousness
Today, as it was in Moses day, it isn’t possible for us to live a 100% purely righteous life… and that puts a barrier between us and YHWH. But God had a plan for humanity’s salvation… a way to bring us back into His presence:
Thus says the YHWH,, “Preserve justice and do righteousness [ts‘daqah], For My salvation is about to come. And My righteousness [w-tsid’qati] to be revealed.“
As followers of Jesus the Messiah (Yeshua HaMashiach), we believe that Jesus was the salvation that God promised. His name, Yeshua in Hebrew, was the literal translation of the word “salvation” and He was the embodiment of God’s righteousness revealed. Yeshua dying on the cross for the salvation for mankind meant that we didn’t have to live up to the impossible. Sincerely trying our best to live in righteousness and continuously seeking out the Creator is what we are called to do.
Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness [tsedeq], and let Your Godly ones sing for joy. For the sake of David, your servant, do not turn away the face of your Messiah. YHWH has sworn to David a truth from which He will not turn back: “Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne”.
Jesus fit the criteria. He was a descendant of King David, the Righteous Branch of David:
In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch [tsemakh ts’daqah] of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness [u-ts’daqah] on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she [Jerusalem] will be called: YHWH is our righteousness [YHWH tsid’qenu].
Righteousness and the Garden
Hebrew scripture is overflowing with farming metaphors of the garden and the gardener. It is interesting to note that the Biblical metaphor of gardening and the concept of righteousness are closely connected:
For as the earth brings forth her sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord YHWY will cause righteousness [ts’daqah] and praise to spring up before all the nations.
With the connection between the Garden and Salvation, we should not be surprised that Yeshua (“Salvation”), was buried in a Garden tomb.
When Mary Magdalene came to visit His body and found the tomb empty, she saw Jesus but confused him with the gardener:
“Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him off, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
At the sound of her name Mary recognized Yeshua. There was praise in her voice when she called out “Rabboni”! She sought Him out (“Who are you looking for?”) and was rewarded. Mary Magdalene, by no means perfect, was one of the best examples of righteousness. Because righteous is not just following a moral compass, it is also continuously seeking out God.
It’s also important to point out that Mary thought Yeshua was the gardener, and she wasn’t completely wrong. Just as YHWH was the Gardener in Eden (Genesis 2:8), Yeshua was like the Gardener of our souls. His death and resurrection would bring us back to the Garden where YHWH awaited.
God is the great Gardener and Eden was the great Garden. When Human Life messed up in the Garden and chose to follow their own desires instead of following the goodness of God, YHWH put a plan in motion to save them. To bring them back to Him.
At one point they walked alongside YHWH in the Garden. They connected with their Creator and talked with Him, eye to eye, face to face. Outside of the Garden we could not look upon the face of YHWH, but Yeshua came to set us free from the shackles of death which held us back from seeing our Creator. He paid for our entrance fee back into the Garden where we could see YHWH, face to face.
David knew that glorious day would come, when He could face his Creator:
As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness [b-tsedeq];
I shall be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.
The Garden awaits you… sow righteousness in this life, seek Him out, and await your meeting in the lifetime to come:
Sow for yourself righteousness [li-ts’daqah]; reap according to lovingkindness [chesed]. Break up your fallow ground for it is time to seek YHWH, until He comes and rains righteousness [tsedeq] upon you.
There is a calling to live in righteousness and seek YHWH… but not necessarily in that order. If you feel that living in righteousness is not attainable right now, then just seek God out. Search, dig, investigate, claw your way to God, and if you do that in sincerity and truth, He will rain righteousness upon you and you will reflect His goodness! Open the floodgates because you are redeemed!
Next week: Justice/Judgement