I was wondering if anyone else in this great expanse have difficult coworkers or neighbors? It’s trying to exude the righteousness of God while dealing with the trials of life. Keep your eye on the cross as I endure this crucible of trial today I solicit you to follow the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The righteousness of God, one of the most prominent attributes of God in the Scriptures, is also one of the most elusive. Initially, distinguishing the righteousness of God from His holiness or His goodness seems difficult. In addition, the righteousness of God is virtually synonymous with His justice:
While the most common Old Testament word for just means ‘straight,’ and the New Testament word means ‘equal,’ in a moral sense they both mean ‘right.’ When we say that God is just, we are saying that He always does what is right, what should be done, and that He does it consistently, without partiality or prejudice. The word just and the word righteous are identical in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Sometimes the translators render the original word ‘just’ and other times ‘righteous’ with no apparent reason (cf. Nehemiah 9:8 and 9:33 where the same word is used). But whichever word they use, it means essentially the same thing. It has to do with God’s actions. They are always right and fair.
God’s righteousness (or justice) is the natural expression of His holiness. If He is infinitely pure, then He must be opposed to all sin, and that opposition to sin must be demonstrated in His treatment of His creatures. When we read that God is righteous or just, we are being assured that His actions toward us are in perfect agreement with His holy nature.
These words by Richard Strauss bring us very close to a concise definition of righteousness. Righteousness, in relation to men, is their conformity to a standard. Unlike men, God is not subject to anything outside of Himself. No one states this better than A.W. Tozer:
It is sometimes said, ‘Justice requires God to do this,’ referring to some act we know He will perform. This is an error of thinking as well as of speaking, for it postulates a principle of justice outside of God which compels Him to act in a certain way. Of course there is no such principle. If there were it would be superior to God, for only a superior power can compel obedience. The truth is that there is not and can never be anything outside of the nature of God which can move Him in the least degree. All God’s reasons come from within His uncreated being. Nothing has entered the being of God from eternity, nothing has been removed, and nothing has been changed.
Justice, when used of God, is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more; and when God acts justly He is not doing so to conform to an independent criterion, but simply acting like Himself in a given situation. . . God is His own self-existent principle of moral equity, and when He sentences evil men or rewards the righteous, He simply acts like Himself from within, uninfluenced by anything that is not Himself.”
We must then say the righteousness of God is evident in the way He consistently acts in accord with His own character. God always acts righteously; His every action is consistent with His character. God is always consistently “Godly.” God is not defined by the term “righteous,” as much as the term “righteous” is defined by God. God is not measured by the standard of righteousness; God sets the standard of righteousness.
Abraham and the Righteousness of God
23 And Abraham came near and said, “Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep [it] away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are [treated] alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 26 So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” 27 And Abraham answered and said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am [but] dust and ashes. 28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, wilt Thou destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy [it] if I find forty-five there” (Genesis 18:23-28).
The righteousness of God is introduced very early in the Bible in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. This attribute is the basis for Abraham’s appeal to God for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God is described anthropomorphically (in human-like terms) here as having heard the “great outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah” (verse 20). I wonder from whom this outcry came. One likely possibility is “righteous Lot, whose righteous soul was vexed by the wickedness of these cities” (see 2 Peter 2:6-8).
In the judicial terminology of our day, God was unwilling to act solely on the basis of hearsay. It was His intention to “go down” to this place and find out for Himself whether these allegations were true. Now of course we know God is omniscient. He knows all. He did not need to “take a trip to Sodom and Gomorrah” to see if these cities were really wicked. He knew they were wicked. But, from our point of view, God wants us to know He acts justly. He acts on the basis of information of which He has personal knowledge. Thus, when God judges these cities, He does so justly for they were truly wicked.
I find it interesting that verses 17-21 precede the account of Abraham’s intercession for these cities. God knew what He was going to do. What He purposed to do was righteous and just. But God wanted Abraham to be a part of what He was doing. If God was to act justly, He was simply acting consistently with His character. But involving Abraham was also consistent with His covenant with him and the goal of this covenant. God’s purpose for calling Abraham and making a covenant with him is spelled out in verses 17-19:
17 And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 19 For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:17-19, emphasis mine).
God’s purpose for calling Abraham and making a covenant with him was for Abraham to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice and to teach his offspring to do likewise. Righteousness is the divine goal for Abraham and his offspring.
When God informed Abraham He was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham began to intercede for them. His concern was for the righteous in those cities. How could God possibly destroy these cities if there were righteous men and women living in them? If God destroyed both the wicked and the righteous without distinguishing them, then God would not be acting righteously or justly. And surely God, as “the Judge of all the earth,” must act justly (verse 25).
Abraham proceeds to intercede with God on behalf of the righteous. Beginning with 50 righteous, Abraham petitioned God not to destroy these cities if 50 righteous could be found. Eventually, Abraham was able (so it seemed) to lower the required number of the righteous to as few as ten (verse 32). But there simply were not ten righteous in these cities. There were but four (if one includes Lot’s wife). But God, in His justice, would not deal with the wicked in a way that punished the righteous as well. He did not spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but He did spare Lot and his family by rescuing them from the city of Sodom before the angels destroyed them.
We see here in the Book of Genesis God’s purpose in calling Abraham and his offspring: to raise up a people characterized by righteousness and justice. God not only showed himself to be righteous and just, He also worked in Abraham’s life to show he was a man who loved righteousness and justice.
God’s righteousness was to be seen in His every dealing with the nation Israel:
6 Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers up from the land of Egypt. 7 So now, take your stand, that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous acts of the LORD which He did for you and your fathers” (2 Samuel 12:6-7).
God’s righteousness in His dealings with the nation Israel has various manifestations.
(1) God reveals His righteousness by revealing His will and His word to the world through the nation Israel.
5 “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6 So keep and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? 8 Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; see also Psalm 33:4).
God deals with men on the basis of what He has revealed to them. He often tells men what He will do well in advance of the event so they will know God is God and that He has accomplished what He promised:
21 “Declare and set forth [your case;]. Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me” (Isaiah 45:21).
What God has not revealed does not need to be known (see Deuteronomy 29:29). All that is necessary for “life and godliness” has been revealed to us (see 2 Peter 1:4) so that we are fully equipped (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
(2) God reveals His righteousness by instructing men in His word.
8 Good and upright is the LORD; Therefore He instructs sinners in the way (Psalm 25:8).
Often this instruction came through the levitical priests (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 24:8; Nehemiah 8:9; 2 Chronicles 17:7-9) or through the prophets like Moses (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5, 14;Exodus 18:20).
(3) God reveals His righteousness by fulfilling His promises.
8 “And Thou didst find his heart faithful before Thee, and didst make a covenant with him to give [him] the land of the Canaanite, of the Hittite and the Amorite, of the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite—to give [it] to his descendants. And Thou hast fulfilled Thy promise, for Thou art righteous” (Nehemiah 9:7-8, emphasis mine).
(4) God reveals His righteousness by judging the enemies of Israel.
27 Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and said to them, “I have sinned this time; the LORD is the righteous one, and I and my people are the wicked ones” (Exodus 9:27).
13 Before the LORD, for He is coming; For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, And the peoples in His faithfulness (Psalm 96:13).
God likewise shows Himself to be righteous when He judges the nation Israel for their sin and disobedience:
1 It took place when the kingdom of Rehoboam was established and strong that he and all Israel with him forsook the law of the LORD. 2 And it came about in King Rehoboam’s fifth year, because they had been unfaithful to the LORD, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem 3 with 1,200 chariots and 60,000 horsemen. And the people who came with him from Egypt were without number: the Lubim, the Sukkiim, and the Ethiopians. 4 And he captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem. 5 Then Shemaiah the prophet came to Rehoboam and the princes of Judah who had gathered at Jerusalem because of Shishak, and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, ‘You have forsaken Me, so I also have forsaken you to Shishak.’” 6 So the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, “The LORD is righteous” (2 Chronicles 12:1-6).
15 “O LORD God of Israel, Thou art righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as [it is] this day; behold, we are before Thee in our guilt, for no one can stand before Thee because of this” (Ezra 9:15).
7 “Righteousness belongs to Thee, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near by and those who are far away in all the countries to which Thou hast driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against Thee. 8 Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against Thee” (Daniel 9:7-8).
(5) God reveals His righteousness in the way He rules.
6 Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Thy kingdom (Psalm 45:6).14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Thy throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before Thee (Psalm 89:14, see also Psalm 97:2).
(6) God reveals His righteousness in His hatred and in His anger.
(7) God reveals His righteousness in His protection of the poor and the afflicted.
(8) God reveals His righteousness when He shows mercy and compassion.
5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate; 6 The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me (Psalm 116:5-6).
18 Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. The LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are those who long for Him (Isaiah 30:18).
(9) God reveals His righteousness in saving sinners.
2 The LORD has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. 3 He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God (Psalm 98:2-3). 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11).
I believe this to be a very significant aspect of God’s righteousness. God is righteous in saving sinners. So often we think God’s righteousness is revealed in His judgment of sinners and His mercy by His salvation of sinners. The Scriptures teach that God’s righteousness is the cause of both condemnation and justification. He is righteous in saving sinners, as well as merciful and compassionate. God is righteous in all His dealings with men, indeed in all His dealings.
The righteousness of God and the justice of God are not secondary matters; they are primary. The righteousness or justice of God is to be the guiding principle for the people of God. When the Old Testament prophets sought to sum up the essence of the Old Testament teaching regarding man’s conduct, it was that men practice righteousness or justice:
21 “I hate, I reject your festival, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).
6 With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8).
When summarizing the very essence of what the Old Testament Law was about, Amos and Micah both spoke first of justice and righteousness. God is not interested in a legalistic keeping of the Law, as though one might make himself righteous by so doing. God is interested in men seeking to know the heart of God and pleasing Him by doing that in which He delights and that which He does.