What is Biblical RIGHTEOUSNESS? What Does It Mean to be Righteous?

Updated: Aug 14, 2019

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The Hebraic Biblical Concept of Righteousness


Previously, I have sought to Hebraically define some of the many words that we use regularly in our biblical studies. I would like to continue with another brief exposé, this time, taking a closer look at the words “righteous” or “righteousness.” Certainly, in English, it is a fairly common word.


Righteousness in Everyday Discourse


From the Oxford English Dictionary, we get this entry on righteousness:

“Behavior that is morally right or good, especially according to a religion to follow the path of righteousness.”

The Oxford dictionary, certainly a well-respected scholastic work of our time, essentially tells us how society generally understands the idea; that righteousness is about one’s behavior. Candidly, however, if we use only this definition for our biblical studies, then it could be said that we are guilty of eisegesis, literally meaning “to lead into.” With eisegesis, an interpreter injects ideas into a text, easily creating errors as the would-be interpreter attempts to align an idea with preconceived notions. In short, biblical eisegesis seeks to force the Bible to agree with us. Here is an example from our readings in the Bible:

1 John 3:7. “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.”

As it is translated from Greek to English in the NKJV, this leads us to a question. Is this speaking about one’s behavior or perhaps about something else? We will come back to this shortly.


The Letter Tzadik in Hebrew:


The idea behind the words righteous or righteousness is best explained from the grouping of the biblical Hebrew letters Tzadik (or Tzadi) –צ, Daletד, and Qoph (or Quph) – ק. Put together, our three-letter root appears this way: צדק.


As with all Hebrew roots, such as the three letters Tzadikצ, Daletד, and Qophק, there is always a broad-spectrum of meaning. In the case of the root צדק, its broad-spectrum meaning is about exoneration or acquittal derived from the action of squeezing or pressing to produce a discharge. Essentially, the three-letter root means to exude, squeeze, press, suck, or drain out water, juice, or oil from a plant. This meaning is a result of ancient Hebrew as it was written in the centuries prior to the Jewish Babylonian exile, which is the same way that Hebrew is written today. In other words, about six centuries before Yeshua, all Hebrew letters had a different form.


The Tzadik of Pressure, Draining, and Sucking


Modern scholarship refers to the ancient Hebrew text as Proto-Sinaitic with a beginning date of around the 15th century before Yeshua. In the case of the letter tzadikצ, its earlier form appears as a compressed reed, papyrus, or wheat-like plant. Thus, the ancient image of the tzadik strongly suggests a link to squeezing, pressing, or the draining out of a liquid. For example:

  • When a memמ (which originally looked like waves of water) is added to the letter tzadikצ, we get words for squeezing, sucking, distress, pressing or oppression.

  • The Hebrew word מצץ (matzatz), as in Isaiah 66:11, means to suck deeply and in doing so, this process produces a juice or liquid. Even today in Israeli Hebrew, if you ask for some orange juice or apple juice, you must preface the word orange or apple with the term mitz מיץ (“meetz”) the word for juice.

  • If one is under distress, as in the word matzit of Isaiah 51:17, it is described as a process of draining.

  • Physical or emotional duress, as in Deuteronomy 28:57, is linked to the Hebrew letters mem tzadik (mtzמץ) resulting in a distress that produces a bodily discharge of sweat.

  • Consider a wheat stalk that is dried out, also from the Hebrew mem tzadik (mtzמצ), which is the word for chaff or straw (see Zephaniah 2:2, Psalm 1:4, or Job 21:18).

  • Perhaps you might be familiar with the biblical story of Gideon in Judges 6:38. Here, the Hebrew text tells us that Gide’on squeezed (matzatz) water from out of his fleece.

Hence, the concept of the Hebrew letter tzadik is that of sucking, squeezing, draining, drying and/or pressing, in order to remove or exude through applied pressure, the “juice” that comes from seeds, nuts, plants, or reeds.

Adding Vowels to the Consonants צ – ד – ק


When using the letter צ and adding vowels to its root form צדק then the overall meaning becomes much wider in its ideas. Here are some examples of the words that emerge when we add vowels to the root letters צדק:

  • Tziduk = Justification, vindication, an acknowledgment of justice in judgment.

  • Tzadik = Just, pious, virtuous, right, and correct.

  • Tzedek = Justice, salvation, deliverance, and victory.

  • Tz’dakah = Merit, alms, charity, and justice.

The Biblical Idea of Righteousness


When we speak of being righteous, it refers to a number of ideas that are related to squeezing, sucking, and the drying out of a judgment. In the case of biblical righteousness, the idea is the removal or acquittal of a penalty. Righteousness means to press or squeeze a destructive condemnation out of us and through this, our spiritual condition is elevated to that of being just, justified, vindicated, virtuous and saved. For example, Isaiah 60:21 –

And your people are all righteous; they will inherit the land forever.

For YHVH the Almighty Eternal One to judge his people as righteous or that they have righteousness, it is nothing short of a full acquittal from a horrendous judgment. I say that judgment is the divine eternal word of Genesis 2:17; the law of Sin and Death from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words, biblical righteousness involves one side of a two-sided directive. It is about Yehovah’s justice and our response to that justice.


YHVH removes the condemnation that all mankind inherited from the Genesis 2:17 sentence that was placed upon Adam. Through the process of Messiah’s completed actions ; that of sucking, squeezing, pressing, draining out and taking upon himself the contaminants of Sin and Death that we inherited (see Isaiah 53), we were declared just or righteous. And because he made us righteous, we therefore, can respond to him as we are in our new inner man. We do not act righteous to be declared just. Rather, we do righteousness because Yehovah’s justice now lives in us. We do justice because Messiah IS JUSTICE. Therefore, concerning Abraham and his seed, scripture says in Genesis 18:19 –

For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they guard the way of YHVH to DO JUSTICE (tz’dakah), a just judgment (mishpat) that YHVH may bring to Abraham what he has spoken to him.

The World’s Demand for Legal Justice


I am quite certain that most people are familiar with the want for legal justice. And when there is no legal justice, we then call it injustice. The courtrooms of the world are never short in matters of unfairness, prejudice, and discrimination. Sadly, our world is filled with the violence of injustice.


The strict definition of legal justice is that of fairness of law in which every person must receive their reasonable due from the justice system. In other words, the judgment or punishment should fit the crime. Of course, one problem is that attorneys, judges and legislatures often get caught up more in legal procedure than in actually doing justice. But with Yehovah (YHVH) there is no injustice in him. Everything that he is and all that he does is about justice because he requires it in his eternal law – see Deuteronomy 16:18-20. It is impossible for Yehovah to “turn a blind eye” as the everyday expression goes. YHVH 100% forever demands the fulfillment of justice and, thus, in Heaven’s courtroom, justice or righteousness must and will prevail – always.


Again, let us return to Genesis 2:17. The Hebrew text quite specifically says to Adam that if he should eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Hebrew: etz hada’t tov v’ra) then he would be subjected to two deaths – “in dying you will die.” Well, we know the story and when he and his woman Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it set in motion a curse when all mankind inherited that Adamic judgment – “in dying, you will die.” Therefore, at every level, we have death in our world; and not just one death – physical, but a second death – eternal.


When Yeshua died his physical death on the Roman cross, it opened a horrible gateway into the biblical second death (see Revelation 20:12-15). Yeshua knew what he was about to face after his physical demise. Just moments before this, as he hung on that Roman execution stake, he spoke the words of Psalm 22:1. Now, I would think that many among those who heard him say those words knew something far worse was at hand. Yeshua said, as it is recorded in Matthew 27:26 –

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Through Yeshua’s descent into the second death, he brought with him man’s judgment as referenced in Genesis 2:17. With him went the curse of Sin and the claim of the second death was then satisfied bringing about divine justice or righteousness. Following this, Yeshua then resurrected to life on the third day which opened up the path to eternal life in the Word; This is the justice and mercy that Yehovah wants us to receive. Paul certainly understood it in this same manner when he wrote in Romans 6:8-9:


Now if we died with Messiah, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Messiah, having been raised from the dead* (Greek: “the deaths”), dies no more. Death (the second death) no longer has dominion over him.


The divine justice and boundless mercy of YHVH leaves no room for D.I.Y (“do-it-yourself”) justice and self-salvation. He has absolutely zero tolerance for any of our self-justice schemes. This is what Yeshua had declared saying in Matthew 5:20:

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness (your justice) exceeds the righteousness (self-justice) of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Knowing this, we respond by doing what he has asked us to do; that this, to live according to the prescribed instructions of his Torah. In this, it is our individual and collective statement that YHVH’s affirmed decree of justice is resolved as absolute truth – see Psalm 119:142. We, therefore, make it clear to all that in receiving his Law of Truth, there is the fulfillment of divine justice through grace and the granting of all mercy through love.


So, we can say with confidence that he has saved us through his system of justice and not through our own prescribed regimens of self-justice. He gives us no room to think that he will be so impressed with our self-righteousness routines that we will merit an acquittal from divine judgment. The Brit haChadasha (the New Testament) affirms this in Titus 3:4-7 –

But when the kindness and the love of God our savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness (self-justice) which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Ruach haKodesh (the Holy Spirit), whom he poured out on us abundantly through Yeshua haMashiach our savior, that having been justified by his grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This leads us to a response to Yehovah’s fulfilled justice or righteousness; that is, to live as Yehovah’s lights in the world because Messiah the JUST ONE has regenerated us and we live through the grace and goodness of his regeneration in us.


A Return to Absolute Truth


So, we learn from Hebrew and from ancient biblical Hebraic theology that Yehovah (YHVH) will not and cannot endure injustice or if you wish, self-justice. Yehovah himself gave us the fulfillment system of his justice through Yeshua to satisfy his decree in Genesis 2:17,

“In dying, you will die.”

Therefore, this is the answer to my earlier question about what 1 John 3:7 refers to. Is this statement speaking about what we do through our behaviors or about something else? Again, 1 John 3:7 –

  1. NKJV translation: “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.”

  2. My understanding from studying the Greek text through its Hebrew context: “Little children (as a teacher speaks to a student), let no one deceive you. He who makes THE* JUSTICE (the definite article remains untranslated in Greek), HE IS JUSTICE, seeing that HE IS THE JUST ONE.

This justice of righteousness is provided by Yehovah and not through something that we provide from ourselves, except to respond to him and in responding, we choose to walk as he walked.

  1. John 15:10, Yeshua to his disciples: “If you guard my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

  2. Matthew 23:23, Yeshua to the Pharisees: “For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law: justice and mercy and faith.”

Therefore, Yeshua is LIBERTY and JUSTICE (or righteousness) for all who will believe and receive him.


Summary of Biblical Justice


With this Hebraic understanding of biblical righteousness, the concept of Yeshua giving of himself to be squeezed and drained of his life on our behalf to satisfy divine justice, let us take a look at some common biblical passages that you are likely familiar with. Each verse is taken from the NKJV of the Bible. However, these are not my translations of the texts. These are my paraphrases to help clarify my views on the biblical subject of righteousness.

Matthew 5:10. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of receiving the grace of divine justice and not our own self-made system of justice, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Isaiah 64:6. But we are all like an unclean thing, and all of our squeezing and pressing efforts to be found worthy of divine merit that we can use to weigh against divine judgment for all the wrongs that we do in the flesh is like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Luke 5:32. I have not come to call to repentance those who build their own system of justice and innocence. I have come to call to repentance those who desire to rely upon Heaven’s system of justice provided.
Romans 1:32. …knowing the system of the revealed justice of God that those who practice actions rejecting the divine justification system are deserving of death (the second death); those who not only do this but also approve of all those who live according to this system that is based on the system of merits and demerits of self-justice.
Romans 3:19-28. Now we know that whatever the Law of Moses says, it speaks to those who are under the law of Sin and Death which is found in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; that every mouth may be stopped and all the world should become aware of their guilt before God.
Therefore, by the laws of self-defined justice no flesh will be made just in his sight, for by the laws of self-defined justice is an intimate connection to Sin and Death in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
But now the justice of God is his system of established righteousness, a system that has no reliance on any self-defined justice system. This is revealed in and witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the justice of God, through our unique training program of faith in Yeshua haMashiach, to all and on all who trust.
For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being made justified freely by the grace that is in Messiah Yeshua, whom God established as our justice payment through the unique training program of faith whereby his face is transferred on to our face, to show the system of his justice. Because of his endurance to make his justice happen, God does not count against us the condemnations of Sin and Death committed since that event in the Garden of Eden; to demonstrate at the present time his system of justice that he himself might be the JUST ONE and the justifier who establishes a full acquittal from his judgment, through the One who is Messiah and in the one that is wearing the face of Yeshua on himself.
Where is boasting then? It is excluded! By what law? Of actions from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? No, but by the instructions in the Torah that teach us about putting on Messiah’s face. Therefore, we conclude that a man is freed from divine judgment through Yeshua because he fulfilled the divine justice decree of Genesis 2:17, which is our unique training system that copies the face of Messiah on to our face; but not based on the merits of a self-defined justice system, a system that emerges from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Romans 8:1-5. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Messiah Yeshua, who do not walk according to the flesh of self-justification but according to the Spirit of the Tree of Life. For the Law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua has made me free from the law of Sin and Death from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For what the law of Sin and Death could not do in that it was weak through the flesh of a system of self-justification, God accomplished by sending his own son in the likeness of our flesh of Sin and Death passed down to us from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: he condemned Sin in the flesh, that the pure justice requirement of the eternal Torah of Heaven might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh of Sin and Death because we have been declared absolved through Yeshua’s work of justice, according to the Spirit of the Garden of Eden Tree of Life. For those who live according to the flesh of the law of Sin and Death set their minds on the flesh of the law of Sin and Death but those who live according to the Spirit of God in Messiah, the Tree of Life, our justness is a gift from the Spirit of Messiah.
Genesis 7:1. Then YHVH said to Noah, “Come into the Ark (an ancient synonym for the Word of the Torah), you and all your household, because I have declared you innocent before me in this generation,” because you have trusted Yehovah. In a similar way, Abraham did when he also received what he saw as a yet-future event; that is, the righteous action of justice that was fulfilled through Messiah Yeshua.
Isaiah 42:1-3. “Behold! my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights! I have put my Spirit of Life upon him; he will bring forth innocence and acquittal from the divine judgment of Genesis 2:17 to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise his voice, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed or tzadik – the one who seeks the Messianic justice decree from Heaven, he will not break, and a smoking flax he will not quench; he will bring forth Heaven’s decree of a full acquittal and blamelessness because of what YHVH does for man and not what man does for YHVH.

Closing Summary


Biblical righteousness is divine justice and divine justice is not obtained through our good works nor through our own systems to earn justification. It is solely about the Just One who is the Justifier and his work of justification since it is given as a gift to each of us who would dare trust him for the gift. In this, he is the initiator and giver of the divine system of justice and we are the responders to that justice. Therefore, the word of 1 John 3:7 from Greek as I understand it through its Hebrew context stands as YHVH’s testimony of Hebraic Truth:

1 John 3:7. “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who makes THE JUSTICE, HE IS JUSTICE, seeing that HE IS THE JUST ONE and we respond to Messiah’s action by living through him according to the Kingdom of Heaven’s laws of mercy, justice, and faith.

This is righteousness being restored, as it was first established in the beginning in the Garden of Eden.


Shalom

Avi ben Mordechai

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