Relationship Between 'Justice and Righteousness' and 'Way of Yahweh'
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The expressions "justice and righteousness" and "way of Yahweh" are virtually synonymous in some passages in the Old Testament . What are their meanings and what is the relationship between them? What kind of message does their importance for Old Testament Israel have for the Church today?
The phrases 'the Way of Yahweh' and 'Justice and Righteousness' are key concepts in our understanding of who God is and what it means to be one of his people. I will consider 'the Way of Yahweh' first as it informs the phrase 'justice and righteousness'. We will see that both phrases concern relationship and are a central feature of God's character for all time. I will then go on to consider the relationship between the phrases, their importance to the prophets and to us today.
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The Way of Yahweh
When God chose Abraham he promised he would make his descendants into a great nation, all nations would be blessed through him, and he would direct his descendants to "keep the way of the Lord" (Genesis 18:18,19). This promise is key to the rest of the Old Testament as it sets the tone for the future relationship between Yahweh and his people. (It also links the two phrases 'way of Yahweh' and 'justice and righteousness together).
The Torah can be likened to a journey; indeed many of the early biblical stories involve taking journeys, for example, Abraham from Haran, the Israelites from Egypt and Ruth going home with Naomi. In Psalm 27:11 David asked God to "teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path". The theme of a journey is taken up in many psalms, for example in 25:4 - "teach me your paths". The question could be asked - 'what is the route along Yahweh's path?'. Deut 5:33 instructs us to walk in obedience. We can also find this idea in Judges 2:21, 2 Samuel 22:22, I Kings 2:3 1 Kings 11:33 and 2 Kings 21:22, amongst others.
The journey seems to be a conscious and active endeavour - Isaiah 2:3 says ' He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths'. Walking the way of Yahweh is not about what we think, but about what we do. We need teaching not to turn from it.
There is a common thread linked with this phrase promising blessings for keeping to the path. Deut 5:33 says 'that all may go well with you'. Deut 28:9 promises establishment as a people and 1 Kings 3:14 a long life.
Kisler says these promises are 'not limited to Israelites alone, but to all people who walk in the way of Yahweh'. He particularly looks at the book of Ruth and the favour Ruth finds from following Naomi's God. She is blessed by Boaz (Ruth 2:12) and she, Naomi and all Israelites are blessed through her relationship with him and her obedience to Yahweh.
Oswalt highlights the importance of walking on the way of Yahweh showing that if God's people wanted to walk with Him, they had to agree to act like him. If we want to receive favour we must be in the right kind of relationship to receive it. We cannot receive it if we refuse to walk in his way Weinfeld considering what it means to walk in the way of Yahweh says 'they keep the way of Yahweh by dealing with righteousness and justice'.
Justice and righteousness
Justice is one of the main concepts in the Old Testament. It can have a range of meanings.
'Justice ' in modern parlance is concerned with rights and the rule of law. It is associated with the administration of those rights to create order in society. 'Mishpat' and 'tsadaq' are both translated as 'justice' in the Old Testament. 'Mishpat' has some links to our modern use of the term, relating to aspects of ancient Jewish law such as those contained in Leviticus.
Jeremiah 22;13-16 states that to know the Lord is to do what is right and just. Wright says 'justice is the very essence of God's rule'. It is one of God's inherent characteristics. He is a just God.
God is less concerned with rights and more with the distribution of a right order in society. Terblanche in his article on Jeremiah discusses the importance of this in relation to the issues of debt and debt slavery in Zedekiah's time. (This is, of course, still an important issue)
'Misphat', is another term translated 'justice'. In Micah 6:8 it is shown to be among the essential characteristics of a relationship with God, along with mercy, and humility. Timothy Keller puts the emphasis on the importance of action in the biblical concept of justice, including generosity (eg. Ezekial 18:5-8), care for the poor and vulnerable (eg. Jeremiah 22:3) and having right relationships (Job 29:12-17) .
'Justice' in the Old Testament was meant to have universal applicability - Leviticus 24:22 shows this . " Israel was charged to create a culture of social justice for the poor and vulnerable because it was the way the nation could reveal God's glory and character to the world".
I will now consider 'righteousness', the Hebrew word 'sedeqah'. God looks for righteousness. Abraham was chosen (Gen 18:19) because he was righteous. He kept the way of Yahweh by doing what was right and just. He was someone seeking to do what was right in all areas of relationships - with God and with man. In this way righteousness seems to be linked with attitude, as identified by Moberly looking at Genesis 15:6, who also links Abraham's faith with his righteousness. Faith is an attitude of trust.
Zimmerli defines righteousness, in the human sense, as conduct that aims at the right order, but in Yahweh's sense as the social bond or right relationship between God and others. In this way, as with 'justice', 'righteousness' has an active element, it goes beyond just not doing what is wrong but extends to doing what is right. Noah was the first biblical character described as a righteous man in Genesis 6:9, as he 'walked with God'.
There is a very close link between the terms 'justice' and 'righteousness'. In Hebrew they have the same root 'tsdq', which occurs in the Old Testament 525 times. When God proclaims his character to Moses in Exodus 34 (6-7), he revealed compassion, faithfulness, patience, love and justice. These characteristics are linked with Yahweh. The psalms are full of proclamations about his justice and righteousness and are often also linked with his faithfulness - Psalm 33:5, Psalm 4:1. Yahweh delights in righteousness and is a faithful king who the powerless can look to for protection. Divine righteousness seems to include, if not a positive discrimination in favour of the poor and vulnerable in society, at least an emphasis on their needs.
Swartley says God, his covenant and the Torah are the foundation of justice and righteousness in the Old Testament. Yahweh will fill his people with these characteristics as a foundation for their lives (Isaiah 33:5). The many laws in the Torah were designed to bring a right order for Jewish society and show concern for the cause of the needy eg. the Sabbath as a day of rest for all and the year of Jubilee to wipe away debts.
The former prophets used the expression 'justice and righteousness' in order to uphold the Torah. When Israel went astray, their voices call to bring them back to the right path and give direction on the way to go, for example in Joshua 22:5, Judges 2:21 and 1 Kings 2:3. It was also important for the prophets to be a voice to Israel's kings to guide them in the way they led the nation. Yahweh's plan was to establish Israel as a beacon to show other nations how to live. In 1 Kings 10:9 the Queen of Sheba recognises the importance of the relationship between Yahweh and Solomon attributing Solomon's position and character to Yahweh's love.
The importance for today
'Mosaic laws of social justice are founded in God's character which does not change'  (Tim Keller). We all have an inherent desire for justice and righteousness, which we are born with, it is why we cry out as children, 'it isn't fair'! We feel aggrieved at injustice in our world. We are made in God's image, it is part of our character to desire justice and righteousness. The better we know our Creator the more want to be like him. The modern church should be, and often is at the heart of social action in our society, and the world, standing up for the poor and disadvantaged through soup kitchens, working with the homeless, the displaced (ie migrants and asylum seekers) debt counselling, advocacy, job clubs, human rights campaigning, conflict resolution and food banks, amongst many others. Involvement with such work should lead to empowerment for the individual and change at a societal level. God is the ultimate source of compassion and dedication to desire for justice and righteousness in our societies.
The phrase is also important to help us understand Jesus as God. Jeremiah 23:5 and Isaiah 9:7 predict the coming of a Messiah, a king who will rule forever with justice and righteousness. John the Baptist's disciples specifically asked Jesus whether he was 'the one to come'. Jesus directed them to his actions as an answer. We see Jesus healing the sick, bringing sight to the blind, driving out the money lenders from the temple with righteous zeal, spending time with the outcasts and vulnerable in society - lepers, women and hated tax collectors. One of the names for God in the Old Testament is 'Jehovah Tsidkenu' which means 'the Lord our Righteousness'.
Isaiah 9:7 associates the Messiah with kingship; the Messiah's throne will be upheld with justice and righteousness. The character of the Messiah will be the same as that of Yahweh. At his death Luke records (23:47) the centurion praising God and saying 'truly, this was a righteous man'.
It was always God's intention that, as Welker12 puts it, 'the bestowal of divine righteousness should prompt humans in their own turn to be grateful to God and to practice justice and righteousness with one another.'
To have a relationship with God is to practice justice and righteousness, mirroring his character and to know his peace as a result. 'Shalom is the fruit of God's steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice'13. Revelation 15:4 says 'All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed'. The way of Yahweh to act in righteousness and justice is our past heritage, our present desire and our future revelation.
Keller, Timothy.Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Jus t. PenguinBooks, 2012.
Moberly, Robert W. L. "Abraham's Righteousness (Genesis XV 6)." Pages 103–30 inStudies in the Pentateuch. BRILL, 1990.
Oswalt, John N. N IV Application Commentary - Isaiah. Edited by Edited by EditorialBoard. Zondervan, 2003.
Sawyer, John F. A. "Old Testament Theology in Outline. By W. Zimmerli (translatedby D. E. Green). Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1978. Pp. 258. £5·80." S cottishJournal of Theology, 1980.http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s003693060004761 x.
Swartley, Willard M. "The Relation of Justice/Righteousness to Shalom/eirēnē."E xAuditu-Volume 22: An International Journal for the Theological Interpretation ofScripture22 (2007): 29.
Terblanche, M. D. "Jeremiah 34: 8-22-A Call for the Enactment of DistributiveJustice?" A cta Theologica36.2 (2016): 148–61.
Weinfeld, Moshe. S ocial Justice in Ancient Israel. The Magnes Press, 1995.
Welker, Michael. "God's Justice and Righteousness."Farewell Lecture Held o n21 (2014).
Wright, Christopher J. H.The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrativ e.InterVarsity Press, 2013.
 Chapter 5 Love the Stranger
 John N. Oswalt, NIV Application Commentary - Isaia h, ed. Edited by Editorial Board (Zondervan,2003).
 P.30 Moshe Weinfeld, S ocial Justice in Ancient Israel(The Magnes Press, 1995).
 P.99 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (InterVarsity Press, 2013).
 M. D. Terblanche, "Jeremiah 34: 8-22-A Call for the Enactment of Distributive Justice?," A cta Theologica 36.2 (2016): 148–61.
 Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just (Penguin Books, 2012).
 P.9 Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just.
 Robert W. L. Moberly, "Abraham's Righteousness (Genesis XV 6)," in Studies in the Pentateuch (BRILL, 1990), 103–30.
 John F. A. Sawyer, "Old Testament Theology in Outline. By W. Zimmerli (translated by D. E. Green) . Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 1978. Pp. 258. £5·80," Scottish Journal of Theology, 1980, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/s003693060004761x.
 Willard M. Swartley, "The Relation of Justice/Righteousness to Shalom/eirēnē," E x Auditu-Volume22: An International Journal for the Theological Interpretation of Scripture 22 (2007): 29.
 P.22 Keller, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just.
 13p.7 Michael Welker, "God's Justice and Righteousness,"Farewell Lecture Held on 21 (2014). Swartley, "The Relation of Justice/Righteousness to Shalom/eirēnē."
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