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Bible Dictionaries
Righteous, to Be

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

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A. Verb.

Tsâdaq (צָדַק, Strong's #6663), “to be righteous, be in the right, be justified, be just.” This verb, which occurs fewer than 40 times in biblical Hebrew, is derived from the noun tsedeq. Nowhere is the issue of righteousness more appropriate than in the problem of the suffering of the righteous presented to us in Job, where the verb occurs 17 times. Apart from the Book of Job the frequency of tsâdaq in the various books is small. The first occurrence of the verb is in Gen. 38:26, where Judah admits that Tamar was just in her demands: “She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son.”

The basic meaning of tsâdaq is “to be righteous.” It is a legal term which involves the whole process of justice. God “is righteous” in all of His relations, and in comparison with Him man is not righteous: “Shall mortal man be more just [righteous] than God?” (Job 4:17). In a derived sense, the case presented may be characterized as a just cause in that all facts indicate that the person is to be cleared of all charges. Isaiah called upon the nations to produce witnesses who might testify that their case was right: “Let them bring forth their witnesses that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth” (43:9). Job was concerned about his case and defended it before his friends: “… Though I were righteous, yet would I not answer, but I would make supplication to my judge” (9:15). Tsâdaq may also be used to signify the outcome of the verdict, when a man is pronounced “just” and is judicially cleared of all charges. Job believed that the Lord would ultimately vindicate him against his opponents (Job 13:18).

In its causative pattern, the meaning of the verb brings out more clearly the sense of a judicial pronouncement of innocence: “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify [tsâdaq] the righteous [tsâddiq], and condemn the wicked” (Deut. 25:1). The Israelites were charged with upholding righteousness in all areas of life. When the court system failed became of corruption, the wicked were falsely “justified” and the poor were robbed of justice because of trumped-up charges. Absalom, thus, gained a large following by promising justice to the landowner (2 Sam. 15:4). God, however, assured Israel that justice would be done in the end: “Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause. Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked” (Exod. 23:6-7). The righteous person followed God’s example. The psalmist exhorts his people to change their judicial system: “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy” (Ps. 82:3).

Job’s ultimate hope was in God’s declaration of justification. The Old Testament is in agreement with this hope. When injustice prevails, God is the One who “justifies.”

The Septuagint translates the verb by dikaiao (“to do justice, justly, to vindicate”). In the English versions a frequent translation is “to justify” (KJV, RSV, NASB, NIV); modern versions also give the additional translations “to be vindicated (RSV, NASB, NIV) and “to acquit” (RSV, NIV).

B. Nouns.

Tsedeq (צֶדֶק, Strong's #6664); Tsedâqâh (צְדָקָה, Strong's #6666), “righteousness.” These nouns come from a Semitic root which occurs in Hebrew, Phoenician and Aramaic with a juristic sense. In Phoenician and Old Aramaic it carries the sense of “loyalty” demonstrated by a king or priest as a servant of his own god. In these languages a form of the root is combined with other words or names, particularly with the name of a deity in royal names. In the Old Testament we meet the name Melchizedek (“king of righteousness”). A more limited meaning of the root is found in Arabic (a South Semitic language): “truthfulness” (of propositions). In rabbinic Hebrew the noun tsedâqâh signifies “alms” or “demonstrations of mercy.”

The word tsedâqâh, which occurs 157 times, is found throughout the Old Testament (except for Exodus, Leviticus, 2 Kings, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Habbakuk, and Zephaniah). Tsedeq, which occurs 119 times, is found mainly in poetic literature. The first usage of sedeq is: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor” (Lev. 19:15); and of tsedaqah is: "[Abram] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).

Translators have found it difficult to translate these two words. The older translations base their understanding on the Septuagint with the translation dikaiosune (“righteousness”) and on the Vulgate iustitia (“justice”). In these translations the legal relationship of humans is transferred to God in an absolute sense as the Lawgiver and with the perfections of justice and “righteousness.”

Exegetes have spilled much ink in an attempt to understand contextually the words tsedeq and tsedâqâh. The conclusions of the researchers indicate a twofold significance. On the one hand, the relationships among people and of a man to his God can be described as tsedeq, supposing the parties are faithful to each other’s expectations. It is a relational word. In Jacob’s proposal to Laban, Jacob used the word tsedâqâh to indicate the relationship. The KJV gives the following translation of tsedâqâh: “So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come, when it shall come for my hire before thy face …” (Gen. 30:33). The NASB gives the word “righteousness” in a marginal note, but prefers the word “honesty” in the text itself. The NEB reads “fair offer” instead. Finally, the NIV has: “And my honesty [tsedâqâh] will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me.” On the other hand “righteousness” as an abstract or as the legal status of a relationship is also present in the Old Testament. The locus classicus is Gen. 15:6: “… And he [the Lord] counted it to him [Abraham] for righteousness.”

Regrettably, in a discussion of the dynamic versus the static sense of the word, one or the other wins out, though both elements are present. The books of Psalms and of the prophets particularly use the sense of “righteousness” as a state; cf. “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (Isa. 51:1); and “My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust” (Isa. 51:5). The NEB exhibits this tension between dynamic and static in the translation of tsedeq: “My victory [instead of righteousness] is near, my deliverance has gone forth and my arm shall rule the nations; for me coasts and islands shall wait and they shall look to me for protection” (Isa. 51:5). Thus, in the discussion of the two nouns below the meanings lie between the dynamic and the static.

Tsedeq and tsedâqâh are legal terms signifying justice in conformity with the legal corpus (the Law; Deut. 16:20), the judicial process (Jer. 22:3), the justice of the king as judge (1 Kings 10:9; Ps. 119:121; Prov. 8:15), and also the source of justice, God Himself: “Judge me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me.… And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long” (Ps. 35:24, 28).

The word “righteousness” also embodies all that God expects of His people. The verbs associated with “righteousness” indicate the practicality of this concept. One judges, deals, sacrifices, and speaks righteously; and one learns, teaches, and pursues after righteousness. Based upon a special relationship with God, the Old Testament saint asked God to deal righteously with him: “Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son” (Ps. 72:1).

The Septuagint gives the following translations: dikaios (“those who are upright, just, righteous, conforming to God’s laws”); dikalosune (“righteousness; uprightness”); and eleemosune (“land deed; alms; charitable giving”). The KJV gives the senses “righteousness; justice.”

C. Adjective.

Tsaddı̂yq (צַדִּיק, Strong's #6662), “righteous; just.” This adjectival form occurs 206 times in biblical Hebrew. In Old Aramaic the adjective signifies “loyalty” of a king or high priest to his personal god, often represented by a gift to the god. Similarly in Phoenician, the noun and adjective apply to the loyal relationship of the king before the gods. The word is used of God in Exod. 9:27: “I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” Tsaddı̂yq is used of a nation in Gen. 20:4: “… And he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?”

Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Righteous, to Be'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​vot/​r/righteous-to-be.html. 1940.
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