JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU

 

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†††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††Nathan Stone

 

THE NAME Jehovah-Tsidkenu means Jehovah our righteousness. It appears in

Jeremiah's prophecy of a "righteous Branch" and a "King" who is to appear; "and

this is his name whereby he shall be called, Jehovah our Righteousness"

(Jeremiah 23:5, 6).

 

††††††† THE OCCASION OF THE PROPHECY

 

When Jeremiah uttered this prophecy, the kingdom of Judah was hastening to its fall.

More than a hundred years before, the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel had been

taken captive never to return. But apparently Judah had learned nothing from this

lesson, and it sinned perhaps even more grievously than its sister kingdom in the

north. Jeremiah's ministr y began during the reign of the good king Josiah. Till

this time good kings and bad kings, reformations and counterreformations had

succeeded each other, a sad reflection upon the unstable spiritual condition of

the people and their rulers, and a revealing a downward moral and spiritual trend

which could only end in disaster. The history of the period of the Judges appears

to repeat itself here. Jehovah in Hit goodness and patience raised up pious and

devout kings, to succeed unrighteous, wicked kings, but it failed to. arrest their

downward trend.

 

The good king Josiah, who had followed the particularly wicked and cruel Manasseh

and Amon, instituted sweeping reforms and a great spiritual revival which were

brought to an abrupt end by his unfortunate and untimely death. His successors

swept them all away. Their doings may be summed up in that familiar formula,

which might well have served as an epitaph for them all -"he did evil in the sight

of Jehovah." Conditions went from bad to worse spiritually, morally, materially.

Even the priests, as well as the princes and people, polluted the very house of

the Lord in Jerusalem, practicing every abomination of the heathen round about

(Ezekiel 8), The land was full of oppression and violence, political intrigue and

unrest. Jehovah's warnings went unheeded; His messengers the prophets were

mocked and despised and misused "until the wrath of the Lord arose against his

people, till there was no remedy" (II Chronicles 36:16). Even at the time of

Josiah's death it was already too late, for "the Lord turned not from the fierceness

of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all

the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the Lord said,

"I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast

off this city of Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said,

My name shall be there" (II Kings 23:26, 27). Judah's day of grace had already

expired.

 

Jeremiah predicted the captivity of Judah and counseled submission to Babylon,

the instrument of Jehovah's judgment against Judah. But would not this mean the

defeat of God's own purpose and promise! Had He not promised to establish

David's kingdom and throne forever (II Samuel 7:16, 17) Jehovah had promised

that, and He would keep the promise that there should never fail David a man to

sit upon his throne (I Kings 2:4), even though it was to be fulfilled only on

condition that David's descendants would walk before Jehovah "in truth with

all their heart and with all their soul." For Jeremiah predicted not only that

Israel would return from captivity and be restored to its land, but that Jehovah

would raise tip to David a Righteous Branch, a King who should reign and prosper

and do judgment and justice in the earth, and bring peace and security to Israel,

and who should be called Jehovah our Righteousness.

 

There is a striking and significant similarity between the name of this Righteous

Branch and King of Jeremiah's prophecy and the name of Judah's last king "Zedekiah,"

which means the righteousness of Jehovah. His name had originally been Mattaniah,

which means the gift of Jehovah. Strange to say, his name had been changed to

Zedekiah by the king of Babylon. Was it a scathing rebuke by Nebuchadnezzar of

Judah's defection from its God? Perhaps it was intended to vindicate the justice and

righteousness of Jehovah in all that had befallen this people, and the judgment about

to fall upon them. Perhaps it was a reminder of what might have been. For Israel had

steadily and determinedly trod the downward path of retrogression from its God,

occasionally, through Jehovah's mercy, halting and retracing a few steps, only to

turn back again. "They have turned unto me the back, and not the face"

(Jeremiah 32:33). They despised His provision of redemption as Jehovah-jireh.

Consequently He could not he to them Jehovah-rophe, who heals. They were a

people, as Isaiah says, without soundness from the sole of the foot to the crown

of the head, full of open wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores (Isaiah 1:6).

Without Jehovah-nissi, their banner, they were defeated at every turn. Refusing

to sanctify themselves to Jehovah-M'Kaddesh, their sanctifier, they became corrupt

and degenerate. Ezekiel sees their elders in the very Temple worshiping creeping

things and abominable beasts (Ezek. 8:10, 11). Forsaking Jehovah-shalom, their

peace, they were torn by internal dissension and violence, and subjected by

outward aggression and conquest.

 

It must have been in the reign of Zedekiah that the great prophecy of Jehovah -tsidkenu

was given. Certainly the prophecy of Jeremiah 33:16, which speaks of Jerusalem as

Jehovah tsidkenu, because of the presence there of Jehovah-tsidkenu, was made in

Zedekiah's reign. And what a striking contrast is here presented! All that Judah's

kings should have been as representatives of Jehovah, at least typically, and as

summed up in the name of Judah's last king, Zedekiah (the righteousness of Jehovah),

this Righteous Branch, and King of David's line, would be. And in Him, as Jeremiah

declares in 33:6-26, Judah would be once more redeemed, healed, cleansed, victorious,

at peace and made righteous. For the nature of His kingdom was to be spiritual rather

than political and its chief characteristic righteousness, which was to be not of

themselves but of that King who should be Jehovah.

 

 

MEANING AND USE OF THE TERM "TSEDEK"

 

The word tsidkenu is derived from tsedek--righteousness. It meant originally to be

stiff or straight. There is certainly no more significant word in the Old Testament.

The Hebrew word cannot be adequately translated by any one English word. It

signifies God's dealings with men under the ideas of righteousness, justification,

and acquittal.It is applied to the outward obligations and relationships of men.

The Book of Leviticus, where Jehovah is revealed as M'Kaddesh who sanctifies

and demands sanctification of life, the book which reveals the basis of approach

and manner of worship, also reveals the st andards of right and just relationships

among men. "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment . . . in weight, or in

measure. Just balances, just weights shall ye have: I am Jehovah your God

(Leviticus 19:35, 36). In Deuteronomy 25:15 such a righteous practice is one

of the conditions of prosperity and stay in their land.Among the ancient Romans

justice was represented by a person with a pair of balanced scales in her hand.

Thus Job pleads: "Let me be weighed in an even balance," or balance of

righteousness, "that God may know mine integrity" (31:6). The psalmist pictures

all men, both high and low, as going up when laid on the balances (62:9). It is a

coming short in the righteous practices which men owe God even in their

relationships toward one another.Modern orthodox Jewry still conceives of

God as weighing their good deeds over against the bad. On new year's day the

process begins and on the Day of Atonement it ends and judgment is sealed for

the year. The ten days in between are spent in a desperate effort for charity, prayer,

and fasting to tip the balances in one' favor, although there is never certainty as to

which way it may have gone.

 

The word tsedek is also used of a full weight or measure toward God in the spiritual

sense. Thus Israel was commanded to walk in the paths of righteousness and to offer

the sacrifices of righteousness, putting their trust in the Lord (Psalm 4:5). These

sacrifices are described also as a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17),

because of failure to measu re up to such a full standard of righteousness; for as

Job says: "How shall a man he righteous with God?" (9:2).It is used in the sense

of rendering justice and making right. The judges and officers of Israel were to

judge the people with righteous judgment (Dent. 16:18). They were especially

warned against perverting righteous judgment, but they justify or make righteous

the wicked for a reward, says Isaiah (5:23). They decree unrighteous decrees (10:1).

Isaiah pictures Jehovah as looking for righteousness in judgment, but finding the

cry of the oppressed (5:7).

 

The word is used hundreds of times in the Scriptures both as right, righteous,

righteousness, and also as just, justify, declare innocent. Human language is at

best insufficient to convey the f ull comprehension of the ideas of righteousness

and justification contained in this word. It is only as we see it exhibited in God's

character and acts that we see it clearly.

 

 

JEHOVAH THE SOURCE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

Jehovah is Himself perfect righteousness; He is the Perfectly righteous One. Jehovah

is a Tsadik-a righteous One, says the psalmist (129:4). As an El-Tsadik a righteous

God, there is none to compare with Him, Says Isaiah (45:21 ). He is the Rock whose

work is perfect, all of whose ways are justice. Tsadik--righteous and right is He

(Dent. 32:4). His righteousness is an everlasting righteousness and His testimonies

are righteous forever (Psalm 119:142, 144). Righteousness and justice are the very

foundations of His throne (Psalm 89:14; 97:2). The refore in all His dealings He is

righteous.In contrast to Jehovah's perfect righteousness is man's lack of

righteousness and the evil of his ways. The constant testimony of Scripture

is to this effect. "What is man that he should be clean? And he which is born

of woman, that he should be righteous?" asks Eliphaz of Job (15:14). The

psalmist represents Jehovah as looking in vain from heaven upon the children

of men to see if there be any that understand and do good. And the verdict is:

"There is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Psalm 14:3). The apostle Paul,

quoting this very passage in the New Testament, says, "There is none righteous,

no, not one" (Romans 3:20), and he concludes that "all have sinned, and come

short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).Israel is sharply reminded that not

because it has any righteousness of its own does Jehovah give them the land to

possess. On the contrary, they are a stiff-necked and sinful people. It is only

because He would perform His promise to the fathers and carry out His purpose

that they inherit the land (Deuteronomy 9:4-6). The prophet Isaiah regards as

filthy rags what he had once considered his personal righteousnesses (Isaiah 64:6).

And that righteousness of the law of which Paul had once been so proud, and

which he considered as great merit and gain, he came to regard as refuse

(Philippians 3:4-9).

 

Acknowledging Jehovah's righteousness, the Old Testament saints at the same

time acknowledged their own guilt. "O Lord, righteousness belongeth to thee,

but unto us confusion of faces ... to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants

of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel because of their trespass that they have

trespassed against thee . . . because we have sinned against thee"

(Daniel 9:7, 8). The Old Testament makes it abundantly clear that a

righteousness acceptable to God is impossible of attainment by man alone

because of inherent sin. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is

exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9, ASV). "Behold,

I was brought forth in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me"

(Psalm 51:5, ASV). "How then can man be righteous before God? Or how

can he be clean that is born of a woman?" (Job 25:4). And the word for

man here denotes frailty, weakness.

 

Jehovah, who is perfectly righteous, cannot overlook this lack of righteousness

in man. For He "will by no means clear the guilty." These words follow that

remarkable expression of His desire and purpose to forgive sin and transgression

found in Exodus 34:6, 7. "I will n ot justify the wicked" (Exodus 23:7). The sinner

is regarded as guilty in God's sight. "The soul that sinneth shall die." "the wages

of sin is death."And it is clear that none is capable in himself of a righteousness

acceptable to God. It is obviously impossible for a fallen creature to rise to the

standard of a perfect obedience. "It is quite impossible that any man can in himself

be right who does not render pure, perfect, perpetual, and personal obedience to

the precepts of God's law, since it is inconceivable that God could be satisfied

with less."' How then can man be acquitted of his unrighteousness and become

righteous before God?

 

Only Jehovah has provided such a righteousness for man. It was clearly

understood by the spiritually discerning even in Old Testament times that such

a righteousness must be provided by God Himself. "Surely, shall one say, in

Jehovah have I righteousness . . . to him shall men come. . . In Jehovah shall

all the seed of Israel be justified . . ." (Isaiah 45:24, 25). "He is near that

justifieth me; who will contend with me?" (Isaiah 50:8). Isaiah further predicts

that no weapon formed against Israel is to prosper; every tongue rising up in

judgment against her is to be condemned because her righteousness is of Jehovah

(Isaiah 54:17). It is this righteousness of Jehovah which the prophet further

predicts is to go forth like brightness from Jerusalem, and, as the chief characteristic

and glory of a redeemed Israel, will attract the nations (Isaiah 62: 1, 2).

But how was this righteousness of Jehovah to be applied to men? Again the

spiritually minded of the Old Testament dispensation clearly understood on the

one hand that the penalty of death which his sin had incurred must be borne by

an innocent sufferer and that, on t he other hand, the innocence or righteousness

of the sufferer must be applied to him. It is only on this basis that God could

declare the guilty innocent and the unrighteous righteous. Only so could Balaam

understand that Jehovah "hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen

perverseness in Israel" (Num. 23:21). Only so could Jeremiah say: "In those days

and in that time, saith Jehovah, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there

shall be none: and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon

them (50:20). For they were to be borne by an innocent one. Such an innocent

person is predicted in the Scriptures.

 

Isaiah spoke of a Servant who should be wounded for our transgressions and be bruised

for our iniquities. Upon Him Jehovah would lay the iniquity of us all and would make

His soul an offering for sin. This Servant is called "my righteous servant" who should

justify many by "bearing their iniquities." But who could that one be? Surely he could

be no mere man, for t here is no man righteous, and "none can by any means redeem his

brother, nor give to God a ransom for him" (Psalm 49:7).Apart from the fact that such

a substitute and sufferer must of necessity be perfectly righteous himself and therefore

more than man, the Servant of Isaiah 53 is also that Servant of Isaiah 49:7, the

Holy One. He is identified by Zechariah as the Servant who is the Branch

(Zech. 3:8 -10). And that Branch is the righteous Branch of David and the

King of Jeremiah 23:5 who is also Jehovah tsidkenu--Jehovah our Righteousness.

 

"Thus while the Scriptures of the Old Testament took away from the Hebrew any

hope he might have in himself, they concentrated his expectations on the living God

who had specially revealed Himself to Israel." [Girdlestone]Now Israel understood

that punishment for sin does not of itself cleanse a sinner, but that the righteousness

of the innocent sufferer must also be reckoned to the sinner if he is to stand before

Jehovah acquitted not only of Penalty but of guilt. A glimpse into this marvelous

doctrine of God's grace was given to men from the beginning. Abraham believed

God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). "Thou hast

forgiven the iniquity of thy people," 'says the psalmist, and adds, "thou hast

covered all their sin" (Psalm 85:2). And Isaiah tells us how: "I will greatly rejoice

in Jehovah for... he bath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom

decketh himself with a garland, and a bride adorneth herself with jewels"

(61:1 0, ASV).

 

 

JESUS, OUR JEHOVAH-TSIDKENU

 

The manifestation and provision of that righteousness of Jehovah which alone can

make men acceptable to God was fully realized in the Lord Jesus Christ, our Jehovah-

tsidkenu. In His person, character, and work as the suffering, righteous Servant of

Jehovah, He was worthy to be substituted for Israel and for us. As the Righteous

Branch of David He identified Himself with Israel and with us so that He could

truly represent us before God, and that in Him it could be sai d we have truly met

our obligations to God. Yet as Jehovah our Righteousness He is also distinct from

us so as not to be involved in our guilt.Jesus is Himself the Righteous One.

In his great sermon at Pentecost, Peter accuses his hearers of denying the

Holy One and the Just or Righteous (Acts 3:14). Hebrews 1:8, 9 says of Him:

"Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter

of thy kingdom. Thou bast loved righteousness and hated iniquity." This is a

quotation of several Old Testament passages of which Psalm 11:7 reads, "For the

Jehovah loveth righteousness." "He, in human nature, lived up to the perfect s

tandard of the divine law, so that His righteousness was of the same complexion

and character as the righteousness of God." Still more, as one with the Father,

His righteousness was the perfect manifestation of the righteousness of God.

 

 

And then He is made righteousness to us. "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God

is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness (I Corinthians 1:30). And this He did on

His part by paying the penalty for sin in His death for us upon the cross. "For he hath

made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness

of God in him" (II Corinthians 5:21). And Peter adds: "Because Christ also suffered

for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God; being

put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit" (I Peter 3:18, ASV). What we

could not do for ourselves, Christ did for us. Being Himself the Lawgiver, the Law

had no claim upon Him. As perfect, He perfectly obeyed the Law for us, and became

"the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth" (Romans 10:4). In

His death for us as a perfect and worthy sacrifice, He took our guilt and paid our

penalty.

 

So, on our part His righteousness is bestowed upon us as a free gift through faith.

Israel's great error was in seeking to establish a righteousness of its own and in not

submitting itself to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). This is the great

argument of Paul in Romans 3, in which, establishing the unrighteousness of man,

he Presents the righteousness of God as His grace in redemption toward us, closing

in verse 26 with the words: "To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that

he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." In Philippians

3:9, applying the argument to his own experience, he places all his hopes on

being "found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law,

but that which is of the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by

faith." In Romans 5, Paul argues again that as our identity with Adam brings

us under sin and death, so our identity with Christ makes us the recipients of

the free gift of His righteousness and life (Romans 5:16-19).

 

Finally, the practical effect of the bestowal of the gift of His righteousness is

to set our feet on the path of righteousness in conformity to His will whose

ways are all righteousness, who loves righteousness and hates iniquity. We

are to put on the new man which is created in righteousness (Ephesians 4:24),

and being made free from sin, we have become the servants of righteousness

(Romans 6:18).

 

Jehovah-tsidkenu! Wonderful name! It reveals to us the method and the measure

of our acceptance before God; cleansed in the blood of the Lamb; clothed with

the white robe of the righteousness of Him who is Jehovah--our righteousnessó

even our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I once was a stranger to grace and to God,

I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;

Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree

Jehovah-tsidkenu was nothing to me.

 

When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,

Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die:

No refuge, no safety, in self could I see;

Jehovah-tsidkenu my Saviour must be.

 

My terrors all vanished before the sweet name;

My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came

To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free:

Jehovah-tsidkenu is all things to me.

 

[Whitelaw, Jehovah-Jesus, pp. 102, 103].