Posts Tagged ‘Righteousness’

“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3

In case you haven’t noticed, our world has dramatically changed. It wasn’t long ago that it would have been unthinkable that nearly 40 million unborn children would be murdered in America. There was a time when kids could pray in public schools. Nativity scenes dotted the lawns of county courthouses and municipal parks—without protest. Marriage was strictly a guy-girl arrangement. And you could even pray in Jesus’ name at graduation ceremonies.

I’m not interested in being like the grump who said, “In my life I’ve seen a lot things change and quite frankly I’ve been against them all!” But if you are talking about changing the face of America to the point where God is out and everything else is in, then I have a problem with that kind of change. My problem is wondering how to handle my heart and attitudes. Wondering how to live and respond in a world where the foundations of righteousness are being eroded on nearly every front.

How do we, as followers of Jesus, process right and wrong in a world that tells us there are no absolutes? How do we proclaim that Jesus alone is what people really need—that He is the “way and the truth” (John 14:6)—when most people no longer believe that there is such a thing as true truth?

You don’t have to be an industrial-strength theologian to realize that the current thought patterns of most Americans fly in the face of what we hold to be true. If there are no absolutes, you can forget about the Ten Commandments. If nothing is ever right or wrong, there is no sin and no need for a Savior. It’s easy to see that believing in what God tells us about righteousness, truth, and godly living leaves us marginalized and outdated. So our hearts cry out with David: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).

Let’s start with knowing what not to do. Notice that David didn’t wring his hands in despair. He didn’t “flee like a bird to [the] mountain” (Psalm 11:1). Instead, he decided to take refuge in the Unchanging One. His confidence was bolstered by the fact that God was on His holy throne and that His eyes were well aware of what was going on. Reminded of the ultimate judgment that God would pour out on wickedness, David knew that, in the face of unsettling change, staying on course with God is indeed the best and safest alternative. Looking at all the change from God’s point of view, he realized that though the change seemed overwhelming, God is still very much in charge and ultimately victorious.

Why would any of us want to go soft on God and His truth in order to feel more “with it,” when we know that the “with it” party train is headed for a disastrous train wreck? So, let’s quit all the hand wringing and feeling sorry for ourselves. Let’s cheer up, knowing that the things that can’t change—such as God’s righteous eternal reign—are still in place!

You can go with the change if you choose. I’m going with my changeless God!


  • Has the changing philosophies of our world changed your approach to life, sin, and righteousness in any way? Be specific.
  • What are some things that God loves and some things He hates? Do you love what He loves and hate what He hates?
  • Are you willing to take a few hits for God because you stand with Him and His truth? To what extent? In what ways was Jesus unwavering in His willingness to take a hit for you in this ungodly world?
  • Have you expected this changing, increasingly godless world to be a friend of Jesus? Read what Jesus had to say to us in John 16:33, and rejoice!


“Then Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’”—Genesis 18:23

The Torah portion for this week, Vayeira, is from Genesis 18:1—22:24 and 2 Kings 4:1–37.

When God decided to destroy the city of Sodom, He informed Abraham about His plan. After all, Abraham would be God’s partner in perfecting the world; he deserved to know. Abraham didn’t want to see the death of his fellow human beings, especially the good ones. So he prayed on their behalf and tried to bargain with God. The conversation went something like this:

Abraham: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” What if there are 50 righteous people in Sodom? Will you save them all?

God: Yes.

Abraham: What if there are only 45?

God: Yes.

Abraham: How about 40?

God: Yes.

30? Yes. 20? Yes. Ten? Yes.

Abraham struck a deal. If there were only ten righteous individuals in Sodom, God would save the entire city. Unfortunately, even ten righteous people could not be found, and the city was destroyed anyway. So why are we given the details about Abraham’s attempt to save Sodom? Wouldn’t it have been enough to say that Abraham prayed on their behalf?

Like everywhere else in the Bible, every detail is provided for a reason. It has something to teach us about how we should live. In this case, Abraham’s conversation with God is a lesson on achieving goals.

Abraham approached God with great trepidation when he presented his request. He knows that he is asking a lot. But ultimately, Abraham was successful in achieving his goal. How did he do it? By breaking it down into smaller, bite-sized, mini-goals. First, Abraham’s goal was to have God agree to spare the city for the sake of 50 good men. Once he secured that agreement, he went to the next goal, 45 men. In small steps, he progressed toward his ultimate goal of ten men. Had he tried for ten in the beginning, Abraham probably thought he would not have succeeded.

Do you have a great goal that you want to achieve? Try to reach it the Abraham way. Don’t go for the whole goal right away. Instead, break it down into small, easy steps, and take the journey one step at a time. Celebrate each achievement and recognize every milestone along the way. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, and before you know it, you’ll arrive at the finish line!

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him —2 Corinthians 5:21

The modern view of the death of Jesus is that He died for our sins out of sympathy for us. Yet the New Testament view is that He took our sin on Himself not because of sympathy, but because of His identification with us. He was “made. . . to be sin. . . .” Our sins are removed because of the death of Jesus, and the only explanation for His death is His obedience to His Father, not His sympathy for us. We are acceptable to God not because we have obeyed, nor because we have promised to give up things, but because of the death of Christ, and for no other reason. We say that Jesus Christ came to reveal the fatherhood and the lovingkindness of God, but the New Testament says that He came to take “away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And the revealing of the fatherhood of God is only to those to whom Jesus has been introduced as Savior. In speaking to the world, Jesus Christ never referred to Himself as One who revealed the Father, but He spoke instead of being a stumbling block (see John 15:22-24). John 14:9  , where Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” was spoken to His disciples.

That Christ died for me, and therefore I am completely free from penalty, is never taught in the New Testament. What is taught in the New Testament is that “He died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:15)— not, “He died my death”— and that through identification with His death I can be freed from sin, and have His very righteousness imparted as a gift to me. The substitution which is taught in the New Testament is twofold— “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The teaching is not Christ for me unless I am determined to have Christ formed in me (seeGalatians 4:19).

For the righteous LORD loves justice. The virtuous will see his face.

In yesterday’s reflection on Psalm 10, we saw that God “bring[s] justice to the orphans and the oppressed” (10:18). This picture of the Lord is consistent with what we find throughout the Scriptures.

Psalm 11 further explains God’s relationship to justice. Verse 7 reads, “For the righteous LORD loves justice.” Our translation obscures an intentional play on words in the original Hebrew. It might be translated more literally, “For the just LORD loves justice” or “For the righteous LORD loves righteous deeds.” The Hebrew uses the adjective tzaddiq in reference to the Lord and the plural noun tzedaqot to depict that which he loves. Even without knowing Hebrew, you can see the close relationship between these two words, which are based on the tz-d-q root.

In English, we often make a distinction between righteousness and justice. Righteousness has to do more with personal morality, with acting rightly according to some standard. Justice is a matter of legality or societal structures. In Hebrew, however, the words based on the tz-d-q root embrace both personal morality and legal/social relationships. Thus, God as tzaddiq is both righteous and just. And God loves both personal righteousness and societal justice.

Why? Why is God a lover of righteousness and justice? Because these realities reflect God’s own nature. When we do what is right, we are not just acting properly, but also mirroring God’s own nature. The same is true when we seek justice in our relationships and in our world.

Doing what God loves is surely a sufficient motivation for us as we live our lives in this world. Whether in the workplace or in the civic square, whether among our neighbors or in our families, we want to do the things that God loves. But verse 7 adds a further motivation for such behavior: “The virtuous will see his face.” When we live in a way that pleases God, we will see God more clearly. Our hearts and minds will be attuned to the Lord so that we might be attuned to his presence both within and around us.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you truly desire to do that which God loves? What increases this desire? What conflicts with this desire? How might you live today as a reflection of God’s own righteousness and justice?

PRAYER: God of righteousness and justice, may I love what you love. May I desire what you desire. May I seek what you seek. May I live in such a way that you love my deeds and my relationships.

Help me, I pray, to consider you as I live my life today. Even when I’m doing that which tends to be called “secular,” may I do it for your delight and glory.

Gracious God, may I see your face. May I know you more truly. May I continuously grow in my relationship with you. Amen.

End the evil of those who are wicked,      and defend the righteous. For you look deep within the mind and heart,      O righteous God.

My friend Tom was born with defective kidneys. Thus, on a fairly regular basis, he has to go in for a kidney test. The doctors want to see if his kidneys are functioning well enough for Tom to continue on without invasive medical treatment. So far, so good. But, when it’s time for his kidney test, Tom is understandably nervous.

How about you? Are you nervous about your kidney test? Now, before you email me to say that you aren’t having such a medical procedure, let me hasten to say that I’m not thinking of the sort of thing Tom has to endure periodically. Rather, I’m translating our passage in an overly literal way. We read, “For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God” (7:9). But the Hebrew actually refers to the Lord in this verse as “the tester of hearts and kidneys.” The word translated as “hearts” refers to the inner life of a person, especially the faculties of thought and will. The word translated as “kidneys” can refer to the literal organs inside a mammal. But it can also designate the deepest part of a person, the seat of emotions and moral choice.

By saying that God tests hearts and kidneys, the psalmist is revealing that nothing is hidden from the Lord. He knows everything about us, every thought, every feeling, every hope, every fear. He knows all the good stuff and all the bad stuff.

Apart from grace, this would be a scary thought, indeed. We might be able to hide our corruption from people, but not from God. In truth, the holy, just God of the universe knows all there is to know about you. You cannot hide from God. Yet, you do not have to, because God is gracious toward you. He seeks relationship with you. God forgives and renews. He is not just the tester of our “kidneys,” but also the healer. Through Christ, God is in the process of restoring everything about you. What good news!

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to the thought of God being the tester of your inner being? Have you asked him to heal the deep wounds and to forgive the deep sins of your “heart and kidneys”?

PRAYER: Merciful God, the thought that you test the deepest parts of me would not be a happy one, apart from the gospel. Through Christ, you not only examine everything about me, but you forgive that which is evil and mend that which is broken. Thank you, dear Lord, for your tenderness and kindness. Thank you for the confident hope I have in you. Amen.

And Abraham went along with them to start them on their way. Jehovah said, “The complaint has come that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah have committed great and terrible sins. I will go down and see whether they have done exactly as the complaint comes to me; and if they have not, I will know.”

Then the men turned from there and looked off in the direction of Sodom.

Then Abraham drew near to Jehovah and said, “Wilt thou sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are within the city fifty people who are righteous. Wilt thou sweep away and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do this: to slay the righteous with the wicked! And that the righteous should be treated as the wicked, far be it from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Jehovah said, “If I find in the city of Sodom fifty who are righteous, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “I have dared to speak to Jehovah, even though I am but dust and ashes. Suppose there be five lacking of the fifty righteous. Wilt thou sweep away all the city for lack of five?” Jehovah said, “I will not sweep it away, if I find forty-five there.”

Then Abraham spoke to him again, and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” He replied, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then Abraham said, “Oh, let not Jehovah be angry, but let me speak. Suppose thirty are found there?” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” Then Abraham said, “Thou seest that I have dared to speak to Jehovah. Suppose twenty are found there?” He replied, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then Abraham said, “Oh, let not Jehovah be angry, but let me speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there?” And he said, “For the sake of the ten I will not destroy it.” Then Jehovah went his way, and Abraham returned home.

Two angels in human form came to Sodom in the evening, as Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose up to meet them, and he bowed with his face to the earth and said, “Sirs, turn aside, I beg of you, into your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet; then you can rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No, we will spend the night in the street.” But he urged them so strongly that they went with him and entered his house. And he made a feast for them and baked bread made without yeast, and they ate.

But before they had lain down, the people of Sodom, both young and old, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called out to Lot, “Where are the men who came in to you to-night? Bring them out to us that we may do to them what we desire.”

Then Lot went out to them at the entrance of his house, but he shut the door after him. And he said, “I beg of you, my friends, do not do what is wrong. Do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shadow of my roof.” But they replied, “Stand back, or we will treat you worse than them.” And they pressed hard against Lot and advanced to break the door. But the men reached out and drew Lot to them into the house and shut the door. Then they smote the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, with blindness, so that they grew tired of searching for the door.

Then the men said to Lot, “Have you any one else here? Bring your sons-in-law, your sons, and daughters, and whoever you have in the city out of this place, for we are about to destroy it, because great complaint concerning the people has come to Jehovah and he has sent us to destroy it.” So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, “Up, go out of this place, for Jehovah will destroy the city.” But his sons-in-law thought he was only jesting.

When the dawn appeared, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters that you may not be swept away in the punishment of the city.” When he hesitated, the men took him by the hand and led him and his wife and his two daughters outside the city, for Jehovah was merciful to him.

When they had brought them outside, they said, “Run for your life; do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the heights, that you may not be swept away!” But Lot said to them, “Oh, sirs, not so! See, your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown great mercy to me in saving my life. I cannot escape to the heights, lest some evil overtake me, and I die. See now, this village is near enough to run to, and it is small. Oh, let me escape there, and my life will be saved.” Jehovah said to him, “I have also granted you this favor, in that I will not destroy the village of which you have spoken. Make haste, escape to it, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.”

The sun had risen when Lot came to Zoar. Then Jehovah caused brimstone and fire from heaven to rain upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and he destroyed those cities and all the plain, with all the people who lived in it and all that grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife, who was following him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Early in the morning Abraham rose and went to the place where he had stood before Jehovah; and as he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah and all the plain, he saw the smoke of the land going up as the smoke of a smelting-furnace.

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.” — Psalm 85:10–11

Jewish tradition teaches that when God created the world and it came time to create man, the angels began to argue.

The Angel of Love said:  “Create man, for he will do acts of lovingkindness.”

The Angel of Faithfulness argued:  “No, do not create man – he is all lies.”

The Angel of Righteousness countered:  “Create man, for he will do righteous charity.”

But the Angel of Peace claimed:  “Do not make man, for he is quarrelsome.”

What did God do? He took the Angel of Faithfulness and flung him toward the earth. With that, the angels in favor of the creation of man outnumbered those who did not. Man was created.

The Sages explain that the Angel of Faithfulness is concerned with truth and felt that human beings would be incapable of living honestly. When God threw him down to earth, so to speak, it was as if he were throwing down a challenge to mankind. God says:  Prove him wrong! Show him that you can live truthfully!

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk, a 19th-century Hassidic master, comments on the following phrase: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth.” He says that in order for truth to flourish, we must first bury the lies. The deeper we bury the lies, the more truth will spring from the earth.

Rabbi Mendel explains that the lies that abound on this earth keep the truth from filling the world. We all know that we live in a world filled with crookedness, dishonesty, and deception. But the mission of humanity is to dispose of these lies and bury them deep underground. When we do that, integrity, truth, and faithfulness will thrive. We will have proved the Angel of Faithfulness wrong.

Rabbi Mendel explains that in messianic times, the angels will reconcile. The dispute over man’s creation will be over. When humanity succeeds at filling the world with truth and faithfulness, the angels will come together in agreement, and then the words of the psalmist will be fulfilled, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”