The Attributes of God – Righteousness

“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!” (Psalm 72:1-2, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).

As soon as I read these verses in beginning my personal Bible reading this morning, they reminded me of the topic of this post, the righteousness of God, His always doing what is right. The verses open a prayer by David for his heirs, beginning with Solomon, in ruling Israel. A note in the Bible that I use in my personal Bible reading, ESV Study Bible (Crossway Bibles, 2008), observes that the prayer looks forward to David’s ultimate descendant, the Messiah, as is reflected in Christian hymns based on it such as “Jesus Shall Reign.” (In my personal Bible reading I use the Daily Bible Reading Plan in ESV Study Bible. It suggests daily readings from four parts of the Bible: Psalms and Wisdom Literature, Pentateuch and History of Israel, Chronicles and Prophets, and Gospels and Epistles. I read the four passages and at least some of the notes provided for them in ESV Study Bible. It’s a great way to start the day.)

Yesterday my family and I read in our after breakfast breakfast Bible reading time the section on the righteousness or justice of God in Chapter 12, “The Character of God: ‘Communicable’ Attributes (Part 1),” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). He opens the section by explaining that although “righteousness” and “justice” are different words in English, in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament there is only one word group behind the two English words, which is why he (and my other systematic theology books) considers them together. Grudem goes on to define “God’s righteousness,” adding to the definition that I gave above (His always doing what is right) His being the final standard of what is right.

A few Bible passages referring to God’s righteousness besides the ones with which I open (Psalm 72:1) and close (Deuteronomy 32:4) this post are:
– “Then the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, ‘The Lord is righteous'” (2 Chronicles 12:6; God had allowed the Egyptians to come against them because they had been unfaithful to Him.)
– “O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:15).
– “Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have obeyed his voice” (Daniel 9:14).
– “And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, ‘Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve” (Revelation 16:5-6).

After citing some Bible passages that refer to God’s doing and speaking righteously, Grudem considers an idea that I didn’t really think about before, that it would be unrighteous for God not to punish sin and thus when He doesn’t punish sin directly He has to punish it in some other way. To demonstrate this Grudem quotes Romans 3:25-26, “God put [Jesus] forward as a propiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Next Grudem considers the idea of God’s being the final standard of what is right. He observes that whenever the Bible confronts the question of whether God is righteous or not, it answers that we as God’s creatures have no right to say that God is unrighteous. For example, Paul says in Romans 9:20-21, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to it molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” Then Grudem shows how God used the same defence against Job’s questioning the justice of his afflictions. This was of particular interest to me because the Life group that my wife and I attend is going to preface its consideration of Roger Alcock’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Multnomah Books, 2010) with a brief study of what the book of Job says about the problem of evil and suffering. (I plan to post reports on the group’s study here in the Our Life Group and The Problem of Evil categories.)

Finally Grudem considers how fortunate we are that God possesses both righteousness and omnipotence, closing by encouraging us to praise and thank God for who He is, “for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

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