“Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:4 ESV
Righteous – What does it mean to say, “He is righteous”? Would you answer, “That means he has a right relationship with God”? Answers like this are common among Christians, but maybe not so common among Hebrews. That’s because the Hebrew word tsaddiq takes a little different direction. Its first occurrences in Scripture are associated with the role of judges. In other words, tsaddiq describes honest, truthful, legitimate legal decisions. Tsaddiq is conformity to a standard. Whether that standard involves human relationships or physical properties (like weights and measures), the basic idea behind tsaddiq is alignment with a known ethical and moral measuring rod. In the Hebraic worldview, this measuring rod is not merely a cultural norm. It is a measuring rod set by God’s revealed instructions for living. In other words, God’s standard is Torah. This is why there is no distinction in Torah between spiritual expectations and civil regulations. Torah is the standard for all human behavior in the Hebraic world. In the tribal cultural of Israel, to be righteous is to be in conformity with Torah.
“Wait a minute!” you complain. “Are you saying that righteousness doesn’t depend on Jesus? Are you telling me that all I need is to conform to the Law? What about forgiveness? What about being saved?” OK, OK. One at a time. If righteousness is conformity to Torah, then we all have a problem. We have all disobeyed. That’s Paul’s point when he quotes Habakkuk. God’s word through Habakkuk reiterates the standard. None of us have met it. Therefore, we need help. We need a way to meet the standard in spite of our disobedience. Yeshua’s sacrifice exonerates us. We are released from the death sentence. We are rescued. But that doesn’t mean Torah no longer applies. It is still the standard. As we shall see, the man whose life is measured by Torah lives by his “faith” (we still have to understand what this word means). It doesn’t say that he dies by Torah. It says he lives by Torah. Once the guilt associated with his past disobedience has been overcome, he is able to live by the standard.
The biblical view is that tsaddiq applies equally to everyone, rich or poor, high or low, slave or free. It applies to all nations in all circumstances in every time. Why? Because Torah reflects the character of God and in this created universe, God’s standard is the only standard. This biblical claim was the reason the Romans hated Judaism. Judaism’s exclusivity, its intolerance toward any other cultural standard, was abhorrent to the liberalism of Rome. It is still abhorrent today. The implication that all other measuring rods are inadequate or false incites non-believers to intense animosity. But the Bible doesn’t really care. It presents one uniform message. God sets the standard. Men either accept that standard or they do not. Those who do not are outside the Kingdom.
If tsaddiq is a description of living in accordance with God’s instructions (Torah), then where did the Christian idea of living apart from Torah originate? No one will argue that tsaddiq means anything except conformity to God’s standard. So how did we decide that the standard no longer applies? When did tsaddiq become a synonym for “forgiveness without a measuring rod”?
Topical Index: tsaddiq, righteous, Torah, Habakkuk 2:4