This post is part of a series about the names of God in the Bible. This series is based off of the study that took place in our Ladies’ Bible Class. You can watch those sessions online at WestsideLife.org/media. Just look for the “Name Above All Names” media series.
“Because of Christ’s righteousness, you are credited with righteousness when you believe on His name.” – Tony Evans, The Power of God’s Names
The Lord is Our Righteousness
This name for God occurs twice in the Bible—both times in Jeremiah (23:6, 33:16). “Right” or “Righteous” in the Old Testament has to do with being morally right, being fair and equal, being innocent, or even receiving justice. It is a broad term that speaks to issues of equity and fairness.
What Was Happening in Jeremiah’s Lifetime?
Jeremiah was the prophet God send to speak to the people of Judah (the southern portion of the nation of Israel) and especially their leaders. Judah was on what we might call their “final warning” before being exiled to Babylon. They had turned away from God for generations, and God sent Jeremiah to give them one final change to have a change of heart. Jeremiah’s message had three main components:
- A call to repentance,
- A clear warning about the consequences of continuing in sin,
- A message of hope about the blessings that would come if they returned to the Lord.
One of the biggest failures of Judah’s leadership was moral relativism and their refusal to acknowledge difficult truths about the spiritual state of their nation. In Jeremiah 8:5-6, God accuses the people of turning away from his perfect law and becoming a law unto themselves:
5 “Why then have these people turned away?
Why does Jerusalem always turn away?
They cling to deceit;
they refuse to return.
6 I have listened attentively,
but they do not say what is right.
None of them repent of their wickedness,
saying, “What have I done?”
Each pursues their own course
like a horse charging into battle.”
They had drifted from God over a period of several centuries, but they refused to accept any responsibility for that because they had re-written the rules and re-imagined the law as giving them permission to do as they pleased. We learn in Jeremiah 8:8-9 that even the religious scribes who should have held the people of Judah to a high standard were complicit in this act of rebellion:
8 “‘How can you say, “We are wise,
for we have the law of the Lord,”
when actually the lying pen of the scribes
has handled it falsely?
9 The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?
Instead of calling the people of Judah to repentance, the leaders tried to convince Judah that God was the problem. He was being too onerous, too difficult to please, too restrictive with all of the laws and regulations that he handed down to Moses.
And that was a big problem!
Jeremiah’s Message to the Leaders
That’s the situation Jeremiah was dealing with when he was called upon to be prophet to the people of Judah. In Jeremiah 22:1-3, one chapter before we encounter the name Jehovah-Tsidkenu for the first time, Jeremiah calls the spiritual leaders to repentance:
“This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2 ‘Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right.”
The primary responsibility of the king of Judah was to do what was just and right. These terms are often closely associated with one another in the Bible. They form a tandem-pair that emphasizes governing fairly, exercising authority in a fair and equitable way, and leveraging whatever power God has entrusted to a leader for the greater good—not for selfish gain.
Just and Right in the Bible
Here’s a sampling of how the tandem pair of justice and righteousness is used in the Bible. Notice how all of these are positive examples of the way God intended his law and his leaders to be:
- The Law of Moses: “13 “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.” –Nehemiah 9:13-15.
- David’s Rule Over Israel: “David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.” 2 Samuel 8:15.
- Solomon’s Reign Over Israel: “9 Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” (Spoken by the Queen of Sheba to Solomon in 1 Kings 10:9)”
Israel’s Two Main Sins
God always intended his nation to be filled with justice and righteousness, because the laws they were to live by were just and right. The Bible commends David and Solomon for ruling with justice and righteousness. But things quickly went downhill after that. Subsequent kinds neglected their people, took advantage of the poor and oppressed, and used their power for personal gain—all while leading the people into idolatry.
Israel’s two main sins were turning away from God and neglecting the foundational principles of justice and righteousness. That’s why Jeremiah’s message to Judah was so heavily focused on pursuing these principles:
“3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.” -Jeremiah 22:3-5
The unfortunate reality for Judah (and Israel) was that they did not heed these repeated warnings. In their arrogance, they continued in their sin and felt justified in being a law unto themselves. God eventually followed through on his warnings of punishment. Not long after Jeremiah spoke these words, the King of Babylon conquered Judah and carried them off into exile.
The Promise of a Righteous King
God’s name Jehovah-Tsidkenu is introduced against the backdrop of Israel’s failure to pursue justice and righteousness. What Israel (and their leaders) could not achieve on their own, God would achieve by sending his Messiah into our world.
In Jeremiah 23:1-4, God chastises the leaders of Israel for failing to take care of the people. He accuses them of being shepherds who care more about the skin on their own backs than the flock that they are supposed to take care of. Because they have failed so spectacularly, God would be sending new leaders to be the kind of shepherds Israel’s current leaders should have been.
And that leads us into a distinctively Messianic prophecy in Jeremiah 23:5-6 about a king who would rule with justice and righteousness:
5. “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.”