Have you ever thought much about the righteousness of God? It’s something we profess to believe, but what does it mean and have we taken it for granted? That’s a huge topic, but the next stanza of Psalm 119 helps direct our minds to this subject.
The very first verse lays out the basic premise: “Righteous are You, O Lord, and upright are Your judgements” (v. 137). Throughout the following verses of the section, the words “righteous,” “righteousness,” and “right/upright” are used over and over again. Yet this doesn’t exactly bring clarity about meaning, so we need to go deeper.
What is righteousness? Basically, it means the way that is “correct,” justice, something “right” (1). So when Psalm 119:137 says that God is righteous, it means there is nothing wrong in Him and His ways. No matter what aspect of His character we look at, He is righteous. No matter how deeply we try to search Him out, He will always be righteous.
Not only is He Himself righteous, but what He commands is right. The very next verse (138) contends that God’s testimonies, referring to His covenant commands, are established “in righteousness.” Previous verses have demonstrated that those commands are for our good and His glory. They are correct and appropriate. And we also see that God’s righteousness endures forever (v. 142). There will never be a day when God stops being righteous. There will never be a day when He will become less righteous. He is entirely righteous yesterday, today, and forever. That is the God we serve.
But we have a problem, don’t we? We must stand before the righteous God, but we aren’t righteous. On our own, our very best deeds are nothing but “filthy” rags because of our sin, Isaiah says (Isaiah 64:6). Yet we are not without hope. There is another instance of filthy rags, this one in Zechariah 3. The high priest Joshua—not the Joshua who led Israel into Canaan—this Joshua is standing before the Lord clothed in rags, being accused by Satan, and he has nothing to say. Then Zechariah sees the angel of the Lord command the “filthy garments” be taken off and a new robe be put on him (Zechariah 3:4). That is a picture of what happens to everyone of us who believes in Jesus. We stand before the righteous Judge, the One who is perfect in every attribute forever, with nothing to say for ourselves. The very best we have to offer is nothing but rags. But then there is Jesus. He takes off the old garment of sin and clothes us with a new garment, a garment of righteousness—His righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” When we believe in Jesus for salvation, we are justified, declared righteous. Not because we earned it—but because He has given it to us. That’s why as much as the Psalmist talks about righteousness, he never describes himself as being righteous. Instead, he responds to God’s righteousness. He is zealous for God’s commands (v. 139). He loves, remembers, and delights in God’s Word (vv. 140, 141, 143). Why? Because God’s righteous Word reveals our righteous Lord and the righteousness He bestows on His children.
And as we love, remember, and delight in God’s Word, let’s have the same attitude as the Psalmist at the end of verse 144: “give me understanding that I may live.” As we praise God for the gift of His righteousness, we strive to follow the right path, the way that is pleasing to Him. We don’t earn righteousness, but we strive to live in a way consistent with our new nature in Christ. It’s like putting on a suit. When you’re all decked out in a full suit or formal dress, there’s just certain things you don’t do because you are wearing the clothes. We are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and because of that, we rejoice in God our Savior and strive to walk in a way consistent with His gracious gift.
- “H6662 – ṣadîq Strongs Hebrew Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible, 2023. https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h6662/nasb95/wlc/0-1/!