Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tsedaqah Righteousness in Deuteronomy

צדקה occurs nine times in the Pentateuch, and six times in the book of Deuteronomy. The other three pentateuchal occurances of צדקה are found in the book of Genesis (see “Tsedaqah Righteousness in Genesis”).

The first use of צדקה in Deuteronomy is found in Deut 6:25. This verse is very significant for understanding how righteousness was defined under the Mosaic covenant. In this verse Moses links stative righteousness with obedience to torah: “And it will be righteousness (צדקה) for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.” Israel’s covenant responsibility before God was to keep the stipulations of the covenant, i.e., to do torah. By walking in the way of torah, Israel would keep covenant with God, and as a consequence enjoy the status of covenant righteousness before God. In a covenantal context, righteousness is a legal status that applies to those who keep their covenant responsibilities. In the context of the Mosaic covenant, righteousness was a legal status bestowed by the Lord of the covenant upon those who (due to torah being written on the heart) were obedient to the stipulations spelled out in the law of the covenant. God’s bestowal of the status of covenant righteousness upon covenant keepers (through judicial proclamation) means that a concept of justification by obedience to torah applied under the Mosaic covenantal arrangement. This came to be known in Jewish parlance as justification by the works of the law. In other words, Deut 6:25 establishes the fact that a doctrine of the justification by the works of the law applied under the terms of the old covenant.

Even though covenant righteousness was demanded of Israel, and actually required in order to possess the promised land (e.g., Deut 6:18; 8:1), the book of Deuteronomy also states that possessing the promised land would not be achieved as a result of Israel’s righteousness. In Deut 9:4–6, the term צדקה occurs three times in three verses. Here Moses warns the people against spiritual pride:
“Do not say in your heart, after Yahweh your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness (צדקה) that Yahweh has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that Yahweh is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness (צדקה) or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations Yahweh your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that Yahweh your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness (צדקה), for you are a stubborn people.”
On the one hand, righteousness was required for Israel to enter and possess the land; on the other hand, Israel’s righteousness would not be the cause of such entry and possession. Reconciling these two elements, Israel’s righteousness would be an instrumental cause for entry into and possession of the land, but not the immediate primary cause. The immediate primary cause for Israel’s entry into and possession of the land was God’s desire to punish the wickedness of the original inhabitants of the land, as well as God’s desire to fulfill the promise that he made with the patriarchs. It should be noted that the righteousness in view in these verses is paralleled in v. 5 with uprightness of heart. An upright heart (inscripturated with torah) leads to obedience, which results in an enjoyment of the state of righteousness on the level of the covenant. Covenant righteousness is necessary for salvation; but, given that the obedience underlying such righteousness is a gift of God (see Deut 8:18), it is out of place to boast in one’s righteousness status before God as if it were the ultimate cause of one’s salvation. True righteousness knows humility.

צדקה also occurs in Deut 24:13. The pledge of a poor debtor, which often consisted of an item of clothing, was to be restored before nightfall. Treating the poor with compassion in this way would “be righteousness for you before Yahweh your God.” This can be viewed as a particular application of the principle stated in Deut 6:25: that obedience to torah results in stative righteousness on the level of the covenant.

In Deut 33:21, the phrase צדקת יהוה the righteousness of Yahweh occurs as part of Moses’ final blessing of Israel. This phrase is paralleled with the phrase his judgments: “[Gad] came with the heads of the people; he executed the righteousness of Yahweh, and his judgments for Israel.” In this verse, doing צדקה seems to denote executing justice. Here justice can be viewed as being a form of active righteousness on the part of Yahweh in his function as King and Judge. Functioning judicially, doing right means that the King must punish evildoers and accomplish justice. Gad would play a part in accomplishing God’s justice by fighting with his brothers against the Canaanites.

No comments: