Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tsedaqah Righteousness in Genesis

In the post entitled “Tsedeq Righteousness in the Pentateuch”, we looked at the use of the noun צדק in the Pentateuch. But there is another word based on the צדק root that is also commonly translated into English as righteousness. This is the noun צדקה.‎ צדק is a masculine noun, whereas צדקה is grammatically feminine. In what way do these two terms differ from each other? I will attempt to answer this question over time as we investigate the use of the צדק family of words in the Old Testament. צדקה occurs nine times in the Pentateuch, and three times in the book of Genesis.

The first use of צדקה in Genesis occurs in the famous verse Gen 15:6: “And [Abram] continued to believe Yahweh, and [Yahweh] counted it to him as righteousness (צדקה).” The noun צדקה is best understood here as denoting stative righteousness, i.e., the state of being in the right with God. Abraham’s faith response to the word of God was the right response to God’s revelation. This right response led to Abraham being considered by God to be in the right in terms of his relationship with God. It should be noted that the צדקה attributed to Abraham in this specific instance was not an alien righteousness. There is no sense of the alien righteousness of Christ apparent in the narrative in Gen 15. That is not to say that the alien righteousness of Christ is not present in the wider theological context—it is always presupposed in the background in the wider canonical context of the Scriptures—but it should not be imported into the term צדקה in Gen 15:6, which speaks of the state of personal righteousness that Abraham enjoyed before God on the basis of his faith in the word of God. The Apostle Paul’s treatment of Gen 15:6 in Rom 4 and Gal 3:6 has often been interpreted in terms of the alien righteousness of Christ, but I have problems accepting that Paul would have distorted the original meaning of Gen 15:6 by importing a concept of alien righteousness into the text. That is not the focus of Gen 15:6 in its original context.

The next instance of צדקה in Genesis occurs in Gen 18:19. In Yahweh’s self-deliberation as to whether he should tell Abraham about his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he says: “For I have known [Abram], that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of Yahweh by doing righteousness (צדקה) and justice, so that Yahweh might bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Yahweh chose to enter into an intimate covenant relationship with Abraham with a view to Abraham commanding his extended family (including future generations) to keep the way of Yahweh. Abraham and his family would keep the way of Yahweh by doing righteousness and justice. The concept of doing righteousness is a key concept in the Old Testament. To do righteousness is to do what is right, to do righteous deeds. In Gen 18:19, צדקה denotes active righteousness, i.e., righteous acts, behavior that is right from God’s perspective. צדקה is paralleled here with justice (משׁפט ), which is behavior that is in accordance with the legal judgments pronounced by God in his role as King. Significantly, Gen 18:19 speaks of doing righteousness as the way by which God would bring about the fulfillment of his promise to bless Abraham, Israel, and the families of the earth (Gen 12:2–3). Obedience or keeping the way of Yahweh has always been necessary on the part of God’s people in order for the promised blessings to be realized (see also Gen 22:16–18).

The third and final instance of צדקה in Genesis occurs in Gen 30:33. In his negotiation with Laban concerning wages to be paid for looking after Laban’s flocks, Jacob proposed that he receive the speckled sheep and goats, and black lambs, as his wages. This would make it easy for Laban to test Jacob’s righteousness. As it is recorded in Gen 30:32–33, Jacob said to Laban: “Let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep, and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. So my righteousness (צדקה) will answer for me later, when you come to look into my wages with you. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats, and black among the lambs, if found with me, shall be counted stolen.” Here Jacob’s צדקה is his right behavior, in particular, his honesty in only taking the speckled and black sheep or goats as his wages. This is ironic given that Jacob will use underhanded means and selective breeding by which to swindle Laban (see Gen 30:37–42)!

No comments: