Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tsedaqah Righteousness in the Former Prophets

The noun צדק does not occur in the Former Prophets, but the related term צדקה occurs twelve times in this section of the Old Testament canon. Previously (see “Tsedaqah Righteousness in Genesis” and “Tsedaqah Righteousness in Deuteronomy”) we have noted that צדקה can be used to denote right behavior (active righteousness), the legal status of being in the right that flows from right behavior (stative righteousness), or the judicial act of establishing what is right (judicial righteousness or justice).

In 2 Sam 8:15 David is described in ideal terms as being a king who “does justice and righteousness for all his people.” The king also functioned as the highest judge in the land, and was required to execute justice by pronouncing legal judgments that accord with God’s standards of what is right. This verse links righteousness (צדקה) very closely with justice (משפט). By coming to correct legal decisions, David did צדקה in the sense that his judicial pronouncements defended and established what was morally and legally correct for those who sought justice from his court.

צדקה also occurs on the lips of Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth. When David returned to Jerusalem after the rebellion of Absalom had ended, Mephibosheth went to see David, and was questioned by David as to why he had not accompanied him when he had left Jerusalem while fleeing from Absalom. In response, Mephibosheth explained how his servant Ziba had told lies about him to David, but he was prepared for David to deal with his case however David saw fit: “my lord the king is as an angel of God, so do what is good in your eyes. For all my father’s house were nothing but dead men before my lord the king, yet you have set your servant among those who eat at your own table. What right (צדקה) therefore do I have to cry out again to the king?” (2 Sam 19:27–28). Mephibosheth’s צדקה at this point is his right to call for the execution of צדקה for himself personally on the basis that צדקה was lacking in his regard (on account of the injustice of Ziba’s slander). Having received mercy previously from the hands of David, Mephibosheth felt that he was in no position to demand צדקה from David this time around.

צדקה as active righteousness occurs in 1 Kgs 3:6. Here Solomon speaks in prayer to God concerning his father, David, who is described by Solomon as being someone who walked before Yahweh “in truth (אמת) and in righteousness (צדקה) and in the uprightness of heart (ישרת לבב).” An upright heart is a morally good heart; and the heart being the integrating center of the human psyche in biblical anthropology, a right heart naturally results in right behavior. Such צדקה is אמת in the sense of being that which accords with the accepted standard of behavior, i.e., behavior that actualizes what a person has obligated oneself to do. For David, his צדקה was his covenant faithfulness to God. As a member of Israel in covenant with God, David’s walking in righteousness consisted of him living in a manner consistent with the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant.

צדקה also occurs on the lips of the Queen of Sheba. The queen on her visit to Israel acknowledged that “Yahweh … made [Solomon] king in order to do justice and righteousness” (1 Kgs 10:9). The meaning of צדקה in this verse is simlar to 2 Sam 8:15 where משפט and צדקה are paired. One of the key functions of the king in Israel was to establish judicial righteousness in his personal legal decisions and throughout the nation as a whole.


John Davies said...

What about Judg. 5:11; 1 Sam. 12:7; 26:23; 2 Sam. 22:21, 25 and 1 Kings 8:32? One or two of these refer to righteousness as an attribute o or the concrete actions of Yahweh, but others would seem to strengthen your case about personal covenantal righteousness.

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, John.

Yes, it should be ten uses of צדקה altogether in the Former Prophets, I think. Not sure how I got only four originally. It did seem a rather low number to me at the time. I'll update the post incorporating the other references. Thanks for pointing them out.

Steven Coxhead said...

Make that twelve instances of צדקה in ten separate verses. Can anyone confirm that?

John Davies said...

Yes that's what I get on an Accordance search. Looks like you may have searched for the exact form tsedaqah rather than the lemma (which includes the construct, suffixed forms, plurals etc.) though on Accordance at least the lemma search is the default.