Keep Justice and Do Righteousness, Its Just What We Do

“Keep Justice and do righteousness…” (Isaiah 56:1 NKJV)

     What does it mean to covenant with God?  Before we answer that, maybe we should define what we mean by covenant.  A covenant is an agreement that is reached upon by two parties.  Both are in agreement and both enter into the contract of their own free will.  They choose the covenant.  There is no coercion or manipulation in the covenant.  In Scripture, we use the terms “Old” to describe the “Testament, or Covenant” that existed prior to the advent of Christ.  We also use the term “New” to describe the “Covenant” that is inaugurated at the Last Passover meal of Messiah.  Both are covenants that God has made with His People.

     Who are the covenant people of God?  This also is not an easy answer and it is not really the purpose of this article.  However, one consideration will be taken into account.  That being, the person who is in a covenantal relationship with God is one who has had an internal change of “heart” or character or awakening and this has caused them to order their lives where God is the top priority.    The people of God make covenant with Him after this spiritual change has taken place.  This is “just what we do.”  What happens next is the “living out” of that covenant.  It is the “doing” of the covenant that becomes the lifestyle. Having established this, we will state the thesis of this article.   God and His People have an objective standard in the covenant relationship, and that standard is “mishphat” and “tzaddik”.  These are to be guarded, kept sacred, and considered precious, holy, and something that is to be watched over with great care.  It is what we do. It is how we live our lives.  Everything that we do, from the most menial task to the most paramount of activities, we do all of these with mishphat and tzaddik.  This is the covenantal standard of how we conduct business.  Let me explain what these are as we break down the verse that is quoted above.

      The first word in this passage is the Hebrew word, “rmv” pronounced “shamar”.  It carries the basic meaning of “to exercise great care over.”  It is generally translated as “to guard or to keep.”  The gist of it is to consider something as being precious, sacred, and something that has value that needs to be watched out for and considered/protected.  This is the essence of this word.  OK, so what is it we are supposed to watch over and consider sacred, holy, and the normal standard of operation.  It is the Hebrew word, “mishphat.” And later on in the chapter, it is the Sabbath.

         The Hebrew word for judgment is the word “tpvm” which is pronounced, “mishphat.”  Judgment doesn’t quite effectively convey the essence of this Hebrew word.  An example of what it means may readily explain what it means.  Solomon, when he prays for wisdom, asks God to give him wisdom so that he can “misphat” the children of Israel.  Mishphat means to establish an order.  The establishment of the correct understanding of order or government is mishphat.  The essence is the establishment of an order where justice is the normal function of the established system.  This word has also been translated as manner or custom meaning that the system that is established yields a social more or law that all are expected to order their lives according too.  This is what Solomon asked God for and this is what was granted to him.  It became what he “did.”   The Greek word that is used in the Septuagint and the New Testament is “krinos” pronounced “krinos.”  Krinos carries a very similar meaning but also carries the idea of separation.  This implies that “mishphat” will separate the people of covenant from all other peoples.  Mishphat is just what we do.  In Mishphat, there is no favoritism and all deserve to be treated equally.  There is no bias regardless of talents, looks, or personal attributes.  Holiness is the standard.  Law is not mishphat but the “doing” of the pentatutacheal ordinances by God’s people is considered mishphat.  Mishphat is how we relate to God, who holds the ultimate seat of government” and how we are to respond to Him, as His covenantal people.  God says “do” and in our “doing” we are guarding and keeping Mishphat. The application here of the commandments/torah of God is self-evident.  It is just what we do as will be evident in the next word.

      The next Hebrew word that is translated “to do” is the Hebrew word, “hve” pronounced “asah.”  The basic sense of the word is just “do.”  It does carry with it a sense of ethical obligation.  In other words, as a covenant people, this is “just what we do.”  Covenant people are frequently commanded “to do” certain things in scripture.  This is not because God is some power hungry ogre whose desire is to dictate the terms of our lives without care for us.  He commands us “to do” because the things that He says to “do” are just what “we do” as a covenantal and holy people.   The “doing” is simply the observable demonstrable act that we are the covenantal people of God.  For example, keeping the Sabbath.  God tells us plainly in scripture, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak also to the children of Israel saying; Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD. Who sanctifies you.  You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you…Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”(Exodus 31:12-17)  On a side note, for those of you who say, “Well, that just applied to the Jews of old and I’m not a Jew so it doesn’t apply to me.” Or “that was the Old Covenant and now in the New, we can keep whatever day we want to keep as holy.”  My response is twofold.  First, the position that God would move from a position of order (a specific day-the Sabbath) to a position of lawlessness and subjectivity ( I can keep whatever day “I” think is best) doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the standard presented in the whole of scripture. (see my article entitled the Manifestation of Messiah Necessitates Law)  Secondly, it is also written in the New Testament that Sabbath observance is for the Christian.  The purpose of it is to proclaim to the world that we are the people of grace and faith.   We have entered into salvation by grace and faith and not by works; hence, we rest on the Sabbath day from our works just as God rested from His works and kept the Sabbath day holy. (Hebrews 4:9) If He keeps it holy, then, we, as His covenant people, should keep it holy also.  It is just what we “do.”  We guard, keep sacred, and value the Sabbath.  For more information on this see my article entitled, “The Sabbath and the People of God.”  The fact that we value the Shabbat is the demonstrable act that confirms our guarding of Mishphat. 

     The Hebrew word for righteousness here is the word, “qdoooox” transliterated as “tzaddik.”  It is also a wonderful Hebrew word.  Its meaning is also somewhat complex.  In essence, it refers to an ethical and moral standard or conduct in life.  That standard springs forth from God who is ultimately the standard of righteousness.  It is also significant that man requires relationship with God to be an outlet of His character.  Hence, because covenant people are internally changed and motivated out of a love for God in the affairs of their lives, “tzaddik” is oftentimes, “just what we do.”  Modern Hebrew still uses this definition and a person who does consistent good and lives a holy life, is called a “tzaddik.”  The outworking of righteous living that stems from a right standing with God is tzaddik.  It is the natural bi-product of what happens when we are rightly related to God.

     Speaking of “what we just do” and the Sabbath, The Lord makes some statements about these things.  In the passage quoted above, “Keep justice and do righteousness” it would be appropriate here to quote the bulk of the passage.  Here it is:  “Thus says the LORD: Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.  Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”  (Isaiah 56:1-2)  In this passage God is making some statements about what Mishphat and Tzaddik look like and what happens to the individual who “gaurds and values” them.  First, the word that we discussed previously, “shamar” is the same Hebrew word that the LORD uses here regarding the Sabbath.  No small coincidence as it is the sign of the covenant, as we have previously discussed.  God equates mishphat and tzaddik with “guarding, valuing, protecting, and regarding as precious, the Sabbath.”  For the covenant people it should be just a knee jerk reactions like “keeping his hand from doing evil.”  It even goes so far later in the chapter as to welcome “sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him.”  Again, the heart that has been changed to honor the LORD and serve Him, becomes a covenantal person.  The verse states, “Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast to my covenant, even them I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My House of prayer.” (56:6-7) Again, the demonstrable act that confirms the covenant is that of Sabbath honoring.  “It is just what we do.”

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