Isaiah 56 – The ‘Righteousness And Justice Are Like God’s Right And Left Arms’ Speech

Isaiah 56 Bible with Theo Orange 70 Percent Dark Chocolate and McDonald's hash brown

Today’s ChocolateTheo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageIsaiah 56

As I write this on a paper towel because I forgot to pack a notebook, it’s 9:40 AM. I’m in the Chicago O’Hare Airport, en route to visit my uncle’s family in Georgia, eating breakfast and checking out Isaiah 56 in the few hours until my connecting flight. Later, I’ll type this up and post it. Until then, I’m kinda missing that backspace key, but I’d sooner gnaw off my fingers than thumb-type a blog post on my phone.

But I’m not above looking up Hebrew words in Strong’s Concordance on my phone, not by a long shot. Right out the gate, I noticed two key words in the first two lines: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness‘” (56:1). I know the Greek word δίκη is interchangeably translated “justice” or “righteousness,” but the Hebrew words rendered here as “justice” and “righteousness” are two different words. And I wonder: what’s the difference between righteousness and justice?

Make no mistake, righteousness and justice go hand in hand, and the difference between them is largely eclipsed by their commonalities. As Li’l Spicy once said, “Righteousness and justice are like God’s right and left arms.” But the two Hebrew terms can teach us more about their English translations–and the ideas behind the words we use when talking about how the world should be. “Justice” here is mishpata judicial standard or ruling. “Righteousness” is tsedaqah: honesty, rightness, or moral behavior. Speaking through Isaiah, God is urging his people to maintain fairness and integrity in the courtroom and to pursue goodness in their everyday lives.

For all their subtle differences, justice and righteousness have a common foundation: salvation. Why should the people do what is right? Because salvation is coming. “For My salvation is about to come” (56:1), the Lord tells Israel. It’s not that the people should try to earn salvation with their righteousness; God doesn’t save us because we do what is just. Rather, we should do what is just because God saves us. God’s salvation is coming: that’s a given. And the knowledge that God will show his people favor by saving them should motivate them to do what’s pleasing to him–the essence of righteousness and justice.

If you read on past the first verse, you may recognize this passage from our study of the Sabbath. In this chapter, God invites foreigners and eunuchs to join the children of Israel in observing the Sabbath and keeping his covenants. It’s the Christmas season, so let’s take it easy and camp out in Isaiah 56 another day. The holidays can be hectic, but we’re not in any hurry to meet verse-per-day quotas or some such junk. Christmas things permitting, I’ll see you tomorrow or Monday with more chocolate, more Isaiah 56, and yes, more Strong’s Concordance.

 

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