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Haftarah Beha'alotekha - Adonai Tzidkenu

Adonai Tzidkenu

Further thoughts on Haftarah Beha'alotekha

by John J. Parsons

[ The following article concerns the Haftarah reading from parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Haftarah portion to "find your place" here. ]

The Hebrew name Adonai Tzidkenu (יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ), "the LORD our Righteousness," appears in Jeremiah's great prophecy of the "righteous branch" (tzemach tzaddik, צֶמַח צַדִּיק), the awesome Davidic King who was promised to appear (Jer. 23:5-6). This "Righteous Branch" is also mentioned in Book of Zechariah as the one who would ultimately unite the authority of the priesthood with the Kingship of God on behalf of Israel's redemption. In what follows, I want to explore the connection between the "Righteous Branch" and the Divine Name, Adonai Tzidkenu, the LORD our Righteousness...


The word tzidkenu comes from the word tzedek (צדק), a word that means "justice" and implies fidelity to moral truth (i.e., "righteousness"). To say YHVH is righteous means that He is morally perfect and indeed the very Author of moral truth (Deut. 32:4, 2 Chron. 12:6; Psalm 11:7; Jer. 12:1; Lam. 1:18). God adheres perfectly to all moral truth in the universe, since He alone is its Source. The LORD cannot lie (Num. 23:19) anymore than He can create a "square circle" or make 2+2=5. And since He is the Creator and Source of all truth, He is the one who defines the way human beings are bound to relate to Him and to one another. Unlike physical objects that merely function according to natural law and design, God has given human beings the ability to make decisions that either adhere or deviate from moral truth. This is embedded in our use of everyday language and thinking. We regularly distinguish between what is the case and what ought to be.

Since human beings are created b'tzelem Elohim – in the image of God – we are endowed with an intuitive duty to promote justice and righteousness. Indeed, the inner voice of conscience provides evidence for a "categorical imperative" to always do what we (intuitively) know is right. As Immanuel Kant put it, "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law," or as Rabbi Hillel put it, "What is hateful to yourself, do to no other," or as our Lord Yeshua said, "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12).

Since God is the Lawgiver, His moral law (revealed both in human conscience and more fully in the Torah) is the ultimate standard of human beings created in His image and likeness (Psalm 7:11, 19:7, 58:11). Moreover, since it is a Divine necessity for God to adhere to truth (Num. 23:19, Heb. 6:18), the all-seeing eye of God must judge sin (i.e., deviations from moral truth), and therefore He is rightly called the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4; Psalm 9:8, 96:10; 98:9; 119:137). God "hates sin and loves righteousness" (Psalm 45:7), and righteousness and justice are said to be the very foundation of His throne: צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט מְכוֹן כִּסְאֶךָ חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת יְקַדְּמוּ פָנֶיך / "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you" (Psalm 89:14[15h]).

Imputed Righteousness

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Law of the LORD (i.e., torat Adonai: תּוֹרַת יְהוָה) refers to the revelation of God's will for human beings to live rightly before Him in light of His reality and holiness: תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ / "The Torah of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul" (Psalm 19:7).

By functioning as a "looking glass" of our inward condition, the Law of the Lord reveals both the divine standard of life required of the tzaddik (righteous person) and the truth of our own need for deliverance from ourselves. Nonetheless, in order to be justified before the Lord, the law as law demands that we live as morally perfect agents, regardless of our heredity, infirmities, social status, education, and so on.  "Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy: for I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 20:7). As Yeshua Himself said in Matthew 5:48: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." And as James said: "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10).

The moral law of God is the abiding truth of God's requirements for the human soul to be blameless before Him. If we do not realize this, it is because we are asleep or morally deadened; however, the moment we awaken and become alive, life itself becomes tragic. As the Apostle Paul said, "I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Rom. 7:9). This is the conviction of our sinful condition, and it is itself a gift from heaven, for without it we would never attend to the need of our hearts for an abiding hope that can overcome the verdict of alienation and death that hangs over us all... We would never pursue teshuvah (returning to the LORD).

Since God cannot lie, He must judge sin, and therefore we all stand in need of His forgiveness. Our efforts to affect self-righteousness are considered as "filthy rags" before the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 64:6). We all stand before the Judge of the Universe as guilty sinners in the need of reconciliation and forgiveness. We are in need of deliverance so that we can make peace with the Source of moral truth. The idea that YHVH is "our righteousness" implies His salvation (i.e., yeshuah: יְשׁוּעָה) from our sinful condition, since He vindicates those whom He loves (Isa. 46:13). Indeed, the idea of the LORD as Redeemer (Go'el) includes the idea of vindication through ransom. To say, then, that YHVH is our righteousness (Adonai Tzidkenu) suggests an imputed righteousness given to those who put their trust in Him. Because this vindication against the guilt of sin is God's own work and doing, He receives all the glory and praise.

The first occurrence of the word "righteousness" in the Scriptures (i.e., צדקה) concerns Abraham and the issue of trust: וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה / "And he trusted in the LORD, He counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). It was Abraham's trust (i.e., emunah: אמוּנה) in the promise of God (that he would be heir of the world) that resulted in the Divine verdict (חשׁבּוֹן) that he was righteous. The Apostle Paul later analogized this event to expound the doctrine of "justification by faith," that is, that a person who trusts in the Divine merit of Yeshua as God's agent of reconcilation is (legally, forensically) declared righteous before God (Gal. 3:6, Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 4:1-4, etc).

Although Jewish tradition considers him to be the patriarch Shem (who survived the Flood), Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) is a picture of Adonai Tzidkenu. He is called the "King of Righteousness and priest of the Most High God" (Gen. 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:6). The Midrash Lamentations says, "The proper name of Messiah is Adonai Tzidkenu - the Lord our righteousness." Note that the very first occurence of the word "priest" in the Scriptures occurs in reference to the King/Priest Malki-Tzedek – a picture of the coming Tzemach Tzedakah, Yeshua the Anointed One.

The New Testament calls Yeshua Adonai Tzidkenu and declares Him the only True Tzaddik (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Pet. 1:2) since He alone truly fulfilled the Torah of Moses and gave Himself as a sacrificial offering upon the cross to save the world from the judgement of God (2 Cor. 5:21; John 3:36). Those who trust in Him are also justified as tzaddikim, since "the tzaddik shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11). Ultimately, Adonai Tzadkenu is Yeshua the Mashiach and refers to the merit of His saving work imparted to us through faith.

A person who routinely practices righteousness is called a tzaddik (צדיק), a "righteous man" (a tzedeket is a righteous woman). In Jewish tradition, tzedakah is "doing the right thing" by promoting justice and fairness in life (it also means helping the needy, as in giving charity). The Scriptures command: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: "justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20), and therefore helping others who are oppressed or in need is a divine imperative.

Tzedakah is declared lifegiving: "in the path of tzedakah there is life" (Prov. 12:28). Giving is a way of life for those who live according to the truth. Followers of Yeshua are called tzaddikim (Matt. 5:16; 1 John 2:29, 3:7,10) because they are justified (legally declared "not guilty") by the grace and salvation of the LORD, and because they demonstrate their love by giving to others (John 13:35, 1 John 5:2).

In short, Adonai Tzidkenu (יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ) is the name for Yeshua, who "saves His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). The righteousness of Yeshua is the gospel message itself, that is, the power of God to save us from the verdict of our sinful condition and to restore our relationship with a holy and morally perfect God. God will not clear the guilty, but He does something infinitely better: He removes the guilt! The curse of the Law's verdict upon us has been taken away through the substitionary sacrifice of Yeshua upon the cross at Moriah (Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21). God puts our sin upon Yeshua and gives us His righteousness in exchange. By sincerely turning to Him in confession of our condition and trusting in His righteousness we are declared legally "justified" (i.e., "just-if-I'd" never sinned) before the Judge of the World.  Moreover, through our union with Yeshua, we share in the vindiction of His resurrected life and have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). To be justified is to share in Yeshua's righteousness: Adonai Tzidkenu!

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