Returning to yesterday’s definition of sedaqa (righteousness), let’s take a closer look at how the Hebrew meaning of righteousness differs from common usage in English. Recall that sedaqa means something is fully what it should be and therefore other things can be measured against it.
This definition corresponds interestingly with an image often associated with justice – that of Lady Justice, a woman holding a double-edged sword and a balancing scale. The scale she holds corresponds to ancient trade practices, when merchants used weights to measure the value of items for purchase.
A weight that aligned with a universal standard was placed on one side of a scale while the item to be purchased was placed on the other side of the scale to determine its value. The scale could also measure the worth of precious metals used for purchasing goods.
A dishonest merchant could tip the scales in his favor by using a weight that was other than what it should be. Such corrupt practices would be unrighteous not only in the moral sense we tend to think of in English, but also in the Hebrew sense of not aligning with the standard.
Scripture is clear that God hates such unjust practices. Deuteronomy 25:13-16 declares, “You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a heavy and a light. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that your days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the LORD your God.”1
In a completely different context, sedaqa appears in a song celebrating military victories: “They recite the righteous acts of the Lord, the righteous acts of his warriors in Israel” (Judges 5:11). In this case, righteousness refers to the Lord setting things right with Israel by overthrowing the Canaanite ruler who “had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years” (Judges 4:3).
By means of the military triumphs recorded in this song, God restores Israel to its originally intended state – one of freedom and full expression of right relationship with Him.2 He also aligns Himself with those who are in the right (the “righteous,” in Hebrew terminology) as opposed to those who oppress.3 Such is the nature of being righteous and just.
1. See also Leviticus 19:35-36, Proverbs 11:1, and Micah 6:11-12.
2. Christopher J.H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 264 & 270.