Jehovah Tsidkenu – The Lord Our Righteousness

As a young convert I recall singing hymns with words and phrases that I did not understand. The hymn ‘I was once was a stranger to grace and to God’, written by Robert Murray McCheyne, is now a favourite of mine but one of the lines in this hymn left me somewhat perplexed. As I sung ‘Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.’ I thought ‘it certainly means nothing to me’, because I was ignorant of what the phrase actually meant.

Jehovah Tsidkenu – The Lord Our Righteousness

The words ‘Jehovah Tsidkenu’ cannot be found in any commonly used Bible as they are a transliteration of a Hebrew phrase that is translated as ‘THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ (Jeremiah 23:6 and 33:16) in our English language bibles. Since discovering and appreciating what this phrase means I can now sincerely sing to God’s praise some of the other lines in the hymn:

Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.

Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.

Jehovah Tsidkenu! my treasure and boast,

Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne’er can be lost;

Jehovah Tsidkenu, my death song shall be.

What is the background to this phrase?

The southern kingdom of Judah was in decline and moving to its deportation when the prophet Jeremiah spoke the words ‘The days are coming’ when the Lord will raise up for David a ‘righteous branch’. He will reign as king; ruling wisely, accomplishing justice and righteousness in the land. In the days of this king Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely. They will know this king as ‘The Lord is our righteousness’ (Jeremiah 23:6 ESV). Amidst the despair and darkness there was a promise of hope and light for the nation

The prophecy of Jeremiah is in accord with God’s promise to David that he would establish his throne forever (2nd Samuel 7:16-17). The coming king, from David’s line, would be ‘a righteous branch’. Righteousness will be the chief characteristic of this coming kingdom but this would not come from the citizens themselves. This king is the source of the required righteousness and is Jehovah the Lord God. When we think of the identity of this King there is only one person who it could be; a man from the line of David who is also God. It is the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1, John 1:1, 1:14). The people of Judah will rejoice in a future day because they will be seen as righteous due to the Lord’s provision.

What’s so important about righteousness?

Righteousness is an attribute of God. What He always does is right, just, proper, and consistent with all His other attributes. When we say that God is righteous, we mean that there is no wrong, dishonesty, or unfairness in Him. He is the perfectly righteous one and his righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, ‘Your righteousness is righteous forever’ (Psalm 119:142).

There is a sharp contrast between God and man. David, a man after God’s own heart, stated ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’ (Psalm 51:5). Job had a marvellous testimony from God "… there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" (Job 1:8) but Job had to confess ‘How then can man be in the right before God? How can he who is born of woman be pure?’ (Job 25:4).

When God says that he will by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7) that does sound like good news until we realise that, like David and Job, we are guilty. The consequence of not being perfectly and perpetually righteous is that we must be judged by God and the sentence is an eternal death. This fate applies for all people at all times unless we can obtain a righteous standing before a just and holy God.

How can anyone have ‘The Lord our righteousness’?

The Bible is very clear in stating that no man is able to make himself righteous in God’s sight, ‘None is righteous, no, not one’ (Romans 3:10). Therefore, we need righteousness from another source, in other words ‘we need an alien righteousness’.

Even in Old Testament times some people rightly understood that only Jehovah could supply the required righteousness.  Isaiah wrote of this ‘I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,’ (Isaiah 61:10). He also wrote of how the perfect servant of God would make many people to be accounted righteous ‘Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities’ (Isaiah 53:11). This servant would bear the punishment for the iniquities of others and through the knowledge of him many would be accounted as righteous.

When we come to the New Testament this truth is more clearly revealed and the good news is that anyone can have a righteous standing before God.  Paul writes ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."’ (Romans 1:16-17).

The meaning of the phrase ‘righteousness of God’ is perhaps better understood if we think of it as a ‘righteousness from God’.  The gospel reveals that on the basis of faith alone God will impute righteousness to ungodly sinners. One of the most profound and succinct verses that declare this truth is ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2nd Corinthians 5:21).

The Lord Jesus Christ was dealt with as if he had sinned so that anyone who repents of their sin and trust in Him alone will be dealt with as if they were righteous.

No wonder then that the writer of ‘I once was a stranger to grace and to God’ could write, once he had trusted in the Lord Jesus, ‘Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be. Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me’. Every believer, who has some understanding of the phrase ‘Jehovah Tsidkenu’ can rejoice in the truth that the Lord Jesus, due to his work on the cross, is the provider and source of their righteousness.

Are you trusting in the Lord Jesus as your saviour, knowing and rejoicing in ‘The Lord is my righteousness’?