The book of Job begins by telling us who Job was. He was described as a man of “righteousness” — he was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (1:1, NIV). Even prophet Ezekiel described Job as a wise and godly man (Ezekiel 14:14, 20).
The concept of righteousness in the book of Job is introduced in the prologue (1:1-2:13) and once again in the epilogue — the final chapter of the book (42:7-17). In the prologue, Job was ‘blameless and upright’ who loved the Lord and feared the Lord.
In the epilogue, when God had spoken to him, he humbled himself before God and worshipped Him, confessing that he had sinned against God. And in the chapters in between, Job demonstrated faith in God despite not understanding why he was inflicted with such sufferings.
Job lived in the land of Uz. He was not an Israelite and therefore, his faith in God was purely based on his human faith, and not bounded by God’s covenantal relationship with the Israelites. God was so confident in Job’s righteous character that He boasted to the Accuser that there was no one as righteous as he (Job 1:8). The Accuser challenged God that perhaps his righteousness was because God had been blessing him. If family and wealth were removed from him, would Job still remain righteous? (Job 1:9-11). “Is Job righteous because he is blessed or is he blessed because he is righteous?” the Accuser asked. To prove that He was right, God allowed Job to be tested, including taking away from him all the things that the Accuser thought characterised his righteousness: his wealth, his family and his health.
Righteousness in the Old Testament
Righteousness is being in a right relationship with God
In the Old Testament, righteousness has a relational concept. God was the One who initiate this love relationship with mankind when He created Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:4-3:24). When they disobeyed God, God provided a way: He said an offspring from the woman would crush the head of the evil one (Genesis 3:15), that was, referring to Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, we have a clearer picture of God establishing a relationship with us through the salvation offered by His Son, Jesus Christ.
A righteous man is in a right relationship with God. A righteous person would know what are the things that displeased God and avoid doing them, for example, the righteous person would love holiness, help those in need and hate corruption, abuse and injustice.
Righteousness are actions that pleases God
Both the Old and New Testaments describe a righteous person as one who trusts in God (Psalm 31:17-19; 33:18; Micah 7:7-9), humbles himself in the presence of God and His judgement (Psalm 143:1,2), repents of his sins and asks God for forgiveness as well as expecting deliverance (Psalm 32; 103:10-13; 118:18-21). A righteous person acts in accordance to what he says.
Some Old Testament passages which connect righteous behaviour with actions:
- Deuteronomy 6:25, “and if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”
- Ezekiel 3:20 connects a righteous person with righteous actions.
- Isaiah 64:5 says that the righteous are those who “gladly do right”.
- Habakkuk says that “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Habakkuk 2:4).
In short, righteousness is actions that pleases God and living by faith (Romans 1:17).
Righteousness as communal
In the prophetic and psalmic literature, righteousness and justice are often paired together. It is a communal thing. It involves the community. Righteousness involves ethical relations between an individual and the community (e.g. Isaiah 1:21). The righteous person shows loyalty to the community.
Job was the greatest man among all the people of the East (Job 1:3b). Yet, he kept himself morally pure. He kept himself pure from the effects of power, wealth and fame. Job lived with a clean conscience before God and before others in his community. He blessed others with loving deeds and is blessed in return with the respect and honour in the community from the young to the old.
A righteous person does not mean he is without sins. Rather, righteousness means that a person’s heart is honest and his intentions are pure. Job, although he was a righteous man, admitted to sinning (Job 6:24; 10:14, 7:20,21; 14:4; 14:16,17; 21:16). He knew it would be impossible not to sin before God (Job 14:4) but he was righteous because he confessed his sins and repented before the Lord.
2. Righteousness in the family
Job functioned as a priest for his family which was a typical role in the patriarchal days. Not only did he embody righteousness, his whole household too, were moving in the same direction towards righteousness. Job had rituals to purify his 10 children, lest they had inadvertently sinned and cursed God in their hearts (Job 1:5).
He was righteous not only in the society, but also in his family as well. We can be busy with the things in the community and in the workplace but let us not forget to teach our children and lead them to the path of righteousness.
3. A heart of Thankfulness
With the abundance of wealth and all that he had, and then they were suddenly gone, Job still acknowledged that these blessings came from God. They were God’s goodness and grace in his life. Job said of God, “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit” (Job 10:12). This is something remarkable for someone to say in the midst of utmost suffering and pain.
Despite having his abundance, Job lived righteously in the society and the community commended him for his righteous living.
“11 When the ear heard, it commended me, and when the eye saw, it approved; 12 because I delivered the poor who cried, and the orphan who had no helper. 13 The blessing of the wretched came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. 14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. 15 I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. 16 I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger” (Job 29:11-16, NRSV)
In his wealth, he remained humble. He had compassion for the weak in the society and extended his helping hand to them.
Job lived in a right way with other people and it was not because he was required to follow certain laws or keep certain commandments in the Torah. He lived in a patriarchal age, which was a long time before Moses receiving the 10 Commandments from God at Mount Sinai. Job must not have been taught the Torah.
Righteousness and justice were so important to Job that he clothed himself with them. Job’s righteous can be seen in his behaviour towards those who were oppressed in the society. He fought against social injustice. He came to the help of the poor who were crying for help, extended his hand to the orphans, blessed the widows, cared for those in need and defended the weak. Job did not close his eyes to the needy or shut his heart to the cries of the oppressed. Rather, he reaches out to the underprivileged and strived to improve the quality of their lives and livelihood. He defended the weak. He despised and wrestled with unrighteousness, He said of himself, “I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop their prey from their teeth.” (Job 29:17, NRSV).
Job was a respectable man. He kept his eyes pure, and made a covenant with his eyes not to lust after a young woman (31:1). He was faithful in marriage and guarded his heart so that he would not be enticed by another woman (31:9). He knew God was watching his every step so he was careful not to do wrong (31:2-4).
His heart too, was pure towards God. He did not practice falsehood or deceit (31:5), nor did he commit crimes or corruption or practise bribery (31:7).
His hands too, were pure towards God. He treated his servants well, knowing that they were created by the same Creator (31:13, 15). Job shared his food with the poor (31:16-17), helped the needy (31:18) and clothed the poor (31:19).
He put his trust in God, and not in his wealth, knowing that his wealth was from God, not just from his work (Job 31:24). He did not worship other idols but his heart was set on God (31:26-28). He walked in humility by not allowing himself to rejoice over his enemy’s misfortune or let his mouth sin (31:29-30).
God noticed how rare this righteous person was and said to the Accuser, “There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” (Job 1:8).
Job showed us the example of living a life of righteousness during times of prosperity. Let us not forget God when we are enjoying good times.