"He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are judgement: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He." Deuteronomy 32:4
This text is taken from the beginning of a speech that Moses made before the nation of Israel shortly before she crossed the Jordan intothe promised land. Actually this is more than a speech, it is a song; a beautiful word of praise to God in which Moses recounts two histories. There is the sad history of the unfaithfulness of the Israelites to their God, and the history of God's dealings with this stiffnecked people, a treatment of them in which God was always strictly righteous.
Because Israel had so often failed to hear the Word of God, Moses addresses his words to the heavens and the earth. The creation was there; let the whole creation bear witness to the truth of what he says! "Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the shower upon the grass: Because I will publish the name of the Lord; ascribe ye greatness unto our God." And then the faithful servant of God points Israel and us to the everlasting truth that we may never forget. "He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are judgement: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He," From this passage in its historical setting we may learn regarding the wonderful virtue of God's righteousness.
Righteousness is a legal term. Righteousness involves perfect conformity to some standard or law. That is true in respect to man, but that is no less true when we consider the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God means that He conforms perfectly to a certain standard. Both the Hebrew and the Greek terms express the idea of being straight. So we must conceive of a certain standard, a perfectly straight line. That which is conformed to that standard is righteous; that which does not conform at all points is crooked, perverse, unrighteous, and evil.
God is righteous in that He conforms very exactly to an ethical yardstick. To be sure this yardstick is not one of man's devising, as if man could ever call God into account and judge whether God was worthy of being called righteous! Rather, that God conforms to a perfect standard means that He conforms to His own holiness! God is spotlessly holy; God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. He never takes delight in sin, cannot tempt man with sin, can have nothing to do with sin. That's God as far as His own Being is concerned. And now in all God's willing, acting, and speaking, in all His dealings with the sons of men. He is always in perfect conformity with the standard of His own holiness. We could define the righteousness of God, then, as that virtue according to which God, in His willing, working, and speaking, is always in harmony with His holiness, or the ethical perfection of His Being.
In the text quoted above, Moses makes a marvelous statement regarding the righteousness of Jehovah! His point is that in all the dealing of God with Israel in the wilderness, God was always righteous, always in conformity with His beautiful holiness. Notice how the Old Testament mediator heaps up words as he ascribes greatness to God. He is the Rock; not a rock, but the Rock, the One who is firm, stable, unchangeable, the standard and criterion of all things. For this reason, His works are perfect, that is, sound and blameless. Hence, all His ways are judgment; in all His dealings with men, God is always busy comparing men to the standard of His Holy Word and Law. And in all of this, He is a God of truth and without iniquity . . . just and right, or just and straight, is He! What makes this passage so beautiful, in addition to the fact that all these terms are heaped one upon another, is the fact t that Moses declares this so joyfully even though this righteous God has recently declared that Moses would not enter into the land. You know the history of Moses striking the rock in anger, of calling the people of God rebels, of growing tied of his mediator's work. Well, God in His righteousness declared that Moses would see the land, but he would not enter it. Moses pleaded, but God said, "No, and don't ever bring it up again." then Moses bows to that judgment of God, and here even magnifies the God of such consistent, high righteousness.
The Scripture uses the word righteousness in several other senses than we have been discussing. When we read in Matthew 19 that Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, it is clear that the Lord is speaking of a counterfeit, man-made, useless righteousness. Secondly, the Bible, especially in the Psalms, calls certain men righteous, because they are as to the direction and tendency of their lives, not sinless, but in harmony with the law of God nonetheless. The righteous stand out in contrast to, and in opposition to, the wicked (See Psalm 1). Thirdly, the Scriptures also speak of the gospel fact that there is a righteousness provided by God for His children that is an imputed righteousness; it is not earned by works of the law, it is not deserved or a matter of wages, but it is graciously bestowed upon a man because by faith he is joined to Jesus Christ who is the righteousness of God. But in our passage, the righteousness of God Himself is on the forefront. It is even the case that if God were not righteous, He would not be and could not be God. Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid!
God reveals His righteousness by unfailingly rewarding good with good and punishing evil with evil. That God blesses obedience and punishes disobedience is the outstanding lesson of Deuteronomy 32. Had the Israelites believed the report of the two faithful spies, God would have led them into the promised land immediately; because they accepted the lying report of the ten spies in unbelief, God caused them to wander in the wilderness a year for each day the spies were in the land of Canaan (see Psalm 81:11-12). In the last part of Romans 1 the apostle Paul makes clear that God gives the wicked over to uncleanness, to vile affections, and to a reprobate mind as a punishment upon their sin, after they had manifest that knowing God they refused to serve and glorify Him.
It belongs to the Gospel that God also rewards good with good, for "we must all appear before the judgment seat of God to receive according as we have done in the body, whether that be good or bad." If a man, by the sovereign grace of God, believes and repents, calling upon the name of Jesus in the shadow of the cross, God grants the great gift of forgiveness and everlasting life. To be sure, it is God who works the sorrow and repentance, the turning and the obedience. And then the righteous God blesses His own work in man with more and greater blessings! And there is never a departure from that fundamental way of dealing with the sons of men.
Sometimes children of God have questions at this point. this was the case with Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 12:1) and Asaph (see Psalm 73). Do you ever have the same kind of problem? I do. We observe wickedness and violence and rebellion about us in the world. Yet those that practice these things seem to prosper. they seem not to have any difficulties, they have more than their hearts desire, they have the praise of men. But the church and the children of God have hard going; there is suffering, poverty, and persecution. Does God not see? Why does He not strike them down in His wrath? Well, then we need to be instructed from the Word of God, and we need to learn that God is indeed aware of these things and He is judging those wicked every day. With the ease that they experience God is setting them on slippery places that they may hasten on to destruction. it isn't even the case that they get away with something now, but God's justice catches up with them in the Judgment Day. Rather, God judges all men day by day, He rewards good with good and evil with evil day by day; and the Judgment Day is the great day in which all these things become clear, unto the glory of His name!
There is another manifestation of the righteousness of God that the Church must know and loves to know. At the cross of Jesus Christ was displayed fully, terribly, and beautifully the righteousness of God! There He Who knew no sin was made sin for us. In order to satisfy His justice and to maintain Hisrighteousness in the salvation of all the elect, God dealt with Christ as if He had committed our sins. And then, since Christ went all the way to death and hell in submission to His Father's will, God accounts to the elect the perfect obedience of Christ. God did not set aside His righteousness in the salvation of the Church, but He caused His saving love to reach us in the way of justice, satisfaction, and payment! Psalm 85:10 expresses this so beautifully: "Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other." Hence, we must conclude that God's dealings with the wicked world and with the redeemed Church are always characterized by justice and righteousness.
What is the believers response to this great truth of the righteousness of God? the first response of faith is to be filled with fear, reverence, and awe! Paul said, "Knowing therefore the terror of God, we persuade men." Jesus instructs us to "Fear Him, which after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him." the response of faith is to love the law of God and to meditate upon it by day and night. The response of faith is to hate sin as God hates sin; to condemn it, flee from it, and avoid the very appearance of it. The believer fears God and keeps His commandments!
In the second place, the response of the believer is a deep thankfulness that the righteous judgment of God does not cause him to go down into death, but secures for him a place in the everlasting tabernacle of God. "God hath made Christ to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made righteousness of God in Him." thus we spend our days in living a holy, thankful life to the praise of our Redeemer God. And we know that it will take eternity adequately to thank God for His unspeakable Gift and His unspeakable goodness.