Reading Psalm 7 one morning recently, I was struck by the fact that both 3 and 7 are from the story of David fleeing from Jerusalem. That strikes me as odd. There is no other story mentioned in any of the other of the first seven Psalms. Why would the Absalom crisis be the starting point in the Psalter?
I don’t know.
But I also noticed that Psalm 7 is important for the significance of the term “the righteousness of God” as found in several places in the Bible, not least in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Psalm 7 ends with thanksgiving:
I will give to YHWH the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the YHWH, the Most High.
So why is thanks due to God’s righteousness? Because he has imputed it to us? No, that is not what the Psalm says. Verses 9 and 11 spells out the good news about God’s righteous character:
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God!…
God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.
As I’ve written many times and taught my whole life, God does give us a righteous status in Christ. In Philippians 3.9, we see this using three words: “righteousness from God.” However, in most cases in the NT, when you read the term “the righteousness of God,” you are dealing with a very different term that is only two words: God’s righteousness.
When we trust God to save or rescue and even to forgive us according to his promises then we are depending on his righteous character. Paul says over and over again in Romans that the Gospel–the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus as promised by the prophets–publicly demonstrates God’s righteousness. While I’ve shown in my post series on how this is found all over the Psalms and Isaiah, as well as in Paul’s and John’s letters, we see a very direct and compact example of this in Psalm 7. God saves us because he is righteous and we thank him for being righteous.
This was why N. T. Wright’s book, What Saint Paul Really Said, was so helpful to me. By pursuing this line of interpretation Romans suddenly made so much more sense.
But of course there are many others besides N. T. Wright. Let me end this post with a quotation from Sinclair Ferguson
Elijah had come to God and said, “Lord, You promised. I believe this is Your word. It must be so. Let it be so in answer to my prayers.” Daniel’s praying was of the same order as his appeal to the “righteousness” of God eloquently testifies (vv. 7, 16). The Old Testament term “righteousness” has a specifically covenantal orientation. The young Martin Luther could not see this when he struggled to understand what Paul meant by “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:17). Of course, Luther was not helped by the fact that his Latin Bible translated Paul’s Greek word dikaiosune (righteousness) as justitia (justice). Luther’s mistake has sometimes been repeated by evangelical Christians. Often righteousness has been thought of merely as the equivalent of the just punishment of God. Preachers therefore may often accompany the use of the phrase “the righteousness of God” with the gesticulation of a clenched fist. It is clear even from this passage, however, that this is to reduce the full biblical meaning of God’s righteousness. Daniel sees the righteousness of God both as the basis for God’s judgment of the people (v. 7) and also as the basis for his own prayer for forgiveness (v. 16). How can this be? In Scripture, “righteousness” basically means “integrity.” Sometimes it is defined as “conformity to a norm.” In the case of God, the norm to which He conforms is His own being and character. He is true to Himself, He always acts in character. God has expressed the norm of His relationship to His people by means of a covenant. He will always be true and faithful to His covenant and the promises enshrined in it. Plainly, God’s righteousness is His faithfulness to His covenant relationship –Sinclair Ferguson, Daniel (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1988).