Why should we dare ask God to judge us in righteousness? Because, as Isaiah 45.21-25 states rather starkly, God’s righteousness is not something which prevents us from being saved, but something that gives us our only hope of salvation.
There is no other God besides Me,
A righteous God and a savior;
There is none except Me.
Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth;
For I am God and there is no other
I have sworn by Myself
The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
They will say of Me, “Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.”
Here in our passage, all the nations are called to abandon their many gods and many lords because these gods and lords cannot save.
Why not? Why can’t they save their worshipers?
Well, for one thing, they simply aren’t strong enough to save their people. Since these gods are, at most, mere creatures who are being given false honors, as Romans 1.23 tells us, they are not powerful enough to rescue their people. They are not capable of delivering anyone. Only in the LORD is strength: so He alone can save all the ends of the earth.
But there is another reason why these false gods cannot save. They not only lack the strength; they lack the moral character. Even if they had the power to save their worshipers, they wouldn’t do it, no matter what promises they made. They are not trustworthy. They are not faithful. They are not righteous. Only in the LORD is righteous; so He alone can be trusted to save all the ends of the earth.
Now I need to dissuade anyone from making a mistake here in considering the righteousness of God mentioned in Isaiah 45.24. Because we all know the great truth that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, we might be tempted to assume that God’s righteousness here is mentioned in the context of salvation because it is the righteousness that is imputed to us.
Whatever else might be said for that idea elsewhere, this particular passage will not support that interpretation. Think about it: “Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.” Is strength imputed to us? No. The point of mentioning the LORD’s strength is that He is powerful enough to save His people. The issue in this passage is not what is imputed to God’s people, but God’s qualities which entail that He is trustworthy as a savior. God is a savior because he is strong–capable of saving His people. God is a savior because he is righteous–willing to save hie people.
God’s righteousness assures us that He is our savior. His righteousness does not jeopardize our salvation, but guarantees it. He does not save us depite His righteousness but because of His righteousness.
Again, we see this also in the Psalms. Remember the nature of Hebrew poetry as is found both in the Psalms and the prophecies of Isaiah. Hebrew poetry translates well because it does not depend on rhyming but on stating a thought and then usually presenting a closely related thought which elaborates and/or reiterates the same thing.
O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know Thee;
And Your righteousness to the upright in heart.
The lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children.
Now, notice how these passages show God’s righteousness and His lovingkindness, not to be contradictory, but mutually complementary. God’s grace and His righteousness are different aspects of the same thing. In being gracious to His people, in showing “lovingkindness” to them, God is being righteous in regard to them.
In fact, because God’s righteousness manifests itself in acts of salvation, they are almost treated as synonymous.
Your lovingkindness, O LORD extends to the heavens
Your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
Your judgments are a great deep.
O LORD, You preserve man and beast….
See, according to Psalm 36, to talk of God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, or righteousness, entails talk of His judgments in history which manifest his character as gracious, faithful and righteous.
Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave,
Your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness?
And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
Again we have the same theme. To talk of God’s lovingkindness, or faithfulness, or righteousness is to speak of the “wonders” that He has performed for His people.
This is all tied together in Psalm 98.1-3:
O sing to the LORD a new song,
For He has done wonderful things,
His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him.
The LORD has made known His salvation;
He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations
He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, and righteousness are manifested through His saving deeds. Verse 2 explicitly tells us that in making “known His salvation” God has “revealed his righteousness.” Salvation does not happen despite God’s righteousness. On the contrary, Salvation is a revelation of God’s righteous character.
And Isaiah in the context surrounding our passage this morning has exactly the same concern for salvation and the revealing of God’s righteousness as we find in these Psalms:
Drip down, O heavens, from above,
And let the clouds pour down righteousness;
Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit,
And righteousness spring up with it.
I the LORD have created it.
Righteousness and salvation are virtually synonyms in this passage.
Listen to Me, you stubborn-minded,
Who are far from righteousness.
I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off;
And My salvation will not delay.
And I will grant salvation in Zion,
My glory for Israel.
Saving Israel, giving Israel glory, is a manifestation of God’s righteousness. So if God’s salvation is near then God’s righteousness is near–in other words, it is about to be revealed.
But My salvation shall be forever,
And My righteousness shall not wane.Isaiah 51.8b
But My righteousness shall be forever,
And My salvation to all generations.
Thus says the LORD,
Preserve justice, and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
I could quote more, but I think I’ve said enough to make the general point: God’s righteousness is the reason for our salvation. We will be confident that God is the savior of the world, not despite our assurance that He is righteous, but because or our certainty that God is righteous. We are being saved because of God’s righteousness, not despite God’s righteous.