Righteous are You, O Yahweh, and right are Your rules.
You have appointed Your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget Your words.
Your promise is well tried, and Your servant loves it.
I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts.
Your righteousness is righteous forever, and Your law is true.
Trouble and anguish have found me out, but Your commandments are my delight.
Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.
“Righteous” is a word we throw around a lot with a loss of understanding of what this word means. Simply put, to be righteous is to be right, or to be in the right. Think of the stereotypical surfer in California who says with his stoner accent, “Righteous, dude!” Everything—the waves, the wind—was just right. Everything was perfect.
That is what it means to be righteous—to always be right, or in the right, that is, to be perfect at all times. Who is this other than God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—our God who is Three in One? “Well, how do I know He’s right all the time,” you might challenge. Well, how do you know you’re right? You don’t; your subjectivity cannot know for certain whether or not you’re right unless you have something outside yourself (something objective) to confirm you are. Even the unbeliever relies on something objective, such as science, to know whether or not he’s right. (Even then, science is far from perfect.)
For example, how do I know I’m right in that the speed limit is 55 mph instead of 70 mph? Because I just passed a sign that tells me. How do I know when I drop something, it’ll fall to the ground? Because the law of gravity tells me (plus experience). Thus, how do you know God is right all the time? Because He is totally outside of you—of all things—and has created all things. Therefore, He must always be right(eous).
Because God is always righteous, His Law is always right (v. 137). He appoints all things according to His righteousness—His rightness (v. 138). Nothing He says or does can ever be wrong, then, even when we think He’s wrong. “How can God destroy that entire nation,” we might ask. Who are you, O worm? God is righteous in all He does. (Not to mention the fact that the nations God destroys are historically evil nations. We demand God destroy all evil, then when He does destroy evil we complain about it. Only evil people would complain when God destroys evil.)
“My zeal consumes me,” the psalmist says. This is an odd statement to follow his claims of God’s utter righteousness. What does this psalmist’s zeal have to do with God’s righteousness? From the rest of the psalm, we can conclude this to mean his zeal for God’s Word or Law. His enemies forget God’s words (v. 139), he loves God’s promise (v. 140), and he does not forget God’s precepts (v. 141). Here also, we see Psalm 1:2, “but his delight is in the law of Yahweh, and on His law he meditates day and night.” God’s Word is constantly on the psalmist’s mind.
What serious Christian is not like this, after all? In nearly every situation, God’s Word is on my mind, even though I do fail and sin against God and neighbour. Can you think of your own zeal for the Lord and His Word? Perhaps this comes across in your actions by attending Bible studies, having devotion at home or at work (if your workplace permits it), being active at church, reading the Word on your own, and so forth.
Why do we have such zeal for God’s Word? Because we know God alone is righteous. We know He is absolutely right in all He says and does. Even when we sin against Him because we think He’s wrong, we repent of such sins because He is right.
And He gives this righteousness to us in Christ Jesus. He makes us right with Him through Jesus Christ. We are slaves to God’s righteousness via Baptism (Romans 6:15-23), by which we have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Galatians 3:27). This is none other than Christ reconciling us (restoring our relationship) to God the Father (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), having justified us (put us in the right) with God the Father (Romans 5:1).
In other words, by His own righteousness, God makes us right with Him through Jesus Christ our Lord.