“Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair.”
Proverbs 1:3 (NLT)
Continuing on with why we should study Proverbs, Solomon tells us in Proverbs 1:3 that the proverbs teach us to live well because they show us what is right, just and fair. In our current culture, I find it interesting that the ideas of rightness, fairness and justice are not absolutes, but rather opinions to be expressed, sometimes quite loudly, concerning an issue. A quick glance at the evening news or any Internet news site reveals this. Every group wants its rights acknowledged, but always on their own terms and not based on an absolute law.
God has given us this absolute law, his word, for determining what is right, just, and fair, and as Christians we can trust his word to give us the correct definitions of these terms. They are our plumb line. In the English Standard Version of Proverbs 1:3, these three terms are listed as righteousness, justice, and equity. The meanings of the Hebrew words used for these terms give us insight into how the book of Proverbs reflects biblical principles and how we can effectively apply these principles to our own lives.
Righteousness. The Hebrew word for righteousness in this verse is tsedeq (Strong’s H6664) and it means being right in a moral or legal sense. Any time we act using God’s wisdom, we are in a right relationship with him. Proverbs 8:20 tells us that wisdom “walks in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice.” Wisdom and righteousness are found together, so when we use wisdom, we can experience righteousness. This may seem like it’s only an Old Testament principle because as New Testament Christians we know that Jesus took on our sin to make us righteous before God and only he can declare us righteous. However, when God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us, it is easier to follow the wisdom of Proverbs, and our behavior will reflect the righteousness, or right standing, we have in Christ.
Justice. Mishpat (Strong’s H4941) is the Hebrew translation for justice, and relates to the idea of judgment, or issuing a formal sentence or decree. Several proverbs address this subject and they tell us that we are to leave justice in the hands of God (Proverbs 20:22, and 24:12) rather than take it upon ourselves. On the flipside of this, we are sometimes called to confront others, but when we do so, it should only be for the purpose of restoring them to God and not to pass judgment upon them. Applying this principle correctly keeps us in a just place, where God is pleased with us.
Equity. Evenness, uprightness and straightness are the meanings of umesarim (Strong’s H4339), the Hebrew word for equity. Our modern-day idea of fairness is equivalent to the implied meaning of evenness, but more importantly, umesarim carries with it the idea of straightness. Something that is straight has no angle or curves to it, and it makes an excellent point of reference to determine if another object is straight. 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians invented the plumb line to help them build the pyramids and other structures. Having the ability to determine a perfect vertical line allowed them to construct these precise, long-lasting marvels. When we line up our own actions with the straight line of God’s biblical wisdom, we know we are creating righteous moments that have eternal value.
When we follow God, we can be assured that we will always be doing what is right, just and fair, even if it goes against popular opinion. God honors those who rely on him, who are not ashamed of him, and who seek and live his wisdom.