[NOTE FROM AUTHOR: This is far and away the most read article on this blog site. Unfortunately, I am unable to track who is reading it or how they are being linked to it. Because it is so popular, I am curious about these two facts. If you would, please contact me at email@example.com to let me know who you are, how you found this article, and especially if it was helpful to you. Shalom, Dave Doty]
(This essay is a close adaptation excerpted from the book Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission, © David B. Doty, 2011, available from the author or from Wipf & Stock Publishers. This essay should be read with the thesis of Eden’s Bridge—the marketplace is an institution of God, implicit in the creation narrative of Genesis 1–2 and vital to God’s mission in the world—in full view.)
The translation of mishpat as justice oversimplifies its meaning in the Old Testament, especially in modern Western thinking. Mishpat is derived from shawfat (Strong’s 8199) which means to judge. But the modern understanding of to judge tends to focus only on properly judicial activities. In its broader sense, shawfat means to govern. Moses was called and appointed by God, the supreme judge over Israel. It was an all-inclusive position which proclaimed ordinance (legislative), passed judgment (judicial), and carried the authority to punish or release (executive).
Mishpat implies the whole determination and consequence of juxtaposed good and evil. It contains the establishment of law, the interpretation of ordinance, the pronouncement of verdict, and the legal foundation of the authority to execute sentence. The Judeo-Christian tradition accepts this as emanating from God. It is at the seat of the divine throne that rights are determined.
Mishpat is a two-edged sword, reminiscent of the duality illuminated in Psalm 62:11–12: “Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God; and loving kindness is Thine, O Lord, for Thou dost recompense a man according to his work.” It seems the psalmist was struggling in trying to see two sides of the same coin simultaneously.
We sometimes hear of Gods’ wrath (judging authority) illuminated in the Old Testament Law juxtaposed against God’s love (merciful forgiveness) illuminated in Christ in the New Testament. Reconciling the two can challenge human rationale.
“That power belongs to God” recognizes God’s sovereign authority to judge. His “loving kindness” reveals God’s grace and mercy to judge according to His heart rather than human logic or notions of fairness. False teachings that isolate Jesus, as the God of the New Testament, from Jehovah, as the God of the Old Testament, at least by implication, erroneously separate God’s wrath and judgment from His love and mercy. This duplicity tends to gloss over the Psalmist’s point: God’s sovereignty empowers the authority to forgive, that power and mercy are not only compatible but congruent in God’s nature and character (see also, Exod 34:6–7).
To borrow an analogy from digital electronics, where 1’s and 0’s represent all reality, nothing exists conceptually without its “null” correspondence. There is love so there is conclusively that which is not love. God’s power, the authority to determine, judge, and execute sentence, is the determination of how love acts (i.e., its manifestation). This power differentiates and separates itself, as God is love (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16), from that which is not love. Hence, the consequences of not love, technically, must be separate from God. This is the whole of mishpat. Love determines good and evil. It divides (judges and sentences) between love and that which is not love. Love and not love help define each other by the contrasts of their respective natures.
But the digital analogy can be taken too far if it leads to the conclusion that good and evil are in perfect balance. God, who is love, retains the sovereign authority to forgive evil and so is necessarily greater than evil. Our hope in Christ resides deeply in the belief that our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) and that the judgment of God ultimately condemns and annihilates evil.
Christians are governed, and therefore should govern, by love. Hopefully this illuminates 1 John 4:16b: “The one who abides in love, abides in God and God abides in him.” By abiding in love, we allow the justice (the mishpat) of God to prevail in our lives.
Marketplace Christians are constantly confronted by the basic questions of abiding in love, bringing God’s mishpat to bear in daily decisions. Jesus exhorted that we should love others as ourselves. This challenges how people are viewed and treated in the workplace. Are employment and layoff decisions based solely on the expediency of profitability? Is pay based entirely on the financial contribution each employee brings to the enterprise or should we take into account real individual and family needs? Are failures, both mistakes and ethical lapses, forgiven? Are there accommodations to afford second and third and even fourth chances (forgiving seventy times seven times—Matt 18:22)? The justice of God is sacrificial and active. How does the marketplace leader make such hard, seemingly incongruent circumstances and values align?
The mishpat of God—determining how love is known (legislative), the sentence (of blessing or curses) is pronounced (judicial), and how judgment is executed (executive)—is the Way of the Cross. It calls Christians to sacrificial life for the benefit of others. How can executives reconcile the divergence of pay and affordable lifestyles between the president and custodian? What values should guide executives faced with contentious vendors? What responsibilities does business have in the broader community?
These are hard questions in light of the systems of this world. Business leaders have a laundry list of rational justifications for the disparate treatment of employees. And the questions keep getting more pointed: Can God be trusted to keep His promises if decisions are made that seem irrational to the world, and even to ourselves? Can the Christian CEO afford to fail by the world’s rules? Should profit come before people? Is Jesus the end (consummation, i.e., telos) of the law or does pragmatism rule?
The key question in Scripture comes from Mark 8:36–37: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” How do Christians reconcile disparities in compensation or the impersonal commodifying of labor with Galatians 5:14?—“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Godly mishpat reaches far beyond the single issue of employee relations. It leaves each of us with the responsibility of how to apply it to other relationships, including those with superiors (whether boss or board), vendors, customers, surrounding communities, within our particular industry, including competitors, and the earth itself. The pervasiveness of the marketplace extends its moral reach beyond issues of economic justice in immediate relationships to its role contributing to the common good in social and environmental justice.
The Word of God can leave us baffled, infuriated, frustrated, convicted, and conflicted. But we may be encouraged that we are becoming, and shall be, the sons of God as we seek fulfilling His mishpat. Though we all fall short of the glory of God, the opportunities to do good are ever present. And our sanctification is in the process. The wisdom of God is available to all who would ask in humility and brokenness. God has called marketplace Christians to ministry in business for His glory not ours.
To speak of the righteousness (tsadaq—Strong’s 6663) of God seems redundant. Righteousness is mishpat, the justice of God, enacted. Tsadaq means to be or to make right in a moral or forensic sense. Among its derivatives we find the notions of natural, moral, and legal rights. Tsedeq (Strong’s 6664, a derivative of tsadaq) means equity (in the abstract) and prosperity (figuratively). Equity and prosperity taken together imply a communal rather than individual sense. This is strong iteration of the idea of shalom. Tsedaqah (Strong’s 6666, a derivative of tsadaq) is an abstraction of rightness interpreted subjectively as rectitude or straightness, objectively as justice, morally as virtue, and figuratively as prosperity. Tsidqah (Strong’s 6665, corresponds to tsedaqah) connects righteousness and beneficence. The tsadaq of God inextricably links morality and prosperity. Some popular modern doctrines, especially the “prosperity Gospel,” operate from the egocentric view that the moralist will be blessed with personal prosperity. Tsadaq, however, suggests that righteousness is manifest in beneficence and virtue practiced outwardly toward the common good and help for specific people and classes. Hence, the morally upright will be blessed with communal prosperity.
Justice and righteousness emanate from the nature and character of God. That the people of God are called to abide in that character is presented throughout the Bible. “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isa 1:17). And in Isaiah 16:5 we find, “A throne (seat of honor) will even be established in loving-kindness, And a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; Moreover, he will seek justice And be prompt in righteousness.” Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And James 1:27 explains, “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
The New Testament reveals that Jesus committed Himself to no home or personal economic endeavor during the years of His ministry. He was detached from worldly ambition and things. On the other hand, though some may be, we are not all called literally to “sell all” and “give it to the poor.” (Luke 18:22). Jesus was prone to hyperbole to drive home His points (like cutting off a hand or plucking out an eye—Matt 5:29–30). His concern was that wealth has a way of ruling over us and we would do better, if necessary, to rid ourselves of the burden. Marketplace Christians, especially those blessed with power and wealth, run the risk that the cares of this world may overtake the call to Christ (Matt 13:22).
The four vital relationships in which we live—with God, with others, with our environment, and with ourselves—remain under the microscope of mishpat and tsedeq. Constant review of how our marketplace relationships are tempered by biblical justice and righteousness is a necessity in following Christ.
50 responses to “On Justice and Righteousness (mishpat & tsadaq)—Strong’s 4941 & 6663”
I came here from a google search on ‘mishpat’. In your final paragraph, at the end of the first sentence, do you not mean ‘tsadaq’ rather than ‘tsedeq’?
Yes, as a matter of fact I did but noticed the mistake after the book this was excerpted from had already gone to print.
I came to this page after a google search of the term Mishpat and Pelilyyah. I found it intriguing and helpful in some ways although I must admit I got lost in the middle section where you talk about “Tsadaq means to be or to make right in a moral or forensic sense”. Also I’m not fully tracking with your meaning of the term “Marketplace Christian”
Sorry for my delay in response…its been a busy year!
“Marketplace Christians” primarily refers to those engaged in commerce for the means of their livelihood whether as business owners, managers, hourly workers, etc. But, due to economic engagement, it really can refer to those who work in any field, even as volunteers and involves the ethics and ministry elements anywhere they interact with others in collaborative, cooperative, or exchange activities.
The phrase “moral or forensic sense,” to me, indicates a social (legal or ethical) application, ie, how rightness is understood in a communal setting.
Also in the first paragraph, in the second sentence, where you discuss the origin of the word mishpat, is it not better to give the transliteration ‘shaphat’, rather than the phonetic representation ‘shawfat’?
I am, at best, an armchair linguist and grasping Hebrew in depth is a very complicated task. I probably would have been better served to use shaphat and put shawfat in parentheses.
Excellent commentary. Thank ~ you for clear, accurate teachings, minus the confusion.
Doing a Torah Study with FFOZ and I was looking things up & Ruach haKodesh led me to Edensbridge.org.
Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you enjoyed the article. – Dave
Thanks, Here’s my take on the most relevant description of social justice in the New Testament. It is found in Matthew Chapter 18 I think and precedes the more well-known reference our responsibility to forgive seventy times seven. It’s sequence in the Chapter may be important. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus says (paraphrased), if your brother trespasses against you, tell him his fault between you and he alone. If he doesn’t listen, then take two witnesses and if that doesn’t work, take the whole church. If he fails to listen, then consider him a heathen and a publican. My take is that we have a responsibility to communicate with others who do not follow God’s will, the moral code. (Without discipline, there would be chaos. Most parents know this) This communication is followed by forgiveness.
I concur…as far as it goes. But I think the illustration of the Cross, as extending ourselves at our own expense for the sake of the other, is the deepest explication of social justice in the New Testament. Remember, Jesus loved us, died for us, while we were still, as yet unrepentant, sinners. He offers His assistance for reconciliation to the divine without our having first even asking for it and certainly not deserving it. The one of power, to fulfill divine righteousness, must be the initiator for the sale of the weaker / powerless at whatever cost it may require.
Doing a study on Gods justice, the court of Heaven and how to plead our case before God. I found this article via google.
While working on a sermon on Isaiah Chapter 5:1-7…was directed here by yahoo, when I searched for the difference in the meaning of mishpat and misphat. Thank you for a clear and thorough clarification of word meanings.
I know Jesus Himself led me here. Outstanding article. Definitely inspired of the Holy Ghost!!!!! Pay no attention to those correcting you on Pharisees details. Your writing is inspired from Jesus, that is all that matters. Thank you!!!! I was truly blessed by this article!!!!!
Thank you, Audrey, for your very kind words. I am glad the article was a blessing to you.
I woke this morning with the idea of searching google for all Hebrew words related to Judgement and Justice. Your sight was the first to catch my eye, I made it half way through your writing but I have to go to work now.
I hope to return to your blog tonight. I can already tell this is Spirit lead and so much bigger than I’ve understood before today. Thank you so much for sharing.
So glad you are finding it helpful. Thank you for your encouraging words.
I’m praying about becoming a vulnerable adult guardian ad litem. I had learned of mishpat justice several years ago but I have to look it up to remind me of the true meaning of the word. When I googled this morning, your blog came up about 3 links down in my search. Thank you so much for your words and writing which were instructive but not condescending or superior. I believe God led me here. God bless you, and thanks for sharing.
I am glad you found the article helpful, It is far and away the most viewed piece on my site. Thank you very much for your kind words.
Is it possible in the above article to correct a typo in the reference to Psalm 61: 11, 12? It is Psalm 62: 11, 12.
Steve – Thank you for the good catch! Typo has been corrected.
I also found this on a Google search for mishpat. … I love your reflections on mishpat in the marketplace. Thank you!
Thank you for your kind words. This is the whole message of my personal ministry so your comment means a lot to me.
I was puzzling over the most common modern translation of “mishpat” in Amos 5:24 as “justice” in contrast to the KJV’s “judgment.” Searching on these words for clarification is what led me to your article, which I found very helpful for smoothing over, in some respects, the starker tension that I first thought I discerned between to the two translation choices.
I am glad the article was helpful. Unfortunately the translators of the KJV did not have the linguistic tools available today. I typically use the NASB since it is closest to precise translation of the Greek and Hebrew terminology. But I also use other translations and a variety of Greek and Hebrew lexicons to dig into the depth of the original languages. Its tedious sometimes but can be very enlightening.
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Isaiah 56:1 brought me here . I glimpsed truth in this article. Thank you.
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I agree. I find nearly all Hebrew terms hold a much richer depth than we can express in only a few words. Shalom comes quickly to mind! Thanks for your comment. – Dave
I know this can apply to more than in the workplace. But I’d like to hear how you would apply all this to more inter-personal relationships, such as marriages, particularly marriages where one spouse is hardening their heart, committing adultery, mentally ill, and/or abusing the other partner. Thank you in advance!
Julianna – The same principles apply and, for many, the answers will seem to be very difficult. First, I would never recommend that anyone stay in a relationship where physical abuse is imminent. That said, however, the concept of God’s righteousness calls us to enter into the sufferings of Christ. That is, we willing accept our circumstances and love the other even when they are unloving. Scripture teaches that when we forgive, treating our enemies with love, we heap burning goals on their heads (which I believe indicates conviction). The first chapter of James also tells us to embrace our trials as a significant part of our own spiritual growth. The act(s) of loving evil doers (the “be perfect” of Matthew 5:48) allows space in the spirit realm for hope that even our enemies will repent and turn to God and reconciliation. Our sufferings (and leaving offense at the foot of the Cross) are the hard way of following Christ. We can find our peace only in Him. This is only a short answer and it is a hard one to hear (and even to share) but it is the way of our dying to self and leaving all things in the hands of God.
I have been listening to a fascinating series on Exodus by a brilliant man scholar, Egyptologist, a man mentored by Jewish Torah scholars, rabbis and Christian scholars name Tom Bradford (“Torah Studies”). It is about an hour per chapter and I have gleaned many gems. He talks at length in the teaching on Exodus ch 21 abut mishpat and zdk–you might have a look. He equates mishpat with the Greek word Gospel–fascinating. I wanted to study more and thus found your article. Thanks!
Kathryn – Thank you for reaching out. I will look into Mr. Bradford’s series. His equating mishpat and Gospel makes perfect sense given the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth would bring mishpat to all . . . and that is good news!
Hi! I’ve recently took a class called: The Hebrew Bible and the Near Eastern World. There, the Professor said: “One of the most important words in the Bible is mishpat. If you miss mishpat you miss what God’s doing in the world.” Since then, God’s been stirring me to understand what does mishpat really mean. I’ve realized that we have been limiting the Gospel by individualizing our faith. It’s more than just where do I spend eternity, it’s about God’s redemption of His world and the establishment of His Kingdom with Jesus as King. Then, how does that change what I understand by ministry, by worship? I still have more questions than answers, but your article was a God send. It appeared when I was simply googling mishpat. So, thank you. If you could recommend any more resources that relate to mishpat, that’d be great. Again, thank you very much.
I am so glad the article was useful to you. One recent comment included that a well known Bible scholar had equated mishpat to the term gospel, good news, of the New Testament. Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom, that is, of God’s reign “on earth as it is in heaven.” To me, that is as complete an understanding as I think possible. Jesus’ ministry, now through us, is the agency of God restoring creation to His original design and intent. We all have a role to play in every arena of life . . . education, politics / governance, the arts, business, and so . . . to bring the righteousness of God to fruition. I do not have any particular source to recommend beyond perhaps doing an in depth study of how mishpat is used throughout the Old Testament. A Strong’s Concordance is very handy for finding those entries. I also use software called BibleWorks which includes three Hebrew lexicons that flesh out the term, how it is used, and the depth and breadth of its meaning.
In the final analysis, shalom (another term worth studying) is God’s aim, that all of creation will flourish.
Thank you for this article. I am teaching primarily from Is. 28:16, but of course the context overflows well beyond that verse. So I googled “justice mishpat” just to add some depth to my understanding of that verse. And your blog came up near the top.
Your first paragraph explaining justice as legislative, judicial, and executive brought to mind II Tim. 3:16 where God’s Word is shown to be those things–profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training. There are so many profound overlaps in Scripture. Fascinating!
Anyway, thanks for a great article.
Thank you! I am so glad the article was helpful. And I never made the connection to 2 Timothy 3:16. Good eye! As you point out, the Word is so intricately integrated we will never understand its depth completely.
I arrived at your site because I googled the difference between mishpat and tsedeq. The URL for your essay was the first link that was generated.
‘o ka maluhia maoli ka hua o ka ho’opono
Hi there! This was the first article to pop up on a google search for “mishpat” and “tzedeq”. I had noticed how often righteousness and judgement occur together in the bible and I learned the hebrew version from the bible project. I wanted to learn more about it and this article seemed relevant.
I am 22yo and have just begun to learn what it means to meditate on scripture. I really liked the content of this article. The definitions were clear and complete without being simplistic. I especially found it helpful to clarify personal prosperity and group prosperity. One question I still have after reading this article is concerning the relationship between mishpat and tzedekah. In the past, I have heard that justice is righteousness applied, as in justice is the act of bringing the equity/prosperity to those around us. This essay seems to imply the reverse is also true, “Righteousness is mishpat, the justice of God, enacted.” Any further comment?
In the early 90’s, while in Bible School, I noticed the repetition of Mishpat alongside Tsedaqah in the prophets. I decided to study their occurance in relation to one another. I’ve preached a few sermons on it over the years.
The current atmosphere in America following the death of George Lloyd at the hands of law enforcement and the riots it has spawned has me revisiting these binary ideas. I would describe them as a binary star system, 2 stars orbiting one another.
So I am looking for more distinctive clarity. So far, my inclination is thus:
* tsedaqah (#6666) and its word family (#6662 through #6666), translated “justice” or “righteousness” in the KJV, seems to me to have to do with loving God and my fellowman, golden rule style. It is proactivity (vs. passivity) for what is right.
* misphat (#4941), which the KJV nearly universally translates “judgment” has to do with hating sin, and prosecuting it wherever it is found. It is proactivity (vs. passivity) against what is wrong.
I’m trying to see what others say on the subject.
Hi! I recently read a book by Amy Sherman called, “Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good.” In it, she introduced to me the concept of the “tsaddiqim”. Shalom and Mishpat have also been inspiring fascinating words to me, and your article caught my eye when I was doing a Google search to learn more.
Thank you, Sarah. Amy is an acquaintance of mine. She and I connected thru business-as-mission efforts.
Hello David, I came here through a google search of misphat aswell. I currently use the blue letter Bible for concordance, but would you suggest any other resources or materials? I don’t speak either language so any novice resources would be greatly appreciated, thank you for the article!
I like the Strongs concordance because I can look up the root word meanings. I am not familiar with the blue. I also use BibleWorks software (no longer available) because it has three Hebrew and five Greek lexicons.
great article! I first was struck (like lightning) by mishpat, when I was looking at Jesus’ citing of Isaiah 42’s servant
when I saw the Hebrew comes from same as Judge/judgment.. then considered the Servant’s example (we were living as missionaries amongst a people where Islam and traditional animisms predominate), there was such a clear and beautiful contrast
even more “radical” when one considers the Arabic translation of mishpat, sharia.
(God’s way is that of the Servant, not the contemporary understanding associated, fairly and unfairly, with some who think religious grounds can justify violence/terror)
Thank you for your work on this subject. It will take me a few days to study this essay and wrap my head around everything you have said.
In the O.T. to do justice and judgement, has always left me unsure as to what this really means when the LORD says through the Prophet to do them, such as in Ezekiel 33:17-20 Douay-Rheims.
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Like david the hermit (and I noticed with a smile all lower case), I too will need some time to pine through this article 🙂 But since you asked, I found this article when searching “difference between mishpat and tadaqah” . I’m attending a “Biblical Justice” class at my church (there was previously a discussion about the words justice and righteousness in class), and it appears that the leader is stretching to find situations of “justice” in the NT to corroborate the theme of “biblical justice” as a separate concept that appears to spring exclusively from the OT, i.e., what appears to be a form of liberation theology. So in attempting to answer why seemingly strangely the NT (Jesus, Gospels, Paul or Peter) doesn’t mention “justice” as a concept, I couldn’t help but see that the answer may likely be that the gospel transcends the law, i.e., in TSOTM the sermon on the mount, Jesus stands the law on its head, e.g., unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees. The entire context to all of it is love. Love God, love your neighbor. Love is the context of most of the parables including the Good Samaritan. Doing love to others is how we as believers manifest the Kingdom of God here on earth. Love your enemies, pray for those who use and persecute you, do good to them! This appears in one sense to be the opposite of justice. So it was interesting to read in your article about what you say about love. Very unexpected. Very helpful. I’m compiling my thoughts in a kind and I daresay in a loving writing to the leader because in my view focusing on “doing justice” as in “social justice” as a separate concept is going backward, to the law. Occurred to me that Jesus shows us a new way, the way of love. Not how the world loves. This is our motivation for any good work in Christ.
I google searched “Mishpat and tsadaq” as part of a Mission Theology subject. The current topic is Mission and Social Justice. The explanation I’m reading about is of the two words and how they are used together. Your article is helpful, thanks.
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