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"For the LORD is righteous, He loveth righteousness; the upright shall behold His face" (Psalm 11:7)
צדקה tsedhâqâh (Strong's #6666) ranges in meaning from 'right', 'justice', 'straightness', 'righteousness', even 'liberation' and 'welfare'. In the verse above God is both described as righteous himself and desiring it in others. The "upright" ישר yâshâr (Strong's #3477) are literally the "straight, right" ones, and are virtually synonymous with the righteous. God is both "righteous" and "upright" himself (Psalm 119:137). צדקה tsedhâqâh stems from a Hebrew root verb צדק tsâdhaq (Strong's #6663) and similarly means to be 'straight, right or true', as an arrow or a weapon to be thrown (e.g., it could be used of a straight or stiffened lance in Arabic sadaqa), since an arrow or spear will not throw well if "is not true" and has a kink or bend in it. The verb is used 41 times in the Bible, nearly half of which are in the book of Job of his need to be "justified" before God and found "righteous" so that his calamities would not be regarded as a punishment for any sin of his own.
Righteousness is not some technical theological term but instead one that is both practical and legal. In a practical sense, the taking of someone's cloak as a pledge against a loan was counted as a righteous act if the garment were returned to him overnight if he was poor (Deuteronomy 24:10-13).
Leviticus 19:36 uses the masculine form of the word צדק tsedheq (Strong's #6664) to describe fair or just balances for trade. Earlier in the same chapter it speaks against favouritism:
"You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness you shall judge your neighbour." (Leviticus 19:15)
The word translated above as "unrighteousness" is literally evil, well almost, it is the Hebrew word עול evel (Strong's #5766), sounding like "evil" and meaning perverse or iniquitous, often of violent deeds or wicked words.
Israel was told that she was receiving the land not because of her own righteousness but because through wickedness the existing occupants were losing it (Deuteronomy 9:4-6). Nonetheless, she was also told that it was through the practice of perfect or absolute "justice-righteousness" (the word צדק tsedheq doubled) that she would live in and possess the land (Deuteronomy 16:20).
Both צדקה tsedhâqâh and צדק tsedheq are used together in Hosea 10:12. Israel is told to sow צדקה tsedhâqâh, reaping "mercy-grace", until God comes and rains, pours out or shoots forth צדק tsedheq upon them.
There is clearly little difference between the two terms (צדקה tsedhâqâh 156 occurrences and צדק tsedheq 118 uses) for in Ezekiel 3:20 they are used interchangeably of the righteous deeds (צדק tsedheq) of a righteous man (צדקה tsaddîyq Strong's #6662) who stops doing them and his righteousness (צדקה tsedhâqâh) is no longer remembered before God.
In the legal sense righteousness and justice (more commonly משפט mish'pât, Strong's #4941) are one and the same key meaning, Spanish does not distinguish between them either having one word justicia for both. By parallelism they are regularly related (e.g., 1 Kings 10:9, Amos 5:24, Isaiah 32:16; 33:5) as are salvation and righteousness (Isaiah 51:6,8; 56:1) and even blessing and righteousness (Psalm 24:5).
In the book of Proverbs righteousness is contrasted with riches or wickedness as being the right path, the one that leads to life, and the only one that will deliver one from death. True religion is not about ritual worship but about practical deeds of "righteousness and justice" which is "more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice" (Proverbs 21:3). Righteousness is something that is "done" as well as received through belief (see below).
Righteousness is not the same as sinlessness. All have sinned (Psalm 130:2; 1 Kings 8:46) but some are counted as righteous. Believing faith (e.g., Abraham, Genesis 15:6 - the first use of the word in the Bible), zealous acts of faith (e.g., Phinehas) and obedience (Deuteronomy 6:25) are all counted as righteousness. In fact, Phinehas actually killed and it was counted as righteousness (Psalm 106:30-31) when he "pierced" an Israelite and his Moabite mistress through with his javelin and God stopped punishing the people for their sin (Numbers 25:7-13).
The Bible actually regards the declaring of the wicked as righteous (e.g., Proverbs 17:15; Isaiah 5:23) as a disgusting abomination, an unrighteous or evil act in itself! There is a difference between the wicked and someone who is intent upon good but is nonetheless a sinner. Although God takes no delight in the death even of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:20-24) he only delights in them when they turn to him. It is the repentant sinner not the intransigent evildoer that can take advantage of the righteous Messiah's mission to "bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11) and "justify" them as righteous before God.
It is a term only used of persons, whilst holiness can be used of people, things, time, and places. To be justified is to be found in the right or counted as righteous, it is not self proclaimed but imputed by another, the judge.
In Solomon's great temple prayer dedication he calls upon God to:
"hear in heaven, and act, and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked, bringing his way on his head, and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness." (1 Kings 8:32)
This verse brings together three derived words: "justifying", or making righteous - from the root verb; "righteous", the adjective describing the persons; and "righteousness", the noun referring to the person's actions.
צדיק tsaddîyq 'righteous' could be used as an adjective of a king for dispensing true justice and ruling fairly (e.g., 2 Samuel 23:3). It was equally used of God as a just judge (Deuteronomy 32:4; Job 34:17)
More than its legal sense of aquittal or verification the adjective צדיק tsaddîyq (Strong's #6662) 'righteous' meant friend just as it is used in the Arabic sadîq a friend or sadâqa friendship. So in Arabic or Hebrew a true friend is literally a 'friend friend' and a rightous man is a "friend of God" as with Abraham.
"And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God." (James 2:23; cf. Isaiah 41:8)
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