Righteousness shall go before him ; and shall set us in the way of his steps [Psalm 85:13 KJV]

Righteousness shall go before Him and shall make a way for His footsteps. [Psalm 85:13 YLT]

Malachi says 'Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me', 3:1, and Mark applies this to John the Baptist, altering the pronoun of the Septuagint (following Jesus who, first, did the same - Matthew 11:10) expressing 'thee' not 'me' and thus expressing further revelation regarding Deity.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. [Mark 1:1,2 KJV]

Thus, before Jesus comes, as the Messenger of the Covenant (Mal 3:2), there comes one under whose ministrations the soul is prepared :

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: [Isaiah 40:4 KJV] [also Luke 3:5]

Is the 'righteousness' referred to in Psalm 85:13, the rightness of the baptism of repentance which is a preparatory necessity (as seen in the figure of the parable of the sower in Mathew, Mark and Luke and in the reality expressed by John in John 1-3) prior to faith ?

Does the Hebrew bear that sense and meaning ?

  • I believe a question should be closed as opinion based only if it could be answered by opinion alone. If context, original language, or other hermeneutical tools could be employed in a response, it should not be closed. The answer given so far illustrates this. Nov 21, 2021 at 17:11

5 Answers 5


Perhaps because of an ambiguity in the text of Psalm 85:13, there are some distinct differences among the various English translations (also noted in the Cambridge commentary):

Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. NIV
Righteousness will go before Him And will make His footsteps into a way. NASB
Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps. KJV

These differences open up the possibility of there being more than one viable interpretation. Upon reflection, three distinct connotations emerge, presented here in sequential order:

1/ The righteousness before Christ. It heralds his coming and “prepares the way for his steps” (NIV). This connotation is especially consonant with the ministry of John the Baptist, who came “in the way of righteousness” (Mt 21:32) but is also applicable to the prophets that preceded him. It recalls as well the righteousness of Abraham, Isaac, and those who walked before God and so prepared the way for Christ’s coming (Gen 48:15).

2/ The righteousness of Christ (Rom 5:18-19), which goes before Him as a standard or banner (Is 62:10) and “will make His footsteps into a way” (NASB).

I will lead those who are blind by a way they have not known, In paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them And uneven land into plains. These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone.” – Is 42:16

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me." – Jn 14:6

3/ The righteousness after Christ that “shall set us in the way of his steps” (KJV). The “us” refers to those who walk in righteousness before him on the path that is paved by his footsteps.

A highway will be there, a roadway And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for the one who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it. – Is 35:8

However, that these different aspects of righteousness are represented by the same exact words reflects the truth that they have but one and the same source or rather, that they form one reality (Ps 85:11).

“They will say of Me, ‘Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.’ – Is 45:24

  • Contributor Nhi cited ( Is 72:10 ) in point #2. I cannot find Isaiah 72:10. Dear Nhi, could you please re-cite? Thanks Jun 4, 2023 at 9:42
  • Could you re-reference the Isaiah text (72:10 ? ?) please.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 4, 2023 at 11:49
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    Sorry for the mistake. It should be Is 62:10.
    – Nhi
    Jun 4, 2023 at 13:23

The answer to this is actually in the previous few verses of Ps 85:10-13 (the translations vary somewhat)-

10 Loving devotion and faithfulness have joined together; righteousness and peace have kissed.

11 Faithfulness sprouts from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.

12 The LORD will indeed provide what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness will go before Him to prepare the way for His steps.

Note the several moral/righteous qualities that will go before thye LORD:

  • loving devotion or mercy
  • truth or faithfulness
  • righteousness
  • what is good

The message of Ps 85 is about the restored fortunes of Israel after the Babylonian captivity (V1). Thus, the pslamist prays for God's salvation to be near those who fear Him (V9) and asks that the LORD dwell in the land. The above four verses follow - righteousness, truth, mercy, faithfulness goes before the LORD to prepare His steps.

I struggle to see John the baptist here as "righteousness" because according to V11, "righteousness looks down from heaven".

Maclauren's Exposition suggests this:

So, then, I take it, these four verses [V10-V13] all set forth substantially the same thought, but with slightly different modifications and applications. They are a four-fold picture of how heaven and earth ought to blend and harmonise. This four-fold representation of the one thought is what I purpose to consider now.

I. To begin with, then, take the first verse:-’Mercy and Truth are met together, Righteousness and Peace have kissed each other.’ We have here the heavenly twin-sisters, and the earthly pair that correspond.

The Cambridge commentary is similar:

[Ps 85:10] While however divine attributes are primarily meant, the corresponding human virtues (Proverbs 3:3; Isaiah 32:16 f.) need not be excluded. The restored community will reflect the attributes of God to which it owes its existence. Cp. Hosea 2:19-20; Zechariah 8:8; Zechariah 8:16; Zechariah 8:19. This thought is more clearly brought out in the next verse

  • 3
    Having been brought back from Babylonian captivity, verse 1, and been forgiven for iniquity (as a nation, outwardly), verse 3, yet the plea is 'Shew us thy mercy O Lord and show us thy salvation'. Just being a nation, just having territory and natural provision, is not enough. The plea is for more : the plea is for a real salvation. For they are not all Israel that are of Israel. They need, in spirit, to go back the far side Jordan and be brought (spiritually and really) across Jordan, baptised, to realise the true purposes of God.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 21, 2021 at 11:58
  • 1
    @Dottard +1 Good answer, based on the context.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 21, 2021 at 13:20
  • 1
    @NigelJ - agreed.
    – Dottard
    Nov 21, 2021 at 19:30
  • 1
    Mercy and Truth are met together. I have always thought it was the righteousness of God and a sinner's peace with God (reconciliation) which have kissed each other on the cross. Romans 3:26 Nov 21, 2021 at 20:47
  • 1
    @MikeBorden - I would not exclude that meaning at all but it is not the only one.
    – Dottard
    Nov 21, 2021 at 20:52

For almost 400 years, the voice of G'd wasn't heard, because there weren't prophets, and it came to pass that a man called John The Baptist appeared, with the saying registered by Matthew (Matthew 3:2):

2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (NIV)

And it continues in the next verse 3, and the word straight is the righteousness that came from G'd out of heavens to the earth:

This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

This is also proved by Luke (Luke 3:11):

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

This is fulfilled (Isaiah 29:10):

10 The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers).

He wasn't a man who made incredible deeds as miracles as Jesus, but everything he said about him was true (John 10:41):

41 and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.”

Indeed, you will have faith just after you do rightousness, as it's in a midrash Mekhilta d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai 24:7. It's that the faith without deeds is dead, and we can have more insights with Kidushin 40b:

Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai says: Even if one was completely righteous all his life and he rebelled by sinning at the end of his life, he loses his early merit, as it is stated: “The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him on the day of his transgression” (Ezekiel 33:12).

And the rabinic discussion continues:

And similarly, even if one was completely wicked all his life and repented in the end, he is no longer reminded of his wickedness (...)

It's worthy to read it till the end in the Talmud.


To my understanding, Psalm 85 is a prophecy about JESUS. John 1:17 says Grace & Truth, Hesed ve Emet, came through JESUS CHRIST. Ps Joseph Prince taught that the tense used here for Hesed ve Emet is for Grace&Truth as a singular unit, thus the Grace & Truth of GOD is and cannot be separated, pointing to JESUS as The True Grace of GOD, as contrast to The Law of Moses as the standard for believers. A primary ministry of JESUS is to restore fallen man to GOD and to enlighten the nation of Israel to The Saviour via the righteousness of faith in Himself, rather than the righteousness of works through striving to observe the Mosiac Law. This truth is the only path of reconciling man to GOD, and that will provide true shalom peace to believers in the same heartbeat of the believing Abraham, not an Abraham of works. This is the only truth that shall redeem Israel to her Maker - in CHRIST, instead of in The Law. Grace & peace to you in CHRIST JESUS.

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    – agarza
    Jun 4, 2023 at 13:15

It doesn't refer to John, but it is a general reference for producing God's righteousness by practicing his laws.

The Greek word used ενώπιον enopios is not the same as πρὸ προσώπου (pro prosopou). Enopion literally means to be in sight, to be in front of someone; not arriving prior to someone, as with the latter phrase which is used for John the Baptist. The English idiom to be before someone is to be ahead or be in front of someone. Psa 85:13 should simply be understood as, "righteousness shall go forth in God's presence". It describes God's ministry.

Gen 17:1 (Brenton)

I am thy God, be well-pleasing before (ενώπιον) me, and be blameless.

The Way (of God) is a symbol for God's righteousness or godly lifestyle, and was also the name used by the early Christian as a name for their sect. (Isa 35:8; Isa 40:3; Isa 40:4; Isa 57:14; Isa 62:11).

And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called, The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it [shall be] for those: the way-faring men, though fools, shall not err [therein]. [Isa 35:8 WEB]

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. [Isa 40:3-4 WEB]

And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling-block out of the way of my people. [Isa 57:14 WEB]

Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed to the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; Behold, his reward [is] with him, and his work before him. [Isa 62:11 WEB]

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