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

3 Answers 3


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 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 72:10) 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


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.

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