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I've heard this verse read: The steps of a righteous man are ordered by God..... Does the definition of "good man" equate to righteous?

Ps 37:23 (KJV) - The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.

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2 Answers 2

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The first and most important thing to note about Ps 37:23 is that adjective "good" is absent in the Hebrew - it was added as an interpretation by the KJV translators. Here is a translation of the literal Hebrew:

[ESV] The steps of a man are ordered by YHWH, and in his way he delights

[There is debate about the antecedents of the last two pronouns, "he", "his". But that is another question.]

Thus, the real question should be: "Is the KJV interpretation of Ps 37:23 correct?"

The answer is found in the context of the surrounding verses:

V21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives;

V22 for those blessed by the LORDc shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

V23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;

V24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.

These verses are typical of the entire psalm which is a contrast between the relationship of the righteous vs wicked with God. In this light, V23 is definitely discussing the righteous.

Indeed, Psalm 37 is an acrostic poem, the verses of each stanza begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza is either:

  • a celebration of the faithful and their relationship with the LORD
  • a statement of the final destiny of the wicked or cursed and their hopelessness
  • a contrast between the two

V23 is part of the מ ("M") stanza and consists of V23, 24. It is in the first category above and celebrates the advantages of the faithful righteous, even when they (humanly) fail as we all do.

Footnote:

The Hebrew noun צֶדֶק (tsedeq) = "rightness", "righteousness" and is used in V6 of the LORD and not man. However, the adjective צַדִיק (tsaddiq) is used of man in V17, 21, 25, 29, 30, 32, 39. The relationship between the two is found in V39 -

The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their stronghold in time of trouble.

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  • excellent explanation. Thanks for the instruction! Mar 3 at 23:18
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Does the definition of "good man" equate to righteous? When we recognize righteousness as evaluated by the Lord, the same standard applies to the "good man". Yet, Jesus statement in Matthew 19:17 resonate, "There is only One who is good". This implies that inherent goodness eludes individual human. Therefore, the label "good man" primarily reflects our limited perspective, rather than aligning precisely with God's righteous definition.

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