In the land of Israel there are many palm trees. The Scripture tells us that the righteous will flourish like the palm tree (Psa. 92:12). One outstanding characteristic of the palm is its straightness, and this may be one thing to which the Psalmist has reference. Even at heights of 60 to 80 feet, the Israeli palm trees remain remarkably erect. There is certainly a reference to the palm’s stature in Song of Songs 7:7, where the lover compares his beloved’s stature to that of a palm tree. In Ezekiel’s description of the Temple to come, there are numerous palm trees carved on the pillars of the courts (Ez. 40:31). Again, this seems to speak of uprightness, as well as fruitfulness.
The idea of uprightness in scripture is principally conveyed by two Hebrew words, “yashar”and “tam.” “Yashar”conveys the meaning of straightness, while “tam” is more concerned with perfection or completion. Interestingly, these words are used together as God speaks of the righteous man Job (Job 1:1). Today in Israel, if a person asks directions of an Israeli, the Israeli will often include the word “yashar” in his answer. It simply means “go straight…etc.”
Let us take a look at this biblical concept, which has virtually dropped out of our usage. It just may be that upright men are pretty scarce in our society today, as Micah 7:2 points out: “The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains. All men lie in wait to shed blood; each hunts his brother with a net.”
GOD, A MODEL OF UPRIGHTNESS
In Isaiah 26:7, we read that one of God’s titles is “upright.” Isaiah says: “The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth.” This concept concerning God is also seen in Deuteronomy 32:4, we read of God: “ upright and just is he.” God is upright, and we are told in scripture that he has pleasure in uprightness (1 Chr. 29:17).
We see that not only is God upright, but he has also created humanity in uprightness. In Ecclesiastes 7:29, we learn that “God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Because of man’s crooked schemes he has become a twisted mess, and is far from the Creator’s purposes. Although man has become twisted from his original upright position, God has not given up on him. In Psalm 25:8 and in other places we see that God still “instructs sinners in his ways.”
MARKS OF AN UPRIGHT MAN
There are many marks or characteristics of an upright person. We will describe but a few of them. Godly fear is part of the upright person’s disposition: “He whose walk is upright fears the LORD” (Pr. 14:2). We need to get current ideas of “fear” out of our minds, because biblical fear is more akin to deep respect, reverence, awe and obedience than to some sort of terror. Thus the upright person has a great respect for God and for his commandments. The upright has a secure walk or lifestyle (Pr. 10:9), because that one is guided by integrity (Pr. 11:3), and avoids crooked paths (Phil. 2:15). Because the upright have understanding (Pr. 15:21), they walk in the way of God’s wisdom.
The upright will not walk in evil paths. In Proverbs 16:17 we read that, “The highway of the upright avoids evil; he who guards his way guards his life.” The upright man also has the courage to speak the truth, even in his inmost being. The Bible speaks of the one “ whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart” (Psa. 15:2). There is no hypocrisy in the upright. That person lives a life of praise, and because of a righteous lifestyle that praise is a beautiful thing as scripture says: “ it is fitting (beautiful) for the upright to praise him.” (Psa. 33:1). Because of these and many more things the upright person is approved of God and becomes a blessing to other people (Pr. 11:11).
One thing for sure about the upright person is that such a person will always be an abomination to evil workers (Pr. 29:27). The upright is scorned by them (Job. 12:4). Also in Psalm 37:14 we read: “The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.”
REWARDS OF THE UPRIGHT
There are numerous rewards of upright living mentioned in scripture. First of all, there is a special closeness of God to those who are upright. We are told that God delights in them (Pr. 11:20) and watches them (Ps. 11:7). We see that “the prayer of the upright pleases him” (Prov. 15:8). In Proverbs 3:32, we see that God even confides in the upright.
God also defends them and saves them as we see in Psalm 7:10: “My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.” When everything around them is gross darkness, there is light for the upright in heart (Ps. 112:4). They are kept because of their righteousness (Pr. 13:6). They find strength in God’s way and in the end they are saved (Pr. 10:29; 28:18).
Although they are not seeking it, the upright will find that which many children of this world are seeking – prosperity. In Psalm 112:3 we read that “ Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.” The Bible assures us that God will not withhold any good thing from those who walk in uprightness (Ps. 84:11). The upright shall enter into peace and they shall possess the land (Pr. 2:21). This certainly is a reference to the earth as a whole.
However, it is also a specific reference to the special land of Israel. Whether in the earth as a whole, or Israel specifically, one thing is certain, God’s elect will inherit it, and the wicked will ultimately be torn out of the earth.
Then the upright will dwell forever with God. Isaiah promises, “ this is the man who will dwell on the heights…His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.” His eyes “will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar” (Isa. 33:16-17). Yes, the upright will dwell with God and will delight themselves in abundance of peace. As Psalm 37:18 says, “The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever.”
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem (original publication date, 1998).