This is the account of Noah and his descendants. Noah was righteous and was a man of integrity among the people of his time. He walked [habitually] with God.Genesis 6:9
Noah is remembered most famously for building an ark and surviving a great flood. But most people don’t realize he is the first person in the Bible to be named as righteous.
The Hebrew word for righteous is tsaddik. A tsaddik is a person who is considered just and righteous in conduct and character, Other contexts of the word include describing someone who is upright, honest, virtuous, pious. It is a word commonly used of good kings or judges who faithfully dispense justice and fairness.
In most Christian circles today, righteousness is typically viewed as something that is only conferred on an individual from God, as a bestowal of a righteous state that they did not possess previously. This perspective comes largely from the apostle Paul writing about the legal aspect of imputed righteousness, as in the case of Abraham who was accounted or considered righteous for his faith in God.
But this heavy theological concept of imputed righteousness masks the meaning of the word, as it implies someone can be considered righteous while not really being righteous; it is simply a way God chooses to view those who place their faith in him.
In reality, I think what Paul was attempting to convey, as it is used of Abraham in the book of Romans, is the idea that faith is equally considered a righteous act, along with all other lawful, virtuous, honest, and upright actions. Faith in God and his Messiah is considered a righteous action. That would have been a revolutionary concept to his audience. To be a tsaddik, they knew, was to faithfully and obediently follow the torah (or instruction) of God that has been revealed. To do this effectively, Paul says, requires faith, a righteous action like any other.
For Noah, this would mean that out of all others in his generation or age, he was the individual who most closely matched the ideal that God had provided up to that point because of his faith. While those in his day may not have had any written Scripture, there were undoubtedly oral teachings that had been passed from generation to generation since the days of Adam previously. And in God’s eyes, Noah was a tsaddik, a righteous individual, one who faithfully and continually walked with God.
To walk with God in this sense is to live in a way that pleases him, to abide by his counsels and admonitions, to be familiar with God and his ways and to direct one’s own personal affairs in agreement with God’s. This is biblical righteousness.
This is a life of integrity, as Yeshua described this concept in his Sermon on the Mount. To demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands. To be a person of your word, simply saying yes or no, and doing what you say. To crave equity; thirst for doing the right thing, To avoid hypocrisy, and to magnify God by letting your good deeds “shine.” To conduct yourself with mildness and gentleness, and, if necessary, to endure harmful attacks of those who may not agree with your right actions. All of these things could essentially be said of Noah, which is why he was considered a tsaddik.
We would do well to follow in his footsteps among our generation, doing what’s right in the face of adversity and corruption around us. God may not task each of us with building a literal ark, but we should be just as mindful of our responsibility to positively influence those around us through our integrity and faithful obedience to God’s revealed word.