God often describes Himself as "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and these three men are mentioned fairly often in the Scriptures. It's easy for us to think maybe they are the standard of faith. And maybe they are. Maybe this is the example of what God is looking for in a man. And maybe it is. But it's not so easy as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Ezekiel 14, God tells us it's also Noah, Daniel, and Job. These men, He says, are a standard of righteousness. (v. 14)
Not really the three guys that come instantly to my mind. And not really three guys I would put together in any sort of category. (At least Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were father, son, and grandson. That makes sense.) Nevertheless, when God declares these are the righteous three, it's worth taking a closer look.
Noah was a righteous man, and it's too easy for us to say his righteousness is in his obedience to an absurd request. (Build an ark, Noah.) That's the story that we tell about Noah, but it's not the fullness of his story in God. Because if you think back and recall this story out of Genesis, you'll remember that God said Noah was righteous before he'd driven a single nail into that boat. It was because of his righteousness that he was given the task at all. Which makes it harder for us, not knowing more of Noah's story than this, to determine at all what his righteousness was. We know where it brought him - into the cramped quarters of earth's only refuge, with the smell of animals and animal waste all around him, crowded in by two of every creature (this isn't an accurate number, but for the sake of not getting distracted, we'll go with it) - but we don't really know what his righteousness was.
Daniel was a righteous man, and here, too, we might be tempted to say it was his steadfastness of faith in the face of death that made him righteous. But here, too, we would be wrong, for Daniel was a righteous man before Darius got hold of him. It was because of his righteousness that he had such a position in the exile at all, as a man of divine knowledge and wisdom. God had rewarded his righteous spirit with these gifts, which served him well before the invading kings. Which makes it again, really hard to determine what his righteousness specifically was. We know where it brought him - into the lion's den, in the dark of night for the longest hours with the kings of the beasts breathing down his neck - but we don't really know what his righteousness was.
Job was a righteous man, and yet again our temptation is to say that he is righteous because of his response to trial and tribulation. Yet again, we would be wrong. Job was a righteous man before Satan took away his fortune; that's kind of why Satan picked him (and God put him out there to be picked). He was a righteous man before God restored his fortune. He was a righteous man before we pick up his story in the Bible and so, here we are again wondering what righteousness might be. We know where it brought him - to the very end of himself, to a desolate place, to a barren land with dust and ashes as his covering - but we can't really say what his righteousness was.
It's not really where I had intended to go with this story. I was going to take the easy way and share that righteousness must be building an ark, facing the lions, and trusting the Lord, but as I started to tell these stories, it's clear: that's only our view of things. The truth is that these men were picked to do these things on account of their righteousness, which means there was something about them before they did the big things.
And it doesn't sound much like a reward, does it? If righteousness brings me to a place where I breathe more waste than wind, where I smell clearly the blood of the last man on the breath of the lion, where I'm stripped of everything and sit covered in ashes, why would I want righteousness?
That's kind of the deception, isn't it? That righteousness leads us to all these big, really big things. But it's not really about the big moments; righteousness is all the little things we do that make us ready for the big ones. It's being faithful to God when it doesn't seem He's asking so much, so that when He asks more, it's natural for us to say yes. It's spending all the quiet moments you can with Him so that when the lions start to roar, you can still hear His voice. It's refusing to hold on too tightly to the things of this world so you're free to give and to receive with open hands.
Then one day, yes, maybe righteousness is a smelly ark, a dark den, or a barren place.
But it is also a rainbow, the dawn of morning, and a life restored.