If you were to go through the Old Testament and pick out the heavyweights, the men (and perhaps women) who set the example that we ought to be following, who would you pick? Certainly, you might say David should be near the top of that list, being the great king and all and the line from which Jesus proceeded. A case could be made for Abraham, who received a tremendous covenant from God to be the father of a people too numerous to count. And if we're counting Abraham, we're just steps away from Isaac and Jacob, and indeed, God is often called the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." It might even be tempting to draw Solomon into this mix, on account of his great wisdom.
But when given to list the standard of righteousness, the prophet Ezekiel chose none of these men. Rather, he lists a quite interesting three:
Noah, Daniel, and Job (Ez. 14).
Noah, of course, is the man God called to shelter creation from the coming storm. Long before it even started to rain, God gave Noah the plans for a giant boat, and the man got to work building. In the middle of a field, far from water, Noah built a boat. Against the taunting of the people and the mockery of his community, Noah built a boat. Without anything but a whisper and a word, Noah built a boat. He was faithful at a time and in a way that the world around him thought laughably unnecessary; that was his righteousness.
Daniel was an Israelite taken to Babylon in captivity, and there, he became one of the elite men of the nation. But it was not his success that made him a righteous man; his righteousness made him a success. So what, then, was the heart of it? It was that, when the nation where he lived issued a decree that no one should pray to any god but the king himself, Daniel was found in an upper room, on his knees, praying toward Jerusalem. And when he was given the chance at all the riches and power and honor in the kingdom on account of the gift God had given him, he never failed to acknowledge God and defer all praise from himself onto the One who truly deserved it. Daniel was faithful in a place where his kind of faith was unpopular; that was his righteousness.
Job perhaps needs not a lot of discussion, but let's talk about him anyway. Job was a man who had it all, and through no fault of his own, lost everything. His friends pushed and pushed him to just confess his sin, but he had no sin to confess. They pressed him to curse God, but he wouldn't do it. Even his wife, at one point, tells him to just curse God and die, but he graciously declines; there's nothing he can think of to curse. So he sits in the ashes of his former life, scratching the itch of his skin disease with broken shards of his own pottery, defending God and praising Him. He was faithful in a time when everyone watching thought it impossible; that was his righteousness.
It's easy to talk about righteousness with someone like Abraham, who had a promise to go on. Or someone like David, who lived under God's incredible favor. Or someone like Solomon, with a great gift of wisdom. But requiring an example of what righteousness looks like, Ezekiel doesn't turn to a man in a good place; he turns to the men in hard places. That's where true faith is tested.
And righteousness shows itself in faithfulness where it is unnecessary, unpopular, or impossible...but persists anyway. Believes anyway. Trusts anyway. Prays anyway. Praises anyway. In lives like Noah's, Daniel's, and Job's.
Are you righteous?