Note: Words in brackets are the author’s
In Part One, the Creator blessed His creation: the sea and air creatures and mankind. He also blessed Eleazar, Abraham’s servant. Eleazar [a symbol of one who seeks to fulfill God’s mission] responded by offering praise to the Lord and gave gifts.
Erroneously, some people think that being blessed is amassing wealth. Receiving wealth can be a tremendous blessing, but it can present a difficult challenge. One who has wealth must decide how or if he will use it to benefit others. Will he be generous or grudging? Having possessions is not wrong; however, when possessions [desire and greed] control us, we have reached the threshold of temptation.
“But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Tim. 6.9-10
Those powerful words should prompt us to reconsider our life’s pursuits. Acquiring wealth should not be central, but seeking God’s blessing should be.
Today’s lesson takes us to the first century, where we will continue to search for the meaning of bless in a different context, culture, and language. The books of Matthew and Luke give accounts of a familiar setting known as the Beatitudes.
After being tested in the wilderness, the Master went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath and read the Torah portion from the book of Isaiah. He read out loud for all to hear, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound….” Isa. 61.1. This is a profoundly prophetic passage and one we cannot fully embrace in this study; however, it captures the overarching intent of the Beatitudes. As such, it stands as a necessary foundational truth for the disciples. Can you visualize Isaiah’s words coming to life as the Master read from the scroll? Oh, to have been in the audience that day!
The Master’s fame spread throughout the region. Matthew records, “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:” (Mt. 5.1). As the Master began His instruction, no doubt, He wanted His disciples to embrace the Spirit of Isaiah’s words as He taught about those who are blessed. After all, the disciples required more than just knowledge of the Law; they also needed the spirit of the Law. Indeed, all who walk His path should embrace these attitudes in word and spirit.
Join me for a mountainside seat, and listen in on the Master’s class.
The Beatitudes – Matthew 5: 2-11
2And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven….
As is evident, the scope of these verses is about being blessed. Matthew and Luke record them as directed to the disciples, not necessarily the multitude. One could wonder why the Master ascended a mountain to teach His disciples. Another could question why He did not teach the multitude along with the disciples. To give a simple answer, let’s recall the root letters, bet, resh, and kaf, that we studied in Part One. When we combine the bet (house) and the resh (seed), they form the word bar. Bar has several meanings: pure, chosen, clean, et al. Baris also means “son of.” The LORD chose the disciples to follow Him as a son follows his father’s steps. Because all blessing comes from the Heavenly Father, the disciples must learn how to receive His blessing, hence, the Beatitudes. Though young and immature, they would learn from the Master – eventually, they would teach others.
In Matthew 4:25, we read that great multitudes followed the Master. The crowds were primarily concerned with their physical ailments, not spiritual needs. The masses needed the grace of salvation [belief in the Messiah] before they could walk the Master’s path (derek). Graciously, the Lord met the concerns of both groups. He healed the sick and taught the disciples. Incidentally, it was vital for the disciples to understand the depth of being blessed, for unbeknownst to them, they would face difficult days in the future.
Although this mountain scene occurred in the first century, it is reminiscent of another mountain event some 1300 – 1600 years earlier. Sinai was the mountain on which the Lord gave His Law to Moses [not the multitude]. Moses would then teach the multitude that had come out of Egypt. On both mountain occasions, Sinai and the Beatitudes, the message was instruction in righteousness, literally how to be blessed in God’s sight.
In today’s study, we will focus on the first three attitudes.
Some scholars read the Beatitudes as parallelism. Parallelism demonstrates two sides of an equation: Ex. “If this, then that.” Yet, others say the Beatitudes were written without verbs and should be read as exclamations rather than qualifying statements. In either case, I believe the result is the same.
- Poor in Spirit – Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
According to Strong’s G4434, “poor in spirit” means: begging, helpless, and needy. It seems strange to describe the blessed as beggars. However, the analogy is accurate for anyone who seeks to be blessed. Being poor in spirit does not mean monetarily poor or lacking in material goods, nor is it a spiritual state in which we shift in and out at will. To be poor in spirit means being empty of self [devoid of our will and desire], helpless and needy before a Holy God [unable to manufacture what only God can do], and begging for His filling [His will and His way].
The disciples were raw and untrained. Yet, they were no different from all who begin their walk with the Lord: full of self, lacking humility, and zealous for the journey. They needed time to grow. As the days progressed, their lives would be a continual manuscript for writing these attitudes upon their hearts. They would have to embrace being poor in spirit [empty of self, like a beggar is without possessions] before realizing the blessing of the other attitudes found in God’s kingdom.
- They that Mourn – Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Associating mourning with blessing seems incomprehensible, but the Master taught that those who mourn are indeed blessed and shall be comforted. Mourning in this passage exceeds grieving for the dead. The extent of mourning touches the living who are spiritually dead [out of God’s Covenant, far from the Lord].
Lamenting the spiritually dead, whether an individual or a nation, impacts more than our emotions. It affects our physical lives and may mean giving up a meal [fasting], or meals, to pray instead. It could also mean taking time to meditate and mourn, much like the mourner who sorrows many days after the burial of a loved one. Or it could be choosing to pray rather than enjoy personal pleasure. Most will say a quick prayer on someone else’s behalf, but few will take time to mourn for one in spiritual darkness.
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, mourned for his people and nation. He faithfully emptied himself of personal pleasure that he might weep, fast, preach, and pray for his brethren some 40 years before Jerusalem ultimately fell to Babylon. Like Jeremiah, the mourner is spiritually astute, having a God consciousness to pray and fast for those in need.
As spiritual novices, the disciples had not yet learned the meaning of mourning for those far from God. They had not discerned that one of their own possessed a traitor’s heart. He would hang himself rather than repent [make teshuva]. The disciples’ focus was likely on the fame surrounding the Master and the multitudes following Him. They did not understand the depth of personal emptiness represented when the Master taught. They would make the connection in time, but it would not come readily. They would flee when the Master hung on the Cross, and years later… . some would hang upon their own cross.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…to comfort all that mourn. (Isa. 61.1a, 2c)
- The Meek – Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
The third blessing addresses the meek. According to Bible Hub, “The meek were the special objects of the Divine regard, and to them, special blessings are promised (Ps. 22.26).” The definition goes on to say that Yahweh will teach the meek; they shall inherit the earth (land); He upholds them; and He will beautify them with salvation. Strong’s Concordance offers additional clarity for the word meek. In Hebrew it is ânâh, (aw-nawv) and means: answer, hear, testify, speak, sing, bear, cry, witness, give.
With these definitions in mind, to be meek connotes the person upon whom the Lord gives a specific blessing, especially regarding utterance. James says the tongue is uncontrollable, and out of it proceeds blessing and cursing. We can agree with James that these things ought not to be. Like the psalmist, the meek must ask the Lord to set a watch before his mouth and keep the door of his lips.
Of course, the Master understood His disciples lacked meekness – humanity characterized their lives. Once, after traveling to Capernaum, the Master asked, “What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” (Mark 9.33). Ashamedly, being guilty of arguing over who would be greatest in the Kingdom, they all remained silent. Along the road to Capernaum, something had gone wrong within the disciples’ hearts. They rivaled and were out of harmony with one another. Their focus was marred, which resulted in a verbal argument. They traveled with the Master but did not embrace His heart. They walked in the externals of being “disciples” – not as little children (Mark 9.33-37). They missed the goal.
Note: The disciples were not arguing over personal responsibilities. Instead, they made God’s sovereign rule their business, as though they had a right to weigh in on Kingdom decisions. It is no wonder they argued. May we resolve that God’s Kingdom is God’s business. Is it not enough to live godly “for” the Kingdom?
Unfortunately, meekness is a difficult lesson for us all. You and I cannot be too quick to condemn, for we, too, walk the same pathway to Capernaum . . . sometimes regularly. We struggle for greatness in our own kingdom: our family, the workplace, the church, and society. We vie for positions. We want to be seen AND heard. We argue when others disagree with our point of view. We raise disputes – just like the disciples.
Remember the letter kaf from our first study? Though simple, the kaf boldly speaks of humility. Oh, wait, is there such a thing as bold humility? I think so. Sometimes we mistake timidity or fear for humility, but humility is not fearful or timid. Like the servant Eleazar, whom God blessed, humility boldly offers praise to God and happily gives to others without argument.
Yes, the meek shall inherit the earth, for no one can succeed when personal pride is warring and holding the reigns.
To be continued . . .
Sheilah Smith © 2023