Living Prayer

Where is your heart?

Please read and memorise Matthew 6:1-21

Yeshua had begun his sermon on this mountain with the beatitudes, urging His listeners to recognise their spiritual poverty, that we are utterly destitute when it comes to the righteousness required for the kingdom of heaven, and need to yield totally, hungering and thirsting for that righteousness. The answer to all our struggling and striving to be good enough is to give up trying to accomplish what only God can do, and instead cultivate our hunger and thirst for the beautiful purity of His righteousness. For then, Yeshua promises, we shall be filled.

Throughout the rest of His sermon, Yeshua is focused on stirring within us that hunger and thirst. No one who thinks themselves full, hungers and thirsts – but only those who recognise how empty they are. Thus Yeshua goes through the different aspects of our heart attitudes, revealing how lacking we are, so that we can be stirred to desire to be filled. Now He shifts the focus from wrongdoings to be avoided, to righteous doings requiring pure motives.

Tzedakah (Hebrew: צדקה) is a Hebrew word meaning “justice” or “righteousness“. It is the Jewish social justice religious obligation to do what is good and just in providing for the poor. In Jewish thought, giving to people in need is not something extra; it’s just the correct, honest thing to do in obeying Torah. Hence, some English versions render it: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others” (NIV); and others: “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men” (NKJV). For these Jews, charitable deeds (giving to meet the needs of the poor) was one of the most fundamental and essential forms of righteousness.

The Jewish ‘mitzvah of tzedakah‘ is considered to be one of the most important of their 613 commandments derived from the TorahTzedakah is so hardwired into the Jewish faith that the Talmud in Tractate Baba Bathra 9a says: “Charity is equal in importance to all other commandments combined.” This critical social responsibility cannot be done to someone – rather, it must be done with someone.  In Hebrew, the word meaning “to give” is Natan. In Hebrew and in English, the word can be read forward and backward, showing that in Jewish philanthropy the idea of “to give” it is also about “to receive.” As the poor receive money or other material assistance, the donor receives the merit of sharing the Almighty’s work and in so doing ensures that God will hear his prayers. This has significance for what Yeshua has to say here, that giving in order to be able to be seen by men negates any reward you might have been expecting from heaven. God doesn’t wait for an audience before He gives to us, and bestows so much good on each of us without any announcement that if any one of us were to start counting all that God has blessed us with we would be humbled and amazed.

Be careful not to parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them! If you do, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So, when you do tzedakah, don’t announce it with trumpets to win people’s praise, like the hypocrites in the synagogues and on the streets. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already! But you, when you do tzedakah, don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Then your tzedakah will be in secret; and your Father, who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4 CJB

Other Jewish rabbis would also develop teachings against publicly announcing your giving. The Talmud, in Hagiga 5a, tells the story of Rabbi Yanai, who once saw a man give money to a poor man publicly. He said, “It would have been better for you not to have given him anything rather than giving to him as you did, causing him embarrassment.” Yeshua’s focus, however, was on the effects on our relationship with God, and need for heart righteousness fit for the kingdom of heaven.

Since, to the Jewish mind, tzedakah and having God hear and answer your prayers were closely linked, Yeshua’s progression to instruction on prayer would have made perfect sense to his audience.

Yeshua began with the same contrast between doing good out of our relationship with God, and putting on a performance of ‘good’ to gain the approval or respect of man. Too many of the religious leaders prayed to men rather than to God; whatever was the form of their prayer, the scope of it was to beg the applause of men, and capture man’s honour and respect. The kingdom of heaven is not about outward appearances but about heart attitudes, about the secret things that only God knows and sees. In all personal prayer we should strive to be alone with God, to enter into that place of intimacy with the Almighty where secrets are shared and hearts laid bare.

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, who love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners, so that people can see them. Yes! I tell you, they have their reward already! But you, when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:5-6 CJB

This was not a rebuke of public prayer where people gather together to seek God in unity, but of displaying our private prayer in public in order to win the respect and adulation of others.

From there, Yeshua went on to instruct us how to pray. His focus here was on making things simple and real. We don’t have to use a lot of words when we pray, or keep saying the same thing over and over again. God is not deaf, He hears us the first time. He knows what we’re going to say even before we open our mouth.

And when you pray, don’t babble on and on like the pagans, who think God will hear them better if they talk a lot.  Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask him.   Matthew 6:7-8 CJB

Yeshua was not here forbidding either a long prayer, or the use of the same words in a prayer, when the heart sincerely prompts the utterance. He himself prayed at great length, even continuing in prayer all night (Luke 6:12), and in the garden he thrice repeated the same words. What He is counselling against is making lengthy prayers to try to gain esteem among men, or trying to badger and nag God into doing things through continuous repetition: “do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do” (NKJV). Our faith is to be in God, our Father in heaven, not in our supposed ability to manipulate Him and get Him to answer our prayers through repetitions or religious formulas. The purpose of our prayers is to connect with the heart of our heavenly Father, not to gain esteem from men.

Next, Yeshua gave them an example of what to pray. Peacemakers, those called sons of God, can come boldly to the throne of grace and cry out “Our Father“. Start with the focus on God, our Father, on His nature, His kingdom and His will. This is the basis for everything else we pray.

You, therefore, pray like this:
‘Our Father in heaven!
     May Your Name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
     Your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us the food we need today.
Forgive us what we have done wrong,
     as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us.
And do not lead us into hard testing,
     but keep us safe from the Evil One.
For kingship, power and glory are Yours forever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13 CJB

Once we’ve got our focus and priorities right we can petition God for our needs to be met, confident in His love and power to provide for us. Our basic physical needs, like enough food for today. Our spiritual needs, for forgiveness and protection from the attacks of the evil one. Just mentioning each need once is sufficient, our prayers don’t have to be long and flowery for God to hear and respond to them. He knows our needs even before we bring them to Him in prayer. Praying about our needs is not to inform God of our need, but to remind ourselves of our dependence on Him for the meeting of that need, and to put our confidence in His goodness.

After we’ve brought our needs to God, Yeshua encourages us to bring our focus back to where it belongs, on God whose kingship, power and glory are eternal. Our faith is in the very nature of God, not in our own religious endeavours. God gives because of who He is, not because of how we ask. He is the loving sovereign Lord over all. Nothing is too difficult for Him, no matter how impossible it looks to us. His is the kingship, power and glory forever.

One of our basic needs is that of forgiveness. Both the gift of forgiveness to be able to bestow on those who have wronged us, and the forgiveness of our wrongs.

Again, Yeshua brought everything back to our relationships with one another, and the need for these to be governed by holy love. There is no relationship with God that is independent of how we treat others. We are not to seek to impress them, for that is just lying to them about whom we really are. Our relationships with others are to be open, honest and loving, seeking always the good of the other, even at personal cost. One of those sitting listening to Yeshua this day would later pen these words:

If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20 BSB

People mess up and hurt one another over and over again, just as we have messed up and dishonoured the Father over and over again. God stands always ready to forgive. He keeps calling us back to repentance so we can receive the full benefits of His forgiveness. How can we accept such forgiveness and refuse to offer it to others?

For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;  but if you do not forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will not forgive yours. Matthew 6:14-15 CJB

What wrongs have others done to us? As hurtful as those things are, the debt they owe us for this wrong is still small compared with the debt we owe God for our wrong against Him. If we find ourselves lacking in forgiveness for others we bring this need to our Father as well, for they have wronged Him even more than they have wronged us and He has enough forgiveness to cover both their sin against Him and that against us. If we are willing and hungry, God will give us the forgiveness we need for each one who has done wrong to us.

Our giving is to be in secret, our prayer is to be in secret, and our fasting is to be in secret. None of these are for the purpose of looking good to others or earning the admiration of others. Notice how aptly Yeshua exposes the subtle ways we use to try to get others to notice and admire our “spirituality”. Without even a word we try to make others see what sacrifices we are making for the kingdom. God is not impressed. Citizens of the kingdom are to be motivated by our relationship with God, all our good works, prayers and sacrifice simply an outworking of that relationship. Our relationship with God is that which is expressed in the secret place, where no one else sees or knows. Pride demands that others know of our good deeds and give us the recognition that we feel we deserve, humility is content for God to be the only witness. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25. Are we more concerned about what man thinks of us or about what God thinks of us? Where are we laying up our treasure?

Yeshua continued teaching in His easy to relate to, easy to memorise way. The subject was deep and confronting, but the teaching used common things that everyone could relate to – moths, rust and thieves.

The things of this earth are ravenous, corrosive and untrustworthy, so easily destroying what we try to establish on this earth. All our efforts to become rich in the things of this world, whether material things or social standing or political power, are subject to the destructive forces of this world. It is not only ungodly to focus on building up wealth and stature for ourselves in this world, it’s stupid. All our efforts can so easily be laid to waste. But when our focus is on the kingdom of God, when we are seeking first His kingdom and righteousness, when our treasure is our right standing before God, when we joy in His delight, nothing and no one can take that from us. Only then are we truly prosperous, wealthy and secure.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

REFERENCES

1. My Jewish Learning. Tzedakah 101. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: May 31st, 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tzedakah-101/.
2. DeGroot, Jacquelyn. Jewish Philanthropy: The Concept of Tzedakah. Learning to Give. [Online] [Cited: May 31, 2020.] https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/jewish-philanthropy-concept-tzedakah.
3. Posner, Menachem. 15 Facts About Tzedakah Every Jew Should Know. Chabad.org. [Online] [Cited: May 31, 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4203668/jewish/15-Facts-About-Tzedakah-Every-Jew-Should-Know.htm.
4. Friedlander, Marty. Tzedakah, the Jewish Concept of Charity . Haaretz. [Online] August 16th, 2015. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/tzedakah-the-jewish-concept-of-charity-1.5387488.
5. Pendleton, J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Matthew 6 Bible Commentary – McGarvey and Pendleton. Christianity.com. [Online] [Cited: June 1st, 2020.] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=four&b=40&c=6.
6. Gill, John. Matthew 6 Bible Commentary – John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible. Christianity.com. [Online] [Cited: June 1st, 2020.] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=gill&b=40&c=6.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* In what ways did Jesus make his teaching easy to memorise and easy for the common people to relate to?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you as they’ve memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words in this section of His sermon?
* What is Jesus stirring us to hunger and thirst for in this section of His teaching?
* Why is it important to keep from trying to earn prestige through our giving, prayer or fasting?
* Is there a time when God enabled you to forgive something that had impacted you or your family really badly?
* What importance does your culture place on meeting the needs of the poor?
* How do you give in a way that honours and enables the person receiving, and doesn’t foster dependence?

Fulfilling Torah

Please read Matthew 5:17-48

Under the clear blue summer sky, Yeshua continued unfolding the principles of the kingdom of heaven. The term (Gk) ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν (“the kingdom of heaven”), is a major theme of Matthew’s Gospel, occurring 32 times (3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21, etc…). Since the expression ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶ occurs in Matthew 5:19 and 20, directly following Yeshua’s statements about the fulfilment (Gk: πληρόω, v. 17) and the accomplishment (Gk: γίνομαι, v. 18) of the Torah (Gk: νόμος) and the Prophets (Gk: προφῆται), it appears to be an integral part of that fulfilment.

Yeshua had just promised this crowd of Jews, God’s chosen people, the people in covenant with Him, that if they hungered and thirsted for righteousness they would be filled. He had reminded them that they were to be the salt of the earth and the light to the world through their good deeds bringing glory to God.  Now, He began explaining to them what such righteousness looked like in practical application.  

First, Yeshua confirmed what the Scribes and Pharisees taught – that righteousness equalled obeying Torah, in the broad sense of everything that God has spoken to them through the Hebrew scriptures.  

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (Neviim). I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.  

For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.   Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV

It was more than 1,300 years since God had come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the Jewish people, with thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain followed by a shofar blast sounding so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled as God gave the Law to Israel (Exodus 19-20). There had been major upheavals in the world since that time, empires had risen and fallen, cultures and ways of life had changed, but neither God, nor man’s nature, had altered in all that time. Yeshua declared that the Torah was just as relevant in His day as it had been when first given to Moses. He had not come to destroy or do away with any of God’s Law. The kingdom of heaven Yeshua came to proclaim was not a replacement for the Torah, but a fulfilment of it, an empowering of God’s people to live His Law, an infilling with His righteousness. Yeshua taught that even the commandment of God which we think to be of least importance is of great importance in the kingdom of heaven, and not the slightest detail of any of His Torah will be removed until all is fulfilled.

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 NKJV

The prophets had been sent to Israel throughout the ages to redirect the people to God’s idea of what obeying Torah involved.   Everything that Yeshua was teaching them was an expression, a fulfilment, a completion of what God had already told them through the Torah (Law) and the Neviim (Prophets).    Over the centuries God’s intent had been twisted and distorted by man’s ways, His priorities upended, and His words endowed with meanings quite different to what He had spoken to Moses and reiterated to the prophets.   Yeshua had come as a Jewish reformer, to restore their understanding and practice of His Torah.   Yeshua had come to fulfil the Torah and the prophets through living them fully. He had also come to fulfil the Torah and the prophets through being the fulfilment of what the Hebrew scriptures had prophesied concerning the Messiah, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and establishes a New Covenant.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… …” Jeremiah 31:31-34

As the summer fruits were ripening, Yeshua outlined the fruits of righteousness which were to be produced in their lives, the proper outworking of the law of love that had been given to govern their lives. The Scribes and Pharisees had so many outward displays of “righteousness” in their conspicuous observance of all the “Oral Law” established in their community, but Yeshua declared that such was by no means adequate for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He agreed with the Pharisees on the need to live in obedience to Torah, but disagreed with their interpretation of Torah. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven, He declared, required first and foremost being poor in spirit, being repentant, acknowledging that neither their birth as Jews, nor all their outward displays of ‘righteousness’, met God’s requirement of holy perfection.

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 NKJV

Next, Yeshua went through some examples of how the way that the Scribes and Pharisees were living Torah failed to display the true righteousness of God required of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. In each of these Yeshua uses the formula “you have heard that it was said to those of old…. … but I say to you... ….” in order to contrast the legalistic observance of the Torah with the heart-motivated observance of the Torah in living out God’s love and holiness.

Any harsh word or judgment against our brother is a breach of the law of love. Exodus 20:1-17 lists the 10 Commandments, and “You shall not murder” (Vs 13) is the 6th of these. Murder was against the law of the land and would be judged and punished by the Sanhedrin (Jewish council/law court, who both defined the law and executed judgment on serious law breakers – the highest court of the Jewish people). Unjustified anger, and any insults or put-downs are against God’s law of love, the law of the kingdom of heaven, and will be judged and punished by the King in fulfilment of all righteousness.

Yeshua was quick to remove all sense of complacency about their standing before God. The righteousness required by the kingdom of heaven was far greater than the outward compliance with the law that they were used to, and the alternative to the kingdom of heaven was the fires of Gehenna. The word translated “hell” in many English versions of the scriptures is “Gehenna”, which is derived from the Hebrew words “גי” and “הנם,” which mean “Valley of Hinnom.” This steep, narrow valley just outside the ancient walls of Jerusalem was notorious as the place where king Ahaz had led Judah in sacrificing children by fire in worship of the heathen God Molech (2 Chronicles 28:2-3), as did his grandson king Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:6) and Manasseh’s son Amon (2 Chronicles 33:22). Josiah, the reforming king, had stamped out that worship, and had ordered that the valley should be forever after an accursed place (2 Kings 23:10). Jeremiah likewise prophesied against this valley (Jeremiah 19:2-6). In consequence of this, the Valley of Hinnom became the place where the refuse of the Jerusalem was cast out and burned. It is also the location where the bodies of executed criminals, or individuals denied a proper burial, would be dumped. It has been suggested that the Romans, the only people living in this region who cremated their dead, also performed this rite in the Valley of Hinnom. Always the fire smouldered in it, and a pall of thick smoke lay over it. Isaiah 66: 24 speaks of looking upon the eternally suffering of the dead who had rebelled against God; “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” The ancient Aramaic paraphrase translations of the Hebrew Bible known as Targums supply the term “Gehinnom” frequently to verses touching upon resurrection, judgment, and the fate of the wicked. So Gehennah, the Valley of Hinnom, had become identified in people’s minds with all that was accursed and filthy, the place where useless and evil things were perpetually destroyed by a fire that was never quenched. This picture of Gehenna as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked occurs frequently in ancient Jewish writings such that it is recorded in the Mishnah in Kiddushin 4.14, Avot 1.5; 5.19, 20, Tosefta t. Bereshith 6.15, and Babylonian Talmud b.Rosh Hashanah 16b:7a; b. Bereshith 28b. Gehenna had become a synonym in Jewish thought for the place of eternal punishment of the wicked, and it was in this sense that Yeshua used it when warning the people of the dangers of unrighteousness.

It was no light matter for Yeshua to tell this crowd that being angry with their brother will be judged and a penalty for such will have to be paid. Even more serious was His warning that whoever calls his brother ‘Raca‘, a derogatory term meaning worthless, empty headed fool, would be guilty before the highest religious court in the land, the Sanhedrin, if they judged properly. Then comes Yeshua’s most devastating pronouncement; that the one who denounces another as a fool, a wicked rebel against God, is in danger of the fires of God’s eternal punishment. Verbal attacks, gaslighting and bullying have no place in the kingdom of heaven. How greatly we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness!

The Hebrew scriptures spoke much about anger and the power of our words:

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:8

Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue. Proverbs 11:12

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel. Proverbs 11:17

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18

A brother who has been insulted is harder to win back than a walled city, and arguments separate people like the barred gates of a palace. Proverbs 18:19

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21

In times to come a Pharisee in training, Saul, would be transformed by the risen Christ to become the apostle Paul, and write this description of the kingdom love we are to demonstrate to our brother:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV

Yeshua then flipped the emphasis, reminding His audience that they could as likely be the one who had done wrong as the one who was in danger of being angry because they had been wronged or let down.

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.  Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:23-26

According to the Oral Law, the requirements for Temple sacrifices took precedence over everything else. Hence the instrumental worship in the Temple that was not allowed anywhere else on Shabbat. Yet, Yeshua, here stated that the Kingdom of Heaven law of love took precedence even over this. Nothing, not even a sacrifice in worship of God, is more important that righting our wrongs and being reconciled to one another. Like Yochanan the Immerser, Yeshua‘s teaching on righteousness focused on treating all others with love and respect.

Yeshua then moves on from the 6th Commandment to the 7th – “You shall not commit adultery.” Exodus 20:14. Contrary to many in His day, and the teachings of many even today, Yeshua places the full responsibility on the man for his lust:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin (stumble or offend), pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin (stumble or offend), cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Matthew 5:28-30

Our sin is our responsibility, no one else’s. Yeshua did not say, “if the woman’s dress causes you to sin“, but “if YOUR eye causes you to sin“. Sin is birthed in the heart of the person who commits it, not in the actions or clothes of others. Joseph here provides the perfect example for us (Genesis 39). Regardless of how Potiphar’s wife dressed or what she did to try to entice him, Joseph remained steadfast in His commitment to God and His righteousness. Likewise, Job declared:

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman. Job 31:1

Indulging in pornography is not the righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven. The people who were listening to Yeshua speak up on that mountain did not have ready access to pornography, such increased greatly when printed materials became readily available, and has exploded to epidemic proportions with the internet – so much so that it is now ensnaring women as well as men. One survey of 18-35 year olds in a western nation (Daspe et all 2017) found that 73 percent of women and 98 percent of men reported internet porn use in the last six months. $3,075.64 is spent on internet porn every second, that’s $265,735,290 every day. Think how many orphans and widows could be fed around the world with over two hundred and fifty million dollars a day, if all those people lived by the Kingdom of Heaven‘s law of love instead of gratifying the lust of their eyes! Disturbingly, far too many Christians, and even church leaders, have fallen prey to this evil. According to a survey by the Barna Group in 2016:
– 1 in 5 youth pastors and 1 in 7 senior pastors use porn on a regular basis and are currently struggling. That’s more than 50,000 U.S. church leaders.
– 43% of senior pastors and youth pastors say they have struggled with pornography in the past.
– Only 7% of pastors report their church has a ministry program for those struggling with porn.

Yeshua’s words are even more necessary for us now than at any time in history (and could well include “if your computer causes you to sin“, or “if your phone causes you to sin“):

If YOUR eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you.… … And if your right hand causes you to sin (stumble or offend), cut it off and cast it from you;…”

Lustful looking is contrary to the law of love. It involves regarding others solely as opportunities for one’s own gratification. Lustful looking offends God as much as adultery does. He has called us to love which respects and delights in others for who He created them to be, not for what we can get from them. His righteousness is love which seeks the good of others and the honouring of God, love which is faithful to covenant. All of this was God’s intent with the 7th Commandment. All of this is the fruit of being filled with His righteousness, which Yeshua promises to do for us if we hunger and thirst for it.

Yeshua, like Yochanan the Immerser before Him, was a reformer who spoke truth to power. The two institutions of legal and religious power in Jewish society at this time, the synagogue and the Sanhedrin, consisted solely of men. Thus we see later on (John 8:1-11), when a couple were caught in the act of adultery, only the woman was brought to Yeshua with the charge: “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women“. Yeshua’s confrontation with the prevailing power structures blaming women for men’s lust did not in any way condone women lusting after men as Potiphar’s wife had done, it just removed all excuses men had for blaming women for their own sin of lust. Yeshua was safe for women to be with, He treated them with love and respect, like sisters. He expected His disciples do to likewise, and never even contemplate anything else. In the kingdom of heaven women do not have to carry the responsibility for men’s lust, but each one stands before God for their own heart attitudes, words and actions.

Yeshua had warned about the fire of hell (Gehenna) in his discourse on the 6th Commandment, prohibiting murder. Now He twice warns about your whole body being cast into Gehenna in His discourse on the 7th Commandment, prohibiting adultery. There is an alternative to the Kingdom of Heaven, there is an alternative to being poor in spirit (repentant), there is an alternative to taking responsibility for your sin and casting it away from you, there is an alternative to hungering and thirsting for righteousness. You can choose to satisfy the lusts of the flesh and have your whole body cast into Gehenna.

Notice the slight change in wording here. A shift from “you have heard that it was said to those of old“, to just “it has been said.” Yeshua is still speaking on the topic of adultery. The shift has been made from the 7th Commandment to a practice that God never commanded, but allowed because He knew what hardened hearts would do if not regulated in some way. Divorce was never part of what it was to be God’s chosen people, set apart as an example to the nations of how people were created to live. It appears to have been a practice that the Israelites took with them from Egypt, as the process under the Pharos was much the same as what they adopted. In Pharaonic Egypt, if a husband wanted to divorce his wife, in addition to saying: “I’m leaving you as a wife”, he had to also hand over a written divorce document confirming the end of the marital relationship between them and explicitly giving her the freedom to marry another if she wants. The passage in Deuteronomy, which is the only scripture in the Torah mentioning any procedure for divorce, alludes to the Israelites having continued this practice after leaving Egypt:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,  and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man,  and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies,  then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 NIV

You can see that Moses is not here commanding divorce, or even saying that only the man and not the woman can divorce their spouse, but simply acknowledging that, despite God’s word which says the two are now one (Genesis 2:24), divorce sometimes took place among the Israelite people, so He adding a limit on it that the man could not later go back and remarry a woman whom he had previously divorced (Vs 4). The Pharisees in Yeshua’s day had re-interpreted this passage in terms of an argument between them over what grounds God’s law permitted for a man to divorce his wife. This was hotly contested between the two major schools of Pharisees in Yeshua’s day – Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. Here is a snippet of some of the debate between them:

The house of Shammai say, a man may not put away his wife, unless he finds some uncleanness in her, according to (Deuteronomy 24:1) The house of Hillell say, if she should spoil his food, (that is, as Jarchi and Bartenora explain it, burns it either at the fire, or with salt, i.e. over roasts or over salts it,) who appeal also to (Deuteronomy 24:1). R. Akiba says, if he finds another more beautiful than her, as it is said, (Deuteronomy 24:1) “and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes.

On most topics Yeshua’s teaching was more in line with that of Bet Hillell than that of Bet Shammai, but He would have nothing to do with such a degrading of covenant and leaving women totally at the mercy of the man’s whim (Matthew 19:3-9). Divorce is not one of the kingdom principles, and indicates only a failure, by one or both marriage partners, to live by those principles. Interestingly, since Jewish society at this time gave all the power to the man, claiming it was God’s law to do so – both schools of Pharisees interpreted this passage as God giving approval for man to divorce his wife but forbidding a woman from divorcing her husband, Yeshua laid all the responsibility on the man, stating that his divorcing of the woman “caused her” to commit adultery. By divorcing his wife and sending her out from their marriage, the man was putting her in the position of needing to be joined to someone else, thus “causing her” to commit adultery and so bearing the guilt for this. The only exception to the man being responsible for the ensuing adultery was if his decision to divorce his wife was because she had been sexually immoral, unfaithful to their marriage covenant and therefor an adulterer before he divorced her. Those who have the power also carry the responsibility, and will have to answer to God for the impact their decisions have on those they exercise power over.

As we follow the life of Messiah, we will see how strongly committed He is to the covenant of marriage being honoured in the kingdom of heaven. Divorce may be prevalent in the world, but our citizenship is in a kingdom built on faithful love and such is the salt and light this world needs. If you enter into covenant you are not to look for ways out of it, God desires faithfulness in His people – faithfulness to Him and to one an other.

Yeshua moved on to the focus of the ninth Commandment – honesty and integrity. Speaking the truth so consistently that none have reason to doubt that your “yes” is truly “yes” and your “no” is truly “no”. The basis for this in the Torah included both the ninth commandment, and teaching in Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy:

Do not give false evidence against your neighbour. Exodus 20:16 & Deuteronomy 5:20 (The Ninth Commandment)

Do not swear by my name falsely, which would be profaning the name of your God; I am Adonai. Leviticus 19:12 CJB

...when a man makes a vow to Adonai or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do. Numbers 30:2 CJB

If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth. Deuteronomy 23:21-23 NIV

Again, you have heard that our fathers were told, Do not break your oath, and Keep your vows to Adonai.  But I tell you not to swear at all — not ‘by heaven,’ because it is God’s throne;  not ‘by the earth,’ because it is his footstool (Isaiah 66:1); and not ‘by Yerushalayim’ (Jerusalem), because it is the city of the Great King (Psalm 48:1-2).  And don’t swear by your head, because you can’t make a single hair white or black. Just let your ‘Yes’ be a simple ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ a simple ‘No’; anything more than this has its origin in evil. Matthew 5:33-37 CJB

The Torah provided for basic justice in Israel’s courts. Wrongdoing that brought harm to another would be repaid with equal harm being inflicted on the one who did wrong – no more and no less. This provided deterrent to inflicting harm, a sense of justice being done, and limited any retribution to the harm that person had inflicted on another. It also took retribution for wrongs out of the hands of the individual who had been wronged, or their family, and put it into the hands of the legal system – it was the responsibility of the state to execute justice so as to maintain the good order of society.

If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.  But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,  burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25

Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner:  fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Leviticus 24:19-20

The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite,  then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.  Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:18-21

As Yeshua had said at the beginning of this discourse, His words were not to be construed to be undermining or contradicting any of the Law given to Moses for governing the people: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (Neviim). I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.” He was not critiquing the Law given for governing the people, nor the operation of their courts, but taking things deeper to the heart level where only God sees.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. ” Matthew 5:38-42 NKJV

The first thing to note in Yeshua’s words here is His directness is describing the one who slaps you on your cheek, wants to sue you for your tunic or compel you to go a mile with them as “an evil person“. These are wrongs that are being done, not accidentally but through evil intent. They are unjust actions, and the sort of wrongs that society should protect you from and execute judgment on the “evil person” doing the wrong. The responsibility on those in power, and society as a whole, to deal with such wrongs is not diminished by Yeshua‘s exhortation for our heart response and personal actions.

At first glance, Yeshua’s instruction not to resist an evil person seems so unjust. Why just let someone abuse you? Under Roman occupation Yeshua’s audience had plenty of experience of being unjustly treated. Occupation soldiers often took out their frustrations on innocents in the population, or sort to enrich themselves by taking from the peoples of the land. The Zealots had an answer for such – get revenge, gorilla warfare, take from the Romans every time they took from the people of Israel, murder Romans for every Israelite they killed. Yeshua’s response was the total opposite. His advice for regaining personal power in the situation was not to resist the evil person, but to go above and beyond what they demand. Do extravagant good to the evil person. Do not allow their evil to dictate your actions or entice you to respond with corresponding evil. Choose to be different. Choose to stand apart as God’s special people displaying His character by doing good, no matter what.

Some oppressed peoples have taken hold of Christ’s words here and seen the power in them. Dr Martin Luther King stated it thus: “The ancient law “an eye for an eye” will make all people blind. It is immoral because it is trying to subdue the enemy, and not to achieve his understanding, it seeks to destroy, not to win over.”

Yeshua then flipped the emphasis, as He had done with His teaching on murder and anger, taking His hearers from the place of being oppressed by those more powerful to that of being the ones with the power, the ones capable of giving and lending to those less fortunate than themselves: “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” This again, is a fulfillment of Torah:

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. Deuteronomy 15:7-8

Yeshua continues with His theme of responding to evil with good, of responding to hate with love, of the kingdom of heaven being an outworking of love so powerful it conquers all else. This is what the Torah has to say on it:

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. … And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:17-18, 33-34

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.” Exodus 23:4-5

And the Proverbs say:

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles” Proverbs 24:17

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,” Proverbs 25:21

Note that Yeshua again omitted the phrase “to those of old”, for only half of this saying was in the Torah, the second half was a more recent addition within the tradition of the community. The command to love your neighbour is in the Torah, and Yeshua confirmed this, but the Torah contains no command to hate your enemy. Thus, in commanding His disciples to love their enemy Yeshua was again urging full obedience to Torah, rather than contradicting or doing away with it. What Yeshua was contradicting was a popular adage among the Zealots: “Love your neighbour, but hate your enemy.” That is to say, “Love your fellow-Jew (i.e., your neighbour), but hate the Romans.” The Dead Sea community in Qumran went even further. They taught their followers to “love all the sons of light … and hate all the sons of darkness,” understanding the sons of light as members of their own sect and sons of darkness to be other Jews outside of their sect (Dead Sea Scrolls). Yeshua was calling those Jews gathered up on that mountain with Him to repent from such a distortion of Torah and return to it’s true meaning, in line with the demands of the kingdom of heaven:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?  
Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV

Once again Yeshua presents love as the empowering force with which they were to combat all hatred, curses, abuse and persecution. Here He promises the same reward as that accorded to the “peacemakers“, those who confront sin and offer God’s terms for reconciliation, being sons of God, sons of our Father in heaven. Our love is to extend beyond those in our own social circle, extend beyond those of our own tribe, extend beyond those who are kind or friendly towards us, extend beyond all boundaries to include all people, even those who do evil to us or rule unjustly over us.

Yeshua concludes this portion of His sermon with a crescendo. Everything He has being teaching with regard to “you have heard that it was said…. but I say unto you” has been building to this point. You are not to be like the peoples of other nations. You are not even to be like the Scribes and Pharisees. Don’t compare yourselves to other people. God has called and chosen you to be like Himself, to be perfect as your Father in heaven in perfect. This has echoes of what has been referred to as the ‘fundamental commandment’ of the Hebrew scriptures: For I am Adonai your God; therefore, consecrate yourselves and be holy, for I am holy (Leviticus 11:44). Perfect (τέλειοι) here refers to being complete, fully developed, mature, even as your Father in heaven is. Such a state is not reached by human efforts, but by being in union with the perfection of God. It is that which His righteousness accomplishes in us as we are filled in response to hungering and thirsting for His perfection. It comes through being poor in spirit, repentant from every reliance upon self to meet God’s standards; through mourning, bringing all our pain and woundedness before God; through meekness, yielding everything to God; and through hungering and thirsting of desperate necessity for righteousness.

REFERENCES

1. Toit, Philip La Grange Du. The fulfilment of the law according to Matthew 5:17: A dialectical approach. Research Gate. [Online] December 2018. [Cited: May 10th, 2020.] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329613156_The_fulfilment_of_the_law_according_to_Matthew_517_A_dialectical_approach.
2. Westerholm, Stephen. The Law in the Sermon on the Mount: Matt 5:17-48. Criswell Theological Review. [Online] 1992. [Cited: May 10th, 2020.] https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/ntesources/ntarticles/ctr-nt/westerholm-lawinseronmount-ctr.pdf.
3. Covenant Eyes. Pornography Statistics. Covenant Eyes. [Online] https://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/.
4. New World Encyclopedia. Gehenna. New world Encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: May 17th, 2020.] https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gehenna.
5. Gill, John. Matthew 5:22. Bible Study Tools. [Online] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/matthew-5-22.html.
6. Cochrane, Ross. Matthew 5 – Part 13 – Am I Going To Hell For Calling Someone A Fool? . Sermon Central. [Online] January 3rd, 2010. https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/matthew-5-part-13-am-i-going-to-hell-for-calling-someone-a-fool-ross-cochrane-sermon-on-hell-142699.
7. Dashish, Ali Abu. Divorce in Ancient Egypt. See News. [Online] September 11th, 2019. https://see.news/divorce-at-ancient-egypt/.
8. MJL. Jewish Divorce 101 – An overview of how marriages are traditionally dissolved. My Jewish Learning. [Online] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-divorce-101/.
9. Greenberg, Blu. Divorce in the Bible. My Jewish Learning. [Online] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/divorce-in-the-bible/.
10. Guzik, David. Deuteronomy 24 – The Law of Divorce and Other Various Laws. Enduring Word. [Online] 2018. https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/deuteronomy-24/.
11. Krol, Peter. Context Matters: You Have Heard That it was Said…But I Say to You. Knowable Word. [Online] July 27th, 2018. https://www.knowableword.com/2018/07/27/context-matters-you-have-heard-that-it-was-said-but-i-say-to-you/.
12. Chery, Fritz. Eye For An Eye. Bible Reasons. [Online] Jenuary 12, 2020. https://biblereasons.com/eye-for-an-eye/.
13. Love your Neighbor but Hate Your Enemy. Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: May 25th, 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/love-your-neighbor-but-hate-yo.html.
14. Pennington, J.T. 2008. The kingdom of heaven in the Gospel of Matthew. Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12(1):44-51
15. Mitch, C. & Sri, E. 2011. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture).
16. Evans, C.A. 2012. Matthew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (New Cambridge Bible Commentary).
17. Carson, D.A. 1984. Matthew. In: F.E. Gaebelein (ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp. 3-599.
18. Daspe M, Vaillancourt-Morel M, Lussier Y, Sabourin S & Ferron A (2017): When Pornography Use Feels Out of Control

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What insights have your people shared with you as they’ve memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words in this section of His sermon?
* In what ways was Jesus fulfilling what is written in the Old Testament Law and Prophets?
* How does Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount help us to teach and obey God’s commandments?
* How can our righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees?
* If Jesus was to come and teach on a hill in your area and started saying “you have heard that it was said … … but I say unto you” what misunderstandings, distortions and false teachings do you think He would address, and how would He correct them?

Salt and Light

Please read Matthew 5:13 – 16

Yeshua’s voice was strong, yet gentle. His teaching was clear and simple, yet incomprehensible. What He said had the ring of the scriptures they had memorised as children and heard in the Synagogue every Shabbat, yet so different to the interpretations they were used to hearing from other religious teachers. He spoke with a profound authority, yet compassionately. This man viewed the world through a different lens. The crowd mulled over what He had called blessed and the way that He was introducing the kingdom of heaven to them. It was both familiar and yet strikingly unique.

Those last words on being blessed if you are persecuted had struck a nerve.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

It was their own people who had persecuted the prophets. The Jews liked to think of themselves as a people who honoured the prophets and heeded their words, but their history, as recorded in their scriptures, told a different story. Prophets spoke a word from God that the people did not want to hear. They called the people to repentance and set forth God’s terms for them to be reconciled to Him, but most people prefer to come to God on their own terms rather than conforming to His. Their ancestors had persecuted the prophets rather than conform to God’s terms for relationship with Him.

Yeshua had set forth a vision of the kingdom of heaven which included being peacemakers – boldly declaring God’s conditions for being reconciled with Him. Then He had related such to being persecuted. He connected living in God’s righteousness with being persecuted. He had spoken about being reviled, falsely accused and hunted down by their own people for righteousness sake, just as the prophets before them had been. Those were not easy words to hear when all their lives they had been taught that they would be honoured in their community for being righteous like the Pharisees.

Some commentators have suggested that Jesus’ teachings here were for that select group called ‘disciples’, or even just for “the twelve” (who had not yet been selected), for those who were ‘part of the kingdom’, “genuinely committed believers”, and not for the multitudes who had followed Yeshua up this mountain to hear His teaching. What they failed to recognise was that Yeshua had not come to ‘start a new religion’, but to reform Judaism – to call the Jewish people, all the Jewish people, back to God’s original purpose for them and help them understand what it really means to live in obedience to God’s Law.

First centenary Jewish society did not have “believers” and “non-believers” the way we think of them in modern western nations. Their distinction was between Jews and non-Jews. Knowledge of God permeated every aspect of Jewish life, it was woven into the fabric of their culture and coloured every activity of daily life. It was the aim of the Jewish people to be part of the kingdom of heaven, it was their birthright as Jews. This was tied up in their expectations of a coming Messiah. Everyone of the multitude of Jews who followed Yeshua up that mountain and listened to this ‘Sermon on the Mount’, had a hope and expectation of being citizens of this kingdom. Everyone of them knew that Yeshua’s words were for them. This was what God had established Israel to be – His kingdom, salt and light to the world.

Yeshua continued His teaching with two simple illustrations which were easy to remember, yet profound. Again, these were designed to be memorised, meditated upon, discussed, lived, and shared with others.

You are the salt of the earth; … Matthew 5:13a NKJV

Salt is essential for life in general. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes, thus salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings. Salting is also an important method of food preservation. With the spread of civilization, salt became one of the world’s main trading commodities. Wars have been fought over salt and it has been used as currency and to raise tax revenues. It was prized by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Hittites, Egyptians, Indians and Chinese. Salt thus became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara on camel caravans.

Salt had an especially strong significance for the Jewish people. It is a very stable mineral – tastes the same in a week’s time, in a year’s time, in a hundred years time, in ten-thousand years time. Other elements of a meal – meat, grains, vegetables and herbs all degraded over time. Salt carried a sense of permeance, of endurance, it hinted at eternity. Not only that, but it helped preserve these other foods, it lengthened their life and improved their flavour. So salt had become an essential part of any covenant. In a covenant of friendship between families the meal shared had to include salt, include that which is enduring. Likewise, in God’s covenant with Israel the sacrifices offered to God had to be salted.

You shall season your every offering of meal (grain) with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with God; with all your offerings you must offer salt. Leviticus 2:13

When you offer them (young bull, male goat without defect and ram form the flock) before the Lord, the priests shall throw salt on them, and they will offer them up as a burnt offering to the Lord. Ezekiel 43:24

And whatever they need—young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem—let it be given them day by day without fail. Ezra 6:9

God also made two lasting covenants which He referred to as berit melakh, “covenant of salt“. The first was with Aaron and his descendants to be priests and partake of the offerings “for all time“. The second was with David and his descendants to have kingship over Israel “forever“. Thus, God kept the two branches of governance over His people, the priesthood and the kingship, separate so that each would be accountable to the other and all accountable to Him.

All the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside for God I give to you, to your sons, and to the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time. It shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before God for you and for your offspring as well. Numbers 18:19

Surely you know that the God of Israel gave David kingship over Israel forever—to him and his sons—by a covenant of salt. 2 Chronicles 13:5

This second covenant of salt is particularly interesting because of it’s connection with Messiah, stating clearly that he must be a descendant of David. Anyone having messianic rule over Israel who was not a descendant of David would be a breach of this enduring covenant. God simply would not do such a thing, He is a covenant making, covenant keeping God. The genealogies in both Matthew and Luke importantly show that Yeshua was indeed a descendant, a ‘son’, of David, and thus He is the fulfilment of this “covenant of salt” that God made with David and with Israel.

All the multitude of Jews sitting up on the mountain with Yeshua knew that He was speaking to them when He said: “You are the salt of the earth…”. The Jewish people are essential to life and civilisation on earth. They are essential as a witness and example of God’s dealing with mankind. They are essential as a testimony to God’s goodness and truth. That is what God had established the Jewish nation to be, salt preserving the earth, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In calling them the salt of the earth Yeshua gave importance to the Jews scattered throughout the nations as well as those living in their homeland, for salt has to be scattered over the whole of the offering if it is going to be accepted, not just piled up on one portion of it. Everywhere that the Jews went throughout the earth they were to be salt in that place, a testimony by how they kept God’s covenant, to the nature and goodness of the one true God, creator of the universe and husband to their nation.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” Exodus 19:5-6

… but if the salt looses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned?  It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.  Matthew 5:13b

To us, talking about salt loosing it’s flavour might not make much sense. We have been focusing on it’s enduring nature, so how could it lose its flavour? To the scientist, salt (NaCl, sodium chloride) is one of the three or four most stable compounds in the world.    Virtually no natural reaction can cause salt to turn into any other compound.  It does not change, it does not degrade, salt is always salt and it is always salty.

but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. Matthew 5:13b

But these Jews had experienced salt that had lost its flavour, they knew what Yeshua was talking about. Pure salt cannot lose its flavour, but not all the salt they purchased was pure. Indeed, the cheaper salts sometimes contained a mixture of salt with some other cheap and tasteless mineral (such as Gypsum, which was also abundant in the area) that, when ground up, nevertheless looked like salt. When the percentage of impurities in the salt got too great it lost its flavour and became worthless. No man would allow it to be thrown onto his field because it would destroy the fertility of the ground. The only place for it was on the street, where it would be trampled underfoot by men.

God’s covenant with the Jewish people was both wonderful and terrible. There were blessings for obedience, but there were also curses for disobedience. The people had stood on two mountains (now located in Samaria) and spoken the blessings over themselves from one mountain, and the curses over themselves from the other (Deuteronomy 11:26-29 & Joshua 8:33-35). Yeshua was now speaking prophetically to them of what would happen if the Jewish people lost their saltiness, rejected His words, they would be good for nothing as far as the kingdom of heaven was concerned, thrown out of their holy city of Jerusalem and trampled underfoot by men.

The need to remain pure was not new to Judaism. All the laws of the Pharisees were focused on keeping the people pure. The ‘fence they built around the Torah‘ was to keep the people pure. All their ritual hand washings and mikvah’s were to ensure the purity of the people. What Yeshua was saying was, in many ways, very close to what the teachers of the law were saying about the need for them to be pure before God. And yet, it was also so very different. Yeshua had just told them what the Father required in their purity, and there was not a ritual washing or shunning of other peoples in it – be poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Pride and self-righteousness, judgmental and hateful attitudes were the sort of impurities that Yeshua was warning against as things that could make them tasteless and useless to the kingdom.

The title “light of the world” appears frequently in rabbinic literature to describe a source of wisdom, goodness, or holiness. Different rabbinic sources use the term “light of the world” to describe the menorah, the Temple, Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, the sages, specific rabbis, the whole nation of Israel, the redemption, the Torah, and even God Himself. The concept of the Jewish people being the light of the world was founded on Deuteronomy 4, in combination with Isaiah 42, 49 & 60, and depicted in the menorah.

Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you…. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”  What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?  And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Deuteronomy 4:1-2 & 6-8 NIV

I, Adonai, called you righteously, I took hold of you by the hand, I shaped you and made you a covenant for the people, to be a light for the Goyim (Gentiles).” Isaiah 42:6 CJB

I will also make you a light to the nations, so my salvation can spread to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6b

Arise, shine [Yerushalayim], for your light has come, the glory of Adonai has risen over you. For although darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness the peoples; on you Adonai will rise;
over you will be seen his glory. Nations will go toward your light
and kings toward your shining splendour.
Isaiah 60:1-3 CJB

Israel was to model before the nations a lifestyle governed by the light of God’s instructions. The successful and blessed lives that they would live in obedience to the Word of God would enlighten the Gentiles and turn them to God. As they elevated the light of the menorah, Israel would also be exalted. The Jewish people see in the seven flames of the menorah the collective souls of Israel as God’s light to the nations. Even the words of the commandment for lighting the menorah speak of Israel’s being elevated so as to enlighten the Gentile world. The command is, “When you raise the light” (Numbers 8:1). Israel was designed to lift up God’s fire upon a lampstand so it would give light to the household of humanity. They were not to hide, or lower, the light. They were to raise it, exalt it, make it glorious. Israel itself was elevated above the other nations of the world for the express purpose of raising the light: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2, NKJV). Israel was chosen in order to raise God’s light, to be a demonstration of God’s holiness. God had formed Israel according to the heavenly pattern to be a menorah, a lampstand on which the light could be raised to radiate into the world. God had chosen to place His light in an insignificant, nomadic tribe and, by illuminating their lives with the goodness of His Torah, make them His menorah to the nations.

Even today the Jewish people recognise God’s intent that they be the light of the world, as can be seen in the selection of the menorah as the national emblem of Israel, and their prime minister’s words:

…as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as ‘Light Unto the Nations’.” Benjamin Netanyahu, 2010.

Yeshua was not saying anything new to these Jews gathered up on the mountain to hear His teaching. It was a generally accepted doctrine that God had established their nation to be the light of the world. But Yeshua placed this teaching in a different context, in the context of the Beatitudes. In the context of being peacemakers, inviting all to be reconciled to God.

A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14b-15 NKJV

Every Jew immediately thought of Jerusalem as the city set on the hill, the city that was ordained to light the whole world with the knowledge of God. Here again was a prophetic hint at the coming destruction of that city if they continued to fail to shine the light of obedience to God’s covenant with them. A lamp placed under a bowl extinguishes itself for lack of oxygen. Likewise, the light of the world where the Temple stood, the menorah burned, the Sanhedrin convened, the rabbis taught, the Torah was studied, and the nation of Israel assembled, was in danger of being extinguished. Poverty of spirit, repentance, was needed to bring the nation back to God’s intent.

The interior walls of first-century houses had small niches in which the homeowner placed an oil lamp for illumination, and from that perch the lamp “gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:15). All of a sudden the pharisees’ Eighteen Articles”, exclusivist measures which included prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbours, seemed like a pretty poor addition to what God had commanded them. To hide from, and cut off all positive contact with, their heathen neighbours would hide their lamps under a basket of hatred for the other. God had called them to shine before all men of all nations so that they, too, could be drawn to Him.

This teaching was not just for the Jews sitting up on the mountain listening to Yeshua, it was for them to share with all their Jewish neighbours and the Jewish traders from different areas who came to this major trading centre of Capernaum for business.   “This teacher says that we are the salt of the earth, wherever you live and travel you need to keep covenant and remain pure to show all peoples what the one true God is like.”   And then again; “this teacher says that we are the light of the world, we are not to hide ourselves away from others but to show them God’s goodness through our good deeds.” Listening, learning, memorising, living and sharing – that was the task of all who sat as disciples (students) of Yeshua this day.

Reference List

1. Chan, Edmund. What does it mean to be Salt of the Earth? Salt & Light. [Online] 23rd January 2018. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://saltandlight.sg/faith/edmund-chan-what-does-it-mean-to-be-salt-of-the-earth/.
2. Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Concise) . 1706.
3. Ellicott, Charles John. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. 1863.
4. Benson, Joseph. Benson Commentary. 1857.
5. Barnes, Albert. Barnes Notes on the Whole bible. 1838.
6. Nicoll, William Robertson. The Expositor’s Greek Testament. 1897.
7. Emil G. Hirsch, Immanuel Benzinger, Cyrus Adler, M. Seligsohn. SALT. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13043-salt.
8. Donovan, Richard Niell. Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Matthew 5:13-20. Sermon Writer. [Online] 2018. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/matthew-513-20/.
9. Fleischmann, Neil. Salt of the Earth. The New York Jewish Week. [Online] 20th March 2012. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/salt-of-the-earth/.
10. Rosenfeld, Dovid. Covenant of Salt. Ask the Rabbi. [Online] [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://www.aish.com/atr/Covenant-of-Salt.html.
11. Bernard, Tim Daniel. A Covenant of Salt. JTSA. [Online] 27th March 2020. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] http://www.jtsa.edu/a-covenant-of-salt.
12. Brama, Dror. The Covenant of Salt – 5767. Torah Mitzion. [Online] 23rd March 2007. [Cited: 30th April 2020.] https://torahmitzion.org/learn/the-covenant-of-salt/.
13. A Hidden Teaching in the Light of the World. Torah Portions. [Online] [Cited: 4th May 2020.] https://torahportions.ffoz.org/disciples/matthew/a-hidden-teaching-in-the-light.html.
14. Artson, Rabi Bradley. The Menorah: Let Your Light Shine. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-menorah-let-your-light-shine/.
15. Quinn, Carissa. Who Has God Chosen? Bible Project. [Online] 25th November 2019. [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://bibleproject.com/blog/who-has-god-chosen/.
16. Netanyahu, Benjamin. Address by PM Netanyahu at the Herzliya Conference. s.l. : Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs., 2010.
17. Garr, John D. God’s Lamp, Man’s Light – Mysteries of the Menorah. Bridges for Peace. [Online] [Cited: 9th May 2020.] https://www.bridgesforpeace.com/letter/gods-lamp-mans-light-mysteries-of-the-menorah/.18. (Editors), Joseph S. Exell & Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. Pulpit Commentary . London : s.n., 1883.
18. Tolar, William B. The Sermon on the Mount from an Exegetical Perspective. Preaching Source. [Online] Fall 1992. [Cited: 10th May 2020.] http://preachingsource.com/journal/the-sermon-on-the-mount-from-an-exegetical-perspective/.
19. (Editors), Joseph S. Exell & Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones. Pulpit Commentary . London : s.n., 1883.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* “Most people prefer to come to God on their own terms rather than conforming to His” – what of God’s terms do people in your area try to avoid?
* What does it mean for us to be the salt of the earth, and how do we lose our flavour?
* What does it mean for us to be the light of the world, and how does that light get hidden?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you as they have memorised and meditated on Jesus’ words about salt and light?
* What testimonies have people in your congregation shared about how others have responded to their good works (Matthew 5:16), and to their sharing Jesus’ words?

The Beatitudes (blessings)

Please read Matthew 4:23 – 5:12

When day had come, he left and went away to a lonely spot. The people looked for him, came to him and would have kept him from leaving them.  But he said to them, “I must announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the other towns too — this is why I was sent.”   Luke 4:42-43 CJB

So he travelled all through the Galil, preaching in their synagogues and expelling demons. Mark 1:39 CJB

The news spread quickly, and people came from everywhere to hear Yeshua speak, and to be healed by Him.   Soon there was not just Andrew, Šimʻôn, James and Yochanan (John) following Yeshua and listening to His every word, there were multitudes.  Philip, from nearby Bethsaida, and Natan’el, from Cana, were likely quickly among them, eager to keep following the Lamb of God whom Yochanan the Immerser had introduced them to.   We know from Acts 1:21-23 that Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthiah were also among them. 

The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.   Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.  Matthew 4:24-25 NASB

Although much of Yeshua’s earliest ministry had been in Jerusalem and Judea for the feasts, it was now predominantly in the norther region, in Galilee.   It appears that the author of the fourth gospel was either unaware of the new developments in Galilee, or unable to leave his responsibilities in Jerusalem at this time to join the multitudes, as this ‘John’ does not provide witness to any of this in his gospel account. On the other hand, Matthew the tax collector appears to have left his booth and followed the crowds to hear what this new teacher had to say – for he gives us a carefully compiled account of the full days’ teaching. Being a tax collector, Matthew would have been shunned in the synagogue, but there was no one policing who came up this mountain to listen to Yeshua. It had a profound impact on this outcast from Jewish religious society.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying…  Matthew 5:1-2 NASB

Large crowds in towns and cities attract attention, sometimes the unwanted attention of Roman soldiers. Yeshua led His group away to the safety of a more isolated place. Here, on this unknown mountain, probably just outside Capernaum where Matthew collected taxes, the people could relax and focus on what Yeshua was saying. Just as Moses had given the Israelites God’s laws for living as His chosen people on earth, so now Yeshua was going to explain to the people how to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first part of the lesson was a very practical one – get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and take time out to commune with Him.

Yeshua sat to teach the people on the mountain, just as He did to teach them in the synagogue (Luke 4:20). “He sat as a refiner and His word was as a fire.“(C. H. Spurgeon). Yeshua had chosen the place for this teaching. Once He came to the perfect spot He sat down, and those following Him gathered around to hear what He would say. Yeshua spoke with an uncommon authority, He sat as a king decreeing the laws of His Kingdom, a kingdom so unlike any other they had ever known.

As the crows eagerly watched Him, Yeshua opened His mouth and began teaching them. The topography of the region around the Sea of Galilee allowed His voice to travel well as He opened his mouth to project it out to the crowd. Spurgeon wrote: “Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest; he enunciated clearly, and spoke loudly. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and published salvation far and wide, like a man who had something to say which he desired his audience to hear and feel.” God had spoken to His people through the prophets in times past, now He opened His mouth and spoke to them directly through His Son.

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son… Hebrews 1:1-2a NIV

What Yeshua had to say goes straight to how we live every moment of our lives. Judaism had always been as much about how one lived their life as about what one believed – the two were inseparable. Belief manifests itself in attitudes and actions, in a total way of life. Yeshua’s words deconstruct our habits and ways of being and reform them into His likeness – they teach us what it is to be His disciple. Importantly, Yeshua‘s words were meant to be memorised and serve as a source of constant meditation.

Talmidim (disciples) were to memorise the words of their rabbi, meditate on those words, discuss those words, live out those words, and then teach others those words – that was the task of a disciple. (1)

Memorisation was essential to all first centenary Jewish education. With manuscripts being expensive, and having to be written by hand, most did not have direct access to them, so learning was dependent on being able to memorise large portions of scripture and children were expected to memorise the whole Torah through their first five years of schooling. In nations where many cannot read, or afford their own copy of the written word, and in those where persecution robs people of their written copies of the scriptures, returning to the way Yeshua taught His disciples offers opportunity to truly learn from Him. Yeshua made it easy for his first disciples, and for us, to memorise His words by presenting them in a memorable thematic structure with vivid images and poetic language. So, as we go through Yeshua’s verbal teachings, take the time to memorise what He says, and in your sermons teach your people also to memorise the words of our Saviour, recite them to each other, think on them and discuss them through the week, and share them with others.

The Beatitudes

The first section of Yeshua’s teaching is often called “the Beatitudes“, which means “the Blessings”. The Beatitudes were spoken in two sets of four, with the fourth one in each set focusing on righteousness. The first four Beatitudes speak to how we enter the kingdom of heaven – by acknowledging our lack and pain, acknowledging Jesus’ right to reign over us and longing for His righteousness. The second four speak to how we live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven – loyal to His covenant with us, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted because our loyalty has shifted from the world to God. There is nothing in here which is an optional extra if we want to be Jesus’ disciples. Some emphasise this with a play on words, the “beatitudes” giving the believer our “be – attitudes” – the “attitudes” we should “be.” We have no part in Jesus, or in His kingdom, if we are not committed to His ways.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.


Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
” Matthew 5:3-12

Each statement begins with the word “Blessed“. This comes from the Greek μακάριος, makarios, which describes the enviable position of being in receipt of God’s grace, provision and benefits. It expresses the life-joy and satisfaction of the person who experiences God’s favour and salvation. Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, makarios becomes the express symbol of a joyous fulfilment identified with pure character in receipt of God literally extending Himself.

The first reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is the kingdom of heaven. Yochanan the Immerser had preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) After Yeshua heard that Yochanan had been imprisoned He began to preach “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Now He describes the state of those who will become citizens of the kingdom of heaven, those whom God will extend it to: the “poor in spirit“.

The Greek noun πτωξοςptochos – translated “poor” in this beatitude means literally: “one who is bent over or folded;” metaphorically “one utterly destitute.” The one who is ptochos has nothing and no means to care for themselves nor to give to another, they are totally destitute. “Poor in spirit” is repentant – coming to God recognising that we have no righteousness of our own, we are utterly destitute with regards to the moral strength and character needed to be citizens of heaven, and are totally dependant on His forgiveness and His righteousness.

We need to come to the realization of our own spiritual bankruptcy and tum in total dependence to God if we are to come into His kingdom. The Pharisees were basing their approach to God on their good works and strict Torah obedience, but Yeshua was declaring that was not the way to come to God. We are not good enough in ourselves, nor nearly good enough, nor somewhat good enough, we are utterly destitute when it comes to the righteousness required for the kingdom of heaven. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells...” Romans 7:18a.  “Not what I have, but what I have not, is the first point of contact, between my soul and God.” (Spurgeon)

For the high and exalted One, He who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy says this, “I dwell on the high and holy place, but also with the contrite and humble in spirit. In order to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite [overcome with sorrow for sin].” Isaiah 57:15 AMP

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Psalm 14:1-3 NIV

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6 NIV

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one..”… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:10, 23-24 NIV

The acknowledged owners of nothing shall be the recipients of everything.

Blessed are the poor in spirit – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are the repentant who recognise their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The next reward, or state of blessedness, that Yeshua offers us is comfort. The Greek verb translated comfort, παρακαλέω parakaléō, comes from para, meaning “from close beside”, and kaléō, meaning “to call”. To be comforted is to be called near, to have God come to our side, as He describes in Isaiah 57:15 which we read above. It is not just an emotional comfort that Yeshua is offering us here, although that is an essential part of His offer. Parakaléō also has legal overtones – He is offering to be our advocate before the throne of God, as well as One coming close beside with emotional comfort.

My children, I am writing you these things so that you won’t sin. But if anyone does sin, we have Yeshua the Messiah, the Tzaddik (Righteous One), who pleads our cause with the Father. Also, He is the kapparah (atonement) for our sins… 1 John 2:1-2a CJB

Mourning is the pre-requisite for this life-giving comfort. The Greek verb πτωξος pentheo, means deep grief or intense sorrow, openly manifested by weeping audibly. This speaks of the most intense human emotional pain and suffering. It can be anguish over the personal losses we experience in life, or anguish felt within the spirit of man for the state of his own soul held captive in sin and death, or for the state of a lost sinful world. Those who mourn experience a closeness with Yeshua, the Man of Sorrows who was acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), as they partake in the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Intense pain is intense pain, and Yeshua makes no distinction here as to the cause of our deep grief and intense sorrow. All who mourn, all who suffer from deep grief and intense sorrow, all who choose not to hide from that pain or deflect it onto others, all who are willing to experience the agonies of truly loving in this world, all who mourn will be comforted.

The Spirit of Adonai Elohim is upon me, because Adonai has anointed me to announce good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into light those bound in the dark; to proclaim the year of the favour of Adonai and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” Isaiah 61:1-2 CJB

Blessed are those who mourn – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who do not try to hide from their pain but agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow – for God Himself shall draw near and they shall be comforted.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 KJV

Next Yeshua offers the state of blessedness of inheriting the earth. The Greek noun, γῆ gê, refers to the physical earth, to land, country, soil. Many indigenous people groups understand such a blessing, for they are closely tied to their land, even as the Jews were closely tied to their land.

It appeared as though the Romans, with their brute force, were inheriting the earth – conquering one people’s land after another. Their whole lives these people had witnessed Rome fulfilling Daniel’s vision of the fourth beast:

After this, I looked in the night visions; and there before me was a fourth animal, dreadful, horrible, extremely strong, and with great iron teeth. It devoured, crushed and stamped its feet on what was left. Daniel 7:7a CJB

But Yeshua assures the people that this is not the end of the story. Despite the fact that all of history shouts that it is the brutes, the devious schemers, the warlords, who inherit the earth, yet still all of Daniel’s vision shall come to pass:

“As I watched, thrones were set in place; and the Ancient One took his seat. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head was like pure wool. His throne was fiery flames, with wheels of burning fire. A stream of fire flowed from his presence; thousands and thousands ministered to him, millions and millions stood before him. Then the court was convened, and the books were opened. … …
“I kept watching the night visions, when I saw, coming with the clouds of heaven, someone like a son of man. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence.  To him was given rulership, glory and a kingdom, so that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him. His rulership is an eternal rulership that will not pass away; and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Daniel 7:9-14 CJB

The promise of messiah was not for the Zealots engaged in gorilla warfare to try to re-take their land, convinced that their acts of bravery and brutality would entice the anointed one to join them and supernaturally defeat the Roman armies and remove all gentiles in a great slaughter. It was not physical violence that would restore the land to Israel or bring God’s kingdom to earth.

Yeshua’s words were not new to Judaism, King David had written:

Don’t be upset by evildoers or envious of those who do wrong, for soon they will wither like grass and fade like the green in the fields. Trust in Adonai, and do good; settle in the land, and feed on faithfulness.  Then you will delight yourself in Adonai, and he will give you your heart’s desire.
Commit your way to Adonai; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine forth like light, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
Be still before Adonai; wait patiently till he comes. Don’t be upset by those whose way succeeds because of their wicked plans. Stop being angry, put aside rage, and don’t be upset — it leads to evil.
For evildoers will be cut off, but those hoping in Adonai will inherit the land. Soon the wicked will be no more; you will look for his place, and he won’t be there. But the meek will inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
Psalm 37:1-11 CJB

So, what is it to be meek? The Greek πραΰς, praǜs, is usually translated as ‘meek’ or ‘gentle’. It contains the idea of having power under authority, strength under control. Meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us without disputing or resisting, it involves relying on God, rather than our own strength, to defend us against injustice. The meek quietly accept criticism without retaliation or defensiveness. It is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. Most importantly, meekness is acknowledging Christ’s lordship over us, and placing our lives in His hands to do with as He pleases.

In another context, the Greek word praǜs was used to describe a well trained horse that would respond fully, and only, to it’s rider’s command, a horse that was unmoved by everything else happening around it. A praǜs (meek) horse was one that did not demand its own way, one that went wherever the rider wanted to go at the speed the rider wanted to travel, one that you could trust to walk behind, one that did not shy or buck at sudden movements or loud noises, or even at threats like a snake or battle, because it was so yielded to its rider that its only response in every situation was obedience to the will of the rider. The strength of this powerful animal was totally under the control of the slightest whisper of the rider, or movement of their finger. Only such a horse can be trusted in battle.

Blessed are the meek – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to those who totally yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives – for they shall inherit the land.

To be ‘filled‘, some versions translate this as ‘satisfied‘, is to have all that you were longing for. It can also be translated ‘to be made fat’. Righteousness shall not evade those who hunger and thirst for it. We are not called to be content with partial righteousness, or with a little righteousness. A hungry man will not be satisfied with just one grain of rice, nor even with a handful. He will eat, and eat, and eat until he cannot fit any more food in, only then will he be full. If he has eaten in the morning, he will be hungry again before the day is through, and once more eat and eat until there is no more space left in his stomach. The offer here is to be so full of righteousness that there is no room for anything else in our lives. Such fullness is not a once only event, but a continual process of hungering and being filled, hungering and being filled. The moment we cease to hunger and thirst for righteousness we shall cease to be filled, and the resulting emptiness will attract all sorts of other things into our lives.

So, what is righteousness? The original Greek word δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosýnē, comes from dike, which translates as “a judicial verdict”. You will remember that the Greek word translated comfort, parakaléō, also has legal overtones which places Yeshua as our legal advocate before the Father who judges all. The literal translation of dikaiosýnē is “judicial approval”. God is the judge of all, so righteousness is that which has divine approval. It is that which God, as judge over the universe, approves of.

Isaiah calls to the people:

Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no silver come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you weigh out silver for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that your soul may live. Isaiah 55:1-3a

Yeshua calls us to hunger and thirst for both personal righteousness and community righteousness. Personally, we enter into God’s divine approval when we welcome Jesus Christ as our saviour and lord. We are to hunger and thirst for the approval of God which can only come through Christ’s atoning sacrifice for us on the cross. We are also to hunger and thirst for our thoughts, words and actions to be pleasing to God, to be that which He approves of. Since God isn’t about to change and start approving of sin or the works of the flesh, we hunger and thirst for our lives to be brought into line with His will, to walk by the Spirit.

Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-25

Righteousness produces love and concern for others and their wellbeing. It is not greedy, self seeking or corrupt. We need only look around to see that our world is grieving and groaning, longing to be made right. So many are suffering through injustice, poverty, immorality and the greed of others. It is not God’s righteousness for people to go hungry, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to suffer sickness and disease, that is not what He approves of. It is not God’s righteousness for people to be oppressed by the Devil, that is not what He approves of. Yeshua invites us to hunger and thirst, to connect to our deep longings and needs, to grieve and groan with our world, and to call on God to bring justice, peace and wholeness to our world. When we’re surrounded by so much suffering and injustice, it can be easy to become numb or indifferent to the pain around us. But God calls us to long for righteousness so much that we keep crying out to Him for it like a child cries for food or drink when they have none, and we keep living out righteousness in holiness, showing love and kindness to our neighbours.

If we do not desire God’s righteousness, we do not desire Him. If we do not hunger and thirst for righteousness, both in our own actions and in this world, we do not know Him. There is no fellowship with God apart from righteousness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who long, as a desperate necessity, for that which God approves of – for they shall be filled.

Now that we have seen what is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven and be granted citizenship there, we come to the four beatitudes which describe our lives as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. These next attributes are not ones that the natural man is capable of, hence our need for the emptying and longing of the first four beatitudes that bring us to the cross, dependent on receiving God’s righteousness through His grace towards us who are incapable of meriting such. It is only on the basis of God filling us with righteousness, as He promises in the fourth beatitude, that we are able to live the following beatitudes – merciful, pure peacemakers rejoicing even in persecution.

The Cambridge dictionary defines mercy as: kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish. While this definition describes an element of mercy, it lacks a crucial component of Biblical mercy, the Greek ἔλεος éleos, being translated from the Hebrew חַסְדֹּֽו׃ , chas·dov, which involves loyalty to God’s covenant with us (The Discovery bible). Biblical mercy is ‘covenant-loyaltymercy‘ or ‘covenant-love-mercy‘, it is an attitude and actions that are founded on God’s covenant with us and are consistent with that covenant. It is the loving loyalty which actively affirms all that is in keeping with God’s covenant, and equally opposes all that is contrary to it. Thus, it is inextricably linked to faith. It is an act of mercy to bring God’s righteousness to a situation.

Psalm 136 is the great mercy psalm as it traces God’s actions in covenant with Israel. Some of those actions might not sound merciful to western ears, like killing the firstborn of Egypt, or drowning their army in the sea, but they were all merciful by God’s standards because they were all in fulfilment of His covenant.

To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever: and brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever: with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever: and made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever: but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: and slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever: … … And gave their land for an heritage: for his mercy endureth for ever: even an heritage unto Israel his servant: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever: and hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever. Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:10-26 KJV

God’s mercy is His covenant with us. That covenant is through Christ Jesus and His blood atoning for our sins. Again we see the graciousness and severity of God’s mercy, for it doesn’t evade His judgment on sin but rather executes that judgment on His Son in our place. God said of the Jewish people:

For I desired mercy (loyalty to My covenant), and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against me. Hosea 6:6-7 KJV

So, how does loyalty to God’s covenant fit with “kindness shown toward someone whom you have the right or power to punish?” God’s covenant is a covenant of sacrificial love. When God’s people repeatedly broke the covenant they made with Him in Exodus 24, He showed unmerited kindness towards them whom He had the right and power to punish, by sending His Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. God’s mercy established a new covenant.

He had promised this back in Jeremiah 31:

The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” … … “Behold, the days come”, saith the Lord, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them”, saith the Lord: “but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days”, saith the Lord, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord’: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them”, saith the Lord: “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:3,31-34 KJV

Yeshua confirmed that He had come to establish a new covenant with us, this is the mercy we obtain from Him:

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20 NIV

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15, NIV

This covenant was for those who deserve God’s punishment, those who were sinners and enemies of God:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Romans 5:8-10 NIV

It is a merciful covenant, but not an unconditional one. We need to remain loyal to our covenant with God:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. Colossians 1:21-23 NIV

Blessed are the merciful, ἐλεήμονες eleēmones, those who act consistently with the revelation of God’s covenant. A believer is being merciful when we forgive another because Christ has forgiven us, regardless of whether the other has done anything to deserve forgiveness or not. Mercy is responding to God’s covenant rather than to the other’s actions or attitudes. When we remain loyal to God’s covenant in all our dealings with others then we receive all the benefits of that covenant, we receive mercy.

Blessed are the merciful – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who lovingly live in absolute loyalty to God’s covenant – for they shall receive the mercy of all the benefits of God’s covenant.

The longing to see God, to perceive His presence, to behold His glory, is at the heart of all spiritual practice. Abraham had such an experience with God and Moses did not want to move unless God’s presence would go with them:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Genesis 17:1 NIV

If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. … …
And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
Exodus 33:13-18 NIV

David beautifully depicted the intensity of that longing:

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Psalm 63:1-2 NIV

Isaiah saw the Lord and immediately recognised his need to be purified:

I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. …
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah 6:1,5-7 NIV

The Sadducees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through the temple sacrifices. The Pharisees sought purity to be able to see God and live in His favour through strict obedience to all the laws and customs they had built as a fence around the Torah, including all their ceremonial washings and bodily immersions. Yeshua’s audience were well aquatinted with all the ceremonial washings and immersions required by the Pharisees before entering the synagogue or temple to ‘see’ God through the sacrifices, worship or Torah reading. Yeshua here reminds the people that God’s focus is not on how they wash their hands or immerse their bodies, but on the condition of their hearts.

Our perception of God is dimmed and distorted by any impurities that we harbour in our heart. To be pure, καθαροὶ katharos, in heart is to be without mixture, free from contaminants, separated from all the lusts of the flesh, all false concepts of God and all hurts and wounds that distort our perceptions. David prayed:

...give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart… Psalm 86:11-12a

Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24 AMP

Such purity of heart is not something that we come to God with. It is not something that we can bring about through our own efforts. We come to Him poor in spirit, hurting and mourning, willing to yield completely to Him and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness, purifies and fills us. That is His covenant with us, His mercy towards us, that we loyally honour out of gratitude for all that He has done for us by guarding our hearts.

Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you a deceitful (lying, misleading) mouth, and put devious lips far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead [toward the path of moral courage]
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you [toward the path of integrity]. Consider well and watch carefully the path of your feet, and all your ways will be steadfast and sure.
Proverbs 4:23-26

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 NIV

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV

Blessed are the pure in heart – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those whose heart is free from all contamination – for they shall see and truly know God.

The previous blessing spoke of our vision of God, our capacity to perceive His presence, His goodness, in our lives. This one speaks of our relationship to God. The Greek word κληθήσονται, klēthēsontai, translates as to be called, invited, chosen. This blessing, this joyous fulfilment as God extends Himself to us, is a calling into the most exalted place. Not just called to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven, but called to be members of the royal family, nay even more than that, called to be sons and heirs of God.

The Greek word υἱός, hyiós, is literally translated as a son (by birth or adoption). Figuratively it is used to denote anyone sharing the same nature as their Father. Hyiós, both emphasizes likeness of the believer to the heavenly Father and highlights the legal right to the Father’s inheritance. We are called to share the same nature as the Father. Back in the garden we were created in God’s image. This image was distorted by sin but is now restored through Christ. Our great privilege now is to resemble our Father.

Paul expands on the theme of our sonship:

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 NKJV

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”   Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7 NASB

The Greek word translated as “peacemaker” is εἰρηνοποιός, eirēnopoiós, and it denotes a person who bravely declares God’s terms to make someone whole. That is, a person who shares the gospel with others. A “peacekeeper” might try to avoid controversy or saying anything unpopular, but a “peacemaker” confronts sin and offers God’s terms for reconciliation, which brings His gift of wholeness. Paul wrote on this in his second letter to the church at Corinth:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NASB

Blessed are the peacemakers – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who boldly declare the gospel, begging people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God – for they shall be called sons of God, resembling the Father and being heirs.

We have returned to where we began with these blessings – the kingdom of heaven. Yeshua sandwiched all the other blessings between two assurances of the kingdom of heaven. We gain a bit more insight into the kingdom of heaven in the revelation of Jesus Christ that John received when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10 NIV

The kingdom of heaven consists of people from every tribe and language and nation. This is where Yeshua had come into conflict with the good people of his hometown, Nazareth – they were convinced that God’s blessings were exclusively for the Jews and so became violent when Yeshua gave examples from the Hebrew scriptures showing that God also extends His blessings and calling to those of other nations. Revelation had not yet been written, but Yeshua’s audience had Isaiah and Daniel’s prophesies, and on this basis they had been hoping for a messiah and a kingdom. This is what they could learn from the prophets about the kingdom of heaven:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Isaiah 2:2-4 NIV

In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days. The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders—with great glory. Isaiah 24:21-23 NIV

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25:6-8 NIV

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line” Isaiah 28:16-17a

Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.  Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendour.
Isaiah 60:17-21 NIV

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.
Isaiah 65: 17-25 NIV

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. Isaiah 66:22-23

In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44 NIV

Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. Daniel 7:27 NIV

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:2-3 NIV

As we follow through Yeshua’s ministry we will explore the many parables He told to help the people understand more of what the kingdom of heaven is like. For now they knew enough to know it was their heart’s desire to be part of this kingdom. In this blessing we see clearly how all the blessings surpass the things of this world. Blessings is not health, wealth, prestige, power or physical life, for any or all of these may be taken from us through persecution, yet still we are blessed, joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to us.

It is worth noting that the blessing is not for any and every persecution, but only for that which ignited by being filled with righteousness as in the fourth blessing. There is no blessing in being persecuted for being an idiot, for doing wrong, for lying, for being proud and arrogant, or for being bitter, critical or hateful. Where as all who mourn, agonise in overwhelming grief and sorrow, are comforted, only those whose persecution arises out of their walk with Jesus receive the blessing. Only those who are living the other seven beatitudes can live this one. Only those who are living Christ (verse 11), are blessed with great reward when they are persecuted, .

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

Persecution can take many forms. Three different words are used in verse 11 to describe what we might suffer for righteousness sake. The first is ὀνειδίσωσιν, oneidízō, which is to disgrace, reproach, mock, curse, insult, shame, cast blame – viewing someone as culpably guilty and therefore deserving punishment. The second is διώξωσιν, diṓkō, which is to aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a catch. The third is ψευδόμενοι, pseúdomai, which is to lie, falsify, and wilfully misrepresent in accusing of all kinds of πονηρὸν, ponērós, that is evil which causes pain and agony. Just because a follower of Jesus is doing good does not mean that they will be honoured for that good, often the reverse is true, as it was true of our Saviour. Isaiah had written:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20 NIV

Many times people will try to hide from their own sin and shame by calling evil good and good evil. Such is the opposite of being poor in spirit. Persecution aims to silence the peacemakers and cause the righteousness to suffer. It seeks to bring disgrace and shame to the righteous, casting them as being unfit for ministry, or for life. It lies. Yeshua assures us that it does not matter if others call our good evil, because the reward for the righteous is not on this earth but is great in heaven (the infinite dimensions in which God dwells).

Blessed are those who are persecuted – joyously fulfilled as God extends Himself to them are those who suffer disgrace, reproach, mockery, curses, insults, shame, false blame, declared guilty, are hunted down, misrepresented and accused of evil for righteousness sake – for theirs is the everlasting kingdom of heaven.

Summary

Christ leads us to the kingdom of heaven through repentance (poor in spirit), acknowledging our pain (mourning), yielding completely to God (meek) and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. He answers that hunger and thirst by filling us with righteousness, the old has passed away behold all things have become new. Out of the fullness of righteousness that we receive in Him we respond with loyalty to His covenant of mercy (merciful), our filled hearts have no room for the things of this world (pure heart), we boldly declare the gospel that people may be reconciled to God (peacemakers) and suffer persecution for our shift in loyalty from this world system to God. In all this God blesses us with the kingdom of heaven, His comfort, the earth (our land), righteousness, mercy (all the benefits of His covenant with us), seeing God and adopting us as His children. How wonderous is all that Jesus offers us through His teaching on blessings.

REFERENCES

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14. Piper, John. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness . Desiring God. [Online] 16th February 1986. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness.
15. Kreminski, Karina. Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Common Grace. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.commongrace.org.au/beatitudes_hunger_and_thirst_for_righteousness.
16. Kinsolving, Carey. What Does It Mean to Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness? Creators. [Online] 17th June 2013. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.creators.com/read/kids-talk-about-god/06/13/what-does-it-mean-to-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness.
17. Doriani, Daniel. Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Tabletalk. [Online] June 2017. [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2017/06/blessed-are-those-who-hunger-and-thirst-for-righteousness/.
18. mercy. Cambridge Dictionary. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mercy.
19. New Covenant. Bible Info. [Online] [Cited: 25th April 2020.] https://www.bibleinfo.com/en/topics/new-covenant.
20. Travers, Joshua. Blessed Are Those Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake. Life, Hope & Truth. [Online] [Cited: 27th April 2020] https://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/christian-conversion/the-sermon-on-the-mount/beatitudes/blessed-persecuted-righteousness-sake/

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* How have your people responded to memorising Jesus’ words?
* What insights have your congregation shared with you from their week of meditating on the words of Jesus that they memorised and talking with each other about what He said?
* What has been the response to members of your congregation sharing Jesus’ words with others?
* How did Jesus present the gospel of the kingdom in the Beatitudes?
* What additional insights have you gained about the gospel through studying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:4-12