Blessed Are…

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3

The beatitudes in Matthew 5 are beautiful, but their meanings are not always clear to us. The first word of every statement is usually translated “blessed,” although some translations use the word “happy” instead. In Greek the word is makarios, and in Hebrew the word would have been “ashrei,” as it is found in many sayings the Old Testament, for instance:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. Psalm 1:1

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Psalm. 32:1

Content ChildIn Hebrew, the word ashrei does mean “happy” or “contented,” but not in the sense of short-term, shallow pleasure. It means a sense of knowing deeply that God’s favor rests on you, because God approves of how you live. When the word is plural, as it is in both verses above, it is to express great intensity. It is like saying, “Oh how wonderfully satisified and pleased a person can be when…”

In the beatitudes Jesus highlights the heart-felt joy of God’s favor in light of many circumstances that we would certainly not expect to give a person pleasure in our world. Who would want to be poor in spirit, meek, mourning, or persecuted? But Jesus was teaching that it is precisely when we have the least amount of approval from the world, that God pours out his greatest approval on us. When we are living life as it was meant to be lived, we can then know we are pleasing our Father in Heaven. This will lead to a sense of contentment and joy like no other!

Photo: Yvette T.

Blessed Are the Mourners

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Sad Statue

This line of the beatitudes is beautiful because it says that God cares about those who are hurting and wants to heal them. But it seems odd to call mourners blessed, and to single them out as a group that God favors. All of the other beatitudes speak about an attitude or action that Jesus wants from his followers — such as being humble, righteous, pure in heart, peace-loving or merciful. This line, however sounds as if those greiving are somehow what God desires.

It helps to know that Jesus was alluding to particular scripture passages in the beatitudes, like Isaiah 57, 60, 61, & 66 and Psalm 37 & 38. In those passages, mourning is often mentioned, but grief in general is not the focus. Instead, the prophets often mourned over injustice, or lamented about personal or national sin. Experiencing God’s punishment on Israel and Jerusalem for its sins brought mourning as well, while forgiveness brought comfort. For instance:

I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin. (Psalm 38:6-7, 17-18)

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

We see here that “those who mourn” from these passages are those who are contrite for their own sins and those of Israel, or who desire the healing of their people. In this sense, mourners are those who care deeply about righteousness, but yet are merciful, wishing for repentance and God’s forgiveness. They fit well with the other groups that Jesus calls blessed, because they long for God’s will to be done, while still wanting to see God’s grace for sinners.

This is still a challenge to us as Christians today. It is easy to see the sins of other Christians or of the world in general, and angrily accuse them. But Jesus is saying that we can lament that things aren’t the way they should be, and we should long for the day when comfort will come, when Jesus’ reign is established over all the earth.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Romans 12:14-17

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Matthew 24:30-31

Photo: Jes

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9

What is a “peacemaker,” and why should he or she be called a “son of God”? With all the anger and broken relationships in the world, we can imagine how important healing is from a person who helps others be reconciled. And anyone who extends peace in a situation where they are in conflict with another knows that it usually is costly — they often need to concede their own rights and put aside hurts that don’t feel resolved.

Shalom on EarthUnderstanding the whole meaning of the Hebrew word shalom, peace, adds greatly to the picture of the peacemaker. Shalom doesn’t just mean a harmonious relationship or the absence of war. Rather, it refers to one’s entire well-being and wholeness. A person can bring shalom to a life by helping deal with hurts and fix wounds of all kinds — essentially, trying to restore life to all that it was intended to be.

Why does Jesus say that they will be “sons of God”? In his culture, an assumption behind the word “son” was that a son shared the characteristics of his father, and grew up to be like him. When Jesus was called a “son of David,” it meant that he was a great king like David. In a similar way, Paul declares those with faith the “sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). Likewise, for a human being to be called a “son of God” meant that he or she was an imitator of God and acted as he does. Jesus says a similar thing later:

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matt 5:44-45.

By giving up his son Jesus to bring peace between sinners and himself, God is the best example of one who pays a costly price for peace. This is the kind of peacemaking that we are called to as sons and daughters of God.

Photo: Barbara Carr

The Poor in Spirit

by Lois Tverberg

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Who are those who are the poor in spirit, and how do they possess the kingdom of heaven? It helps a lot to know the idioms of Jesus’ time and his references to the scriptures. The phrase “poor in spirit” is an allusion to Isaiah 66:2:

This is the one I esteem: he who is humble (poor, ani) and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:2

Pilgrim ReadingThe word “poor” is ani in Hebrew, and is also often translated “afflicted,” and often used to refer to groups of people like widows and orphans who were dependent on charity to survive. A person who is “poor in spirit” sees himself as needy and helpless without God, and yearns desperately for God’s presence in his life. Like a recovering addict, he can only survive each day by leaning on God. The opposite type of person is someone who is “great of spirit” who is bold and self-reliant, who has no need of anyone’s help, especially not God’s. He is one who feels that he is “the captain of his fate, the master of his soul.”

The overall picture of Isaiah 66:2 is that God looks with favor on those who know they are inadequate to run their own lives, but show reverence for God, and are sorry for their sins. When we bring this picture of a person who is “poor in spirit” into Jesus’ saying in the beatitudes, it fits with the Kingdom of Heaven as we understand it hebraically.

The “kingdom of Heaven” is the same thing as the “kingdom of God” — it is not being used to refer to heaven after we die. Rather, it describes God’s reign over the lives of people here on earth. Not all people are in God’s kingdom, but a person enters the kingdom by enthroning God as his king, committing himself to doing God’s will. (1)

So we see now that a person who is poor in spirit is one who sees his need for God’s reign over his life, and submits to his rules. God’s kingdom consists of exactly this kind of people — those who are humble and needy enough to yearn after him.

(1) For a more complete understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven, see the following articles: What is the Kingdom of Heaven? and The Kingdom of Heaven is Good News

Photo: William Blake

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

by Lois Tverberg

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:3

All of the beatitude sayings are very Hebraic, and somewhat difficult for Western Christians to grasp. The saying above, that the “meek shall inherit the earth” is widely quoted, but barely understood.


It is very helpful to know that this line, like almost all of the beatitudes, is a quote from the scriptures, specifically Psalm 37:11. In that verse the Hebrew word for “meek” is anav. It is also translated humble, afflicted or poor. Moses was called the most “anav” (humble) man on earth. It is often used to describe the people who called out to God for help in their difficulty, instead of being aggressive in fighting for their own way.

The theme of Psalm 37 is to remind us that when we are wronged, we shouldn’t try to get revenge, but to trust in the fact that God will someday set the world straight. It says,

… Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek (anavim) will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. (Psalm 37:7-11)

Six places in Psalm 37 it talks about those who would “inherit the land” (yirshu aretz, to inherit or possess the land/earth). That phrase is very significant, having first come up when God made the great promise to Abraham that he would “give him this land to possess/inherit” (Genesis 15:7). Then, later in Deuteronomy, more than a dozen times, Moses tells the people that only by being obedient would they be able to remain in the land:

Deuteronomy 8:1 “All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers.”

Deuteronomy 16:20 “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”

It seems that in Psalm 37, David was using this idea from Deuteronomy that God would see to it that the faithful would remain in the land God gave them, and the evil-doers would be removed from it. The psalmist was using the phrase “inheriting the land” in a wider way to speak of God’s full blessing. The wicked may seem to be winning now, but the righteous will ultimately possess God’s gifts for eternity.

In quoting this verse in the beatitudes, Jesus seems to be saying that if we are humble and rely on God rather than striving to punish those who have done us wrong, that we can trust that God will win the day. No matter how much the world demands that we should fight evil with evil, eventually God will reward his followers who trust him to set things right.

Photo: Bontenbal