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Matthew 5:6-7 “Blessed are Those who Crave and Practice the Things of God.”

Blessed are those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, because they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, because they will be shown mercy.

Even though v. 6 maintains a vertical focus and fulfills the four-fold alliteration it is used as the beginning of a transition. The main idea of humility (the focal point of vv. 3-5) is certainly not absent, but neither is it in the driver’s seat. One who is humble (vv. 3-5) longs for God to act (v. 6). If one truly believes God will act, then he will begin living in accordance with that action (v. 7). In vv. 6&7, Jesus transitions from vertical submission to horizontal service. If one craves the things of God, then he will do the things of God.

Craving the Things of God (v. 6)

The general pattern continues from v. 3 in that Jesus first offers congratulations/pronounces blessing (μακάριος) upon a particular group of people followed by an explanation (ὅτι) why they are considered blessed/to be congratulated. The focus remains the same in that what follows describes various aspects of Jesus’ followers rather than various kinds of followers. The contrite (v. 3), conscience-stricken (v. 4) and controlled (v. 5) are also those who crave righteousness.

Jesus’ Congratulations (v. 6a)

Blessed are those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

It is a strange thing indeed to offer congratulations to those who hunger and thirst for anything. One who is hungry and thirsty presumably does not possess the substances needed to sustain them. It is difficult for most westerners to imagine what it means to suffer hunger and thirst because with the fist pangs of hunger or the irritation of a dry throat we simply take a trip to the refrigerator or turn on the tap water. This blissful ignorance was not true of Jesus’ audience. To eat until satisfied three meals a day was a rarity, usually experienced only by the wealthy. Even reliable drinking water was not always available. The men who heard these words on the mountain knew what it meant to hunger and thirst, but Jesus is not speaking of physical nourishment. He congratulates those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) is the quality or state of fairness, justice, and equitableness. It describes that which is correct and appropriate from every conceivable perspective. One who stands righteously before God is one whose presence is appropriate and correct before God. It is right for him to be there. One who lives righteously is one who conducts himself fairly, correctly, and appropriately in every course of his life. This does not describe the occasional right action but perfect and living and standing before God.[1] There are those who debate whether Jesus speaks of imputed righteousness (the righteousness of Christ credited to the believing sinner’s account)[2] or imparted righteousness (righteous actions and living conducted by (a) the individual or (b) the community at large) here.[3] It is strange indeed for biblical commentators and theologians to draw such a distinct line between the righteousness that Christ supplies for a sinner’s justification and the righteousness Christ supplies in a redeemed sinner’s sanctification, but such is the state of evangelicalism. Rather than missing the forest for the trees, perhaps it is best to study the text at hand.

The present tense participles οἱ πεινῶντες and διφῶντες (hungering and thirsting) mark these people as those who are in a constant state of longing for righteousness. But the fact that they long for it indicates that they do not possess it. Jesus does not congratulate those who are righteous (or at least consider themselves as such) but those who long for righteousness and crave it as dearly as they would crave for their daily bread. Those who possess something do not hunger and thirst for it.

Jesus again reaches back into the Old Testament, this time to Ps. 107:5, 9: “Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them…Because He filled the thirsty soul and the hungry soul He filled with goodness.” Psalm 107 extols and proclaims the complete lovingkindness (חסד) of Yhwh. After a call to give thanks to Yhwh because of His everlasting lovingkindness (vv. 1-3), the psalmist goes on to present a consistent pattern throughout Israel’s history. He records four cycles (vv. 4-9; vv. 10-16; vv. 17-22; and vv. 23-32) of national rebellion, national repentance, divine restoration, and the response of proclaiming the wonders of Yhwh’s everlasting lovingkindness (vv. 4-32). The psalm concludes by considering the expanse of Yhwh’s sovereignty in connection to His lovingkindness (vv. 33-43) over the earth (vv. 33-38) and humanity (vv. 39-42). The final verse is a call to consider the implications of Yhwh s lovingkindness which should lead the reader back to the initial starting point, a position of praise and thanksgiving. For our purposes, we are interested in the stanza made up of vv. 4-9.

Psalm 107:4-9 recounts the rebellion of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. If they had been obedient, submissive, and humble before Yhwh, they would have been inside the Promised Land within a year. But because of their rebellion, they wandered in the wilderness for 4 decades. During this time, they quickly ran out of food and had no ability to procure water to sustain them (v. 5). So, they cried out to Yhwh (v. 6) and He delivered them. It is proper to give thanks to Yhwh for His lovingkindness because He satisfied their hunger. (v. 9).

The hunger and thirsting of Israel in the wilderness was not imaginary. They were in a place that was incapable of supporting a host half the size of Israel. There was no food and no water in the wilderness until God acted to sustain them to the point of filling them. Because God acted, there was no longer any who thirsted or hungered in Israel’s camp. He satisfied that need.

The reason Israel longed for food and drink was because they did not have any nor was there any in sight. This is the same idea behind those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They long for what they do not possess and what they cannot find. They know that they are not right before God and they recognize the complete absence of righteousness around them. They long for what only God can supply.

There is clearly a logical connection between those who hunger and thirst after righteousness and those who are poor in spirit in the sense that these folks would never claim to be righteous. They understand their spiritual poverty, yet they long for that situation to be reversed. That reversal is the reason Jesus congratulates them.

Jesus’ Rational (v. 6b)

Because they will be satisfied.

The grammar here is of vital importance, for much can be gained from the future tense and passive voice of χορτασθήσονται (they will be filled). It is because of the future tense that many commentators are hesitant to understand any of Jesus’ imputed righteousness into this statement. Yet, how can we not understand this in the context of those who have already been redeemed as called out disciples of Jesus? This is yet another example of emphasis rather than exclusion. The imputed righteousness of Jesus to His disciples is assumed here. True, the emphasis is placed upon the imparted righteousness of the redeemed who now live in right standing with God and man, but that emphasis demands that one has already been adorned with the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.[4] Yet, this promise of satisfaction is genuinely placed in the future precisely because the emphasis is upon the imparted righteousness of man and society. Simply put: this world is an unrighteous place filled with unrighteous people. The longing for righteousness to reign will not be satisfied here and now but awaits the King to establish His kingdom. This is where the passive voice becomes important because these blessed ones will not satisfy themselves. It is not on account of their work, effort, or strength that their longing for righteousness will be fulfilled. This is a divine passive, meaning that this is a work that God, and God alone, will accomplish. Those who hunger and thirst for kingdom righteousness are to be congratulated indeed! Not because of their starvation status, but because they will be filled when the King comes with His kingdom.

Doing the Things of God (v. 7)

Here Jesus begins the second table of the beatitudes. Turning from the vertical humility that depends upon God, He begins addressing the outworking of such dependance.[5] Yet in this transition, Jesus also links this beatitude with the previous one grammatically and logically. The grammar of each (vv. 6&7) is identical. Both utilize substantives rather than nouns in the blessing (οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες and οἱ ἐλεήμονες) and utilize a future passive indicative with the provided reason (χορτασθήσονται and ἐλεηθήσονται). Logically, the righteousness that is craved in v. 6 is acted out in v. 7. The sense goes something like this: Blessed are those who long for total righteousness on earth which Jesus will bring with His kingdom but that also perform acts of righteousness now as they await said kingdom.

Jesus’ Congratulations (v. 7a)

Blessed are the merciful.

This first outworking of divine dependance is fairly straight-forward. Mercy (ἔλεος) describes kindness and/or concern that one has for someone in need. English terms that overlap in meaning are compassion, pity, and clemency. Usually, mercy is spoken of in the context of restraint regarding a just punishment for the guilty. The convicted are shown mercy when their sentence is not carried out. This idea is certainly within the scope of mercy, but it would be a mistake to limit ἔλεος to a discussion of the guilty and punishment. This concept must include acts of kindness made toward those who are in need. Giving money to the destitute, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, encouraging the fainthearted, helping the weak, and exhorting the unruly are all acts of mercy because they show kindness to those who need it. An act of mercy does not take into account the recipient’s worthiness, only their need.

The concept of God’s people showing mercy because they have already received mercy from God is a long-standing one. The motivation given to show mercy to aliens, widows, and orphans is the memory of God’s redemption of the nation from Egypt (Deut. 24:17-22). As already stated, the assumption of the beatitudes is that Jesus addresses His disciples (v. 1). These words describe those who have already been shown mercy. Therefore, the assumption is that they will show mercy.

Once again Jesus congratulates those who exhibit an Old Testament concept: “He who despises his companion sins, but he who is gracious to the poor is blessed.” Solomon uses the Hebrew אַשְׁרֵי which is translated by the LXX as μακαριστός (μακάριος), the same term used repeatedly here. Jesus’ point is similar to Solomon’s in that the blessing/congratulations is reserved for those who show mercy/graciousness rather than for those who receive it from the hands of men. But Jesus goes beyond Solomon by providing the reason the merciful are to be congratulated.

Jesus’ Rational (v. 7b)

Because they will be shown mercy.

Again, we understand much by paying attention to the grammar. For a second time we find a future passive indicative (ἐλεηθήσονται) meaning that (a) this action is done to the merciful not by the merciful and (b) this action is primarily (not exclusively) focused on the future not the present. The emphasis of this blessing is the mercy received by these kingdom citizens on the last day when they are separated from the goats and brought into the fold of God. They did not earn this mercy, yet they will receive it. It is for this reason that they are blessed.

It is important to make much of the causal ὅτι (because/for) and read this verse as Jesus presents it and Matthew records it. Jesus did not say that people will receive mercy because they showed mercy. Rather, the text explicitly says that those who show mercy are in fact blessed and the reason for that blessing is because they will one day receive mercy.[6] The eschatological mercy that is shown to them in the future is not earned by the practical mercy shown by them now nor can Jesus’ words be twisted into stating such a thing. However, those who God has already shown salvific mercy by calling them out of darkness and granting the gift of repentance to are those who live the rest of their lives showing mercy to others. On the basis of God’s salvific mercy, He will also show a final eschatological mercy. Those who show mercy do so because they have been first shown mercy. It is because of that divine mercy that they can truly be congratulated.

It is necessary to understand that part of the righteousness that is longed for in v. 6 includes judgment upon the wicked. There cannot be righteousness while the guilty remain unpunished. This anticipation of future mercy is not mutually exclusive to the desire for mercy. On the contrary, the two complement each other very nicely.[7] Blessed are those who desire the will of God and do the will of God.

[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), p. 99.

[2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 189-90.

[3] John Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, An American Commentary on the New Testament (Forgotten Books, 2012), p. 90; John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), p. 203; Charles Quarles, Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology 11 (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), p. 58-61.

[4] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 273-4.

[5] Morris, p. 100.

[6] Broadus, p. 91.

[7] David Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), p. 152.

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