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Meditations: SOTM5 Matt 5:3 (2)

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matt 5:3 (KJV)

Baring in mind the Lord’s mission to usher His people, beginning with the lost sheep of Israel, into the prophesied Messianic Kingdom under His reign in the prophesied New Covenant relationship with Yahweh, by leading them into the new covenant through faith in Him as the Messiah and Savior promised in scripture, it is no accident that the Lord begins His description of this new Kingdom people with ” (1) Blessed and (2) are the poor in spirit”. He is telling us the key to entering the Kingdom of God is being desperate for His mercy, knowing we have nothing to offer but our pleas – a key described long ago in the Old Testament prophesies of the coming new covenant.

Firstly the use of the word “blessed” is crucial. Rightly translated, this is not an injunction at all (I.e, it does not intend to say “be poor in spirit, so that you may be blessed because you will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven”). There is no imperative to act here at all. This is not written as letter of law, like the Mosaic Covenant was. Rather, it is a statement of fact. Rightly interpreted it says “O the blessedness of the poor in spirit”, or “how happy the poor in spirit”.

Baring in mind the Lord is always teaching them from the platform of the what they knew as the Tanakh (old testament) chiefly the Torah and prophetic writings, this would immediately remind them of the opening words of the book of Psalms – a book of comfort for the righteous of God – which opens very similarly: “Blessed is the man that…”: – again a statement that describes the state of the person described in the psalm that follows – a righteous man. There are 2 Hebrew words for “blessed” and the one chosen here is specific. The one means blessed of God – it describes the power of Father’s favour at work in a person’s life. That is not the word chosen. The other Hebrew word translated “blessed” in English, the one chosen here, is from the root word אשׁר – ‘asher’ – which means to walk righteously in joy. Why is that important to know? For 2 reasons: 1) because the blessedness or joy here is implied as a state of internal peace and joy in the soul that is a direct fruit of walking in righteousness, not the external state of blessedness which comes from prosperity which comes from Father’s favour; 2) By linking the beatitudes to Psalm 1 with an identical opening phraseology, He was saying “I am going to tell you about the kind of person that enjoys the highest state of human happiness, because they are walking in righteousness.” By doing so, He is also saying (again, in Hebrew, much is said without saying it, but by inference from symbolic acts and words which must be read between the lines, but which are nonetheless not subjective, because the symbolism is so very clear) I am now going to define for you what a righteous person looks like. The Lord is about to restate the Mosaic Covenant (the requirements of righteousness) in New Covenant terms.

Secondly, “the poor in spirit” would immediately bring to mind 3 key old testament passages: The chief of them is Psalms 51 (KJV)

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (v15-17)

This is that passage of David after He commits adultery with Bathsheba and murders her husband, then spends 2 years running from God, and finally repents and turns to His God for mercy. What is so surprising from a Mosaic Covenant perspective, is that He does not offer sacrifices for his sins, as was the requirement of the Law. Rather, knowing there is no sacrifice of animals that can take away his bloodguilt, he comes broken, empty-handed, naked, poor, with nothing to offer (“poor in spirit”) but acknowledgement of His own brokenness / inability to do right and the plea for mercy from the One Who’s prerogative it is to be merciful. This psalm is prophetic of the coming new covenant administered from the throne of David by the Davidic Messiah, the covenant of mercy by the blood of the lamb for the humble and contrite in heart. The psalm begins:

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. 5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. … Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. … Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation… 16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. 

Psalms 51:1-17 (KJV)

While we could spend several years in this one beautiful psalm, there are 5 things worth noting here

The key tenor of the psalm is the plea for mercy, forgiveness for sins, on the basis of Father’s lovingkindness (v1-5)

Offering of external sacrifices is of no value in obtaining mercy (v6,16)

They key requirement of receiving mercy is broken-hearted repentance (“poor in spirit” – empty handed, no rights, no privileges on which to claim God’s favour; no righteousness to offer, only sin)  (v1,10,17)

The mercy comes by being purged with hyssop (v7)

Ongoing righteousness comes from the Spirit of God within empowering the righteous living God desires of us (v10-12)

Here in this one psalm, we have the New Covenant in Christ described so clearly. It is to this psalm that the Lord Jesus refers when he opens the beatitudes with “blessed are the poor in spirit”. Note how prophetic this is of redemption by the blood of the Messiah, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who is called the lamb of God (v7), especially when we consider our being purged of sins with hyssop. Hyssop is very a specific symbolic allusion to the blood of the passover lamb. When Father gave instructions for the passover feast (Ex 12), the Israelites were specifically to use the hyssop branch to apply the blood of the passover lamb to the doorposts, so that the angel of judgement would pass over their homes and the judgement on the land would not touch them. Being purged with hyssop therefore speaks directly about trusting in the blood of the lamb to escape coming judgement. He is teaching about the new covenant in the blood of the Passover Lamb.

So why does He not just explain it in plain language?  Firstly, because He allows the authority of the Tanakh, Old Testament scriptures, to speak for themselves of the prophesied new covenant Messiah will bring. Secondly, because at this early point in His ministry, He is still giving Israel the chance to recognise Him as the Messiah and accept Him as their King. It is only after the leadership of Israel have rejected Him as Messiah (Matt 12:14) that he will teach plainly about His coming death (Matt 16).

Returning to the fact that he opens the beatitude description of His Kingdom people with “how blessed the poor in spirit”, the vital point here is that being poor in spirit is the key to the Kingdom. A broken and contrite heart is the starting point for entering the New Covenant in Christ. A broken and contrite heart sees its own poverty, that we have nothing to offer God but only the desire to sin continuously (central motivation in all things is always self, we do not truly worship God as God by being motivated in all things by pleasing Him, nor do we love others as ourselves).

The same new covenant entered into by only the “poor in spirit” is prophesied twice in Isaiah and many times in the psalms. When the Lord prophesies in Isa 66:1-6 peace for Jerusalem after a long period of suffering, He offers peace for the poor and contrite in spirit, not for those who offer the sacrifice of animals, as prescribed in the Torah.

Isaiah 66:1-3 (KJV) – 1 Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? 2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. 3 He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations

And His grace is promised to the “poor in spirit”

Isaiah 57:15 (ESV) – For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,  to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Psalms 34:17-18 (KJV) – The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

The first thing He requires of us is simply honesty: to acknowledge His holiness, and our brokenness; His just requirement on us – as Creator and Almighty Sovereign King over the Universe – of moral living, and our inability to meet those requirements; and so doing the only thing that remains: turning to Him in total empty-handedness, broken by our sin, with nothing to offer but the cry for mercy and  the sincere desire to be changed by Him. He has nothing to offer the one who is morally not in need; what He has is for the morally impoverished, bankrupt sinner:

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Matt 9:10-13 (KJV)

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37  And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42  When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-38 (ESV)

A broken and contrite heart that comes from honest acknowledgement of our state before God is the first feature of this new Kingdom people in His new Kingdom under the New covenant relationship with God:

And “How happy the poor in spirit [those who come to Him as empty-handed, repentant sinners having nothing to offer but the cry for mercy and help]: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”


Original date of work: 10 Jan 2011
By: J Goldberg 

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