And seeing the multitudes; i.e. those spoken of in Mat_4:25—the multitudes who were at that point of time following him.
He went up. From the lower ground by the lake. Into a mountain; Revised Version, into the mountain (εἰς τὸ ὄρος); i.e. not any special mountain, but “the mountain nearest the place spoken of—the mountain near by” (Thayer); in contrast to any lower place, whether that was itself fairly high ground (as probably Luk_9:28) or the shore of the lake. The actual spot here referred to may have been far from, or, and more probably (Mat_4:18), near to, the Lake of Gennesareth. It cannot now be identified. The traditional “Mount of Beatitudes” is Karn-Hattin, “a round, rocky hill”, “a square-shaped hill with two tops”, about five miles north-west of Tiberias. This tradition, dating only from the time of the Crusades, is accepted by Stanley, especially for the reasons that
(1) τὸ ὄρος is equivalent to “the mountain” as a distinct name, and this mountain alone, with the exception of Tabor which is too distant, stands separate from the uniform barrier of hills round the lake;
(2) “the platform at the top is evidently suitable for the collection of a multitude, and corresponds precisely to the ‘level place’ (τόπου πεδινοῦ, Luk_6:17) to which our Lord would ‘come down,’ as from one of its higher horns, to address the people.” But these reasons seem insufficient.
And when he was set; Revised Version, had sat down; as his custom was when preaching.
His disciples; i.e. the twelve, and also those others out of whom they had, as it seems, just been chosen (Luk_6:12, Luk_6:20). The word is used of all those personal followers who, as still more distinctly indicated in the Fourth Gospel, attached themselves to him to learn of him, at least until the time of the crisis in Joh_6:66, when many withdrew (cf. also infra, Mat_8:21, and for an example in the end of his ministry, Luk_19:37). In English we unavoidably miss some of the meaning of μαθητής, to our loss, as may be seen from the saying of Ignatius, ‘Magn.,’ § 10, Μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ γενόμενοι μάθωμεν κατὰ Χριστιανισμὸν ζῇν
Came unto him (προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ). Came up to him, and, presumably, sat down in front of him to listen.
And seeing the multitudes – Τους οχλους, these multitudes, viz. those mentioned in the preceding verse, which should make the first verse of this chapter.
He went up into a mountain – That he might have the greater advantage of speaking, so as to be heard by that great concourse of people which followed him. It is very probable that nothing more is meant here than a small hill or eminence. Had he been on a high mountain they could not have heard; and, had he been at a great distance, he would not have sat down. See the note on Mat_5:14.
And when he was set – The usual posture of public teachers among the Jews, and among many other people. Hence sitting was a synonymous term for teaching among the rabbins.
His disciples – The word μαθητης signifies literally a scholar. Those who originally followed Christ, considered him in the light of a Divine teacher; and conscious of their ignorance, and the importance of his teaching, they put themselves under his tuition, that they might be instructed in heavenly things. Having been taught the mysteries of the kingdom of God, they became closely attached to their Divine Master, imitating his life and manners; and recommending his salvation to all the circle of their acquaintance. This is still the characteristic of a genuine disciple of Christ.
And he opened his mouth. Frequent in the Old Testament; e.g. Job_3:1. A Hebraism, indicating that the words spoken are not the utterance of chance, but of set will and purpose. In the Gospels (in this sense) only Mat_13:35 (from Psa_78:2, LXX.); also in Act_8:35 (Philip); Act_10:34 (Peter); Act_18:14 (Paul); Rev_13:6 (the beast); cf. 2Co_6:11, of perfect frankness of expression, and Eph_6:19, perhaps of courage in the utterance of the Divine message.
And taught them. (ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς). That which follows is represented, not as a proclamation, but as teaching, given to those who in some measure desired to follow and serve him. Some progress already made by the listeners, if only in a relation of respect and reverence, is implied in “teaching.” The discourse was therefore spoken, not simply to the multitudes, a chance audience, but with primary and special reference to those who had already made some advance in relation to him. The multitudes, however, were standing by, and were amazed at the unique character of his teaching (cf. Mat_7:28, Mat_7:29; cf. also Luk_6:20 with Luk_7:1).
Blessed (makarioi). The English word “blessed” is more exactly represented by the Greek verbal eulogētoi as in Luk_1:68 of God by Zacharias, or the perfect passive participle eulogēmenos as in Luk_1:42 of Mary by Elizabeth and in Mat_21:9. Both forms come from eulogeō, to speak well of (eu, logos). The Greek word here (makarioi) is an adjective that means “happy” which in English etymology goes back to hap, chance, good-luck as seen in our words haply, hapless, happily, happiness. “Blessedness is, of course, an infinitely higher and better thing than mere happiness” (Weymouth). English has thus ennobled “blessed” to a higher rank than “happy.” But “happy” is what Jesus said and the Braid Scots New Testament dares to say “Happy” each time here as does the Improved Edition of the American Bible Union Version. The Greek word is as old as Homer and Pindar and was used of the Greek gods and also of men, but largely of outward prosperity. Then it is applied to the dead who died in the Lord as in Rev_14:13. Already in the Old Testament the Septuagint uses it of moral quality. “Shaking itself loose from all thoughts of outward good, it becomes the express symbol of a happiness identified with pure character. Behind it lies the clear cognition of sin as the fountain-head of all misery, and of holiness as the final and effectual cure for every woe. For knowledge as the basis of virtue, and therefore of happiness, it substitutes faith and love” (Vincent).
Jesus takes this word “happy” and puts it in this rich environment. “This is one of the words which have been transformed and ennobled by New Testament use; by association, as in the Beatitudes, with unusual conditions, accounted by the world miserable, or with rare and difficult” (Bruce). It is a pity that we have not kept the word “happy” to the high and holy plane where Jesus placed it. “If you know these things, happy (makarioi) are you if you do them” (Joh_13:17). “Happy (makarioi) are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Joh_20:29). And Paul applies this adjective to God, “according to the gospel of the glory of the happy (makariou) God” (1Ti_1:11. Cf. also Tit_2:13). The term “Beatitudes” (Latin beatus) comes close to the meaning of Christ here by makarioi. It will repay one to make a careful study of all the “beatitudes” in the New Testament where this word is employed. It occurs nine times here (Mat_5:3-11), though the beatitudes in Mat_5:10 and Mat_5:11 are very much alike. The copula is not expressed in either of these nine beatitudes. In each case a reason is given for the beatitude, “for” (hoti), that shows the spiritual quality involved. Some of the phrases employed by Jesus here occur in the Psalms, some even in the Talmud (itself later than the New Testament, though of separate origin). That is of small moment. “The originality of Jesus lies in putting the due value on these thoughts, collecting them, and making them as prominent as the Ten Commandments. No greater service can be rendered to mankind than to rescue from obscurity neglected moral commonplaces “ (Bruce). Jesus repeated his sayings many times as all great teachers and preachers do, but this sermon has unity, progress, and consummation. It does not contain all that Jesus taught by any means, but it stands out as the greatest single sermon of all time, in its penetration, pungency, and power.
The poor in spirit (hoi ptōchoi tōi pneumati). Luke has only “the poor,” but he means the same by it as this form in Matthew, “the pious in Israel, for the most part poor, whom the worldly rich despised and persecuted” (McNeile). The word used here (ptōchoi) is applied to the beggar Lazarus in Luk_16:20, Luk_16:22 and suggests spiritual destitution (from ptōssō to crouch, to cower). The other word penēs is from penomai, to work for one’s daily bread and so means one who works for his living. The word ptōchos is more frequent in the New Testament and implies deeper poverty than penēs. “The kingdom of heaven” here means the reign of God in the heart and life. This is the summum bonum and is what matters most.
The poor (οἱ πρωχιὸ)
Three words expressing poverty are found in the New Testament. Two of them, πὲνης and πενιχρός, are kindred terms, the latter being merely a poetic form of the other, and neither of these occurs more than once (Luk_21:2; 2Co_9:9). The word used in this verse is therefore the current word for poor, occurring thirty-four times, and covering every gradation of want; so that it is evident that the New Testament writers did not recognize any nice distinctions of meaning which called for the use of other terms. Luke, for instance (Luk_21:2, Luk_21:3), calls the widow who bestowed her two mites both πενιχρὰν and πρωχὴ. Nevertheless, there is a distinction, recognized by both classical and ecclesiastical writers. While ὁ πένης is of narrow means, one who “earns a scanty pittance,” πρωχός is allied to the verb πτώσσειν, to crouch or cringe, and therefore conveys the idea of utter destitution, which abjectly solicits and lives by alms. Hence it is applied to Lazarus (Luk_16:20, Luk_16:22), and rendered beggar. Thus distinguished, it is very graphic and appropriate here, as denoting the utter spiritual destitution, the consciousness of which precedes the entrance into the kingdom of God, and which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts, but only by the free mercy of God. (See on 2Co_6:10; and see 2Co_8:9.)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, etc. – Or, happy, μακαριοι from μα or μη, not, and κηρ, fate, or death: intimating, that such persons were endued with immortality, and consequently were not liable to the caprices of fate. Homer, Iliad i, 330, calls the supreme gods, Θεων μακαρων, the ever happy and Immortal gods, and opposes them to θνητων ανθρωπων, mortal men.
τω δ’ αυτω μαρτυροι εστων
Προς τε Θεων μακαρων, προς τε θνητων ανθροπων
“Be ye witnesses before the immortal gods, and before mortal men.”
From this definition we may learn, that the person whom Christ terms happy is one who is not under the influence of fate or chance, but is governed by an all-wise providence, having every step directed to the attainment of immortal glory, being transformed by the power into the likeness of the ever-blessed God. Though some of the persons, whose states are mentioned in these verses, cannot be said to be as yet blessed or happy, in being made partakers of the Divine nature; yet they are termed happy by our Lord, because they are on the straight way to this blessedness.
Taken in this light the meaning is similar to that expressed by the poet when describing a happy man.
Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas: Atque metus omnes et inexorabile Fatum
Subjecit pedibus; strepitumque Acherontis avari!
Virg. Geor. ii. v. 490
Which may be thus paraphrased: –
“Happy is he who gains the knowledge of the first cause of all things; who can trample on every fear, and the doctrine of inexorable Fate; and who is not terrified by death, nor by the threatened torments of the invisible world!”
Poor in spirit – One who is deeply sensible of his spiritual poverty and wretchedness. Πτωχος, a poor man, comes from πτωσσω, to tremble, or shrink with fear. Being destitute of the true riches, he is tremblingly alive to the necessities of his soul, shrinking with fear lest he should perish without the salvation of God. Such Christ pronounces happy, because there is but a step between them and that kingdom which is here promised. Some contend, that μακαριοι should be referred to πνευματι, and the verse translated thus: Happy, or blessed in spirit, are the poor. But our Lord seems to have the humiliation of the spirit particularly in view.
Kingdom of heaven – Or, των ουρανων, of the heavens. A participation of all the blessings of the new covenant here, and the blessings of glory above. See this phrase explained, Mat_3:2 (note). Blessed are the poor! This is God’s word; but who believes it? Do we not say, Yea, rather, Blessed is the rich?
The Jewish rabbins have many good sayings relative to that poverty and humility of spirit which Christ recommends in this verse. In the treatise called Bammidbar Rabbi, s. 20, we have these words: There were three (evils) in Balaam: the evil eye, (envy), the towering spirit, (pride), and the extensive mind (avarice).
Tanchum, fol. 84. The law does not abide with those who have the extensive mind, (avarice), but with him only who has a contrite heart.
Rabbi Chanina said, “Why are the words of the law compared to water? Because as waters flow from heights, and settle in low places, so the words of the law rest only with him who is of an humble heart.” See Schoettgen.
Blessed are they that mourn – This is capable of two meanings: either, that those are blessed who are afflicted with the loss of friends or possessions, or that they who mourn over sin are blessed. As Christ came to preach repentance, to induce people to mourn over their sins and to forsake them, it is probable that he had the latter particularly in view. Compare 2Co_7:10. At the same time, it is true that the gospel only can give true comfort to those in affliction, Isa_61:1-3; Luk_4:18. Other sources of consolation do not reach the deep sorrows of the soul. They may blunt the sensibilities of the mind; they may produce a sullen and reluctant submission to what we cannot help: but they do not point to the true source of comfort. In the God of mercy only; in the Saviour; in the peace that flows from the hope of a better world, and there only, is there consolation, 2Co_3:17-18; 2Co_5:1. Those that mourn thus shall be comforted. So those that grieve over sin; that sorrow that they have committed it, and are afflicted and wounded that they have offended God, shall find comfort in the gospel. Through the merciful Saviour those sins may be forgiven. In him the weary and heavy-ladened soul shall find peace Mat_11:28-30; and the presence of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, shall sustain them here Joh_14:26-27, and in heaven all their tears shall be wiped away, Rev_21:4.
The meek (οἱ πραεῖς)
Another word which, though never used in a bad sense, Christianity has lifted to a higher plane, and made the symbol of a higher good. Its primary meaning is mild, gentle. It was applied to inanimate things, as light, wind, sound, sickness. It was used of a horse; gentle.
As a human attribute, Aristotle defines it as the mean between stubborn anger and that negativeness of character which is inescapable of even righteous indignation: according to which it is tantamount to equanimity. Plato opposes it to fierceness or cruelty, and uses it of humanity to the condemned; but also of the conciliatory demeanor of a demagogue seeking popularity and power. Pindar applies it to a king, mild or kind to the citizens, and Herodotus uses it as opposed to anger.
These pre-Christian meanings of the word exhibit two general characteristics. 1. They express outward conduct merely. 2. They contemplate relations to men only. The Christian word, on the contrary, describes an inward quality, and that as related primarily to God. The equanimity, mildness, kindness, represented by the classical word, are founded in self-control or in natural disposition. The Christian meekness is based on humility, which is not a natural quality but an outgrowth of a renewed nature. To the pagan the word often implied condescension, to the Christian it implies submission. The Christian quality, in its manifestation, reveals all that was best in the heathen virtue – mildness, gentleness, equanimity – but these manifestations toward men are emphasized as outgrowths of a spiritual relation to God. The mildness or kindness of Plato or Pindar imply no sense of inferiority in those who exhibit them; sometimes the contrary. Plato’s demagogue is kindly from self-interest and as a means to tyranny. Pindar’s king is condescendingly kind. The meekness of the Christian springs from a sense of the inferiority of the creature to the Creator, and especially of the sinful creature to the holy God. While, therefore, the pagan quality is redolent of self-assertion, the Christian quality carries the flavor of self-abasement.
As toward God, therefore, meekness accepts his dealings without murmur or resistance as absolutely good and wise. As toward man, it accepts opposition, insult, and provocation, as God’s permitted ministers of a chastening demanded by the infirmity and corruption of sin; while, under this sense of his own sinfulness, the meek bears patiently “the contradiction of sinners against himself,” forgiving and restoring the erring in a spirit of meekness, considering himself, lest he also be tempted (see Gal_6:1-5). The ideas of forgiveness and restoration nowhere attach to the classical word. They belong exclusively to Christian meekness, which thus shows itself allied to love. As ascribed by our Lord to himself, see Mat_11:29. Wyc. renders “Blessed be mild men.”
The meek – Meekness is patience in the reception of injuries. It is neither meanness nor a surrender of our rights, nor cowardice; but it is the opposite of sudden anger, of malice, of long-harbored vengeance. Christ insisted on his right when he said, “If I have done evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” Joh_18:23. Paul asserted his right when he said, “They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves, and fetch us out,” Act_16:37. And yet Christ was the very model of meekness. It was one of his characteristics, “I am meek,” Mat_11:29. So of Paul. No man endured more wrong, or endured it more patiently than he. Yet the Saviour and the apostle were not passionate. They bore all patiently. They did not press their rights through thick and thin, or trample down the rights of others to secure their own.
Meekness is the reception of injuries with a belief that God will vindicate us. “Vengeance is his; he will repay,” Rom_12:19. It little becomes us to take his place, and to do what he has promised to do.
Meekness produces peace. It is proof of true greatness of soul. It comes from a heart too great to be moved by little insults. It looks upon those who offer them with pity. He that is constantly ruffled; that suffers every little insult or injury to throw him off his guard and to raise a storm of passion within, is at the mercy of every mortal that chooses to disturb him. He is like “the troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.”
They shall inherit the earth – This might have been translated the land. It is probable that here is a reference to the manner in which the Jews commonly expressed themselves to denote any great blessing. It was promised to them that they should inherit the land of Canaan. For a long time the patriarchs looked forward to this, Gen_15:7-8; Exo_32:13. They regarded it as a great blessing. It was so spoken of in the journey in the wilderness, and their hopes were crowned when they took possession of the promised land, Deu_1:38; Deu_16:20. In the time of our Saviour they were in the constant habit of using the Old Testament, where this promise perpetually occurs, and they used it “as a proverbial expression to denote any great blessing, perhaps as the sum of all blessings,” Psa_37:20; Isa_60:21. Our Saviour used it in this sense, and meant to say, not that the meek would own great property or have many lands, but that they would possess special blessings. The Jews also considered the land of Canaan as a type of heaven, and of the blessings under the Messiah. To inherit the land became, therefore, an expression denoting those blessings. When our Saviour uses this language here, he means that the meek shall be received into his kingdom, and partake of its blessings here, and of the glories of the heavenly Canaan hereafter. The value of meekness, even in regard to worldly property and success in life, is often exhibited in the Scriptures, Pro_22:24-25; Pro_15:1; Pro_25:8, Pro_25:15. It is also seen in common life that a meek, patient, mild man is the most prospered. An impatient and quarrelsome man raises up enemies; often loses property in lawsuits; spends his time in disputes and broils rather than in sober, honest industry; and is harassed, vexed, and unsuccessful in all that he does. “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come,” 1Ti_4:8. Compare 1Ti_6:3-6.
Blessed are they which do hunger … – Hunger and thirst, here, are expressive of strong desire. Nothing would better express the strong desire which we ought to feel to obtain righteousness than hunger and thirst. No needs are so keen, none so imperiously demand supply, as these. They occur daily, and when long continued, as in case of those shipwrecked, and doomed to wander months or years over burning sands, with scarcely any drink or food, nothing is more distressing. An ardent desire for anything is often represented in the Scriptures by hunger and thirst, Psa_42:1-2; Psa_63:1-2. A desire for the blessings of pardon and peace; a deep sense of sin, and want, and wretchedness, is also represented by thirsting, Isa_55:1-2.
They shall be filled – They shall be satisfied as a hungry man is when supplied with food, or a thirsty man when supplied with drink. Those who are perishing for want of righteousness; those who feel that they are lost sinners and strongly desire to be holy, shall be thus satisfied. Never was there a desire to be holy which God was not willing to gratify, and the gospel of Christ has made provision to satisfy all who truly desire to be holy. See Isa_55:1-3; Isa_65:13; Joh_4:14; Joh_6:35; Joh_7:37-38; Psa_17:15.
Shall be filled (χορτασθήσονται)
A very strong and graphic word, originally applied to the feeding and fattening of animals in a stall. In Rev_19:21, it is used of the filling of the birds with the flesh of God’s enemies. Also of the multitudes fed with the loaves and fishes (Mat_14:20; Mar_8:8; Luk_9:17). It is manifestly appropriate here as expressing the complete satisfaction of spiritual hunger and thirst. Hence Wycliffe’s rendering, fulfilled, is strictly true to the original.
The merciful – The word mercy, among the Jews, signified two things: the pardon of injuries, and almsgiving. Our Lord undoubtedly takes it in its fullest latitude here. To know the nature of mercy, we have only to consult the grammatical meaning of the Latin word misericordia, from which ours is derived. It is composed of two words: miserans, pitying, and cor, the heart; or miseria cordis, pain of heart. Mercy supposes two things:
1. A distressed object: and,
2. A disposition of the heart, through which it is affected at the sight of such an object.
This virtue, therefore, is no other than a lively emotion of the heart, which is excited by the discovery of any creature’s misery; and such an emotion as manifests itself outwardly, by effects suited to its nature. The merciful man is here termed by our Lord ελεημων, from ελεος, which is generally derived from the Hebrew חיל chil, to be in pain, as a woman in travail: or from ילל galal, to cry, or lament grievously; because a merciful man enters into the miseries of his neighbor, feels for and mourns with him.
They shall obtain mercy – Mercy is not purchased but at the price of mercy itself; and even this price is a gift of the mercy of God. What mercy can those vindictive persons expect, who forgive nothing, and are always ready to improve every advantage they have of avenging themselves? Whatever mercy a man shows to another, God will take care to show the same to him. The following elegant and nervous saying of one of our best poets is worthy of the reader’s most serious attention: –
“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed;
It blesseth him who gives, and him who takes:
’Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s,
When mercy seasons justice. –
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. –
Why, all the souls that are, were forfeit once:
And he who might the ’vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you be,
If He who is the top of judgment should
But judge you as you are? O! think on that;
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man, new made
How shalt thou hope for mercy, rend’ring none?”
In the tract Shabbath, fol. 151, there is a saying very like this of our Lord.“He who shows mercy to men, God will show mercy to him: but to him who shows no mercy to man, God will show no mercy.
Blessed are the merciful – That is, those who are so affected by the sufferings of others as to be disposed to alleviate them. This is given as an evidence of piety, and it is said that they who show mercy to others shall obtain it. The same sentiment is found in Mat_10:42; “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward.” See also Mat_25:34-40. This should be done with a wish to glorify God; that is, in obedience to his commandments, and with a desire that he should be honored, and with a feeling that we are benefiting one of his creatures. Then he will regard it as done to him, and will reward us. See the sentiment of this verse, that the merciful shall obtain mercy, more fully expressed in 2Sa_22:26-27; and in Psa_18:25-26.
Nowhere do we imitate God more than in showing mercy. In nothing does God delight more than in the exercise of mercy, Exo_34:6; Eze_33:11; 1Ti_2:4; 2Pe_3:9. To us, guilty sinners; to us, wretched, dying, and exposed to eternal woe, he has shown his mercy by giving his Son to die for us; by expressing his willingness to pardon and save us; and by sending his Spirit to renew and sanctify our hearts. Each day of our life, each hour, and each moment, we partake of his undeserved mercy. All the blessings we enjoy are proofs of his mercy. If we, then, show mercy to the poor, the wretched, the guilty, it shows that we are like God. We have his spirit, and shall not lose our reward. And we have abundant opportunity to do it. Our world is full of guilt and woe, which we may help to relieve; and every day of our lives we have opportunity, by helping the poor and wretched, and by forgiving those who injure us, to show that we are like God. See the notes at Mat_6:14-15.
7.Happy are the merciful This paradox, too, contradicts the judgment of men. The world reckons those men to be happy, who give themselves no concern about the distresses of others, but consult their own ease. Christ says that those are happy, who are not only prepared to endure their own afflictions, but to take a share in the afflictions of others, — who assist the wretched, — who willingly take part with those who are in distress, — who clothe themselves, as it were, with the same affections, that they may be more readily disposed to render them assistance. He adds, for they shall obtain mercy, — not only with God, but also among men, whose minds God will dispose to the exercise of humanity. Though the whole world may sometimes be ungrateful, and may return the very worst reward to those who have done acts of kindness to them, it ought to be reckoned enough, that grace is laid up with God for the merciful and humane, so that they, in their turn, will find him to be gracious and merciful, (Psa_103:8.)
Blessed are the pure in heart – That is, whose minds, motives, and principles are pure; who seek not only to have the external actions correct, but who desire to be holy in heart, and who are so. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.
They shall see God – There is a sense in which all will see God, Rev_1:7. That is, they will behold him as a Judge, not as a Friend. In this place it is spoken of as a special favor. So also in Rev_22:4,
“And they shall see his face.” To see the face of one, or to be in the presence of any one, were terms among the Jews expressive of great favor. It was regarded as a high honor to be in the presence of kings and princes, and to be permitted to see them, Pro_22:29, “He shall stand before kings.” See also 2Ki_25:19, “Those that stood in the king’s presence;” in the Hebrew, those that saw the face of the king; that is, who were his favorites and friends. So here, to see God, means to be his friends and favorites, and to dwell with him in his kingdom.
That have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake (hoi dediōgmenoi heneken dikaiosunēs). Posing as persecuted is a favourite stunt. The kingdom of heaven belongs only to those who suffer for the sake of goodness, not who are guilty of wrong.
They which are persecuted – Δεδιωγμενοι, they who are hard pressed upon and pursued with repeated acts of enmity. Parkhurst. They are happy who suffer, seems a strange saying: and that the righteous should suffer, merely because they are such, seems as strange. But such is the enmity of the human heart to every thing of God and goodness, that all those who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution in one form or other. As the religion of Christ gives no quarter to vice, so the vicious will give no quarter to this religion, or to its professors.
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven – That spiritual kingdom, explained Mat_3:2, and that kingdom of glory which is its counterpart and consequence.
Blessed are they which are persecuted – To persecute means literally to pursue; follow after, as one does a flying enemy. Here it means to vex, or oppress one, on account of his religion. They persecute others who injure their names, reputation, property, or who endanger or take their life, on account of their religious opinions.
For righteousness’ sake – Because they are righteous, or are the friends of God. We are not to seek persecution. We are not to provoke it by strange sentiments or conduct; by violating the laws of civil society, or by modes of speech that are unnecessarily offensive to others. But if, in the honest effort to be Christians, and to live the life of Christians, others persecute and revile us, we are to consider this as a blessing. It is an evidence that we are the children of God, and that he will defend us. “All that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” 2Ti_3:12.
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven – They have evidence that they are Christians, and that they will be brought to heaven.
Blessed are ye when men shall revile you – Reproach you; call you by evil and contemptuous names; ridicule you because you are Christians. Thus, they said of Jesus that he was a Samaritan and had a devil Joh_8:48; that he was mad Joh_10:20; and thus they reviled and mocked him on the cross, Mat_27:39-44. But, being reviled, he reviled not again 1Pe_2:23; and thus being reviled, we should bless 1Co_4:12; and thus, though the contempt of the world is not in itself desirable, yet it is blessed to tread in the footsteps of Jesus, to imitate his example, and even to suffer for his sake, Phi_1:29.
All manner of evil against you falsely – An emphasis should be laid on the word falsely in this passage. It is not blessed to have evil spoken of us if we deserve it; but if we deserve it not, then we should not consider it as a calamity. We should take it patiently, and show how much the Christian, under the consciousness of innocence, can bear, 1Pe_3:13-18.
For my sake – Because you are attached to me; because you are Christians. We are not to seek such things. We are not to do things to offend others; to treat them harshly or unkindly, and. to court revilings. We are not to say or do things, though they may be on the subject of religion, designed to disgust or offend. But if, in the faithful endeavor to be Christians, we are reviled, as our Master was, then we are to take it with patience, and to remember that thousands before us have been treated in like manner. When thus reviled or persecuted, we are to be meek, patient, humble; not angry; not reviling again; but endeavoring to do good to our persecutors and slanderers, 2Ti_2:24-25. In this way many have been convinced of the power and excellence of that religion which they were persecuting and reviling. They have seen that nothing else but Christianity could impart such patience and meekness to the persecuted; and have, by this means, been constrained to submit themselves to the gospel of Jesus. Long since it became a proverb, “that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad (χαίρετε καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε). Our Lord uses no weaker expressions than those which describe the joy of the saints over the marriage of the Lamb (Rev_19:7). The first word expresses joy as such, the second its effect in stirring the emotions; this thought St. Luke carries still further in σκιρτήσατε. (For joy felt under persecution, cf. Act_5:41.)
For great. The order of the Greek, ὅτι ὀ μισθὸς ὑμῶν πολύς, does not bear out the emphatic position assigned to “great” in the English Versions from Tyndale downwards (except Rheims), including Revised Version.
Is your reward. The doctrine of recompense, which has so large a place in Jewish thought (for a not often-sire example, cf. ‘Ab.,’ 2.19, Taylor) comes also in Christ’s teaching. In Mat_20:1-16 reward is expressly divested of its merely legal side, and exhibited as ultimately dependent on the will of the great Householder. But here it is mentioned without reference to the difficulties involved in the conception. These difficulties centre round the thought of obligation from God to man. But it may be doubted whether these difficulties are not caused by too exclusively regarding the metaphor of contracting, instead of considering the fact indicated by the metaphor. In God’s kingdom every action has a corresponding effect, and this effect is the more certain in proportion as the action is in the sphere of morality. The idea of “quantity” hardly enters into the relation of such cause and effect. It is a question of moral correspondence. But such effect may not unfitly be called by the metaphors “hire,” “reward,” because, on the one hand, it is the result of conditions of moral service, and, on the other, such terms imply a Personal Will at the back of the effect, as well as a will on the part of the human “servant.” (For the subject in other connexions, cf. Weiss, ‘Bibl. Theol.,’ § 32; cf. also verse 46; Mat_6:1, Mat_6:2, Mat_6:4, Mat_6:5, Mat_6:6.)
In heaven. Our Lord says, “your reward is great,” because the effect of your exercise of moral powers will be received in a sphere where the accidents of the surroundings will entirely correspond to moral influences. The effect of your present faithfulness, etc., will be seen in the reception Of powers of work and usefulness and enjoyment, beside which those possessed on earth will appear small. On earth the opportunities, etc., are but “few things;” hereafter they will be “many things” (Mat_25:21).
For. Not as giving a reason for the assurance of reward (apparently Meyer and Weiss), but for the command, “rejoice,” and be exceeding glad, and perhaps also for the predicate “blessed.” Rejoice if persecuted, for such persecutions prove you to be the true successors of the prophets, your predecessors in like faithfulness (cf. Jas_5:10).
So. By reproach, e.g. Elijah (1Ki_18:17), Amos (Amo_7:12, Amo_7:13); by persecution, e.g. Hanani (2Ch_16:10), Jeremiah (Jer_37:15); by saying all manner of evil, e.g. Amos (Amo_7:10), Jeremiah (Jer_37:13), Daniel (Dan_6:13). Which were before you. Added, surely, not as a mere temporal fact, but to indicate spiritual relationship (vide supra).
Have lost his savour (μωρανθῇ)
The kindred noun (μωρός) means dull, sluggish; applied to the mind, stupid or silly; applied to the taste, insipid, flat. The verb here used of salt, to become insipid, also means to play the fool. Our Lord refers here to the familiar fact of salt losing its pungency and becoming useless. Dr. Thompson (“The Land and the Book”) cites the following case: “A merchant of Sidon, having farmed of the government the revenue from the importation of salt, brought over a great quantity from the marshes of Cyprus – enough, in fact, to supply the whole province for many years. This he had transferred to the mountains, to cheat the government out of some small percentage of duty. Sixty-five houses were rented and filled with salt. Such houses have merely earthen floors, and the salt next the ground was in a few years entirely spoiled. I saw large quantities of it literally thrown into the road to be trodden under foot of men and beasts. It was ‘good for nothing.’”
Matthew only. Ye are the light of the world. After speaking of the moral tone that the disciples were to give to the world, in contrast to sin in its corrupting power, Christ refers to them as enlightening, in contrast to sin as darkness and ignorance. Our Lord further naturally exchanges the term “the earth” (which from its strong materialism had suited the figure of the salt) for “the world”—a phrase which must, indeed, as regards the disciples, be limited to this earth, but as regards the light, need not be limited to less than the solar system. In other words, the simple reason why he exchanges “earth” for “world” is that they are respectively the best suited to the figure employed. Notice that Christ never applies the former figure, of salt, to himself; but the latter, of light, once or twice, especially Joh_8:12, where, since he is speaking of himself, and not of others, he adds the thought of life being connected with light, a city, etc.; literally, a city cannot be hid when set on a mountain. It seems at first slightly awkward to introduce the figure of a city between those of the sun and the lamp, both these having to do with light. The reason is that the city is not considered as such, but only as an object which can be teen, and which cannot (οὐ δύναται, emphatic) from its physical conditions avoid being seen. There is a true gradation in the thought of influence. The sun must be seen by all; the city, by the whole neighbourhood; the lamp, by the family. Our Lord comes from the general to the particular; from what is almost theory, at best a matter of hope and faith, to hard fact and practice. The influence you are to have—if it is to be for the whole world, as indeed it is, must be felt in the neighbourhood in which you live, and a fortiori in the immediate circle of your own home.
Conjectures have been made whether any one city can reasonably be mentioned as being in sight, and so having suggested this image to our Lord. If the exact spot where he was then sitting were itself certain, such conjectures might be worth considering. But, in fact, so many “cities” in Palestine were set on hills that the inquiry seems vain. Safed, some twelve miles north-west of Capernaum, the view from which extends to Tiberias, has been accepted by many, but evidence is lacking for it having been a city at that time. Tabor, at the south-west of the lake, has also been thought of, and at all events seems to have been then a fortified town. The view from it is even more extensive than from Safed.
Under the bushel (hupo ton modion). Not a bushel. “The figure is taken from lowly cottage life. There was a projecting stone in the wall on which the lamp was set. The house consisted of a single room, so that the tiny light sufficed for all” (Bruce). It was not put under the bushel (the only one in the room) save to put it out or to hide it. The bushel was an earthenware grain measure.
“The stand” (tēn luchnian), not “candlestick.” It is “lamp-stand” in each of the twelve examples in the Bible. There was the one lamp-stand for the single room.
Matthew only. Let your light so shine; even so let your light shine (Revised Version); οὕτως λαμψὰτω τὸ φῶς ὑμῶν. The Revised Version (cf. Rheims) does away with the misinterpretation suggested by the Authorized Version, “so that,” for οὕτως refers solely to the method of shining spoken of in verse 15, “like a burning lamp upon its stand” (Meyer). Our Lord has here no thought of effort in shining, such as may improve the brightness of the light given, or of illuminating others, but of not concealing what light the disciples have. (For a similar οὕτως, cf. 1Co_9:24.) Yet remember, “A lamp for one is a lamp for a hundred” and “Adam was the lamp of the world” (Talm. Jeremiah, ‘Sabb.,’ 2.4—a play on Pro_20:27).
Your light. Either genitive of apposition, the light which you are (Achelis), of. verse 14; or genitive of possession, the light of which you are the trusted possessors (Meyer, Weiss). The latter is preferable, as the disciples have, in verse 15, been compared to the lamp, i.e. the light-bearer. Before men (ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων). More than ἐνώπιον, “in presence of,” for the position of the lamp “in front of” the people is what our Lord is here emphasizing (cf. Joh_12:37). That they may see your good works (ὑμῶν τὰ καλὰ ἔργα).
Your. Three times in this verse. Our Lord lays stress on personal possession of light, personal action, personal relationship and origin. Good works; i.e. of your lives generally (Weiss-Meyer), not ministerially (Mever). “Noble works, works which by their generous and attractive character win the natural admiration of men” (Bishop Westcott, on Heb_10:24).
And glorify. This is actually done in Mat_9:8; Mat_15:31. St. Peter’s language (1Pe_2:12) is probably due to a reminiscence of our Lord’s words.
Your Father which is in heaven. The Fatherhood of God is here predicated in a special sense of the disciples, in the same way as the Fatherhood of God is, in the Old Testament, always connected with his covenant relation to his people as a nation (cf. Isa_63:16; Isa_64:8; Jer_3:4; Deu_32:6). Our Lord here is not thinking of the original relation of God to being and especially to humanity, in virtue of man’s creation in the Divine image (ὁπατήρ), but of the relation into which the disciples have entered through the revelation of God in Christ; cf. further Bishop Westcott, on Joh_4:21 (Add. Note) and on 1Jn_1:2 (Add. Note); also Weiss, ‘Life,’ 2:348. The phrase, which occurs here for the first time in St. Matthew (but cf. verse 9, note), henceforth occurs frequently, becoming of great importance for this Gospel (cf. verses 45, 48; Mat_6:1, Mat_6:9, etc.).