The Beatitudes-The Poor in Spirit

August 27, 2019

by Barry Fike

             Overall, what is called the Beatitudes, can properly be titled “Attitudes for Kingdom People to have”.  Each concept reiterates what the others have already stated being a wonderful example of beautiful Hebrew poetry.   Let’s begin to dissect this verse with knowledge of the Hebrew background. 

              Does blessed mean happy?  This is the Hebrew language used in a common sense in rabbinical literature and in the scriptures.  The Hebrew word ashrei (which is translated into Greek by makarios)
blessed” should not be rendered as simply “happy”.  Happiness is not the same as joy.  The word ashrei comes from a root that refers to affirmation, acceptance, or favor which is often accompanied by joy and happiness as well as physical well-being and material blessing.  The term would be better understood as denoting divine affirmation or approval.  It has a spiritual meaning that goes beyond modern views of happiness.  A man or a woman who is “blessed” possessed the well-being which accompanies God’s favor.  He or she has received divine acceptance and blessing.  One possesses a sense of belonging to God as well as his affirmation.  I must prefer the translation “blessed”.  For the rich Hebrew background of the word “blessed” consider the use of the term in the context of the Psalms of the story of utter joy associated with the divine favor given at the birth of a child (e.g., Gen. 30:13).  (Flusser, David.  Judaism and the origins of Christianity, p. 41) 


“Happy (blessed) is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked.”  Ps. 1:1

“Happy (blessed) are they that keep my ways.”  Prov. 8:32

“Happy (blessed) are ye that sow beside all waters.” Isaiah 32:20


              Jesus used the old expressions from his Hebraic background, but with a clearness and simplicity unmatched by the teachers of his day.  He brought out several aspects of the deeper spiritual significance of the religion of his fathers.  He gave these thoughts a power that they never had before.  While old stones, he was using them for new foundations.


              What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?


“…but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word.”  Isaiah 66:2

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy:  I dwell in the high and holy place with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (thoroughly penitent—bruised for the sorrow for sin) Isaiah 57:15

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek.”  Isaiah 61:1

“But the humble (or meek) will inherit the land (or earth), and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. Psalm 37:11


              Jesus linked the language of the Hebrew Scriptures with his group of followers.  When Jesus declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” he addresses none other than his disciples.  In Hebrew the phrase “poor in spirit” can have three meanings: (1) it can mean mainly the poor who received the Holy Spirit, (2) those whose spirit is meek (like Moses), (3) those who feel the lack of the spirit and who pray for a gift of it. 

              To Jesus is seems that the poor in spirit were the meek ones, the poor, endowed with the supreme gift of divine bliss, with the Holy Spirit.  (Flusser, David.  Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, p. 107) 

              “Poor in spirit” is parallel to humble in spirit, broken in spirit, which means one who is sorrowful for his sins, who has repented of his sin, who has turned to God, who loves His word and keeps his commandments. (Dr. Roy Blizzard, Mishnah and the Words of Jesus, p. 52)

              What does the phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” mean?  The Greek word translated “theirs” should be translated “of these” or “of such as these” meaning that we cannot possess the Kingdom.  It does not belong to us; rather, Jesus is describing in these beatitudes the kind of people who make up the Kingdom. (Dr. Roy Blizzard, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, pp. 119, 120)   Jesus paraphrases the words of Ps. 37:11 “they shall inherit the earth” by “theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”  According to his interpretation, the word “earth” has a spiritual sense and symbolized the “earth of eschatology” viv, “The Kingdom of Heaven.”  (Dr. Roy Blizzard, p. 108)

              In the second temple period the commandment against using the Lord’s name in vain was so strictly interpreted that people used euphemisms to avoid unintentionally misusing his name.  Thus the term “kingdom of heaven” (malkut shamayim) became a synonym for God.  This evolved into the Rabbis, or Jesus’ day and time, to make this a spiritual term meaning the rule of God over a person who keeps or begins to keep the written and oral commandments.  The Rabbis felt that when a person confessed “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone,” such indicated his intention to keep the Torah, and he came under God’s rule and authority and thus came into the Kingdom of God.  The Sages believed that even when a man recites “Hear O Israel,” he is taking upon himself the Kingdom of Heaven and is living under it.  The Kingdom of Heaven exited there and then, and was in no way conditioned by a rebellion against Rome, built only by the purity of the people of Israel.  Jesus echoes this sentiment in Matthew 7:21.  For Him the Kingdom of Heaven already existed, and one needed to work at its complete realization.   (Flusser, David.  Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, p. 5)

              Jesus placed himself at the center of this movement which served as an instrument for disseminating the Kingdom of Heaven which would solve the problems of the people of Israel.  Being the center of this movement it would bring about, step by step, the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  It is in accordance with this idea that he explained the miracles, the signs and the healing he brought about for the people.  (Wilson, Marvin.  Our Father Abraham, p. 181) 

              In his teaching, preaching and healing ministry, especially among the outcasts of society, Jesus demonstrated that Gods salvation had come.  He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had, in some real sense, arrived in his person (Lk. 17:21).  As the reign of God broke into human lives, the power of the kingdom was unleashed (Lk. 11:20).  In Hebrew thought the kingdom is wherever Gods sovereignty takes charge and rules in human affairs.  In the case of Jesus, as the power of God penetrated lives through him by snapping the fetters that bound and the chains that oppressed, God’s salvation had come.  The Kingdom of God has broken through and is ruling and reigning in the hearts of those who submit to his authority and obey his will. 

              Remember, that in these “beatitudes” that Jesus is simply talking about the type of people who make up the kingdom of God.  It is the “poor in spirit” the spiritually “down and outers” who had no righteousness of their own; the “mourners,” the “brokenhearted” who had reached the end of their strength and cry out to God in despair and hopelessness; “the meek” those who have through away their pride.  It is people such as these who get into the Kingdom and find salvation.