Last week I wrote about an answer to prayer I received, when God spoke to me through Isaiah 30:18: “Blessed are those who wait for the Lord.”
As I thought about this verse, I realized it was a beatitude. In context in Isaiah 30:18, the complete beatitude would read, “Blessed are those who wait for the Lord, for He longs to show them compassion.”
The beatitudes of Jesus, which open His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, are of course one of the most famous passages in scripture. But I began to wonder what other beatitudes the Bible may contain, and once I began to see them, I saw them everywhere. Indeed the Lord’s very first words to His new human creations are an extended beatitude, beginning, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply …’” (Gen 1:28).
The first psalm, too, begins with an extended beatitude, which might be condensed as, “Blessed is the man who delights in the law of the Lord, for whatever he does prospers.” The first word of this psalm in Latin is beatus, from which we derive beatitude. The word blessed occurs 33 times in the Psalms, but a verse does not have to contain the word ‘blessed’ in order to be a beatitude. In many scriptures the word is implied, as in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
The Proverbs are also a treasure trove of blessings, beginning with “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom … for happy are those who lay hold of her” (3:13, 18). Perhaps the most extensive list of biblical blessings is in Deuteronomy 28, which might be summarized, “Blessed are you if you fully obey the Lord your God, for He will grant you abundant prosperity” (vv 1 & 11).
Clearly, from the very start and all the way through the Old Testament, God’s covenant with His people was based on beatitude: Do this and you will be blessed. When we come to the beatitudes of Jesus, however, there is a difference. Actually, two differences. One is that they all involve a surprising twist. The poor in spirit will possess heaven, and the meek will inherit the earth.
The other important difference with Jesus’ beatitudes is that the dependent clause is not something we can perform, but rather a quality of spirit: what is blessed is not what we do but who we are. We must be merciful, we must be pure in heart, we must be peacemakers. As Jesus inaugurates the kingdom of God in this great sermon, He sets out a new standard: To be blessed, one must have a deep, lasting, thorough-going change of heart. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (Jn 3:7).
Is this not something only God can do? Yes. Here the blessing and its reward are one and the same, as they should be.
This is the gospel, the astonishing good news—that God Himself now performs both parts of the covenant. He does it all. And what do we do? “The only work God wants from you is this: Believe in the One He has sent” (Jn 6:29).
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