The Old Testament Background of the Beatitudes

pexels-photo-256560Many have observed that Jesus’ Beatitudes did not materialize out of thin air. Rather, they show great continuity with the Old Testament. On this point, Craig Blomberg (in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament) has observed a number key connections between each beatitude and earlier Old Testament passages. In what follows, I share Blomberg’s quotation and a graph highlighting some of the key passages.

The Beatitudes, with which Jesus’ great sermon begins (5:3–12), contain several key allusions to the OT. The ‘poor in spirit’ (5:3) probably alludes to the ‘anāwîm,  the materially impoverished who recognize God as their only hope, who appear in so many prophetic and wisdom passages and especially in Isa. 61:1 (Schweizer 1975: 86; Carson 1984: 131; Bruner 1987: 135). There the Spirit-anointed prophet preaches to them good news, just as here Jesus declares them blessed. Isaiah 61:2 is almost certainly alluded to in the second beatitude (Matt. 5:4), as it seeks “to comfort all who mourn.” Again we should think of both spiritual and social causes. Matthew 5:5 alludes to Ps. 37:11. The pious Israelites who inherit the land have become the meek followers of Jesus who inherit the whole earth (the poor mourners of Isa. 61:1–3 also are described as inheriting the earth in 61:7, at least in the LXX). Verse 6 may echo Isa. 55:1–3 with its call for the spiritually hungry and thirsty to come to the Lord to eat and drink. Verse 7 calls to mind Exod. 34:6 with its famous self revelation of God’s nature, highlighting his mercy. Psalm 24:3–5 may underlie 5:8 with its call for clean hands anda pure heart as.a requirement for those who would come into God’s presence and receive his blessings. Psalm 34:14 sounds a note that echoes in the blessing of peacemakers in 5:9. The final verse of this section (5:12) alludes to the persecution of the prophets, described in both the OT (most notably Jeremiah) and intertestamental literature (most notably Ascension of Isaiah [=Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 6-11]). (Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament).

The Old Testament Background of the Beatitudes

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Isaiah 61:1

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

 

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Isaiah 61:2

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

 

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Psalm 37:11

11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.

 

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Isaiah 55:1–3

1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

 

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Exodus 34:6

6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

 

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Psalm 24:3–5

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

 

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

 

Psalm 34:14

14 Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

 

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

2 Chronicles 24:21 

21 But they conspired against him [Zechariah, son of Jehoiada], and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord.

Nehemiah 9:26

26 “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.

Jeremiah 20:2

2 Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

One thought on “The Old Testament Background of the Beatitudes

  1. Pingback: Salt and Light: What Y’All Are, When You Are in Christ (Matthew 5:13–16) | Via Emmaus

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