By Daniel Downs
As mentioned in the first post, the gospels of Matthew and Luke contain two versions of a sermon proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth most likely from Mount Gerizim. This is where Moses told half of the tribal elders of Israel to reiterate the blessings for the keeping the law as the Israelites passed from the wilderness into the promised land (Deuteronomy 27:11-12; 28:1-14).
In the Sermon, Jesus pronounces blessings to the poor who faithfully follow God’s way. Those who do so become rich in two ways: First, their relationship with God makes them full of His presence and power enabling them to live according to the divine law. Jesus’ apostle Paul called it being filled with the Spirit. (Read his letter to the Ephesians) Second, they gain legal rights to the material and spiritual benefits of citizenship in the Kingdom of God. This means they have access to resources of the Creator. (See first post titled “Sermon on the Mount: Any Relevance Today?)
Jesus proceeds by pronouncing that those who mourn and weep will laugh again. In the world, problems arise whether because of mistakes, wrongdoing, injustices, natural disasters, or other forms of loss. Like Job, God comforts and restores. (See the second post titled Sermon on the Mount: From Weeping to Laughing)
The next blessing pronounced by Jesus is only recorded in the gospel of Matthew. It goes like this:
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5: 5).
I can think of only two reasons why Luke didn’t include it in his gospel. One possible reason is it was never part of Jesus’ sermon. The author of Matthew’s gospel included it because he was a Jew who had been trained to regard humility as a godly trait. Even though this blessing may not have been part of Jesus’ sermon, it was expected of those faithful to the law of God. Another possible reason is this: Being a citizen of the Roman Empire, Luke was trained to regard meekness as weakness. Romans regarded themselves as members of a superior race and culture than most others, for example, citizens of the always subjugated people of Palestine. This is the more likely reason.
The uniqueness of this part of Jesus Sermon is not just its singular mention in Matthew’s gospel; it is more exceptional because it was a quote taken from Psalms 37, which was itself the summation of a law of God:
“Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret because of him who prosper in his way or because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it only leads to doing evil. For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. Yet a little while and the wicked will be no more; you will look carefully for his place and he will not be. But the meek will inherit the earth and will delight themselves in abundance” (7-11).
The above verses point the familiar reader back to Exodus when the Jews were delivered from the injustices of slavery in Egypt. The Jews were not forced into slavery just as a punishment for any wrong done while in Egypt. Rather, it was because they were foreigners whose population greatly increased. There large population made a paranoid dictator fearful about their allegiance. That is, Pharaoh feared they might join Egypt’s enemies to attacking and conquering Pharaoh and his empire. The easiest way to eliminate such a potential threat was to control all aspects of their lives, which meant to enslave them. (Exodus 1:8-11) In this context, waiting on the Lord meant to continue being faithful to God and covenant law while waiting for God to execute justice. However, God told Abraham the Jews would be enslaved for 400 years in Egypt for two reasons: (1) their sins would lead them into it, and (2) the divine justice concerning the unrelenting sins of the Canaanites would take 400 years for completion. After which time, God promised the freedom of Jews and their right to possess the land previously promised to Abraham and to his descendents. (Genesis 15:13-16; Joshua 24:14; Deuteronomy 9:5-6; 12:29-31; 18:9-12)
The moral of the story is waiting in the right way leads to inheriting the promised land.
Inheriting and possessing land over which God reigns also will result in peace, freedom, and prosperity (Deuteronomy 7:12-14; 12:10; 25:19; 28:1-14). Because this promise included all faithful citizens of God’s reign, the collective or societal benefit of protection from enemies was implied. Yet, the individual aspect of the implied benefit was personal space within the land. Inclusive within this landed space was peace, a benefit of unhindered movement resulting from societal protection and prosperity; a related benefit was freedom of movement and work resulting from protection. Because God’s law required the promised land to be apportioned to each family according to need, title to that land was part of the inherited possession (Numbers 33:51-54). Prosperity didn’t equate to being as wealthy as Pharaohs, Caesars, Herods, or other tyrants. Prosperity meant having enough to meet the need of family and self as well as an abundance for tithes, offerings, showing hospitality to strangers, and helping others as need arose.
Jesus’ apostle Paul refers to the same when writing to the believers in Corinth about wealth and helping those suffering lack in Jerusalem because of famine. In the context of redemptive investments, Paul states that Jesus became poor that they (Corinthians and all believers) might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He then defines what he meant by rich:
“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having sufficiency for every need, you may have an abundance for every good work” (9:8).
By good work, Paul meant investing in the needy believers in Jerusalem. By doing so, they were cheerfully fulfilling kingdom law and increasing future returns all in the spirit of meekness. (Leviticus 25:35-37; Proverbs 19:17)
The ancient model of meekness was Moses (Numbers 12:3). Yet, Moses stood against Pharaoh face to face as God commanded. Moses led the Jews and others out of Egypt toward the promised land. Moses gave Israel the law of God. Moses led the warriors of Israel. Moses commanded the execution of Jews who had rebelled against the command and law of God. Moses interceded on behalf of the people in the face of God anger and judgment. Moses cared deeply about all of Israel. Moses trained Joshua for future leadership. Moses stood up to the opposition of jealous family members and others. However, the meekness of Moses was not defined by his courage. It was his caring and especially his obedience to God. God defended Moses against all opposition as Moses turned to God. That is, Moses trusted God. He trusted God because God carried out His word. Therefore, he was faithful to God. As a result, Moses waited on God. The one exception when he was angry about the faithless complaining of the people Moses went beyond God’s instruction. God used this as an object lesson by forbidding Moses from leading the Israel into the promised land. (Numbers 20:1-12)
In other words, not waiting on God leads to wrongdoing resulting in adverse consequences no matter who you are.
Notice, inherent in the English word “wait” consists of two implications: (1) it refers to duration of time during which a person waits for another person to respond, act or fulfill an agreement, or vise versa. (2) It more importantly refers to service to others i.e., to wait on a king, waiting on tables, etc. Just as Moses fulfilled both, those who heard Jesus’ sermon would have understood the same applied themselves. Waiting on the Lord meant waiting on God to act to enrich their lives with His wonderful presence and power, to comfort them during time of suffering, to lead them into possession of the benefits of the promise land.
The same audience also would have understood the purpose of God’s law of healing. The meek could not possess the earth if hindered by debilitating diseases. Consequently, citizens of God’s kingdom were to expect good health because they faithfully obeyed the law. (Exodus 23:25; Deuteronomy 7:12, 15) As the law promised good health, God also promised healing even if new diseases occurred. That is why healing was a prominent part of Jesus’ messianic work; the obedient were being restored in order to possess all of the benefits of the promise land.
So it is to be expected today.
The blessings of citizenship in God’s kingdom by covenant through faith in Jesus are promised to all. It is the fulfillment of God’s word to Abraham that through his descendents all peoples would be blessed. The Torah, songs of Israel (Psalms), and the proclamations of the Prophets contain the definition of the intended blessings. In his sermon from Mount Gerizim, Jesus reiterates the blessing. (Matthew 19:27-29; Luke 18:28-30; Mark 10:28-30)