verse IV – the beatitudes – matthew 5:1-12
Hunger and thirst?
Have you ever experienced a hunger that could only be satisfied by a specific food; but not only a specific food, a specific food from a very specific place?
On my first trip to Kenya, East Africa in 2011, I spent nearly five weeks in country. Contrary to what I had expected, I was fed extraordinarily well and enjoyed the local food – Ugali anyone? – and on several occasions enjoyed pancakes that my hostess, Pastor Rachel Midodo, wife of Bishop Peter Midodo, had learned to prepare for visiting missionaries – with real Vermont maple syrup.
Nevertheless, by the third week a hunger began to develop – a hunger that by the fourth week became insatiable. I wanted the food of home. The airplane food, although western, did not satisfy; the McDonald’s in Amsterdam, Netherlands would simply not suffice. I needed real American food – so after customs in Detroit, I ran to the first sandwich shop I could find. The next stop on the way home from the airport: Tony’s Pizzeria in Herkimer, New York. Then I was blessed by days of my wife cooking my favorite foods.
Perhaps a poor illustration, but effective in expressing the heart of what Yeshua/Jesus is communicating regarding the blessedness of those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Yeshua is using an illustration that everyone can relate to, “hunger” and “thirst,” as these are two fundamental physical needs shared by all human beings.
Yeshua said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
In Psalm 42:1-2 we read, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before Him?” Additionally, Psalm 84:2, “My soul longs, yes, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” The psalmists are revealing their desperation for the righteousness of the Lord; a need that they, and we, cannot live without having filled – literally what the Greek of Matthew 5:6 is communicating.
Today our appetites are wetted by advertisers; with carefully placed images, words and sounds, they stimulate our desire for what they are selling: particular food brands, clothing, vehicles, or what “should” be appealing to us in the opposite sex. We “consume” these suggestions and allow them to build in us a hunger and thirst that needs satisfaction, which can never really be satisfied by objects from creation.
What is righteousness?
The verb root of righteous is צָדַק, meaning “to be just or righteous.” צָדַק is often paralleled with the Hebrew word ישר, “yashar” meaning “upright, straight, or strength,” as we read in Psalm 32:11, “Be glad in the Lord and exult, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Emphasis added). This word yashar is also used in Jeremiah 31:9 and is translated as straight, as in a “straight way.”
To clarify the meaning of righteous we should also consider another word that it is paralleled with: רשע, “rasha” meaning “wicked.” Consider Psalm 37:17, “For the arms of the wicked are broken, but the Lord sustains the righteous.” (Emphasis added).
Still, rasha, wicked, as a verb means “to depart,” an example of this is found in Psalm 18:21, “For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not departed from my God.” (Emphasis added).
Using these clues we can more accurately develop the word-picture of “righteous.”
The righteous is one who is straight/upright, and does not depart from God’s way. The righteous follows the path to the pasture land and the staying places (Psalm 23; John 14) – paths tamped down by the Lord. The psalmist prayed in this way, “Make me understand, that I might observe Your Torah, and guard it with all my heart. Make me walk in the path of your commands, for I have delighted in it” (Ps. 119:34-35). To follow the path of the Lord is to believe Him, as in faith exemplified by Abraham (Gen. 15:6), who followed the Lord along the way into the unknown to the promise (Gen. 12:1-3).
The wicked, rasha, depart the path of God – heading out into the brush and wildwood – and become lost.
Righteousness is understood most simply as following the way established before you by the covenant Lord to the green pastures and staying places – the way, however, is not always straight, it can be winding, but He straightens you along the way. The ancient Hebrews, as nomadic shepherds, followed this path by following the wind – רוח/ruach – as the winds changed, they knew it was time to follow the way to the next staying place – ruach in Hebrew means spirit, wind, or breath.
How do we get hungry?
How do we develop a hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, as described in the psalms referenced above?
At times, mournfully, through personal tragedy, be it: illness, bankruptcy, death of a loved one, etc. At other times, it is through the hearing of God’s Word, and yielding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in us to pray more, to read our Bibles daily, or to be more involved in godly activities.
Notice that brokenness and humbling before the Lord causes us to desire more of Him in our lives – His righteousness: His truth, His uprightness, His strength, and His way.
This righteousness is not the imputed righteousness of Messiah reckoned by faith (we will consider the subject of double imputation in a separate article); neither is it a hunger for moral justice, as admirable as that is; nor is it speaking to us about personal vindication. It is the implanted (or imparted) righteousness of Messiah which results in an absence of smugness, arrogance and haughtiness. It is righteousness that is not noticed by external action and is often not appreciated by others. It is living to be approved by God and Him alone, without concern for acceptance or popularity by the broader society, as He is the one you are hungering and thirsting for – as one is made right with the God, one will naturally endeavor to do right before Him (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Yeshua was hated by the world – and He is the righteous One, who only did His Father’s will perfectly.
This hunger and thirst is a longing for right relationship with the covenant Lord – to be reconciled with Him, and live that reconciliation out in human community as living evidence of right standing before Him. When we stop and consider this hunger and thirst for righteousness, we find it multifaceted, depending largely on the circumstance of the individual or individuals.
How do we know?
How do we know whether or not we are properly hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Turn to the Word. I recommend Hebrews 11 as a starting point and overview, then specific character studies in the Word for further elucidation.
In Luke 18:9-14 as the Pharisee and tax collector are praying, the Pharisee believed that he had achieved righteousness before God because of his own right action, while the tax collector, considered to be the sinner of all sinners, trusts the Lord and His righteousness, and desires to be accepted by Him through forgiveness and faith – causing a hunger, a thirst and a longing for Him, because He cannot live without Him – he cannot even lift his head.
A.W. Tozer once said that you can have as much of God as you desire – to drink of the stream that the deer panted for and desire the refreshing that only the Lord can give. Frances Ridley Havergal, a hymn writer of the nineteenth century, expressed it this way, “Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest; finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.”
This rest and peace come from the filling that we can receive from the Lord every day; a filling that no food or product can satisfy, but is only meet through the Spirit that is given to us to overflowing.
Shalom. Be well.