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Matthew 5:1-16
A Midrash on Torah Observance
Last Updated 1/1/06

CHAPTER 5:1-16 TEXT:

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.


NOTE: This study was first presented in the year 2000. We are planning a revision, beginning in 2006, to better reflect our current level of understanding. Among other things, it is our intent to further not "shy away from" or "gloss over" difficulties with the text. We welcome all questions, comments and concerns. Just send us an Email!


THE "SERMON ON THE MOUNT"

NOTE: Traditionally, the section of Scripture from Matthew 5:1 to 7:29, has been called "the Sermon on the Mount," due to the physical location of Yeshua when He spoke. Unfortunately, this title misses the point of the teaching, thus we have chosen to refer to it by its content, a midrash on Torah observance. (Midrash = teaching)

This midrash is broken up into several sections, beginning with 5:1-16, where Yeshua declares what have become known as the "beatitudes," followed by gentle reminders to his Jewish audience as to what their God-given role is to be. These "introductory statements" will be followed by the bulk of the message concerning the Torah.

5:1 Disciples

The relationship between the rabbi and his talmidim (disciples, followers, students) was very close. It was not only one of learning, but also imitating his conduct and character. In turn, the rabbi was responsible for his talmidim. It is important to note that Yeshua's audience here is exclusively Jews. He did not preach directly to the gentiles in His lifetime. Nonetheless, what He says to His Jewish brethren would apply to any gentile coming into the faith of Israel, as God does not have a "separate" revelation and faith for the gentile world (Ephesians ch. 4). There is one God for Jew and gentile (Romans 1:16).

5:3-10 Blessed are ...

Hebrew: Asher - with a combined meaning of; ‘happy and fortunate."

... the poor in Spirit (re: Isaiah 57:15; 66:2)
... the mourners who will be comforted (re: Isaiah 61:2; 66:10,13)
... the meek who inherit the land (re: Psalm 37:11)
... they will be satisfied (Isaiah 66:11-12)
... merciful who obtain mercy (re: Psalm 18:26 - 2 Samuel 22:26)
... pure in heart (re: Psalm 22:4; 51;10; 73:11)
... persecuted for righteousness for theirs is the kingdom (Isaiah 66:5)

"Blessings" as such are also found in the Qumran (Dead Sea) scrolls. In the following portion wisdom is clearly exalted. Wisdom and the law are viewed as inseparable. (Missing scroll portions are bracketed):

4Q525, Fragment 2, Column 2 - [Blessed is the one who…] with a clean heart and does not slander with his tongue. Blessed are those who hold fast to its statutes and do not hold fast to the ways of injustice. Ble[ssed] are those who rejoice in it, and do not burst forth on paths of folly. Blessed are those who seek it with pure hands, and do not search for it with a deceitful [he]art. Blessed is the man who obtains wisdom, and walks in the way of the law of the Most High; establishes his heart in its ways, restrains himself by its corrections, is continually satisfied with its punishments, does not forsake it in the face of [his] trials, at the time of distress he does not abandon it, does not forget it [in the day of] terror, and in the humility of his soul does not abhor it. But he meditates on it continually, and in his trial he reflects [on the law, and with al]l his being [he gains understanding] in it, [and he establishes it] before his eyes so as not to walk in the ways [of injustice, and…] […and…] together, and perfects his heart by it, [and…] [and places a crown of…upon] his [hea]d, and with kings it shall se[at him, and…] brothers shall […]

5:9 Peacemakers

What's is God's concept of a peacemaker? It may not be what one would call "politically correct." For instance, there is one person in the Scriptures specifically called a peacemaker. He is Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron. What did he do to earn this title from God? He took a spear and simultaneously ran it through a man and woman who were fornicating. For this specific action of killing these people, God praises him and calls him a peacemaker (Numbers 25:6-13). Pinchas later became the High Priest.

5:10-13 Semitic Poetry (1)

Verses 10-12 are an example of Semitic poetry in a form called a chiasmus, where verses are repeated but in reverse order. Here, the verses follow an A-B-C-B-A order:

A. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake:
B. for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
C. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
B. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:
A. for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Verse 13 is an example of Semitic poetry in a form called formal parallelism, where a concept in one line is expounded on through several subsequent lines.

Ye are the salt of the earth:
but if the salt have lost his savour,
wherewith shall it be salted?
it is thenceforth good for nothing,
but to be cast out,
and to be trodden under foot of men.

5:13 Salt

Salt has a specific relationship to the eternal covenant God has with Israel.

This is found in Scripture and throughout other Jewish writings:

Leviticus 2:13 - Neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking

Numbers 18:19 - It is a covenant of salt for ever

Talmud - Mas. Menachoth 19b, 20a - For it has been taught: The verse, It is a covenant of salt for ever, signifies that there is a covenant declared in regard to salt. So R. Judah. R. Simeon says, Here it is said, It is a covenant of salt for ever, and there it is said, The covenant of an everlasting priesthood, as it is impossible to conceive of sacrifices without the priesthood so it is impossible to conceive of sacrifices without salt!

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XCVII - The throne of Israel was given to Judah through the righteous David-to him and to his sons as a covenant made with salt.

Soncino Zohar, Bereshith, Section 1, Page 241b - ‘It is written: “Neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meal-offering; with all thine oblations thou shalt offer salt.” Salt was to be used because it softens bitterness, and so mankind cannot do without it. Salt is the covenant upon which the world is established: hence it is called “the covenant of thy God”.’

5:13-16 WHO are the salt and the light?

As mentioned earlier, Yeshua here is addressing Jews within their Judaism. (It is critical to understand the meaning of this and every verse in its original context before expounding on it or trying to apply it to another situation.) This is Yeshua's first recorded "public address" to the Jews, after having spent some time preaching to them in the Synagogues (Matthew 4:23).

Yeshua Himself said He came for the lost sheep of Israel, not the gentiles, and told His apostles to do the same (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:24). Gentiles would receive their direct invitation to join the faith of Israel through the Messiah, after His suffering, death and resurrection. (Just how this "works" is a more involved subject that will be addressed in another study.)

Israel is also God's "Messiah" (meaning: anointed one). Their job was/is to bring the revelation of God, that the Lord Himself gave them at Mount Sinai, to the entire world. Here Yeshua is issuing them a reminder of their responsibility in these verses. Israel is still "God's chosen people," and the faith they received through the giving of the Torah and work of their Messiah, is still the only one God has ever established. (As we will discuss in the next section.)

5:16 Good works ... glorify your Father

Good works are the positive commandments of the Torah. (More on this later in the study.) These are the "works" that would distinguish the Jews and cause gentiles to give glory to the Father, who gave His Torah as a means for His people to sanctify (set apart) themselves.


1. See: The Semitic Origin of the New Testament by James Trimm.

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