- The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)
- The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12)
- The 23rd Psalm (Psalm 23)
- The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-15)
1. The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20 – And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” 
The outline of The Ten Commandments is as follows: (1) Right Relations With God (vv.2–7), (2) Right Relations in the Worship of God (vv.8–11), and (3) Right Relations With Society (vv.12–17).
The purpose of the law of God is to show: (1) humanity’s awful sinfulness in moral distance from God, (2) humanity’s need for a mediator if people are ever to approach God (which mediatorial work Israel promptly assigns to Moses, but which becomes the occasion for God to give the promise about “that prophet” who is to come in Dt 18:15–19), and (3) humanity how to live more abundantly by using the unchangeable perfections of the nature of God as revealed in the moral law as a guide.
The Ten Commandments
|Commandment||O.T. Statement||O.T. Death Penalty||N.T. Restatement|
|1st Polytheism||Ex. 20:3||Ex. 22:20; Deut. 6:13–15||Acts 14:15|
|2nd Graven Images||Ex. 20:4||Deut. 27:15||1 John 5:21|
|3rd Swearing||Ex. 20:7||Lev. 24:15,16||James 5:12|
|4th Sabbath||Ex. 20:8||Num. 15:32–36||Col 2:16 nullifies|
|5th Obedience to parents||Ex. 20:12||Ex. 21:15–17||Eph. 6:1|
|6th Murder||Ex. 20:13||Ex. 21:12||1 John 3:15|
|7th Adultery||Ex. 20:14||Lev. 20:10||1 Cor 6:9,10|
|8th Theft||Ex. 20:15||Ex. 21:16||Eph. 4:28|
|9th False Witness||Ex. 20:16||Deut. 18:16–21||Col. 3:9,10|
|10th Coveting||Ex. 20:17||———||Eph. 5:3|
It is immediately clear that these ten words govern all of life. They regulate the religious life of man, and they regulate the personal and social life of man. They tell us how we ought to live in relation to God, and how we ought to live in relation to others. That order is important, because ‘true morality is founded on reverence towards God’.
Personal Application: Consistently violating any commandment indicates we are not living in fellowship with the Lord.
Are the Ten Commandments for Christians? It’s true that the Ten Commandments were given specifically to Israel. It’s also true that they are part of a law system which the N.T. says we, who are under grace, are no longer under (Rom. 6:14). Our relationship with God doesn’t depend on keeping an external list of laws, but rather on responding to the promptings of the Spirit within us.
But in a deeper sense, the Ten Commandments are for us. The commandments reveal God as a deeply moral and loving Person. How could we, who claim Him as Father, not try to be like Him? The commandments point the way. The Ten Commandments also provide a vision of a just and moral human society. How could we, who are called to love others and seek the best for them, fail to live by these commandments and hold them up as an ideal for all?
In Christ we are freed from the futile search for a salvation we earn by trying to keep God’s Law. In Christ we are freed to express the reality of a salvation we have received as a free gift. And one way we express our salvation is by living a life that’s in full harmony with the standards God revealed in the Ten Words spoken from Mt. Sinai (cf. Rom. 8:3–4).
The Ten Commandments – Four Commentaries
The First Commandment emphasizes the unity of God and his uniqueness. The second underscores the spirituality of God. Both these commands would protect Israel against idolatry. Man has always had the temptation to make a god, one he can manage and manipulate to do his will and make him successful. All images are forbidden. The Bible simply does not leave us a picture of God or his image. One of the important religious truths is thus emphasized in the ark. When one penetrates into the holy of holies he finds only the golden box containing the law tablets. And in the New Testament when men ask, “What does God look like?” (John 14; Heb. 1), the Bible answer is clear: “Look at Jesus the Christ; he is the express image of God, the Father.
The Third Commandment is a warning. against profanity. It indicts the profanity of cursing, or prostituting the holy name of God into a blasphemous oath. Even more sinful would be professing to belong to God and then living as though we belong to Satan. This is the profanity of life, not just lips. This would indeed be taking God’s name in vain, as so many modern church members have. In Old Testament times a name was understood to be an extension of one’s personality. So the holy name of God expresses his power and character. To invoke that beautiful name in a vile curse is profanity the B́ible here condemns as sheer blasphemy.
The Fourth Commandment concerns the sabbath and sets it apart as a distinct Jewish institution. For the Jew the sabbath was a symbol and sacred reminder of the covenant between God and his Chosen People (Ezek. 20:12, 20). It was a day of rest in remembrance of God’s rest after his labor of creation (Gen. 2:3; Ex. 31:17). It was in its Sinai context a weekly day of thanksgiving for the Egyptian deliverance. It was a day of sanctification. It was a prophetic day as noted in the grace with the sabbath meals. It was a day of joy and celebration of God’s goodness. It was a day of worship, of special religious services, of the reading of God’s Word, and later of other religious books. The keeping of the sabbath has long been viewed as a mark of differentiation between Jews and other races. And later it would take a resurrection to change the calendar for Christians from Saturday to Sunday for the sabbath rest and sacred celebrations.
The Fifth Commandment is concerned with the home and family. Family solidarity has long been one of the unique features of Jewish life. Underlying this law is the warning against the heathen habit of abandoning the aging when they can no longer support themselves. In some ancient cultures the “old folks” were put out to die of exposure or be eaten by wild beasts. This inhuman act is now sternly forbidden by God. Parents are to be respected and revered and protected. And the reward is plain: a stable society blessed by prosperity. Happily both Judaism and Christianity are family religions and this emphasis has contributed mightily to history’s progress.
The Sixth Commandment recognizes the sacredness of human life. Life is a precious possession, and only God should say when it is to be ended. By this command members of the covenant community were protected from the threat of death by another individual. As it stands, this law does not speak to the issue of war, or suicide, or capital punishment. But by implication they could all be indirectly involved with the underlying principle of the sacredness of life. In a positive sense this law makes the community responsible for the safety and good of the individual. And community attitudes and actions should keep the spirit of this law. That means upholding the dignity and sanctity of each individual as one made in the image of God, and therefore of infinite worth.
The Seventh Commandment stresses the sacredness of marriage. This law became a kind of cornerstone of monogamous marriage. God’s ideal was (and still is) one man for one woman for life. As it stands this command does not touch the whole range of sexual morality—except by implication. But those implications are important. Originally this prohibition (as so much Old Testament material) was slanted in favor of the male Jew. It might well have been paraphrased “My wife is my own property, and therefore forbidden to all other men.” Still this law stands as a landmark in its concern for, and protection of, the home and its inviolability.
The Eighth Commandment gives us the foundation on which to base the concept of private property. It shields the wise and diligent against the lazy and careless. This rule not only forbids stealing, but was intended to free men in the covenant community from the anxiety and threat of crimes against their property. Property is sacred whether it’s in a bank or a church. I have no right to take that which belongs to another, no matter how he got it or how much I need it. Even the Robin Hoods who magnanimously steal from the rich to reward the poor must be judged before this law.
The Ninth Commandment upholds the sacredness of the judicial process. Indirectly it emphasizes that basic and all-important virtue of honesty. A man summoned as a Witness must not perjure himself. He is here called to tell the truth that justice may be served. This law frowns on talebearing and gossip that misrepresents. But the key idea is the maintenance of the integrity of the judicial system. In the famous Code of Hammurabi (of another Near Eastern culture in Moses’ time) anyone guilty of false witness was given the punishment for the crime of which he had falsely charged someone else. It is interesting how often the Bible cries out for honesty—to the Jews in the Old Testament and the Christians in the New Testament. Wonder why? Is it so rare? Or is it so crucially important to a well-ordered society?
The Tenth Commandment stresses a right attitude. It warns against indulging a spirit which could lead to actions condemned in at least the four preceding commandments. The word “covet” means to set one’s heart upon an object with the idea of possessing it. The intent of this Tenth Command is therefore to check grasping hearts that invaribly lead to grasping actions. This warning is comprehensive. It includes the neighbor’s house and wife and animals and possessions. This final and climactic word of the Decalogue lies in the realm of the inner man, his attitudes and thoughts. Later Jesus is to say, “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” Could this Tenth Commandment have been his inspiration? The very inwardness of the last lines of the Decalogue make them a kind of prelude or threshold of New Testament truth. It’s only a short step from here into the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.
20:2 Christians now obey God’s commandments because he has brought us out of sin and death (Rom. 13:9; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:5–6).
20:3 You shall have no other gods. Yahweh demands exclusive covenant loyalty. As the one true God of heaven and earth, Yahweh cannot and will not tolerate the worship of any “other gods” (cf. 22:20; 23:13, 24, 32); in other words, monotheism, the worship of the one true God, is the only acceptable belief and practice. before me. This Hebrew expression has been taken to mean “in preference to me,” or “in my presence,” or “in competition with me.” Most likely, “in my presence” (i.e., worshiping other gods in addition to the Lord) is the intended sense here, in view of (1) the creation account (Gen. 1:1–2:3), which makes any “other gods” irrelevant (since only the Lord is active); (2) the events in Egypt, in which the Lord displayed his superiority to “other gods” (cf. Ex. 12:12; 15:11; Ezek. 20:7–8); and (3) the persistent call to worship Yahweh alone (Ex. 22:20; 23:13, 24, 32–33; cf. Deut. 6:13–15). Even though this commandment does not comment on whether these “other gods” might have some real existence, Moses’ statement to a later generation makes clear that only “the Lord is God; there is no other besides him” (Deut. 4:35, 39; see also Ps. 86:10; Isa. 44:6, 8; 45:5, 6, 18; and 1 Cor. 8:4–6). See also note on Deut. 5:7.
20:4–6 You shall not make for yourself a carved image. The gods of both Egypt and Canaan were often associated with some aspect of creation and worshiped as, or through, an object that represented them. The Lord has made it clear, through the plagues and the exodus, that he has power over every aspect of creation because the whole earth is his (9:29; 19:5), and thus he commands Israel to refrain from crafting an image of anything in heaven or earth for worship (20:4–5a). The prohibition is grounded in the fact that the Lord is a jealous God (see 34:14; Deut. 6:15), and that the Lord has no physical form, and should not be thought to be localized in one (Deut. 4:15–20). Israel saw what happened to Egypt when Pharaoh refused to acknowledge what was being revealed about the Lord; here Israel is warned against doing the same, while also being reassured that their God is merciful and gracious (see Ex. 34:6–7).
20:5–6 a jealous God. God the Creator is worthy of all honor from his creation. Indeed, his creatures (mankind esp.) are functioning properly only when they give God the honor and worship that he deserves. God’s jealousy is therefore also his zeal for his creatures’ well-being. visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children. Human experience confirms that immoral behavior on the part of parents often results in suffering for their children and grandchildren. This is one of the grievous aspects of sin, that it harms others besides the sinner himself. But this general principle is qualified in two ways: First, it applies only to those who hate me, i.e., to those who persist in unbelief as enemies of God. The cycle of sin and suffering can be broken through repentance. Second, the suffering comes to the third and the fourth generation, while God shows steadfast love (v. 6) to another group of people, namely, to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (i.e., to the thousandth generation; see ESV footnote, and cf. Deut. 7:9).
20:7 Taking the Lord’s name in vain (see note on Deut. 5:11) refers primarily to someone taking a deceptive oath in God’s name or invoking God’s name to sanction an act in which the person is being dishonest (Lev. 19:12). It also bans using God’s name in magic, or irreverently, or disrespectfully (Lev. 24:10–16). The Lord revealed his name to Moses (Ex. 3:14–15), and he has continued to identify himself in connection with his acts on Israel’s behalf (see 6:2, 6–8). Yahweh is warning Israel against using his name as if it were disconnected from his person, presence, and power.
20:8–11 Israel is to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (v. 8; see notes on Deut. 5:12–15). The Lord had already begun to form the people’s life in the rhythm of working for six days (Ex. 20:9) and resting on the seventh day as a Sabbath (v. 10) through the instructions for collecting manna (see 16:22–26). Here the command is grounded further in the way that it imitates the Lord’s pattern in creation (20:11; see Gen. 2:1–3). Every aspect of Israel’s life is to reflect that the people belong to the Lord and are sustained by his hand. The weekly pattern of work and rest is to be a regular and essential part of this (see Ex. 31:12–18). In Deut. 5:15, Moses gives another reason for observing the day: it recalls their redemption from slavery in Egypt.
20:11 The celebration of the Sabbath looks back to creation (see notes on Gen. 2:2 and 2:3), back to redemption from Egyptian slavery (Deut. 5:15), and forward to final rest through faith in Christ (Heb. 4:1–11).
20:12 Honor your father and your mother. The word “honor” means to treat someone with the proper respect due to the person and their role. With regard to parents, this means (1) treating them with deference (cf. 21:15, 17); (2) providing for them and looking after them in their old age (for this sense of honor, see Prov. 3:9). Both Jesus and Paul underline the importance of this command (Mark 7:1–13; Eph. 6:1–3; 1 Tim. 5:4). This is the only one of the Ten Commandments with a specific promise attached to it: that your days may be long—meaning not just a long life, but one that is filled with God’s presence and favor. See note on Deut. 5:16.
20:13–15 The sixth through eighth commandments present general prohibitions not to murder (v. 13; see note on Deut. 5:17), commit adultery (v. 14), or steal (v. 15). In doing so, they set minimum standards for Israel to be a just society and indicate the context in which the people will be called further to be holy and to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and might (Deut. 6:4–9), and their neighbors with goodwill and generosity (Lev. 19:18). Thus, while the prohibition against stealing is a basic principle of justice in Israel’s national life, the people are called to do more than refrain from taking another person’s possessions. They are to embody the Lord’s love for them by loving the stranger and sojourner as themselves (Lev. 19:33–34). When Jesus refers to the law in the Sermon on the Mount (“you have heard that it was said,” Matt. 5:21ff.), he is correcting not the intended purpose of the OT law but the mistaken presumption that these laws (or their interpretation) were meant to be exhaustive of what it meant to live as a child of the kingdom of heaven. (E.g., as Jesus made clear, simply refraining from murder does not fulfill the law when a person disdains his brother as a fool; or simply refraining from adultery does not fulfill the law when a man lusts after a woman; see Matt. 5:21–24, 27–28; and note on Matt. 5:21–48.)
20:13 The Ten Commandments are deepened through Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:17–48) and fulfilled in Jesus’ perfect righteousness (Heb. 4:15; 5:9).
20:16 Acting as a false witness (see 23:1–3) suggests a legal trial in which false testimony could lead to punishment for one’s neighbor. Bearing “false witness” is condemned in Scripture for its disastrous effects among people and its utter disregard for God’s character (see Prov. 6:16–19; 12:22; 19:5, 9). The Lord’s righteousness and justice were to be reflected in Israel’s life as a nation, which was thus to exclude speaking falsely, especially for the sake of gaining something at the expense of another person and perverting justice.
20:17 While the previous four commandments focus on actions committed or words spoken (vv. 13–16), the tenth commandment warns against allowing the heart to covet … anything that is your neighbor’s. When a person covets, he allows the desire for that which is coveted to govern his relationship with other people; this may become the motivation for murder, stealing, or lying either to attain the desired thing or to keep it from someone else. Because of the way that coveting values a particular thing over trust in and obedience to the Lord as the provider, it is also a breach of the first commandment, which the apostle Paul makes clear when he refers to coveting as idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5).
20:3 before Me. Meaning “over against Me,” a most appropriate expression in the light of the next few verses. All false gods stand in opposition to the true God, and the worship of them is incompatible with the worship of Yahweh. When Israel departed from the worship of the only one and true God, she plunged into religious confusion (Judg. 17, 18).
20:4–6 The mode or fashion of worship appropriate to only one Lord forbids any attempt to represent or caricature Him by use of anything He has made. Total censure of artistic expression was not the issue; the absolute censure of idolatry and false worship was the issue. Violation would seriously affect succeeding generations because the Lord demanded full and exclusive devotion, i.e., He is a jealous God (cf. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9). The worship of man-made representations was nothing less than hatred of the true God.
20:5, 6 to the third and fourth generations . . . thousands. Moses had made it clear that children were not punished for the sins of their parents (Deut. 24:16; see Ezek. 18:19–32), but children would feel the impact of breaches of God’s law by their parents’ generation as a natural consequence of its disobedience, its hatred of God. Children reared in such an environment would imbibe and then practice similar idolatry, thus themselves expressing hateful disobedience. The difference in consequence served as both a warning and a motivation. The effect of a disobedient generation was to plant wickedness so deeply that it took several generations to reverse.
20:7 take the name … in vain. To use God’s name in such a way as to bring disrepute upon His character or deeds was to irreverently misuse His name. To fail to perform an oath in which His name had been legitimately uttered (cf. 22:10, 11; Lev. 19:12; Deut. 6:13) was to call into question His existence, since the guilty party evidently had no further thought of the God whose name he had used to improve his integrity. For the believer in the church age, however, the use of the name of God is not a needed verification of his intention and trustworthiness since his life is to exhibit truth on all occasions, with his “yes” meaning “yes” and his “no” meaning “no” (Matt. 5:37; James 5:12).
20:8 Sabbath. Cf. 31:12–17. Each seventh day belonged to the Lord and would not be a work day but one set apart (i.e., holy) for rest and for time devoted to the worship of Yahweh. The term “Sabbath” is derived from “to rest or cease from work.” The historical precedent for such a special observance was the creation week; a span of time equal to what man copied in practice. Each Sabbath day should have reminded the worshiper that the God whom he praised had indeed made everything in both realms of existence in 6 twenty-four hour days. The Sabbath would also stand, therefore, as a counter to evolutionary ideas prevalent in false religion. Moses, in the review of the Decalogue, also linked the observance of the Sabbath with Israel’s exodus from Egypt and specified that this was why Israel was to keep it (Deut. 5:12–15). Significantly, the command for the Sabbath is not repeated in the NT, whereas the other 9 are. In fact, it is nullified (cf. Col. 2:16, 17). Belonging especially to Israel under the Mosaic economy, the Sabbath could not apply to the believer of the church age, for he is living in a new economy.
20:12–16 Cf. Matt. 19:18–19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20.
20:12 Honor your father and your mother. The key to societal stability is reverence and respect for parents and their authority. The appended promise primarily related the command to life in the Promised Land and reminded the Israelite of the program God had set up for him and his people. Within the borders of their territory, God expected them not to tolerate juvenile delinquency, which at heart is overt disrespect for parents and authority. Severe consequences, namely capital punishment, could apply (cf. Deut. 21:18–21). One of the reasons for the Babylonian exile was a failure to honor parents (Ezek. 22:7, 15). The Apostle Paul individualized this national promise when he applied the truth to believers in his day (cf. Matt. 15:4; Mark 7:10; Eph. 6:1–3).
20:13–15 Cf. Rom. 13:9.
20:13 murder. The irreversible nature of the divinely imposed sentence of death on every manslayer who killed another intentionally (cf. 21:12; Num. 35:17–21) stands without parallel in ancient Near Eastern literature and legal codes (cf. Gen. 9:5, 6). Further, the sacredness of human life stands out in the passages dealing with unintentional manslaughter. The accident of death still carried with it a penalty of banishment to the city of refuge until the death of the High-Priest for the one who killed but not with intent. Careful appraisal of the word Moses used (one of 7 different Heb. words for killing, and one used only 47 times in the OT) suggests a broad translation of “to kill, slay” but denoting the taking of life under a legal system where he would have to answer to the stipulations of a legal code, no matter whether he killed unintentionally or intentionally. By this command, men would be reminded and exhorted to strive after carefulness in the affairs of life so that on the person-to-person level no one would die by their hand. See note on 21:12–14 (cf. Matt. 5:21; James 2:11).
20:14 adultery. Applicable to both men and women, this command protected the sacredness of the marriage relationship. God had instituted marriage at the creation of man and woman (Gen. 2:24) and had blessed it as the means of filling the earth (Gen. 1:28). The penalty for infidelity in the marital relationship was death (Lev. 20:10). Adultery was also referred to as “a great sin” (Gen. 20:9) and a “great wickedness and sin against God” (cf. Gen. 39:9; Matt. 5:27; James 2:11).
20:15 steal. Any dishonest acquiring of another’s goods or assets greatly disturbs the right to ownership of private property, which is an important principle for societal stability.
20:16 false witness. Justice is not served by any untruthful testimony. Practically all societies have recognized this principle and adjure all witnesses in courts to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
20:17 covet. The thoughts and desires of the heart do not escape attention. A strong longing to have what another has is wrong. This tenth command suggests that none of the previous 9 commandments are only external acts with no relation to internal thoughts (cf. Matt. 15:19; Rom. 7:7; 13:9).
3 In the first commandment there is only one difficult expression. It is the phrase ʿal-pānāya (“before/besides me”). Nowhere does this Hebrew phrase mean “except me.” Such phrases do exist in Isaiah’s vocabulary: “There is no God apart from me [mibbalʿāday] … there is none” (ʾayin zûlātî, Isa 45:21) and “none besides me” (ʾên ʿôd, Isa 45:6). But none of these is chosen here. The Hebrew preposition ʿal has such a wide use that no one translation can be affirmed to the exclusion of the others. Once in a while the words carry a hostile undertone (e.g., of Ishmael: “he will live over against [NIV, ‘in hostility toward’] all his kinsmen,” Ge 16:12 [my tr.]; cf. also Ge 25:18; Ex 20:20; Dt 21:16). Thus W. F. Albright (From Stone Age to Christianity [2d ed.; New York: Doubleday, 1957], 297, n. 29) translates it, “Thou shalt not prefer other gods to me.” The result, however, is the same: “I will not give my glory to another” (Isa 42:8). Houtman, 3:31, renders the ʿal as “above” (Ge 48:22; Dt 21:16; Ps 16:2) or even “in addition to” (Ge 28:9; 31:50; Lev 18:8; Dt 19:9).
4–6 The second commandment discusses the mode rather than the object of worship (which the first dealt with). It has two parts: the precept (vv. 4–5a) and the penalty (vv. 5b–6).
The OT is replete with synonyms and words (there are fourteen) for idols and images. Verse 23 explains the proscribed idols as “gods of silver or gods of gold.” It also includes images carved from stone or wood and later those made from metal. Since pesel (“idol,” v. 4) refers to statues, the word temûnâ (“resemblance, form”) applies to real or imagined pictorial representations (see Notes). None of these is to be made with the intention to worship them. This commandment is not meant to stifle artistic talent but only to avoid improper substitutes that, like the idols of Canaan, will steal hearts away from the true worship of God. One need only to consider the tabernacle with its ornate appointments—all fashioned according divine instruction—to see that making representations is not absolutely forbidden.
“You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (v. 5) is a figure of speech called hendiadys, where two expressions are used to convey a single idea, viz., “to offer religious worship.” This expression is only used with respect to giving worship to foreign deities forbidden to Israel (see Stamm and Andrew, 86).
The sanctions attached to this command begin with the majestic reminder that “I, the Lord [Yahweh] your God, am a jealous God.” A “jealous” or “zealous” God must not be understood in such popular misconceptions as that God is naturally suspicious, distrustful, or wrongly envious of the success of others. When used of God it denotes: (1) that attribute that demands exclusive devotion (Ex 34:14; Dt 4:24; 5:9; 6:15), (2) that attitude of anger directed against all who oppose him (Nu 25:11; Dt 29:20; Ps 79:5; Eze 5:13; 16:38, 42; 25:11; Zep 1:18), and (3) that energy he expends on vindicating his people (2 Ki 19:31; Isa 9:7; 37:32; Joel 2:18; Zec 1:14; 8:2). Thus all idolatry, which Scripture labels elsewhere as spiritual adultery, that raises up competitors or brooks any kind of rivalry to the honor, glory, and esteem due to the Lord will excite his zealousness for the consistency of his own character and being. Every form of substitution, neglect, or contempt, both public and private, for the worship of God is rejected here.
Children who repeat the sins of their fathers evidence it by personally hating God; hence they too are punished like their fathers. Moses makes it plain in Deuteronomy 24:16: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” The effects of disobedience last for some time, but the effects of loving God are far more extensive—“to a thousand [generations]” (v. 6). Ezekiel 18:4 likewise says, “The soul that sins is the one who will die.” Thus, both statements are true. Just as one traitor can endanger a whole army, so one unrighteous parent can leave a pile of troubles for the next generations to work through. That is the effect of corporate solidarity of the family and the whole human race. Yet the individual principle is also true—each ship rests on its own bottom, so to speak.
7 The third commandment deals, not with internal worship (first commandment) or external worship (second word), but with the profession of the mouth in true adoration of God. God’s “name” (Heb. šēm) must be treated with the highest regard and reverence.
“The name” of God stands for so much more than the mere pronouncing of his title of address. It includes: (1) his nature, being, and very person (Ps 20:1; Lk 24:47; Jn 1:12; cf. Rev 3:4), (2) his teaching or doctrine (Ps 22:22; Jn 17:6, 26), and (3) his moral and ethical teaching (Mic 4:5; see ZPEB, 4:360–66).
To “take up” (niśśāʾ) the name of the Lord on one’s lips “in vain” (laššāwʾ) means to “misuse” it, i.e., to use it for no purpose (note Jeremiah’s adverbial use of this phrase where it precedes the verb: Jer 2:30; 4:30; 6:29; 18:15; 46:11—a usage pointed out by Childs, 411).
In Exodus 23:1 šāwʾ means “false,” and it is related to the word for “deception,” šeqer. Therefore, some false or vain uses of God’s name on the lips of his people include: (1) to express mild surprise in a minced oath, (2) to fill in the gaps in speeches or prayers by using the name of the Lord without any real function in the sentence, and (3) to confirm by an oath something that is false. If God’s name is used lightly, how shall the righteous survive in times of distress (Pr 18:10)? Notice that this commandment does not exclude legitimate oaths, for they appear frequently (e.g., Dt 6:13; Ps 63:11; Isa 45:23; Jer 4:2; 12:16; Ro 1:9; 9:1; 1 Co 15:31; Php 1:8; Rev 10:5–6).
It is not correct to say that the Jewish community forbade the use of Yahweh’s name at all times in its history. The policy was established ostensibly to safeguard against the inadvertent use of God’s name, a danger that put the user at possible risk of offending God by a false or purposeless use of that great name. But the Jewish community also reacted to what the heretics were doing, for the Jewish people did pronounce this name of God when the practice of their detractors was not to pronounce it. In this way one could determine who was and who was not a member of whose community.
8–11 The fourth commandment invokes the remembrance of the Sabbath. The term “Sabbath” is derived from the Hebrew verb šbt (“to rest or cease from work”). While many have tried to derive the Sabbath from the Babylonian šapattu/šabattu(m) (where the first, seventh, fifteenth, and twenty-eighth days were regarded as days of special sacrifice, linked to ume lemnuti, taboo days), it has not resulted in any certainty. The Hebrews are to set aside each seventh day as belonging to the Lord their God, which was not the scheme set out in Babylonia.
The command to remember the Sabbath is moral insofar as it requires of a person a due portion of his or her time dedicated to the worship and service of God, but it is ceremonial in that it prescribes the seventh day. The Christian church is required to observe the morality of time by setting aside one day in seven to the Lord, but it has chosen to change the ceremonialization of that day from the seventh to the first (cf. the early church’s use of “the Lord’s Day,” i.e., a day belonging to the Lord [Rev 1:10] or “on the first day of every week” [1 Co 16:2]). The sanctity of the first day in honor of God’s new deliverance, which the Lord Jesus accomplished in his death and finally in his resurrection, is already signaled in the symbolism of the feasts in Leviticus 23—“the day after the Sabbath” (v. 15); “on the first day hold a sacred assembly” (v. 7); “the first day is a sacred assembly … on the eighth” (vv. 35–36). Indeed, these are the very feasts that point forward to events that Christians now celebrate on Sunday!
The reason for memorializing this day rests on two works of God: one retrospective (v. 11 links it with the creation), which points to the new rest of God in the end times; the other prospective in the plan of redemptive history (Dt 5:15 links it with the exodus from Egypt), which points to a new exodus in the final day. This interpretation is borne out by the fact that the Sabbath is another “sign” of the covenant (see comment on 31:12–17). As Childs, 417, points out, in neither case did Israel’s memory of either the creation or the exodus act as the motivation for observing the Sabbath. Rather, it was the reverse: Israel observed the Sabbath to remember God’s work of creation and the exodus.
12 The fifth commandment, to “honor” one’s parents, involves: (1) prizing them highly (cf. Pr 4:8; i.e., wisdom, when sought above everything else and prized more highly than all else, will bring honor to its seekers); (2) caring and showing affection for them (Ps 91:15; i.e., God’s honoring of individuals is shown by his care for them in being with them and delivering them from trouble); and (3) showing respect and fear, or revering them (Lev 19:3). When Ephesians 6:1 says, “Obey your parents,” it immediately and necessarily qualifies it with, “in the Lord.” Parents are to be shown honor (v. 2), but nowhere is their word to rival or be a substitute for God’s Word.
Proverbs likewise urges deep regard for one’s parents (see Pr 10:1; 15:20; 17:6, 21, 25; 19:26; 20:20; 23:22; 28:24; 30:11, 17). There are also examples of special care for parents and other members of the family in the OT (Ge 45:10–11; 47:12; 50:21; Jos 2:13, 18; 6:23; 1 Sa 22:3; Houtman, 3:52).
The promise in Ephesians 6:2–3 attached to this commandment to revere one’s parents is unique, even though there is a sense in which the promise of life stands over all the commandments (Dt 4:1; 8:1; 16:20; 30:15–16). The promise of a long life in the land refers primarily to the land of Canaan and the people of Israel. The national character of this language can be confirmed by referring to Deuteronomy 4:26, 33, 40; 32:46–47. The captivity of Israel is caused, in part, by a failure to honor their parents (Eze 22:7, 15). This commandment possesses what we might call a ceremonial or a national promise, but it does have present-day individual application in the same way that all the commandments are meant to give a new quality of life (without creating a merit system to gain eternal life).
13 The sixth commandment forbids murder. The ethical theology that lies behind this prohibition is the fact that all men and women have been created in the image of God (Ge 1:26–27; 9:6). While Hebrew possesses seven words for killing, the word used here—rāṣaḥ GK 8357)—appears only forty-seven times in the OT. If any of these seven words could signify “murder,” where the factors of premeditation and intentionality are present, this is the verb.
Recently, however, some have complained (see Childs, 420, for the bibliography and argument) that many of the instances of this verb relate to blood vengeance and the role of the avenger (gôʾēl in Nu 35; Dt 4:41–43; 19:1–13; Jos 20:3). Without exception, however, in the later periods (e.g., Ps 94:6; Pr 22:13; Isa 1:21; Hos 4:2; 6:9; Jer 7:9) it carries the idea of murder with intentional violence. Every one of these instances stresses the act or allegation of premeditation and deliberateness—and that is at the heart of this verb. Thus this prohibition does not apply to beasts (Ge 9:3), to defending one’s home from nighttime burglars (Ex 22:2), to accidental killings (Dt 19:5), to the execution of murderers by the state (Ge 9:6), or to involvement with one’s nation in certain types of war, as illustrated by Israel’s history. It does apply, however, to self-murder (i.e., suicide), to all accessories to murder (2 Sa 12:9), and to those who have authority but fail to use it to punish known murderers (1 Ki 21:19).
As Houtman, 3:60, concludes, “In the Decalogue it is especially premeditated manslaughter that is in view. A prohibition of unpremeditated homicide obviously would not fit an apodictic statement.… The thrust of the commandment is against deliberate, violent and unlawful killing.”
14 The seventh commandment forbids adultery. The verb “to commit adultery” (nāʾap) can be used of either men or women. Since the punishment for adultery is death (Dt 22:22), while the penalty for the seduction of a virgin is an offer of marriage or money (Ex 22:16–17; Dt 22:23–29), adultery is distinguished from fornication in the OT.
The sin of adultery is not just a question of violating another person’s property; it is also a moral question (see Ge 20:9, Abimelech’s narrow escape from “such great guilt” [lit., “sin”], and as noted also in Ge 39:9, adultery is a “sin against God” as well as against Potiphar). Procksch observes (cited in Stamm and Andrew, 100) that a “man can commit adultery against a marriage other than his own, the woman only against her own.” One of the best allegories on marital fidelity is found in Proverbs 5:15–21. In the history of interpretation this commandment, though not in itself broadened, includes all sorts of sexual aberrations and forms of unchastity (Lev 18; 19:20; 20:10–11; 21:9; Dt 22:13–14 as well as 1 Co 7:1–24; 1 Th 4:1–8).
15 The eighth commandment prohibits stealing (gānab) either a person or an object. This commandment recognizes that the Lord owns everything in heaven and earth (see Pss 24:1; 115:16), and only the Lord can give or take away. Therefore no human being may despotically enslave or kidnap a fellow human or usurp the rights to property he has not owned or been given.
16 The ninth commandment calls for sanctity of truth in all areas of life, even though the vocabulary primarily reflects the legal process in Israel (ʿēd šāqer here, or ʿēd šāwʾ in Dt 5:20, and ʿānâ, “to answer” or “give” in response to legal questions posed at a trial). To despise the truth is to despise God, whose very being and character are truth. Certainly the reference to “lying” (kaḥēš) in Hosea 4:2 demonstrates that this commandment has a broad application.
Included in this command is a call to abstain from all lying, deceit, slander, gossip, backbiting, vilification, rash depictions of one’s neighbors, and the like. Instead one must love the truth, be honest, and do all that is possible to protect the good name of one’s neighbor.
17 The tenth commandment disallows covetousness. The general idea of the root ḥāmad (GK 2773) is “to desire earnestly, long after, covet.” In the parallel passage in Deuteronomy 5:21, it is paralleled by titʾawweh (“to set one’s desire” on something).
This commandment deals with a person’s inner heart and shows that none of the previous nine commandments can be observed merely from an external or formal act. Every inner instinct that leads to the act itself is also included. The point is, as Paul later tells Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Ti 6:6). Jesus also comments, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Mt 15:19). See also Romans 7:7–8 for the importance of the tenth commandment in Paul’s grappling with identifying sin by means of the law.
4 The LXX translates תְּמוּנָה (temûnâ, “form”; GK 9454) seven times by homoiōma (“likeness”), twice by doxa (“glory”), and only once by morphē (“form”). The point is that it does not refer to its shape but only to an imagined resemblance. The word is theologically sensitive when used in Numbers 12:8: “the form of the Lord.”
בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ (bammayim mittaḥat lāʾāreṣ, “waters below”) is literally, “in the waters under the earth.” Some have pressed this expression and others in a wooden manner to derive an alleged three-tiered or triple-decked universe: (1) heavens above, (2) earth beneath, (3) waters under the earth. But the whole picture is of Western fabrication. Simply put, this is the Hebrew idiom for the shoreline. Deuteronomy 4:18 places the fish in these “waters under the earth.” If they are believed to be in the netherworld, then the fishermen will need very good sinkers to retrieve these fish!
5 What is the antecedent for the plural suffixes in v. 5? It cannot refer to pesel (“idol”) or temûnâ (“form”), since they are both singular, unless both words may be taken ad sensum as plural idols. Zimmerli (quoted by Childs, 405) says that these plural suffixes must refer to “other gods” in v. 3. If this is so, then some linking of these commandments, such as we have argued for in the introduction to this section, is necessary.
6 Actually חֶסֶד (ḥesed; GK 2876), which is rendered “love” here, is one of the best words in the OT for the grace of God. It appears some 248 times. A good discussion of heṣed is by Katharine D. Sakenfield, The Meaning of Ḥesed in the Hebrew Bible (HSM 17; Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1978).
2. The Beatitudes
The Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
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. 
The Beatitudes – Three Commentaries
5:1–16 Setting, Beatitudes, and Witness of the Kingdom of Heaven. In his Beatitudes, Jesus makes pronouncements to the crowds and religious leaders and gives instructions to his disciples concerning the nature of life in the kingdom (vv. 3–12). He follows this with two piercing metaphors on salt and light to illustrate the impact that the disciples will have on the world around them (vv. 13–16).
5:1 mountain. The traditional site of this sermon (though Matthew does not pinpoint the location) is above Tabgha, near Capernaum, on a ridge of hills northwest of the town, with a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee. A twentieth-century church marks this site today, although down the hill in Tabgha there are remains of a small Byzantine chapel (probably from the 4th century) commemorating the sermon. This ridge is likely also where Jesus went “to a desolate place” (14:13; cf. Mark 1:35) and where he went “up on the mountain” (Matt. 14:23; 28:16). he sat down. Teachers in Judaism typically taught while sitting (cf. 23:2), a position Jesus takes regularly (cf. 13:1–2; 15:29; 24:3–4; 26:55).
5:2 While Jesus was seated, he opened his mouth (a Jewish idiom) and taught them, i.e., his disciples who had come to him (v. 1). “Disciples” (Gk. “learners”) were those who had made a commitment to Jesus as the Messiah; the “crowds” (v. 1) were those who were curious and often astounded by his teaching and ministry (7:28–29) yet for the most part remained neutral and uncommitted.
5:3–12 The Beatitudes all begin with “Blessed are …” They are called “beatitudes” from Latin beatus, “blessed, happy” (but see note on v. 3). These short statements summarize the essence of the Sermon on the Mount.
5:3 Blessed. More than a temporary or circumstantial feeling of happiness, this is a state of well-being in relationship to God that belongs to those who respond to Jesus’ ministry. The poor in spirit are those who recognize they are in need of God’s help. theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It belongs to those who confess their spiritual bankruptcy. On a contrast with the first seven beatitudes, see note on 23:13–36.
Jesus’ Five Discourses
|The authoritative message of the Messiah (Sermon on the Mount)||chs. 5–7|
|The authoritative mission of the Messiah’s messengers||ch. 10|
|The mysteries of the messianic kingdom revealed in parables||ch. 13|
|The community of the Messiah revealed||chs. 18–20|
|The delay, return, and judgment of the Messiah (Olivet Discourse)||chs. 24–25|
5:4 those who mourn. The spiritual, emotional, or financial loss resulting from sin should lead to mourning and a longing for God’s forgiveness and healing (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10).
5:5 The meek are the “gentle” (cf. 11:29), those who do not assert themselves over others in order to further their own agendas in their own strength, but who will nonetheless inherit the earth because they trust in God to direct the outcome of events. Cf. Ps. 37:11.
5:6 Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness recognize that God is the ultimate source of real righteousness, so they long for his righteous character to be evident in people’s lives on earth. They shall be satisfied by responding to his invitation to be in relationship with him.
5:7 The kindness and forgiveness that the merciful show to others will also be shown to them.
5:8 The pure in heart are those whose pursuit of purity and uprightness affects every area of life. they shall see God. Note the ultimate fulfillment in Rev. 22:4; cf. note on John 1:18. In contrast to Jewish traditions that overemphasized external ritual purity, Jesus taught that purity of heart was most important (cf. note on Matt. 5:28).
5:9 peacemakers. Those who promote God’s messianic peace (Hb. shalom, total well-being both personally and communally) will receive the ultimate reward of being called sons of God (see note on Gal. 3:26) as they reflect the character of their heavenly Father.
5:10 Those who are persecuted are those who have been wrongly treated because of their faith. God is pleased when his people show that they value him above everything in the world, and this happens when they courageously remain faithful amid opposition for righteousness’ sake.
5:11–12 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you … on my account. Just as Jesus experienced opposition and persecution, his disciples can expect the same. Their reward may not come on earth, but it surely will be theirs in heaven. so they persecuted the prophets. Throughout history, beginning with Cain’s murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8; cf. 1 John 3:12), there have been those who oppose God’s people.
5:13 As salt is beneficial in a number of ways (as a preservative, seasoning, etc.), so are disciples of Jesus who influence the world for good.
5:14 light of the world. Jesus’ disciples have the kingdom life within them as a living testimony to those in the world who do not yet have the light.
5:15 The typical lamp in a Jewish home was fairly small and was placed on a stand to give maximum illumination.
5:16 The world will see the light of the kingdom through the good works done by Jesus’ disciples (and believers today), with the result that the Father who is in heaven will be glorified.
5:1 was seated. This was the normal posture for rabbis while teaching (cf. 13:1, 2; 26:55; Mark 4:1; 9:35; Luke 5:3; John 6:3; 8:2). See note on Luke 4:20.
5:3 Blessed. The word lit. means “happy, fortunate, blissful.” Here it speaks of more than a surface emotion. Jesus was describing the divinely-bestowed well-being that belongs only to the faithful. The Beatitudes demonstrate that the way to heavenly blessedness is antithetical to the worldly path normally followed in pursuit of happiness. The worldly idea is that happiness is found in riches, merriment, abundance, leisure, and such things. The real truth is the very opposite. The Beatitudes give Jesus’ description of the character of true faith. poor in spirit. The opposite of self-sufficiency. This speaks of the deep humility of recognizing one’s utter spiritual bankruptcy apart from God. It describes those who are acutely conscious of their own lostness and hopelessness apart from divine grace (cf. 9:12; Luke 18:13). See note on 19:17. theirs is the kingdom of heaven. See note on 3:2. Notice that the truth of salvation by grace is clearly presupposed in this opening verse of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was teaching that the kingdom is a gracious gift to those who sense their own poverty of spirit.
5:4 those who mourn. This speaks of mourning over sin, the godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10). The “comfort” is the comfort of forgiveness and salvation (cf. Is. 40:1, 2).
5:5 the meek. Meekness is the opposite of being out of control. It is not weakness, but supreme self-control empowered by the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:23). The fact that “the meek shall inherit the earth” is quoted from Ps. 37:11. See notes on vv. 9–11.
5:6 hunger and thirst for righteousness. This is the opposite of the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. It speaks of those who seek God’s righteousness rather than attempting to establish a righteousness of their own (Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:9). What they seek will fill them, i.e., it will satisfy their hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God.
5:7 they shall obtain mercy. The converse is also true. Cf. James 2:13.
5:8 see God. Not only with the perception of faith, but in the glory of heaven. Cf. Heb. 12:14; Rev. 22:3, 4.
5:9 peacemakers. See vv. 44, 45 for more on this quality.
5:10 persecuted. Cf. James 5:10, 11; 1 Pet. 4:12–14. See note on Luke 6:22.
5:13 if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? Salt is both a preservative and a flavor enhancer. No doubt its use as a preservative is what Jesus had mostly in view here. Pure salt cannot lose its flavor or effectiveness, but the salt that is common in the Dead Sea area is contaminated with gypsum and other minerals and may have a flat taste or be ineffective as a preservative. Such mineral salts were useful for little more than keeping footpaths free of vegetation.
5:16 light so shine. A godly life gives convincing testimony of the saving power of God. That brings Him glory. Cf. 1 Pet. 2:12.
The kingdom of heaven: its norms and witness (5:3–16)
a. The norms of the kingdom (5:3–12)
(1) The Beatitudes (5:3–10)
The beatitudes (Lat. beatus, “blessed”), otherwise called macarisms (from Gr. makarios, “blessed,” GK 3421), have been the subject of many valuable studies, the most detailed being J. Dupont’s Les Béatitudes (3 vols.; 2nd ed.; Paris: Gabalda, 1969). As to form, beatitudes find their roots in Wisdom literature and especially the psalms (for the best discussion of the OT background, see W. Zimmerli, “Die Seligpreisungen der Bergpredigt und das Alte Testament,” in Donum Gentilicium [ed. E. Bammel et al.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1978], 8–26; cf. Pss 1:1; 31:1–2; 144:15; Pr 3:13; Da 12:12). OT beatitudes never bunch more than two together (e.g., Ps; cf. Pss 1:1; 31:1–2; 144:15; Pr 3:13; Da 12:12). OT beatitudes never bunch more than two together (e.g., Ps 84:4–5; elsewhere, cf. Sir 25:7–9).
Comparison of 5:3–12 with Luke 6:20–26 shows that, along with smaller differences, the four Lukan beatitudes stand beside four woes—all in the second person. But Matthew mentions no woes, and his eight beatitudes (Mt 5:3–10) are in the third person, followed by an expansion of the last one in the second person (vv. 11–12). Pre-NT beatitudes are only rarely in the second person (e.g., 1 En. 58:2) and occur with woes only in the Greek text of Ecclesiastes 10:16–17; so on formal grounds there is no reason to see Matthew’s beatitudes as late adaptations.
No doubt both Matthew and Luke selected and shaped their material. But though this results in differences in the thrust of the two sets of beatitudes, such differences are often overstated (e.g., C. H. Dodd, More New Testament Studies [Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1968], 7–8). Dupont (Les Béatitudes) and Marshall (Gospel of Luke) argue that Luke describes what disciples actually are, Matthew what they ought to be; Luke, the social implications of Jesus’ teaching and reversals at the consummation, Matthew, the standards of Christian righteousness to be pursued now for entrance into the kingdom. Similarly, G. Strecker (“Les macarismes du discours sur la montagne,” in L’Évangile selon Matthieu [ed. Didier], 185–208) insists that in Matthew’s beatitudes ethics has displaced eschatology: the beatitudes become ethical entrance requirements rather than eschatological blessings associated with the messianic age.
A more nuanced interpretation is presented by R. A. Guelich (“The Matthean Beatitudes: ‘Entrance-Requirements’ or Eschatological Blessings?” JBL 95 : 415–34). He notes that Matthew 5:3–5 contains planned echoes of Isaiah 61:1–3, which is certainly eschatological in orientation. Moreover, both Isaiah 61:1–3 and the Matthean beatitudes are formally declarative but implicitly hortatory: one must not overlook function for form. The beatitudes “are but an expression of the fulfillment of Isaiah 61, the OT promise of the Heilszeit [‘time of salvation’], in the person and proclamation of Jesus. This handling of the beatitudes is certainly in keeping with Matthew’s emphasis throughout the gospel that Jesus comes in light of the OT promise” (p. 433). The implicit demands of the beatitudes are therefore comprehensible only because of the new state of affairs the proclamation of the kingdom initiates (4:17, 23), the insistence that Jesus has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (5:17). Gibbs insightfully remarks that these beatitudes constitute “a sort of ‘doorway’ through which Matthew’s readers/hearers must pass if they are to grasp aright the Lord’s great teaching in the Sermon.”
3 Two words and their cognates stand behind “blessed” and “blessing” in the NT. The word used in vv. 3–11 is makarios (GK 3421), which usually corresponds in the LXX to, ʾas̆rê (GK 897), a Hebrew term used almost as an interjection: “Oh the blessednesses [pl.] of.” Usually makarios describes the person who is singularly favored by God and therefore in some sense “happy”; but the word can apply to God (1 Ti 1:11; 6:15). The other word is eulogētos (GK 2329), found in the LXX primarily for Hebrew berākâ (GK 1388) and used chiefly in connection with God in both OT and NT (e.g., Mk 14:61; Lk 1:68; Ro 1:25; 2 Co 1:3). Eulogētos does not occur in Matthew; but the cognate verb appears five times (Mt 14:19; 21:9; 23:39; 25:34; 26:26), in one of which it applies to man (25:34), not God or Christ. Attempts to make makarios mean “happy” and eulogētos “blessed” (Broadus) are therefore futile. Though both appear many times, both can apply to either God or man. It is difficult not to conclude that their common factor is approval: man “blesses” God, approving and praising him; God “blesses” man, approving him in gracious condescension. Applied to man, the OT words are certainly synonymous (cf. THAT, 1:356).
As for “happy” (TEV), it will not do for the beatitudes, having been devalued in modern usage. The Greek “describes a state not of inner feeling on the part of those to whom it is applied, but of blessedness from an ideal point of view in the judgment of others” (Allen). In the eschatological setting of Matthew, “blessed” can only promise eschatological blessing (cf. NIDNTT, 1:216–17; TDNT, 4:367–70); and each particular blessing is specified by the second clause of each beatitude.
The “poor in spirit” are the ones who are “blessed.” Since Luke speaks simply of “the poor,” many have concluded that he preserves the true teaching of the historical Jesus—concern for the economically destitute—while Matthew has “spiritualized” it by adding “in spirit.” The issue is not so simple. Already in the OT, “the poor” has religious overtones. The word ptōchos (“poor”—in classical Gr., “beggar,” GK 4777) has a different force in the LXX and NT. It translates several Hebrew words, most important (in the plural) ʿanāwîm (“the poor,” the plural of GK 6705; see also GK 6714), i.e., those who because of sustained economic privation and social distress have confidence only in God (e.g., Pss 37:14; 40:17; 69:28–29, 32–33; Pr 16:19 [NIV, “the oppressed”; NASB, “the lowly”]; 29:23; Isa 61:1; cf. Pss. Sol. 5:2, 11; 10:7). Thus it joins with passages affirming God’s favor on the lowly and contrite in spirit (e.g., Isa 57:15; 66:2). This does not mean there is lack of concern for the materially poor but that poverty itself is not the chief thing (cf. the prodigal son’s “self-made” poverty). Far from conferring spiritual advantage, wealth and privilege entail great spiritual peril (see comments at 6:24; 19:23–24). Yet, though poverty is neither a blessing nor a guarantee of spiritual rewards, it can be turned to advantage if it fosters humility before God.
That this is the way to interpret v. 3 is confirmed by similar expressions in the Dead Sea Scrolls (esp. 1QM 11:9; 14:6–7; 1QS 4:3; 1QH 5:22). “Poor” and “righteous” become almost equivalent in Sirach 13:17–21; CD 19:9; 4QpPs (37) 2:8–11 (cf. Schweizer; Bonnard; Dodd, “New Testament Translation Problems I,” 307–10). These parallels do not prove literary dependence, but they do show that Matthew’s “poor in spirit” rightly interprets Luke’s “poor” (cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 69–71). In rabbinic circles, too, meekness and poverty of spirit were highly praised (cf. Felix Böhl, “Die Demut als höchste der Tugenden,” BZ 20 : 217–23).
Yet biblical balance is easy to prostitute. The emperor Julian the Apostate (AD 332–63) is reputed to have said with vicious irony that he wanted to confiscate Christians’ property so that they might all become poor and enter the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, the wealthy too easily dismiss Jesus’ teaching about poverty here and elsewhere (see comments at 6:24) as merely attitudinal and confuse their hoarding with good stewardship. R. T. France (“God and Mammon,” 3–21) presents a fine balance in these matters.
To be poor in spirit is not to lack courage but to acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy. It confesses one’s unworthiness before God and utter dependence on him. Therefore those who interpret the Sermon on the Mount as law and not gospel—whether by H. Windisch’s historical reconstructions (The Meaning of the Sermon on the Mount [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1951] or by classical dispensationalism (cf. Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 155–57), which calls the sermon “pure law” (though it concedes that its principles have a “beautiful moral application” for the Christian)—stumble at the first sentence (cf. Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 36–38). The kingdom of heaven is not given on the basis of race (cf. 3:9), earned merits, the military zeal and prowess of Zealots, or the wealth of a Zacchaeus. It is given to the poor, the despised publicans, the prostitutes, those who are so “poor” they know they can offer nothing and do not try. They cry for mercy, and they alone are heard.
These themes recur repeatedly in Matthew and present the sermon’s ethical demands in a setting that does not treat the resulting conduct as conditions for entrance to the kingdom that people themselves can achieve. All must begin by confessing that by themselves they can achieve nothing. Fuller disclosures of the gospel in the years beyond Jesus’ earthly ministry do not change this; in the last book of the canon, an established church must likewise recognize its precarious position when it claims to be rich and fails to see its own poverty (Rev 3:14–22).
The kingdom of heaven (see comments at 3:2; 4:17) belongs to the poor in spirit. It is they who enjoy Messiah’s reign and the blessings he brings. They joyfully accept his rule and participate in the life of the kingdom (7:14). The reward in the last beatitude is the same as in the first. The literary structure, an “inclusio” or envelope, establishes that everything included within it concerns the kingdom: i.e., the blessings of the intervening beatitudes are kingdom blessings, and the beatitudes themselves are kingdom norms.
While the rewards of vv. 4–9 are future (“will be comforted,” “will inherit,” etc.), the first and last are present (“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). Yet one must not make too much of this, for the present tense can function as a future, and the future tense emphasizes expectation, not mere futurity. There is little doubt that here the kingdom sense is primarily future, postconsummation, made explicit in v. 12. But the present tense “envelope” (vv. 3, 10) should not be written off as insignificant or as masking an Aramaic original that did not specify present or future, for Matthew must have meant something when he chose estin (“is”) instead of estai (“will be”). The natural conclusion is that, though the full blessedness of those described in these beatitudes awaits the consummated kingdom, they already share in the kingdom’s blessedness so far as it has been inaugurated (see comments at 4:17; 8:29; 12:28; 19:29).
4 Black (Aramaic Approach, 157) notes how the Matthean and Lukan (6:21b, 25b) forms of this beatitude could each have been part of a larger parallelism—an observation that goes nicely with the hypothesis that the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain are reports of one discourse, relying somewhat on common sources (see Overview, 5:1–7:29).
Some commentators deny that this mourning is for sin (e.g., Bonnard). Others (e.g., Schweizer) understand it to be mourning for any kind of misery. The reality is subtler. The godly remnant of Jesus’ day weeps because of the humiliation of Israel, but they understand that it comes from personal and corporate sins. The psalmist testified, “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (Ps 119:136; cf. Eze 9:4). When Jesus preached, “The kingdom of heaven is near,” he, like John the Baptist before him, expected not jubilation but contrite tears. It is not enough to acknowledge personal spiritual bankruptcy (Mt 5:3) with a cold heart. Weeping for sins can be deeply poignant (Ezr 10:6; Ps 51:4; Da 9:19–20) and can cover a global as well as personal view of sin and our participation in it. Paul understands these matters well (cf. Ro 7:24; 1 Co 5:2; 2 Co 12:21; Php 3:18).
“Comfort, comfort my people” (Isa 40:1) is God’s response. These first two beatitudes deliberately allude to the messianic blessing of Isaiah 61:1–3 (see Lk 4:16–19; cf. France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 134–35), confirming them as eschatological and messianic. The Messiah comes to bestow “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isa 61:3). But these blessings, already realized partially but fully only at the consummation (Rev 7:17), depend on a Messiah who comes to save his people from their sins (1:21; cf. 11:28–30). Those who claim to experience all its joys without tears mistake the nature of the kingdom. In Charles Wesley’s words:
He speaks, and listening to his voice,
New life the dead receive;
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.
5 This beatitude and those in vv. 7–10 have no parallel in Luke. It would be wrong to suppose that Matthew’s beatitudes are for different groups of people or that we have the right to half the blessings if we determine to pursue four out of the eight. They are a unity and describe the norm for Messiah’s people.
The word “meek” (praus, GK 4558) is hard to define. It can signify absence of pretension (1 Pe 3:4, 14–15) but generally suggests gentleness (cf. 11:29; Jas 3:13) and the self-control it entails. The attempt to understand a “meek” person to be nonviolent and law-observant (Michel Talbot, Heureux les doux, car ils hériteront la terre: (Mt 5:4 ) [Paris: Gabalda, 2002]) is unconvincing in its methods and doctrinaire in its conclusions. The Greeks extolled humility in wise men and rulers, but such humility smacked of condescension. In general, the Greeks considered meekness a vice because they failed to distinguish it from servility. To be meek toward others implies freedom from malice and a vengeful spirit. Jesus best exemplifies it (11:29; 21:5). Lloyd-Jones (Sermon on the Mount,1:65–69) rightly applies meekness to our attitudes toward others. We may acknowledge our own bankruptcy (v. 3) and mourn (v. 4). But to respond with meekness when others tell us of our bankruptcy is far harder (cf. Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 43–44). Meekness, therefore, requires such a true view about ourselves as will express itself even in our attitude toward others.
And the meek—not the strong, aggressive, harsh, tyrannical—will inherit the earth. The verb “inherit” often relates to entrance into the promised land (e.g., Dt 4:1; 16:20; cf. Isa 57:13; 60:21). But the specific OT allusion here is Psalm 37:9, 11, 29, a psalm recognized as messianic in Jesus’ day (4QpPs 37). There is no need to interpret the land metaphorically, as having no reference to geography or space; nor is there need to restrict the meaning to “land of Israel” (see Notes). Entrance into the promised land ultimately became a pointer toward entrance into the new heaven and the new earth (“earth” is the same word as “land”; cf. Isa 66:22; Rev 21:1), the consummation of the messianic kingdom. While in Pauline terms, believers may now possess all things in principle (1 Co 3:21–23; 2 Co 6:10) since they belong to Christ, Matthew directs our attention yet further to the “renewal of all things” (19:28).
6 “Hunger and thirst” vividly express desire. The sons of Korah cried, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps 42:2; cf. 63:1). The deepest spiritual famine is hunger for the word of God (Am 8:11–14).
The precise nature of the righteousness for which the blessed hunger and thirst is disputed. Some argue that it is the imputed righteousness of God—eschatological salvation or, more narrowly, justification: the blessed hunger for it and receive it (e.g., Grundmann; McNeile; Zahn; Barth [“Matthew’s Understanding of the Law,” 123–24]; Bultmann [Theology of the New Testament, 1:273]; Schrenk [TDNT, 2:198]). This is certainly plausible, since the immediate context does arouse hopes for God’s eschatological action, and hungering suggests that the righteousness that satisfies will be given as a gift.
The chief objection is that dikaiosynē (“righteousness,” GK 1466) in Matthew does not have that sense anywhere else (cf. Przybylski, Righteousness in Matthew, 96–98). So it is better to take this righteousness as simultaneously personal righteousness (cf. Hill, Greek Words, 127–28.; Strecker, Weg der Gerechtigkeit, 156–58) and justice in the broadest sense (cf. Ridderbos, Coming of the Kingdom, 190–91; Turner). These people hunger and thirst, not only that they may be righteous (i.e., that they may wholly do God’s will from the heart), but that justice may be done everywhere. All unrighteousness grieves them and makes them homesick for the new heaven and new earth—the home of righteousness (2 Pe 3:13). Satisfied with neither personal righteousness alone nor social justice alone, they cry for both. In short, they long for the advent of the messianic kingdom. What they taste now whets their appetites for more. Ultimately they will be satisfied (same verb as in 14:20; Php 4:12; Rev 19:21) without qualification only when the kingdom is consummated (see discussion in Gundry).
7 This beatitude is akin to Psalm 18:25 (reading “merciful” [ASV] instead of “faithful” [NIV]; following MT [v. 26], not LXX [17:26]; cf. Pr 14:21). Mercy embraces both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering and needy. No particular object of the demanded mercy is specified, because mercy is to be a function of Jesus’ disciples, not of the particular situation that calls it forth. The theme is common in Matthew (6:12–15; 9:13; 12:7; 18:33–34). The reward is not mercy shown by others but by God (cf. the saying preserved in 1 Clem. 13:2). This does not mean our mercy is the causal ground of God’s mercy but its occasional ground (see comments at 6:14–15). This beatitude, too, is tied to the context. “It is ‘the meek’ who are also ‘the merciful’. For to be meek is to acknowledge to others that we are sinners; to be merciful is to have compassion on others, for they are sinners too” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 48, emphasis his).
8 Commentators are divided on “pure in heart.”
1. Some take it to mean inner moral purity as opposed to merely external piety or ceremonial cleanness. This is an important theme in Matthew and elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., Dt 10:16; 30:6; 1 Sa 15:22; Pss 24:3–4 [to which there is direct allusion here]; 51:6, 10; Isa 1:10–17; Jer 4:4; 7:3–7; 9:25–26; Ro 2:9; 1 Ti 1:5; 2 Ti 2:22, cf. Mt 23:25–28).
2. Others take it to mean single-mindedness, a heart “free from the tyranny of a divided self” (Tasker; cf. Bonnard). Several of the passages just cited focus on freedom from deceit (Pss 24:4; 51:4–17; cf. Ge 50:5–6; Pr 22:11). This interpretation also prepares the way for Matthew 6:22. The “pure in heart” are thus “the utterly sincere.”
The dichotomy between these two options is a false one; it is impossible to have one without the other. The one who is single-minded in commitment to the kingdom and its righteousness (6:33) will also be inwardly pure. Inward sham, deceit, and moral filth cannot coexist with sincere devotion to Christ. Either way, this beatitude excoriates hypocrisy (see comments at 6:1–18). The pure in heart will see God—now with the eyes of faith and finally in the dazzling brilliance of the beatific vision in whose light no deceit can exist (cf. Heb 12:14; 1 Jn 3:1–3; Rev 21:22–27).
9 Jesus’ concern in this beatitude is not with the peaceful but with the peacemakers. Peace is of constant concern in both Testaments (e.g., Pr 15:1; Isa 52:7; Lk 24:36; Ro 10:15; 12:18; 1 Co 7:15; Eph 2:11–22; Heb 12:14; 1 Pe 3:11). But as some of these and other passages show, the making of peace can itself have messianic overtones. The Promised Son is called the “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6); and Isaiah 52:7—“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ ”—linking as it does peace, salvation, and God’s reign, was interpreted messianically in the Judaism of Jesus’ day.
Jesus does not limit the peacemaking to only one kind, and neither will his disciples. In the light of the gospel, Jesus himself is the supreme peacemaker, making peace between God and man, and man and man. Our peacemaking will include the promulgation of that gospel. It must also extend to seeking all kinds of reconciliation. Instead of delighting in division, bitterness, strife, or some petty “divide and conquer” mentality, disciples of Jesus delight to make peace wherever possible. Making peace is not appeasement. The true model is God’s costly peacemaking (Eph 2:15–17; Col 1:20). Those who undertake this work are acknowledged as God’s sons. In the OT, Israel has the title “sons” (Dt 14:1; Hos 1:10; cf. Pss. Sol. 17:30; Wis 2:13–18). Now it belongs to the heirs of the kingdom, who, meek and poor in spirit, loving righteousness yet merciful, are especially equipped for peacemaking and so reflect something of their heavenly Father’s character. “There is no more godlike work to be done in this world than peacemaking” (Broadus). This beatitude must have been shocking to Zealots when Jesus preached it, when political passions were inflamed (Morison).
10 It is no accident that Jesus should pass from peacemaking to persecution, for the world enjoys its cherished hates and prejudices so much that the peacemaker is not always welcome. Opposition is a normal mark of being a disciple of Jesus, as normal as hungering for righteousness or being merciful (see Jn 15:18–25; Ac 14:22; 2 Ti 3:12; 1 Pe 4:13–14; cf. the woe in Lk 6:26). Lachs (“Textual Observations,” 101–3) cannot believe Christians were ever persecuted because of righteousness; so he repoints an alleged underlying Hebrew text to read “because of the righteous One”—a reference to Jesus. But he underestimates how offensive genuine righteousness, “proper conduct before God” (Przybylski, Righteousness in Matthew, 99), really is (cf. Isa 51:7). The reward of these persecuted people is the same as the reward of the poor in spirit—namely, the kingdom of heaven, which terminates the inclusio (see comments at v. 3).
3 Most scholars interpret τῷ πνεύματι (tō pneumati, “spirit”) as a dative of respect (e.g., Zerwick, Biblical Greek, para. 53), so that the phrase πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι (ptōchoi tō pneumati) means, literally, “poor with respect to the spirit.” Moule (Idiom Book, 46) wonders whether it might not border on an instrumental usage, which can often best be rendered by an English adverb, i.e., οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι (hoi ptōchoi tōpneumati) = “the poor used in its spiritual [i.e., religious] sense,” over against “the literally [i.e., materially] poor” of James 2:5. But he acknowledges that Psalm 34:18 points in another direction.
5 The word γῆ (gē, “land,” GK 1178) occurs forty-three times in Matthew—once for the land of Judah (2:6); twice for the land of Israel (2:20–21); several times for some region (e.g., 4:15; 9:26, 31; 11:24; and possibly 27:45); several times in the expression “heaven and earth” or something similar (5:18, 35; 11:25; 24:35; 28:18); several times to distinguish earth from heaven (6:10; 9:6; 16:19; 18:18 [2x], 19; 23:9); once to refer to the place where sinful people live (5:13); several times to refer to “ground” (e.g., 10:29; 15:35; 25:18, 25; 27:51), “soil” (13:5, 8, 23), or “shore” (14:24); and several times to refer to the whole earth without any of the above connotations (12:40, 42; 17:25; 23:35; 24:30). In Matthew, therefore, γῆ, gē, is used to refer to a specified region or nation (Israel, Judah, Zebulon, Naphtali, et al.) only if that region’s name is given. The possible exception is 27:45. The most natural way to render this notice in v. 5 is therefore “earth,” not “land [of Israel].”
9 Although “son of” can have ontological force, it often means “one who reflects the character of” or the like. Hence a “son of Belial” (= “son of worthlessness”) refers to a worthless person, someone of worthless conduct. Similarly “son of God” may have ontological or purely functional force, depending on the context.
10 The perfect passive participle οἱ δεδιωγμένοι (hoi dediōgmenoi, “those who are persecuted,” GK 1503) is rather awkward if the traditional perfect force is retained: “those who have been persecuted.” Many see this as a sign of anachronism—persecution had broken out by the time Matthew wrote (e.g., Hill). Some older commentators treat it as a more or less Hebraizing “prophetic” perfect; and Broadus adds that the perfect accords “with the fact that the chief rewards of such sufferers do not so much attend on the persecution as follow it.” But then we may ask why a future perfect isn’t used, or why the same rule isn’t applied to those who mourn (v. 4). It is better, under verbal aspect theory, to recognize that the semantic force of the perfect is stative.
(2) Expansion (5:11–12)
11–12 These two verses (cf. Lk 6:22–23, 26), switching from third person to second, apply the force of the last beatitude (v. 10), not to the church (which would be anachronistic), but to Jesus’ disciples. Doubtless Matthew and his contemporaries also applied it to themselves. Verse 11 extends the persecution of v. 10 to include insult and slander (Lk 6:22–23 adds hate). The reason for the persecution in v. 10 is “because of righteousness”; now, Jesus says, it is “because of me.” “This confirms that the righteousness of life that is in view is in imitation of Jesus. Simultaneously, it so identifies the disciple of Jesus with the practice of Jesus’ righteousness that there is no place for professed allegiance to Jesus that is not full of righteousness” (Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 28). Moreover, it is an implicit christological claim, for the prophets to whom the disciples are likened were persecuted for their faithfulness to God and the disciples for faithfulness to Jesus. Not Jesus but the disciples are likened to the prophets. Jesus places himself on a par with God. The change from “the Son of Man” (Luke) to “me” is probably Matthew’s clarification (see Reflections, p. 247).
The appropriate response of the disciple is rejoicing. The second verb, agalliasthe (“be glad,” GK 22), Hill takes to be “something of a technical term for joy in persecution and martyrdom” (cf. 1 Pe 1:6, 8; 4:13; Rev 19:7). Yet its range of associations seems broader (Lk 1:47; 10:21; Jn 5:35; 8:56; Ac 2:26; 16:34). The disciples of Jesus are to rejoice under persecution because their heavenly reward (see Notes, v. 12) will be great at the consummation of the kingdom (v. 12). Opposition is sure, for the disciples are aligning themselves with the OT prophets who were persecuted before them (e.g., 2 Ch 24:21; Ne 9:26; Jer 20:2; cf. Mt 21:35; 23:32–37; Ac 7:52; 1 Th 2:15). This biblical perspective was doubtless part of the historical basis on which Jesus built his own implied prediction that his followers would be persecuted. Treated seriously, it makes ineffective the ground on which some treat the prediction as anachronistic (e.g., Hare, Theme of Jewish Persecution, 114–21). Stendahl’s suggestion (“Matthew,” in Peake’s Commentary) that Matthew here refers to Christian prophets is not only needlessly anachronistic but out of step with both Matthew’s use of “prophet” and his link between the murder of “prophets” and the sin of the “forefathers” (23:30–32), which shows that the prophets belong to the OT period.
These verses neither encourage seeking persecution nor permit retreating from it, sulking, or retaliation. From the perspective of both redemptive history (“the prophets”) and eternity (“reward in heaven”), these verses constitute the reasonable response of faith, one which the early Christians readily understood (cf. Ac 5:41; 2 Co 4:17; 1 Pe 1:6–9; cf. Da 3:24–25). “Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called on to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 80–81). But in reassuring his disciples that their sufferings are “neither new, nor accidental, nor absurd” (Bonnard), Jesus spoke of principles that will appear again (esp. Mt 10, 24).
11 Matthew’s “falsely say all kinds of evil against you” (cf. Ac 28:21) is an explanation of a Hebrew or Aramaic idiom still preserved in Luke’s “reject your name as evil” (Lk 6:22; cf. Dt 22:14, 19). The word ψευδόμενοι (pseudomenoi, “falsely,” GK 6017), given a C in UBS4, is implied, whether original or not. External evidence strongly favors inclusion; the internal evidence is equivocal.
12 Morton Smith, Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels (Philadelphia: SBL, 1951), 46–77, 161–84, represents those who hold that the concept of reward in the Synoptic Gospels does not differ materially from the concept of reward in early rabbinic literature. His work is essentially a word study and overlooks the substantial conceptual differences; nor does he mention the balanced treatment of A. Marmorstein, The Doctrine of Merits in the Old Rabbinical Literature (London: Jesus’ College, 1920). The book by E. P. Sanders (Paul and Palestinian Judaism [London: SCM Press, 1977]) rightly warns against reading late Jewish traditions, steeped in merit theology, back into the NT period; but he seriously oversteps the evidence when he sees no difference at all, on the grace-merit front, between Paul and the “covenantal nomism” of Judaism (cf. Carson, Divine Sovereignty, ch. 8). C. S. Lewis (They Asked for a Paper [London: Geoffrey Bles, 1962], 198) rightly distinguishes various kinds of rewards. A man who marries a woman for her money is “rewarded” by her money, but he is rightly judged mercenary because the reward is not naturally linked with love. On the other hand, marriage is the proper reward of an honest and true lover; and he is not mercenary for desiring it because love and marriage are naturally linked. “The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation” (p. 198). The rewards of the NT belong largely to this second category. Life lived under kingdom norms is naturally linked with the bliss of life in the consummated kingdom. Talk of “merit” or of “earning” the reward betrays lack of understanding of Jesus’ meaning (see comments at 11:25; 19:16–26; 20:1–16; 25:31–46).
b. The witness of the kingdom (5:13–16)
(1) Salt (5:13)
13 Salt and light are such common substances (cf. Pliny, Nat. 31.102: “Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine”) that they doubtless generated many sayings. Therefore it is improper to attempt a tradition history of all gospel references as if one original stood behind the lot (cf. Mk 4:21; 9:50; Lk 8:16; 11:33; 14:34–35). Equally, the suggestion that Jesus is referring to the “covenant of salt” (Lev 2:13; Nu 18:19; 2 Ch 13:5) seems unlikely. Where that expression shows up in the OT, it seems to be connected with the permanence or stability of God’s covenant with his people. Here, however, Jesus says that his disciples are “salt.” There is no mention of covenant, and, far from symbolizing stability, the salt of which Jesus speaks loses its effectiveness.
The reality is that “salt” is not a technical word with only one set of associations. It can even be connected with judgment (Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt, Ge 19:26; one might ruin an enemy’s field by sowing it with salt, Jdg 9:45). Salt was used in the ancient world to flavor foods and even in small doses as a fertilizer (cf. Eugene P. Deatrick, “Salt, Soil, Savor,” BA 25 : 44–45, who wants tēs gēs to read “for the soil,” not “of the earth”; but notice the parallel “of the world” in v. 14). Sometimes the word is simply referring to a commodity (Ezr 6:9) or identifies a place (2 Sa 8:13). Above all, salt was used as a preservative. Rubbed into meat, a little salt would slow decay. Strictly speaking, salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. But most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth.
In modern Israel, savorless salt is still said to be scattered on the soil of flat roofs. This helps harden the soil and prevent leaks; and since the roofs serve as playgrounds and places for public gathering, the salt is still being trodden under foot (Deatrick, “Salt, Soil, Savor,” 47). This explanation negates the attempt by some (e.g., Lenski, Schniewind) to suppose that, precisely because pure salt cannot lose its savor, Jesus is saying that true disciples cannot lose their effectiveness. The question “How can it be made salty again?” is not meant to have an answer, as Schweizer rightly says. The rabbinic remark that what makes salt salty is “the afterbirth of a mule” (mules are sterile) rather misses the point (cf. Schweizer). The point is that if Jesus’ disciples are to act as a preservative in the world by conforming to kingdom norms, if they are “called to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or nonexistent …, they can discharge this function only if they themselves retain their virtue” (Tasker).
13 The verb μωρανθῇ (mōranthē, “loses its saltiness,” GK 3701) is used four times in the NT. In Luke 14:34, it again relates to salt, but in Romans 1:22 and 1 Corinthians 1:20, it has its more common meaning “to make or become foolish” (cf. cognate μωρέ [mōre, “fool”] in v. 22). It is hard not to conclude that disciples who lose their savor are in fact making fools of themselves. The Greek may hide an Aramaic תפל (tpl, “foolish”) and תבל (tbl, “salted”; see Black, Aramaic Approach, 166–67).
(2) Light (5:14–16)
14–15 As in v. 13, “you” is emphatic—namely, You, my followers and none others, are the light of the world. Though the Jews saw themselves as the light of the world (Ro 2:19), the true light is the Suffering Servant (Isa 42:6; 49:6), fulfilled in Jesus himself (Mt 4:16; cf. Jn 8:12; 9:5; 12:35; 1 Jn 1:7). Derivatively, his disciples constitute the new light (cf. Eph 5:8–9; Php 2:15). Light is a universal religious symbol. In the OT as in the NT, it most frequently symbolizes purity as opposed to filth, truth or knowledge as opposed to error or ignorance, and divine revelation and presence as opposed to reprobation and abandonment by God.
The reference to the “city on a hill” is at one level fairly obvious. Often built of white limestone, ancient towns gleamed in the sun and could not easily be hidden. At night the inhabitants’ oil lamps would shed some glow over the surrounding area (cf. Bonnard). As such cities could not be hidden, so also it is unthinkable to light a lamp and hide it under a peck measure (v. 15, NIV, “bowl”). A lamp is put on a lampstand to illuminate all. Attempts to identify “everyone in the house” as a reference to all Jews in contrast with Luke 11:33, referring to Gentiles (so Manson, Sayings of Jesus, 93), are probably guilty of making the metaphor run on all fours, especially in view of the Gentile theme so strongly present in Matthew.
But the “city on a hill” saying may also refer to OT prophecies about the time when Jerusalem or the mountain of the Lord’s house, or Zion, would be lifted up before the world, the nations streaming to it (e.g., Isa 2:2–5; cf. chs. 42, 49, 54, 60). This allusion has been defended by Grundmann, Trilling (Das wahre Israel, 142), and especially K. M. Campbell (“The New Jerusalem in Matthew 5.14,” SJT 31 : 335–63). It is not a certain allusion, and the absence of definite articles tells against it; if valid, it insists that Jesus’ disciples constitute the true locus of the people of God, the outpost of the consummated kingdom, and the means of witness to the world—all themes central to Matthew’s thought.
16 Jesus drives the metaphor home. What his disciples must show is their “good works,” i.e., all righteousness, everything they are and do that reflects the mind and will of God. And people must see this light. It may provoke persecution (vv. 10–12), but that is no reason for hiding the light others may see and by which they may come to glorify the Father—the disciples’ only motive (cf. 2 Co 4:6; 1 Pe 2:12). Witness includes not just words but deeds; as Stier (Words of the Lord Jesus) remarks, “The good word without the good walk is of no avail.”
Thus the kingdom norms (vv. 3–12) so work out in the lives of the kingdom’s heirs as to produce the kingdom witness (vv. 13–16). If salt (v. 13) exercises the negative function of delaying decay and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity to the world, then light (vv. 14–16) speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world and warns against a withdrawal from the world that does not lead others to glorify the Father in heaven. “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 106).
15 There are several probable Semitisms in this verse (cf. Hill). The μόδιος (modios, “bowl,” GK 3654) is a wooden grain measure, usually given as 8¾ liters, i.e., almost exactly one peck (see comments at 13:33). It is doubtful whether the vessel was used for hiding light, despite various suggestions. A different word is used in Josephus (Ant. 5.223 [6.5]). In any case, Jesus’ point turns on what is not done.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ex 20:1–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
 The teacher’s Bible commentary. 1972 (F. H. Paschall & H. H. Hobbs, Ed.) (67–69). Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (176–177). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (Ex 20:4–17). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
 Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (2008). Exodus. In T. Longman, III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 1: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (T. Longman, III & D. E. Garland, Ed.) (480–484). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
3. The 23rd Psalm
The Lord Is My Shepherd
Psalm 23 A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23 – Four Commentaries
A Testimony of Trust (Psalm 23)
The passage.—This psalm, like the Lord’s prayer, is one of the best known passages in the Bible. Even those who have no commitment to the kingdom of God have recited and found strength in it. It is simple, brief, and unimpressive from the standpoint of literary art. But its realistic appeal to human need and its clear assertion of God’s care have won for it the highest place in the world’s admiration.
David as a shepherd himself thinks of how he cares for his sheep. The conviction floods his mind that God cares for his people exactly the same way. And so from personal experience David paints a word picture of God as a God who cares.
Verses 1–4 picture God as a Shepherd. Man is described here as on a journey throughout which the Shepherd God leads him step by step. He provides every need (v. 1). He brings his people to oases of refreshment and strength (v. 2). He renews life with spiritual energy (v. 3). His will for man always leads him to the right pathways (v. 3). He gives courage in times of danger (v. 4).
Then David changes the image and pictures God as a generous host (vv. 5–6). These verses picture man at the journey’s end in his Father’s house. Here God gives him safety from the enemy and prepares for him a table of perfect provision. The enemy can be seen outside but in the Father’s presence there is safety (v. 5). The anointed head and the overflowing cup symbolize the abundance of God’s care (v. 5). The great climax of the psalm reminds the reader that God as a Shepherd and a Host will give his people victory over death (v. 6).
Special points.—The rod and staff in verse 4 represent God’s defense and guidance. The rod or club was used to drive off wild animals and enemies. The staff was used to give guidance to the flock and to lift them back on the pathway when they fell. The rod and staff in the hands of God comfort or give assurance to the psalmist.
23:1–6 This psalm is probably the best known passage of the OT. It is a testimony by David to the Lord’s faithfulness throughout his life. As a hymn of confidence, it pictures the Lord as a disciple’s Shepherd-King-Host. David, by using some common ancient Near Eastern images in Ps. 23, progressively unveils his personal relationship with the Lord in 3 stages.
I. David’s Exclamation: “The Lord Is My Shepherd” (23:1a)
II. David’s Expectations (23:1b–5b)
A. “I Shall Not Want” (23:1b–3)
B. “I Will Fear No Evil” (23:4, 5b)
III. David’s Exultation: “My Cup Runs Over” (23:5c–6)
23:1 The Lord is my shepherd. Cf. Gen. 48:15; 49:24; Deut 32:6–12; Pss. 28:9; 74:1; 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Is. 40:11; Jer. 23:3; Ezek. 34; Hos. 4:16; Mic. 5:4; 7:14; Zech. 9:16 on the image of the Lord as a Shepherd. This imagery was used commonly in kingly applications and is frequently applied to Jesus in the NT (e.g., John 10; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4).
23:2, 3 Four characterizing activities of the Lord as Shepherd (i.e., emphasizing His grace and guidance) are followed by the ultimate basis for His goodness, i.e., “His name’s sake” (cf. Pss. 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; Is. 43:25; 48:9; Ezek. 36:22–32).
23:4 the valley of the shadow of death. Phraseology used to convey a perilously threatening environment (cf. Job 10:21, 22; 38:17; Pss. 44:19; 107:10; Jer. 2:6; Luke. 1:79). Your rod and Your staff. The shepherd’s club and crook are viewed as comforting instruments of protection and direction, respectively.
23:5, 6 The able Protector (v. 4) is also the abundant Provider.
23:5 You anoint. The biblical imagery of anointing is frequently associated with blessing (Pss. 45:7; 92:10; 104:15; 133:2; Eccl. 9:8; Amos 6:6; Luke 7:46).
23:6 And I will dwell. There is some question concerning the form in the Heb. text (cf. also Ps. 27:4). Should it be rendered “I shall return” or “I shall dwell”? Whichever way it is taken, by the grace of his Lord, David is expecting ongoing opportunities of intimate fellowship.
|23. This hymn is usually classified as a psalm of confidence in the Lord’s care. It uses two images: the Lord as Shepherd who cares for the sheep (vv. 1–4), and the Lord as Host who cares for his guest (vv. 5–6). These images would be familiar from everyday experience (for David’s own, cf. 1 Sam. 17:34); but they also evoke other ideas common in the ancient Near East (including the OT), with the deity as shepherd of his people and the deity as host of the meal. In worship, the faithful celebrate God’s greatness and majesty; and when they sing this psalm, they see his majesty in the way he personally attends to each of his covenant lambs. He is the shepherd for Israel as a whole; and in being such, he is the shepherd for each faithful Israelite as well.|
23:1–4 The Lord as Shepherd. Just as a shepherd cares for his sheep, so the Lord cares for his people, providing for their needs, guiding them, and protecting them.
23:1 shepherd. The deity-as-shepherd motif is common in the Bible (e.g., Gen. 48:15; 49:24; Ps. 28:9; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Rev. 7:17; cf. Ps. 49:14). The Lord is the Shepherd of the people as a whole, as well as individual members; and in this psalm the particular member is in view. want. That is, to lack what one needs.
23:1 Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11–18, 27–29) who embodies God’s care for his people.
23:2 Green pastures and still waters are peaceful places for rest and feeding.
23:3 The restoration, refreshment, or revival of the soul (or life) indicates the returning of life or vitality (cf. 19:7; Ruth 4:15; Prov. 25:13; Lam. 1:19). The paths in which God leads his faithful are the basic moral direction of their lives, toward righteousness (seen here as a blessing, not a burden). for his name’s sake. That is, in order to preserve his reputation for being true to his revealed character (cf. 1 Kings 8:41; Ps. 25:11; 31:3).
23:4 The shadow of death may be the shadow that death casts, or it may be, as the ESV footnote has it, “deep darkness.” Perhaps the idea is that in a valley in the desert (or wadi) in Judah one can encounter deep shadows, and cannot know for sure who (bandits) or what (animals, flash floods) lurks in them; even in such periods of suspense and danger, the faithful find assurance that God is with them, and thus they need not fear.
23:4 See note on 9:13.
23:5–6 The Lord as Host. Some have argued that the image of shepherd and sheep is still present here; but the mention of a table, of putting oil on the head, the cup, and the Lord’s “house,” all show that the psalm now describes the faithful person as God’s guest at a meal (“prepare a table”). The enemies are powerless to prevent the enjoyment of God’s generous hospitality (perhaps they are there as captives at a victory celebration). Goodness and mercy (ESV footnote, “steadfast love”) are the assurance for the faithful that God has showered his grace upon them. For a non-Levite to dwell in the house of the Lord is to have ready access to the sanctuary for worship (cf. 27:4). As the ESV footnote explains, forever is literally, “for length of days”; this may simply be another way of saying all the days of my life, but is more likely to be meant as “for days without end” (cf. 21:4; 93:5, “forevermore”).
23:6 Dwelling in the presence of God is fulfilled for Christ personally in his ascension (John 16:10; Acts 1:9–11) and for believers in the consummation (Rev. 22:4).
W. Psalm 23: The Goodness of God
Psalm 23 is a psalm of trust and confidence (see the fine exposition by Patrick D. Miller Jr., “Psalm 23,” in Interpreting the Psalms, 112–19). Its original setting or situation in life is difficult to determine. S. Gelinder (“On the Condition of the Speaker in Psalm 23,” Beth Mikra 23 : 642–64 [Heb.]) concludes that the psalmist was a king who in his trouble was confident in Yahweh’s ability to deliver him. Jack R. Lundbom (“Psalm 23: Song of Passage,” Int 40 : 6–16) suggests that the psalm is set in the wilderness at the time of David’s flight from Absalom.
The psalm expresses confidence in God’s goodness—in this life and in the life to come. The personal way in which the psalmist speaks of God, the imagery of God’s soothing guidance, and the ensuing confidence in God have all been factors in making this one of the most charming and beloved of the psalms. The universal appeal of this psalm lies in the comfort it gives to those who have confronted the most difficult periods of life. It is a psalm of God’s strength and grace for all ages. The teaching of Jesus that he is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11) who has come for both Jews and Gentiles (Jn 10:16) gives the Christian a sound reason to apply the benefits of God’s goodness to the ancient covenantal people and to himself, as a child of Abraham and fellow-heir of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:29; 4:7). Moreover, it causes us to hope in the glory God has prepared for his own (Rev 7:17).
The structure of the psalm is both simple and complex (see Craigie, 204–5; Charles O’Connor, “The Structure of Psalm 23,” LS 10 : 206–30; Werner Stenger, “Strukturale ‘relecture’ von Ps 23,” in Freude an der Weisung des Herrn [ed. Haag and Hossfeld], 441–55). There are two principle metaphors for the Lord’s goodness: he is like a “shepherd” who is interested in each sheep (vv. 1–4), and he is like a host who has prepared a lavish banquet (vv. 5–6). Each of these has its peculiar set of metaphors. See Jean Marcel Vincent (“Recherches exegetiques sur le Psaume xxiii,” VT 28 : 442–54) for a careful analysis of the language and poetic artistry. For the purpose of exposition, I will analyze the psalm under two metaphors:
A The Lord Is My Shepherd (vv. 1–4)
B The Lord Is My Host (vv. 5–6)
For compositional connections with Psalms 22–24, see Overviews, Psalms 22; 27; 29.
1. The Lord Is My Shepherd (23:1–4)
1 The first word of the psalm, “The Lord” (Yahweh), evokes rich images of the provision and protection of the covenantal God. He promised to take care of his people and revealed himself to be full of love, compassion, patience, fidelity, and forgiveness (Ex 34:6–7). The psalmist exclaims, “Yahweh is my shepherd,” with emphasis on “my.” The temptation in ancient Israel was to speak only about “our” God (cf. Dt 6:4) in forgetfulness that the God of Israel is also the God of individuals. The contribution of this psalm lies, therefore, in the personal, subjective expression of ancient piety. For this reason, Psalm 23 is such a popular psalm. It permits individual believers to take its words on their lips and express in gratitude and confidence that all the demonstrations of God’s covenantal love can be claimed not only corporately by the group but also personally by each of its members.
The metaphor of the shepherd has a colorful history, as it was applied to kings and gods. King Hammurabi called himself “shepherd” (ANET, 164b). The Babylonian god of justice, Shamash, is also called “shepherd”—“Shepherd of the lower world, guardian of the upper” (ANET, 388). The metaphor is not only a designation or name of the Lord, but it also points toward the relationship between God and his covenantal children (cf. 74:1–4; 77:20; 78:52, 70–72; 79:13; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Mic 7:14). The people of God were well acquainted with shepherds. David himself was a shepherd (1 Sa 16:11), as the hills around Bethlehem were suitable for shepherding (cf. Lk 2:8).
The psalmist moves quickly from “my shepherd” to a description: “I shall not be in want.” Dahood, 1:146, may stretch its meaning when he writes, “Implying neither in this life nor in the next”; but so do those commentators who find allusions to the Lord’s provisions, guidance, and protection of Israel in the wilderness (cf. A. A. Anderson, 1:196–97; Craigie, 206–7). The conclusion of the psalm (v. 6) gives at least some support to Dahood’s contention; however, the psalm should not be narrowly interpreted in terms of “the eternal bliss of Paradise” (Dahood, 1:145).
2–4 The image of “shepherd” aroused emotions of care, provision, and protection. A good shepherd was personally concerned with the welfare of his sheep. Because of this, the designation “my shepherd” is described by the result of God’s care—“I shall not be in want” (v. 1); by the acts of God—“he makes me lie down … he leads … he restores … he guides” (vv. 2–3); and by the resulting tranquillity—“I will fear no evil” (v. 4).
The shepherd’s care is symbolized by the “rod” and the “staff” (v. 4c). A shepherd carried a “rod” to club down wild animals (cf. 1 Sa 17:43; 2 Sa 23:21) and a “staff” to keep the sheep in control. The rod and staff represent God’s constant vigilance over his own and bring “comfort” because of his personal presence and involvement with his sheep.
Verses 1 and 4, taken as an inclusio, read:
The Lord is my shepherd.…
Your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
2 The nature of the care lies in God’s royal provision of all the necessities for his people (see Richard S. Tomback, “Psalm 23:2 Reconsidered,” JNSL 10 : 93–96, for the background in the ancient Near East). The “green pastures” are the rich and verdant pastures, where the sheep need not move from place to place to be satisfied (cf. Eze 34:14; Jn 10:9). These “green pastures” were a seasonal phenomenon. The fields—even parts of the desert—would turn green during the winter and spring; but in summer and fall the sheep would be led to many places in search of food. God’s care is not seasonal but constant and abundant. The sheep have time to rest, as the shepherd makes them “lie down.” The “quiet waters” are the wells and springs where the sheep can drink without being rushed (cf. Isa 32:18). The combination of “green pastures” and “quiet waters” portrays God’s refreshing care for his own.
3a As the good shepherd provides his sheep with rest, verdant pastures, and quiet waters, so the Lord takes care of his people in a most plentiful way. He thereby renews them so that they feel that life in the presence of God is good and worth living. He “restores,” i.e., gives the enjoyment of life, to his own (cf. 19:7; Pr 25:13). The word “soul” is not here the spiritual dimension of humankind but denotes the same as “me,” repeated twice in v. 2, i.e., “he restores me.”
3b–4 The nature of the shepherd’s care also lies in guidance (vv. 3b–4b). In v. 2, the psalmist spoke of God as leading (“he leads me”). He develops the shepherd’s role as a guide, only to conclude with another aspect of his shepherdly care—protection (v. 4c). He leads his own in “paths of righteousness.” These paths do not lead one to obtain righteousness. “Righteousness” (ṣedeq) here signifies in the most basic sense “right,” namely, the paths that bring the sheep most directly to their destination (in contrast to “crooked paths”; cf. 125:5; Pr 2:15; 5:6; 10:9). The shepherd’s paths are straight (cf. Aubrey R. Johnson, “Psalm 23 and the Household of Faith,” in Proclamation and Presence, ed. John I. Durham and J. R. Porter [Richmond, Va.: Knox, 1970], 258). He does not unnecessarily tire out his sheep. He knows what lies ahead. Even when the “right paths” bring the sheep “through the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4), there is no need to fear.
The idiom “the shadow of death” has stirred discussion. Briggs, 1:211–12, spoke of the MT’s punctuation (ṣalmāwet, “shadow of death”) as “a rabbinical conceit” and preferred, instead of a compound phrase, one word (ṣalmût, “darkness”). D. Winton Thomas (“צַלְמָוֶת in the Old Testament,” JSS 7 : 191–200) has argued persuasively that the MT may be correct, with “death” being a superlative image for “very deep shadow” or “deep darkness.” This imagery is consistent with the shepherd metaphor because the shepherd leads the flock through ravines and wadis where the steep and narrow slopes keep out the light. The darkness of the wadis represents the uncertainty of life. The “straight paths” at times need to go through the wadis, but God is still present.
The shepherd who guides is always with the sheep. The presence and guidance of the Lord go together. He is bound by his name (“for his name’s sake,” v. 3b), “Yahweh,” to be present with his people. Underlying the etymology of “Yahweh” is the promise “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). For the sake of his name, he keeps all the promises to his covenantal children (cf. 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 106:8; 109:21; 143:11; Isa 48:9; Eze 20:44). He is loyal to his people, for his honor and reputation are at stake (see Reflections, p. 135, The Name of Yahweh).
The nature of the shepherd’s care lies further in the protection he gives (v. 4c). The “rod” and the “staff” symbolize Yahweh’s presence, protection, and guidance. They summarize his role as shepherd. The effects of his care are expressed in the first person—“I shall not be in want … I will fear no evil” (vv. 1, 4)—as an inclusionary motif together with “shepherd” and “rod/staff” (vv. 1, 4). Thus the psalmist rejoices that Yahweh is like a shepherd in his provision, guidance, and protection, so that the psalmist lacks nothing and fears not.
For a discussion of the technical words and phrases in the superscription, see Introduction, pp. 62–67.
3–4 A. L. Merrill (“Psalm XXIII and the Jerusalem Tradition,” VT 15 : 354–60) and John Eaton (“Problems of Translation in Psalm 23:3ff.,” BT 16 : 171–76) give a royal interpretation. Eaton renders these verses as follows:
He restores my life;
he leads me on the highroad of salvation for the sake of his Name.
Even though I enter the chasm of Death’s dominion,
I fear no evil; for thou art with me;
thy royal rod and staff bring me to joy again.
G. J. Thierry (“Remarks on Various Passages in the Psalms,” OtSt 13 : 97) treats these verses as having reference to a person and not to “sheep,” as does Briggs (1:207). Timothy A. Willis (“A Fresh Look at Psalm xxiii 3a,” VT 37 : 104–6) disagrees and argues that these verses relate to three distinct tasks of the shepherd—providing food, water, and shelter.
2. The Lord Is My Host (23:5–6)
5 The Lord is the host at a banquet (cf. Isa 25:6–8) prepared for his child. The “table” is laden with food and drink. Before entering into the banquet hall, the host would anoint the honored guest with oil (45:7; 92:10; 133:2; Am 6:6; Lk 7:46) made by adding perfumes to olive oil. The “cup” symbolizes the gracious and beneficent manner of entertainment. The overflowing cup pictures the Lord as giving the best to his child. It symbolizes the care and provision of God, previously represented by “green pastures” and “quiet waters.” Moreover, the Lord vindicates his servant “in the presence of [his] enemies,” expressing both the adversities of life itself as well as God’s demonstration of his love toward his own. In the presence of God, the fragrance of his rewards (“oil”) and the bounty of his provision (“cup”) make one forget troubles and tears. His is “the cup of salvation” (116:13) that pertains to both body and spirit.
6 In view of this picture, the psalmist draws comfort that God’s love and presence are constant. “Goodness and love” reflect the attributes of Yahweh, the covenantally faithful God. The “goodness” (ṭôb) of God is demonstrated in his abundant care and promises, and these are evidence of his blessing (cf. 4:6). In the words of 4:7, God’s goodness gives greater joy than the abundance of “grain and new wine.” The “love” (ḥesed; KJV, “mercy”) of God is the covenantal commitment to bless his people with his goodness, i.e., his promises. The psalmist expresses deep confidence in God’s loyalty. Instead of being pursued by enemies who seek his destruction, it is God’s “goodness and love” that follow him. He need not fear, because God’s care will always manifest itself in his provision, abundance, and protection. God’s loving care follows the psalmist throughout life. The psalmist does not say that our cup will always be full or that our heads will always be anointed with oil, but we do have the promise that God’s beneficence will be our lifelong companion.
The psalmist’s experience of God’s “goodness and love” is equivalent to dwelling “in the house of the Lord.” To eat and drink at the table prepared by the Lord recognizes a covenantal bond (cf. Kidner, 1:112) that does not cease when one leaves the precincts of the tabernacle or temple. The following psalm (Ps 24) deals with the moral requisites for fellowship with the Lord and his blessing (vv. 3–6; cf. Ps 15). The saints in the OT had a sense of God’s presence in the abundant evidences of his goodness. The “house of the Lord” signifies what Kraus, 1:191, defines as, “Whoever has experienced Yahweh’s yešûʿâ [‘deliverance’] may at all times remain in the environs of salvation, in the sanctuary” (cf. 27:4–5; 52:9; 61:4; 63:2; see Reflections, p. 931, The Ark of the Covenant and the Temple).
The “experience” with God takes on transcendental significance, as it gives the believer a taste of everlasting fellowship with God. Thus Weiser, 231, writes, “The hallowed atmosphere of worship is and remains a holy experience whereby the heart feels exalted and becomes more strongly conscious of the nearness of God than is possible in the noise and din of the streets.” Similarly, Brueggemann, 156, writes, “It is not the place but the vitality of the relationship which transforms.” In motifs and metaphors identical to this psalm, the apostle John portrays the ministry of our Lord, the Great Shepherd, to all who suffer on earth (Rev 7:15b–17).
5 The verb דִּשַּׁנְתָּ (diššantā, “you anoint,” “you revive”) has the same root as “the rich” (דִּשְׁנֵי, dišnê) in 22:29a and may be a verbal link between these two psalms. The meaning “anoint” is unrelated to the anointing of a king (contra Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms, 36–38); rather, it denotes the plentiful pouring out of oil (cf. NEB, “thou hast richly bathed my head with oil”).
5–6 The LXX renders the last phrase of v. 5 together with the first phrase of v. 6 to describe the cup as being filled with “the best” wine. Though the phrase “goodness and love” occurs only in 23:6, the MT makes good sense. For the covenantal usage, see Michael Fox, “ṬÔB as Covenant Terminology,” BASOR 209 (1973): 41–42.
6 The Hebrew וְשַׁבְתִּי (wešabtî, “and I will dwell”) occasions difficulties. “I will dwell” requires either וְשִׁבְתִּי, wešibtî, or וְיָשַׁבְתִּי, weyāšabtî. The ancient versions agree on the reading “I will dwell” (LXX, Syriac), but the MT reads “I will return,” i.e., “I will continually come back to the house of the Lord as long as I live.” Delitzsch, 1:332, reads both verbs as a pregnant construction, i.e., “again, having returned, dwell in the house of Jahve” (Craigie, 204, “and I shall dwell again in the house of the Lord”). I opt for Dahood’s proposal, 1:148, according to which the MT may be “a contracted form” of וְיָשַׁבְתִּי, weyāšabtî (“and I will dwell”). This is consistent with the ancient witnesses, and there is no need to emend the MT.
David Noel Freedman (“The Twenty-Third Psalm,” in Michigan Oriental Studies in Honor of Georg Cameron, ed. L. L. Orlin et al. [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1976], 139–66) has explained this psalm from the exilic perspective, in which the people of God anticipate a new exodus and a renewal of covenant. Michael L. Barre and John S. Kselman (“New Exodus, Covenant, and Restoration in Psalm 23,” in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth, ed. Carol F. Meyers and M. O’Connor [Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1983], 97–127) have further developed this thesis in the light of ancient Near Eastern parallels, concluding that the original royal psalm has been creatively reworked in the exilic community, which, like the Davidic king, prays that they may enjoy God’s covenantal blessings and his presence forevermore.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 5:1–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (1827–1828). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (Mt 5:1–16). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman, III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 9: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (T. Longman, III & D. E. Garland, Ed.) (159–171). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
4. The Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9 Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 
The Lord’s Prayer – Three Commentaries
6:5–15 Prayer was a pillar of Jewish piety. Public prayer, said aloud in the morning, afternoon, and evening, was common.
6:5–6 stand and pray in the synagogues. At the set time of prayer, pious Jews would stop what they were doing and pray, some discreetly, but others with pretentious display. Jesus did not condemn all public prayer, as indicated by his own prayers in public (e.g., 14:19; 15:36). One’s internal motivation is the central concern. shut the door. Though public prayer has value, prayer completely away from public view allows a person (or group) to focus more exclusively on God.
6:7–8 heap up empty phrases. Pagans repeated the names of their gods or the same words over and over without thinking (cf. 1 Kings 18:26; Acts 19:34). Jesus is prohibiting mindless, mechanical repetition, not the earnest repetition that flows from the imploring heart (Mark 14:39; 2 Cor. 12:8; cf. Psalm 136; Isa. 6:3).
6:9–13 Jesus gives his disciples an example to follow when praying. The prayer has a beginning invocation and six petitions that give proper priorities. The first three petitions focus on the preeminence of God while the final three focus on personal needs in a community context.
6:9 Father (Gk. patēr, “father”) would have been “Abba” in Aramaic, the everyday language spoken by Jesus (cf. Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). It was the word used by Jewish children for their earthly fathers. However, since the term in both Aramaic and Greek was also used by adults to address their fathers, the claim that “Abba” meant “Daddy” is misleading and runs the risk of irreverence. Nevertheless, the idea of praying to God as “Our Father” conveys the authority, warmth, and intimacy of a loving father’s care, while in heaven reminds believers of God’s sovereign rule over all things. The theme of “heavenly Father” is found throughout the OT (Deut. 14:1; 32:6; Ps. 103:13; Jer. 3:4; 31:9; Hos. 11:1). Jesus’ disciples are invited into the intimacy of God the Son with his Father. The concern of this first petition (see note on Matt. 6:9–13) is that God’s name would be hallowed—that God would be treated with the highest honor and set apart as holy.
6:10 Christians are called to pray and work for the continual advance of God’s kingdom on earth (the second petition; see note on vv. 9–13). The presence of God’s kingdom in this age refers to the reign of Christ in the hearts and lives of believers, and to the reigning presence of Christ in his body, the church—so that they increasingly reflect his love, obey his laws, honor him, do good for all people, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom. The third petition speaks of God’s will. This means God’s “revealed will” (see note on Eph. 5:17), which involves conduct that is pleasing to him as revealed in Scripture. Just as God’s will is perfectly experienced in heaven, Jesus prays that it will be experienced on earth. The will of God will be expressed in its fullness only when God’s kingdom comes in its final form, when Christ returns in power and great glory (see Matt. 24:30; cf. Rom. 8:18–25; Rev. 20:1–10), but it will increasingly be seen in this age as well (Matt. 13:31–33).
6:11 The fourth petition (see note on vv. 9–13) focuses on the disciples’ daily bread, a necessity of life which by implication includes all of the believer’s daily physical needs.
6:12 Forgive us our debts (the fifth petition) does not mean that believers need to ask daily for justification, since believers are justified forever from the moment of initial saving faith (Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1; 10:10). Rather, this is a prayer for the restoration of personal fellowship with God when fellowship has been hindered by sin (cf. Eph. 4:30). Those who have received such forgiveness are so moved with gratitude toward God that they also eagerly forgive those who are debtors to them. On sin as a “debt” owed to God, see note on Col. 2:14.
6:13 This final (sixth) petition addresses the disciples’ battle with sin and evil. Lead us not into temptation. The word translated “temptation” (Gk. peirasmos) can indicate either temptation or testing (see notes on 4:1; James 1:13). The meaning here most likely carries the sense, “Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin” (cf. Matt. 26:41). Although God never directly tempts believers (James 1:13), he does sometimes lead them into situations that “test” them (cf. Matt. 4:1; also Job 1; 1 Pet. 1:6; 4:12). In fact, trials and hardships will inevitably come to believers’ lives, and believers should “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when trials come, for they are strengthened by them (James 1:3–4). Nonetheless, believers should never pray to be brought into such situations but should pray to be delivered from them, for hardship and temptation make obedience more difficult and will sometimes result in sin. Believers should pray to be delivered from temptation (cf. Matt. 26:41; Luke 22:40, 46; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10) and led in “paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:3). deliver us from evil. The phrase translated “evil” (Gk. tou ponērou) can mean either “evil” or “the evil one,” namely, Satan. The best protection from sin and temptation is to turn to God and to depend on his direction. “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen” (ESV footnote) is evidently a later scribal addition, since the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts all lack these words, which is the reason why these words are omitted from most modern translations. However, there is nothing theologically incorrect about the wording (cf. 1 Chron. 29:11–13), nor is it inappropriate to include these words in public prayers.
6:14–15 forgive others. Jesus reemphasizes the importance of forgiving others, indicating that there is a direct relationship between having been forgiven by God and the forgiveness that his disciples of necessity must extend to others. As in v. 12, forgive your trespasses here refers to restoration of personal relationship with God, not to initial justification (cf. note on v. 12).
6:7 vain repetitions. Prayers are not to be merely recited, nor are our words to be repeated thoughtlessly, or as if they were automatic formulas. But this is not a prohibition against importunity (see notes on Luke 11:1–8).
6:9 In this manner. Cf. Luke 11:2–4. The prayer is a model, not merely a liturgy. It is notable for its brevity, simplicity, and comprehensiveness. Of the 6 petitions, 3 are directed to God (vv. 9, 10) and 3 toward human needs (vv. 11–13).
6:10 Your will be done. All prayer, first of all, willingly submits to God’s purposes, plans, and glory. See note on 26:39.
6:12 forgive us our debts. The parallel passage (Luke 11:4) uses a word that means “sins,” so that in context, spiritual debts are intended. Sinners are debtors to God for their violations of His laws (see notes on 18:23–27). This request is the heart of the prayer; it is what Jesus stressed in the words that immediately follow the prayer (vv. 14, 15; cf. Mark 11:25).
6:13 do not lead us into temptation. Cf. Luke 22:40. God does not tempt men (James 1:13), but He will subject them to trials that may expose them to Satan’s assaults, as in the case of Job and Peter (Luke 22:31, 32). This petition reflects the believing one’s desire to avoid the dangers of sin altogether. God knows what one’s need is before one asks (v. 8), and He promises that no one will be subjected to testing beyond what can be endured. He also promises a way of escape—often through endurance (1 Cor. 10:13). But still, the proper attitude for the believer is the one expressed in this petition.
6:15 neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. This is not to suggest that God will withdraw justification from those who have already received the free pardon He extends to all believers. Forgiveness in that sense—a permanent and complete acquittal from the guilt and ultimate penalty of sin—belongs to all who are in Christ (cf. John 5:24; Rom. 8:1; Eph. 1:7). Yet, Scripture also teaches that God chastens His children who disobey (Heb. 12:5–7). Believers are to confess their sins in order to obtain a day-to-day cleansing (1 John 1:9). This sort of forgiveness is a simple washing from the worldly defilements of sin; not a repeat of the wholesale cleansing from sin’s corruption that comes with justification. It is like a washing of the feet rather than a bath (cf. John 13:10). Forgiveness in this latter sense is what God threatens to withhold from Christians who refuse to forgive others (cf. 18:23–35).
(2) Prayer (6:5–15)
(a) Ostentatious prayer (6:5–6)
5 Again Jesus assumes that his disciples will pray, but he forbids the prayers of “hypocrites” (see comments at v. 2). Prayer had a prominent place in Jewish life and led to countless rabbinic decisions (cf. m. Ber.). In synagogue worship, someone from the congregation might be asked to pray publicly, standing in front of the ark. And at certain times prayers could be offered in the streets (m. Taʿan. 2:1–2; see comments at v. 2). But the location was not the critical factor. Neither is the “standing” posture in itself significant. In the Bible people pray prostrate (Nu 16:22; Jos 5:14; Da 8:17; Mt 26:39; Rev 11:16), kneeling (2 Ch 6:13; Da 6:10; Lk 22:41, Ac 7:60; 9:40; 20:36; 21:5), sitting (2 Sa 7:18), and standing (1 Sa 1:26; Mk 11:25; Lk 18:11, 13). Again it is the motive that is crucial—“to be seen by men.” And again there is the same reward (cf. Mt 6:2 and 5).
6 If Jesus were forbidding all public prayer, then clearly the early church did not understand him (e.g., 18:19–20; Ac 1:24; 3:1; 4:24–30). The public versus private antithesis is a good test of one’s motives. The person who prays more in public than in private reveals that he is less interested in God’s approval than in human praise. Not piety but a reputation for piety is his concern. Far better to deal radically with this hypocrisy (cf. 5:29–30) and pray in a private “room”; the word tameion (GK 5421) can refer to a storeroom (Lk 12:24), some other inner room (Mt 12:26; 24:26; Lk 12:3, 24), or even a bedroom (Isa 26:20 LXX, with which this verse has several common elements; see also 2 Ki 4:33). The Father, who sees in secret, will reward the disciple who prays in secret (see comments at v. 4).
5 UBS4 and Nestle27 follow the plural reading, Nestle-Kilpatrick (Η ΚΑΙΝΗ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗ [ed. E. Nestle and G. D. Kilpatrick; London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1958]) the singular. The former is marginally more probable on external grounds, and many argue that corruption to the singular occurred because of assimilation to the singular in v. 4 and v. 6. But copyists might equally have noted the recurring pattern of plural to singular changes in these verses (v. 1—vv. 2–4; v. 16—vv. 17–18). See comments at 5:23.
The use of the future οὐκ ἔσεσθε (ouk esesthe, “do not be”) with imperatival force usually reflects legal language from the OT (BDF, para. 362). But here and in 20:26 it is found in words ascribed to Jesus with no unambiguous OT precedent (Zerwick, Biblical Greek, para. 443).
On the idiom φιλοῦσιν … προσεύχεσθαι (philousin … proseuchesthai, “they love … to pray”), see Turner, Syntax, 226.
(b) Repetitious prayer (6:7–8)
7–8 Verses 7–15 focus on the second of the three chief acts of Jewish piety, namely prayer. Prayer is central to a believer’s life. So Jesus gives further warnings and a positive example.
Many argue that whereas vv. 5–6 warn against the prayer practices of Jews, vv. 7–8 warn against those of Gentiles (“pagans”; see comments at 5:47). But the distinction is not quite so cut-and-dried. Every religious group harbors some who pray repetitiously. So with the Jews of Jesus’ day. He labeled all such praying—even that of his own people—as pagan! “Pagans” (cf. 1 Ki 18:26) are not so much the target as the negative example of all who pray repetitiously.
The verb battalogeō (“keep on babbling”) is very rare, apart from writings dependent on the NT (BDAG, 172). It may derive from the Aramaic battal (“idle,” “useless”) or some other Semitic word; or it may be onomatopoetic. If so, “babble” is a fine English equivalent. Jesus is not condemning prayer any more than he is condemning almsgiving (v. 2) or fasting (v. 16). Nor is he forbidding all long prayers or all repetition. He himself prayed at length (Lk 6:12), repeated himself in prayer (Mt 26:44; unlike Sir 7:14!), and told a parable to show his disciples that “they should always pray and not give up” (Lk 18:1). His point is that his disciples should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers offered under the misconception that mere length will make prayers efficacious. Such thoughtless babble can occur in liturgical and extemporaneous prayers alike. Essentially it is thoroughly pagan, for pagan gods allegedly thrive on incantation and repetition. But the personal Father God to whom believers pray does not require information about our needs (v. 8). “As a father knows the needs of his family, yet teaches them to ask in confidence and trust, so does God treat his children” (Hill).
(c) Model prayer (6:9–13)
“The Lord’s Prayer,” as it is commonly called, is not so much his own prayer (Jn 17 is just that) as the model he gave his disciples. Much of the literature has focused on the complex question of the relation between vv. 9–13 and Luke 11:2–4. The newer EV reveal the many differences. KJV does not show the differences so clearly because it preserves the numerous assimilations to Matthew in late MSS of Luke (cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, 154–56). Various theories attempt to account for the differences.
1. Formerly some argued that Matthew’s form is the original and Luke’s a simplified version of it. This view is no longer popular, largely because of the difficulty of believing that Luke, who was highly interested in Jesus’ prayer life, would omit words and clauses from one of his prayers if they were already in a source.
2. Others have argued strongly that Luke’s account is original and that Matthew has added to it according to his own theology and linguistic habit (so Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus, 85 ff.; Hill). Several reasons for this theory follow.
a. All Luke’s content is found in Matthew 6:9–13. But this could support condensation by Luke as easily as expansion by Matthew. More important, mere expansion-condensation theories do not account for the linguistic differences (e.g., tense in the fourth petition, vocabulary and tense in the fifth), and the theory is further weakened when it is argued (e.g., by Hill) that in the fourth petition the priorities are reversed and Matthew’s form is probably more original than Luke’s.
b. Matthew’s more rhythmical, liturgical formulation may reflect the desire to construct an ecclesiastical equivalent for Jewish Christians of the synagogue’s main prayer, the Eighteen Benedictions (Davies, Setting, 310 ff.), to which the Lord’s Prayer structurally and formally corresponds. But these correspondences have been greatly exaggerated. They are no closer than those found in fine extemporaneous prayers prayed in evangelical churches every Wednesday night (on the differences, see Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1960], 136–37). Moreover, Jesus was far removed from innovation for its own sake. Why should he not have expressed himself in current forms of piety?
c. Many argue that the Matthean introduction (v. 9) suggests that the prayer is a standardized liturgical form. On the contrary, the text reads, “This is how (houtōs) you should pray,” not, “This is what you should pray.” The emphasis is on paradigm or model, not liturgical form.
d. It has been argued that the emphatic “you” (v. 9) “sets off the new Christian community from the synagogue (and Gentile usage) whose piety is being contrasted with Christian worship in the surrounding context.” Not only is this needlessly anachronistic, but it also ignores the constant stress on “you,” designating Jesus’ disciples as the exclusive messianic community in Jesus’ day (see comments at v. 2).
3. Ernst Lohmeyer (The Lord’s Prayer [London: Collins, 1965], 293) argues that the two prayers do not spring from one source (Q?) but from two separate traditions. In Matthew the prayer reflects the liturgical tradition of the Galilean Christian community and emphasizes a certain eschatological outlook, whereas in Luke the prayer reflects the liturgical tradition of the Jerusalem church and focuses more on daily life. He refuses to be drawn out on what stands behind these two traditions. Lohmeyer’s geographical speculations are not convincing, but his emphasis on two separate traditions of the Lord’s Prayer is worth careful consideration. Evidence from the Didache and the demonstrable tendency for local churches to think of themselves as Christian synagogues (e.g., in the letters of Ignatius) and to adopt some synagogal liturgical patterns combine to suggest that the Lord’s Prayer was used in corporate worship from a very early date. If (and this is a big “if”) such church liturgies stretch back to the time when Matthew and Luke were written, it seems unlikely that the evangelists would disregard the liturgical habits of their own communities, unless for overwhelming historical or theological reasons (e.g., correction of heresy within the accepted liturgy). But none such is evident. This reinforces the theory of two separate liturgical traditions. On the other hand, if fixed liturgical patterns had not yet included any form of the Lord’s Prayer by the time the evangelists wrote, the differences between the two are not easily explained by a common source.
4. These complexities have generated several mediating theories. To give but one, Marshall (Gospel of Luke, 455) suggests that Luke drew his form of the prayer either from Q or from a recension of Q different from that of Matthew, whereas Matthew drew his either from separate tradition and substituted it for what he found in Q (if his recension of Q was the same as Luke’s) or else from a separate recension. This is little more than an elegant way of saying that Lohmeyer’s two-traditions theory is basically correct. It may be too elegant. Many suspect that Q is not a single document (see Introduction, section 3), and to speak thus of recensions of Q when our knowledge of Q is so uncertain makes one wonder how to distinguish methodologically between recensions of Q and entirely separate accounts of two historical occasions within Jesus’ ministry. Resolving the unknown by appealing to the more unknown is of dubious merit.
5. Though the evidence for two traditions is strong, equally significant is the fact that there are two entirely different historical settings of the prayer. Unless one is prepared to say that one or the other is made up, the reasonable explanation is that Jesus taught this sort of prayer often during his itinerant ministry and that Matthew records one occasion and Luke another. Matthew’s setting is not as historically specific as that of Luke only if one interprets the introduction and the conclusion of the entire discourse loosely or if one postulates Matthew’s freedom to add “footnotes” to the material he provides (see Overview, 5:1–7:29). The former is exegetically doubtful, the latter without convincing literary controls, and even in these instances the evidence for two separate traditions for the Lord’s Prayer is so strong that the simplest comprehensive explanation is that Jesus himself taught this form of prayer on more than one occasion.
Few have doubted that the prayer is in some form authentic. Goulder (Midrash and Lection, 296–301) argues that Matthew composed it from fragments, most of which were authentic but uttered on other and separate occasions, and that Luke copied and adapted Matthew’s work. His theory is unconvincing because it does no more than show parallels between elements of this prayer and other things Jesus said or prayed. The same evidence could equally be read as supporting the prayer’s authenticity. It is well worth noting that there is no anachronism in the prayer—no mention of Jesus as high priestly Mediator, no allusion to themes developed only after the resurrection.
There are signs of Semitic background, whether Aramaic (e.g., Black, Aramaic Approach, 203–8) or Hebrew (Carmignac, Recherches sur le “Notre Père,” 29–52). Scholars debate whether Matthew’s version has six petitions (Chrysostom, Calvin, and Reformed theologians) or seven, interpreting v. 13 as two (Augustine, Luther, most Lutheran theologians). The issue affects the meaning but little. More important, as Bengel (Gnomon) remarks, is the division of the petitions. The first three are cast in terms of God’s glory (“your … your … your”); the others in terms of our good (“us … us … us”). For recent theological meditations on this prayer, see Gerald Bray, Yours Is the Kingdom (Leicester: InterVarsity, 2006), and Philip Graham Ryken, The Prayer of Our Lord (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2007).
9 By contrast with ostentatious prayer (vv. 5–6) or thoughtless prayer (vv. 7–8), Jesus gives his disciples a model. But it is only a model: “This is how [not what] you should pray.”
The fatherhood of God is not a central theme in the OT. Where “father” does occur with respect to God, it is commonly by way of analogy, not direct address (Dt 32:6; Ps 103:13; Isa 63:16; Mal 2:10). One can also find occasional references to God as father in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha (Tob 13:4; Sir 23:1; 51:10; Wis 2:16; 14:3; Jub. 1:24–25, 28; T. Levi 18:6; T. Jud. 24:2—though some of these may be Christian interpolations). There is but one instance in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 9:35); the assorted rabbinic references are relatively rare and few unambiguously antedate Jesus (b. Taʿan. 25b; the fifth and sixth petitions of the Eighteen Benedictions). Pagans likewise on occasion addressed their gods as father, e.g., Zeu pater (“Zeus, Father”; Lat. Jupiter). But not until Jesus is it characteristic to address God as “Father” (Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus, 11 ff.). This can be understood only against the background of customary patterns for addressing God.
The tendency in Jewish circles was to multiply titles ascribing sovereignty, lordship, glory, grace, and the like to God (cf. Carson, Divine Sovereignty, 45 ff.). Against such a background, Jesus’ habit of addressing God as his own Father (Mk 14:36) and teaching his disciples to do the same could appear only familiar and presumptuous to opponents, personal and gracious to followers. Unfortunately, many modern Christians find it difficult to delight in the privilege of addressing the Sovereign of the universe as “Father” because they have lost the heritage that emphasizes God’s transcendence.
Jesus’ use of Abba (“Father” or “my Father”; GK 5, but see also GK 10003; Mk 14:36; cf. Mt 11:25; 26:39, 42; Lk 23:34; Jn 11:41; 12:27; 17:1–26) was adopted by early Christians (Ro 8:15; Gal 4:6), and there is no evidence of anyone before Jesus using this term to address God (cf. NIDNTT, 1:614–15). Throughout the prayer the reference is plural: “Our Father” (which in Aram. would have been, ʾabînû, not ʾabba). In other words, this is an example of a prayer to be prayed in fellowship with other disciples (cf. 18:19), not in isolation (cf. Jn 20:17). Striking is Jesus’ use of pronouns with “Father.” When forgiveness of sins is discussed, Jesus speaks of “your Father” (6:14–15) and excludes himself. When he speaks of his unique sonship and authority, he speaks of “my Father” (e.g., 11:27) and excludes others. The “our Father” at the beginning of this model prayer is plural but does not include Jesus, since it is part of his instruction regarding what his disciples should pray.
This opening designation establishes the kind of God to whom prayer is offered: He is personal (no mere “ground of being”) and caring (a Father, not a tyrant or an ogre, but the one who establishes the real nature of fatherhood; cf. Eph 3:14–15). That he is “our Father” establishes the relationship that exists between Jesus’ disciples and God. In this sense he is not the Father of all people indiscriminately (see comments at 5:43–47). The early church was right to forbid non-Christians from reciting this prayer as vigorously as they forbade them from joining with believers at the Lord’s Table. But that he is “our Father in heaven” (the designation occurs twenty times in Matthew, once in Mark [Mk 11:25], never in Luke, and in some instances may be a Matthean formulation) reminds us of his transcendence and sovereignty, while preparing us for v. 10b. The entire formula is less concerned with the proper protocol in approaching Deity than with the truth of who he is, to establish within the believer the right frame of mind (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 146).
God’s “name” is a reflection of who he is (cf. NIDNTT, 2:648–56). God’s “name” is God himself as he is and has revealed himself, and so his name is already holy. Holiness, often thought of as “separateness,” is less an attribute than what he is. It has to do with the very godhood of God. Therefore to pray that God’s “name” be “hallowed” (the verbal form of “holy,” recurring in Matthew only at 23:17, 19 [NIV, “makes sacred”]) is not to pray that God may become holy but that he may be treated as holy (cf. Ex 20:8; Lev 19:2, 32; Eze 36:23; 1 Pe 1:15), that his name should not be despised (Mal 1:6) by the thoughts and conduct of those who have been created in his image.
10 As God is eternally holy, so he eternally reigns in absolute sovereignty. Yet it is appropriate to pray not only “hallowed be your name” but also “your kingdom come.” God’s “kingdom” or “reign” (see comments at 3:2; 4:17, 23) can refer to that aspect of God’s sovereignty under which there is life—eternal life. That kingdom is breaking in under Christ’s ministry, but it is not consummated until the end of the age (28:20). To pray “your kingdom come” is therefore simultaneously to ask that God’s saving, royal rule be extended now as people bow in submission to him and already taste the eschatological blessing of salvation and to cry for the consummation of the kingdom (cf. 1 Co 16:22; Rev 11:17; 22:20). Godly Jews were waiting for the kingdom (Mk 15:43), “the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). They recited “Kaddish” (“Sanctification”), an ancient Aramaic prayer, at the close of each synagogue service. In its oldest extant form, it runs, “Exalted and hallowed be his great name in the world which he created according to his will. May he let his kingdom rule in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon. And to this, say, Amen” (Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus, 98, emphasis his). But the Jew looked forward to the kingdom, whereas the reader of Matthew’s gospel, while looking forward to its consummation, perceives that the kingdom has already broken in and prays for its extension as well as its unqualified manifestation.
To pray that God’s will, which is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Ro 12:2), be done on earth as in heaven is to use language broad enough to embrace three requests.
1. The first request is that God’s will be done now on earth as it is now accomplished in heaven. The word thelēma (“will,” GK 2525) includes both God’s righteous demands (7:21; 12:50; cf. Ps 40:8) and his determination to bring about certain events in salvation history (18:14; 26:42; cf. Ac 21:14). So for that will to be “done” includes both moral obedience and the bringing to pass of certain events, such as the cross. This prayer corresponds to asking for the present extension of the messianic kingdom.
2. The second request is that God’s will may ultimately be as fully accomplished on earth as it is now accomplished in heaven. “Will” has the same range of meanings as before, and this prayer corresponds to asking for the consummation of the messianic kingdom.
3. The third request is that God’s will may ultimately be done on the earth in the same way as it is now accomplished in heaven. In the consummated kingdom, it will not be necessary to discuss superior righteousness (5:20–48) as antithetical to lust, hate, retaliatory face slapping, divorce, and the like; for then God’s will, construed now as his demands for righteousness, will be done as it is now done in heaven: freely, openly, spontaneously, and without the need to set it over against evil (Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 66–67).
These first three petitions, though they focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will, are nevertheless prayers that he may act in such a way that his people will hallow his name, submit to his reign, and do his will. It is therefore impossible to pray this prayer in sincerity without humbly committing oneself to such a course.
11 The last petitions explicitly request things for ourselves. The first is “bread,” a term used to cover all food (cf. Pr 30:8; Mk 3:20; Ac 6:1; 2 Th 3:12; Jas 2:15). Many early fathers thought it inappropriate to talk about physical food here and interpreted “bread” as a reference to the Lord’s Supper or to the Word of God. This depended in part on Jerome’s Latin rendering of epiousios (NIV, “daily,” GK 2157) as superstantialem: Give us today our “supersubstantial” bread—a rendering that may have depended in part on the influence of Marius Victorinus (cf. F. F. Bruce, “The Gospel Text of Marius Victorinus,” in Text and Interpretation [ed. Best and Wilson], 70). There is no linguistic justification for this translation. The bread is real food, and it may further suggest all that we need in the physical realm (Luther).
That does not mean that epiousios is easy to translate. The term appears only here and in Luke’s prayer (Lk 11:3); and the two possible extrabiblical references, which could support “daily,” have had grave doubt cast on them by Bruce M. Metzger (“How Many Times Does ἐπιούσιος Occur Outside the Lord’s Prayer?” ExpTim 69 [1957–58]: 52–54). P. Grelot (“La quatrième demande du ‘Pater’ et son arrièreplan sémitique,” NTS 25 [1978–79]: 299–314) has attempted to support the same translation (“daily”) by reconstructing an Aramaic original, but his article deals inadequately with the Greek text, and other Aramaic reconstructions are possible (e.g., Black, Aramaic Approach, 203–7).
The prayer is for our needs, not our greeds. It is for one day at a time (“today”), reflecting the precarious lifestyle of many first-century workers who were paid one day at a time and for whom a few days’ illness could spell tragedy. Many have suggested a derivation from epi tēn ousan [namely, hēmeran] (“for today”) or hē epiousa hēmera (“for the coming day”), referring in the morning to the same day and at night to the next (for hēmera[n], see GK 2465). This meaning is almost certainly right, but it is better supported by deriving the word from the feminine participle epiousa, already well established with the sense of “immediately following” by the time the NT was written. Whatever the etymological problems, this makes sense of Luke 11:3, where “each day” is part of the text: “Give us each day our bread for the coming day.” Equally it makes sense in Matthew, where “today” displaces “each day”: “Give us today our bread for the coming day.” This may sound redundant to Western readers, but it is a precious and urgent petition to those who live from hand to mouth.
Some derive epiousios (“daily”) from the verb epienai, referring not to the future, still less to the food of the messianic banquet (contra Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus, 100–102), but to the bread that belongs to it, i.e., that is necessary and sufficient for it (cf. R. Ten Kate, “Geef ons heden ons ‘dagelijks’ brood,” Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 32 : 125–39; with similar conclusions but by a different route, H. Bourgoin, “ʼΕπιούσιος expliqué par la notion de préfixe vide,” Bib 60 : 91–96; and for literature, BDAG, 376–77; Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 74–75). This has the considerable merit of meshing well with both “today” and “each day” (Matthew and Luke respectively), and in Matthew’s case it may be loosely rendered “Give us today the food we need.” But the derivation is linguistically artificial (cf. Colin Hemer, “ʼΕπιούσιος, JSNT 22 : 81–94).
The idea of God “giving” the food in no way diminishes responsibility to work (see comments at vv. 25–34) but presupposes not only that Jesus’ disciples live one day at a time (cf. v. 34) but that all good things, even our ability to work and earn our food, come from God’s hand (cf. Dt 8:18; 1 Co 4:7; Jas 1:17). It is a lesson easily forgotten when wealth multiplies and absolute self-sufficiency is portrayed as a virtue.
12 The first three petitions stand independently from one another. The last three, however, are linked in Greek by “ands,” almost as if to say that life sustained by food is not enough. We also need forgiveness of sin and deliverance from temptation.
In Matthew, what we ask to be forgiven for is ta opheilēmata hēmōn (“our debts,” GK 4052); in Luke, it is our “sins.” Hill notes that the crucial word to opheilēma (“debt”) “means a literal ‘debt’ in the LXX and NT, except at this point.” And on this basis, S. T. Lachs (“On Matthew 6.12,” NovT 17 : 6–8) argues that in Matthew this petition of the Lord’s Prayer is not really dealing with sins but with loans in the sixth year, one year before the Jubilee. But the linguistic evidence can be read differently. The word opheilēma is rather rare in biblical Greek. It occurs only four times in the LXX (Dt 24:10 [2x]; 1 Esd 3:20; 1 Macc 15:8); and in Deuteronomy 24:10, where it occurs twice, it renders two different Hebrew words. In the NT, it appears only here and in Romans 4:4. On this basis it would be as accurate to say the word always means “sin” in the NT except at Romans 4:4 as to say it always means “debt” except at Matthew 6:12.
More important, the Aramaic word ḥôbā (“debt”) is often used (e.g., in the Targums) to mean “sin” or “transgression.” Deissmann (Bible Studies, 225) notes an instance of the cognate verb hamartian opheilō (lit., “I owe sin”). Probably Matthew has provided a literal rendering of the Aramaic Jesus most commonly used in preaching; and even Luke (Lk 11:4) uses the cognate participle in the second line, panti opheilonti hēmin (“everyone who sins against us”). There is therefore no reason to take “debts” to mean anything other than “sins,” here conceived as something owed God (whether sins of commission or omission).
Some have taken the second clause to mean that our forgiveness is the real cause of God’s forgiveness, i.e., that God’s forgiveness must be earned by our own. The problem is often judged more serious in Matthew than Luke, because the latter has the present “we forgive,” the former the aorist (not perfect, as many commentators assume) aphēkamen (“we have forgiven”; GK 918). Many follow the suggestion of Jeremias (Prayers of Jesus, 92–93), who says that Matthew has awkwardly rendered an Aramaic perfectum praesens (a “present perfect”): he renders the clause “as we also herewith forgive our debtors.”
The real solution is best expounded by C. F. D. Moule (“ ‘… As we forgive …’: a Note on the Distinction between Deserts and Capacity in the Understanding of Forgiveness,” in Donum Gentilicium [ed. E. Bammel et al.; Oxford: Clarendon 1978], 68–77), who, in addition to detailing the most important relevant Jewish literature, rightly insists on distinguishing “between, on the one hand, earning or meriting forgiveness, and, on the other hand, adopting an attitude which makes forgiveness possible—the distinction, that is, between deserts and capacity.… Real repentance, as contrasted with a merely self-regarding remorse, is certainly a sine qua non of receiving forgiveness—an indispensable condition” (pp. 71–72). “Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 149–50; see comments at 5:5, 7; 18:23–35).
13 The word peirasmos (“temptation,” GK 4280) and its cognate verb rarely if ever before the NT mean “temptation” in the sense of “enticement to sin” (whether from inward lust or outward circumstances) but rather “testing” (see comments at 4:1–12). But testing can have various purposes (e.g., refinement, ascertaining the strength of character, enticement to sin) and diverse results (greater purity, self-confidence, growth in faith, sin); as a result, the word can slide over into the entirely negative sense of “temptation.” See comments on the cognate verb in 4:1. The word sustains the unambiguous meaning in James 1:13–14, which assures us that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone [i.e., with evil]” (cf. Mt 4:1, 3; 1 Co 7:5; 1 Th 3:5; Rev 2:10). In this light, peirasmos cannot easily mean “temptation” here in v. 13, for that would be to pray that God would not do what in fact he cannot do, akin to praying that God would not sin.
But if peirasmos here means testing, we face another problem. The NT everywhere insists that believers will face testings or trials of many kinds but that these should be faced with joy (Jas 1:2; cf. 1 Co 10:13). If this is so, to pray for grace and endurance in trial is understandable; but to pray not to be brought to testings is strange. For detailed probing of the problem and interaction with the sources, see C. F. D. Moule, “An Unsolved Problem in the Temptation-Clause in the Lord’s Prayer,” RTR 33 (1974): 65–75.
Some have argued that the testing is the eschatological tribulation, the period of messianic woes (e.g., Jeremias, Prayers of Jesus, 104–7) characterized by apostasy. The petition becomes a plea to be secured from that final apostasy and is reflected in the NEB’s “do not bring us to the test.” But not only is peirasmos never used for this tribulation unless carefully qualified (and therefore Rev 3:10 is no exception, regardless of its interpretation), but one would at least expect to find the article in the Matthean clause. Carmignac (Recherches sur le “Notre Père,” 396, 445) so reconstructs the alleged Hebrew original that he distinguishes “to testing” from “into testing,” interpreting the latter to mean actually succumbing. The prayer then asks to be spared, not from testing, but from failing. Unfortunately, his linguistic arguments are not convincing.
Many cite b. Ber. 60b as a parallel: “Bring me not into sin, or into iniquity, or into temptation, or into contempt.” It is possible that the causative form of the Lord’s Prayer is, similarly, not meant to be unmediated but has a permissive nuance: “Let us not be brought into temptation [i.e., by the devil].” This interpretation is greatly strengthened if the word “temptation” can be taken to mean “trial or temptation that results in fall”; this appears to be required in two NT passages (Mk 14:38; Gal 6:1; cf. J. V. Dahms, “Lead Us Not into Temptation,” JETS 17 : 229).
It also may be that we are forcing this sixth petition into too rigid a mold. The NT tells us that this age will be characterized by wars and rumors of wars (see comments at 24:6) but does not find it incongruous to urge us to pray for those in authority so “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives” (1 Ti 2:2). While Jesus told his disciples to rejoice when persecuted (Mt 5:10–12), he nevertheless exhorted them to flee from it (10:23) and even to pray that their flight should not be too severe (24:20). Similarly, a prayer requesting to be spared testings may not be incongruous when placed beside exhortations to consider such testings, when they come, as pure joy.
“Deliver us” (rhyomai, GK 4861) could mean either, on the one hand, “spare us from,” “preserve us against,” or, on the other hand, “deliver us out of,” “save us from” (BDAG, 907–8). Both are spiritually relevant, and which way the verb is taken depends largely on how the preceding clause is understood. The words tou ponērou (“the evil one,” GK 4505) could be either neuter (“evil”; cf. Lk 6:45; Ro 12:9; 1 Th 5:22) or masculine (“the evil one,” referring to Satan; Mt 13:19, 38; Eph 6:16; 1 Jn 2:13–14; 3:12; 5:19). In some cases, the Greek does not distinguish the gender (see comments at 5:37). However, a reference to Satan is far more likely here for two reasons: (1) “deliver us” can take either the preposition ek (“from”) or apo (“from”), the former always introducing things from which to be delivered, the latter being used predominantly of persons (cf. J. B. Bauer, “Liberanos a malo,” Verbum Domini 34 : 12–15; Zerwick, Biblical Greek, para. 89); and (2) Matthew’s first mention of temptation (4:1–11) is unambiguously connected with the devil. Thus the Lord’s model prayer ends with a petition that, while implicitly recognizing our own helplessness before the devil, whom Jesus alone could vanquish (4:1–11), delights to trust the heavenly Father for deliverance from the devil’s strength and wiles.
The doxology—“for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen”—is found in various forms in many MSS. The diversity of what parts are attested is itself suspicious (for full discussion, see Metzger, Textual Commentary, 16–17; cf. Hendriksen, 337–38). The MS evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of omission—a point conceded by Davies (Setting, 451–53), whose liturgical arguments for inclusion are not convincing.
The doxology itself is theologically profound and contextually suitable and was no doubt judged especially suitable by those who saw in the last three petitions a veiled allusion to the Trinity: the Father’s creation and providence provides our bread, the Son’s atonement secures our forgiveness, and the Spirit’s indwelling power assures our safety and triumph. But “surely it is more important to know what the Bible really contains and really means than to cling to something not really in the Bible, merely because it gratifies our taste, or even because it has for us some precious associations” (Broadus).
12 The KJV has the present “we forgive” in both Matthew and Luke and is widely supported. The aorist is attested by א* B Z 1 22 124mg 1365 1582, five MSS of the Latin Vulgate, and several MSS of the Syriac and Coptic versions. This represents a fair spread of text type. But the convincing arguments are the likelihood of assimilation to Luke and the converse implausibility of a copyist changing the present to an aorist.
(d) Forgiveness and prayer (6:14–15)
14–15 These verses reinforce the thought of the fifth petition (see comments at v. 12). The repetition serves to stress the deep importance for the community of disciples to be a forgiving community if its prayers are to be effective (cf. Ps 66:18). The thought is repeated elsewhere (18:23–35; Mk 11:25). (On the possible literary relation with Mk 11:25, see Lane, Mark, 410–11.)