In this episode we will be exploring the topic of the Kingdom of God, and how the individuals making up this ever-expanding kingdom have hearts of humility and are filled with wisdom.
Yeshua stated it this way:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:3
A paraphrase to expand on the meaning of this passage conveys that to have an empty spirit, ready to receive and obey the slightest instruction, you will be blessed as the kingdom of heaven is yours.
To be poor in spirit is to remain humble amidst an abundance of wisdom and provision. It is a recognition of personal lack in the face of great resources. As the sayings go, “The more you learn, the less you understand,” or, “The more you know, the more you learn what you don’t know.” It is an acceptance of this spiritual type of destitution as a foundation for understanding.
To illustrate this, the Rev. Joseph Benson in his 19th century commentary, conveys the following.
By this expression, “the poor in spirit,” [some] understand [this to mean] those who bear a state of poverty and want with a disposition of quiet and cheerful submission to the divine will; and [others] interpret it of those who are ready to part with their possessions for charitable uses. But it seems much more probable that the truly humble are intended, or those who are sensible of their spiritual poverty, of their ignorance and sinfulness, their guilt, depravity, and weakness, their frailty and mortality; and who, therefore, whatever their outward situation in life may be, however affluent and exalted, think meanly of themselves, and neither desire the praise of men, nor covet high things in the world, but are content with the lot God assigns them, however low and poor. These are happy, because their humility renders them teachable, submissive, resigned, patient, contented, and cheerful in all estates; and it enables them to receive prosperity or adversity, health or sickness, ease or pain, life or death, with an equal mind. Whatever is allotted them … they consider as a grace or favour. They are happy, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven — The present, inward kingdom, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, as well as the eternal kingdom, if they endure to the end. The knowledge which they have of themselves, and their humiliation of soul before God, prepare them for the reception of Christ, to dwell and reign in their hearts, and all the other blessings of the gospel; the blessings both of grace and glory.
Benson concludes by quoting from the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 57:15 For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
Isaiah 66:1-2 Thus says Yahweh, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what kind of house will you build to me? and what place shall be my rest? For all these things has my hand made, and [so] all these things came to be,” says Yahweh: “but to this man will I look, even to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.
Let’s look a little more closely at some of those descriptions.
To be of a contrite spirit is to be smitten or afflicted in spirit. This is a very strange way of describing a heart that is ready and yearning for God. One English dictionary describes contrite in the following way:
“Someone who feels remorse or guilt is contrite and in addition to feeling sorry, part of the definition includes wanting to atone for having done something wrong.”
Based on this type of understanding, it makes sense to describe a remorseful individual as someone who has had their heart smitten.
It appears that God is saying he is able to teach individuals who recognize their own humble standing before him, the God of the universe. The passage in Isaiah 66 is speaking of individuals who tremble at God’s word. To tremble at God’s word is to have a recognition and acceptance of his authority. If an individual recognizes that God is the ultimate authority and has concrete standards, then one has a perspective of either abiding by or defying those standards. When an individual realizes their actions have transgressed the requirements of God, and they are truly remorseful about those transgressions, then they can be said to have their hearts or spirits smitten, and they become willing vessels, open to correction and training by the Spirit of God through his word. This is the type of individual who, according to Yeshua, is blessed, and who is a participant in the kingdom of God.
To be poor in spirit is also to be humble. In the Hebrew Scriptures, a word to describe this condition is shaphal, meaning depressed, as in, lower than other things, not depressed emotionally. This condition of lowliness is illustrated as something God honors. By that reckoning, humility should be a primary characteristic of all of God’s people.
Let’s take a look at how consistent this idea of humility and lowliness is throughout God’s Word.
Deuteronomy 8:14 “be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
2 Samuel 22:28 You rescue an oppressed people, but your eyes are set against the proud — you humble them.
Job 5:8-11: “”But as for me, I would seek God. I would commit my cause to God, who does great things that can’t be fathomed, marvelous things without number; who gives rain on the earth, and sends waters on the fields; so that he sets up on high those who are low, those who mourn are exalted to safety.”
Job 10:16 “If I am proud, you hunt me like a lion and again display your miraculous power against me.
Psalm 138:6: “For though Yahweh is high, yet he looks after the lowly; but the proud, he knows from afar.”
Proverbs 16:5 Everyone with a proud heart is detestable to Yahweh; be assured, he will not go unpunished.
Proverbs 16:19: “It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor, than to divide the plunder with the proud.”
Proverbs 18:12 Before his downfall a person’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.
Proverbs 29:23: “A man’s pride brings him low, but one of lowly spirit gains honor.”
Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Ezekiel 17:24: “All the trees of the field shall know that I, Yahweh, have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish; I, Yahweh, have spoken and have done it.”
In modern terms, this concept of lowliness might be conveyed by saying an individual is an empty cup, ready to be filled. The cup, in its “poor” state, lacks the liquid with which it desires to be filled. However, recognizing that it is empty, it is willing to receive with joy the liquid wisdom as it is poured out.
By contrast, a cup that is already full of its own liquid cannot receive any further instruction, since it is already full. This individual has no room for growth or further revelation.
Yeshua confronted the leaders of his day because they were so full of their own teaching and doctrine, they had overshot the commands of God and had created their own un-keepable system of rules and regulations.
Mark 7:6-7, 9: “He answered them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ … He said to them, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
An individual’s heart or soul that is full of something else cannot receive what God originally intended for it. In the extreme sense, Yeshua even confronted his own disciple Peter when Peter was introducing his own agenda into God‘s purpose and plan. This was in the context of Yeshua explaining to the disciples his impending crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.
Mark 8: 32-33 Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But he [Yeshua], turning around, and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you have in mind not the things of God, but the things of men.””
Injecting one’s own intent upon God‘s will and purpose is so objectionable to Yeshua that he labels it with the most egregious of titles: that of the satan or the ultimate adversarial position. Once an individual is consumed with their own passion and desire above that which God intends, their life has essentially moved to an adversarial position against the things of God. If that is the case, then that individual is no longer inside the kingdom, which is why Yeshua could confidently say within a parable to those tradition-filled Jewish leaders:
Luke 13:27-28 – …’I tell you, I don’t know you or where you’re from. Get away from me, all you evildoers! ‘ “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown out.
Certainly, we don’t want to place ourselves in that position, so we need to be mindful of that possibility while yet remaining firm upon the truth and power of God. To that end, believers have been provided a wealth of resources and strength through the Spirit of God and his Word so they can always know the right things to do.
For example, the apostle Paul writes about his duty to ensure that the word of God was available to God’s people among the nations.
Colossians 1:25 “I have become [the servant of the assembly], according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known…”
John also conveys how this combination of their written instruction along with the anointing of God’s Spirit within the believers provided the ability to know the truth and overcome adversity and false teaching.
1 John 2:14, 20 I have written to you, children, because you have come to know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you have come to know the one who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one. … But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.
Paul also conveys this same understanding about the ability of believers to understand spiritual things.
1 Corinthians 2:10-12: “But to us, God revealed them through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God.”
If we, then, are seeking to follow in the footsteps of these early believers by remaining faithful to God’s Word and by seeking to be filled with his Spirit, we should have the same abilities to understand the truth and overcome adversity and falsehood.
To be poor in spirit is to keep your cup empty. This way, as we remain humble and teachable, we can then have plenty of room to receive whatever wisdom and instruction God is willing to pour into us. And in this fashion, the kingdom will continue to grow for his purpose and glory, and not our own.
If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.