Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
In Luke chapter 4, Jesus/Yeshua reads from Isaiah 61 and makes a shocking claim about it:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
But Jesus’ sermon on Isaiah 61 is recorded in the book of Matthew, not Luke. We know it by another name. It’s the Sermon on the Mount–or at least the first bit of it, the Beatitudes:
Matthew 5:2-12 (English Standard Version):
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.
Now here’s the Isaiah passage:
Isaiah 61:1-8 (ESV):
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed meto bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
5 Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; 6 but you shall be called the priests of the Lord; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. 7 Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.
8 For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
You can tell that Jesus is preaching on Isaiah 61 from the vocabulary. A number of the words in Matthew’s Greek are the same as those used in Isaiah 61 in the ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek–the Septuagint. Here’s a good online version (with side-by-side English), and here’s another one.
I confess I don’t actually know what the Hebrew words are here, but I’m fairly confident that Jesus used whichever ones were in Isaiah 61: When Matthew converted Jesus’ Hebrew/Aramaic sermon into Greek for a popular (and not purely Jewish) audience, he very sensibly used the vocabulary that was already in place. That meant using the Septuagint vocabulary.
Let’s look at these words. I notice four major connections in verses 3-6. After looking at them we need to look at the astounding verses 11 and 12.
1. ptochos, “poor.” As they told me in undergrad, it refers to “a crouching beggar.”
Isaiah proclaims good news (euangelizo) for the poor. The simplest interpretation is literal: This means the materially poor. I don’t challenge that interpretation (but see below on ashes!). However, Jesus adds another: spiritual poverty, those who are poor in the spirit. Perhaps this means poor in their own spirit–perhaps broken, hurting people with no psychological resources to cope with life. More likely it means a more literal translation–ptochoi to pneumati, “poor in the spirit,” i.e., in the spirit of G-d.
There is good news for those who come to G-d without spiritual resources of their own–in spiritual poverty. Those who have nothing to offer G-d, but come to G-d anyway, coming for help as beggars to G-d. Blessed, says Jesus, are they; this is the good news (euangelion, or Gospel) announced beforehand by the prophet Isaiah.
(Verses: Matthew 5:3 and Isaiah 61:1.)
Parakeleo has the sense of being called to come alongside the sufferer. The word paraklehtos used for the Holy Spirit in John 14:16 is from the same roots.
What sort of mourning are we talking about here? Maybe more than one. But the mourning of repentance seems to be central. Isaiah 61:3 connects mourning to ashes, the sign of repentant mourning (see Job and Jonah). Blessed, says Jesus, are those who mourn in repentance, for they shall be comforted when one comes alongside them.
(Verses: Matthew 5:4 and Isaiah 61:2.)
Isaiah 61:7 seems to have a primary meaning of again inheriting the land of Canaan–at the return from the exile. There is also a farther-reaching secondary sense, given verse 6: G-d’s people will be priests and ministers of G-d who “eat the wealth of the nations,” and it is in this manner (or due to this) that they will inherit that land. So inheriting the land involves a service to G-d and ministry on the earth with a much broader scope than the land of Canaan.
Not just anyone gets to be such a minister before G-d, but the praus, the mild or meek or gentle. (See also Psalm 37:11.)
(Verses: Matthew 5:5 and Isaiah 61:7.)
4. dikaiosuneh, “justice” or “righteousness.”
If you are familiar with the word “justified” or “justification” in Christian theology, it comes from this word and words related to it, like the verb dikaioo and the adjective dikaios (which is also in Isaiah 61:8); see these three verses in the New Testament referencing justification by faith, for example.
I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with translating this as “blessed are those hunger and thirst for justice.” But there is more here.
There is a sense here of longing for righteousness in G-d’s sight in light of his covenant with men. G-d judges us to see if we are faithful to his covenant (Deuteronomy 27-30). Isaiah 61:8 speaks of an eternal covenant to be made between G-d and his people in which the just/righteous found innocent in G-d’s sight are blessed. Jesus is telling us that the fulfillment of this prophecy is at hand.
(Verses: Matthew 5:6 and Isaiah 61:8.)
Now let’s look at Matthew 5:11-12.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
This is an astonishing claim. Jesus says that the earlier persecuted prophets were persecuted houtos, “in this manner” or “thus.”
In what matter? Thus how? In the manner of being evilly treated “on my account” or “for my sake” (heneken emou).
In other words, this is a claim to be the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Jesus is saying that he is the reason for the prophetic ministry of the earlier prophets. He is the reason they suffered, he is the reason they prophesied. He is the fulfillment of that prophecy.Published in