Each “Beatitude” states that the possessor of this characteristic will be “blessed” by God. A formal blessing is a divine action, sometimes brought about through an intermediary (priest, king, or parents). The New Testament Beatitudes refer to a future reward, whereas the Old Testament Beatitudes assume that the reward is already present. Short explanations for each of the Beatitudes are as follows:
1. The poor in Spirit. The word used in Greek for poor is ptōchos which denotes a “beggar”, not just a poor person with few possessions. This Beatitude should be read against the OT tradition of God’s special care for the poor such as Exod 22:25-27; Lev 19:9-10; Deut 15:7-11; Isa 61:1.
2. The mourners. This beatitude should be read against the background of Isa 61:2-3 where the prophet’s mission involves comforting all those who mourn in Zion. The occasion for their mourning is the devastation of the First Temple of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. It was prophet Isaiah who consoled the mourners in Zion.
3. The meek. Psalm 37:11 says, “The meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” The “land” is not necessarily limited to the land of Israel. In apocalyptic literature (see 1 Enoch 5:7) the promise is widened to include the gift of the whole world to the just. To the elect there shall be light, joy and peace, and “they shall inherit the earth.”
4. Hunger and thirst for righteousness. The background is Psalm 107:5, 8-9, which describes God as satisfying the hungry and the thirsty. Righteousness refers first to God’s justice and then to human relationships and behaviour.