Character (1)

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God Matthew 5:8 NASB

Shall see – Years ago I wrote something about this verse. It’s probably time to look at it again. We can begin with a comment on the Greek word horáō. The translation “they shall see God” uses this verb. Here it is future tense, middle voice. That means it is an activity that has particular importance to the subject. It is not “they will see” but rather “they will see for themselves.” But “seeing God” was considered a fearful thing. Since everyone is unworthy, standing face to face with absolute holiness meant certain destruction. In light of this fact, what could Yeshua possibly mean?

Most commentators regard this phrase as eschatological. They interpret it as an announcement about the eventual presentation before God in heaven. Purity of heart qualifies a person to be in God’s presence, a fact that will not come true until we finally leave this world behind. But there is another theme that flows from this metaphor. Jesus repeats it over and over in his ministry. It is this: only the man whose life has been made righteous by God (pure in heart) has the eyes to see God’s hand in the world today. This is the same idea that is captured in the often-repeated proclamation, “He who has ears, let him hear.” In order to perceive the presence of God, one must be cleansed. If this is what Yeshua has in mind, simply stating it was evidence that the external ritual purity of the culture was completely inadequate. External purity could never prepare a man to stand before God nor would it allow men to observe the presence of God in their midst.

horáō helps us to understand this subtlety. There are several Greek verbs for observing.  Greeks have been called “people of the eye.”  Their approach to reality is primarily visual.  But Greek influenced by Hebrew thought is not simply about recording what is visible.  The Hebrew influence requires that what is seen is also understood.  Yeshua is saying that the pure in heart rejoice because they truly see. The character of their inner spiritual eyes has been changed so that their perception discovers God in what they see. In this sense, seeing itself is paradoxical. It is entirely possible to “see” and at the same time not “see” at all. Only those who look with invisible eyes actually see—and what they see is the invisible handiwork of God.

Isn’t that what we really want? If only we could see God at work in the world, we could stay the course, fight the fight and not give in to discouraged anesthetics. If we were somehow aware that God is present right now, in the midst of all this confusion and loneliness, then we might resist the enticement toward oblivion. Yeshua promises that we will see, but the condition for seeing is the great obstacle. Purity of heart. Who among us can claim such status? We do not see because we are tainted. Is that really the problem?

There are two Greek words that are translated “pure.” One is katharos, the other is hagnos. The background of katharos is ritual cleansing. The background of hagnos is holiness (it comes from a word meaning “to stand in awe”). Yeshua deliberately talks about purity in the sense of religious ritual, not about purity in the sense of holiness before God. Why would he do this?

One of the consistent messages of Jesus was the need of the believer to understand that purity does not come from outer observance. Most of his conflicts with the Pharisees were about this point. But in this beatitude, it appears that he is speaking precisely about ritual purity. He literally says, “Happy are the cleansed.” This is, of course, exactly what his listening audience would have expected.

For hundreds of years, religious purification rituals dominated the Jewish religion. The distinction between “clean” and “unclean” was so important that it was inseparable from belief in God. Unless a Jew was clean in the ritual sense, he could have no part in the ceremony of worship. The idea of religious cleanliness permeated life—in birth, food, sacrifice, sex, disease and death. The laws in Leviticus were central to the practice of the Jewish faith. Although these purification laws were intended as a guide for living, they gradually became a nearly impossible burden as they were expanded and elaborated. By the time Yeshua began his ministry, more than 1800 ritual laws existed. The Pharisees believed that obedience to every one of these laws was essential. This was the quintessential “checklist” religion. Do everything right and God is obligated to give you spiritual credit.

But Yeshua wasn’t extolling ritual religion. He was saying something far more unbelievable. He was saying that none of the rituals were good enough if they did not produce a clean heart. Of course they couldn’t make a heart clean. Nothing on earth could! It was the book of Job all over again: “Can a man be more pure than his Maker?”

The concept was not new. David told us who would stand in the holy place. Only the man “who has clean hands and a pure heart” has any hope of standing before God (Psalm 24:3-4). The Hebrew words that David uses have the following meanings: “clean hands” means “free of guilt” and “pure heart” means “exonerated of blame.” Who could ever make such a claim? Even the mighty prophet Isaiah was struck with fear in the presence of the holy God as he said, “Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips.” The verdict is in. Every Jew knew the decision before the bailiff read it. The prophets only confirmed (Jeremiah 17:9) what had been true since Noah. Every man’s heart was evil (Genesis 6:5). No one could stand before the Almighty and claim to have a clean heart.

We are prone to a religion of rules because it is publically acceptable, another way of saying that it is under our control. We want to be seen as we wish to be, not as we are. The matter of the heart is so difficult to reveal. If I ever even think about telling you my secret sins, I quickly force the feeling into the closet and slam the door shut. Fear. That’s what a “clean heart” really means. Fear of being exposed. I would rather have ritual than cleansing.

So, who are the happy ones in this beatitude? There can be only one answer. Happy are those who have experienced the creation of a new, clean heart. They will see God because God saw them first. You bet they are happy. They are ecstatic! Nothing on earth can match what only God could do for them. A MasterCard can pay the rent for the sanctuary, the cost of the hymnals and the price of the communion. But a clean heart is priceless!

Remember that a beatitude is not a bestowal of favor. It is not a “blessing” that implies one party granting a favor to another party. A Beatitude is really a macarism, an announcement of an existing state, a status of happiness. Yeshua is not saying, “You are blessed because you have a clean heart and that gives you a ticket to see God.” He is saying, “You happy people who have clean hearts.” In other words, it is the clean heart that brings about happiness. And, by the way, says Yeshua, this state of happiness also means you are going to see God.

Reflection convinces us that purity of heart must be a gift. It is a gift that gives over and over because the gift changes our way of seeing. But a gift in Hebrew thought is not a possession. It’s a tool. In order to change things, it has to be used.

Now we have come to another question. How do we experience this gift? What do we do to use this tool?

Topical Index: pure, see, horáō, katharos, Matthew 5:8


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Skip very thought provoking thank you…
The Hebrew words that David uses have the following meanings: “clean hands” means “free of guilt” and “pure heart” means “exonerated of blame.”
Free of guilt is not necessary being happy and joyful… Unless pardoned of the guilt the we have this heavy burden lifted. When David wrote these words it could have applied on his peculiar feeling of pardon by God.
Now clean of heart seems to imply something different. No transgression, keeping a guard in front of our mouth. Not finding fault seeking forgiveness without blame etc. We find this in statements of positive mindsets acceptance of having sufficient, not changing by fashions etc.
All these attributes seem only to manifest when we actively work on helping others for it is when we think we have all the answers that we tend to be offend by others…
Am I understanding you correct or am I again reading into the scripts instead of from them…

Laurita Hayes

:This is really, really informative for me. It secures with a nail in a sure place your previous work on the Beatitudes (get the book The Lucky Life, y’all!) by expanding its application. Thank you.

Yeshua said He came to show us the Father. He also said He did “nothing in secret”. That means, by implication, that His Father doesn’t, either. He has not hidden truth in the “secret chambers” for gnostics and mystics to find and whisper about; he shouts it from the rooftops with a bullhorn. We are the ones who are deaf and blind (Yeshua said He came to do something about that). The problem is all on the reception end, because if we are not receptive, truth (to us, anyway) does not exist. Its the paradigm problem all over again: our flesh paradigm – because it is completely self protective and self justifying – has, by those practices, completely wiped out all its truth receptor sites. Sin destroys the trust (vulnerability) necessary to receive the truth.

Skip, you started a bad habit for me a while back when you pointed out (in Guardian Angel, I think) that we can take parts of the Bible, like where it tells about the fallout between Adam and Eve, as PRESCRIPTIVE (God declared that it was going to be) when the text was just being descriptive. Adam named Eve wrongly; the Bible just recorded it blow by blow. Now I have started to try to read a lot more of the difficult parts of the Bible as descriptive instead of prescriptive just to see if it might apply better, and it has gotten interesting in some places. I think we were trained to read the Beatitudes as prescriptive too (do this: than that will be the case) when, as you have pointed out, the text is being descriptive. I have seen people work and work to try to ‘obey’ the Beatitudes; it doesn’t work that way.

The question is, how does a clean heart happen? If I cannot ‘make’ a clean heart (or any of those other conditions), then how am I supposed to read this?

Well, first I have to want a clean heart, which does not happen until I quit making allowances for my current one. None of us want change, so the saying goes, except a baby with a wet diaper. I have to hate my filth before I want something else INSTEAD. Until then, I merely want a gloss for my current status; I want my sin and my salvation, too, but they are completely exclusive of each other. I have to repent – turn around – before I can even SEE my sin, for all of us are running from it like the three monkeys with our hands over our ears and eyes and shouting “la la la”: nothing but nothing can get in! We create our inability to see and hear and experience the truth by our avoidance of our sin. If I am to “see God” I am going to first have to become willing to see what keeps me from seeing Him.

The message of the Gospel is simple: “repent and be baptized”. If I go through my day willing to face my sin and willing to be washed in the blood of my Saviour (the “fountain filled with blood”) He will do the rest, while I rest in Him. Halleluah! Heart purity is not only possible, but essential, but I cannot do it. He has to do it for me, but I am the one standing in the way. The gospel is what gives me the formula to effect this essential purity. It tells me my part (how to get myself back out of His Way so that He can plant His purity in me, as He promised; I, on the other hand, have to repent for thinking it was possible for me to effect purity myself). Now, all I have to do is find where I put my ears to be able to really hear/do (shema) that gospel!

robert lafoy

I was listening to a friend of mine the other day speaking to a guest on his show in regards to eating clean. When the guest mentioned that it was his opinion that these commands were applicable for Christians today, my friend (who I believe is sincerely seeking God) quipped, “ain’t gonna happen, I love bacon.”
What you’ve written here really goes to the core of the debate regarding the commands. What my friend ( and others of that same mindset) misses is that, while they got the point that the commandments have no power in and of themselves to impart virtue or righteousness, in the “throwing away of any obligation to keep them, they’ve lost the “tool” that enables them to attach, or connect with the One who can impart those things. If you want to be a carpenter, hang out with one and “do” what he does. Will the mimicking of his actions make you a carpenter? No, but the continuing practice of those things will enable you to become one. Ritualistic purity. Didn’t He ask us to walk in His ways, not ours?
Your right Skip, (along with Paul and others) we’ve been given many gifts to use. The question for us, is whether we focus on the gift, or what the gift is given for.


This word has clarified for me, what is meant by a pure heart…Hebrew Word Study always help me to see beyond what I think I see, with the understanding necessary to not be given to discouraged anesthetic.


Gift that keeps on giving