The Beatitudes Blessed are They Which do Hunger and Thirst after Righteousness

By Keith Sharp

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6).

My mother grew up on a ranch in Southwest Texas during the depression. My grandfather, Daddy Sprott, was always poor, but during those times they were desperately so. My mother, along with her seven brothers and sisters and my grandparents, made it through one winter on a wagon load of frijoles (beans) that Daddy Sprott bought from a Mexican in Uvalde, along with corn bread and the milk, butter and cream from one cow. They knew hunger as most people of my generation and younger have never experienced.

The Lord spoke of those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” What does this mean? How shall they be filled?

The original language is striking here.

“It is a rule of Greek grammar teat verbs: of hungering and thirsting are followed by the genitive case. The genitive case is the case which, in English, is expressed by the word of; of the man is the genitive case. The genitive which follows verbs of hungering and thirsting in Greek is called the partitive genitive, that is the genitive of the’ part. The idea is this. The Greek said, ‘I hunger for of bread.’ It was some bread he desired, not the whole loaf. The Greek said, ‘I thirst for of water.’ It was some water he desired, a drink of water, not all the water in the tank. But in this beatitude most unusually righteousness. is in the direct accusative, and not in the normal genitive. Now, when verbs of hungering and thirsting in Greek take the accusative instead of the genitive, the meaning is that the hunger and thirst is for the whole thing. To say I hunger for bread in the accusative means, I want the whole loaf. To say I thirst for water in the accusative means, I want the whole pitcher. Therefore the correct translation of this is:

” Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the whole of righteousness, for complete righteousness.”1

As people in my mother’s childhood, only more so, the poor people in the time of Jesus were pitifully familiar with hunger and thirst. A hired hand in Palestine earned one Roman denarius (“penny,” KJV) for a day’s labor (cf. Matt. 20:1-2). It was worth about seventeen cents.2 Even if we allow for present inflation, that did not buy very much. These men had to work every day, or their families would go hungry. At best, they were always just a step ahead of real hunger. Meat was a luxury enjoyed only once a week.

In the dry Bible lands, people were familiar with real thirst. The hot desert wind blowing stinging sand into one’s face would create a terrible, throat-wrenching thirst.

The Lord did not speak of a little hunger pang to be met by a light snack. Nor did He refer to the half-hearted desire for a sip of tea. He rather spoke of a craving hunger and a driving thirst which a man would do anything to satisfy.

One of the basic reasons most people in our day refuse to obey the Gospel is that they do not “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Many know what they should do, but they are simply not interested enough in salvation to do anything about it. They are careless of their lost condition. Others who are ignorant of the truth do not care enough to honestly, diligently study. To the Spirit’s tender invitation they respond, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee” (Acts 24:26).

We must be as the ancient psalmist:

“As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

“My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps. 42:1-2; cf. 63:1).

As Paul, we must count the rightousness that comes through Christ more important than anything else in the world (Phil 3:7-9).

How are those who “hunger and thirst after righteous … filled”?

To be righteous is to be right in point of law, to be declared not guilty. Those who are “poor in spirit” recognize they are sinners, destitute of this righteousness. They “mourn” over their guilt. Those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” have a craving desire to be right with God, to be declared “not guilty” and enjoy fellowship with their Maker.

One who desires something is filled when that which he craves is supplied. How is righteousness supplied? Righteousness is certainly not supplied by our own perfect obedience to God’s law. In the Roman letter Paul discussed this very problem. Of perfect obedience, he declared, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:9-10). This is because “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

If we are to be right, our guilt must be removed by executive pardon (forgiveness) through the grace of the Lawgiver. God, by his grace, sent his Son as a propitiation for our sins, that we through him might receive the forgiveness of our sins by the sacrifice of his blood on the cross (Rom. 3:21-26′; 4:6-8). This plan of forgiveness, whereby we might be as spotlessly righteous as though we had never sinned, is the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Those who believe and obey the Gospel appropriate to themselves the forgiveness God has promised and become righteous by God’s mercy through their own obedient faith (Rom. 4:5; 6:17-18). This gospel fist began to be preached on the first Pentecost after the Lord’s resurrection, and on that very day the righteousness of the kingdom of Heaven was first granted to hungering and thirsting souls (Acts 2:37-41).

Dear, careless, sinner, are you not parched and weary in a baked “desert of sin”? Do you not hunger to be filled with the bread of righteousness from Heaven? The Master offers water, whereof, if a man drinks, he “shall never thirst” (Jn. 4:13-14). Jesus is “the bread of life,” and whoever comes to Him “shall never hunger” (Jn. 6:35). All who truly “hunger and thirst after righteousness” shall be filled abundantly by forgiveness 1hrought the Gospel (Matt. 7:7-11).

Why, then, dear sinner, will you perish miserably in hunger and thirst?

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

“Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is no bread? and you labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness” (Isa. 55:1-2).

“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).


1 William Barclay. The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia, 1958), 1, 96.

2 John D. Davis, Davis Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1972), pp. 533-34.

Truth Magazine, XX:26; p. 11-12
June 24, 1976