Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled. (New International Version)
Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness because they will be fed until they are full. (Common English Bible)
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires;
God will satisfy them fully! (Good News Translation)
They are blessed who hunger and thirst after justice,
for they will be satisfied. (New Century Version)
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied. (New Living Translation)
The words “justice” and “righteousness” come from the same word (δικαιοσύνη). The English words are much like two sides to the same coin – one side primarily emphasizing an action, and the other side a relationship.
The word “justice” in Holy Scripture refers to much more than a punitive corrective action toward wrongdoing. That is only a secondary concern for justice. The primary idea is to provide necessities to people without prejudice or favoritism. This is why the Old Testament is filled with references to providing justice to groups of needy or oppressed people such as orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor:
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18, NIV)
Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow. (Deuteronomy 27:19, NIV)
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice. (Psalm 112:5, NIV)
I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. (Psalm 140:12, NIV)
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17, NIV)
Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2, NIV)
God is greatly concerned for justice because the Lord is always just in all affairs.
The word “righteousness” primarily has to do with obtaining and maintaining right relationships with God and other people, with the result of doing right actions in the world. Holy Scripture is loaded with references to righteousness. In the Old Testament, justice and righteousness are often coupled together. That’s because justice is to be dispensed with personal relationship – and not detached in an impersonal way.
People do not merely need access to resources – they also require the gift of human connection in obtaining them.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalm 33:5, NIV)
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. (Psalm 103:6, NIV)
Let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24, NIV)
I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. (Hosea 2:19, NIV)
God hungers and thirsts for righteousness, which is why believers share this same appetite. Being attentive to the entire spectrum of needs that people have – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – are what Jesus has in mind when characterizing true disciples.
God specializes in filling broken people and meeting their needs. The picture here is one of a starving person who needs food and drink, or he will die. The person who hungers does not merely view justice and righteousness as options, or something nice to have. Rather, they know that without God’s just action and right relationship, they will die!
People who strongly desire Jesus and his righteousness are easy to spot:
- Those who are just and right crave and devour God’s Word, so they read and learn Holy Scripture.
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3, NIV)
- Those who are just and right are incessantly chattering about Jesus, so they pursue fellowship with believers and connections with unbelievers.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, NIV)
- Those who are just and right want to know Christ better, so they pray a lot.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16b, NIV)
- Those who are just and right desire right relations with others, so they make things right with others.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11, NIV)
Only those who know their poverty of spirit, personally grieve over sin, and are truly humble end up hungering and thirsting for righteousness. This is the recognition that without God, I will not make it. I can neither be justified nor righteous without Jesus.
Grant us, Lord God, a vision of your world as your love would have it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love. Give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
*Above painting by Hyatt Moore