Notes on Prayer: Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:10b)

“May your Kingdom come!”
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
Matthew 6:10a

In the previous study, we examined the distinctiveness of the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13), in comparison with the Lukan. In particular, along with the first two petitions of the prayer (vv. 9b-10a), Matthew includes a third petition (“May your will come to be [done]”, v. 10b) not found in Luke (though it was added by copyists). This produces a triad of three petitions in the first section of the Matthean Prayer, with the Kingdom-petition at the center. Moreover, the two flanking petitions would seem to be parallel, both in form and meaning:

“May your name be made holy”
a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“May your will come to be”
genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou

In each instance, the petition begins with a passive (aorist) imperative, with the subject being a particular attribute/aspect of the God ‘who is in the heavens’. This could be taken as an example of the so-called divine passive (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor. Since the petition addresses God, this would be a natural way to understand the wording. However, there can be little doubt that an emphasis is on the actions of human beings—both in treating God (and His name) with sanctity and honor, and in acting according to His will. Since the Kingdom-petition is at the center of these two flanking petitions, it is fair to assume (or at least consider) that these two petitions inform the meaning and significance of the Kingdom-petition.

The first petition (v. 9b) was examined in the previous study. Here, we must consider the third petition (v. 10b):

genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou
w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$
gen¢th¢tœ to thel¢ma sou
hœs en ouranœ kai epi g¢s
“May your will come to be—
as in heaven (so) also upon (the) earth”

NOTE: The majority of witness here in Luke include this petition, including important uncials such as A C D W D Q. However, it is missing from a diverse range of witnesses, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 B L f1 1342 etc), a fact that is nearly impossible to explain if the longer text in Luke were original. Almost certainly the longer text is secondary, representing the kind of harmonization between Gospels that we find frequently in the manuscript tradition.

In the previous study, I mentioned how the expression “(our) Father the (One) in the heavens” in the Matthean invocation is distinctive of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a dualistic contrast that runs through the Sermon—between (a) the religious behavior of the majority of people on earth, and (b) the behavior of Jesus’ followers which should reflect the character of God the Father in heaven. It is just this contrast which underlies the expression in verse 10b.

As in the first petition, we have here a 3rd person (aorist) passive imperative (“it must [be]…”) rendered as an exhortative request (“may/let it [be]…”). The Greek verb used is gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)— “May it come to be…”. Five of the seven occurrences of this imperative are in the Gospel of Matthew (also 8:13; 9:29; 15:28; 26:42), the other two are in citations from Scripture (LXX); thus, it reflects a distinctive Matthean vocabulary.

The traditional rendering “may your will be done” is somewhat misleading, since there is no actual mention of doing God’s will; rather, the request is that God would see to it that His will comes to pass (“comes to be”) on earth. This touches upon the complex philosophical/theological question of the will of God. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, then by its very nature His will always comes to pass in all things. At the same time, there is clear and abundant evidence that things on earth do not always (or often) conform to the declared will (or wish) of God; in particular, human beings typically do not act according to His will. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not address this philosophical dimension directly, but the very point of his teaching throughout is centered on the idea that human beings must (choose to) live and act in a way that conforms with God’s own nature and character (including His will). Thus, there is implicit in this request the concept of doing (or fulfilling) the will of God the Father. Cf. further on 7:21, discussed below.

As mentioned above, this continues the contrast of heaven and earth which runs through the Sermon. God’s will is done in heaven, but it is often not done by people on earth. Again, the will (qe/lhma) here refers to something which God has declared for people—i.e., His word or instruction (Torah) which reveals His intention for humankind, to act and think in a way that corresponds with His own character and example. This is unquestionably how qe/lhma is used in most of the occurrences in the Gospel, in the sayings/teachings of Jesus. Most notable in this regard is the Synoptic saying in Mark 3:35 (par Matt 12:50, the Lukan form is rather different):

“Whoever would do the will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.”
i.e. Jesus’ true family consists of his followers who do the will of God; Matt 12:50 reflects the distinctive Matthean wording:
“For whoever would do the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Three other occurrences of qe/lhma in Matthew express the same basic idea (7:21; 18:14; 21:31); the first of these is also from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone saying to me ‘Lord, Lord…’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens.” (Matt 7:21)

Also noteworthy is the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32 par), which draws upon a similar dualistic contrast: those who do the will of God the Father (i.e. followers of Jesus) and those who do not (i.e. conventional/false religious behavior). In many ways, the closest parallel to the petition in Matt 6:10b is found in Jesus’ prayer in the garden at the beginning of his Passion. In Mark, this (Synoptic) saying reads:

“Abba, Father, all (thing)s are possible for you: (please) carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! But (yet), not what I wish [qe/lw], but what you (wish).” (Mk 14:36)

In Matthew’s version of this scene, this saying is preserved, generally following the Markan phrasing (Matt 26:39); however, words from the second session of prayer are also included which match more closely the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (the words in italics are identical):

“My Father, if it is not possible (for) this (cup) to go along (from me) if I do not drink (it), may your will come to be [genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou] .” (v. 42)

It would appear that the Gospel writer, noting the similarity to the petition in 6:10b, shaped this particular tradition to match it. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Luke records essentially the same saying by Jesus, but with different wording:

“Father, if you wish, carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! (But all the) more—may not my will, but yours, come to be.” (Lk 22:42)

The best explanation for this apparent blending of details is that Matt 26:42 represents a “Q” tradition which Matthew and Luke have each combined with the Synoptic saying (Mk 14:36) in different ways. The Gospel of John, though drawing upon an entirely separate line of tradition, also records numerous statements by Jesus describing how he, as Son, does the will (qe/lhma) of the Father—Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40. The one who follows Jesus likewise does the Father’s will even as he himself does (Jn 7:17; 9:31).

Thus there is a well-established basis in the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Matthew, for the idea that Jesus’ disciples (believers) are to obey the will of God the Father, as expressed especially in the teaching and example of Jesus (the Son). This is the central principle in the Sermon on the Mount. By this faithful obedience of the disciple, God’s will is done on earth, even as it is done in heaven—i.e reflecting the nature and character of the Father who is in the heavens. Somewhat surprisingly, the petition in 6:10b uses the singular (ou)rano/$) instead of the plural (ou)ranoi/). Most likely, this simply reflects the fact there is little difference in meaning between singular and plural forms of this noun in Greek. The singular in 6:26 refers to the (physical) skies, as probably also in 5:18, while v. 34 may have the primitive (cosmological) meaning of the vault of heaven; however, in 6:20 it refers to the realm or domain of God, much as the use of the plural does elsewhere in the Sermon. The traditional pairing of heaven and earth may explain the specific use of the singular here (cf. in 5:18, etc).

As noted above, the third petition contains and envelops the first two. Particularly, it expounds the meaning of the Kingdom-petition in v. 10a. As the disciples of Jesus follow him faithfully, the will of God is fulfilled on earth—a foreshadowing or beginning of the eschatological moment when the declared will of God comes to pass and is realized for all on earth, when his Kingdom is established truly over all humankind, and people everywhere treat Him with sanctity and honor.

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Kingdom of God is specifically associated with the “rightness” (or righteousness), dikaiosu/nh, of God. As previously discussed, a reference to the Kingdom of God frames the Beatitudes (5:3, 10). The one who belongs to the Kingdom, and who is able to enter (and inherit) the Kingdom, will be “poor” in their own spirit, devoting themselves, not to self-centered or worldly aims and desires, but to the will of God. For this same reason, those who are part of God’s Kingdom will often be persecuted (lit. pursued, with hostile intent) “on account of what is right” (e%neken dikaiosu/nh$)—that is, because of their desire for God’s righteousness.

At the beginning of the Sermon proper (5:17-20), Jesus associates “what is right” (right[eous]ness, dikaiosu/nh) with the precepts and regulations, etc, of the Torah. The followers of Jesus must exhibit a religious and ethical-moral “rightness” (upright character and conduct) which at least equals that of others who are devoted (religiously) to observing the Torah (vv. 19-20). The Pharisees and “writers” (i.e., scribes, literate persons with [expert] knowledge of the Scriptures) are specifically singled out as examples; even such people, who are not Jesus’ followers, will often exhibit strong religious devotion and upright moral conduct.

Jesus’ followers, however, are called to a right(eous)ness that surpasses the Pharisees’ fidelity to religious and ethical “rightness”. The teaching of Jesus in the Sermon expresses this. For example, in the Antitheses (5:21-48), six areas are addressed relating to the conventional righteousness established from the Torah and religious tradition. In each instance, Jesus requires of his followers that they go a step further. For a discussion on what this entails, see my earlier study on the Antitheses in the series “Jesus and the Law”. Similarly, in 6:1-18, Jesus focuses on three areas of customary religious behavior—acts of mercy (alms), prayer, and fasting—instructing his disciples that their conduct in such matters must focus on the heavenly (viz., the righteousness and will of God in heaven), rather than the earthly (i.e., how things are viewed by other people on earth). This same principle underlies the remainder of the practical instruction in chapter 6, culminating with the command in verse 33:

“You must first seek the kingdom [of God] and its right(eous)ness, and all these (other thing)s will be set toward you (as well).”

Finally, toward the close of the Sermon, Jesus effectively summarizes the teaching regarding the Kingdom, in 7:21 (cf. above):

“Not every(one) saying ‘Lord, Lord’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father th(at is) in the heavens.”

The Kingdom of God is here virtually identified with the will of God, and this confirms the similar close connection between the two in the Lord’s Prayer. The will of God is expressed in the Torah precepts, etc, but also (and more completely) in the teaching of Jesus—such as that preserved in the Sermon. The faithful follower of Jesus fulfills the will of God, and thus demonstrates that he/she belongs to the Kingdom.

This means that there is a strong evangelistic emphasis to the petitions in vv. 9-10. The Kingdom “comes” and God’s will “comes to be” when people throughout the world are following Jesus and his teachings. At the same time, in this regard, there is a vital eschatological component (noted above) that is often overlooked by Christians and students of the Gospels today. The coming of the Kingdom is fundamentally an eschatological event, as is clear from the very beginning of the theme in Matthew (and the Synoptic Tradition). The Kingdom-references in the Sermon, and continuing throughout the Gospel, develop the earlier references in 3:2 and 4:17, 23 par (see the discussion on these).

In the next study, we shall focus on this eschatological aspect of the Kingdom-theme in Matthew. We will start with the Lord’s Prayer (esp. its closing petition[s], v. 13), proceeding then to examine a number of the teachings and references in the following divisions of the Gospel.

May 5: Isaiah 53:10

Isaiah 53:10

“But YHWH delighted to crush him, (and so) weakened (him);
if his soul would set (itself as bearing the) guilt,
he shall see (his) seed, he shall lengthen (his) days,
and (the) delight of YHWH will succeed in his hand.”

This verse summarizes the description of the Servant’s suffering and death, explaining how and why it happened. That is to say, it explains why YHWH chose to have His Servant suffer in this way. In the scenario of the passage, there seems to be a shift from the testimony of the people, to an argument that affirms the righteous character of the Servant. The important point in this regard involves the guilt (<v*a*) borne by the Servant. Why was the Servant punished by YHWH? It was not because he was deserving of the punishment, through his own guilt. However, as the wording in these lines is difficult, it is necessary to examine each component of the description carefully.

First, let us note the structure of the four lines. The ‘outer’ lines (1 and 4) emphasize the role of YHWH, while the ‘inner’ lines (2 and 3) focus on the role of the Servant. There is a thematic consistency to the framing lines on YHWH’s role, referring to His will and intention (to act) in terms of His “delight” (Jp#j@). The suffering and death of the Servant came about simply because YHWH wished it to be so. This is declared bluntly, and strikingly, in the first line:

“But YHWH delighted to crush him, (and so) weakened (him)”

The verb ak^D* (“crush”), also used in verse 5, alludes to the death (and burial) of the Servant. By “crushing” him, YHWH ultimately turns him into dust (cf. Psalm 90:3ff, a poem attributed to Moses by tradition). In order to bring about his death, the Servant first had to be weakened (vb hl*j*, cf. also in vv. 4-5). This idea of “weakness” often implies the presence of sickness, illness, disease, etc., though a person can similarly be ‘worn down’ (to the point of death) in other ways.

In the final line, the “delight” of YHWH is expressed in a different way. Instead of God’s will being directed against the Servant, it will come to be realized through him. The phrasing here is:

“and (the) delight of YHWH will succeed in his hand”

In other word’s YHWH places the authority (and power) to exercise His will in the hand of the Servant. The Servant thus comes to function like a heavenly Messenger (Angel). This would especially fit the figure of Moses, as a type-pattern for the Servant, since Moses functioned in a comparable way at points during his ministry on earth. In particular, we may note the way that the power of YHWH was given into his ‘hand’ to bring about the plagues on Egypt (cf. Exod 4:1-9, 21ff, etc; cf. also Num 10:13). All the more, then, would this Moses-Servant act as a powerful instrument of God’s will in his new heavenly position (following his death and exaltation). Much the same could be said of other major Prophetic figures, such as Elijah.

The central lines (2 and 3) focus on the role of the Servant in this process. While the suffering came about through the sovereign will of YHWH, the Servant still had a choice in how to respond to this. His response is indicated in line 2, though, admittedly, the phrasing is unusual:

“if his soul would set (itself as bearing the) guilt”
ovp=n~ <v*a* <yc!T* <a!

The first word is the conditional particle <a! (“if…”); this implies that what follows in line 3 will only occur if the condition in line 2 is met. The verb <yc!T* is best understood as a 3rd person feminine form, which indicates that ovpn~ (“his soul”) is the subject. Some commentators would emend this to a masculine form (<yc!y`), which would yield a more straightforward line (“if he will set his soul…”). In any case, the condition is that the Servant sets himself (his own soul) for guilt (<v*a*). It is not necessary to view <v*a* here in the specific ritual sense of a sacrificial offering for guilt. Rather, the point seems to be that the Servant willingly accepts that he himself bears the guilt of the people.

If he willingly places/sets his soul in this way, for this purpose, then the promises in line 3 will be realized for the Servant. There are two promises involved:

    • “he shall see (his) seed”
    • “he shall lengthen (his) days”

If the Servant has died (and been buried), how are either of these things possible? There are several aspects to this promise that should be considered. First, is the obvious sense of a long life on earth, during which one lives to see many children and descendants (“seed”). Second, the exaltation of the Servant makes it likely that a heavenly existence (future life) is in view for him. If the proposed setting for the passage—a scene in the heavenly court—is correct, then the Servant has to pass through the judgment of this court to enter into his new position as YHWH’s servant, in heaven. Third, there is the idea that the Servant’s life will continue in the person of his descendants, understood either in a literal/biological or figurative sense. Finally, we must also keep in mind the close connection between the Servant and the people of Israel, since Israel/Judah is also referred to as YHWH’s servant (db#u#) in Deutero-Isaiah (and elsewhere in the Old Testament). Many commentators would interpret the Servant of these Songs as a representation of the collective people of Israel. However, here the collective interpretation is difficult to maintain; the text seems to portray the Servant as a distinct individual, with a life/career on earth, and offspring/descendants, etc.

Again, it is worth considering the type-pattern of Moses. In spite of the suffering and oppression he experienced, including the judgment brought upon him by YHWH that fated him to die outside the Promised Land, Moses lived an unusually long time—120 years, according to Deut 34:7 (cp. Psalm 90:10). Also, an important component of the Moses/Exodus traditions is how the restored covenant between YHWH and Israel (following the Golden Calf episode) was entirely dependent upon the mediation of Moses. Having broken the binding agreement (covenant), Israel now could only be considered the people of YHWH in a qualified sense. Technically, they were Moses’ people, and related to YHWH only through Moses as their representative and intermediary. For more on the complex narrative that deals with this situation, Exodus 32-34 should be studied carefully (in the overall context of the book of Exodus, esp. chapters 19ff). Following Israel’s violation of the covenant, YHWH wished to eliminate the people entirely, and to replace them with the descendants of Moses (Exod 33:1, etc). The promise expressed in these traditions is that Moses’ descendants (his “seed”) would be vast, and would inherit the land. Even after the covenant was restored, the idea of Moses’ descendants, and their importance, remained established within Israelite and Old Testament tradition. It is possible that verse 10 deals with this idea.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 33 (Part 2)

Psalm 33, continued

The central core of Psalm 33 is the hymn of vv. 4-17, recognizing God (YHWH) as Creator and Ruler of the universe. It may be divided into two parts, as indicated by the outline below.

    • Vv. 1-3: Call for the righteous to praise YHWH
    • Vv. 4-9: YHWH’s authority over Creation
    • Vv. 10-17: YHWH’s authority over the Nations
    • Vv. 18-22: Exhortation for the righteous to trust in YHWH

Verses 4-9 (discussed in last week’s study) focus on YHWH’s authority over Creation, while vv. 10-17 emphasize his authority over humankind (the Nations).

Verses 10-17

Verse 10

“YHWH makes the purpose of (the) nations crumble,
He causes (the) thoughts of (the) peoples to fail.”

YHWH’s control and power over Creation extends to humankind—the various peoples (<yM!u^) and nations (<y]oG) on earth. He has power even over those things which human beings (and their governments) intend and plan to do. God’s ability to know the thoughts and the “heart” of human beings came to be expressed by the traditional designation “heart-knower” (Greek kardiognw/sth$, Acts 1:24; 15:8), i.e., one who knows the heart (of a person). Here the Hebrew words are hx*u@ (“purpose, plan, counsel, advice”) and hb*v*j&m^ (pl. “thoughts, plans, intentions”), which overlap in their meaning.

Not only does God know the intentions of people, He has the power to frustrate them, causing them to remain unrealized and unfulfilled. The implication is that such intentions and plans are contrary to righteousness and justice of God, and reflect the wickedness of humankind; however, YHWH’s power over humankind is absolute, and He may choose to frustrate the plans of a people, even if they are not wicked per se. A pair of verbs, each in the Hiphil causative stem, is used to express this ability of YHWH: rr^P* (“break, crumble”) and aWn (“refuse, forbid, oppose”). The connotation of the latter verb in the Hiphil here is “make (something) stop working”, i.e. cause it to fail.

There is thus a clear synonymous parallelism in this 3-beat (3+3) couplet.

Verse 11

“(The) purpose of YHWH stands (in)to (the) distant (future),
(the) thoughts of His heart (in)to circle and circle (of life).”

In contrast to the plans of human beings (v. 10), what YHWH intends can not be frustrated or made to fail. His purpose is fulfilled, and what He intends comes to pass and stands (unaltered) long into the distant future, after each revolution or “circle” (roD) of time, and with it each generation of human beings, has come and gone.

Quite possibly, this difference between YHWH and human beings is expressed poetically by the difference in meter: a 4-beat (4+4) couplet in verse 11, compared with a 3-beat (3+3) couplet in v. 10.

Verse 12

“Happiness of the nation (for) whom YHWH is its Mighty (One),
the people He has chosen for a possession (belonging) to Him!”

This couplet draws on the religious and cultural tradition of Israel as the people belonging to YHWH, the nation He has chosen (vb rh^B*) as His own. The terminology used in this verse occurs in many other Old Testament passages—see especially the ancient poetic references in Exod 15:7 and Deut 32:9. There is a strong covenant context to this language. On Israel (and the righteous) as God’s “possession” (hl*j&n~), cf. Ps 28:9, and other references in the Psalms (68:10 [9]; 74:2; 78:62, 71; 79:1; 94:5, 14; 106:5, 40). At the same time, the covenant bond also leads to Israel being given a possession by God; and the noun hl*j&n~ is frequently used in this sense as well (Ps 135:11; 136:21-22, etc). On the nations as God’s possession, cf. Psalm 2:8, and note, in particular, the Messianic interpretation of that verse.

For any nation—whether Israel or another—who recognizes YHWH as its God, there is truly blessing and happiness. On the use of the construct plural yr@v=a^ to introduce the beatitude-form, cf. Ps 1:1, and the previous study on Psalm 32 (v. 1). There is a bit of wordplay here between yr@v=a^ (°ašrê) and the relative particle rv#a& (°¦šer).

Verses 13-14

“From (the) heavens YHWH gives a look,
He sees all (the) sons of men;
from (the) fixed place of His sitting, he gazes
at all (the) sitters [i.e. dwellers] of (the) earth.”

This pair of couplets, with synonymous parallelism, expresses, in colorful and picturesque imagery, the authority and rule of YHWH over all humankind. His position of rule is His throne in heaven, on which he sits, and from there He looks down upon all the ones sitting (i.e. dwelling) upon the earth. Clearly, there is a bit of wordplay in the second couplet involving the verb bv^y` (“sit”).

Verse 15

“The (One) fashioning (them) looks on their heart,
the (One) discerning, to all their works.”

This is another couplet with synonymous parallelism; the two substantive participles (with definite article) are descriptive titles for YHWH:

    • rx@Y)h^, “the (One) fashioning”, i.e. forming human beings, like a potter out of clay; a traditional idiom for referring to God as Creator.
    • /yb!M@h^, “the (One) discerning”, i.e. God as one who knows and understands all things, esp. the thoughts and intentions (the “heart”) of human beings (cf. above).

Dahood (p. 202) is almost certainly correct in reading djy as the main verb of the couplet, which has been mispointed by the Masoretes. It is to be derived from the root hd*j* III (= Ugaritic µdy), “see, look, gaze”. This meaning fits perfectly with the context of vv. 13-14, and gives a fine sense to the lines. The couplet thus declares, in more general terms, what was stated in verse 10 (cf. above)—that YHWH sees and knows the “heart” (i.e., the thoughts and intentions) of human beings. Such immediate knowledge and discernment is due to His role as Creator; having created (“fashioned”) human beings, YHWH has full knowledge of their thoughts and impulses.

Verses 16-17

“There is no king being saved by (the) multitude of (armed) force(s),
(and) a mighty (warrior) is not snatched away by an increase of power;
the horse (is) a false (source) for (bringing) help (to him),
and by a multitude of his force(s) he shall not make escape!”

The thoughts and actions of the nations are controlled by YHWH, and this fact is illustrated most dramatically through the idiom of military force (“force, strength”, ly]j*), as representing the pinnacle of the power of the nations (and their kings). Ultimately, even the greatest kings are powerless in the face of YHWH’s overriding authority, which determines the course and outcome of any military action. It is not the strength and skill of a nation’s military that ultimately determines the outcome, but the providential, governing power of God Himself. Even the use of the horse-drawn chariot (and horse-riding cavalry), generally seen as embodying the peak of military technology in the ancient Near East (late Bronze and early Iron Age), will not bring victory if victory has not been determined for that people by YHWH.

Verses 18-22

The final section of the Psalm is an exhortation for the righteous, the people of God (cf. verse 12), for them to continue trusting in YHWH. It is parallel with the opening section (vv. 1-3) and the call for the righteous to praise Him.

Verses 18-19

“See, (the) eye of YHWH (looks) to (those) who fear Him,
to (the one)s waiting (in trust) for His goodness,
(for Him) to snatch away their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in the hunger!”

The watching eye of YHWH is a theme that dominated the hymn in vv. 10-17 (cf. above), in terms of His authority and ruling power over humankind. Now the focus shifts to the righteous, and YHWH’s all-seeing power is especially directed at His people, the ones who fear (vb ar@y`) Him and trust (vb lj^y`) in Him. The latter verb denotes waiting, but often in the sense of waiting with hope, with the confident expectation (and trust) that things will come out for the good.

The trust of the righteous is particularly aimed at being rescued by God from the danger of death. A number of the Psalms we have studied deal with this basic idea, sometimes in the specific context of being healed/delivered from a life-threatening illness. Here, in the final line, it is hunger (bu*r*) that is in view. In the ancient world, life-threatening hunger, as a result of famine, war, and other causes, was a pervasive danger felt by much of the population. In an agricultural society, the failed crop of a single season could put the survival of the population at risk. While the Psalm here may simply refer to the hunger of human beings in this way, it is also possible that there is a dual-meaning, and that the line is also drawing upon the traditional idiom of Death as a being with a ravenous, devouring appetite (i.e., “hunger”).

Verse 20

“Our soul waits for YHWH—
He (is) our help and our protection!”

The exhortation of vv. 18-19 is repeated here, in the form of a declaration–collectively, by the righteous. A different verb (hk*j*) is used to express the idea of waiting for YHWH (lj^y` in v. 18, above), trusting that He will act to bring deliverance. The terms “help” (rz#u@) and “protection” (/g@m*) have a military connotation, and thus relate to the imagery in the closing lines of the hymn (vv. 16-17, cf. above). The contrast between the people of God (the righteous) and the nations, frequent in the Psalms, is very much present here. While the nations (and their kings) trust in military power and technology, the righteous trust in YHWH Himself for protection.

Verse 21

“(And it is) that our heart shall find joy in Him,
for in (the) name of His holiness we sought protection.”

Here the protection YHWH brings is defined in terms of His name, lit. “the name of His holiness” (i.e., His holy name). In ancient Near Eastern thought, the name had a magical, efficacious quality, representing and embodying the nature and character of a person. In a religious context, to know (and call on) a deity’s name enabled a person to have access to the presence and power of the deity. This was very much true in ancient Israelite religion as well, in relation to YHWH and His name. The idea was enhanced by the specific covenant relationship between God and His people—Israel belonged to YHWH, and was under His protection as part of the binding agreement. The righteous seek out that protection, trusting in God; and, in finding it, they also find the joy that comes from being in that place of safety and security. According to the ancient idiom, they are protected by the name of YHWH—meaning, by the presence of YHWH Himself.

Verse 22

“May your goodness, YHWH, come to be upon us,
according to (the way) that we wait (in trust) for you!”

The final couplet of the Psalm takes the form of a prayer, by the righteous (collectively), addressed to YHWH. In it the righteous declare their trust, affirming that they “wait” (lj^y`, cf. verse 18 above) for Him, expecting that He will act on their behalf and deliver them in time of trouble. The prayer expresses the hope that, in response to this trust, God will bless the righteous, bestowing his “goodness” (ds#j#) upon them. As previously noted, the noun ds#j# (“goodness, kindness”) often connotes faithfulness and loyalty, when used in a covenant context, as is frequently the case in the Psalms. The righteous, in their loyalty to YHWH, hope (and expect) that He will give blessings to them in return, according to the principle (and terms) of the binding agreement.

March 8: Matthew 6:10b

Matthew 6:10b

In the previous notes, we examined the first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, which are the same in both Luke and Matthew. In the Lukan version, these two petitions form a clear and definite pair—syntactically, thematically, and conceptually. In Matthew’s version of the Prayer, however, there is a third petition not found in (what must be regarded as) the original text of Luke:

genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou
w($ e)n ou)ranw=| kai\ e)pi\ gh=$
gen¢th¢tœ to thel¢ma sou
hœs en ouranœ kai epi g¢s
“May your will come to be—
as in heaven (so) also upon (the) earth”

NOTE: The majority of witness here in Luke include this petition, including important uncials such as A C D W D Q. However, it is missing from a diverse range of witnesses, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 B L f1 1342 etc), a fact that is nearly impossible to explain if the longer text in Luke were original. Almost certainly the longer text is secondary, representing the kind of harmonization between Gospels that we find frequently in the manuscript tradition.

The inclusion/addition of this line gives a different structure and rhythm to the Prayer. Some commentators who regard the shorter Lukan version as representing the (original) historical tradition (or, at least closer to it) consider the line to be an addition by the Gospel writer, perhaps drawn from early liturgical tradition. However one judges its status at the historical level, the petition in Matt 6:10b is vital to the Prayer as it appears in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. This point must be discussed.

In an earlier note, I mentioned how the expression “(our) Father the (One) in the heavens” in the Matthean invocation is distinctive of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Matthew, and, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a dualistic contrast that runs through the Sermon—between (a) the religious behavior of the majority of people on earth, and (b) the behavior of Jesus’ followers which should reflect the character of God the Father in heaven. It is just this contrast which underlies the expression in verse 10b.

As in the first petition, we have here a 3rd person (aorist) passive imperative (“it must [be]…”) rendered as an exhortative request (“may/let it [be]…”). The Greek verb used is gi/nomai (“come to be, become”)—”May it come to be…”. Five of the seven occurrences of this imperative are in the Gospel of Matthew (also 8:13; 9:29; 15:28; 26:42), the other two are in citations from Scripture (LXX); thus, it reflects a distinctive Matthean vocabulary.

The traditional rendering “may your will be done” is somewhat misleading, since there is no actual mention of doing God’s will; rather, the request is that God would see to it that His will comes to pass on earth. This touches upon the complex philosophical/theological question of the will of God. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, then by its very nature His will always comes to pass in all things. At the same time, there is clear and abundant evidence that all things on earth do not always (or often) conform to the declared will (or wish) of God; in particular, human beings typically do not act according to His will. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not address this philosophical dimension directly, but the very point of his teaching throughout is centered on the idea that human beings must (choose to) live and act in a way that conforms with God’s own nature and character (including His will). Thus, there is implicit in this request the concept of doing (or fulfilling) the will of God the Father.

As mentioned above, this continues the contrast of heaven and earth which runs through the Sermon (cf. the previous notes). God’s will is done in heaven, but it is often not done by people on earth. Again, the will (qe/lhma) here refers to something which God has declared for people—i.e., his word or instruction (Torah) which reveals his intention for humankind, to act and think in a way that corresponds with his own character and example. This is unquestionably how qe/lhma is used in most of the occurrences in the Gospel, in the sayings/teachings of Jesus. Most notable in this regard is the Synoptic saying in Mark 3:35 (par Matt 12:50, the Lukan form is rather different):

“Whoever would do the will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.”
i.e. Jesus’ true family consists of his followers who do the will of God; Matt 12:50 reflects the distinctive Matthean wording:
“For whoever would do the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Three other occurrences of qe/lhma in Matthew express the same basic idea (7:21; 18:14; 21:31); the first of these is also from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone saying to me ‘Lord, Lord…’ will come into the kingdom of the heavens, but (only) the (one) doing the will of my Father the (One) in the heavens.” (Matt 7:21)

Also noteworthy is the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32 par), which draws upon a similar dualistic contrast: those who do the will of God the Father (i.e. followers of Jesus) and those who do not (i.e. conventional/false religious behavior). In many ways, the closest parallel to the petition in Matt 6:10b is found in Jesus’ prayer in the garden at the beginning of his Passion. In Mark, this (Synoptic) saying reads:

“Abba, Father, all (thing)s are possible for you: (please) carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! But (yet), not what I wish [qe/lw], but what you (wish).” (Mk 14:36)

In Matthew’s version of this scene, this saying is preserved, generally following the Markan phrasing (Matt 26:39); however, words from the second session of prayer are also included which match more closely the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (the words in italics are identical):

“My Father, if it is not possible (for) this (cup) to go along (from me) if I do not drink (it), may your will come to be [genhqh/tw to\ qe/lhma/ sou] .” (v. 42)

It would appear that the Gospel writer, noting the similarity to the petition in 6:10b, shaped this particular tradition to match it. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Luke records essentially the same saying by Jesus, but with different wording:

“Father, if you wish, carry along this drinking-cup (away) from me! (But all the) more—may not my will, but yours, come to be.” (Lk 22:42)

The best explanation for this apparent blending of details is that Matt 26:42 represents a “Q” tradition which Matthew and Luke have each combined with the Synoptic saying (Mk 14:36) in different ways. The Gospel of John, though drawing upon an entirely separate line of tradition, also records numerous statements by Jesus describing how he, as Son, does the will (qe/lhma) of the Father—Jn 4:34; 5:30; 6:38-40. The one who follows Jesus likewise does the Father’s will even as he himself does (Jn 7:17; 9:31).

Thus there is a well-established basis in the Gospel tradition, and particularly in Matthew, for the idea that Jesus’ disciples (believers) are to obey the will of God the Father, as expressed especially in the teaching and example of Jesus (the Son). This is the central principle in the Sermon on the Mount. By this faithful obedience of the disciple, God’s will is done on earth, even as it is done in heaven—i.e reflecting the nature and character of the Father who is in the heavens. Somewhat surprisingly, the petition in 6:10b uses the singular (ou)rano/$) instead of the plural (ou)ranoi/). Most likely, this simply reflects the fact there is little difference in meaning between singular and plural forms of this noun in Greek. The singular in 6:26 refers to the (physical) skies, as probably also in 5:18, while v. 34 may have the primitive (cosmological) meaning of the vault of heaven; however, in 6:20 it refers to the realm or domain of God, much as the use of the plural does elsewhere in the Sermon. The traditional pairing of heaven and earth may explain the specific use of the singular here (cf. in 5:18, etc).

As noted above, the third petition contains and envelops the first two. As the disciples of Jesus follow him faithfully, the will of God is fulfilled on earth—a foreshadowing or beginning of the eschatological moment when the declared will of God comes to pass and is realized for all on earth, when his Kingdom is established truly over all humankind, and people everywhere treat Him with sanctity and honor.

For parallels to Matt 6:10b in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, cf. Psalm 103:21; 135:6, and especially 1 Macc 3:60 (“as the will might be in heaven, so shall it be done”). In Rabbinic literature, note b. Ber. 17a, 29b; t. Ber. 3.7; Pirke Abot 2.4; Abot R. Nathan (B) 32. For these and other references, cf. Betz, Sermon, pp. 392-6.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.