3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The eight statements of blessing at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount are sequential and progressive. Jesus spoke them in a specific order and the order provides the context that helps us understand the depth of their meaning. To understand what it means to mourn and be comforted, we must understand what it means to be poor in spirit. To understand meekness, we will need to understand mourning, comforting, and poverty of spirit. Poverty of spirit and a contrite heart are the foundation upon which mourning rests. As we will see in this study, we have many opportunities to mourn over our losses during our lives on this earth. However, mourning over sin has a special place of power in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
As a review, it is important to keep in mind that Matthew 5:4 has a similar characteristic to verse 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The similarity with these two verses is that Jesus is blessing a condition that the Jews did not believe should be, or could be, blessed. They did not see brokenness and a contrite heart as something to be blessed. They were a stubborn stiff-necked people who resisted repentance and who were proud of the righteousness they thought they had earned by their actions. When Jesus spoke from His seat upon the mount, He continually turned everything up-side-down and gave His blessing to what had been formerly despised. The same pattern continues in verse 4 where the blessing of the king rests upon those who mourn.
What Does It Mean to Mourn? What Do We Mourn Over? How Should We Mourn?
At the level of the flesh, we mourn over what we have lost. We grieve, cry, and feel the pain of having been separated from the people and things that we hold dear. We mourn over the loss of loved ones who die or who have chosen to separate themselves from us. We mourn over the loss of possessions, health, youthfulness, independence, and the loss of financial security. We may mourn over the sinfulness of our cultural decline, and the loss of respect and honor that is given to God.
At the spiritual level, we may mourn over the fact that we were once fulltime sinners engaged in self-worship in a world of iniquity. We mourn over the consequences of our sin on our lives and on the lives of family members, friends, and acquaintances. Some of us may mourn over the lost years that were dedicated to self-interest and the hatred of God. We may mourn over our former promotion of worldly values and over our dissemination of false beliefs about God. We may mourn over friends and family who died in their sins and who did not hear the Gospel from us or respond to God’s call of salvation.
Modern psychology and the New Age movement have tried to place a claim on grieving and mourning as if they had invented the idea of having a constructive and healthy emotional response to loss. But, the people of the Old Testament have valuable lessons to teach us about mourning and grieving. Their experiences can be combined with New Testament teachings to reveal the truth about mourning.
Mourning is much more than a psychological process through which we adjust to the pain of losing something. Mourning is about how we stay connected to God and grow closer to God when the foundations of our lives are shaken and broken by the experience of death and the loss of fleshly attachments. The people of the Old Testament knew how to mourn. Let’s take a look at some scriptures and see what we learn.
How Did People in the Old Testament Mourn?
In the Book of Job, we observe that people mourned over sickness and came together to share mourning. Mourning was not an activity of isolation, but a social process of sharing loss. In this case, it is the loss of health, family and wealth that Job was facing.
Job 2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.
People mourned over the death of loved ones.
Genesis 23:2 And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.
Genesis 37:34 And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.
Genesis 37:35 And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.
Genesis 50:10 And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days.
People mourned for a long time after the passing of their leaders.
Numbers 20:29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.
Deutaronomy 34:8 And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days: so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.
People mourned over lost relationships caused by sin and disobedience to God
1 Samuel 15:35 And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Mourning is not an endless activity, and it should not take us away from our relationship with God and the obedience He requires of us.
Deutaronomy 26:14 I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use, nor given ought thereof for the dead: but I have hearkened to the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me.
1 Samuel 16:1 And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.
Old Testament people also mourned for their family, their friends, for the Jewish people, and for their nation.
2 Samuel 1:12 And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the LORD, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword.
2 Samuel 13:37 But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day.
People mourned when they were judged by God.
Numbers 14:28 Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: 29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, 30 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. 32 But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness. 34 After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise. 35 I the LORD have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die. … 14:39 And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.
Nehemiah 1:1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, 2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. 4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, 5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: 6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses.
People mourned over pending oppression.
Esther 3:13 And the letters were sent by posts into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey. 14 The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day. … Esther 4:1 When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry; 2 And came even before the king’s gate: for none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3 And in every province, whithersoever the king’s commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
Mourning was dramatically expressed with great intensity.
Isaiah 22:12 And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth:
Jonah 3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
Jesus mourned and wept.
John 11:33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, 34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 35 Jesus wept.
Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Prophetically, we see the prediction of much mourning throughout the books of the prophets. This statement speaks of Jesus.
Zechariah 12:10 And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
There is the fulfillment of prophecy through mourning. They mourned over Him who had been pierced.
John 20:11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.
Mark 16:9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. 10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.
We mourn over the departure of friends especially when we realize that we will likely never see them again.
Acts 20:35 I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. 36 And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. 37 And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, 38 Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.
Mourning should not be avoided, but be pursued.
Ecclesiasts 7:2 It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
Ecclesiasts 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
Finally, and most importantly, people mourned over their sins.
Luke 18:13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
Luke 7:37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Matthew 26:75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.
Luke 23:46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts.
Mourning Over Sin
When we consider Matthew 5:4 within the context of chapters 4 and 5, I believe that the mourning that Jesus spoke of has to do with mourning over sin. The verse does not specifically indicate mourning over sin, but the preceding chapter speaks of repentance for sin, and the preceding verse points us toward the experience of being broken and contrite, which again suggests the context of sinfulness. Whether we believe it is appropriate to narrow the meaning of mourning to focus on sorrowing and lamenting over sin, or we keep the meaning broad to include all types of mourning, our sins and their consequences should still be one of the major reasons for our mourning.
Given the modern day lack of appreciation for mourning in our culture, we might look upon the Old Testament practices of mourning as being somewhat silly. Today, even the practice of a woman wearing black for a year (or even a month) after her husband has died is looked upon as being very old-fashioned. How would we look upon someone who mourned by wearing burlap bags as clothing, shaving his or her head, showering one’s self with ashes or dust, sitting in a heap of ashes, beating one’s breast, fasting, and wailing loudly day after day for many weeks. Today, we would call this insanity, but who is more insane; the one who expresses grief without restraint and seeks to be comforted by God, or the one who represses and denies grief and goes after mirth and merriment despite the losses? Who is more insane: the one who draws closer to God during his or her time of sorrow over loss, or the one who accepts coaching from Satan and his friends to turn to the distractions and addictions of the world with the intent of escaping the pain? Who is more sane? Is it the person who plunges into the pain of his loss by turning away from the pleasures of sin that he once loved, so that he can get free of the addictions that bind him to Satan? Or is it the person who submits to the compulsive lusts of the flesh in an attempt to avoid pain, who stays emotionally and spiritually crippled for the lack of mourning, and who refuses to accept the help of the Holy Spirit to overcome the power of sin and addictions? Which is more sane: to avoid mourning and to be comforted by Satan and the world, or to mourn and to be comforted by God and the kingdom of heaven?
Jephthah and His Daughter Mourned over Their Many Losses
The story of Jephthah and his daughter is a powerful example of healthy mourning over one’s losses. Jephthah’s daughter mourned over her impending sacrificial death, her virginity, the husband she would never know, the babies who she would not deliver or nurse, the children who she would not raise, and the loss of becoming a mature woman. When her time of mourning was complete, she was able to lay down her life as a literal human sacrifice.
Judges 11:30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
After the victory, Jephthah returned home.
Judges 11:34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back. 36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
While reading the preceding scriptures, I began to wonder about the relationship between the common modern-day experience of shallow and incomplete mourning, and our ability to become a living sacrifice for Christ.
Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
The people of the Old Testament clearly understood that they could not let go of anything unless they were willing to mourn over their losses. Mourning was not a performance that was put on for the entertainment of others, but a serious process that brought healing to the heart and peace to the soul. The same should be true for us today. We are no different than the people we read about in scripture. When we fail to mourn over our sins, we open the door to additional sins and greater losses. King David’s unwillingness to repent and mourn over his adultery led to more sin and more losses. It led to hardness of heart, deception, murder, and death.
In my studies of mourning in the Old Testament, I did not find examples of people feeling blessed, because they were in mourning. It appears to me that they mourned their losses and cried until they had no more tears to cry. They made themselves uncomfortable and wallowed in their sorrow and misery. Mourning was a way they showed honor to those who suffered loss. It was a way they disconnected themselves from their past attachments and prepared themselves for their future lives. It also was part of their repentance for failing to obey God when their sins had been revealed. I did not find any indication that people of the Old Testament believed they were blessed because they mourned.
The blessing that Jesus pronounced over those who mourn is another example of how our King proclaims a reality that was foreign to the people who heard him speak. The scoffers in the crowd might have laughed at the notion that those who mourn are blessed; nevertheless, this was exactly what King Jesus clearly stated. His blessing is given to those who mourn. He further promises that those who mourn will be comforted. We will consider what it means to be comforted by God when we continue the study of Matthew 5:4 in the next lesson. For today, let’s rest our hearts and minds on the simple fact that Jesus has a blessing for those who mourn.
To apply this blessing to your life, I invite you to pray and ask God to help you mourn. Be attentive to whatever the Holy Spirit brings into your mind. He may remind you of events and losses from the distant past, about which you may have never mourned. Sometimes it might be hard to feel sad about things of the past. Sometimes people say, time heals all wounds. Actually, that advice is not from scripture. Time does not heal wounds, it only buries them among many other memories. Buried wounds retain power over us and lead us into social dysfunction and self-destructive behavior. The way to discharge the power from the past is to pray and ask God for help. Quite often we need to mourn over what we have done or what was done to us. We may need to forgive others and what they have taken from us. Sometimes we need to mourn over the consequences of our behaviors and choices that have had powerful negative consequences on innocent people. Regardless of what the Holy Spirit brings into your mind and heart, consider it as a gift, which will lead you into greater freedom in Christ. If the mourning has to do with unrepented sin, then repent. If it is about death and destruction that Satan brought into your life, then pray that God give you tears of mourning in preparation for the comfort that will come later. God’s comfort is not a temporary feeling of warmth, but an on-going presence that resides with us forever. His comfort is never ending. His comfort allows us to move forward with trust and faith.
We trust that God will not forsake those who obey Him and we have faith in His promise that those who endure to the end will be saved into eternal life with God. Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel to receive the blessing of God, please take this opportunity to go after the blessing of comfort that God wants to give you. The demons will resist you, but if you are a Christian, then you have one in you who is greater and stronger than all the demons combined. Pray my brother. Pray my sister. Ask God to help you mourn. Amen.