August 21, 2017

The Beatitudes

By David E. Koltenbah

It has been stated previously that the Beatitudes comprise part of the introduction to the Heavenly King's
Inaugural Address and describe the state, or character, of the citizens of His kingdom. It is unfortunate that
in the popular concept the manly characteristic commended by Jesus in the third Beatitude is so sadly shorn
of its strength. "Meekness" is associated by many people with "weakness." Is this concept accurate? We must
ask, therefore,


I - What Is Meekness?


The original word (praus, praos) was used by many pre-Christian writers and primarily meant "mild,
gentle." Thus they applied it to inanimate things, such as the wind - a "meek (mild) wind." They applied it also
to the conduct of men, but the "meekness" so described was only an outward characteristic, not in inward,
spiritual quality. Furthermore, the word contemplated relations of men only to men, never toward God (Vincent,
Word Studies, in loc.) The word took on a vastly richer meaning, however, under the Spirit-guided pen of the
writers of Holy Scripture. Thus the Biblical use of the word is perhaps best defined by looking at some
Scriptural examples of meekness.


Jesus was "meek and lowly in heart" (Matt. 11:29; cf. 2 Cor. 10.1), as were also His apostles Paul, John,
and Peter. Moses was a supreme example of meekness ('anavah) in the Old Testament: "Now the man Moses
was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth." (Num. 12:3) From our knowledge of
the lives of the Savior and these His servants, we may make certain observations concerning "meekness."


Thus note (I) meekness is not mere shyness or timidity, for true meekness may be discovered in persons whose
natural tendency is the opposite of this. The first epistle of John was the work of a meek man, but the author
was - at least earlier in life - naturally a fiery and stormy "son of thunder." (Mk. 3:17; Lk. 9:54) One as
impetuous and forward as Peter could advocate the peaceable reception of ill treatment (1 Pet. 2:18; cf. Matt.
16:22) Moses was meek, but it is seriously doubted that he was the timid sort. His meekness is supposed by
some to be in his alleged timidity in Exod. chaps. 3, 4. Note that while Jehovah became angry with Moses
(Exod. 4:14) for the man's four fold objection to returning to Egypt to lead forth the people, yet with the
objections of the youthful and truly timid Jeremiah Jehovah did not become angry, but only tenderly encouraged
the prophet. (Jer. 1:4-10 & ff.) Undoubtedly Jehovah's anger toward Moses may be accounted for by the fact
that this behavior was not natural to Moses, a man who on various occasions both prior to his call and
afterwards exhibited a rare courage and fortitude, not to mention a lightning anger. (Exod. 1:12; 32:19 ff; Num.
20:10). Surely Moses unwillingness to return to Eygpt must be explained on grounds other than mere natural
shyness. Nevertheless, he was a very meek man, but that meekness was not a mere natural reticence.


Again, we would certainly misunderstand Scripture were we to believe meekness is (2) the attitude that
surrenders our rights without objection. Jesus objected to the illegal brutality of His trial (John 18:23), although
rightly indignant when his rights as a Roman citizen were violated at Philippi (Acts 16:37 ), and again on more
than one occasion insisted his civil rights be recognized, objecting to unjust and illegal treatment at the hands
of both Romans and Jews. (Acts 22:25; 25:11 ) Meekness is not that pusillanimous and unnecessary
submission to persecution which some think. Needless to say, neither is it the unnecessary provocation of
persecution which in some religious folk seems to be almost a pathological condition.


It is superfluous to point out further that it is not (3) pessimistic surrender. It is not meekness that leads
the condemned criminal occasionally to submit without resistance to his execution, for this is only a fatalistic
resignation to that which he considers irresistible. Jesus went to the cross meekly, but not with this attitude.
The discouraged Christian who has given up the struggle against his wicked oppressors merely because he
considers further resistance futile is not truly meek, though he may outwardly appear to be.


From the above examples, as well as the following, we know that meekness is certainly not (4) cowardice
or weakness of character.


What then is the quality of meekness? It is an inward spiritual quality unknown to the early Greek writers
who, when using the word to describe men, attached to it a somewhat mean sense. With them it denoted
condescension - a kindness to be sure, but a self-asserting and sometimes merely self-interested kindness, such
as that of a king (or a modern preacher!) who finds it very much to his political advantage to show kind favors
to his subjects. But the New Testament writers denoted by the word a submissiveness - a self-abasement, rather
than self-assertion - which springs from a sense of inferiority to the holy God. (see Vincent, loc. cit.) Meekness
in the Bible is a saint1y courage which musters all one's spiritual resources, not in order to throw them into a
violent struggle for revenge or dominance nor yet again to muster them for selfish purposes less turbulent in
nature, but in order to consolidate them under the overruling grasp of self-control, in order that the soul, with
complete mastery of self, may be utterly devoid of self -assertiveness and self-interest, and thus submit unto
the prevailing wisdom of God. (See Trench's Synonyms, art. xlii.)


The expression "meek as a lamb" is apt to be misleading. It is not in its weakness the lamb is characterized
as meek, but in its submissiveness. Weakness is never a virtue. When considering that Christ was "led as a
lamb to the slaughter" (Isa. 53:7) we must recognize that His meekness ( Matt. 21:5) lay not in helplessness,
but in his great strength, for He could command armies of angels to His aid. (Matt. 26:53.) Because His
kingdom was not of earth, His strength did not lie in the exercise of physical power-His kingdom was of heaven
and His power was exercised in His very meekness. (Cf. Jn. 19:36.) This quality of Jesus was not interpreted
by Pilate as cowardice, for the governor was completely baffled at Jesus' quiet and dignified
strength--"insomuch that the governor marveled greatly" (Matt. 27:14.) The archangel -Michal was meek
before the devil and "durst not bring against him a railing judgment" (Jude 9), not because he (Michal) was a
weak creature, but by virtue of the fact that he was chiefest of that powerful, innumerable host who, although
are "winds and a flame of fire" (Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:7), nevertheless reverence the Lord's sole right of vengeance.
(Rom. 12:19.) As pointed out above, Moses' meekness lay not in a natural propensity for quietness, but in his
ability to bear great honor with humility and to bear reproach with courage, without inordinate pride, and
account Jehovah as His Defender and Judge. It was by virtue of the fact that this characterized his attitude
when Miriam and Aaron censured him that the statement in Numbers 12:3 was occasioned.


Hence, meekness in the Bible is first of all (I) a submission to God which proceeds from an attitude of
abject humility before Him, flowing out of a deeply spiritual appreciation of our utter weakness and His
illimitable power and holiness, and gratitude for His gracious provision. It is not difficult to see that such
dependence upon God's wisdom and power may be entirely an act of faith, for the victorious issue of His
provision for a suffering man may be wholly unseen by that man. Thus one does not question the Divine
decrees, but meekly receives the instruction of God's will (Jas. 1:19) and His loving and fatherly discipline
(Heb. 12:9), and in so doing acquires the heavenly wisdom that is characterized by meekness and
peaceableness, exhibited in good works and flight from jealousy and faction. (Jas. 3:13.)


But to say that one submits meekly to Jehovah's chastening, is to say that one at the same time submits
meekly to the reproaches of the uprighteous, as employed by God for the perfecting of the saints through their
discipline. This is not to say that all persecution must be viewed as Divine punishment for sin. God forbid, for
the book of Job, Paul and Peter all teach that discipline may be merely instructive, rather than punitive, and
that the all-wise God overrules even the evils of persecution to bring out of it something profitable for His child.
Thus David forbad the slaying of Shimei, who cursed and threw stones at the exiled king: ". . . Let him alone,
and let him curse; for Jehovah hath hidden him. It may be that Jehovah will look on the wrong done unto me,
and that Jehovah will requite me good for his cursing of me this day." (2 Sam. 16:11-12.)


So we see that meekness in relation to God first in His direct actions leads us then to submission to Him
in his indirect actions. (Pulpit Comm. on Matt. 5:5.) That is, meekness is also (2) a submission to man. As
suggested above, the consciousness of our weakness before God behooves us to stoop before the opposition
of sinners and receive our purifying suffering, even though we may have the physical power to take personal
vengeance. Not only so, but such submission to God leads us willingly to take upon ourselves the load which
the sins of others place upon us. While we may be tempted in unholy indignation to resist and refuse the sinner,
we are instructed to restore him or correct him in a spirit of meekness. (Gal. 6:1; 1 Tim. 6:11.)


Meekness one to another is the sine qua non of unity among Christians. This is not the spirit of
compromise which would seek peace at any cost. (Instead of "peace," perhaps we could say more correctly
"truce," for there is no real peace in compromise.) To the contrary, it is the spirit of submission that endures
what is endurable, that gives way to another when so doing involves sacrifice of no principle, that serves the
interest of God and the church at large before one's own. We are taught "with all lowliness and meekness, with
longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:2-3;
cf. Phil. 2:1-4.) One may be sure that when division is rampant among brethren, the quality of loving
submission is lacking somewhere. It was lacking when the persistent pounding of the keys of an organ-by those,
incidentally, who, insisted its use was merely a matter of indifference-forced brethren who conscientiously
opposed its use, and to whom its use was not merely a matter of indifference, to withdraw their fellowship from
the users. It was lacking when the promoters of human missionary organizations sought to force the faithful
to prostrate themselves in the dust of sin and shame to do, honor to the idol of almighty institutionalism,
although contending all the while that the formation of such bodies was not an essential feature of the
organization of the New Testament church. It must surely be lacking today when men of similar inclination
insist in putting that same old institutional yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor
we were able or willing to bear! Surely the familiar Beatitudes are needed in Mt. Zion today!


Very briefly now, for space is lacking, we must consider


II - What Is the Reward For Meekness?


What does it mean, "they shall inherit the earth"? He who would force some premillennial construction
upon the expression forgets the nature of the Messianic dominion foreseen in the Old Testament. To understand
Jesus' expression here, one must understand what it meant in the Old Testament texts to which He alluded.


The ancient Jewish concept of blessing was that of material prosperity. Indeed, the Patriarchal Promise,
which was to have its highest, ultimate fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah, had promise of immediate
temporal blessings for ancient Israel, viz. the inheritance of the Land of Promise. (Gen. 15:7-8; etc.) To be sure,
permanent dwelling in the land was conditioned upon Israel's obedience.


"That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which Jehovah
thy God giveth thee." (Deut. 16:20)


Because possession of land, and of the Land of Promise particularly, was the most tangible of material
blessings, "to inherit the earth" or "land" evidently became a proverbial expression to denote possession of any
great blessing, or the sum of all blessings. Thus David employs the figure:


"For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: Yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and he shall
not be. But the meek shall inherit the land, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." (Ps.
37:10-11)


It is probable that from this Scripture the Master derived His figure.


Thus, the expression became figurative of all the blessings the Jews would receive under the Messiah. So
Isaiah says,


"Thy people also shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the
work of my hands, that I may be glorified." Isa. 60:21.


And who are these people? These are the ones to whom the Anointed (Messiah) would preach good tidings, viz.
the meek! (Ibid. 61:1) The Anointed was to be "the shoot out of the stock of Jesse," who would "with
righteousness judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth." (Ibid. 11:1-4.) The prophecies
referred to Christ and the blessings of His reign.


The expression to "Inherit the earth," therefore, was the Old Testament figure which described the benefits
to be received in Messiah's kingdom. Indeed, under the dominion of Christ the meek do inherit wondrous
blessings. There are temporal benefits from meekness as a general rule (Ps. 22:26), but (2) the spiritual benefits
are vastly greater, even those to be enjoyed in this life. There is true blessedness -- peace in the soul - for the
meek, for the godliness it promotes brings contented living (I Tim. 4:8; 6:6; cf. Ps. 25:9) and provides
assurance through faith of ultimate salvation:


"Seek ye Jehovah, all ye meek of the earth, that have kept his ordinances; seek righteousness, seek
meekness: it may be ye will be hid in the day of Jehovah's anger." (Zeph. 2:3)


Finally, most important are (3) the heavenly rewards of meekness, the joys unimaginable in "the new heaven
and new earth" (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1), which are promised through Jesus Christ, "in whom having also
believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, unto the
redemption of God's own possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:13-14.)


(To follow: "Blessed Are They That Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness.")


Truth Magazine III:6, pp. 7-10
March 1959

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