The Beatitudes

3. "Blessed Are The Meek"

David E. Koltenbah
Thomasville, Georgia

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