By Keith Sharp
One of the pleasant memories of my childhood is of an old, brown, jack mule that Roy Payne, a close friend of my family, used to harness to the plow. The mule’s name was “Old Nigger” (no offense intended, that was simply his name). “Old Nigger” died a few years ago at the approximate age of forty years, a very “ripe old age” for a mule. He spent practically his entire life in the harness. “Nigger” was easy to work and would rarely offer harm to any human. In short, “Old Nigger” was meek.
The word “meek” was used in our Lord’s time to describe the temper of an animal broken to the harness-an ox broken to the yoke.”1 Who are the “meek?” How do they “inherit the earth?” Why do they do so? Vine thus describes “meekness”:
. . . the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept his dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting; it is closely linked with the word . . . (humility), and follows directly upon it. . . . It is only the humble heart which is also the meek, and which, as such, does not fight against God and more or less struggle and contend with Him. This meekness, however, being first of all a meekness before God, is also such in the face of men, even of evil men. . . .” 2
Vine identifies three characteristics of “meekness,” which we shall examine in order.
First, he indicates the relationship of “meekness” to “humility.” These terms are not synonymous. Rather, humility will cause one to be meek. If we have humility, we will be led to both obey God and properly treat our fellow men (Phil. 2:1-8), and these are two major components of meekness.
Meekness is first demonstrated in our relationship to God. “The meek man is one broken to God’s harness, one not motivated by the carnal mind but uniformly controlled and directed by `the mind of the Spirit’ (Romans 8:1-11).”3 When people stubbornly refuse to submit themselves to the law of God, they are not meek, no matter how much they may appear to be so.
But, meekness will also manifest itself in our relationship to other people. The meek are “not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:16-21; cf. Matt. 11:29; 1 Pet. 2:19-24).
But, there is another manifestation of meekness, one which Vine fails to notice, which is essential to our understanding of the third Beatitude. When most people speak of a meek person, they mean one who is a spineless, “casper and milk toast” type. But the basic element of meekness, in relation to one’s own character, is
“equilibrium-the full and complete possession of one’s being, an inner mastery. It has been illustrated in some lexical definitions as the captain at the helm of his ship in the midst of the storm, who, in full control of the vessel, guides the ship steadily through the storm. It is said of Moses in Numbers 12:3, `Now the man Moses was very meek, above all men which were upon the face of the earth,’ yet he was among all men the most courageous, and with Joshua as his colleague and commander in-chief, the greatest fighter in Israel.”4
What greater example could there be of “complete possession of one’s being” than Moses standing before the panicked multitudes of Israel, caught between the murky depths of the Red Sea and the fearful vengeance of Pharaoh, yet calmly commanding, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show you today” (Exod. 14:13). What greater monument to equilibrium than Moses’ leadership of three million backsliding, complaining, rebellious Jews for forty years in a terrible wilderness, and yet only losing control of his temper twice?
The basis, then, of meekness is humility. Three words in three relationships sum up meekness: submission toward God, gentleness toward men and equilibrium toward oneself.
The philosophy of this world has always been and continues to be, “Might makes right.” The ungodly and cruel seem to “get ahead” on this earth. Even an Alexander the Great, who could never master himself, could enjoy every luxury this world has to offer.
Had Jesus declared, “The meek shall inherit Heaven,” this would have posed no problem. But, the paradox lies in the fact that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” How do the meek inherit the earth? “The word ‘inherit’ means literally “to receive by lot . . . receive as one’s own”5 or “receive as an inheritance.”6
“But as the Israelites after taking possession of the land were harassed almost perpetually by their hostile neighbors, and even driven out of the country for a considerable period, it came to pass that the phrase was transferred to denote the tranquil and stable possession of the holy land crowned with all divine blessings….”7
Thus, the term came to denote, not simply to possess something, but to truly enjoy it to the fullest. Is this a promise of a physical kingdom to be established upon this earth some time in the future, in which God’s people will have permanent physical possessions on this earth? Assuredly not, for the New Testament is abundantly clear that our hope is a Heavenly, not an earthly, home (2 Cor. 4:16-5:3; Col. 3:1-4; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; 2 Pet. 3:10-13). And we have a grand total of one hope (Eph. 4:4). Nor does this mean the meek are to be wealthy. True happiness cannot be found in material possessions (Eccles. 2:4-11, 18-19). The meek inherit the earth in that they enjoy the best this world has to offer right now. They live the happiest lives while on this earth (cf. Eccles. 2:3; 12:1, 13-14).
Why do the meek so inherit the earth? They do so because they have true peace of mind, without which even the wealthy are miserable and with which even the impoverished have joy (Phil. 4:4-9). They have the comforting promise that God will care for their physical needs (Matt. 6:33), the help and fellowship of the finest people on this earth (Mark 10:28-30), and the hope of a home in Heaven far more beautiful than anything on this earth after we leave this world (1 Pet. 1:3-5).
Those who vainly strive after worldly gain cannot enjoy the fruit of their labor for fear of losing that which is the sole object of their hope and affection. But the true Christian, who has complete mastery of himself, i.e. equilibrium, who is submissive toward God and gentle towards his fellow man can truly enjoy this earth while looking for a much greater reward.
The philosophy of this world was well summed up by Leo Durocher: “Nice guys finish last.” The selfish, cruel and unscrupulous acquire the things of this life. But “the meek,” those who are the very epitome of a “nice guy,” enjoy the very best of this earth. The selfish possess the things of the earth; the meek inherit the real blessings of the earth. Which describes you?
1. James W. Adams, “The Restoration of Unity Among Divided Brethren,” The Preceptor, October, 1969, p. 1.
2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan: New Jersey, 1940), III, 55-56.
3. Adams, loc. cit.
4. Foy E. Wallace, Jr., The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State (Nashville, 1967), p. 16.
5. Vine, 11, 258.
6. J. H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, 1886), p. 348.
7. Ibid., p. 349.
Truth Magazine, XX:25, p. 11-12
June 17, 1976