We are living in a world where our strength determines our rights. It doesn’t matter if you are in the right, if you can’t assert it by the power of your might then you can’t have it. So it would seem that this world is not for the meek and lowly, because for most people, meekness is weakness.
According to Friedrich Nietzsche, who once famously declared, “God is dead”, that the fundamental drive that motivates the human spirit is the will to power, or the drive to achieve. He had this view of the human ideal, the Übermensch, or superman. And for him meekness is incompatible with the superman. The superman is bold and courageous and mighty. He is able to exercise his own will to power.
This is the result of removing God in the picture. We will exalt another, namely the self. That’s why in a society where the notion of God is being mocked, what people value most is pride and power. The Judeo-Christian values are for the faint hearted. A crutch for the lame. An escape for the weak.
The consequence of this ideal in the society is massive. Babies are being murdered in broad daylight, because the might of the parents determines the rights of the unborn. The might of those who should be protecting our inalienable rights no longer upholds but redefine them. Pride is the new humility. Meekness is reduced to a negative social upbringing that must be dealt with. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:5 that blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. But how does meekness relates to inheriting the earth? What’s the difference between the might of the proud and the meekness of the humble that the latter will receive the promised inheritance? That’s what we will try to answer in our time together.
Before we begin to understand what meekness means in this passage, we need to be very careful not to reduce the beatitudes into mere teachings on morality. Instead we ought to ask, “what does these beatitudes have to do with God?” Specifically, “what does meekness tells us about God?” If meekness to you is just a personality trait that a person was born with, or just a product of social conditioning, or something that can be mustered up by will power, then I will agree with Nietzsche that meekness is weakness. If it has nothing to do with God, then it’s a virtue not worth having.
Take note of the aim of Jesus’ sermon. He said in Matthew 5:14-16 that the purpose of good works(including these traits) is so that others might see it and glorify God by it. Meekness was never meant to highlight the strength of men but to demonstrate the power of God in the lives of the humble. So how does meekness show God’s glory?
The best place to start is where Jesus was alluding to in the Old Testament. Let’s look at Psalm 37:11. The words in the Greek Old Testament are almost verbatim. It says, “The meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”
So let’s look at Psalm 37:5-11 to learn what is meekness and how does it glorify the Lord.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger,
and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself;
it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
Notice the parallel of Psalm 37:11 in Psalm 37:9. It says that those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land. These are not two people, one who is meek and one who waits. Rather, the meek are those who wait for the Lord. But what does it mean to wait for the Lord?
Take note that Psalm 37:9-11 is an argument or motivation given for the commands in Psalm 37:5-8. In other words, the people who does the commands in 5-8 are those who wait for the Lord, namely the meek. So the meek are those 1) who commit their ways to the Lord, 2) who are quiet and still before the Lord, 3) who don’t fret themselves over the success of those who does evil, 4) who refrain from anger. This is the portrait of the meek. They trust God and wait for His justice and vindication, and because of this, they have an inner stillness and peace before God.
There are two people in Scripture that are known for their meekness. The giver of the old covenant law, Moses, and the giver of the new covenant law, Jesus.
Numbers 12:1-9 describes for us an account where Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because he married a Cushite woman. They think that a revelation from the Lord is a right that can be demanded and so they said to one another, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” This is not an honest inquiry but a rhetorical question that can be stated this way, “God spoke to us too. Moses, you are not the only one who have the right to receive revelations from the Lord.” So the Lord heard it and he rebuked them and vindicated Moses. Now what’s the point of the author’s small commentary, calling Moses meek right between Aaron and Miriam’s opposition and God’s rebuke of them and vindication of Moses? The point is that Moses did not even defend himself. He’s confident that the Lord will come to his defense. So God told them that if there’s a prophet among them, it is the Lord who chose to reveal Himself through visions, dreams and riddles to him. But when the Lord chose to reveal Himself to Moses, He spoke to him clearly, mouth to mouth, and he behold the form of the Lord.
The disposition of Miriam and Aaron toward God was not that of meekness. On the other hand, Moses was very meek, more than all people on the face of the earth.
How about Jesus? 1 Peter 2:23 tells us that when people hurled insults against Jesus, he did not revile in return. He did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to Him who judges justly. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus referred to himself as gentle and lowly. Isaiah 53:7 says that He was oppressed and he was afflicted yet he never opened his mouth. Then God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. Christ endured all sufferings and insults for the sake of the joy that was set before him. He entrust his vindication and even his own spirit to the Father.
Now there’s a big difference between these two law givers. Take note of the commands they gave. The law given by Moses demands an eye for an eye, but the new law of Christ says, “turn the other chick” and “pray for those who persecute you.” Both commands came from God, the former expressed the justice of God, but the latter shows His glorious mercy and grace. But in the new covenant we are called to choose the high ground of meekness, gentleness, grace and mercy. So we can say then that meekness is not just entrusting to God vengeance against those who persecute you, but more importantly praying for their salvation, and as a result justice might be served on the cross.
So we can add to the meaning of biblical meekness; not being defensive and vengeful, and does not keep record of wrong but instead praying for those who have wronged us.
Does Meekness then means Absence of Anger?
Mark 3:5 says that Jesus became angry and grieved at the hardness of heart of the Pharisees. So meekness is not the absence of any sense of moral indignation when someone trifles the glory of God. In fact you’re not being meek in the sight of God if you think that it’s not even a big deal. If God’s glory is big deal to Jesus, then it should be for us also.
Does meekness mean it is wrong to be assertive about the truth?
James 1:19 tells us that we should be slow to speak, and quick to listen. This doesn’t mean gullibility. But it does mean that we are not to disregard the opinion of others too quickly. The meek is reasonable and can be reasoned with and he presents arguments to support his views. Playing it safe is not meekness. In fact truth matters most to James. He even said in James 3 that not everyone should become a teacher for they have greater accountability to the truth. He also challenged those who think of themselves to be wise. So meekness is not saying that “all opinions are equally valid.”
Yes, the meek person is slow to speak and slow to anger, but it doesn’t say there’s no anger or that he doesn’t speak and assert the truth. There’s a difference between a person being given to and controlled by his own anger too easily, and a person who is very long-suffering yet after quite sometime became angry. So truth, God’s holiness and glory matters for the meek.
Therefore as one commentary states, “Meekness is to have a strong, but tender and humble, life. It is a strong, but teachable spirit. It is not being weak, easily bent or spineless. It is a man who is strong, very strong, yet he is humble and tender. It is a man with all the emotions and ability to take and conquer, but he is able to control himself. He is a man disciplined because he is God-controlled.” The opposite of meekness is arrogance or pride and always being controlled by his emotions.
According Robertson’s Word Picture Commentary, “Jesus lifted the word to a nobility never attained before. In fact, the Beatitudes assume a new heart, for the natural man does not find in happiness the qualities mentioned here by Christ. The English word “meek” has largely lost the fine blend of spiritual poise and strength meant by the Master. He calls himself “meek and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29) and Moses is also called meek. It is the gentleness of strength, not mere effeminacy. ”
In ancient times and even today, the possession of a land or earth is a symbol of security and stability.
Now, people assert their perceived superiority because they are insecure and unstable. Not so the meek, they are secured in the Lord. They don’t have to assert and boast about their superiority and their possessions. If someone boast about their big house to you, will you respond with boasting knowing that your father owns the city? You don’t have to!
I remember someone from a TV series, who said to a young king that those who’s saying “I’m the king! I’m the king” is no true king. Why? Because that king is insecure. He may have a title but he doesn’t have the hearts of his subjects.
Meekness then is a position of strength. That is strength not to assert our freedoms and privileges, but instead free to become anything to all people that we might save some. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22. To the weak, he became weak, that he might win the weak. Or take Jesus, The Son of God, he took the form of a slave to save us from the bondage of sin. He is definitely in a position of power, but he’s not some insecure king who always asserts kingship, because he owns the whole universe.
Meekness is not weakness! Jesus was meek, yet He drove the changers from the temple. Moses was meek, yet he judged sinners and even faced Aaron with his sin. Meekness means not asserting my own rights, but living for the glory of God. Christians ought to show meekness (Eph. 4:1-2;Titus 3:2) and not to be self asserting and insecure. And when meekness asserts the truth even if it means persecution, there’s a recognition of one’s own sinfulness and shortcomings. Therefore he will rebuke others with grace and love.