(Greek words can be viewed with symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
April 12, 1992
Blessed are the Meek
What would you say to someone who came up to you and said you were “acquiescent, obsequious, obeisant, and sycophantic”? – Probably, “tell me again in English!” So they said you were “spineless, mousy, timid, compliant, pliable and cowardly.” Each of these words describe in part the popular meaning of the word, “meek.” The common connotation is that “meek” = “weak.” And in an age when the common approach to life is to “look out for #1 – yourself, being weak is just about equal to being a door mat for others to wipe their shoes on. Yet Jesus tells us in the passage we are going to study this morning that the meek are blessed. How can someone “spineless” and “cowardly” be considered blessed? Because contrary to common thought, the truly meek person is anything but weak. In fact it takes great strength to be a meek person.
What does it mean to be meek? What are some examples of meek people? What does that mean in my own life? What is its blessing? In order to understand what Jesus meant by His statement here in Matthew 5:5, Blessed are the meek, for the shall inherit the earth, we must first understand the setting in which Jesus spoke. A text studied apart from its context is a pretext, and our desire is to understand the Word of God and not the musings of the human mind.
As we begin Matthew chapter 5 we find that Jesus’ ministry was now well underway. The people were wondering if He could indeed be the Messiah. He spoke with authority in both His teaching and in His proclamations about God. He was performing wonderful miracles that could only be done by God. And if this was Messiah, when would He establish His kingdom? And how can we become part of it? The religious leaders were already against Jesus because He did not follow their teaching and He had already rebuked them for their false righteousness.
In this sermon, Jesus the King presents His kingdom program, and if you want to enter into His kingdom, your righteousness must surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees (5:20). The Scribes and Pharisees considered themselves righteous (i.e. “good”) because they worked so hard at keeping a list of do’s and don’ts they had compiled for themselves over the centuries. Self-righteous works will not get you into the kingdom. True righteousness is a matter of the heart which says, “I love you Lord, be merciful to me and help me to do whatever pleases you.”
As Jesus begins the sermon, he makes a series of statements which we call the “Beatitudes.” This is not a list of the things you must do to enter the kingdom or even to become righteous. It is a list of the blessings the righteous person receives because his or her character is as described.
We have already looked at the foundational characteristic of the kingdom citizen which is being “poor in spirit.” This does not have anything to do with finances or material wealth (or lack thereof). The only benefit of being materially poor is possibly a greater awareness of your need for help. Jesus said that the poor in spirit were blessed because they are in the kingdom of heaven. The word “poor” there means “destitute,” “begging poor.” This person realizes their utter spiritual bankruptcy and that no good thing dwells in them. They understand that they can not earn their way to heaven and can only come to God according to His mercy and grace. They know that they have no basis upon which to make bargains with God and come to Him on His terms or not at all. This demands complete humility. Pride is gone, self assurance is gone, and they come to God empty-handed. (See: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit)
This is the nature of the truly righteous. They are “poor in spirit,” and upon that foundation Jesus made His next statement, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Those who understand that their nature is innately depraved will mourn over their sin, the sin of others and the general effects of sin that is in the world. The blessing of the mourning is that it brings God’s comfort. The godly sorrow that causes one to mourn over one’s own sin leads to repentance, and repentance to life (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). In mourning over the sins of others and the general effects of sin in the world we find comfort in God’s power to change people (including us) and our hope in God’s promises for the future which include a new earth and heaven where we will dwell with Him in a new body. (See: Blessed are Those Who Mourn)
This morning we come to the third of Jesus’ declarations: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This quality of meekness is dependent upon being “poor in spirit,” for until people realize they are inadequate in themselves and must rely upon God, they can not be meek. The fundamental quality of meekness is its dependence upon God. In addition meekness also builds upon the idea of mourning over sin because it demands that we respond correctly to others regardless of what they say or do to us. If we already mourn over our own sin it is easier to accept the correction of someone else who may point out our sin. If we already mourn over the sin of others and the general effects of sin in the world we can respond with godliness rather than self defense or self pity when someone does something to us unjustly. Meekness demands seeing things from God’s perspective and then responding from that and not our own selfishness. But maybe I am getting ahead of myself. Lets get an idea of exactly what meekness is and then look at some examples of Biblical characters that were meek, then we will be able to see the personal application in our own lives.
What is Meekness?
The Greek word here, prauV / prous is translated here as “meek” in the KJV & NIV. “Meek” was a good word meaning, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment” (Webster), but unfortunately it has taken on the connotation of “weak” or “deficient in spirit and courage.” That is why the NAS & NKJV translate it as “gentle.” It means to be “humble-minded,” “mild,” “gentle.”
However, we need to understand clearly that prauV / praus (meek) does not mean weak. It was originally used to describe domesticated animals as opposed to wild ones. Later usage described people who knew how to behave. The Greek philosopher Aristotle used the word to describe one of the “virtues of life.” Aristotle said it was the man “who is angry on the right occasion and with the right people at the right moment and for the right length of time.” It was the “mean between excessive anger and the inability to show anger.” William Barclay described this beatitude in light of Aristotle’s usage of the term as, “Blessed is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time”. . . “neither too hasty nor too slow tempered.” Barclay went on to say that the wrong time was when it was due to personal insult or injury to ourselves. The right time was the selfless anger emerging over someone else being injured.
The Biblical commentator Lenski described this as an “inward virtue exercised toward persons”. . . “when wronged or abused – no show of resentment and do no threaten or avenge themselves.” “The opposite of vehement, bitter, wild and violent.”
Jesus’ statement here actually comes from Psalm 37, and that Psalm gives additional insight into what meekness means.
In Psalm 37, verse 11 says that the “humble [Hebrew word = prauV / praus (meek)] will inherit the land, And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. Verse 22 says, “For those blessed by Him will inherit the land; But those cursed by Him will be cut off” It is the humble who are blessed of God and that inherit the land. Who are the humble? Who are the blessed of God? These are those that *Trust in the Lord and do good (v. 3), *Delight in the Lord (v. 4), *Commit their ways to the Lord (v. 5), and *Rest in the Lord (v. 7). Verse 7 even goes on to warn against doing things that are not from meekness such as fretting over a wicked man who prospers, being angry, being wrathful, being worried. Verse 9 says that “those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land.”
The Christian is to be prauV / praus (meek) and can respond in that manner because he/she is already “poor in spirit” and “mournful over sin.” The Christian knows that he/she is nothing and can do nothing apart from Christ, therefore the believer must trust Christ completely and be obedient to His directions for life. Every instinct and every passion is to be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. The Christian is to trust in the Lord, delight in the Lord, commit his way to the Lord and rest in the Lord. Barclay comments that the blessed man is “not the man who is self-controlled, for such self-control is not in man’s power as all experience shows, but the man who is God-controlled”.
Meekness then is dependent upon being controlled by God. It is marked by a subservient and trusting attitude toward God.
Meekness is not an option for the Christian. It is one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and Colossians 3:12 commands that we put on this characteristic. “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The command in James 1:21 is for us to receive the Word of God in meekness – “Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility (meekness – KJV) receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” And the Christian’s response to others is to be with meek spirit even when it is dealing with another persons sin. Galatians 6:1 “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of (meekness – KJV) gentleness…”
But again, do not get the idea that because terms such as “gentle” and “humble” are used as synonyms that meekness means weakness. The central aspect of true meekness is trust and submission to God. It is as Hendrikson comments, “it is submissiveness under provocation, the willingness to suffer rather than inflict injury… it leaves it all in the hands of God.” As someone else said, the meek “acts with gentleness, when he has in it in his power to act with stern severity.” Meekness is “power under the control of God.
Examples of Meekness
Are there examples of this characteristic being displayed in Scripture? Yes! We see this quality in godly people throughout the pages of the Bible – Abraham, Job, Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Jesus, Stephen and Paul.
Numbers 12:3 says that “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (KJV). That being true, lets look at his life to begin with. Turn to Numbers 12 and see the context of this statement being made.
Describe life of Moses to this point.
*Called of God – Exodus 2
*Plagues on Egypt – Exodus 7-12
*Crosses Red Sea – Ex. 14
*Made water sweet at Marah (Ex 15)
*Brought forth water at Rephidim (Ex 17)
*Conquers Amalek (Ex 17)
*Receives Law from God on Mt Sinai (Ex 19)
*Teaches and lead people in ways of God (Ex. Lev.)
*Puts down Golden Calf Rebellion (Ex 32)
*Miriam & Aaron speak against v. 1,2 (Racism)
*No response from Moses until v. 13
*The Lord intervenes vs 4-15.
Again in Numbers 16 (Korah’s rebellion) we see the meekness of Moses. Accused (vs 2,3). Moses prays (vs 4). Moses responds (vs 5-11 – note v. 11). Accused again (Vs 13-14). Moses prays (vs 15). Test given (vs 16-19). Judgement pronounced (vs 20-21). Moses intercedes (vs 22). Judgement falls (vs 24 ff – note vs 28-30; 35; 41-45; 48,49) (Note that consistently Moses does not defend himself before the people. He takes His complaint to God. He is strong and unwavering in defending God). (Application: Slander against character and attempts to usurp authority are dealt with by bringing matter to the Lord and to the light. Our concern is not our reputation and position, but the Lord’s glory).
We see this same characteristic of being non-assertive in demanding one’s rights with Abraham (Gen 13:5-9) in his separation from Lot. (Application: Someone taking advantage of you? Trust the Lord, He is the one that brings increase. Lot took the better land and suffered. Abraham took the inferior land and prospered).
We see it in Joseph with his brothers in Genesis 45-50 when he had become 2nd in command of all of Egypt. Joseph could have taken revenge upon them, but instead he provides for them. This characteristic is seen most clearly of Joseph in Genesis 50:15-21 The application being that God works even the sin of others to our good when we trust Him (Romans 8:28).
It is there in the life of David. David had several opportunities to take revenge on King Saul who was trying to kill David. But David’s response (1 Samuel 24:1-12.-note v.12) is that David would leave the judgement to the Lord. David did the same with the Shimei who cursed him and threw stones at him as David was fleeing Jerusalem due to Absolam’s rebellion (2 Samuel 16:5-12). (Application: Revenge belongs to God alone – Romans 12:19)
If Moses was the meekest man of his time, then Job would certainly qualify for that position in his generation. Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil” (1:1). Satan first attacked Job’s character before God (1:9-11), then proceeded to destroy all that Job owned. All of Job’s empire was stolen or killed including his seven sons and three daughters. Job’s response is the ultimate in being meek. No call for all his friends to mount an army to win back his possessions. No call for a lawsuit against the architect and builders of the house that collapsed killing all of his children. Job simply said, “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD (v 21). Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (v 22).
Satan was not finished though. He continued to slander Job’s character (2:4,5), and then struck him physically with boils. He was absolutely miserable. Job’s wife did not help at all (v.9). Read Job’s reply in v.10. Job did not know that Satan was behind all this. He did not understand it at all – which is why both his lament and his questions arise. His three disgraceful friends only antagonize him. Yet in all this, Job still holds on to his trust in God and does not waver. “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him” (13:15). (Application: We do not have to understand everything – all the “whys” to trust God. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen – Hebrews 11:1).
Of course Jesus is the greatest example of meekness there ever will be. Jesus is called or described as meek in Matthew 21:2-5 and 2 Corinthians 10:1. Throughout the Scripture we find Him gentle and mild in dealing with even those that slandered Him personally. Yet, when it was slander against the Holiness of God, He was zealous to defend and correct. That is why he threw out the moneychangers from the temple – twice (John 2:14, Matthew 21:12). We find Him in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified for the sin of mankind which He did not commit praying to the Father – “not my will, but thine be done (Mt 26:39,42). Peter speaks of the example Christ has set for us in 1 Peter 2:21-23. That (v.23) is the definition and example of meekness.
Are you meek? Do you trust in the Lord? Delight in the Lord? Commit your way to the Lord? and Rest in the Lord? (Ps 37). Are you submissive to the ways of the Lord even when others falsely accuse you, seek to ruin your reputation, usurp your authority, steal what is yours? Can you love your enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44) when that happens? Can you continue to trust the Lord even when afflicted for unknown reasons? That is the gentle side of meekness. But at the same time, can you stand up for the Holiness of God when He is slandered. Will you stand up boldly for righteousness and defend others?
What is the blessing that the meek receive?
Inheriting the Earth
I was talking with a Jehovah’s Witness that wanted to use this verse to show that the earth is eternal since the meek are to inherit it. That is a sad hope if this present earth is all someone has a hope to attain. Not only is it in pretty sad condition from the human standpoint, but even worse from the standpoint of how God originally created it. The hope of the believer is not in this present earth, which Peter says in 2 Peter 3 will be utterly destroyed with the very elements melting (3:10,12), but in the new heaven and new earth to come (Revelation 21:1).
Is it the new earth that is being talked about as the blessing for the meek? Ultimately, that will be a blessing inherited by the believer, but I believe that those hearing Jesus say this had something else in mind. First, the word translated as “earth” here is the common word for land and encompasses the whole earth only by context. Second, remember that this statement arises from Psalm 37 which we looked at earlier. That Psalm spoke of inheriting the land promised to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 15). Jesus is speaking to Jews that understand clearly the Abrahamic covenant and that the land is part of the kingdom of Messiah. Jerusalem is to be where Messiah reigns on the throne of David. I do not believe there is any question that those who heard Jesus say this understood all of that.
Where does that leaves us as Christians who are not Jews? Very simply, we have been grafted in to be the people of God through out faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 11:17; 1 Peter 2:9). Romans 8:17 says we are fellow heirs with Christ and 2 Timothy 2:12 says we shall reign with Him. When Jesus sets up the Millennial Kingdom, those that trust and follow Him will reign with Him. Thus the meek will inherit the land.
But let me add a few other blessings the meek receive right now. First, with their trust in the Lord, the meek have peace. (Isaiah 26:3 “Thou will keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee because He trusteth in Thee.”) Because they seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, God’s promise is to provide for them (Matthew 6:33), and they will be content (Philippians 4:11,12). God “leads the humble in justice, And He teaches the humble His way” – Ps 25:9. Arrogant men may oppress them (Amos 2:7), but they will inherit the land (Psalm 37:11).
May you know the blessings of being meek both now and throughout eternity.
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