The Meek

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The Meek

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In his commentary on Matthew 5:5, Matthew Henry said, “The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to His word and to His rod, who follow his directions, and comply with his designs and are gentle towards all men. Who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of anything else? They are the meek, who are rarely and hardly provoked, but quickly and easily pacified; and who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge one, having the rule of their own spirits” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible).

The definition of meek

Matthew 5:5 says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This statement is not speaking of being spiritless. Jesus Christ described himself as meek—and He was not spiritless or tame! With the nuances of language, we often have words, or groups of words, that express shades of thought or emotion. Not surprisingly, there are many variations on the word meek. Here are some:

From Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary:

1. Mild of temper; not easily provoked or irritated; patient under injuries; not vain, or haughty, or resentful; forbearing; submissive.
2. Evincing mildness of temper, or patience; characterized by mildness or patience.

From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:

1. Showing patience and humility; gentle.
2. Easily imposed on; submissive.

From Unabridged (note the “obsolete” usage):

1. Humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others.
2. Overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.
3. Obsolete, gentle; kind.

Biblical usages of all of these variations are found throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, we see meek three times, humble 13 times, poor three times and lowly and oppressed one time each. In the New Testament, we see meek/meekness three times, gentle/gentleness seven times, humble/humility two times and lowly one time (New King James Version).

In its commentary on Matthew 5:5, Robertson’s Word Pictures (NT) observes, “The ancients used the word meek for outward conduct and towards men… 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’ (Matthew 11:29) and Moses is also called meek.”

In a sermon entitled “Eight Steps to the Kingdom,” Mr. Bob Dick states, “It’s always been fascinating to me as a shorter man to watch and study really big men and how disproportionate the number of really gentle big men is to little men. Little men are so busy trying to prove that they’re not as little as they are. Big men are so big they don’t have anything to prove. But if you notice the number of really big men that are very gentle people… Well, on the physical level, this is the best physical equivalency I can give you of the gentleness of strength. When you’re big enough and strong enough, you don’t have anything to prove. And you can then just simply be a kind and gentle person.”

This may be called the short person, or “Napoleon,” complex. An example of this can be seen in a very large dog. A large dog is usually not intimidated; because of its size, it is usually quite docile. The Great Pyrenees and English Mastiff breeds are known to be quite docile creatures. On the other hand, a very small to medium sized dog like a Chow, Miniature Bull Terrier or even a Chihuahua can be very fierce. They act aggressively to appear larger and more intimidating.

Does this mean all large dogs are docile? Not necessarily, as they can be trained to be quite aggressive. Are all small dogs that aggressive? Again, the answer is no. If they feel comfortable, they can be quite docile. In general, however, the above statements are true. This can also apply to people. Not all big men are meek, and not all short men aggressive!

The distinction between humility and meekness

Humility relates to how you think of yourself and others, meekness relates to how you treat and react to others. Meekness can also be seen as an expression of humility. Like many attributes, meekness (or lack thereof) is especially evident during times of conflict. We see this in the following examples.

A family dispute

“And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married... So they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also? And the LORD heard it” (Numbers 12:1-2).

Miriam and Aaron’s contention with Moses was supposedly over his wife. What they said was true; they had both prophesied at times (see Exodus 15:20 and Leviticus 10:8; 11:1). In this case, Miriam led the rebellion and Aaron followed. Even though there are many theories on why they attacked Moses, the root cause was jealousy.

How did Moses react? In the very next verse, the King James Version notes, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were on the face of the earth.” Notice we don’t see a reaction from Moses! He didn’t revile or even pose a defense. In fact, when God punished Miriam, he felt horrible. “So Moses cried to the LORD, saying, ‘Please heal her, O God, I pray!’” (Numbers 12:13).

His family betrayed Moses; an attack or criticism is especially hurtful coming from those you love. Moses’ reaction rose above the personal attack. He didn’t say things like, “Well, you get what you deserve,” or, “An eye for an eye.” He sought mercy, not justice, in this personal conflict.

A congregational (or “workplace”) dispute

Let us now examine Numbers 16:3: “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them…” We may hear this type of argument today among various groups of people. In this scripture, they are opposed to the supremacy of Moses in civil power.

“So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face” (Numbers 16:4). Moses’ first reaction wasn’t to put up a defense or reproof, but humility. He probably recognized the serious nature of their offense, and perhaps interceded for them here.

In the following verses, we see that “Moses spoke to Korah and all his company.” He told them God would show who was in charge. Moses is not defending himself or his status; there is no “I” here. He asks probing questions.

Numbers 16:15 says that, “Moses was very angry.” Where did Moses take his anger? He took it to God, not to the offenders. In verses 20-22, we read that God became angered against them. God was ready to wipe out the rebellion AND those who took part in some way, but again, how does Moses react? He intercedes on behalf of those who oppose him. He doesn’t condemn; he wants mercy for them. Moses sought a balance between mercy and justice. He knew God had put him where he was and was justified in being angry, but he dealt gently with them. This is Moses’ meekness.

A formal dispute

In John 18:19, we see Jesus being examined by the high priest—but was it done legally? The Talmud states:

“Criminal processes can neither commence [nor] terminate, but during the course of the day. If the person be acquitted, the sentence may be pronounced during that day; but, if he be condemned, the sentence cannot be pronounced till the next day. But no kind of judgment is to be executed, either on the eve of the Sabbath, or the eve of any festival” (Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible).

This was an improper format for a trial. The prosecution was to witness against Him, and He was to be able to have witnesses in His defense. The High Priest was attempting to extort a confession. This whole scenario was contrary to the law. In John 18:20-23 we read Christ’s answer to the high priest in which He puts forward an honest defense. He alludes to the impropriety of the proceedings, inferring that witnesses are required. “Why do you ask Me?” is a question of formal procedure, not sarcasm—but because of His supposed insolence, He is struck. John 18:23 reads, “Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”

“While an accused person is on trial he is under the protection of the court, and has a right to demand that all legal measures shall be taken to secure his rights. On this right Jesus insisted, and thus showed that, though he had no disposition to take revenge, yet he claimed that, when arraigned, strict justice should be done” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).

His dialog with authorities in John 18 shows His “gentleness of strength.” He was strong spiritually, and spoke with strength, but also respected and submitted to the authorities. Jesus seeks justice but with meekness.

The ultimate example

While Christ was on the cross, He endured horrible taunting (see Luke 23 and Mark 15). How did he respond to that? “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34).

Here is true gentleness of strength. Like Moses, Jesus intercedes for the people. It is not a trivial intercession! Jesus asks God to be willing to remove the charge from those that put Him to death (all of us). At Jesus’ request, God would have interceded and wiped out an entire people (humanity) for the sake of His Son.

Meekness requires a complete removal of self from a situation.

“Meekness is patience in the reception of injuries. It is neither meanness, nor a surrender of our rights, nor cowardice; but it is the opposite of sudden anger, of malice, of long-harbored vengeance… Christ was the very model of meekness. It was one of his characteristics” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).

And what is the reward for this attitude? Inheriting the earth. When Jesus Christ returns, the meek will sit with Him, ruling the nations, and so inherit the earth. We must exhibit gentleness of strength and must show meekness. We will be given great strength, and must possess a great gentleness to properly use it.

Further reading

For more interesting reading please request or download the free booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.