46. The Beatitudes - Blessed are the Meek (Matthew 5:5)*
It is only to the man of God that this beatitude makes sense.
To the average worldling it is a paradox of foolishness. This is because he has
no appreciation of the strength of character which true meekness expresses. The
world esteems self-assurance and self-assertiveness. The Jews in Christ’s
day honoured those who were ready to rebel and struggle and fight against the
power of Rome. Today the psychologist bids a man resolve his inner conflicts by
giving expression to his personality (the man of true meekness is too much
ashamed of his to feel that he ought to do anything of the sort). Even
the churches have a firm belief in the power of organization; regardless of
principle, they seek to unite and stand shoulder to shoulder, presenting a
strong front to the world. They forget Gideon and the whittling down of the mass
of recruits he had at his back.
What, then, is this meekness which Jesus seeks in his
followers - or rather, what is it not, for it has its counterfeits? One
may rule out flabbiness of character and lack of personality such as endears
itself to neither God nor man. Nor is it indolence. There is nothing spiritually
admirable about laziness. Nor is it to be confused with gentleness, for this
often-charming trait of character is usually inherited, not acquired; it springs
from the genes of one’s parents, not from a new birth in Christ. And even
when acquired, it is not infrequently assumed, for respectability’s
Wherein does meekness differ from being “poor in
spirit”, the first beatitude? The relationship between the two virtues is
obviously close, but one is subjective and the other objective. To be poor in
spirit is to know frankly and honestly one’s own natural worth -- or,
rather, lackof it-in the sight of God. Meekness is the practical expression of
this attitude of mind in the situations of daily life. Many of the manuscripts
put these two Beatitudes together (as verses 3, 4). This seems to be right, for
in Hebrew “poor” (‘an!) and “meek”
(‘onav) are almost the same. They often come together in the Old
Testament and are not infrequently confused in the manuscripts.
The “meekness” of Moses
It is doubtful whether the familiar passage about the meekness
of Moses should be read in that way- more likely: “suffered travail, was
afflicted” (Num. 12:3). But the fact remains that meekness showed very
wonderfully in him when, already galled and goaded to desperation by the
repeated murmuring of the people, he had to endure the bitter criticism of his
own brother and sister. The record suggests no hint of hot rejoinder from Moses.
Instead, he pleaded for the restoration of his stricken sister.
The sorry antithesis to this is seen in the second smiting of
the rock. Then, openly despising his brethren and at the same time exalting
himself to a pseudo-equality with the Almighty, he cuttingly addressed them:
“Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of this
rock?” Thus he stored up retribution for himself.
Or consider David at the time of Absalom’s rebellion.
Fleeing from his splendid capital in helpless misery he was made to drink the
dregs of wretchedness when Benjamite Shimei followed him with curses and
reviling. Yet opportunity for retaliation was ready to hand. Hot-headed
impulsive Abishai needed only a nod, and in two minutes he would have been
across that wild ravine, and his hands choking the life out of Shimei. Instead:
“Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be
that the Lord will look on mine affliction and that the Lord will requite me
good for his cursing this day” (2 Sam. 16:11, 12). What a man!
There are things written by and about Paul which make the
reader hesitate in assessing his character; for example, the rather high and
mighty attitude he adopted when the magistrates of Philippi sent ordering his
release (Acts 16:37) - there was, of course, a reason for this. And even though
he softened his Corinthian self-vindication with “I speak as a
fool”, would a man of true meekness have stretched out that long
awe-inspiring catalogue of things done and endured for Christ’s sake (2
Cor. 11:21-30)? And was not his thorn in the flesh “lest he be exalted
above measure” (12:7)?
The fact has to be faced-for the total accumulation of
evidence is not to be said nay-that at one period of his apostleship Paul was
near to undoing everything through a vainglorious satisfaction, however
excusable, in all that he had endured and achieved in the gospel.
Nevertheless through this most trying ordeal of all this man
of God came through unsoiled. Witness the following triad of passages:
“For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an
apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9).
As he grew nearer to Christ, so his self-esteem declined. In
this especially his exhortation may well be heeded: “Be ye imitators of
me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
A few years later he wrote: “Unto me, who am less than the least of all
saints, was this grace given” (Eph. 3:8).
And a few years later still: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save
sinners of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15).
And the imitation of Christ sets a standard from which many
recoil in hopelessness: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ
Jesus, who, being (as Adam was) in the form of God, thought equality with God
(such as the serpent temptingly whispered) not* a thing to be grasped (by the
seizing of the forbidden fruit), but he emptied himself (of self), taking
the form of a servant, becoming obedient unto death (not disobedient unto death,
as Adam) even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
What this meant is made clear in greater detail by Peter:
“When he was reviled, reviled not again: when he suffered, he threatened
not; but committed himself (them?) to Him that judgeth righteously” (1
There is nothing in life harder to bear than being flagrantly
misjudged or being made to endure ill treatment, which is altogether undeserved
and grossly unfair. To put up with experiences of this sort without bitterness,
self-pity or savage resentment is the very acme of the Christian spirit of
How is this to be reconciled with the appeal of Jesus?
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek, and lowly in
heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Mt.l1:29). The fact is
that when one has learned the meekness of Christ, there is a relaxed attitude
towards these trials which is rest for the soul. The meek see all the
experiences of life as overruled by God. They accept and rejoice in this divine
Providence, and have nothing to fear or fret about. In their attitude to people,
there is no need for suspicion or self-justification, no need to be prickly,
constantly on the defensive. The headaches of life are endured without vexation
or self-pity. And this because the “rights” of the individual have
been renounced. The man of meekness has abdicated from his status as a human
being. He is well content to be instead a son of God.
The most difficult trait of all to acquire is the meekness
that “trembles at God’s word” -- “receive with meekness
the engrafted word” (Jas. 1:21). There is no student of the Bible who has
not committed this sin of refusing to believe just what Scripture says,
substituting instead the interpretation to which his own inclination leads him.
This has doubtless happened already a number of times in the course of these
studies. All readers of these words are guilty of it.
Meekness is, here and now, its own reward. When there came
that altercation between herdmen, Abraham, with all right on his side could have
bluntly told Lot to clear off elsewhere. Instead, knowing himself to be one to
whom much heavenly graciousness had been extended (recall that unsavoury
transaction in Egypt!), he renounced all rights and calmly left Lot to sort
things out. No sooner had his kinsman gone off in the direction of Sodom, than
Abraham’s meekness inherited the earth: “Lift up now thine eyes, and
look from the place where thou art...” Such meekness in the seed of
Abraham inherits the same covenanted blessing.
“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him - fret not
thyself...Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to
do evil.” (Ps. 37:7, 8). Such a placid unassertive attitude to life is
possible only for the meek of the earth. They inherit this tranquil philosophy
now, and they inherit the earth forever.
Notes: Mt. 5:5.
- The following definitions of the meek may or may not be helpful: “Men
who suffer wrong without bitterness or desire for revenge” (Expos. Gk.
Test.) “The meek man is one who ... bows at once to the will of God ...
Meekness commonly means a disposition towards men, but what is meant here
and in Ps. 37:11 ... is a disposition towards God” (Plummer). Is he right
- One commentator actually explains how the meek inherit the earth
by citing the persecuted Puritans who emigrated and took to themselves the
American continent (and in the process shot nearly all the Red Indians out of
- It is past present understanding why Luke -- Luke, of all people!-
should not find room for this Beatitude in his chapter