Blessed are the Meek

For They Shall Inherit the Earth



Dr. John Hoole – September 13, 2015



Today, we take a look at the third beatitude as found in Matthew 5.


Matthew 5:5 NKJV


5   Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.


I have a number of Bible translations in my Bible Software that render this beatitude as:  Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.


Like the first two beatitudes, this one must have been shocking and perplexing to Jesus’ hearers.  He taught principles that were totally foreign to their thinking.


The audience of Jesus – at first the disciples, but by the end a great crowd – they knew how to act spiritually proud and self-sufficient.  The religious had become proficient in erecting a pious façade.  They actually believed that the Messiah was coming soon and He would commend them for their goodness.  He would, at last, give the Jewish people their rightful place in the world, a position above all other people, because they were the chosen of God.  They eagerly anticipated that the Messiah would deal gently with them and harshly with their oppressors, the Romans.


The Jews so despised Roman oppression that sometimes they even refused to admit it existed.  One day as Christ taught on the Mount of Olives, Jesus had one of His strongest exchanges with the Pharisees.  When He said “to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.  Read it in John 8.


John 8:31-33 NKJV


31             Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.

32             And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

33             They answered Him, "We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, 'You will be made free'?"


The fact was, of course, that Israel’s history was one of repeated conquest and oppression, by Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and at that very time, Rome.  Apparently pride would not allow those Pharisees to acknowledge one of the most obvious facts.  Much of their history was spent under the control of other nations.


The Pharisees expected the Messiah would come with great fanfare and a mighty show of supernatural power.  They assumed He would miraculously throw off the yoke of Rome, and establish a theocracy and holy commonwealth that would rule the world.  Others, like the Sadducees, hoped for change through political compromise, and for this they were greatly despised by most Jews.  For the monastic Essenes, it is isolation both physically and philosophically from the rest of Judaism.  They lived largely as if Rome and the rest of the world did not exist.  The Zealots, as their name implies, were the most vocal and active proponents of deliverance.  They expected the Messiah to come as a powerful, irresistible military leader who would conquer Rome in the same way that Rome had conquered them.


Consequently, in whatever way various groups of people expected the Messiah to come, they did not anticipate His coming humbly and meekly.  And yet, those were the very attitudes that Jesus was both teaching and practicing.  The idea of a meek Messiah leading meek people was far from their concepts of a messianic kingdom.  The Jews understood military power and even miracle power.  They even understood the power of compromise, unpopular as it was.  But they did not understand the power of meekness.


To the Jews in the first century, Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah, and the final evidence of that was His crucifixion.  The Old Testament taught that anyone hanged on a tree was “accursed by God”  (Deut. 21:23).  Yet, that is exactly where Jesus’ life ended – hanging on a cross – a Roman cross at that.  As He hung dying, some of the Jewish leaders could not resist a last taunt against His claim to be Savior and Messiah:


Matthew 27:42-43 NKJV


42             He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.

43             He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"


But rejection of Jesus started long before His crucifixion.  When He began the Sermon on the Mount by teaching humility, mourning, and meekness, the people sensed something was wrong.’  This strange preacher could hardly be the deliverer they were looking for.  Great causes are fought by the proud, not the humble.  You cannot win victories while mourning, and you certainly could never conquer Rome with meekness.


Let’s now look at the meaning of MEEKNESS.  How can Jesus say, “Happy are the meek?”  It’s a bit like saying, “Happy are the downtrodden,” or “subjugated.”


In Galatians 5:22-23, we find 9 qualities called the Fruit of the Spirit.  The eighth fruit has the same Greek root as the third beatitude.  Let’s take a look at it.


Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV


22      But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

23      gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.


The King James Version and the American Standard Version render the first word of verse 23 as Meekness.


Two things are noteworthy as one studies the subject of meekness in the Bible.


            1.  It is a rare quality of character.


            2.  It is exceptionally precious in the sight of God.


Let’s look at the Greek word used in the 3rd Beatitude and the 8th Fruit of the Spirit.  The Greek word translated meek in Matthew 5:5 is PRAUS – a noun.  The Greek word used in Galatians 5:23 is PRAUTES – an adjective.  In the King James, wherever these words occur, they are always translated “meekness” or “meek.”


In today’s modern thought and language, meekness is not always considered an admirable quality.  Nowadays, some take it to suggest spinelessness and lack of strength.  Most of the time we do not want to be meek.  We prefer to be like the little boy whose mother kept calling him “my little lamb.”  Finally, he said, “Mother, I don’t want to be your little lamb.  I want to be your little tiger.”


We prefer to think of ourselves as being courageous and strong.  We sing with inspiration: “Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war.”  But meekness does not necessarily appeal to us.  We want to be conquerors and meekness sounds too much like surrender.


True meekness needs careful definition.  In our English language we have another word that sounds much the same – weakness.  A lot of people confuse not only these two words, but the two qualities of character.  But, of course, the actual difference between meekness and weakness is immense.


The Bible also uses the word meek in describing Jesus.  Those who think of Jesus with the hymn phrase, “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” might feel that the usual definition of meekness applies.  But His meekness was a startling kind.  Again and again Jesus stood up to the challenge of His enemies, both individuals and hostile crowds.  In the hour of His crucifixion He was so strong that he could pray for his enemies.  At the same time, His strength evoked the admiration of a tough-minded Roman centurion.  See it stated in Matthew 11.


Matthew 11:29 KJV


29             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.


If you were to look at the dictionary definition of meekness, you would find as one of its definitions:


            •  “Overly patient or submissive, spiritless, tame.”

            •  or “Deficient of spirit and courage.”


That is a far cry from the meaning of the Greek word.  Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary does give an older meaning for meekness as:  “Enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”  That definition might not be too far from the biblical word, but the Greek is still much more positive.  The apostle Paul says he used this quality of Christ as a pattern for his own attitude.


In 2 Corinthians 10:1 Paul puts both gentleness and meekness together as qualities of Christ.


1   Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…


The essential difference between being poor in spirit and being meek, or gentle, may be that poverty in spirit focuses on our sinfulness, whereas meekness focuses of God’s holiness.  The basic attitude of humility underlies both virtues.  When we look honestly at ourselves, we are made humble by seeing how righteous and worthy He is.


We again can see logical sequence and progression in the Beatitudes.  Poverty of spirit (the first) is negative, and results in mourning (the second).  Meekness (the third) is positive, and results in seeking righteousness (the fourth).  Being poor in spirit causes us to turn away from ourselves in mourning, and meekness causes us to turn toward God in seeking His righteousness.  The blessing of the Beatitudes are for those who are realistic and repentant of their sins and who are responsive to God in His righteousness.


The Full Life Study Bible defines meekness as “restraint coupled with strength and courage.”  The use of these words – praus – prautes – in classical Greek writing adds weight to this definition of a “strong gentleness.”


In Greek, “praus” is used for a beast that has been tamed.  A horse which was once wild but which has become obedient to the bit and to the bridle is “praus.”  Picture, for instance, a large Draft horse – a great Clydesdale.  It has muscles rippling, but subject to the reins and its training.  This is meekness as Jesus is using the word.  As Ralph Sockman once said, “It takes strength to be gentle.”


General Peter Pace, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (2005-2007) told this story about himself as a young captain during the Viet Nam war.  “There was an even in Vietnam where I almost made a very serious mistake.  We had been on patrol, and a young Marine named Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro, 19-years-old, from Bethpage, New York, was killed by a sniper.  The bullet came from a nearby village..  I was the platoon leader, and he was my machinegun squad leader.  I was enraged, and I called in an artillery strike to get the sniper.  Then I looked to my right and saw 21-yar-old Sergeant Reid Zachary.  He did not say a thing, but he simply looked at me, and I knew what I was about to do was wrong.  I called off the artillery strike and we swept the village, as I should have done in the first place.  We found nothing but women and children, as the sniper was long gone.  I don’t know that I could have lived with myself had I done what I originally planned.  I don’t think I would be standing in front of you today.  I had almost allowed the rage of the moment to overcome what I thought was some substantial thinking about who I was going to be in combat.  After the event, I called my platoon together in a little bombed out crater, and I apologized to them.  I told them had it not been for Sergeant Zachary, I would not have made the right decision.  The reaction of the platoon was amazing.  It was a very warm, family response, and I learned that a leader admitting mistakes and thanking those who point them out to him or her, is really important.


A meek person, therefore, is not a weak person but a very, very strong one.  So strong, in fact, that he or she is able to hold strength under control, so that the strength is used for right purposes.


Herein lies the real secret of the meaning of “praus.”  There is a gentleness in “praus” but behind the gentleness there is a strength of steel.  This indicates that the supreme characteristic of a man or woman who is “praus” is that they are under perfect control.  It is not spineless gentleness, or a sentimental fondness, or a passive quietism.  IT IS STRENGTH UNDER CONTROL!!


Let me put it in very simple terms.  Who is stronger, the person who strikes back or the one who doesn’t need to?  If a small child hits a man, the man doesn’t hit him back, unless, of course, the man is immature.  The man has the power to do what he wants with the child, but he has an even greater power, the strength to hold his superiority under control.


Myer Pearlman, quoting Donald Gee, gave an illustration I like.  A guide was taking a group of visitors through a factory.  One of the things he showed them was a giant steam hammer capable of flattening an auto.  Then the guide put down a walnut and had the hammer break the shell without hurting the meat of the nut.  That is a good illustration of meekness, or gentleness, as power under perfect control.  That really get close to the biblical meaning of meekness.


Meekness has always been God’s way for man.  It is the way in both the Old and New Testaments.  We are told, in Numbers 12:3 (KJV):


3   Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth)


You see the same emphasis in the writings of David.


Psalms 25:9 KJV


9   The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.


In Psalm 37, David says essentially the same thing as the third beatitude.


Psalms 37:11 NKJV


11             But the meek shall inherit the earth, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.


There are many other Old Testament passages emphasizing the importance of meekness, but I have used these because they all use the same Hebrew equivalent to the Greek Shaub.


Paul includes meekness as a character trait of the believer.


Colossians 3:12-13 NKJV


12             Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;

13             bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.


Again, meekness does not connote weakness.  The spirit of meekness is the spirit of Christ, who defended the glory of His Father, but gave Himself in sacrifice for others.  Jesus did not once raise a finger or give a single retort in His own defense.  Though He could have called a legion of angels to His side (Matthew 26:53), He refused to use either natural or supernatural power for His own welfare.




God’s promise for the Meek


As with the other beatitudes, the general result of meekness is being blessed, being made divinely happy.  God gives the meek His own joy and gladness.  More specifically, however, the gentle – the meek – shall inherit the earth.


How can that be?  The meek cannot even inherit the right-of-way at a traffic intersection or a place in the grocery checkout line.  How are they supposed to inherit the earth.


What does “they shall inherit the earth” mean?  Does it mean that meek people are prosperous in this world’s goods?  Apparently not, because Jesus was meek and possessed little of this world’s goods.  Does it mean that meek people escape the difficulties of life?  I don’t believe so, because Moses was meek and yet he faced one difficulty after another.


After creating man in His own image, God gave man dominion over the whole earth (Genesis 1:28).  The subjects of His kingdom are going to come someday into that promised inheritance.  Though it is largely lost and perverted after the Fall, theirs will be paradise regained.


One day God will completely reclaim His earthly domain, and those who have become His children and the subjects of His Divine kingdom, will be the meek, the gentle, who have cast themselves on the mercy of God.


Most Jews  thought that the coming great kingdom of the Messiah would be for the strong, and they would be the strongest.  But the Messiah Himself said that it would belong to the meek, and to Jew and Gentile alike.


The word, “inherit” – in Greek kleronomeo – refers to the receiving of one’s allotted portion.  Earlier we read from Psalm 37:11“But the meek shall inherit the earth,…”  If you were to read the ten verses preceding verse eleven, you will find the psalmist answering the age-old question: “Why do the wicked prosper and the godly suffer.”


Verse 10 reads: “For yet a little while and the wicked will be no more.  Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, but it shall be no more.”  The Psalmist begins in verse one with, “Do not fret because of evil doers,” and ends with, “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.”


Our inheritance of the earth is not entirely future, however.  The promise of the future inheritance itself gives us hope and happiness now.  And we are able to appreciate many things, even earthly thing, in ways that only those who know and love the Creator can experience.


In the beautiful words of Wade Robinson:


Heaven above is softer blue,

   Earth around is sweeter green;

Something lives in every hue

   Christless eyes have never seen!

Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,

   Flowers with deeper beauties shine,

Since I know, as now I know,

   I am His and He is mine.


As to the expression “inherit the earth,” the following facts should be noted:


1.         God is the owner of this earth.


Psalms 24:1 NKJV


            1          The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.


2.         Those who obey Christ become children of God and “joint-heirs” with the Lord.


Galatians 3:26 NKJV


            26        For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.


Romans 8:17 NKJV


17             and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.


3,         The Father supplies all our needs, we therefore enjoy this earth and its blessings more than all others.


Philippians 4:19 NKJV


19             And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.


Yes, the meek inherit the earth, both now and in the future.  And meekness is necessary because the meek give all glory to God. Pride seeks its own glory, but meekness seeks God’s


One of the great enemies of meekness is impatience.  This is why the psalmist admonishes us later in  Psalm 37.


Psalms 37:34 NKJV


34             Wait on the Lord, And keep His way, And He shall exalt you to inherit the land;…