Let's Study the Beatitudes! Part 4, The Meek
An ancient proverb says: “We must howl with the wolves, because the wolves will immediately devour everyone who makes himself a sheep.”
Such worldly wisdom tickles the ears of all who despise the meekness of Christ’s kingdom. It is despised because unbelievers fear the meek must always be devoured by the world. And therein lies the real problem. Meekness is despised because of an inordinate love or an inordinate fear of the world.
To the unregenerate meekness is of no value. They are persuaded it does not deliver what they really want – the keeping or gaining of the world. But in defense of his elect, our Lord’s third beatitude speaks directly to these fears: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).
The meek are heirs. Co-heirs with Christ. “If children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17). This, we might say, is Paul’s exposition of “blessed are the meek.”
Wolves inherit nothing. The meek have title to everything, a title sealed by the royal blood of the beloved and victorious Son. Howl not then with the wolves. Be a sheep. It is always okay to be sheep when Christ is Shepherd. Nothing which rightly belongs to you will ever be devoured for it is kept by God in Christ who, seated at the right hand of the Most High, lives and reigns forevermore.
Here is an entry in the diary of the meek: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” The meek are without a rod. The meek are without a staff. But they are not without the Lord. He has both rod and staff and uses both to bring his flock to everything that is good forever.
In Numbers chapter 12, verse 3, it says: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.”
At first glance, this does seem helpful for understanding meekness, but context clears the fog. In the two verses prior we hear of Moses’ siblings: “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, ‘Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?’ And the Lord heard it” (Num.12:1-2).
Miriam and Aaron were envious of their brother. They despised him. They resented him. But right when we expect Moses to assert himself, to demand respect, to throw a punch, right then verse 3 appears and tells of his great meekness.
What then is it? Meekness is patience in the face of all provocation because by faith you see clearly (1) your own sinfulness and (2) the Lord’s own faithfulness.
Why did Moses seem deaf to Miriam and Aaron’s grumbling? He knew the Lord was near. This leveled his pride and bolstered his confidence that justice would prevail. The Lord would hear his accusers. The Lord would answer. The Lord did. See the Lord's heavy hand in Numbers 12:4-16.
Matthew Henry said: “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.” Thus, when Moses saw the Lord’s sudden chastisement on his sister’s flesh, he cried out: “O God, please heal her—please” (Num. 12:13).
The grace and glory of meekness always appear in our engagement with others.
There was once strife between the herdsmen working for Abram and those working for his nephew, Lot (Gen. 13). Abram did not want strife, so he took the initiative to resolve it. Instead of using his seniority to get an outcome favorable to himself – instead of throwing his weight around – Abram gave Lot the first choice of land. To borrow a phrase, Abram took up his cross and denied himself. This is meekness.
But let us understand, Abram’s meekness was not a natural moral virtue. Abram gave Lot the first choice because Abram had faith in God. By faith Abram knew he was a stranger and an exile on the earth. By faith he looked for a better country, a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16). Being born of the Spirit, the meek see their true inheritance. They now cannot not see it. And seeing it, everything they want from this life has changed.
By now we should understand that meekness is a grace not a work. It is gifted to all who belong to the new creation of the Spirit through union with Christ. This means there is a great irony in the blessing of meekness: God freely gives the meek what they would not grasp for themselves: an inheritance. This was not only prefigured when God gave his people the Promised Land, but it is more fully revealed in God giving his church, through the risen Christ, a city with foundations whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).
John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.