“Happy Are the Meek…”

You’re kidding, right? Happy are the meek?! What world are you living in? Meekness, “do unto others,” “turn the other cheek”: All those sweet sounding platitudes may be good for church and for teaching kids in Sunday school, but as a realistic lifestyle, it doesn’t work like that. Life’s too mean, too intense, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and meekness just doesn’t cut it.

That’s the general sort of reaction you get when you start talking about meekness. Maybe because it rhymes with weakness it is thought to characterize the weak, timid, and frightened. You know – “meek as a mouse.”

A statement similar to this beatitude is in Psalm 37.11: “But the meek shall inherit the land.” The Hebrew word, ’anaw, conveys the concepts of lowliness, piety, and modesty of mind. It often describes those who are oppressed by the rich and powerful without seeking retaliation. It carries with it the idea of being molded – God-molded. It involves surrender, not to men, nor to self, nor to adverse circumstances, but to the will of God:

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
(Psalm 37.3-5)

Such surrender and trust was demonstrated by Mary, the mother of Jesus, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word”; by the crowd on Pentecost, “Brethren, what shall we do?”; and by Saul of Tarsus, “What shall I do, Lord?” Each of these realized they couldn’t withstand God, so they surrendered to Him to be molded into vessels for His use.

The Greek word translated “meek” in Matthew 5.5 is praus. It was commonly used to describe animals that had been tamed and domesticated. Whereas they had been wild and unmanageable, they had been brought under control and made useful. Uncontrolled energy can be destructive, but controlled and harnessed it is beneficial and constructive. That’s what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Happy are the meek…” Meekness is strength harnessed, channeled, and controlled. It is strength grown tender. Meekness bears no resemblance to weakness. Rather it refers to a person whose life is under the restraint, control, and guidance of God.

In his Daily Study Bible Series, The Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay has written: “No man can lead others until he has mastered himself; no man can serve others until he has subjected himself; no man can be in control of others until he has learned to control himself. It is when we have meekness that we can treat all men with perfect courtesy, that we can rebuke without rancor, that we can argue without intolerance, that we can face the truth without resentment, that we can be angry and yet sin not, that we can be gentle and yet not weak – O the bliss of the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time, who has every instinct, and impulse, and passion under control, because he himself is God-controlled, who has the humility to realize his own ignorance and his own weakness, for such a man is a king among men.”
As noted earlier, Jesus was quoting from the hymnal of ancient Israel – the Psalms. And when He delivered the Sermon on the Mount, He was speaking to a Jewish audience who was familiar with the Psalms. When Jesus said, “Happy are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,” His hearers that day would have immediately recalled the psalmist’s words, “But the meek shall inherit the land.” To the Jews the land of inheritance was the land beyond Jordan – Canaan – the Promised Land! For those of Christ’s kingdom there is also a land beyond Jordan – a Promised Land – Heaven, the Home of the Soul.

“Happy are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”