Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Who are the meek?

This past weekend I taught on the third of the Beatitudes, which are located at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (You can listen to the sermon here.) I knew going into this week of study that I would have to spend considerable time explaining what exactly "meek" meant to my congregation. I was not comforted when I cracked open one of my commentaries and read the following words:

“Meekness- is one of the most misunderstood words in the English language.”Life in the Spirit New Testament Commentary
, pg. 151

'Meek' is not really a word that we use in conversation today. I can't think of the last time my wife said to me, "I noticed you were acting meek tonight!" Likewise, I've never heard of someone causally saying, " Boy, did he act rather meek tonight." As far as I know, no one brings up 'meek-ness' on the list characteristics they hope to find in a spouse. It really is a word shrouded in obscurity and vagueness. Perhaps, the lack of clarity and popularity of the word is itself a clue to the meaning of 'meek'? 

I remember in Sunday School being taught as a child,"meekness is not weakness", but I don't recall being taught anything to what meek actually meant. I hope to solve that problem with this blog. 

Here is a 'sketch' from my study notes:

‘MEEK’- πραΰς (prä-ü’s)
gentle, kind, humble, benevolent, humane

(Matt 5.5, 11:29, 21.5; 1 Peter 3.4; Gal 5.23)

Meek (NIV, ESV, KJV)

The mild, patient, long-suffering (AMP)

Humble (CEB, CEV, ERV, GNT, NLT)

Gentle (NASB) 

Content with who you are (The Message) 

Greek Context:

Aristotle (384- 322 BCE) 

Meekness is not about powers forgone but powers controlled and exercised with discernment.”
- Aristotle

Xenophon (430- 354 BCE)

A wild stallion that has been tamed is meek-Xenophon (430-354 BCE)

Hebrew Context: 

"The promise stands out: “for they will inherit the earth [Land].” Clearly the promise evokes both the land promise in Genesis 12 and the promises to the oppressed and waiting in Psalm 37:11 (“the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity”); 37:22 (“those the LORD blesses will inherit the land”); and 37:34 (“he will exalt you to inherit the land”). The Qumran community prized Psalm 37.33 While it has been customary for Christians to see in the NIV’s word “earth” a synonym for “world” now or in the new heavens and earth, there is little likelihood that Jesus would have “world” in mind. We must wrap our minds around the Bible’s Story for the first-century Jew: those to whom Jesus spoke didn’t care two figs for owning Italy or Gaul. They simply wanted shalom in the Land of Israel." -Dr. Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount Commentary

1Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;

2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:

6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.

9 For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look for them, they will not be found.

11 But the meek will inherit the land
    And will delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
The 'Meek person' of Psalm 37:1-11: 

  • “Trusts in the Lord” (v3) 
  • “Takes delight in the Lord” (v4)
  • “Commit their ways to the Lord” (v5) 
  • “Patiently trusts God alone for vindication” (v6-7, 9-10)
  • “Refrains from anger & wrath” (v8) 
  • "Inherit the land" (v9, 11) 
  • “Delights themselves in peace” (v11) 

I also spent the last week asking Christian scholars, leaders, bloggers and authors to 'tweet' me their definition of meek. Here is what they have to say about "meek-ness": 

Biblical meekness isn’t letting yourself be a doormat.  It is about loving someone so much that you completely forget yourself in the process."- Robert Martin of Abnormal Anabaptist

Michael Hardin

Meekness: a gentle non-coercive approach to relationships. - Michael Hardin of 

Dr. Scot McKnight

The “meek” are those who suffer and who have been humbled, and yet they do not seek revenge. They lovingly trust God and hope in God’s timing and God’s justice.” 
- Dr. Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount Commentary 

Dr. Brad Jersak
Meekness (synonym - gentleness) is 'strength under control for the purpose of goodness.'

- Dr. Brad Jersak, Westminster Theological Centre

Dr. N.T. Wright 

The word ‘meek’ is always a challenge. The usual answer is ‘like wild horse tamed’ – i.e. with all the energy and fire of the wild horse but now under wise control. This is to stop the word simply sounding ‘weak’ or wimpish.
  I suppose the word goes with others like ‘gentle’ (though that is more directly related to how someone behaves in relation to others) and ‘humble’ (though that is more to do with one’s belief about oneself). It is, as it were, half way between these two: it denotes a particular character but also the way that character behaves to others.
In its famous location in the Beatitudes, at the start of the Sermon on the Mount, it is one of the characteristics Jesus highlights not just for its own sake but one of the types of personality through whom God is starting to bring wise and healing order to his world. Here you could define it in terms of its opposites: the idea that the meek will inherit the earth is astonishing to most people in most cultures, who expect that it will be the pushy, the arrogant, the bossy, the power-brokers, the bullies who will grab the earth and inherit it for themselves. No, says Jesus; in God’s world things work the other way up. The word ‘meek’ stands at the heart of that claim. (I don’t do tweets, by the way… sorry!)

Thanks for reading...


  1. Many years ago, I heard meekness described as "power under control" and I think that is a pretty accurate description of the word. If we look at the example of Jesus, He had all the power of Heaven at His disposal and yet, in order to accomplish the will of His Father, He chose not to exercise it. Likewise, when we find ourselves in situations where we would be justified in exercising our "rights" or demanding privileges that are due to us, when we choose not to do that in order to accomplish a greater good, then I think we are demonstrating the kind of meekness that the Bible is referring to.

    1. I couldn't agree more Judy! Thanks for sharing and God Bless.

  2. Hey Paul. Awesome article here! Pretty much drinking a theological fire hydrant! I'm becoming aware that God is leading me personally into the understanding of meekness. What does it mean and how does that change our reactions to people?

    1. Nathan,

      Thanks for your kind words! May your meekness be of spiritual origin. "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [MEEKNESS], and self-control.
" (Gal 5.22-23)