Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5 (ESV)
We have often heard the definition of meekness put this way: meekness is not weakness, it is strength under control. The Greek word used for meek in Matthew 5:5 means mild or humble. In his notes on the New Testament, Barnes writes, “Meekness is patience in the reception of injuries. It is neither meanness, nor a surrender of our rights, nor cowardice; but it is the opposite of sudden anger, of malice, of long-harboured vengeance.”
Both Jesus and the apostle Paul are great examples of Barnes’ definition of meekness. Jesus characterized himself as meek (Matthew 11:29-30: In the ESV gentle is the same Greek word used for meek in Matthew 5:5). Jesus also displayed his meekness in that although he was equal with God he humbled himself in obedience to God by dying on the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). Paul also attested to the meekness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:1). Yet, there was a time when Jesus spoke in his defense (John 18:23).
The meekness of Paul is well documented in scripture. He refers to himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and the least of the apostles and saints (1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8). Paul never used his authority to demand the rights of his apostolic ministry (1 Corinthians 9:1-12). Yet, upon being cruelly treated and imprisoned in Philippi, Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37). Even in times when they asserted their rights did neither Paul nor Jesus harbor malice or seek vengeance on those who wronged them. They trusted that God would keep his promise to avenge (Romans 12:19).
Jesus said the meek are blessed. What is their blessing? They will inherit the earth. Earth can also be translated soil or land. To inherit land was a great blessing to Jews. They were very familiar with the promise made to them by God of inheriting the land of Canaan. To the Jew Canaan was a symbol of great abundance and they looked forward to a time when the Messiah would come and restore their land to them. To them Canaan was a type of the kingdom of God.
When Jesus spoke of the meek inheriting the earth he was not so much speaking of literal land, but rather an inheritance in the kingdom of God. The meek will have full citizenship in the kingdom of God. They will inherit all of the privileges, abundance and joy of God’s kingdom in its perfect state. David wrote, In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. (Psalms 37:10-11 ESV) The prophet Isaiah wrote that the meek will obtain fresh joy in the Lord (Isaiah 29:19 ESV).
Paul exhorted us when writing to the Colossian Christians, Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12 ESV)
Scriptures for meditation:
James 1:21; 3:13
1 Peter 2:18-23; 3:4