You’ve Got Questions: What Does “Blessed Are the Meek” Mean (Matt. 5:5)?
Before answering this question, it’s important to see the obvious logical connection between these different Beatitudes. Clearly, each one follows on from what has gone before. Also, the Beatitudes, as they proceed, become increasingly difficult. In the first Beatitude (Matt. 5:3), we are asked to recognize our spiritual poverty apart from God. When we truly realize our spiritual poorness apart from God, we inevitably become “poor in spirit.” That in turn leads to the second state in which, realizing our own sinfulness and our own true nature, realizing that we are so helpless because of the indwelling sin within us, we become godly mourners (Mat. 5:4). If these things are present, then it follows that we would reach a point at which we become concerned about other people. That’s where meekness comes in. A man can never be meek unless he is poor in spirit. A man can never be a meek unless he has seen himself as a vile sinner.
What then, is the meaning of meek? The Greek word for meek here is praus, which means to be mild, or gentle. The same Greek term is used of Jesus’ triumphal entry when Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble (praus), and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matt. 21:5). Meekness is very similar to “poor in spirit,” but it is not exactly the same thing. Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. It is my attitude towards myself, and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others. Meekness does not weakness. It doesn’t mean laziness. Meekness does not mean niceness. Meekness is compatible with great strength and it is compatible with great authority and power (as we will see). When a man truly sees himself for what he is, no one can say anything about him that is too bad. “He that is down needs fear no fall”—John Bunyan. When we are meek, there will a be a complete absence of the spirit of retaliation, having our own back or seeing that the other person “pays for it.”
Who is this meek person? What is he like? Since this is a hard word to define, perhaps it is best to see examples of meekness to better understand what it means:
Abraham. After God had called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land and had made the marvelous unconditional covenant with him, a dispute about grazing lands arose between the servants of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot. All of the land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham. He was God’s chosen man and the Father of God’s chosen people. Lot, on the other hand, was essentially a “hanger-on,” an in-law who was largely dependent on Abraham for his welfare and safety. Yet, as the story reads, Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households. “Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9). That is a great example of meekness.
Joseph. You know the story. he was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. Soon he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and he was in a position to take sever vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused, and he could have even put his brothers into more severe slavery than into which they had sold him! Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. Speaking to his brothers, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:5-7). Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help. His is a great example of true meekness.
David. He was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s king. But when, in the cave of Engedi, he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, as Saul often had tried to take his, David refused to do so. “So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way” (1 Sam. 24:7). David presents before us a great example of meekness.
Jesus. He created this world, and we corrupted it with our sin. Christ is God and that means He is more powerful than we can imagine and more wise than we can imagine. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), and we will pay the price for our sins (Rom. 6:23), if nothing is done about God’s wrath against us and our terrible condition apart from Him. Christ became a man, going through our struggles, weaknesses and difficulties. Eventually He died a humiliating death that we might live life eternal. Paul expresses this truth: “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Christ has demonstrated the greatest example of meekness. (For further study of Christ’s meekness, see Christ’s Supreme Example of Humility)
For further reading, please consult Sermon on the Mount: The Meek