“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” : Matthew 5:5
A popular hymn that received much acclaim several generations ago unintentionally derides our Savior as being “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” Meekness is a fruit of the Spirit that seems very much lost in our aggressive, self-centered culture.
Because people associate it with weakness, most today do not admire others for being “meek,” but as we shall see, it is not what they assume. It is a quality of character very noticeable in the greatest human being ever to grace this earth and one that all of us sorely need today.
A modern English dictionary or thesaurus makes it clear why meekness is associated with weakness. Notice its synonyms as listed in the Reader’s Digest. Oxford Complete Word Finder: tame, timid, mild, bland, unambitious, retiring, weak, docile, acquiescent, repressed, suppressed, spiritless, broken, and wimpish.
Not a single one of these words applies to Jesus Christ or even to Moses, who the Bible claims “was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3, KJV).
Do these terms describe the warrior-king David, a man greatly beloved by God? Or Paul, the fearless and tireless apostle, who courageously faced his share and more of dangerous, painful persecutions? No, yet once we understand what biblical meekness is, we can easily see that these men were indeed meek.
Surely our understanding of this remarkable characteristic must be askew! Bible commentators generally agree that modern man, living in our Western, Judeo-Christian cultures, lacks this godly attribute.
Meekness, being a fruit of the Spirit, is an attribute of God Almighty Himself and important to our being in His image and a true witness. Indeed, this characteristic will largely determine how much peace and contentment are in our lives and how well we do during trials.
We do not stand alone in our misperception of the word meekness.The ancient Greeks did not rank it as a virtue either, except in a very narrow circumstance. At best, they used it as we use “condescension” today and by it referred entirely to men’s external relations with other men.
Jesus, while retaining its reference to men, lifted it from its narrow context and made it refer primarily to our relations with God. In his comments on Galatians 5:22-23, William Barclay adds that meekness is “the most untranslatable of words in the New Testament” (p. 51). Some have tried to use “humility” as its equivalent, but both Hebrew and Greek have specific words that are synonyms for humility. Besides, humility does not fully catch its meaning.
Another word associated with meekness is “gentleness,” but the same is as true for gentleness as humility. Both are part of meekness, but it is not really either. Its characteristics and use are much more involved than either of them.
The Hebrew word translated “meekness” is anav or anaw, meaning “depressed (figuratively), in mind (gentle) or circumstances (needy, especially saintly): humble, lowly, meek, poor” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, #6035). The translation depends upon the context in which it appears. The Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon adds, “afflicted, miserable . . . ; commonly with the added notion of a lowly, pious, and modest mind, which prefers to bear injuries rather than return them” (p. 643).
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament indicates why this word is so difficult to express as a single term: “anaw expresses the intended outcome of affliction” (p. 1651). Ephesians 4:1-3 states: I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness [meekness, KJV], with long suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
Zephaniah 2:3: Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility [meekness, KJV]. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger.
This is not a virtue to ignore because carnal men consider it weakness. It may appear to them as weakness, but the spiritual reality is that it is great strength, an attribute of Almighty God and a fruit of His Spirit we greatly need.