We continue with our series on the Beatitudes. Today we examine our Lord’s words, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.
The English word “meek” is not a happy word. It conjures up images of spinelessness, moral timidity, cringing subservience, and pathological faint-heartedness. No sensible and responsible parent would raise their child to be meek. Meek people are not psychologically healthy or able to withstand the rigours of life.
This is not, of course, what the Greek word used here means. That word is praus, and it was the word used in the Septuagint Greek to describe Moses in Numbers 12:3. One recalls that Moses suffered from none of the timidity or cringing subservience usually associated with the English word “meek”. Moses stood defiantly before Pharaoh, head of the world’s greatest superpower, and boldly demanded that he let Israel go. Moses, after descending Mount Sinai with the Law of God in his hands, discovered Israel indulging in an orgy of idolatry around a golden calf. He broke the tablets of the Law, ground the golden calf to powder, threw it into the local water source and made Israel drink it. He then called upon volunteers to slaughter the apostates (Numbers 32). This does not sound at all like pathological faint-heartedness. Clearly the Greek word praus must mean something else.
In fact the Greek word indicates self-control, and the word is used to describe wild animals which have been tamed and domesticated so that they may be useful to man. A man who is at the mercy of his passions (such as uncontrolled anger) is not praus; a man who can control his impulses is. Christ, who cleared the Temple of men and animals with a whip, is described as praus in Matthew 11:29. St. Paul commends this characteristic as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23; St. Peter praises a praus and quiet spirit when found in wives in 1 Peter 3:4 as something very precious in God’s sight. Perhaps a better translation might be “gentle”.
Once again we find that the Beatitudes bring us back to the Psalter. In Psalm 37:11, we read, “The meek [LXX praus] shall inherit the earth”, and this psalm joins other psalms in the Psalter in decrying the oppression of the weak and helpless under the brutal boot of the rich and powerful. In this age the gentle have no power, and the sinners and evildoers hold all the cards. But let the afflicted wait patiently for the Lord to act: “Fret not yourself because of evil-doers, neither be envious of those who do iniquity, for evil-doers shall be destroyed, and yet a little while and the sinner shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth and delight in the abundance of peace” (Psalm 37:1f). Our Lord renewed these promises when He spoke the Beatitudes, including drawing upon the very language of the psalms.
Christ did not chide His followers for their gentleness or lament their powerlessness in this age. Indeed, He Himself gave them an example of such meekness, standing wordlessly before the accusations of the Sanhedrin and the demands of Pilate. He remained in quiet strength before the powers of this world, like a sheep awaiting slaughter. When nailed to the tree, He did not revile or threaten, but simply entrusted Himself to Him who judges righteously, and prayed for His killers (1 Peter 2:23, Luke 23:34). Worldly men like Pilate doubtless regarded such gentleness as weakness, and wrote Him off as a hopelessly naïve fool. That is how the world always regards the meek who entrust themselves to God and look to Him for vindication. But the Last Day will reveal who in this age was truly foolish.
In this age, the earth belongs to the arrogant who rage and threaten, who intimidate and bully (as any small child in a schoolyard can tell you). But the Kingdom of God is coming, and Christ promised that in that Kingdom, the arrogant would rule and rage no more. The earth would finally belong to the gentle, as their trust in God’s vindication would find its reward.
This Beatitude counsels us not to fret ourselves because evil-doers seem to win every time, nor allow ourselves to become envious of their prosperity. In the age to come, the meek will inherit the earth, and delight in the abundance of peace. Let the bullies rage for now, even if they send us to a martyr’s cross. Yet a little while, and they shall be no more.
Next: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.