“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”Matthew 5:5
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once famously declared, “God is dead.” In saying this, Nietzsche did not admit to belief in a deity. Rather, he meant that the idea of God is dead. Nietzsche believed that God only existed in the minds of His followers, who were then responsible for his death: “God has been the victim of murder, and we, as human beings, are the murderers.” Without this belief to anchor people, there is no trust in a cosmic order or any basis for morality or values.
Nietzsche also said the fundamental drive that motivates the human spirit is the will to power or the drive to achieve. He held up as the human ideal the Übermensch or superman. In the wake of the death of God, the Übermensch emerges to create a new set of values, which are centred on this world, as opposed to the otherworldly values of Judeo-Christianity. The Übermensch is characterized as a person of great boldness and courage, unfettered by old-fashioned values and fully able to exercise his own will to power. This is what we were created to be and do, according to Nietzsche, but the otherworldly values of Judeo-Christianity—with their emphasis on meekness, humility, and love—have squelched and destroyed the human spirit.
Significantly, Nietzsche interpreted meekness as a weakness that was put upon the world chiefly through the teaching of Jesus. He saw meekness as the reason God died—because He was too weak to survive. When we look at the biblical concept of meekness, we see something radically different from what Nietzsche saw, and frankly something different from the view that many Christians tend to have as well.
The concept of meekness often conjures up a picture of someone who is a doormat for everyone, who is wishy-washy, who has no backbone, and who lacks the virtues that Nietzsche exalted, such as courage. However, the Scriptures provide two examples of meekness in two of the most prominent people in the Bible. In the Old Testament, the man noted for his meekness was Moses; in the New Testament, the man most noted for His meekness was Jesus. It would be challenging to find any two figures in the history of the human race who exhibited greater strength of character than these two men.
Moses was a leader whose courage was astonishing. God gave him the burden of leading the nation of Israel out of slavery. He stood face-to-face against the most powerful ruler of the ancient world, the Pharaoh of Egypt. He withstood the stormy assaults in the wilderness of the rebels against him. However, in all of this, Moses was noted for his meekness (see Num. 12:3).
Jesus referred to Himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). However, He stood against the entire power structure of His day, resisting public opinion, resisting the political and religious authorities, and enduring unbelievable pain and torture at the hands of His captors. However, despite His enormous strength and power, He was called the epitome of meekness. Obviously, then, to be meek is not to be weak; in fact, to be meek in the biblical sense necessitates a certain kind of inner strength that is exceedingly rare.
There is a story of a young man who was elevated to the position of leadership in an organization, and most of the people he led were older than he was—so the style of leadership that he adopted was one of a kind of tyranny, where he was officious and demanding, insensitive, and even brash. When asked, why he had adopted this particular style, and he said, “Because they will not follow me in my youth. I have to be strong, or I will lose the power that I have with my office.” and was replied, “The more power that you have in this world and the more authority that has been given to you in any situation, the more necessary it is to be gracious and humble.” This is primary biblical teaching. It is easy, when one is in a position of power or authority, to use it in a display of arrogance and tyranny, but God resists that sort of style.
This young man was advised, that there is a strange secret that many people do not get: not only is it important for people who are in positions of power and authority to temper that power with grace, but it is easier to be gracious when you have power. Because you have the power to be gracious, you do not need to be tyrannical. It is only when people are not secure in their authority that they manifest a kind of tyrannical reign over other people’s lives.
That is important to remember when considering Moses and Jesus. No one in the Old Testament was endowed with more power than Moses was. Moreover, certainly, no one has ever had more power than Jesus had. However, with the grand scope of power and authority that these two men had, both understood that they could afford to be gracious. So, when Moses was described as being meek, in part what that means is that he wielded his power with gentleness and sensitivity, just as the Lord did.
Think for a moment about Jesus’ leadership style. A person who is in charge of people must know them, realizing that some of them are stubborn and need to be prodded occasionally, while others are weak and wounded and need to be treated gently. This is what we see with Jesus. When Jesus dealt with people in authority, such as the Pharisees, He was stronger than steel; He took nothing from them, and He rebuked them with strong words. However, it is said of Jesus that “a bruised reed he will not break” (Isa. 42:3; cf. Matt. 12:20). With the downcast and the lowly of His day, He was tender, soft, and gentle. He was meek—that is, He tempered His power and His authority according to the needs of the people under His care.
The opposite of meekness is arrogant, rough handling of power and authority. So often, when we think of people who wield power without any respect or regard for the people under their authority, the word that comes to mind is ruthless. The ruthless person does whatever it takes to achieve whatever he wants, and he is unafraid to use excessive force or power to accomplish his goals. It is difficult to be restrained when one has authority and power, and one’s vested interests are being threatened. When we want something, and we know we can get it if we exercise power, then to step back and think of others and not of ourselves is being meek.
The man who is meek before God and has that inner strength that enables him to be gentle before men are not a violent man. This quietness of spirit will enable him to be temperate. A self-controlled or temperate person is not given to binges of excess but lives within restraints. Ultimately, the meek one submits himself to the authority and rule of God. Rather than trusting in his own abilities and authority, the meek one trusts that God will safeguard him and will fulfil His promises.
God has promised inheritance to His people from the very beginning. The covenant that He made with Abraham involved land. In the New Testament, we are told that God is going to usher in a new heaven and a new earth. That is part of the broader promise of the kingdom of God. Jesus told His disciples to look for that day when the King will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
(Matt. 25:34). God has promised the whole world as an inheritance to Christ, and those who are Christ’s participate in that inheritance. So the meek person, instead of snatching or grabbing to possess what he can conquer in this world, is patient to wait for the inheritance that God promises.
We all need to search our souls when we hear these virtues set forth by Christ; none of us is as meek as we ought to be. Sometimes we confuse being meek with being weak. Sometimes we do not say anything when we should, and we excuse our cowardice by attributing it to humility or meekness. Moses was not a coward, and certainly, Jesus was no coward. Meekness does not preclude boldness, but it does preclude arrogance. The Christian who is meek is bold in being obedient to the call of God on his life. Ultimately, to be meek is to be submissive to the rule of our King.
R. C. Sproul, How Can I Be Blessed? First edition., vol. 24, The Crucial Questions Series