April 15, 2007 at FBC, Comanche; Expositional studies: Matthew
Text: Matthew 5:1-12, Matthew 5:5
5 “Blessed are the meek [gentle], for they shall inherit the earth.”
“The Beauty of Meekness”
Introduction: Who wrote the Pentateuch? The opposite of meekness is those who are proud, who seek to be powerful or important. The proud Pharisees wanted a miraculous kingdom, the proud Sadducees wanted a materialistic kingdom, the proud Essenes wanted a monastic kingdom, and the proud Zealots wanted a military kingdom. The humble Jesus offered a meek kingdom.
In spite of all the miracles of His ministry, the people never really believed in Him as the Messiah, because He failed to act in military or miracle power against Rome, according to their traditions and expectations! Humility, mourning, and meekness didn’t seem to be the way to get what the people wanted, but that’s exactly what our Lord Jesus taught were the primary steps in righteousness towards God; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17-25. Why didn’t they, “the chosen people of God,” get it? They neglected, disregarded, rejected, and disobeyed the Word of God, because they were more interested in their agendas, affinities, and affections [the way that they thought things had always or should always be done] rather than the “approval of God.”
· Blessed—μακάριος [makários]; possessing the favor of God, being marked by fullness from God; indicates the state of the believer in Christ; a partaker of God’s nature through faith in Christ ( 2 Peter 1:4 ).
· Meekness, gentleness—πραΰς [praus]; meekness toward God is that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting. The meek are those wholly relying on God rather than their own strength to defend them against injustice
· Inherit the earth—κληρονομέω [kleronomeo]; to receive as an inheritance, obtain by right of inheritance; to be an heir
· Earth—γῆ [ge] the ground, the earth as a standing place
· Kingdom of heaven—βασιλεία [basileia]; what God promises believers, a golden age of blessing, is now on the verge of being realized and experienced, by those whose preparedness of spirit, mind, and heart make them receptive to the Gospel message
1. The understanding of your position
A. Favor of God — Blessing
B. Fatherhood of God — “Bless-er”
C. Family of God — “Bless-ee”
@ The righteous, the true children of God, those who consistently portray these biblical characteristics, those who alone will be entering the Kingdom of God, see God for Who He is [worship Him individually and corporately according to Scripture], and see themselves for who we are [sinners in the hands of God Who is angry with the unrepentant every day; Psalms 7:11f. Do you see yourself as biblically meek [Matt 21:5; Eph 4:1-3; 2 Cor 10:1]?
2. the reality of true contrition
A. Conviction from God’s Holy Spirit — Blessing
B. Confession by God’s Children –
C. Contrition of God’s People — 2 Corinthians 7:10-11
@ What makes the self-righteous person feel righteous? You do not see your sins, your transgressions, and your unfaithfulness, because you’re so busy looking to see if you can find those things in the lives of others!
3. the necessity of biblical submission
A. Sovereignty—Spirit-control; He is faithful – 1 Corinthians 1:9
B. Humility—Self-control; we must be faithful – 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
C. Necessity—to receive the promised blessings, faith and repentance are required -- Colossians 3:12; Titus 3:1-2
@ Who owns the authority and the ability to bless? Who is the sovereign of the universe, and can give gifts to those who faithfully yield their will to Him?
Conclusion and Application:
· God’s sovereignty; your responsibility
· God’s holiness; your unholiness
· God’s purity; your depravity
Are you faithfully displaying the characteristics of those who are in the Kingdom of God? Poverty in spirit focuses on our sinfulness, whereas meekness focuses on God’s holiness. Meekness is power completely surrendered to God’s control.
The blessings of the Beatitudes are for those who are realistic about their sinfulness, who are repentant of their sins, and who are responsive to God in His righteousness. Those who are unblessed, unhappy, and shut out of the kingdom are the proud, the arrogant, the unrepentant-the self-sufficient and self-righteous who see in themselves no unworthiness and feel no need for God’s help and God’s righteousness.
1783 - The Continental Congress ratified preliminary articles of peace ending the Revolutionary War with Great Britain.
1817 - The first American school for the deaf opened in Hartford, Connecticut.
1850 - The city of San Francisco was incorporated.
1861 - Three days after the attack on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln mobilized Federal army at the outset of the Civil War.
1865 - Andrew Johnson became the nation's 17th president upon Abraham Lincoln's death.
1922 - Insulin was discovered by Canadian physiologist Frederick Banting and John Macleod.
1945 - During World War II, British and Canadian troops liberated the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.
1955 - Ray Kroc opened the first franchised McDonald's; it was located in Des Plaines, Illinois.
1989 - Students in Beijing launched a series of pro-democracy protests following the death of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang; the protests culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre.
British liner that sank on the night of Apr. 14-15, 1912, after crashing into an iceberg in the N Atlantic S of Newfoundland. More than 1,500 lives were lost. The Titanic, thought to be the fastest ship afloat and almost unsinkable, was on her maiden voyage and carried many notables among the more than 2,200 persons aboard. These circumstances made the loss seem the more appalling to the public in England and the United States.
Official and other investigations revealed that messages of warning had been sent but had either not been received by the commanding officers or had been ignored by them. The ship had continued at full speed even after the warnings were sent. She did not carry sufficient lifeboats, and many of the lifeboats were launched with only a few of the seats occupied. Other vessels in the vicinity were unable to reach the Titanic before she sank; one, only 10 mi (16 km) away, did not respond because her wireless operator had retired for the evening.
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).
Gentleness is power under control.
The Greek word translated “gentle” in Matthew 5:5 speaks of humility, meekness, and non-retaliation—traits that in our proud society are often equated with weakness or cowardice. But in reality they are virtues that identify Kingdom citizens.
The same word was used by the Greeks to describe a gentle breeze, a soothing medicine, or a domesticated colt. Those are examples of power under control. A gentle breeze brings pleasure, but a hurricane brings destruction; a soothing medicine brings healing, but an overdose can kill; a domesticated colt is useful, but a wild horse is dangerous.
Christ Himself is the epitome of gentleness. Even when officially announcing His messiahship to Jerusalem, He humbly entered the city astride a donkey (Matt. 21:5). His behavior amid persecution was exemplary: “Christ … suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats” (1 Peter 2:21–23).
Despite His humility and restraint, Jesus wasn’t weak or cowardly. He never defended Himself, but when His Father’s house was being desecrated, He made a whip and beat those who were defiling it (John 2:13–16; Matt. 21:12–13). He never shirked from pronouncing judgment on unrepentant sinners and never compromised His integrity or disobeyed His Father’s will.
The hypocritical Jewish religious leaders expected that when Israel’s Messiah came, He would commend them for their wonderful spirituality. Instead, Jesus condemned them and called them children of the devil (John 8:44). In retaliation they had Him murdered. His power was always under control; theirs wasn’t.
Our society has little use for gentleness. The macho, do-your-own-thing mentality characterizes most of our heroes. But you are called to a higher standard. When you pattern your life after Jesus, you will have a significant impact on society and will know true happiness.
Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for the virtue of gentleness, which He is producing in you by the power of His Spirit. Follow Christ’s example today so that gentleness will mark your character.
For Further Study: Read the following passages, noting the responsibilities and blessings that accompany self-restraint: Proverbs 16:32; Ephesians 4:1–2; Colossians 3:12; and Titus 3:1–2.
Inheriting the Earth
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).
Someday God will reverse the curse and return the earth to His people.
God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). But their sin cost them their sovereignty and brought a curse upon the earth (Gen. 3:17–18).
The Apostle Paul said, “The anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God … in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption” (Rom. 8:19–21). Someday that curse will be reversed, and God’s people will once again inherit the earth.
The Greek word translated “inherit” (Matt. 5:5) means “to receive an allotted portion.” The earth is the allotted portion of believers, who will reign with the Lord when He comes in His Kingdom (Rev. 20:6). That’s an emphatic promise in Matthew 5:5, which literally reads, “Blessed are the gentle, for only they shall inherit the earth.”
Many Jewish people of Christ’s day thought the Kingdom belonged to the strong, proud, and defiant. But Jesus said the earth will belong to the gentle, meek, and humble. Proud, self-righteous people don’t qualify (cf. Luke 1:46–55). Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become [humble and submissive] like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
As a recipient of God’s promises, you should be thrilled knowing that you will inherit the earth and reign with Christ in His earthly Kingdom. Be encouraged to know that even when evil people and godless nations seem to prosper, God is in complete control and will someday establish His righteous Kingdom on earth.
Rejoice in that assurance, and seek to be all He wants you to be until that great day.
Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God that all of creation will someday be freed from sin’s corrupting influences. ² Praise Him for His mighty power, which will bring it all to pass.
For Further Study: Read 1 Corinthians 6:1–8. ² What issue did Paul address? ² How does the future reign of Christians apply to that issue?
In the same way that verses 3–4 are based on Isaiah 61, so verse 5 finds its background in Psalm 37.11. As the psalm indicates, the metaphor was taken over from the possession of Canaan by the Israelites. The meek (TEV “humble”) of this verse and the “poor” of verse 3 are the same people viewed from a different perspective (see comment at verse 3). In fact, in the language of Jesus the word could hardly be distinguished from “poor.” It contained echoes of “insignificant, lowly,” and may even be rendered “powerless.” These people possess no power because they do not need it; they rest their entire hope on God. Instead of trying to overpower others, they serve him. Phps translates “those who claim nothing,” and Brc “whose strength is in their gentleness.” Once again GeCL 1st edition is dynamic: “who renounce the use of force.” Elsewhere in the New Testament the word meek is used only in Matthew 11.29; 21.5; and 1 Peter 3.4, where TEV renders either “gentle” or “humble.”
Meek in modern English has negative connotations of someone who is submissive and easily imposed on. Words such as “gentle,” “humble,” or “nonaggressive” are perhaps better. One good translation is “who don’t trust in their own power.”
They shall inherit the earth. The verb translated inherit carries the more general meaning of “to receive as one’s possession” or “to share in” (see 19.29; 25.34; 1 Cor 6.9–10; 15.50; Gal 5.21; Heb 1.14). To translate with the equivalent of the English word inherit may intimate that someone has died (in this context, God!) and has left someone else his possessions.
The promise of possessing the land was originally limited to the land of Canaan (see Gen 17.8) but then was extended to include the entire earth, over which God would someday rule. In essence, then, this is simply another expression for the Kingdom of heaven of verse 3 (TOB note). Both of these ideas existed side by side in Israel’s expectation for the future. The God of heaven has given earth to mankind as a place for their existence. But the time would come when God’s people would enjoy the benefits of heaven and the joys of a redeemed earth. TEV completely spiritualizes this promise (“they will receive what God has promised”), while GeCL attempts to maintain some of the imagery (“since God will give them the earth for their possession”). NEB (“they shall have the earth for their possession”) and Phps (“for the whole earth will belong to them”) are similar to GeCL, except that they have maintained the passive rather than making God the explicit subject.
Those translators who follow the interpretation of TEV may need to use an active construction instead of a passive one. Further, they may have to specify what God is going to give; for example, “the blessing” or “the good things.” Consequently, possible translations are “God will give them what he has promised” or “God will give them all the blessings (or, good things) he has promised.” But other translators who want to retain the image of “earth” will find GeCL 1st edition a useful model, as in “God will give them the whole earth to possess.”
The Meek (5:5)
Since the third beatitude finds no parallel in Luke, it is possibly a “commentary word,” added by Matthew as a means of interpreting the preceding beatitudes. It must have been easily recognized as a quotation of Ps. 37:11: “But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” Here “meek” renders the Hebrew anawim. This word was often used as a virtual synonym for “poor” (and is so understood by the Greek translators of Isa. 61:1; see Luke 4:18). Such was not its basic meaning, as we see in Num. 12:3, where the adjective is used to describe Moses: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth.” The corresponding Greek word praus, used to translate Num. 12:3 and as a description of Jesus in Matt. 11:29; 21:5, defines the recipients of the third beatitude. Like Moses and Jesus, the meek who will inherit the earth are nonviolent people, who are humble and gentle in their dealings with others because they have humbled themselves before the greatness of God.
Probably Ps. 37:11 originally promised tenant farmers and the owners of small plots of ground that the oppression of the wicked rich would be terminated and they would gain their fair share of the soil. In Matthew’s context the ambiguous term gē (soil? land? earth?) was probably understood in its broadest sense: “The meek will come into possession of the whole inhabited earth.”
Whether this beatitude was intended to be taken so literally, however, may be doubted. Matthew himself seems to believe that the full establishment of God’s kingdom will occur only after the dissolution of life as we know it (see 24:29, 38–41). He may therefore have understood “inherit the earth” as synonymous with “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
5:5. Here Jesus cites Scripture (Ps 37:9, 11). Not those who try to bring in the kingdom politically or militarily but those who humbly wait on God will “inherit the earth.” The Hebrew of the psalm could mean “inherit the land” in a narrower sense (Ps 25:13), but in Jesus’ day Jewish people expected God’s people to reign over all the earth, as some other Old Testament passages suggest.
Kingdom Rewards for the Repentant (5:3–9)* If we truly repent in light of the coming kingdom, we will treat our neighbors rightly. No one who has humbled himself or herself before God can act with wanton self-interest in relationships. Those with the faith to await the vindication of the righteous in God’s kingdom can afford to be righteous, to relinquish the pursuit of their own rights (5:38–42; compare 1 Cor 9:3–23), because they know the just judge will vindicate them as they seek his ways of justice.
Jesus employs a standard Jewish literary form to express this point, a beatitude, which runs like this: “It will go well with the one who … for that one shall receive … ” (“Fortunate” or “it will be well with” may convey the point better than blessed or “happy.”) In this context Jesus’ beatitudes mean that it will ultimately be well with those who seek first God’s kingdom (Mt 6:33).
Because various themes pervade all or many of Matthew’s beatitudes here, the principles are summarized by topic rather than by verse in this section of the commentary. Matthew intends his audience to hear all the beatitudes together (his Gospel would have been read in church assemblies), not for them to be taken piecemeal. What themes emerge from these brief pronouncements of blessing?
Jesus lists promises that pertain to the coming kingdom. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven frames most of this section (5:3, 10). All the blessings listed are blessings of the kingdom time. In the time of the kingdom God will “comfort all who mourn in Zion” (Is 61:2); he will satisfy the hunger and thirst of his people (Mt 8:11; 22:2; 26:29; Is 25:6) as in the first exodus (Deut 6:11; 8:17). God’s ultimate mercy will be revealed on the day of judgment (1 Enoch 5:5; 12:6; 92:4; Ps. Sol. 16:15). At that time he will ultimately declare the righteous to be his children (Rev 21:7; Jub. 1:24), as he had to a lesser degree at the first exodus (Ex 4:22). God is technically invisible (1QS 11.20; Jos. Apion 2.191), but in the future the righteous will fully see God (1 Enoch 90:35; ARN 1A).
The blessings he promises come only by God’s intervention. Because the future kingdom is in some sense present in Jesus, who provides bread (Mt 14:19–20) and comforts the brokenhearted (14:14; compare Lk 4:18), we participate in the spiritual down payment of these blessings in Christ in the present (see Gal 3:14; Eph 1:3). But such blessings come only to the meek—those who wait on God to fight God’s battles.
The blessings of the beatitudes are for a people ready for the kingdom’s coming. This passage shows what kingdom-ready people should be like; hence it shows us prerequisites for the kingdom as well as kingdom promises.
First, kingdom people do not try to force God’s whole will on a world unprepared for it. Many first-century Jews had begun to think that revolutionary violence was the only adequate response to the violence of oppression they experienced. Matthew’s first audience no doubt could recall the bankruptcy of this approach, which led to crushing defeat in the war of a.d. 66–73. But Jesus promises the kingdom not to those who try to force God’s hand in their time but to those who patiently and humbly wait for it—the meek, the poor in spirit, the merciful, the peacemakers.
Of course Jesus’ demand does not merely challenge the bloodshed of revolution. Peacemakers means not only living at peace but bringing harmony among others; this role requires us to work for reconciliation with spouses, neighbors and all people-insofar as the matter is up to us (Rom 12:18).
Second, God favors the humble, who trust in him rather than their own strength (5:3–9). For one thing, the humble are not easily provoked to anger. These are the poor in spirit, … the meek, those who appear in Jewish texts as the lowly and oppressed. Because the oppressed poor become wholly dependent on God (Jas 2:5), some Jewish people used “poor [in spirit]” as a positive religious as well as economic designation. Thus it refers not merely to the materially poor and oppressed but to those “who have taken that condition to their very heart, by not allowing themselves to be deceived by the attraction of wealth” (Freyne 1988:72).
Jesus promises the kingdom to the powerless, the oppressed who embrace the poverty of their condition by trusting in God rather than favors from the powerful for their deliverance. The inequities of this world will not forever taunt the justice of God: he will ultimately vindicate the oppressed. This promise provides us both hope to work for justice and grace to endure the hard path of love.
There are, of course, exceptions, but as a rule it is more common for the poor to be “poor in spirit”; Matthew’s poor in spirit does have something to do with Luke’s “poor.” Surveys in the United States, for example, show that religious commitment is generally somewhat higher among people with less income (Barna 1991:178–81; Gallup and Jones 1992), and Christians in less affluent countries like Nepal, Guatemala, Kenya or China often are prepared to pay a higher price for their faith than most Western Christians. In Bible studies among students from different kinds of colleges and backgrounds I have found that students from poor homes, struggling to pay their way through college, frequently understand this passage better than those students for whom the road is easier. Feeling impressed by the wealth and status of others, the less privileged students are amazed to learn how special they are to God and embrace this message as good news. Those of us who have attained more income or education would do well to imitate their meekness, lest the self-satisfaction and complacency that often accompany such attainments corrupt our faith in Christ (13:22).
Further, these humble people are also those who yearn for God above all else. Luke emphasizes those who hunger physically (Lk 6:21); Matthew emphasizes yearning for God’s righteousness more than for food and drink, perhaps also implying that those who hunger physically are in a better position to begin to value God more than food (Mt 5:6; this may include fasting). In this context hungering for righteousness probably includes yearning for God’s justice, for his vindication of the oppressed (see Gundry 1982:70); the context also implies that it includes yearning to do God’s will (5:20; 6:33; 21:32; 23:29). This passage reflects biblical images of passion for God, longing for him more than for daily food or drink (Job 23:12; Ps 42:1–2; 63:1, 5; Jer 15:16; compare Mt 4:4). God and his Word should be the ultimate object of our longing (Ps 119:40, 47, 70, 92, 97, 103).
“Mourners” here (5:4) may thus refer especially to the repentant (Joel 1:13; see also Jas 4:9–10; Lev 23:29; 26:41), those who grieve over their people’s sin (Tobit 13:14). Given the promise of comfort, however, the term probably also applies more broadly to those who are broken, who suffer or have sustained personal grief and responded humbly (see Fenton 1977:368). God is near the brokenhearted (Ps 51:17) and will comfort those who mourn (Is 61:1–3); the people of the kingdom are the humble, not the arrogant. The pure in heart (Mt 5:8) in Psalm 73 refers to those who recognize that God alone is their hope.
Likewise, this lifestyle of meekness Jesus teaches challenges not only Jewish revolutionaries but all Christians in our daily lives. If we are to walk in love toward our enemies (Mt 5:43), how much more should we walk in love toward those closest us (compare 5:46–47; 22:36–40)? I am always awed by the presence of the truly humble—like three of my friends from Ethiopia, one of whom was imprisoned by the old Marxist regime for a year and two of whom led about two thousand fellow Ethiopians to Christ in their refugee camp. Not only did these brothers regularly offer me their most gracious hospitality when I visited them, but every time I came they would insist on my teaching them the Bible—though I am sure that I had far more to learn from them!
a. The Beatitudes: Character described. 5:3–20.
3. Blessed means “happy.” This is a basic description of the believers’ inner condition as a result of the work of God. Kent states that it is virtually equivalent to being “saved” (H. A. Kent Jr. Matthew, in Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 15). These Beatitudes, like Psalm 1, do not show a man how to be saved, but rather describe the characteristics of one who has been saved. The poor in spirit are the opposite of the proud or haughty in spirit. These are those who have been humbled by the grace of God and have acknowledged their sin and therefore their dependence upon God to save them. They are the ones who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. It is obvious in this usage that the kingdom of heaven is a general designation of the dwelling place of the saved.
4. Those that mourn … shall be comforted. The depth of the promise of these statements is almost inexhaustible. Those who mourn for sin shall be comforted in confession. Those who mourn for the human anguish of the lost shall be comforted by the compassion of God.
5. The meek … shall inherit the earth refers again to those who have been humbled before God and will inherit, not only the blessedness of heaven, but shall ultimately share in the kingdom of God upon the earth. Here, in the opening statements of the Sermon on the Mount, is the balance between the physical and spiritual promise of the kingdom. The kingdom of which Jesus preached is both “in you” and is yet “to come.” The Christian is the spiritual citizen of the kingdom of heaven now.
5. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
This statement fits the first one well, when He said: “Blessed are the spiritually poor.” For as He promises the kingdom of heaven and an eternal possession there, so here He also adds a promise about this temporal life and about possessions here on earth. But how does being poor harmonize with inheriting the land? It might seem that the preacher has forgotten how He began. Whoever is to inherit land and possessions cannot be poor. By “inheriting the land” here and having all sorts of possessions here on earth, He does not mean that everyone is to inherit a whole country; otherwise God would have to create more worlds. But God confers possessions upon everyone in such a way that He gives a man wife, children, cattle, house, and home, and whatever pertains to these, so that he can stay on the land where he lives and have dominion over his possessions. This is the way Scripture customarily speaks, as Psalm 37 says several times (Ps. 37:34): “Those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land”; and again (Ps. 37:22): “His blessed ones inherit the land.” Therefore He adds His own gloss here: to be “spiritually poor,” as He used the expression before, does not mean to be a beggar or to discard money and possessions. For here He tells them to live and remain in the land and to manage earthly possessions, as we shall hear later.
What does it mean, then, to be meek? From the outset here you must realize that Christ is not speaking at all about the government and its work, whose property it is not to be meek, as we use the word in German,8 but to bear the sword (Rom. 13:4) for the punishment of those who do wrong ( 1 Peter 2:14), and to wreak a vengeance and a wrath that are called the vengeance and wrath of God. He is only talking about how individuals are to live in relation to others, apart from official position and authority—how father and mother are to live, not in relation to their children nor in their official capacity as father and mother, but in relation to those for whom they are not father and mother, like neighbors and other people. I have often said that we must sharply distinguish between these two, the office and the person. The man who is called Hans or Martin is a man quite different from the one who is called elector or doctor or preacher. Here we have two different persons in one man. The one is that in which we are created and born, according to which we are all alike—man or woman or child, young or old. But once we are born, God adorns and dresses you up as another person. He makes you a child and me a father, one a master and another a servant, one a prince and another a citizen. Then this one is called a divine person, one who holds a divine office and goes about clothed in its dignity—not simply Hans or Nick, but the Prince of Saxony, father, or master. He is not talking about this person here, letting it alone in its own office and rule, as He has ordained it. He is talking merely about how each individual, natural person is to behave in relation to others.
Therefore if we have an office or a governmental position, we must be sharp and strict, we must get angry and punish; for here we must do what God puts into our hand and commands us to do for His sake. In other relations, in what is unofficial, let everyone learn for himself to be meek toward everyone else, that is, not to deal with his neighbor unreasonably, hatefully, or vengefully, like the people whom they call “Headlong Hans.” They refuse to put up with anything or to yield an inch, but they tear up the world and the hills and want to uproot the trees. They never listen to anyone nor excuse him for anything. They immediately buckle on their armor, thinking of nothing but how to take vengeance and hit back.9 This does not forbid the government to punish and to wreak vengeance in the name of God. But neither does it grant license to a wicked judge, burgomaster, lord, or prince to confuse these two persons and to reach beyond his official authority through personal malice or envy or hate or hostility, as commonly happens, under the cloak and cover of his office and legal right. This would be as though, in the name of the government, our neighbors wanted to take some action against us which they could not get away with otherwise.
He is talking here especially to His Jews, as He had begun. They always insisted that they were not supposed to suffer anything from a Gentile or stranger and that they had a right to avenge themselves immediately. For this purpose they cited sayings from Moses, like Deuteronomy 28:13: “The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; and you shall tend upward only, and not downward.” There would be nothing wrong with this, But it means that if God Himself does this, then it is well done. It is one thing if He commands it and says, “I will do it,” and quite another thing if we do it ourselves, without authorization. What He says should and must happen; what we say happens if it can, or maybe it does not happen at all. So you have no right to lay claim to this promise for yourself and to count on it when you want to do something which He ought to do, and you refuse to wait until He commands you to do it.
You see, then, that here Christ is rebuking those crazy saints who think that everyone is master of the whole world and is entitled to be delivered from all suffering, to roar and bluster and violently to defend his property. And He teaches us that whoever wants to rule and possess his property, his possessions, house, and home in peace, must be meek, so that he may overlook things and act reasonably, putting up with just as much as he possibly can. It is inevitable that your neighbor will sometimes do you injury or harm, either accidentally or maliciously. If he did it accidentally, you do not improve the situation by refusing or being unable to endure anything. If he did it maliciously, you only irritate him by your violent scratching and pounding; meanwhile he is laughing at you and enjoying the fact that he is baiting and troubling you, so that you still cannot have any peace or quietly enjoy what is yours.
So select one of the two, whichever you prefer: either to live in human society with meekness and patience and to hold on to what you have with peace and a good conscience; or boisterously and blusterously to lose what is yours, and to have no peace besides. There stands the decree: “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Just take a look for yourself at the queer characters who are always arguing and squabbling about property and other things. They refuse to give in to anybody, but insist on rushing everything through headlong, regardless of whether their quarreling and squabbling costs them more than they could ever gain. Ultimately they lose their land and servants, house and home, and get unrest and a bad conscience thrown in. And God adds His blessing to it, saying: “Do not be meek, then, so that you may not keep your precious land, nor enjoy your morsel in peace.”
But if you want to do right and have rest, let your neighbor’s malice and viciousness smother and burn itself out. Otherwise you can do nothing more pleasing to the devil or more harmful to yourself than to lose your temper and make a racket. Do you have a government? Then register a complaint, and let it see to it. The government has the charge not to permit the harsh oppression of the innocent. God will also overrule so that His Word and ordinance may abide and you may inherit the land according to this promise. Thus you will have rest and God’s blessing, but your neighbor will have unrest together with God’s displeasure and curse. This sermon is intended only for those who are Christians, who believe and know that they have their treasure in heaven, where it is secure for them and cannot be taken away: Hence they must have enough here, too, even though they do not have treasuries and pockets full of yellow guldens. Since you know this, why let your joy be disturbed and taken away? Why cause yourself disquiet and rob yourself of this magnificent promise?
See now that you have three points with three rich promises. Whoever is a Christian must have enough of both the temporal and the eternal, though here he must suffer much both outwardly and inwardly, in the heart. On the other hand, because the worldlings refuse to endure poverty or trouble or violence, they neither have the kingdom of heaven nor enjoy temporal goods peacefully and quietly. You can read more about this in Psalm 37, which is the right gloss on this passage, richly describing how the meek are to inherit the land while the ungodly are to be exterminated.
III. The meek are happy (v. 5); Blessed are the meek. The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to his word and to his rod, who follow his directions, and comply with his designs, and are gentle towards all men (Tit. 3:2); who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of any thing else. They are the meek, who are rarely and hardly provoked, but quickly and easily pacified; and who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge one, having the rule of their own spirits.
These meek ones are here represented as happy, even in this world. 1. They are blessed, for they are like the blessed Jesus, in that wherein particularly they are to learn of him, ch. 11:29. They are like the blessed God himself, who is Lord of his anger, and in whom fury is not. They are blessed, for they have the most comfortable, undisturbed enjoyment of themselves, their friends, their God; they are fit for any relation, and condition, any company; fit to live, and fit to die. 2. They shall inherit the earth; it is quoted from Ps. 37:11, and it is almost the only express temporal promise in all the New Testament. Not that they shall always have much of the earth, much less that they shall be put off with that only; but this branch of godliness has, in a special manner, the promise of life that now is. Meekness, however ridiculed and run down, has a real tendency to promote our health, wealth, comfort, and safety, even in this world. The meek and quiet are observed to live the most easy lives, compared with the froward and turbulent. Or, They shall inherit the land (so it may be read), the land of Canaan, a type of heaven. So that all the blessedness of heaven above, and all the blessings of earth beneath, are the portion of the meek.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. (5:5)
Like the first two beatitudes, this one must have been shocking and perplexing to Jesus’ hearers. He taught principles that were totally foreign to their thinking.
Jesus’ audience knew how to act spiritually proud and spiritually self-sufficient. They were proficient in erecting a pious facade. They actually believed that the Messiah was coming soon and would commend them for their goodness. He would, at last, give the Jewish people their rightful place in the world-position above all other people, because they were the chosen of God.
They eagerly anticipated that the Messiah would deal gently with them and harshly with their oppressors, who for nearly a hundred years had been the Romans. After the Maccabean revolution that freed them from Greece, the Jews had a brief time of independence. But Rome’s rule, though not as cruel and destructive, was much more powerful than that of Greece. Since 63 b.c., when Pompey annexed Palestine to Rome, the region had been ruled primarily by puppet kings of the Herodian family and by Roman governors, or procurators, the best known of which to us was Pilate.
The Jews so despised Roman oppression that sometimes they even refused to admit it existed. One day as He taught on the Mount of Olives, Jesus had one of His strongest exchanges with the Pharisees. When He said “to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,’ ” the Pharisees’ response was strange. “We are Abraham’s offspring,” they said, “and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free?’ ” (John 8:31–33). The fact was, of course, that Israel’s history was one of repeated conquest and oppression-by Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and, at that very time, Rome. Apparently pride would not allow those Pharisees to acknowledge one of the most obvious facts of their nation’s history and of their present situation.
All Jews hoped for deliverance of some sort, by some means. Many were expecting deliverance to come through the Messiah. God had directly promised the godly Simeon “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ,” that is, the Messiah (Luke 2:26). Simeon’s expectation was fulfilled when he was given the privilege of seeing the true Messiah as an infant. Others, however, such as the Pharisees, expected the Messiah to come with great fanfare and a mighty show of supernatural power. They assumed He would miraculously throw off the yoke of Rome and establish a Jewish state, a revived theocracy and holy commonwealth that would rule the world. Others, such as the materialistic Sadducees, hoped for change through political compromise, for which they were despised by many fellow Jews. The monastic Essenes, isolated both physically and philosophically from the rest of Judaism, lived largely as if Rome and the rest of the world did not exist.
The Zealots, as their name implies, were the most vocal and active proponents of deliverance. Many of them expected the Messiah to come as a powerful, irresistible military leader who would conquer Rome in the same way that Rome had conquered them. They were not, however, waiting passively for their Deliverer, but were determined that, whenever and however He might come, they would do their part to make His job easier. Their numbers, influence, and power continued to grow until Rome brutally attempted to crush Jewish resistance. In a.d. 70 Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and massacred over a million Jews. Three years later Flavius Silva finally succeeded in his long siege against the stronghold at Masada. When Jewish rebelliousness continued to frustrate Rome, Hadrian swept through Palestine during the years 132–35 and systematically destroyed most of the cities and slaughtered the Jews living there.
In Jesus’ day the aggressive, rebellious Zealots were not many in number, but they had the sympathy and moral support of many of the people, who wanted Rome to be overthrown, however it was done.
Consequently, in whatever way various groups of people expected the Messiah to come, they did not anticipate His coming humbly and meekly. Yet those were the very attitudes that Jesus, the one whom John the Baptist had announced as the Messiah, was both teaching and practicing. The idea of a meek Messiah leading meek people was far from any of their concepts of the messianic kingdom. The Jews understood military power and miracle power. They even understood the power of compromise, unpopular as it was. But they did not understand the power of meekness.
The people as a whole eventually rejected Jesus because He did not fulfill their messianic expectations. He even preached against the means in which they had put their hope. They first rejected, then hated, and finally killed Him because, instead of approving their religion He condemned it, and instead of leading them to independence from Rome He disdained revolutionary acts and offered a way of even greater subservience.
In their minds Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah, and the final evidence was His crucifixion. The Old Testament taught that anyone hanged on a tree was “accursed of God” (Deut. 21:23), yet that is exactly where Jesus’ life ended-ignominiously on a cross, and a Roman cross at that. As He hung dying, some of the Jewish leaders could not resist a last taunt against His claim to be Savior and Messiah: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him. He trusts in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He takes pleasure in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’ ” (Matt. 27:42–43).
In the early days of apostolic preaching, the death and resurrection of Christ were the greatest hindrances to belief in the gospel. The ideas were foolishness to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews ( 1 Corinthians 1:23 ). The gospel was foolishness to those Gentiles who considered the body to be inherently evil and thought it absurd that the Savior of the world not only would allow Himself to be killed but would come back from the dead in bodily form. To the Jews the gospel was a stumbling block because the idea of the Messiah dying at all, much less on a cross, was unthinkable. How could a Messiah who taught for a few years, accomplished absolutely nothing as far as anyone could see, and then was rejected by the religious teachers and put to death be worth believing in? (cf. Acts 3:17–18).
But rejection of Jesus started long before His crucifixion. When He began the Sermon on the Mount by teaching humility, mourning, and meekness, the people sensed something was wrong. This strange preacher could hardly be the deliverer they were looking for. Great causes are fought by the proud, not the humble. You cannot win victories while mourning, and you certainly could never conquer Rome with meekness. In spite of all the miracles of His ministry, the people never really believed in Him as the Messiah, because He failed to act in military or miracle power against Rome, according to their traditions and expectations! **
The Jews were not looking for the Messiah that God had told them was coming. They disregarded such parts of His Word as Isaiah 40–60, which so clearly and vividly portrays the Messiah as the Suffering Servant as well as the conquering Lord. They could not accept the idea that such descriptions as, “He has no stately form or majesty … He was despised and forsaken of men … He was oppressed and He was afflicted…like a lamb that is led to slaughter … that He was cut off out of the land of the living,” and “His grave was assigned with wicked men” (Isa. 53:2–3, 7–9) could apply to the Messiah, to the coming great deliverer of the Jews.
Jesus’ teaching seemed new and unacceptable to most of His hearers simply because the Old Testament was so greatly neglected and misinterpreted. They did not recognize the humble and self-denying Jesus as the Messiah because they did not recognize God’s predicted Suffering Servant as the Messiah. That was not the kind of Messiah they wanted.
The Meaning of Meekness
Gentle is from praos, which basically means mild or soft. The term sometimes was used to describe a soothing medicine or a soft breeze. It was used of colts and other animals whose naturally wild spirits were broken by a trainer so that they could do useful work. As a human attitude it meant being gentle of spirit, meek, submissive, quiet, tenderhearted. During His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was hailed as the coming King, though He was “gentle, and mounted on a donkey” ( Matthew 21:5 ). Paul lovingly referred to the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 10:1 ) as the pattern for his own attitude. 2 Corinthians 10:1
The essential difference between being poor in spirit and being meek, or gentle, may be that poverty in spirit focuses on our sinfulness, whereas meekness focuses on God’s holiness. The basic attitude of humility underlies both virtues. When we look honestly at ourselves, we are made humble by seeing how sinful and unworthy we are; when we look at God, we are made humble by seeing how righteous and worthy He is. **
We again can see logical sequence and progression in the Beatitudes. Poverty of spirit (the first) is negative, and results in mourning (the second). Meekness (the third) is positive, and results in seeking righteousness (the fourth). Being poor in spirit causes us to turn away from ourselves in mourning, and meekness causes us to turn toward God in seeking His righteousness.
The blessings of the Beatitudes are for those who are realistic about their sinfulness, who are repentant of their sins, and who are responsive to God in His righteousness. Those who are unblessed, unhappy, and shut out of the kingdom are the proud, the arrogant, the unrepentant-the self-sufficient and self-righteous who see in themselves no unworthiness and feel no need for God’s help and God’s righteousness.
Most of Jesus’ hearers, like fallen men throughout history, were concerned about justifying their own ways, defending their own rights, and serving their own ends. The way of meekness was not their way, and therefore the true kingdom was not their kingdom. The proud Pharisees wanted a miraculous kingdom, the proud Sadducees wanted a materialistic kingdom, the proud Essenes wanted a monastic kingdom, and the proud Zealots wanted a military kingdom. The humble Jesus offered a meek kingdom.
Meekness has always been God’s way for man. It is the way of the Old Testament. In the book of Job we are told that God “sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (5:11). Moses, the Jews’ great deliverer and law-giver, “was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). The Jews’ great King David, their supreme military hero, wrote, “He [the Lord] leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way” (Ps. 25:9).
Meekness is the way of the New Testament. It is taught by Jesus in the Beatitudes as well as elsewhere and is continued to be taught by the apostles. Paul entreated the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love” (Eph. 4:1–2). He told the Colossians to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). He told Titus to remind those under his leadership “to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1–2).
Meekness does not connote weakness. The word was used in much extra-biblical literature to refer to the breaking of an animal. Meekness means power put under control. A person without meekness is “like a city that is broken into and without walls” (Prov. 25:28). “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Prov. 16:32). An unbroken colt is useless; medicine that is too strong will harm rather than cure; a wind out of control destroys. Emotion out of control also destroys, and has no place in God’s kingdom. Meekness uses its resources appropriately.
Meekness is the opposite of violence and vengeance. The meek person, for example, accepts joyfully the seizing of his property, knowing that he has infinitely better and more permanent possessions awaiting him in heaven (Heb. 10:34). The meek person has died to self, and he therefore does not worry about injury to himself, or about loss, insult, or abuse. The meek person does not defend himself, first of all because that is His Lord’s command and example, and second because he knows that he does not deserve defending. Being poor in spirit and having mourned over his great sinfulness, the gentle person stands humbly before God, knowing he has nothing to commend himself.
Meekness is not cowardice or emotional flabbiness. It is not lack of conviction nor mere human niceness. But its courage, its strength, its conviction, and its pleasantness come from God, not from self. The spirit of meekness is the spirit of Christ, who defended the glory of His Father, but gave Himself in sacrifice for others. Leaving an example for us to follow, He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21–23).
Though He was sinless, and therefore never deserved criticism or abuse, Jesus did not resist slander or repay injustice or threaten His tormentors. The only human being who did no wrong, the One who always had a perfect defense, never defended Himself.
When His Father’s house was profaned by moneychangers and sacrifice sellers, “He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables” (John 2:14–15). Jesus scathingly and repeatedly denounced the hypocritical and wicked religious leaders; He twice cleansed the Temple by force; and He fearlessly uttered divine judgment on those who forsook and corrupted God’s Word.
But Jesus did not once raise a finger or give a single retort in His own defense. Though at any time He could have called legions of angels to His side (Matthew 26:53), He refused to use either natural or supernatural power for His own welfare. Meekness is not weakness, but meekness does not use its power for its own defense or selfish purposes. Meekness is power completely surrendered to God’s control.
The Manifestation of Meekness
The best way to describe meekness is to illustrate it, to see it in action. Scripture abounds with instructive accounts of meekness.
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 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. Besides that, Abraham was Lot’s uncle and his elder. Yet Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights and prerogatives for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households, and for the sake of their testimony before “the Canaanite and the Perizzite [who] were dwelling then in the land” (Gen. 13:5–9). Those things were much more important to Abraham than standing up for his own rights. He had both the right and the power to do as he pleased in the matter, but in meekness he gladly waived his rights and laid aside his power.
Joseph was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. When, by God’s gracious plan, he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt, he was in a position to take severe vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused and, in fact, could have put his brothers into more severe slavery than that into which they had sold him. Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. When he finally revealed to them who he was, “he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it” (Gen. 45:2). Then he said to them, “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life … Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (vv. 5, 8). Later he told them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” ( 50:19–20). In meekness Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help.
Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating some Hebrew slaves; faced up to Pharaoh to demand the release of his people; and was so angry at the orgy that Aaron and the people were having around the golden calf that he smashed the first set of tablets of the Ten Commandments. Yet he was called “very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). Moses vented his anger against those who harmed and enslaved his people and who rebelled against God, but he did not vent his anger against those who abused him or demand personal rights and privileges.
When God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt, Moses felt completely inadequate, and pleaded, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11). After God explained His plan for Moses to confront Pharaoh, Moses again pleaded, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (4:10). Moses would defend God before anyone, but he did not defend himself before God.
David 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. He had such great respect for the king’s office, despite that particular king’s wickedness and abuse of him, that “David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe. So he said to his men, ‘Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed’ ” (1 Sam. 24:5–6).
Many years later, after David’s rebellious son Absalom had routed his father from Jerusalem, a member of Saul’s family named Shimei cursed David and threw stones at him. When one of David’s soldiers wanted to cut off Shimei’s head, David prevented him, saying, “Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day” (2 Sam. 16:5–12).
By contrast, King Uzziah, who began to reign at the age of sixteen and who “did right in the sight of the Lord,” and “continued to seek God” (2 Chron. 26:4–5), became self-confident after the Lord gave him great victories over the Philistines, Ammonites, and other enemies. “When he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (v.16). Uzziah thought he could do no wrong, and arrogantly performed a rite that he knew was restricted to the priests. He was so concerned with exalting himself and glorying in his greatness, that he disobeyed the God who had made him great and even profaned His Temple. As a consequence “King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord” (v. 21).
Of the many examples of meekness in the New Testament, the greatest other than Jesus Himself was Paul. He was by far the most educated of the apostles and the one, as far as we can tell, that God used most widely and effectively. Yet he refused to put any confidence in himself, “in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). He knew that he could do all things, but only “through Him who strengthens me” (4:13).
The Result of Meekness
As with the other beatitudes, the general result of meekness is being blessed, being made divinely happy. God gives the meek His own joy and gladness.
More specifically, however, the gentle … shall inherit the earth. After creating man in His own image, God gave man dominion over the whole earth (Gen. 1:28). The subjects of His kingdom are going to come someday into that promised inheritance, largely lost and perverted after the Fall. Theirs will be paradise regained.
One day God will completely reclaim His earthly domain, and those who have become His children through faith in His Son will rule that domain with Him. And the only ones who become His children and the subjects of His divine kingdom are those who are gentle, those who are meek, because they understand their unworthiness and sinfulness and cast themselves on the mercy of God. The emphatic pronoun autos (they) is again used (see vv. 3, 4), indicating that only those who are meek shall inherit the earth.
Most Jews thought that the coming great kingdom of the Messiah would belong to the strong, of whom the Jews would be the strongest. But the Messiah Himself said that it would belong to the meek, and to Jew and Gentile alike.
Klēronomeō (to inherit) refers to the receiving of one’s allotted portion, one’s rightful inheritance. This beatitude is almost a direct quotation of Psalm 37:11-“But the humble will inherit the land.” For many generations faithful Jews had wondered, as God’s people today sometimes wonder, why the wicked and godless seem to prosper and the righteous and godly seem to suffer. Through David, God assured His people, “Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place, and he will not be there” (v. 10). The wicked person’s time of judgment was coming, as was the righteous person’s time of blessing.
Our responsibility is to trust the Lord and obey His will. The settling of accounts, whether in judgment or blessing, is in His hands and will be accomplished exactly in the right time and in the right way. In the meanwhile, God’s children live in faith and hope based on the certain promise, the divine pronouncement, that they shall inherit the earth.
Paul both warns and assures the Corinthians, saying, “So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:21–23). Because we belong to Christ, our place in the kingdom is as secure as His.
It is also certain “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). One day the Lord will take the earth from the hands of the wicked and give it to His righteous people, whom He will use “to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishment on the peoples; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute on them the judgment written” (Ps. 149:7–9).
Our inheritance of the earth is not entirely future, however. The promise of the future inheritance itself gives us hope and happiness now. And we are able to appreciate many things, even earthly things, in ways that only those who know and love the Creator can experience.
In the beautiful words of Wade Robinson,
Heav’n above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in ev’ry hue
Christless eyes have never seen!
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His and He is mine.
Nearly a century ago George MacDonald wrote, “We cannot see the world as God means it in the future, save as our souls are characterized by meekness. In meekness we are its only inheritors. Meekness alone makes the spiritual retina pure to receive God’s things as they are, mingling with them neither imperfection nor impurity.”
The Necessity for Meekness
Meekness is necessary first of all because it is required for salvation. Only the meek will inherit the earth, because only the meek belong to the King who will rule the future kingdom of the earth. “For the Lord takes delight in His people,” says the psalmist; “he crowns the humble with salvation” (Ps. 149:4, NIV ). When the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom, “He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ ” (Matt. 18:2–4).
Meekness is also necessary because it is commanded. “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility” (Zeph. 2:3). James commands believers, “Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Those who do not have a humble spirit are not able even to listen rightly to God’s Word, much less understand and receive it.
Meekness is necessary because we cannot witness effectively without it. Peter says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). Pride will always stand between our testimony and those to whom we testify. They will see us instead of the Lord, no matter how orthodox our theology or how refined our technique.
Meekness is necessary because only meekness gives glory to God. Pride seeks its own glory, but meekness seeks God’s. Meekness is reflected in our attitude toward other children of God. Humility in relation to fellow Christians gives God glory. “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:5–7).
3. The Meek
The Lord Jesus calls “blessed” those who are meek (verse 5). He means those who are of a patient and contented spirit. They are willing to put up with little honor here below; they can bear injuries without resentment; they are not ready to take offense. Like Lazarus in the parable, they are content to wait for their good things (Luke 16:20). Blessed are all such! They are never losers in the long run. One day they will “reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).
Before God and will inherit, not only the blessedness of heaven, but shall ultimately share in the kingdom of God upon the earth. Earth can also be translated “land” (Ps. 37:3, 9, 11, 29; Prov. 2:21). Here, in the opening statements of the Sermon on the Mount, is the balance between the physical and spiritual promise of the kingdom. The kingdom of which Jesus preached is both “in you” and is yet “to come.” The Christian is the spiritual citizen of the kingdom of heaven now.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5:5 A “meek” person is not the “wallflower” we often think of when we use the word but one who is humble, gentle, and not aggressive. Nevertheless, in the ancient Greco-Roman world, such humility was no more valued than in our world today. Inheriting the earth as future compensation suggests that the meekness in view also included a lack of earthly possessions. Most poor people in Israel did not own their own land and were subject to the whims of oppressive landlords (Jas 5:1–6). The future reward echoes Ps 37:11 but generalizes the promise of inheriting the land of Israel to include all of the earth. Christian hope does not look forward to inhabiting a particular country but to ruling with Christ over all the globe and ultimately to enjoying an entirely re-created earth and heavens (Rev 20–22).
Blessed are the gentle—the meek—for they shall inherit the earth. And it is the meek person who does enjoy or receive the deepest satisfaction from God’s created order. Meekness is not weakness; rather it is the gentle spirit, the disciplined or controlled spirit. In Greek the word for meek, praus, is an ethical word. Aristotle spoke of meekness as the mean between anger and indifference. It is a word that denotes self-control, but also means genuine humility. There is progress from the reference to the “poor in spirit” to the reference in the second beatitude on caring deeply, to this third beatitude on the “meek.” The pride of the rabbis was in learning; of the Greeks, in intellect; and of the Romans, in power. But it is only the humble who can receive, who can learn or be taught, who can accept forgiveness, who can walk in grace, who can live in love.
Vers. 3–16.—1. The ideal character of his disciples.
Ver. 3.—Blessed (μακάριοι); Vulgate, beati; hence “Beatitudes.” The word describes “the poor in spirit,” etc., not as receipients of blessing (εὐλογημένοι) from God, or even from men, but as possessors of “happiness” (cf. the Authorized Version of John 13:17, and frequently). It describes them in reference to their inherent state, not to the gifts or the rewards that they receive. It thus answers in thought to the common אשׁרי of the Old Testament; e.g. 1 Kings 10:8; Ps. 1:1; 32:1; 84:5. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The first Beatitude is the sum and substance of the whole sermon. Poverty of spirit stands in contrast to self-sufficiency (Rev. 3:17) and as such is perhaps the quality which is most of all opposed to the Jewish temper in all ages (cf. Rom. 2:17–20). For in this, as in much else, the Jewish nation is the type of the human race since the Fall. Observe that vers. 3, 4 (οἱ πτωχοί, οἱ πενθοῦντες, possibly also ver. 5, vide infra) recall Isa. 61:1, 2. As recently in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:18, 19), so also here, he bases the explanation of his work on the prophecy of that work in the Book of Isaiah. The poor (οἱ πτωχοί). Πτωχός, in classical and philosophical usage, implies a lower degree of poverty than πένης (2 Cor. 9:9 and LXX). “The πένης may be so poor that he earns his bread by daily labour; but the πτωχός is so poor that he only obtains his living by begging.… The πένης has nothing superfluous, the πτωχός nothing at all” (Trench, ‘Syn.,’ § xxxvi.). Hence Tertullian (‘Adv. Marc.,’ iv. 14; cf. 15) purposely altered Beati pauperes of the Old Latin to Beati mendici, and elsewhere (‘De Idol.,’ 12) rendered it by egeni. But in Hellenistic Greek, so far as the usage of the LXX and the Hexapla goes (vide Hatch, “Biblical Greek,’ p. 73), the distinction seems hardly to hold good. Hatch even infers—on, we think, very insufficient premisses—that these two words, with ταπεινός and πραΰς (but vide infra), designate the poor of an oppressed country, i.e. the peasantry, the fellahin of Palestine as a class, and he considers it probable that this special meaning under-lies the use of the words in these verses. Whether this be the case or not, the addition of τῷ πνεύματι completely excludes the supposition that our Lord meant to refer to any merely external circumstances. In spirit; Matthew only (τῷ πνεύματι). Dative of sphere (cf. ch. 11:29; 1 Cor. 7:34; 14:20; Rom. 12:11). Jas. 2:5 (τοὺς πτωχοὺς τῷ κόσμῳ) forms an apparent rather than a real contrast; for the dative there marks, not the sphere in which, but the object with reference to which, the poverty is felt (“the poor as to the world,” Revised Version; Wiesinger in Huther), or possibly the object which is the standard of comparison, i.e. in the judgment of the world (Winer, § xxxi. 4, a). Christ here affirms the blessedness of those who are in their spirit absolutely devoid of wealth. It cannot mean that they are this in God’s opinion, for in God’s opinion all are so. It means, therefore, that they are this in their own opinion. While many feel in themselves a wealth of soul-satisfaction, these do not, but realize their insufficiency. Christ says that they realize this “in (their) spirit;” for the spirit is that part of us which specially craves for satisfaction, and which is the means by which we lay hold of true satisfaction. The actual craving for spiritual wealth is not mentioned in this verse. It is implied, but direct mention of it comes partly in ver. 4, and especially in ver. 6. For theirs. Emphatic, as in all the Beatitudes (αὐτῶν, αὐτοί). Is. Not hereafter (Meyer), but even already. The kingdom of heaven (vide note, p. 150). The poor in spirit already belong to and have a share in that realm of God which now is realized chiefly in relation to our spirit, but ultimately will be realized in relation to every element of our nature, and to all other persons, and to every part, animate and inanimate, of the whole world.
Ver. 4.—In some, especially “Western” authorities, vers. 4, 5 are transposed (vide Westcott and Hort, ‘Appendix’), possibly because the terms of ver. 5 seemed to be more closely parallel to ver. 3 (cf. Meyer, Weiss), and also those of ver. 4 fitted excellently with ver. 6. But far the greater balance of evidence is in favour of the usual order, which also, though not on the surface, is in the deepest connexion with the preceding and the following verses. They that mourn (cf. Isa. 61:2). Our Lord does not define that which causes the mourning, but as the preceding and the following verses all refer to the religious or at least the ethical sphere, merely carnal and worldly mourning is excluded. The mourning referred to must, therefore, be produced by religious or moral causes. Mourners for the state of Israel, so far as they mourned not for its political but for its spiritual condition (cf. similar mourning in the Christian Church, 2 Cor. 7:9, 10), would be included (cf. Weiss, ‘Life,’ ii. 142); but our Lord’s primary thought must have been of mourning over one’s personal state, not exactly, perhaps, over one’s sins, but over the realized poverty in spirit just spoken of (cf. Weiss-Meyer). As the deepest poverty lies in the sphere of the spirit, so the deepest mourning lies there also. All other mourning is but partial and slight compared with this (Prov. 18:14). For they shall be comforted. When? On having the kingdom of heaven (ver. 3); i.e. during this life in measure (cf. Luke 2:25), but fully only hereafter. The mourning over one’s personal poverty in spirit is removed in proportion as Christ is received and appropriated; but during this life such appropriation can be only partial.
Ver. 5.—Blessed are the meek. In this Beatitude our Lord still quotes Old Testament expressions. The phrase, “shall inherit the earth,” comes even in Isa. 60:21, only two verses before 61:1, 2, to which he has already referred. In the present copies of the LXX it is found also in Isa. 61:7, but there it is evidently a corruption. It occurs also in Ps. 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34; and since in the eleventh verse of the psalm it is directly said of the meek: “But the meek shall inherit the land (LXX, οἱ δὲ πραεῖς κληρονομήσουσιν γῆν),” it is, doubtless, from this latter passage that our Lord borrows the phrase. The meaning attributed by our Lord to the word meek is not clear. The ordinary use of the words πραΰς, πραΰτης in the New Testament refers solely to the relation of men to men, and this is the sense in which of οἱ πραεῖς is taken by most commentators here. But with this sense, taken barely and solely, there seems to be no satisfactory explanation of the position of the Beatitude. Vers. 3 and 4 refer to men in their relation to God; ver. 6, to say the least, includes the relation of men to God; what has ver. 5 to do here if it refers solely to the relation of men to men? It would have come very naturally either before or after ver. 9 (“the peacemakers”); but why here? The reason, however, for the position of the Beatitude lies in the true conception of meekness. While the thought is here primarily that of meekness exhibited towards men (as is evident from the implied contrast in they shall inherit the earth), yet meekness towards men is closely connected with, and is the result of, meekness towards God. This is not exactly humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη which, as regards God, is equivalent to a sense of creatureliness or dependence; cf. Trench, ‘Syn.,’ § xlii.). Meekness is rather the attitude of the soul towards another when that other is in a state of activity towards it. It is the attitude of the disciple to the teacher when teaching; of the son to the father when exercising his paternal authority; of the servant to the master when giving him orders. It is therefore essentially as applicable to the relation of man to God as to that of man to man. It is for this reason that we find ענו, ענוח, very frequently used of man’s relation to God, in fact, more often than of man’s relation to man; and this common meaning of ענו must be specially remembered here, where the phrase is taken directly from the Old Testament. Weiss (‘Matthäus-ev.’) objects to Tholuck adducing the evidence of the Hebrew words, on the ground that the Greek terms are used solely of the relation to man, and that this usage is kept to throughout the New Testament. But the latter statement is hardly true. For, not to mention ch. 11:29, in which the reference is doubtful, Jas. 1:21 certainly refers to the meekness shown towards God in receiving his word. “The Scriptural πραότης,” says Trench, loc. cit., “is not in a man’s outward behaviour only; nor yet in his relations to his fellow-men; as little in his mere natural disposition. Rather is it an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God (Matt. 11:29; Jas. 1:21). It is that temper of spirit in which we accept his dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting; and it is closely linked with the ταπεινοφροσύνη, and follows directly upon it (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12; cf. Zeph. 3:12), because it is only the humble heart which is also the meek; and which, as such, does not fight against God, and more or less struggle and contend with him.” Yet, as this meekness must be felt towards God not only in his direct dealings with the soul, but also in his indirect dealings (i.e. by secondary means and agents), it must also be exhibited towards men. Meekness towards God necessarily issues in meekness towards men. Our Lord’s concise teaching seizes, therefore, on this furthest expression of meekness. Thus it is not meekness in the relation of man to man barely stated, of which Christ here speaks, but meekness in the relation of man to man, with its prior and presupposed fact of meekness in the relation of man to God. Shall inherit the earth. In the Psalm this is equivalent to the land of Palestine, and the psalmist means that, though the wicked may have temporary power, yet God’s true servants shall really and finally have dominion in the Land. But what is intended here? Probably our Lord’s audience understood the phrase on his lips as a Messianic adaptation of the original meaning, and as therefore implying that those who manifested a meek reception of his will would obtain that full possession of the land of Palestine which was now denied to the Israelites through the conquest of the Romans. But to our Lord, and to the evangelist who, years after, recorded them, the meaning of the words must have been much fuller, corresponding, in fact, to the true meaning of the “kingdom of heaven,” viz. that the meek shall inherit—shall receive, as their rightful possession from their Father, the whole earth; renewed, it may be (Isa. 11:6–9; 65:25; Rev. 21:1), but still the earth (Rom. 8:21), with all the powers of nature therein implied. Of this the conquest of nature already gained through the civilization produced under Christianity is at once the promise and, though but in a small degree, the firstfruits.
§ 5:5 the meek. This beatitude resembles and is perhaps based on Ps. 37:11. The meekness in view is spiritual meekness, an attitude of humility and submission to God. Our pattern for meekness is Jesus (the same Greek word is translated “gentle” in 11:29), who submits to the will of His Father.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth [Matt. 5:5].
We find this in Psalm 37:11. The meek are not inheriting the earth in this day in which we live—I’m sure you recognize that. So apparently the Sermon on the Mount is not in effect today. However, when Christ is reigning, the meek will inherit the earth.
How do you become meek? Our Lord was meek and lowly, and He will inherit all things; we are the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. We are told that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, temperance, and meekness. Only the Spirit of God can break you and make you meek. If you could produce meekness by your own effort, you would be proud of yourself, wouldn’t you? And out goes your meekness! Meekness is not produced by self-effort but by Spirit effort. Only the Holy Spirit can produce meekness in the heart of a yielded Christian. The Christian who has learned the secret of producing the fruit of the Holy Spirit can turn here to the Beatitudes and read, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth,” and see that the rewards of meekness are still in the future. Paul asked the Corinthian believers, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? …” (1 Cor. 6:2).
The Beatitudes present goals which the child of God wants to realize in his own life, but he can’t do it on his own. You may have heard of the preacher who had a message entitled “Meekness and How I Attained It.” He said that he hadn’t delivered his message yet, but as soon as he got an audience big enough, he was going to give it! Well, I have a notion that he had long since lost his meekness. Meekness can only be a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
5:5 A “gentle” or “meek” person is not only gentle in his or her dealings with others (11:29; 21:5; James 3:13). Such a person is unpretentious (1 Pet. 3:4, 14–15), self-controlled, and free from malice and vengefulness. This quality looks at a person’s dealings with other people. A person might acknowledge his or her spiritual bankruptcy and mourn because of sin, but to respond meekly when other people regard us as sinful is something else. Meekness then is the natural and appropriate expression of genuine humility toward others.
Inheriting the Promised Land was the hope of the godly in Israel during the wilderness wanderings (Deut. 4:1; 16:20; cf. Isa. 57:13; 60:21). Inheriting is the privilege of faithful heirs (cf. 25:34). It is something that one has to work to obtain. He or she can inherit because of who that person is due to relationship with the one bestowing the inheritance. Inheriting is a concept that the apostles wrote about and clarified (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:23–24; Heb. 9:15; 12:23; 1 Pet. 1:3–4; et al.). Inheriting is not always the same as entering. A person can enter another’s house, for example, without inheriting it. The Old Testament concept of inheriting involved not only entering but also becoming an owner of what one entered. In this beatitude Jesus was saying more than that the meek will enter the kingdom. They will also enter into it as an inheritance and possess it.245 A major theme in the Sermon on the Mount is the believing disciple’s rewards (cf. v. 12; 6:2, 4–6, 18).246
The earth is what the meek can joyfully anticipate inheriting. The Old Testament concept of the messianic kingdom was earthly. Messiah would rule over Israel and the nations on the earth (Ps. 2:8–9; 37:9, 11, 29). Eventually the kingdom of Messiah will move to the new earth (21:1). This means Jesus’ meek disciples can anticipate receiving possession of some of the earth during His messianic reign (cf. 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27). They will, of course, be subject to the King then.
The best of saints are sinners
(Brooks, "The Golden Key to Open Hidden Treasures")
A child of God may slip into a sin--as a sheep may slip
into the mire. But he does not, and cannot wallow in
sin--as the swine wallows in the mire.
The best of saints are sinners, though the worst
and weakest of saints do not indulge sin or cherish it;
or make daily provision for it; or take daily pleasure
and delight in sin; or habitually yield a willing and
total subjection to the authority and commands of sin.
There is as much difference between sin in a regenerate
person--and sin in an unregenerate person, as there is
between poison in a man--and poison in a serpent.
Poison in a man is most offensive and burdensome, and
he readily uses all remedies and antidotes to expel it
and get rid of it. But poison in a serpent, is in its
natural place, and is most pleasing and delightful.
Just so, sin in a regenerate man is most offensive and
burdensome, and he readily uses all holy means and
antidotes to expel it and to get rid of it. But sin in an
unregenerate man is most pleasing and delightful, it
being in its natural place.
A godly man may have many sins--yet he has not
one beloved sin, one bosom sin, one darling sin.
His sins are his greatest grief and torment.
Every godly man . . .
hates all known sin,
would sincerely have his sins not only pardoned, but destroyed,
groans under the burden of sin,
combats and conflicts with all known sin,
has fixed purposes and designs not to sin,
has a sincere willingness to be rid of all sin.
No sincere Christian indulges himself in any
trade, course, or way of sin. "Oh," says the
gracious soul, "that I could be rid of . . .
this proud heart,
this hard heart,
this unbelieving heart,
this unclean heart,
this earthly heart,
this froward heart of mine!"
O sirs, this is most certain--whoever gives up himself
freely, willingly, cheerfully, habitually--to the service
of any one particular lust or sin--he is in the state of
nature, under wrath, and in the way to eternal ruin!
TEV Today’s English Version
GeCL German common language version
TOB Traduction oecuménique de la Bible
NEB New English Bible
Newman, B. M., & Stine, P. C. (1992). A handbook on the Gospel of Matthew. Originally published: A translator's handbook on the Gospel of Matthew, c1988. UBS helps for translators; UBS handbook series (110). New York: United Bible Societies.
Hare, D. R. A. (1993). Matthew. Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching (38). Louisville: John Knox Press.
Old Testament *Old Testament. The common modern term for the Hebrew Bible (including Aramaic portions) as defined by the Jewish and Protestant Christian canons; Jewish readers generally call this the Tenach.
Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Mt 5:5). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
* 5:5 When Jewish people thought of the meek “inheriting the earth,” they went beyond the minimal interpretation of Psalm 37:9, 11, 29 (where those who hope in God alone “will inherit the land”; compare Ps 25:13) and thought of inheriting the entire world (Rom 4:13; 4QPs 37).
Ps. Sol. Psalms of Solomon
1QS Serek hayyaḥad or Manual of Discipline from Qumran Cave 1
Jos. Josephus Against Apion
ARN ˒Abot de Rabbi Nathan
Keener, C. S. (1997). Vol. 1: Matthew. The IVP New Testament commentary series (Mt 5:3). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
KJV Bible commentary. 1997, c1994 (1884). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
8 The German word Luther uses is sanfftmut.
9 “Headlong Hans” is a translation of Luther’s phrase “Hans mit dem kopff hindurch.”
Luther, M. (1999, c1956). Vol. 21: Luther's works, vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (21:22). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Mt 5:3). Peabody: Hendrickson.
b.c. Before Christ
a.d. Anno Domini (Lat.), Year of the Lord
cf. confer (Lat.), compare
 MacArthur, J. (1989). Matthew (167). Chicago: Moody Press.
Ryle, J. C. (1993). Matthew. Originally published: New York : R. Carter, 1860. The Crossway classic commentaries (25). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary (Mt 5:5). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
Blomberg, C. (2001, c1992). Vol. 22: Matthew (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (99). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Augsburger, M. S., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 24: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 24 : Matthew. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (18). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew Vol. I. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (146). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Whitlock, L. G., Sproul, R. C., Waltke, B. K., & Silva, M. (1995). Reformation study Bible, the : Bringing the light of the Reformation to Scripture : New King James Version. Includes index. (Mt 5:5). Nashville: T. Nelson.
McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (4:30). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
245 245. Ibid., 1:2 (July-August 1991):1-2.
246 246. See Dillow, p. 67.
Tom Constable. (2003; 2003). Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible (Mt 5:5). Galaxie Software.