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Why Will the Meek Inherit the Earth?

  • Heather Adams Contributing Writer
  • 2020 31 Aug
Why Will the Meek Inherit the Earth?

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).

Jesus spoke this familiar verse on a hillside near the town of Capernaum. It is one of the Beatitudes, a group of instructions the Lord gave to the people. In some ways, they echo the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses, in that they provide directions for righteous living. These focus on characteristics believers need to possess.

I have to confess that I used to look at this verse as if it were an item on a spiritual to-do list, but that is much too shallow a view. I was also puzzled a bit by it - I wondered what it meant to be meek and how that would lead to blessing. Have you wondered that as well?

As I've explored this verse more, God has shown me that it holds a lot deeper meaning than I realized. Jesus' words challenge my desire for instant gratification, and offer me blessings as I let God be in control of my life.

"He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way" (Psalm 76:9).

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  • man reading bible outdoors

    What Does "the Meek Shall Inherit the Earth" Mean?

    Dividing this verse into two sections helped me see how important Jesus' choice of words was.

    "Blessed Are the Meek…"

     In modern culture, the term "meek" might conjure up the image of a person who is mild, passive and even timid. But as I searched for a more complete definition, I discovered what a beautiful trait it actually is.

    • The ancient Greeks, namely Aristotle - "the character of one having the passion of resentment under control, and therefore is tranquil and untroubled."
    • Dictionary.com - "humbly patient under provocation from others, compliant, gentle, kind"
    • Merriam-Webster Dictionary - "enduring injury with patience and without resentment." 

    Bible Dictionaries add to the idea of meekness bringing a sense of calm to the soul. The King James Bible Dictionary says "mild of temper, not easily provoked or irritated, submissive to the Divine will, not proud or self-sufficient."

    The Baker's Evangelical Dictionary entry builds on the notion of meekness being connected with having a longer view: "It describes strong people who are placed in positions of weakness who keep going without sinking into bitterness or a desire for vengeance."

    Meekness, then, comes not from fear, but a firm foundation of trust and faith in God. It reflects a person who keeps their eyes fixed on Him, who is able to withstand unfair treatment and injustices with grace.

    "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility…" (Zeph. 2:3).

    The second half of Matthew 5:5 refers to the result of living with true meekness of spirit.

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  • Hands passing the world onto a child

    "...for They Will Inherit the Earth."

    This phrase was confusing to me until I understood more of that longer view God wants us to have. In other words, we are ideally living here on Earth while being aware of the life that's yet to come. In our humanness, that can be a hard balance to strike.

    The inheritance Jesus' means is peace, joy and contentment in our daily lives, wherever we find ourselves, and hope for our future. Again, this is not a popular idea in a world that places importance on grabbing fame, wealth and accomplishments as soon as possible. It highlights the things that matter to God versus those of men, and Jesus wanted the people to see the clear difference between the two.

    Jesus knew that most people in His time made their living as farmers, fishermen or tradesmen. They weren't rich or powerful, but had to deal with those who were. Being oppressed by both Roman rule and the religious leaders led to frustrating and even fearful moments. Jesus wanted to remind them that God was still present in their lives, and they were called to live by His standards.

    This passage as a whole also hints at the persecution that first Jesus, and then His followers, would face. He would soon share with the Apostles how he would be put to death and rise again. Most of them, in turn, would later experience some of the same treatment. It would be vitally important for the disciples to see Jesus' circumstances, and their own, through eyes of faith.

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    What Are the Beatitudes?

    The Beatitudes are part of a much larger teaching Jesus gave near Capernaum. He and the twelve disciples had been travelling through Galilee, with Jesus teaching and healing as they went. Crowds soon began coming from all over the region to see Him. Finally, Jesus went up onto a hillside to speak to the enormous gathering. The Beatitudes are the opening to this message, popularly known as The Sermon on the Mount

    Through these points, recorded in Matthew 5:3-11 and Luke 6:20-22, Jesus laid out characteristics that genuine believers are to have. They can be seen as a "Christian code of ethics" that clearly show how different God's ways are than the ways of the world. Jesus meant the Beatitudes to serve as a moral compass to guide people when facing temptations and troubles in this life.

    Each begins with "Blessed are," and presents a specific trait. Then, Jesus states what the ultimate reward will be for those that are faithful in it, whether right away or at a future time. He goes on from there to teach other principles for Godly living. 

    In Chapter 5 of Matthew's Gospel, verse 5 is the third Beatitude of eight. Before that, Jesus introduced the traits of being poor in spirit, and of mourning. All of these first three qualities speak of the value of humility and acknowledge God's supremacy. 

    Jesus continues, speaking of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, of being merciful and pure in heart, of seeking to make peace and of being persecuted.

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  • Man kneeling in prayer on a foggy morning

    All Believers Are Called to Be Meek

    God's Word emphasizes meekness as one of the most essential traits a believer can have. In fact, this quiet but powerful endurance is one way that we are set apart from those of the world. According to Scripture, everyone who desires to please God will:

    • See the value in meekness, embracing it as part of a Godly life.
    • Desire to grow in meekness, knowing we can't do it without God.
    • Pray for opportunities to show meekness to others, hoping it will lead them to God.

    The Old and New Testaments are full of lessons and reminders about this characteristic. Many of the early heroes of the faith lived it out.

    "Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).

    Jesus taught over and over about humility and loving our enemies. Those two elements show that being meek is not passive, but making an active choice motivated by God's love.

    "You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-44).

    In this passage from Matthew 11, Jesus spoke of Himself in this way, then invited others to join Him. 

    "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).

    Jesus showed us the ultimate example of meekness during His trial and crucifixion. He willingly tolerated abuse and then death because He knew the result would be salvation for us. Isaiah shared a prophesy of this event that reads, "he was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, he did not open his mouth…" (Isaiah 53:7).

    Later, the Apostle Paul encouraged the new church members to respond to Jesus' meekness by “putting it on” themselves, and letting it govern their behavior.

    "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience" (Colossians 3:12).

    As we think more about meekness, though, we need to keep in mind that we are not meant to stay silent all the time. God always takes care of us, but He may call us to speak out and defend Him to others, maybe even loudly. Jesus provides us with a model for that as well. He knew the passions of His Father's heart, and let those lead Him during His ministry. For example:

    "When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’” (John 11:43).

    "So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’” (John 2:15-16).

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    What Does This Verse Mean for Believers Today?

    Meekness may sound like an outdated idea. But if God calls us to it, He will show us how it applies to our lives. We may not face open persecution, but we certainly can find ourselves caught up in unfair circumstances. The question is how we handle those moments. 

    For instance, how do you think you'd respond if someone talked about you behind your back, or your faith was made fun of, or another person took advantage of you? We can try to defend ourselves, or we can ask God to equip us with quiet dignity to go through. One way leads to momentary relief, while the other leads to spiritual growth, and may even be a witness to others.

    If I'm honest, meekness is not always my first response, because it goes against my human tendency to get justice and to stand up for myself. My heart needs to change, but it won't happen without God's touch. With a prayer, I can invite Him into the process. The Lord will build each of us up, revealing practical and powerful ways to walk out the trait each day. 

    The mindset of meekness is a discipline that will strengthen us to face any type of difficulty or bad treatment. Having this kind of spirit is one of the hardest yet most rewarding goals we can set. Now that I see what being meek means and where it will lead me, I'm more determined to make the journey. 

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    Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby! You can connect with her on her website: heatheradamsworshipwalk.com