Why Does Scripture Say "Blessed are the Meek, for They Will Inherit the Earth"?
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
In Matthew, we encounter a list of people who will receive blessings in a section known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). One group of people mentioned, the meek, have a negative connotation in today’s world.
One instance can be seen in pop culture. One of the characters in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood misuses the phrase "blessed be" to indicate people must exercise meekness in the presence of oppressors, seeming to leave out the end of the phrase found in Matthew, “for they will inherit the earth,” explains Sparknotes.
But misuse of the verse aside, meekness doesn’t appear to have a high place in our society. Meekness, defined here by the King James Bible as a gentleness or the state of not being provoked easily by an enemy or oppressor, has virtually no place in a revenge-based world we live in.
In this article, we’ll dive into the meaning of the phrase “blessed are the meek” and what meekness looks like in today’s day and age in the church.
What Does It Mean to Be Meek and Why is it a Blessed Trait?
We might have a different idea of meekness in our culture than in Jesus’ day. Let’s dive into some antonyms, commentaries, and translations to find the meaning of this word.
To be meek is to be gentle, humble, lowly. “The meek are the ‘gentle’… those who do not assert themselves over others in order to further their own agendas in their own strength, but who will nonetheless inherit the earth because they trust in God to direct the outcome of events.” ESV Study Bible notes.
John Gill’s commentary seems to assert this – meek people don’t envy, don’t retaliate, and exercise patience in the face of adversity.
Matthew Henry adds that the meek show joy and happiness under dire circumstances. No matter what happens in the world around them, they latch on to God’s provision and plan for their lives.
The opposite of meekness is defined by Merriam-Webster as egotistic, pompous, haughty, and aggressive. Through this, we see a different picture of meekness. It isn’t a doormat mentality or silence in the face of injustice. Instead, it doesn’t retaliate when wronged and doesn’t exude pride and narcissism. The type of person most people would think would rule the earth likely exhibits some of the traits listed above. At least, it fits the bill for the Roman emperors during the time of Jesus.
Does Translation Impact the Meaning of Matthew 5:5?
Let’s take a look at a few translations of this verse. Note that most translations, regardless of the time period, keep very similar wording – with one modern exception.
- NIV: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- KJV: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
- ESV: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
- The Message: You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
Apart from the Message most translations appear to have almost identical wording.
As for the Message translation, it’s interesting to note that the translators interpreted meekness to mean accepting the gifts God has given to us. The opposite of meekness does also mean envious. When we don’t envy other’s gifts, we embrace who God created us to be and his distinct purpose for our lives.
Who Wrote the Book of Matthew?
Matthew, a disciple of Christ and one of the original twelve, had also gone by the name of Levi. Originally a tax collector, one of the most hated people of Jesus’ day, he leaves his profession and joins Jesus in his public ministry.
A few decades later, Matthew records the events of Jesus’ ministry in the first book we have in the New Testament (even though many of the other books in the New Testament had been written before then).
We run into a brief sermon series toward the beginning of Matthew known as the Sermon on the Mount, some of Jesus’ most famous teachings. He heads the sermon series with the Beatitudes.
What Are the Beatitudes?
Jesus kicks off the Sermon on the Mount with a list of people who will receive a blessing.
“He said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you’” (Matthew 5:3-12).
Most of those who receive blessings would’ve been the least of these in Jesus’ culture, and the meek stand at no exception.
With an oppressor like Rome at the heels of the Israelites, they wanted to do the opposite of gentleness. They wanted to rebel, to crush Rome. And they thought Jesus would be the man for the job.
But Jesus preaches a different message here. The bloodthirsty and revenge-seeking don’t receive the earth. The meek do.
What Does This Verse Mean for Us?
Do Christians have to be meek? Can a bold person inherit the earth?
What does this verse NOT mean?
Christians can often misinterpret this along with the “turn the other cheek” verse we find in the same sermon series. Meekness does not mean remaining quiet when we see injustices take place in the world around us or simply sitting back and taking abuse in our families, in our church, and in our world.
Meekness here means a number of things:
1. Non-retaliation: In Jesus’ culture, they operated in an eye-for-eye mindset. If someone were to wrong you, you’d wrong them back. The problem was, retaliation escalated in a never ending cycle. Here, Jesus calls us to diffuse the fire before it grows too dangerous.
2. Thankfulness: We ought to be thankful for the gifts God has given us. A worldly leader wants more and more and is envious of the gifts others have that he cannot possess. A godly leader is content with the gifts God has given him and chooses to honor God with them.
3. Joy: No matter how dire the circumstances, a meek person will find joy in knowing the heavenly Father has a plan for his life.
How do we become meek? We trust God will handle the enemies who spurn us and we exercise gratitude and joy in all circumstances. Revenge belongs to God alone.
Embracing Meekness in Today's Culture
Despite its oppressive portrayal in The Handmaid’s Tale, meekness isn’t the opposite of boldness. It doesn’t mean we simply let oppressors continue to oppress the downtrodden simply because, “It’s not the Christian thing to do to speak up.”
That’s a false portrayal. We see multiple examples in Scripture of Christians speaking and acting boldly.
However, meekness does look like quenching any fires of retaliation before anyone can really get hurt.
We can exercise meekness by trusting in God’s plan and finding joy in our circumstances and the gifts he has given us. The best people who inherit the earth give it back to God, who exercised meekness here on earth.
A Prayer for Meekness
The world says the assert yourself. Put yourself forward. Grab. Fight. The Bible says be meek and you will inherit the earth. When we inherit something we don’t work for it but receive it as a gift. God gives the meek everything they need. Those who are meek find deep contentment and joy.
Father, we pray today that you would draw us into meekness. We pray that you would soften our hearts, that you would remind us of the gift of gentleness, that you would show us through Jesus how to live in love day by day. We pray that you would forgive us of our sins and open our eyes and hearts to forgiveness for others in our lives. We ask that you would help us to guard our speech, that the words we say would be life-giving and glorifying to you. We are so grateful for your refining fire in our lives. In your holy name, Amen.
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