Late twentieth-century Western culture does not hold meekness to be a virtue, in contrast to the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world, which placed a high premium on it. This dramatic shift in values is problematic for contemporary biblical translation. Most modern versions replace the noun "meekness" by "gentleness" or "humility, " largely as a result of the pejorative overtones of weakness and effeminacy now associated with meekness. These connotations were not always predominant in the word, for ancient Near Eastern kings were not reluctant to describe themselves as meek in the same context in which they described themselves as mighty kings (Babylonian asru and sanaqu; Aramaic nh). What has prompted the discrepancy between the biblical and contemporary attitudes toward this virtue?
There are two essential components for this quality to come into play in the Bible: a conflict in which an individual is unable to control or influence circumstances. Typical human responses in such circumstances include frustration, bitterness, or anger, but the one who is guided by God's spirit accepts God's ability to direct events ( Gal 5:23 ; Eph 4:2 ; Col 3:12 ; 1 Tim 6:11 ; Titus 3:2 ; James 1:21 ; 3:13 ). Meekness is therefore an active and deliberate acceptance of undesirable circumstances that are wisely seen by the individual as only part of a larger picture. Meekness is not a resignation to fate, a passive and reluctant submission to events, for there is little virtue in such a response. Nevertheless, since the two responses resignation and meekness are externally often indistinguishable, it is easy to see how what was once perceived as a virtue has become a defect in contemporary society. The patient and hopeful endurance of undesirable circumstances identifies the person as externally vulnerable and weak but inwardly resilient and strong. Meekness does not identify the weak but more precisely the strong who have been placed in a position of weakness where they persevere without giving up. The use of the Greek word when applied to animals makes this clear, for it means "tame" when applied to wild animals. In other words, such animals have not lost their strength but have learned to control the destructive instincts that prevent them from living in harmony with others.
Therefore, it is quite appropriate for all people, from the poor to ancient Near Eastern kings, to describe their submission to God by the term "meek" (Moses in Num 12:3 ). On the other hand, this quality by definition cannot be predicated of God, and therefore constitutes one of the attributes of creatures that they do not share with their Creator. Nevertheless, in the incarnation Jesus is freely described as meek, a concomitant of his submission to suffering and to the will of the Father ( Matt 11:29 ; 21:5 ; 2 Cor 10:1 ). The single most frequently attested context in which the meek are mentioned in the Bible is one in which they are vindicated and rewarded for their patient endurance ( Psalm 22:26 ; 25:9 ; 37:11 ; 76:9 ; 147:6 ; 149:4 ; Isa 11:4 ; 29:19 ; 61:1 ; Zeph 2:3 ; Matt 5:5 ).
Samuel A. Meier
See also Holy Spirit, Gifts of
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a calm temper of mind, not easily provoked ( James 3:13 ). Peculiar promises are made to the meek ( Matthew 5:5 ; Isaiah 66:2 ). The cultivation of this spirit is enjoined ( Colossians 3:12 ; 1 Timothy 6:11 ; Zephaniah 2:3 ), and is exemplified in Christ ( Matthew 11:29 ), Abraham ( Genesis 13 ; Genesis 16:5 Genesis 16:6 ) Moses ( Numbers 12:3 ), David ( Zechariah 12:8 ; 2 Sam Zechariah 16:10 Zechariah 16:12 ), and Paul ( 1 Corinthians 9:19 ).
mek'-nes (`anawah; praotes, prautes):
"Meekness" in the Old Testament (`anawah, `anwah) is from `anaw, "suffering," "oppressed," "afflicted," denoting the spirit produced under such experiences. The word is sometimes translated "poor" (Job 24:4, the Revised Version margin "meek"; Amos 8:4); "humble" (Psalms 9:12,18, the Revised Version margin "meek"); "lowly" (Proverbs 3:34; 16:19, the Revised Version (British and American) "poor," margin "meek"). It is generally associated with some form of oppression. The "meek" were the special objects of the Divine regard, and to them special blessings are promised (Psalms 22:26, "The meek shall eat and be satisfied"; 25:9, "The meek will he guide in justice; and the meek will he teach his way"; 37:11, "The meek shall inherit the land"; 147:6, "Yahweh upholdeth the meek"; 149:4, "He will beautify the meek with salvation," the Revised Version margin "victory"; compare Isa 11:4; 29:19; 61:1, "Yahweh hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek," the Revised Version margin "poor"; Zec 2:3; Ps 45:4, "because of (the Revised Version margin "in behalf of") truth and meekness and righteousness"). Of Moses it is said he "was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth," notwithstanding the Divine revelations given him, and in the face of opposition (Numbers 12:3; compare 2 Corinthians 12:1-6). Meekness is ascribed even to Yahweh Himself (2 Samuel 22:36, "Thy gentleness (`anawah) hath made me great"; compare Psalms 18:36 (`anwah), the Revised Version margin "condescension"); men are exhorted to seek it (Zec 2:3, "Seek righteousness, seek meekness"; compare Proverbs 15:1; 16:14; 25:15; Ecclesiastes 10:4).
In the Apocrypha also "meekness" holds a high place (Ecclesiasticus 1:27, "The fear of the Lord is wisdom and instruction:
faith and meekness are his delight," the Revised Version (British and American) "in faith and meekness is his good pleasure"; Ecclesiasticus 3:19, "Mysteries are revealed unto the meek" (the Revised Version (British and American) omits); compare 10:14).
"Meekness" in the New Testament (praotes, prautes) is not merely a natural virtue, but a Christian "grace"; it is one of the "fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:23). The conception of meekness, as it had been defined by Aristotle, was raised by Christianity to a much higher level, and associated with the commonly despised quality of humility (see under the word). It was the spirit of the Saviour Himself (Matthew 11:29):
"I am meek (praos) and lowly in heart" (compare 2 Corinthians 10:1, "by the meekness and gentleness of Christ"); it presupposes humility, flows from it, and finds expression in moderation (see under the word). (See Trench, Syn. of New Testament, 145; Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek, New Testament Lexicon, under the word) Christians are exhorted to cherish it and show it in their relations to one another (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; Titus 3:2, "showing all meekness toward all men"); it ought to characterize Christian teachers or those in authority in "instructing (the Revised Version (British and American) "correcting," margin "instructing") them that oppose themselves" (2 Timothy 2:25); the saving, "implanted" (the Revised Version margin "inborn") word is to be received "with meekness" (James 1:21); a man is to "show by his good life his works in meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13), and to give a reason for the hope that is in him, "with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).
The interchangeableness of "meek" with "poor," etc., in the Old Testament ought to be specially noted. our Lord's opening of His ministry at Nazareth (Luke 4:18, "He anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor"), and His message to John (Matthew 11:5, "The poor have good tidings preached to them") are in harmony therewith.
W. L. Walker
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