The meek: Part Two

Matthew 5:5
“Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.”

The Bible is one of the most marvelously self-referential books you will ever read. While much of what Jesus says in the four Gospels refers to future events in His own life and the lives of His followers, we miss out on a great deal if we fail to look back at the references our Savior makes to the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. Jesus was, after all, speaking to a mostly Jewish audience while preaching in Galilee and Judea. Even in Samaria, Tyre, and Sidon, He was dealing with the descendants of the northern tribes of Israel who would know the stories of the Exodus and the laws of Moses. In short, Jesus’ words were chosen to speak not only to future believers but to people of His own time, often by making direct or indirect references to ancient Scriptures that they knew.

The Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount are no different. Most of the nine blessings in Matthew 5:3-12 can be found elsewhere in God’s Word. Todays verse about “Blessed are the meek” refers to one of King David’s own Psalms.

Psalm 37:11
But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

When we read this today in English, it sounds a lot like what Jesus said in Matthew 5:5. In fact, the English translation of the Gospel of Matthew is pretty accurate, but things get a little different when we look back at the Hebrew for Psalm 37. Two words – “meek” and “inherit” – are translated that way to reflect their use by Jesus, but in the Hebrew, their meaning is subtly different.

The Hebrew word translated here as the “meek” – “ânâv” – also carries with it the idea of not just those who humble themselves before the Lord, but also the idea of those people who are humbled and even oppressed by others. Think of it as “people who are in humble circumstances.” The “poor” is another common way to translate that word.

The word we see here translated as “inherit” is not actually “inherit” as we think of it in a modern legal sense. In today’s thinking (and even in the Greek language and philosophy of Jesus’ time), an inheritance is something GIVEN to you. But the word in Hebrew – “yârash” – is most often translated as “possess” or “take possession of.” The Biblical idea is that you TAKE what God has set aside for you as your inheritance, not so much that it is simply handed to you on a silver platter.

So looking at Psalm 37:11 again, we can see a different idea taking form.

Psalm 37:11 (New King James)
But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Psalm 37:11 (Alternate)
But the poor and oppressed shall take possession of the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Think of that: The powerless and oppressed will someday take over! Yes, we should indeed humble ourselves before God, seeking His mercy and forgiveness. Yes, we should humble ourselves in the service of God’s kingdom. Like our Savior, we should be gentle, meek, and kind. But if you are among those who are poor, oppressed, downtrodden, you should hold fast to this hope:

Psalm 37:7-9
7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret – it only causes harm.
9 For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the LORD,
They shall inherit the earth.

Jesus’ and David’s message could not be more timely – nor more timeless. Wait upon the Lord, hold fast to your faith in Him, and be ready to take possession of the inheritance of eternal life promised through Christ Jesus.

Gracious Father, I feel often that I must repeat the words of Your friend David and ask “Who am I and what is my family that you have exalted me?” I know that, compared to millions of others, I am truly blessed. Let me share that blessing with others, Lord God, that they might come to see Your glory and the grace You offer. And when times are tougher for me, in all circumstances help me to rejoice in You alone. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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