What is the meaning of the beatitude in Matthew 5:5 regarding the meek inheriting the earth? This article considers what meekness is, and what the inheritance of the meek is.

Source: The Banner of Truth (NRC), 1990. 6 pages.

The Beatitudes: The Biblical Pattern of Christian Experience Beatitude #3: The Meek Pronounced Blessed

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5


Thus far we have observed that the citizens of God's kingdom are the poor in spirit and the mourners in Zion. They are sinners who by the discovering ministry of the Holy Spirit have been made experientially conscious of their spiritual poverty, and are painfully aware that they are without God and without hope in the world. This experiential awareness will inevitably result in the spiritual mourning of a sinner who, by the regenerating work of God's Spirit, loves God and yearns for Him with an unspeakable yearning. It is the mourning of a sinner who realizes that by his sins he has offended His Maker and is separated from the God he loves with his whole being. This experiential mourning is the fruit of the saving operation of God's Spirit whereby He makes room in the heart of that sinner for divine comfort, to be found in Jesus Christ and His mediatorial work.

Thus we observe that the Holy Spirit first of all focusses the attention of the elect sinner upon God Himself, for as we have observed previously, the essence of our spiritual poverty consists in having lost God Himself in our deep fall. Secondly, the Holy Spirit holds before the elect sinner the mirror of the law of God, thus revealing to him the cause of his spiritual poverty, namely sin. This also causes the poor sinner to become a mourning sinner.

However, this is not where the preparatory and discovering work of the Holy Spirit ends. Considering the sequential, cumulative, and progressive nature of the Beatitudes, we of necessity must now consider the third spiritual mark in the life of the citizens of God's kingdom, the third aspect of the internal dimension of Christian experience. It is this third essential aspect of the Spirit's preparatory work which inevitably will result in that exercise of faith identified in the fourth Beatitude as "hungering and thirsting after righteousness."

The Beatitudes: The Biblical Pattern of Christian ExperienceThe third element in Christ's description of His people and their experience is meekness. As we consider the mean­ing of this profound characteristic, it will by renewal become evident that this description of the Christian is of divine origin. For not only will the Holy Spirit convince the elect sinner of his poverty by focusing upon God Himself, causing him to mourn by holding before him the mirror of the law of God, but He will also experientially confront this poor, mourning sinner with the attributes of God. It is this essential confrontation with God's attributes which is the focus of this Beatitude. It is the final step along the pathway by which the Spirit leads all the elect to the feet of Christ, a way in which He teaches them to hunger and thirst for Jesus' righteousness only. Since this experience is such a crucial element in saving conviction – an element entire­ly absent in the man-made experience of superficial Christianity – it behooves us to carefully define the meaning of this Spirit-wrought meekness.

Definition of Terms🔗

The need for careful definition is underscored by the fact that this Beatitude is probably misinterpreted more than any other Beatitude. The prevailing opinion is that "meekness" is descriptive of a person who has a passive, docile, non-aggressive, and weak disposition – qualities which are generally not admired in our society. It must at once be obvious that such cannot be the meaning of the word "meek" here. Within the context of the Beatitudes meekness must neces­sarily be one of the spiritual qualities of the citizens of God's kingdom, and thus a fruit of the Holy Spirit's saving work. Therefore, before we proceed, it must be clear that Christ is making no reference whatsoever to a natural disposition. This meekness, as Thomas Scott puts it, "is not constitutional but gracious."

To properly define meekness is a very difficult task, as there is not one single English word which fully expresses the profound depth of meaning concealed in the Greek word. This is verified by the fact that the English, Dutch, and German Bibles each use a different word in their translations. The translations in these respective Bibles are as follows: "meek" (English), "gentle-" or "tender-hearted" (Dutch), and "humble" (German). These words obviously all have a common denominator, and yet they merely describe the fruits of the disposition to which Christ is referring.

After consulting numerous sources, I believe that the following description approaches the correct meaning of this word. Meekness is a teachable disposition of heart which is the result of being fully conscious of the presence of God and the majesty of His attributes. Let me complement this definition by also sharing with you part of the description found in Vine's Dictionary of New Testament Words. He states the following, "It is an inwrought grace of the soul and the exercises are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without dis­puting or resisting. It is a temper of spirit which is not occupied with self at all."

From all this we can distil that meekness is the disposition of men or women who are acquainted with the very presence of God, who, in some measure, have been made experientially conscious of His infinite and magnificent attributes, who have learned to bow and surrender before the majesty of His Being, and who are experientially acquainted with His holy character. The significance of all this will soon become evident when we seek to determine how this meaning functions within the experiential structure of the Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes: The Biblical Pattern of Christian ExperienceIn view of the aforementioned, it should be clear why Paul, inspired by the Spirit, states, "But the fruit of the Spirit is … meekness…" (Galatians 5:22,23). In other words, by nature no man possesses this virtue, for the natural man is blind for God and therefore blind for His attributes and the majesty of His Being. This humble, tenderhearted, meek, and teachable disposition can only be the fruit of personal, experiential acquaintance with God Himself. Such acquaintance alone will humble a proud sinner who by nature loves his own attributes, and will bring forth surrender and submission to God's will. This explains why a man as Moses, who naturally was a man mighty in words and in deeds and with a short temper, is described as follows, "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3). The mighty grace of God made this mighty man a meek man, for he was a man who saw God face to face at the burning bush, who saw the majestic display of God's attributes at the Red Sea, and who spoke face to face with Him on Mt. Sinai. Even though Moses' encounters with God were of a special nature and therefore not normative, all God's children are, in some measure, made acquainted with God and His attributes by His Spirit, an acquaintance which cannot but yield meekness. This is why Paul lists meekness as one of the marks of God's elect. "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering" (Col. 3:12).

The meekness of Moses and other biblical saints pales, however, in comparison with the meekness of Him who said, "Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matt. 11:29). How intimate was Christ's acquaintance with His Father! How complete and perfect therefore was His submission and surrender to Him in His human nature, even when drops of blood were pressed from His body! When the infinite wrath of God bore down upon Him; when He knew that the demands of His Father's attributes upon Him – the Substitute of His guilty people – necessitated the pathway of indescribable suffering before Him; precisely then we have the most profound evidence of the meekness of  His heart when the words are pressed from His lips, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." He knew that there was no other way in which His Father's justice could be satisfied, and in which His guilty, hell-worthy people could be reconciled with God. On Calvary's cross His confrontation with the attributes of God on behalf of His elect resulted in His death. And yet it was precisely in this way whereby God, without compromise and in full harmony with all His attributes, could open the way whereby He can again be the God of fallen sinners, and they can again be His people.

However, shall we ever value and need a Savior who has fully met all the demands of the offended attributes of God, shall there ever be room in our hearts for The Beatitudes: The Biblical Pattern of Christian ExperienceJesus Christ and Him crucified, then there must come a time in our life that we become experientially acquainted with God and His attributes, a time that we must learn that such a God can by no means clear the guilty. Only then shall we become completely guilty before God, and as a completely hell-worthy sinner stand in need of a complete Savior who saves to the uttermost.

We focused on meekness as being the third essential characteristic of spiritual citizenship.

We defined this spiritual meekness as "a teachable disposition of heart which is the result of being fully conscious of the presence of God and the majesty of His attributes." It is therefore the disposition of a sinner who has come face to face with God and who, by the Spirit's discovering ministry, has become experientially acquainted with the attributes of God – attributes which he learns to love more than his own salvation. It is therefore a disposition of a sinner who is not only acquainted with his spiritual poverty and mourns over his sinnership, but who also knows himself as being guilty and hell-worthy in the face of these attributes. It is a sinner who is taught by God's Spirit that God neither will nor can compromise these attributes and therefore will by no means clear the guilty. In the face of that reality the Spirit brings such a sinner to full surrender before God. He thus makes room for the one Mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ who has fully satisfied these attributes and in whom there is full reconciliation with God for such a poor, mourning, and hell-worthy sinner. How this will cause the meek sinner to hunger and thirst for the righteousness of this Savior in whom the very attributes which condemned Him are now the warranty of His everlasting salvation and the substance of his worship!

In short, the meek sinner is a person who loves God and His attributes and for whom God, who reveals the full spectrum of His attributes in His Son Jesus Christ, is all in all! The inevitable fruit of this disposition will be that the chief desire of such a person will be to live in surrender to the will of this God, and thus to be a worthy citizen of the kingdom of heaven. It should therefore come as no surprise that the special privilege of this spiritual citizenship is made to the meek, to those for whom God is all in all. To them Christ here makes the promise that they shall inherit the earth. To correctly understand this promise, we must of necessity go to Paradise and examine the state of man before the fall.

The Inheritance of the Earth: Restoration of Fallen Sons and Daughters of Adam🔗

When God created Adam in the state of uprightness, He not only created him in an intimate covenant relationship with Himself, but He also gave Adam and Eve the earth as their inheritance. In Genesis 1:28 we read, "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." God appointed the earth as the grand domain and arena in which they would serve and worship their Creator, in which they would magnify the glorious attributes of their covenant God in thought, word, and deed. It was the earth, this beautiful masterpiece, which they were called to subdue and replenish and thus bring glory to Him who created it all. How blessed was the state in which Adam and Eve were, and how rich was the inheritance God entrusted to them!

The Beatitudes: The Biblical Pattern of Christian ExperienceHow tragic, on the contrary, were the consequences of our deep fall, for as a result of our rebellion against our Maker we also lost our right to this inheritance. The immediate result of our fall was expulsion from Paradise, that beautiful sanctuary on earth which God had created for His image-bearers. How­ever, in addition to this expulsion, God also pronounced a curse upon the earth, for in Genesis 3:17 we read, "And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life." This beautiful earth would now bring sorrow to the children of men, a truth which is verified until this very day. As a result of our wretched fall the entire creation, and thus also the earth, has been affected as Paul states, "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Rom. 8:22).

How rich is the gospel when viewed against this background, as it reveals the way in which God restores that which we have ruined in our fall. This creation which now groans, this earth which now is cursed for man's sake, shall once be restored in full luster and glory as a fruit of the work of Him who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. By Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible. Before Him and by Him all things consist. In all things He has the preeminence, and in Him it pleases the Father that all fulness should dwell. It is in His magnificent Son that God has "made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Col. 1:20) – a truth which Paul also expresses in 2 Corinthians 5:19, "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself." As a blessed fruit of "the blood of His cross" Peter tells us that there shall be "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13).

Who, however, shall be the inhabitants of this new earth? The meek, for they shall inherit the earth. This new earth shall be inhabited by sons and daughters of Adam who have been restored as the image-bearers of God by the blood of the cross of Jesus Christ. Already here in principle, and once forever they shall show forth the praises (i.e., attributes) of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9), and who gave them "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (i.e., the full spectrum of God's attributes) in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). Therefore, we could actually read this beatitude as follows: Blessed are the meek, for they shall be restored! They shall be restored because of Jesus Christ who is the Repairer and Restorer of the breach, and to whom the Father has therefore given a Name above every other name.The Beatitudes: The Biblical Pattern of Christian Experience

How blessed indeed are the meek, for they, on the basis of the finished work of the Mediator of the new covenant, shall once be the inhabitants of that New Jerusalem where God "will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 21:3). There the blessed covenant relationship of Paradise, which by regeneration is already restored in this life, shall be an everlasting reality for God's children, as Paul writes, "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). Oh, how the meek, the lovers of God's attributes, long for that day when they may inherit the earth where God shall forever be their all in all! This is why they are strangers and pilgrims in this earth which is subject to God's curse and "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly" (Heb. 11:16), where they shall eternally magnify the sovereign good pleasure of a triune Jehovah as being the sole reason why they shall have inherited the earth.

The Basis for this Inheritance: Jehovah's Sovereign Good Pleasure🔗

To this sovereign good pleasure, as the basis for this inheritance, this be attitude also alludes. This will become evident as we examine the meaning of the words "to inherit." The Greek verb used here literally refers to an inheritance received by lot, and is directly related to the procedure by which Israel received its inheritance. Of the numerous texts in the Old Testament which refer to this practice, the following will suffice, "And ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: … every man's inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit" (Num. 33:54); "By lot was their inheritance, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses, for the nine tribes, and for the half tribe" (Josh. 14:2).

Since the whole disposing of the casting of the lot is of the LORD (Prov. 16:33), this means therefore that each Israelite received his inheritance by sovereign, divine direction. God directed the lot in such a fashion that each Is­raelite received that portion which He had eternally decreed for him. Thus the Israelite's receipt of his inheritance was not due to merit, but purely due to the divine initiative and good pleasure of Jehovah who had been pleased to make Israel His people (1 Sam. 13:22). It is therefore significant that Christ chooses these words, "to inherit," for this at once reveals that this restoration of the meek, this receipt of the earth as an inheritance, proceeds purely from Jehovah's good pleasure. The meek shall inherit the earth because it has eternally pleased Jehovah to make them His people; eternally the lot has fallen upon them. In numerous places Scripture bears witness to this essential relationship between inheritance and the good pleasure of the Lord: "And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and my elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there" (Isa. 65:9); "He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom He loved. Selah" (Ps. 47:4). The most profound reference relative to this relationship is found, however, in Ephesians 1:11, where we read, "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will."

How significant therefore is the relationship between meekness and the wonder of Jehovah's good pleasure! Why? If you recall, the meek are those who by the convicting ministry of God's Spirit have become experientially acquainted with the attributes of God, have learned to bow before God, and have learned to subscribe to His divine sentence that "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10). Therefore, the meek are those who have learned experientially that they have forever forfeited the right to enjoy the favor and communion of God, who have learned to agree with God that if He were to cast such monsters of iniquity away forever, He would be entirely just. Only those who thus have been made meek by the Spirit of God shall truly value the inexpressible wonder of Jehovah's good pleasure. Already here, and once forever, they shall readily confess that the only reason they will inherit the earth is because it pleased the LORD to make them His people. Eternity will not be long enough to magnify that good pleasure – to magnify the wonder that it pleased Jehovah to predestinate them according to His eternal purpose to become the recipients of this inheritance. There they shall forever be engaged in "giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12). There they shall never cease to be amazed about the truth expressed in Deuteronomy 4:20, "But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day."The Beatitudes: The Biblical Pattern of Christian Experience

What an unspeakable comfort it also is that this precious inheritance, here promised to the meek, is eternally secure, for that which proceeds from the Father's good pleasure cannot miscarry. Nothing – neither sin, backsliding, nor Satan – can cause this promise to fail. God's children know all too well by painful and grievous experience that if the future of this were to be contingent upon what they are and remain, it would be a lost cause indeed. They would most certainly sin their inheritance away. This promise cannot fail for it is the Father's good pleasure to give the meek His kingdom. "Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified" (Isa. 60:21). The inheritance of God's children is an incorruptible inheritance, which is undefiled, fadeth not away, and is reserved in heaven for them (1 Pet. 1:4). The day shall come when their precious Savior who has purchased this inheritance for them shall usher them in into the heavenly Paradise. "Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founda­tion of the world" (Matt. 25:34).


May God grant that we also may belong to those who shall inherit the earth. This privilege is reserved for none but the spiritually meek, for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit in-corruption" (1 Cor. 15:50). May there be many such meek among us who, as Brakel is so fond of saying, "are in love with God," and who therefore also belong to those who will hunger and thirst after the righteousness of Christ. They shall indeed be filled with the goodness of the Lord, for Jehovah shall cause those that love Him to inherit substance and He will forever fill their treasures. (Prov. 8:21).

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