There are certain attributes of Christian character that get more press than others. While we might emphasize things like purity or peace, we might neglect others like self-control or patience. Meekness is one of those characteristics that falls into the second category. So neglected is this attribute that many newer translations don’t even translate the beatitude “Blessed are the meek” any more. Instead, they translate it as “humble” or “patient.” But I think there is something essential about the word meek that isn’t included in those other terms.
In Greek, the word “meek” is also used to describe animals on occasion, but animals that have been tamed. So meekness isn’t weakness; it isn’t loss of strength. A tame animal retains all of the strength that it’s ever had, but it has learned to harness that strength. To keep it under control.
Maybe “meekness” has fallen on hard times because we have equated it with weakness. “Meek” is synonymous with mousy; it’s someone who won’t stand up for their own rights and privileges not because of anything virtuous, but because of cowardice. Biblical meekness, however, is nothing of the sort. It isn’t a loss of power; it’s the harnessing of power. And there is nothing weak about harnessed power.
While the Bible might not offer us a strict definition, it does offer us a picture..
There’s a story about the meekness of Abram in Genesis 13. For a while, Abram and Lot had been traveling together, but because of the size of both of their households (many goats, wives, servants, and such), the land couldn’t support them. So they came to a fork in the road.
Now in my imagination, this moment looks like a cartoon. The road forks, and to the right the sun is shining, there’s dew on the ground, little bunnies and deer are scampering together, the grapes are as big as beachballs – you get the idea. To the left – well, to the left there are holes in the ground, smoldering embers, dead trees, and growling wolves.
That’s probably a little extreme, but there was clearly a difference in the two roads. One road appeared to be better than the other. And Abram does something unthinkable – he gives Lot the choice:
“Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Please, let’s not have quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, since we are relatives. Isn’t the whole land before you? Separate from me: If you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right I will go to the left’” (Gen. 13:8-9).
Lot chose the good road. The well-watered road. The easy road. And Abram let him do it, surprisingly, since Abram as not only the older man but also the leader of the family had every right to take what appeared to be the better road. The very fact that Abram asked the question must have been shocking to someone like Lot, since it should have been assumed that Abram would simply take what he wanted and leave anyone else to deal with the leftovers.
What does this have to do with meekness? I think it goes back to what we said earlier, that meekness involves harnessed power, taming emotion, and humility. Abram voluntarily put aside his rights and preferences; he didn’t lose them – he harnessed them. In a 21st century context, one in which you have to look out for number 1 or nobody else will, Abram stands in stark contrast. In meekness, Abram did not worry about advancing His own cause.
Maybe that’s meekness, especially today. It is the confidence that God is our advocate, that He will provide and care for us, and so there is no need for us to advance our own cause. Lot advanced himself, and that effort got him right in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram was meek, and he became the intercessor for Sodom and Gomorrah.
The meek can put aside their rights, privileges, and power because they believe that if God is for them, none can be against them. The meek have been robbed of the need to advance their own cause and status and had it replace it with confidence in the will and fatherhood of God. They have this confidence that allows the harnessing of power because of what we find in Christ. He was described as meek. But His meekness wasn’t from lack of power. Jesus was meek not because He was incapable, but because He voluntarily harnessed His power. No one was taking His life from Him; out of His meekness He was allowing it to be taken.
That’s why we can give away our rights. That’s why we can willingly take the backseat to others. That’s why we can take the cost into ourselves. It’s because we know that we don’t have to advocate for ourselves any more; we have a better advocate on our behalf. We become meek, then, as we move more deeply into the meekness of Jesus.