A weak person can’t be gentle.
A fearless person can’t be courageous.
Gentleness is the restraint of strength. Courage is the overcoming of fear.
In the same way, being meek requires an ability…perhaps even a propensity…for its opposite.
To be meek is to be humble. Such people “acknowledge their dependence on the goodness and grace of God and betray no arrogance toward others” (NIV Study Bible notes). But in order to be humble, one must have the potential for pride. A child, with no power, no decision-making abilities, and no influence cannot be humble. The adult with power, ability, and influence—this is the one who must choose humility and put away pride.
Consider then, the full meaning of meek in Jesus’ words:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. –Matthew 5:5
Perhaps first-century Israelites,
like us, tended to confuse meek
Perhaps first-century Israelites, like us, tended to confuse meek and weak. Perhaps they thought the meek one is the push-over, the spineless, the wimp. “How could the weaklings end up with all the property?” they might ask. (This was before the time when nerds like Bill Gates ruled the world.)
For those hearers, standing around the mountain while Jesus taught, this line would have been startling. But for the ones who understood what it means to be meek, his words would not have been new. They would have recalled the Psalm that says the same thing in fuller detail.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. –Psalm 37:10-11
Maybe they recalled the story of Ruth as well.
The great-grandmother of King David provides an excellent example of true meekness.
Ruth Chose Submission
Ruth left everything she
knew to care for Naomi.
We don’t know anything about Ruth’s biological family, but when she married into an Israelite family, she embraced her new life fully and completely. After her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law died, she could have returned to her original family and tried to find happiness with another husband, another family. Instead, Ruth left everything she knew (culture, geography, lifestyle, relationships) just so she could care for Naomi. She could have predicted their destitution upon moving to Bethlehem—two women alone, dependent on Naomi’s long-forgotten relatives. And yet, Ruth chose to align her life with that of her mother-in-law, Naomi, and to submit to Naomi’s leadership.
Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. –Ruth 1:16
Ruth Chose Humility
Hebrew law required that harvesters leave any portion of the crop they missed on their first pass through the fields (Leviticus 19:9-10). It’s like when you’re mowing the yard, and you round off the corners or you leave a little strip between passes. (My teenage son is the worst for this!) The harvesters weren’t allowed to go back for those bits. Instead, poor people were permitted–even expected–to come through and clean up what remained.
When Ruth married one of Naomi’s sons, I’m sure she didn’t anticipate this level of poverty, yet she took her place among the poor people at the edges of the grain fields. The work was difficult, probably tearing up her hands and making her back sore, plus working all day in the heat and sun. It was also dangerous for a young woman alone out there. None of these factors stopped Ruth from taking action to feed Naomi and herself.
And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” –Ruth 2:2
Ruth Chose Obedience
Ruth risked her
reputation to obey Naomi.
Naomi knew Ruth needed a better long-term plan…and a better life…than living in someone else’s home and taking care of an old woman. So Naomi directed Ruth to do something risky. (It’s like the G-rated version of the Reba McEntire song, “Fancy.”) She went to the men-only threshing floor and laid down near Boaz. When he woke up and found her there in the middle of the night, Ruth proposed marriage! Of course, Naomi knew Boaz was a man of noble character, and Boaz knew the sterling reputations of both Naomi and Ruth (Ruth 3:11). But still, Ruth risked her reputation to obey Naomi. That’s why she snuck out before daylight.
“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.” –Ruth 3:5-6
Ruth Inherited the Earth
Ruth couldn’t directly inherit Boaz’s property because of the Hebrew legal system, but when Boaz took over her first husband’s allotted land, she became part of the family who owned the land—land which belonged to her and her children. She literally inherited some earth/land/ground.
More importantly, Ruth became part of the lineage of King David and later, Jesus the Messiah. Her descendants ruled Israel and will rule all the earth when Jesus returns.
Ruth was a strong, decisive woman who chose submission, humility, and obedience. She makes it clear to everyone that meek isn’t the same as weak. As a result, God blessed her both in her own life and in her legacy. She found happiness with Boaz and had children. Ruth is one of only five women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.
When we choose submission, humility, and obedience to God, we are also blessed, just as Jesus said. Not only do we “enjoy peace and prosperity” (Psalm 37:11) but we, like Ruth, lay claim to the earth as our inheritance. We will rule with Him when the end comes (Revelation 20:4).
It may not feel like it in the moment, but Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” There’s at least one Old Testament figure who shows us what He means. The #beatitudes are #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
Have you confused meek and weak in the past? How does Ruth’s example encourage you to pursue Jesus’s blessing through meekness? Do you have another example of “blessed are the meek” from the Old Testament? I would love to hear from you on any of these topics. Just drop a comment below.