Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The meek.—The word so rendered was probably used by St. Matthew in its popular meaning, without any reference to the definition which ethical writers had given of it, but it may be worth while to recall Aristotle’s account of it (Eth. Nicom. v. 5) as the character of one who has the passion of resentment under control, and who is therefore tranquil and untroubled, as in part determining the popular use of the word, and in part also explaining the beatitude.
They shall inherit the earth.—The words may be partly allusive to the “kingdom of the saints of the Most High” in that prophecy of Daniel (Daniel 7:27) which had done so much to fashion the Messianic expectations of the time. They have, however, a wider and continuous fulfilment. The influence of the meek and self-controlled is in the long-run greater than that of the impulsive and passionate. Their serenity helps them to find the maximum of true joy in all conditions of life; for to them the earth is not a stage for self-assertion and the graspings of desire, but an “inheritance” which they have received from their Father.
Many of the best MSS. invert the order of Matthew 5:4-5, and this arrangement has, at all events, the merit of bringing out the latent antithesis between the kingdom of heaven in its unseen greatness and the visible inheritance of the earth.Matthew 5:5. Blessed [or happy] are the meek — Persons of a mild, gentle, long-suffering, and forgiving disposition, who are slow to anger, and averse from wrath; not easily provoked, and if at any time at all provoked, soon pacified; who never resent an injury, nor return evil for evil; but make it their care to overcome evil with good; who by the sweetness, affability, courteousness, and kindness of their disposition, endeavour to reconcile such as may be offended, and to win them over to peace and love. For they shall inherit the earth — Whatever happiness can be enjoyed here below shall be their portion. They may not indeed be advanced to honour or affluence; nor can they expect to be without troubles in this fallen world, subjected as it is to vanity and misery for the sin of man; but the calamities of life, and the various afflictions and trials which they meet with, being received with a quiet spirit, a resigned, patient, and contented mind, are hardly felt, while the blessings of Providence, through the gratitude they feel for them, are tasted and enjoyed in all their sweetness and comfort.John 18:23. Paul asserted his right when he said, "They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves, and fetch us out," Acts 16:37. And yet Christ was the very model of meekness. It was one of his characteristics, "I am meek," Matthew 11:29. So of Paul. No man endured more wrong, or endured it more patiently than he. Yet the Saviour and the apostle were not passionate. They bore all patiently. They did not press their rights through thick and thin, or trample down the rights of others to secure their own.
Meekness is the reception of injuries with a belief that God will vindicate us. "Vengeance is his; he will repay," Romans 12:19. It little becomes us to take his place, and to do what he has promised to do.
Meekness produces peace. It is proof of true greatness of soul. It comes from a heart too great to be moved by little insults. It looks upon those who offer them with pity. He that is constantly ruffled; that suffers every little insult or injury to throw him off his guard and to raise a storm of passion within, is at the mercy of every mortal that chooses to disturb him. He is like "the troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt."
They shall inherit the earth - This might have been translated the land. It is probable that here is a reference to the manner in which the Jews commonly expressed themselves to denote any great blessing. It was promised to them that they should inherit the land of Canaan. For a long time the patriarchs looked forward to this, Genesis 15:7-8; Exodus 32:13. They regarded it as a great blessing. It was so spoken of in the journey in the wilderness, and their hopes were crowned when they took possession of the promised land, Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 16:20. In the time of our Saviour they were in the constant habit of using the Old Testament, where this promise perpetually occurs, and they used it "as a proverbial expression to denote any great blessing, perhaps as the sum of all blessings," Psalm 37:20; Isaiah 60:21. Our Saviour used it in this sense, and meant to say, not that the meek would own great property or have many lands, but that they would possess special blessings. The Jews also considered the land of Canaan as a type of heaven, and of the blessings under the Messiah. To inherit the land became, therefore, an expression denoting those blessings. When our Saviour uses this language here, he means that the meek shall be received into his kingdom, and partake of its blessings here, and of the glories of the heavenly Canaan hereafter. The value of meekness, even in regard to worldly property and success in life, is often exhibited in the Scriptures, Proverbs 22:24-25; Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 25:8, Proverbs 25:15. It is also seen in common life that a meek, patient, mild man is the most prospered. An impatient and quarrelsome man raises up enemies; often loses property in lawsuits; spends his time in disputes and broils rather than in sober, honest industry; and is harassed, vexed, and unsuccessful in all that he does. "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come," 1 Timothy 4:8. Compare 1 Timothy 6:3-6.an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I tell you these are not truly happy; they are tortured with their own passions; as their hand is against every one, so every man’s hand is against them; besides that there is a God, who will revenge the wrongs they do. But the meek, who can be angry, but restrain their wrath in obedience to the will of God, and will not be angry unless they can be angry and not sin; nor will easily be provoked by others, but rather use soft words to pacify wrath, and give place to the passions of others; these are the blessed men. For though others may by their sword and their bow conquer a great deal of the earth to their will and power, yet they will never quietly and comfortably inherit or possess it; they are possessors malae fidei, forcible possessors, and they will enjoy what they have, as rapacious birds enjoy theirs, loudly, every one hath his gun ready charged and cocked against them; but those who are of meek and quiet spirits, though they may not take so deep root in the earth as others more boisterous, yet they shall enjoy what God giveth them with more quiet and certainty; and God will provide for them, verily they shall be fed, Psalm 37:3,11.
"Wisdom, fear, and meekness, say (b) they, are of high esteem; but "meekness", is greater than them all.''
They had two very considerable doctors in the time of Christ, Hillell and Shammai; the one was of a meek, the other of an angry disposition: hence, say they (c),
"Let a man be always meek as Hillell, and let him not be angry as Shammai.''
Here meekness is to be considered, not as a moral virtue, but as a Christian grace, a fruit of the Spirit of God; which was eminently in Christ, and is very ornamental to believers; and of great advantage and use to them, in hearing and receiving the word; in giving an account of the reason of the hope that is in them; in instructing and restoring such, who have backslidden, either in principle or practice; and in the whole of their lives and conversations; and serves greatly to recommend religion to others: such who are possessed of it, and exercise it, are well pleasing to God; when disconsolate, he comforts them; when hungry, he satisfies them; when they want direction, he gives it to them; when wronged, he will do them right; he gives them more grace here, and glory hereafter. The blessing instanced, in which they shall partake of, is,
they shall inherit the earth; not the land of Canaan, though that may be alluded to; nor this world, at least in its present situation; for this is not the saints' rest and inheritance: but rather, the "new earth", which will be after this is burnt up; in which only such persons as are here described shall dwell; and who shall inherit it, by virtue of their being heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; whose is the earth, and the fulness thereof. Though some think heaven is here designed, and is so called, partly for the sake of variety of expression, from Matthew 5:3 and partly in allusion to the land of Canaan, a type of it; and may be called an earth, or country, that is an heavenly one, in opposition to this earthly one; as the heavenly Jerusalem is opposed to the earthly one, and which will be a glorious inheritance. The passage, referred to is Psalm 37:11.Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 5:5. According to Psalm 37:11, where the LXX. have οἱ δὲ πραεῖς κληρονομήσουσι γῆν. The πραεῖς (Matthew 11:29, Matthew 21:5) are the calm, meek sufferers relying on God’s help, who, without bitterness or revenge as the ταπεινοὶ κ. ἡσύχιοι (Isaiah 66:2), suffer the cruelties of their tyrants and oppressors. The opposite is χαλεποί (Plat. Pol. vi. p. 493 B), πικροί (Dem. 315, 5), ἄγριοι, and the like; Plat. Def. p. 412 D: πραότης κατάστασις κινήσεως τῆς ὑπʼ ὀργῆς· κρᾶσις ψυχῆς σύμμετρος. Comp. 1 Peter 3:4. The very ancient popular (Genesis 15:7 f.) theocratic conception: to come into possession of the land (of (Palestine) (in Psalms 37 : after the expulsion of their haughty enemies), has been raised to its antitypical Christian idea, so that the Messiah’s kingdom and the receiving possession of it is intended. Comp. on Galatians 3:18; Ephesians 1:11.Matthew 5:5. οἱ πραεῖς: in Sept for עֲנָוִים in Psalm 37:11, of which this Beatitude is an echo. The men who suffer wrong without bitterness or desire for revenge, a class who in this world are apt to go to the wall. In this case we should have expected the Teacher to end with the common refrain: theirs is the kingdom of heaven, that being the only thing they are likely to get. Jean Paul Richter humorously said: “The French have the empire of the land, the English the empire of the sea; to the Germans belongs the empire of the air”. But Jesus promises to the meek the empire of the solid earth—κληρονομήσουσι τὴν γῆν. Surely a startling paradox! That the meek should find a foremost place in the kingdom of heaven is very intelligible, but “inherit the earth”—the land of Canaan or any other part of this planet—is it not a delusive promise? Not altogether. It is at least true as a doctrine of moral tendency. Meekness after all is a power even in this world, a “world-conquering principle” (Tholuck). The meek of England, driven from their native land by religious intolerance, have inherited the continent of America. Weiss (Meyer) is quite sure, however, that this thought was far (ganz fern) from Christ’s mind. I venture to think he is mistaken.
The inverse order of the second and third Beatitudes found in Codex , and favoured by some of the Fathers, e.g., Jerome, might be plausibly justified by the affinity between poverty of spirit and meekness, and the natural sequence of the two promises: possession of the kingdom of heaven and inheritance of the earth. But the connection beneath the surface is in favour of the order as it stands in T. R.
 Codex Bezae5. the meek] Psalm 37:11. “But the meek shall inherit the earth.” See note Matthew 5:3. Meekness is mentioned with very faint praise by the greatest of heathen moralists, Aristotle. He calls it “a mean inclining to a defect.” It is indeed essentially a Christian virtue.Matthew 5:5. Οἱ πρᾳεῖς, the meek) Those are here named for the most part, whom the world tramples on.—πρᾷος is connected with the Latin pravus, which has frequently the meaning of segnis, slow, sluggish, etc.—κληρονομήσουσι, shall inherit) the future. The meek are seen everywhere to yield to the importunity of the inhabitants of the earth; and yet they shall obtain possession of the earth, not by their own arm, but by inheritance, through the aid of the Father: cf. Revelation 5:10. In the mean time, even whilst the usurpation of the ungodly continues, all the produce of the earth is ordered for the comfort of the meek. In all these sentences, blessedness in heaven and blessedness on earth mutually imply each other. See Psalms 37(36):11,—Οἱ δὲ πρᾳεῖς κληρονομήσουσι γῆν, καὶ κατατρυφήσουσιν ἐπὶ πλήθει εἰρήνης, But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. This is, indeed, the subject of that whole Psalm; see Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:29; Matthew 5:34.Verse 5. - Blessed are the meek. In this Beatitude our Lord still quotes Old Testament expressions. The phrase, "shall inherit the earth," comes even in Isaiah 60:21, only two verses before Isaiah 61:1, 2, to which he has already referred. In the present copies of the LXX. it is found also in Isaiah 61:7, but there it is evidently a corruption. It occurs also in Psalm 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34; and since in the eleventh verse of the psalm it is directly said of the meek: "But the meek shall inherit the land (LXX., οἱ δὲ πραεῖς κληρονομήσουσιν γῆν)," it is, doubtless, from this latter passage that our Lord borrows the phrase. The meaning attributed by our Lord to the word meek is not clear. The ordinary use of the words πραυ'´ς, πραυ'´της, in the New Testament refers solely to the relation of men to men, and this is the sense in which οἱ πραεῖς is taken by most commentators here. But with this sense, taken barely and solely, there seems to be no satisfactory explanation of the position of the Beatitude. Vers. 3 and 4 refer to men in their relation to God; ver. 6, to say the least, includes the relation of men to God; what has ver. 5 to do here if it refers solely to the relation of men to men? It would have come very naturally either before or after ver. 9 ("the peacemakers"); but why here? The reason, however, for the position of the Beatitude lies in the true conception of meekness. While the thought is here primarily that of meekness exhibited towards men (as is evident from the implied contrast in they shall inherit the earth), yet meekness towards men is closely connected with, and is the result of, meekness towards God. This is not exactly humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη, which, as regards God, is equivalent to a sense of creatureliness or dependence; cf. Trench, 'Syn.,' § 42.). Meekness is rather the attitude of the soul towards another when that other is in a state of activity towards it. It is the attitude of the disciple to the teacher when teaching; of the son to the father when exercising his paternal authority; of the servant to the master when giving him orders. It is therefore essentially as applicable to the relation of man to God as to that of man to man. It is for this reason that we find ענוה ענוvery frequently used of man's relation to God, in fact, more often than of man's relation to man; and this common meaning of ענו must be specially remembered here, where the phrase is taken directly from the Old Testament. Weiss ('Matthaus-ev.') objects to Tholuck adducing the evidence of the Hebrew words, on the ground that the Greek terms are used solely of the relation to man, and that this usage is kept to throughout the New Testament. But the latter statement is hardly true. For, not to mention Matthew 11:29, in which the reference is doubtful, James 1:21 certainly refers to the meekness shown towards God in receiving his word. "The Scriptural πραότης," says Trench, loc. cit.," is not in a man's outward behaviour only; nor yet in his relations to his fellow-men; as little in his mere natural disposition. Rather is it an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God (Matthew 11:29; James 1:21). It is that temper of spirit in which we accept his dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting; and it is closely linked with the ταπεωοφροσύνη, and follows directly upon it (Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; cf. Zephaniah 3:12), because it is only the humble heart which is also the meek; and which, as such, does not fight against God, and more or less struggle and contend with him." Yet, as this meekness must be felt towards God not only in his direct dealings with the soul, but also in his indirect dealings (i.e. by secondary means and agents), it must also be exhibited towards men. Meekness towards God necessarily issues in meekness towards men. Our Lord's concise teaching seizes, therefore, on this furthest expression of meekness. Thus it is not meekness in the relation of man to man barely staled, of which Christ here speaks, but meekness in the relation of man to man, with its prior and presupposed fact of meekness in the relation of man to God. Shall inherit the earth. In the Psalm this is equivalent to the land of Palestine, and the psalmist means that, though the wicked may have temporary power, yet God's true servants shall really and finally have dominion in the land. But what is intended here? Probably our Lord's audience understood the phrase on his lips as a Messianic adaptation of the original meaning, and as therefore implying that those who manifested a meek reception of his will would obtain that full possession of the land of Palestine which was now denied to the Israelites through the conquest of the Romans. But to our Lord, and to the evangelist who, years after, recorded them, the meaning of the words must have been much fuller, corresponding, in fact, to the true meaning of the "kingdom of heaven," viz. that the meek shall inherit - shall receive, as their rightful possession from their Father, the whole earth; renewed, it may be (Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 65:25; Revelation 21:1), but still the earth (Romans 8:21), with all the powers of nature therein implied. Of this the conquest of nature already gained through the civilization produced under Christianity is at once the promise and, though but in a small degree, the firstfruits.
Another word which, though never used in a bad sense, Christianity has lifted to a higher plane, and made the symbol of a higher good. Its primary meaning is mild, gentle. It was applied to inanimate things, as light, wind, sound, sickness. It was used of a horse; gentle.
As a human attribute, Aristotle defines it as the mean between stubborn anger and that negativeness of character which is inescapable of even righteous indignation: according to which it is tantamount to equanimity. Plato opposes it to fierceness or cruelty, and uses it of humanity to the condemned; but also of the conciliatory demeanor of a demagogue seeking popularity and power. Pindar applies it to a king, mild or kind to the citizens, and Herodotus uses it as opposed to anger.
These pre-Christian meanings of the word exhibit two general characteristics. 1. They express outward conduct merely. 2. They contemplate relations to men only. The Christian word, on the contrary, describes an inward quality, and that as related primarily to God. The equanimity, mildness, kindness, represented by the classical word, are founded in self-control or in natural disposition. The Christian meekness is based on humility, which is not a natural quality but an outgrowth of a renewed nature. To the pagan the word often implied condescension, to the Christian it implies submission. The Christian quality, in its manifestation, reveals all that was best in the heathen virtue - mildness, gentleness, equanimity - but these manifestations toward men are emphasized as outgrowths of a spiritual relation to God. The mildness or kindness of Plato or Pindar imply no sense of inferiority in those who exhibit them; sometimes the contrary. Plato's demagogue is kindly from self-interest and as a means to tyranny. Pindar's king is condescendingly kind. The meekness of the Christian springs from a sense of the inferiority of the creature to the Creator, and especially of the sinful creature to the holy God. While, therefore, the pagan quality is redolent of self-assertion, the Christian quality carries the flavor of self-abasement. As toward God, therefore, meekness accepts his dealings without murmur or resistance as absolutely good and wise. As toward man, it accepts opposition, insult, and provocation, as God's permitted ministers of a chastening demanded by the infirmity and corruption of sin; while, under this sense of his own sinfulness, the meek bears patiently "the contradiction of sinners against himself," forgiving and restoring the erring in a spirit of meekness, considering himself, lest he also be tempted (see Galatians 6:1-5). The ideas of forgiveness and restoration nowhere attach to the classical word. They belong exclusively to Christian meekness, which thus shows itself allied to love. As ascribed by our Lord to himself, see Matthew 11:29. Wyc. renders "Blessed be mild men."
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