God’s Meekness Speaks Volumes

Life_in_Tension_web“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Num. 12:3 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The idea of tension resolving into identity suggests a learning process. This is because meekness is not a natural state; rather, meekness is a fruit of the spirit [1]. If meekness is a fruit of the spirit and Jesus is meek, does that imply that God Himself learned to be meek? What can we say from the law and the prophets about Jesus fulfilling this Beatitude? [2]

The Law. Meekness is not directly mentioned very often in the Books of the Law. However, meekness is indirectly manifested in the narratives. The image of God in the Books of the Law is that of creator, covenant maker, and, with Noah, destroyer by means of flood. The primary direct reference is to Moses who has an especially intimate relationship with God (Num 12:3).

As creator, God is pictured as a sovereign issuing decrees. The first decree is: “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” (Gen. 1:3 ESV) We are not told how light came to be, only who decreed it be done. God is verbal, but he is not chatty. His next statement is a declaration: “And God saw that the light was good.” (Gen. 1:4 ESV) He does not brag; he simply observes. While his ability to create illustrates God’s power, God could also be said to be meek—“…not [being] overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). Creating is “no big deal” for God.

As covenant maker, God is objective and thoughtful, not vengeful and domineering. The covenant with Adam, for example, is mostly implicit. Basically, God creates Adam and Eve, gives them a mandate (be fruitful and multiply), sets them in a garden, and leaves only one limitation—don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve disobey God’s limitation, he does not kill them on the spot, as expected, and create another couple. Instead, God punishes (curses) them and sends them out of the garden. But before they go, like a mother preparing her child for the first day of school, “God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21 ESV) While God was perfectly in his right as covenant maker to be harsh with Adam and Eve, in fact, he treated them gently—another indication of meekness.

As destroyer, God sends a flood to wipe out humanity and every living thing—almost. The writer of Genesis records God’s motivation as follows:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” (Gen. 6:5-8 ESV)

What we see here is a reluctant destroyer. God is moved by grief over sin to send the flood. This is interesting because we expect anger, not grief, as the motive for sending the flood—not the image of a wrathful God that some might advance. And God is careful to spare Noah, his family, and a pair of each of the animals. The ark with Noah, his family, and the animals is a kind of prototype of the remnant of Israel later spared during the Babylonian exile. This care of the remnant is another example of a meek God choosing to exercise only a portion of his rights, like a parent offering discipline and not like a judge imposing penalties.

From this brief review of the Book of the Law, we can argue that God does not need to learn to be meek—he is already meek.

The Prophets. Meekness and humility are widely mentioned in the Books of the Prophets, especially Isaiah and Psalms, and appear in important Messianic passages. Guelich (1982, 82) observes that: “there is little or no difference between the poor and the meek in the Psalms or Isaiah”. For example,

  1. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD… but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (Isa. 11:1-5 ESV)
  2. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Ps. 25:9 ESV)
  3. “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Ps. 37:11 ESV)
  4. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9 ESV)

The association of meekness with Messianic passages suggests that meekness is understood by the writers of the prophets to be an important property of God’s image.

Fulfillment. Meekness appears in the Old Testament has both a character attribute of God and a kind of solidarity of God with his people. Elliot (2006, 123) notes that “Israel’s God was emotionally stable” and his attribute of meekness typifies this stability.  Theologians use the term, immutability, which means that God does not change [3]. Thus, when Jesus describes himself as gentle or meek (Matt. 11:29), a Jewish audience might rightly hear such words as a Messianic claim.  The stability of God’s emotions and character is part of his transcendence. It implies that there is only one, objective truth.  Why? [4]

Meekness is a fruit of the spirit for us, but for God it is just who he is.

[1] “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:19-23 ESV)

[2] Note: Matt 5:17.

[3] “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal. 3:6 ESV) Horton (2011, 235) writes: “Building on a patristic consensus, Thomas Aquinas argued that God is actus purus (’pure act’), which means that there are no potentialities in God. Complete and perfect in himself from eternity to eternity, God has no potential that is not already fully realized. God cannot be more infinite, loving, or holy tomorrow than today. If God alone is necessary and independent of all external conditions, fully realized in all of his perfections, then there is literally nothing for God to become.”

[4] One God, one set of physical laws to the universe, one objective truth.

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Horton, Michael. 2011. The Christian Faith: A Systemic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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