Now the man Moses was very meek,
more than all people who were on the face of the earth.
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Because meekness is more a fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:19-23) than a natural state, we must learn to be meek. If Jesus is meek, does that imply that God learned to be meek? What does the Old Testament suggest about God’s meekness?
The Books of the Law
Moses is described as meek. Because he has an especially intimate relationship with God (Num 12:3) and we all are drawn to people who share our values, Moses’ meekness may infer that God may also be meek. Narratives about God as creator, covenant maker, and destroyer by means of the flood of that floated Noah’s ark together suggest that God himself is meek.
As creator, God is pictured as sovereign issuing decrees, such as: “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) How light came to be, we are not told; we are only told that God decreed that it be done—God is verbal, but he is not chatty. God then declares: “And God saw that the light was good.” (Gen 1:4)—God does not brag; he meekly observes. While his ability to create illustrates God’s power, God is—“not overly impressed by a sense of [one’s] self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). In other words, creating is “no big deal” for our meek God.
As covenant maker, God is objective and thoughtful, not vengeful and domineering. The covenant with Adam, for example, is mostly implicit because God creates Adam and Eve, gives them a mandate (be fruitful and multiply), sets them in a garden, and leaves only one limitation—do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve disobey God’s limitation, he does not replace them with 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) 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 author 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)
The key words here are: regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart; God is moved by regret and by grief over sin—not anger—to send the flood, which is not the image of a wrathful God that some advance. In spite of the flood, 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 prototype of the remnant of Israel later spared during the Babylonian exile (Isa 54:9).
Choosing to exercise only a subset of his rights with the remnant—like a parent offering discipline, not a judge imposing legal penalties—is another example of a meek God. These examples of God as creator, as covenant maker, and as destroyer give us a picture of a God who does not need to learn to be meek, because he was already meek when he created the heavens and the earth.
The Books of the Prophets
The words, meek and humble, appear throughout the Books of the Prophets where Guelich (1982, 82) observed that: “there is little or no difference between the poor and the meek in the Psalms or Isaiah” (e.g. Isa 61:1). This observation makes perfect sense because the nation of Israel spent much of that period as slaves exiled in Babylon and meekness is referred to often, as in:
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)
2. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. (Ps 25:9)
3. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. (Ps 37:11)
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. (Zec 9:9)
The appearance of meekness in these messianic passages suggests that the prophets considered meekness a divine attribute.
Fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets
The meekness that appears in the Old Testament is both a character attribute of God—part of his transcendence—and a kind of solidarity between God and his people. Elliot (2006, 123) notes that “Israel’s God was emotionally stable”; God meekness typifies this stability, which has led theologians to coin the term, immutability, meaning that God’s character does not change (Mal 3:6; Horton 2011, 235). Thus, when Jesus describes himself as gentle or meek (Matt 11:29), a Jewish audience might rightly hear such words as a messianic claim.
Consider the converse—what if God’s character evolved and was not immutable? What if God changed his mind and did not tell us? In such a changing world, the promises of the Bible could also change at any time—which part of the Bible is still true? What if the atonement of Christ was no longer sufficient? The possibility that God’s character could change is unnerving.
God’s meekness is just one aspect of his immutable character. Truth is another closely related character trait (Exod 34:6). God’s immutable character implies that only one, objective truth exists. Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) The implication is that God’s immutable character anchors stability in the physical and spiritual realms providing credibility also to the authority of scripture.
We hear meekness as typifying God’s immutable character which provides a foundation for our faith. For us, meekness is a fruit of the spirit, but, for God, it is just who he is.
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.