Summary: Christian meekness is not weakness; it is strength tempered by obedience.
Do any of you remember the old musical Camelot, about King Arthur and the Round Table?
It was popular back in the early 60's, it’s one of the reasons the Kennedy White House started being called Camelot. The reason I bring it up is because of Lancelot. Remember Lancelot? Until he and Guenevere fell in love and destroyed the kingdom he was the very best of the knights - and he knew it. Robert Goulet played the role on Broadway, and we first meet Lancelot
as a brash young man come to join Arthur’s noble experiment, a company of outstanding knights sworn to brotherhood and Christian virtue. But Lancelot, young and untried as he is, has no doubt at all that they’ll snap him up as soon as he appears.
Camelot! Camelot! In far-off France I heard your call.
Camelot! Camelot! And here am I to give my all.
I know in my soul what you expect of me, and all that and more I shall be.
A knight of the table round should be invincible,
succeed where a less fantastic man would fail,
Climb a wall no one else can climb,
cleave a dragon in record time,
swim a moat in a coat of heavy iron mail.
No matter the pain he ought to be unwince-able,
impossible deeds should be his daily fare,
But where in the world is there in the world a man so extraordinaire?
C’est moi, c’est moi, I’m forced to admit, ‘tis I, I humbly reply;
The mortal who these marvels can do, c’est moi! C’est moi! ‘Tis I.
Well, of course this is probably not exactly how the real historical Lancelot - if ever he existed at all - showed up at Arthur’s door. But the point is that he went, thinking himself - for whatever reason - suited to the job. It’s a far cry from Moses’ response when God called him to another sort of dangerous and heroic mission, isn’t it. Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" [Ex 3:11]
Which one do you think is a better model of meekness? Moses’ example, of course. In the very next chapter we’re told that “the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth. [Num 12:3] What does the dictionary say? Webster’s unabridged first defines meek first of all as “patient and mild, not inclined to anger or resentment,” Okay, I’ll agree, that’s meek. But I don’t think that’s all that comes to most of our minds when we think
“meek.” I think that the second definition fills it out a whole lot better. “Tamely submissive”, Webster goes on, “easily imposed on, spineless or spiritless.” Now that’s what most of us picture as meek. Caspar Milquetoast, right? Never stand up for yourself, can’t say “boo!” to a goose, as the old saying goes. Although why anyone would want to say “boo” to a goose escapes me. Anyway, with that definition it’s pretty hard to put meekness and inheriting the earth together.
But think about it. Moses wasn’t exactly easily imposed on; he put up a pretty good fight before he agreed to what God wanted from him. And later on when he was leading the Israelites around in the wilderness, he didn’t put up with any nonsense from them either. So perhaps meekness doesn’t mean weakness after all. Maybe there’s more to it than just submission.
Remember what Martyn Lloyd-Jones said about these beatitudes - none of them are natural qualities. So although we may call someone meek who is naturally passive, easily led, timid, that’s not what the Bible is talking about.
And Lancelot - believe it or not, he too was called meek. Listen to what Sir Thomas Malory wrote about him in Le Morte d’Arthur:
"Thou wert the most courteous knight that ever bore a shield, the truest friend that ever bestrode a horse, thou wert the meekest and the gentlest man that ever ate in hall among ladies, and the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest."
How can someone be both meek and fierce? Lloyd-Jones points to the great Biblical examples of meekness: the martyr Stephen, King David, the patriarch Abraham, and of course the greatest example of all, Jesus Christ. Abraham was rich and powerful, and yet he let Lot take his first pick of the land when they had to split up. David was a great warrior who became a mighty king; and yet he endured Saul’s unjust treatment of him without retaliating. Stephen was willing to die for the truth. And Jesus stood up to the most powerful forces the world could bring against him and never gave an inch. Meekness is compatible with great strength, with authority and power. And C. S. Lewis says that meekness is not a compromise, not some happy mean between ferocity and gentleness; he is all one when the occasion demands, and all the other when necessary.