Sometimes we are forced to grapple with words and concepts that conflict with what we know to be true of God. Such is the case today. We are going to dig into words that will help us make sense of these beautiful, hope-filled verses. (Note: All original words and definitions can be found at StudyLight, using “Original Language Tools”).
“I will leave in your midst
A meek and humble people,
And they shall trust in the name of the Lord.
The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness
And speak no lies,
Nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth;
For they shall feed their flocks and lie down,
And no one shall make them afraid.”
– Zephaniah 3:12-13 (NKJV)
The Hebrew for “meek” here is dal, meaning “low, poor, weak, thin.” Webster’s defines “meek” as “having or showing a quiet and gentle nature,” but adds confusion when it goes onto include the phrase “easily imposed on.” Does God want His people to be beaten down? Does He want to break their spirits?
The holy habitation of God (“holy hill”) is in the midst of the meek and humble (vs. 12). He will not dwell with the arrogant but must first humble and purify the people of all that is contrary to his nature. (1)
I have heard meekness defined as “strength under control.” To be meek is to choose to submit oneself to another. It is to actively avoid oppressing or harming other people. It is a refusal to allow the passions and temptations of the moment to have mastery.
Meekness is directly related to trust.
…the one who is guided by God’s spirit accepts God’s ability to direct events. … Meekness is therefore an active and deliberate acceptance of undesirable circumstances that are wisely seen by the individual as only part of a larger picture. Meekness is not a resignation to fate, a passive and reluctant submission to events, for there is little virtue in such a response. …. The patient and hopeful endurance of undesirable circumstances identifies the person as externally vulnerable and weak but inwardly resilient and strong. Meekness does not identify the weak but more precisely the strong who have been placed in a position of weakness where they persevere without giving up. (2)
Judah was a small nation. Population numbers shrank during Nebhuchadnezzar’s campaign of terror. Then the years of exile, which for some caused the sting of memory to fade and the comfort of the familiar to settle in. When Cyrus the Great set the people free, Ezra and Nehemiah led a much-diminished company, for some chose to stay behind. While attempting to avoid casting too wide a net, for God clearly used those who did not return to Judah for the prospering and protection of His people (see the book of Esther), we might think of these as having a general attitude of “unmeekness.”
You see, the meek learn the lesson. Their bodies may be broken, but their spirits aren’t. They may have lost every outer sign of position and favor, but they come to know that none of that matter. They come to understand that self-rule is a disaster. They see that God alone knows what is best. They lay themselves at His feet in the middle of the exile and the difficulty and the longing and beg forgiveness. They offer themselves to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).
God does not break us for the sake of breaking us. He doesn’t desire we be defeated or function as automotons. Meekness is all about placing ourselves in His hands. Placing ourselves under His authority. When we learn to trust God and bring all of our gifts, talents and strengths to Him as an offering of obedience and worship, that is meekness.
Here we have the Hebrew ‛âniy, derived from ânâh, meaning “to afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, be bowed down.” We could easily misinterpret this, as with meek, to mean that God wants to destroy people and then hold them in some sort of autamotonic servititude. This could not be further from the truth.
Biblical humility is grounded in the character of God. The Father stoops down to help the poor and needy (Psalm 113:4-9; 138:6-7); the incarnate Son exhibits humility from the manger to the cross (Matthew 11:29; Acts 8:32-33; Philippians 2:5-8). (3)
Just pause for a bit and dwell on the fact that God humbles Himself to help and save you and me.
He doesn’t have to do that.
What does it look like for us to be humble in return?
As the absence of self (Matthew 10:38-39; Luke 9:23-25), it is a bankruptcy of spirit (Matthew 5:3) that accrues no merit but depends solely on God’s righteousness for salvation (Luke 18:9-14; Luke 18:15-17). … Intimately associated with the fear of the Lord (Psalms 25:9; Psalms 25:12-14; Proverbs 15:33) … A person must not claim honor for self (Proverbs 25:6-7; Luke 14:7-11) but have an unassuming attitude (Romans 12:3). Jesus’ teaching and life illustrate this perfectly. He humbled himself as a servant (John 13:1-16), even unto death ( Isaiah 53:7-8; Acts 8:32-33) in obedience to the Father ( Philippians 2:5-8), who highly exalted him (vv. 9-11). … The Lord rewards the humble with wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). He does not ignore the plight of the humble and contrite (Isaiah 66:2;Isaiah 66:5) but encourages the lowly and afflicted of heart (Isaiah 57:15 ; 2 Corinthians 7:6). (4)
Humility is found in realizing that the world does not revolve around one’s belly button. It is both the exact opposite of arrogance and the exact opposite of self-flagellation. Humility is a correct understanding and estimation of self in relation to others and, more importantly, to God. It is neither overestimation or underestimation.
A proud person will not bow her head or bend her knees. She sees the world either as something to be conquered by her in her exceptionalness or as an entity that “owes” her something, again because of her exceptionalness. She is her own god. She can save herself.
God opposes the proud through one simple yet profound statement, a revelation of His character: “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). His existence flies in the face of everything the proud believes about himself and the world. He demands recognition, not because He needs an ego-stroking but because worship is what we are made for. Harmonious relationship with God, which naturally extends to harmonious relationships with others, is the original design.
It has been said before but it bears repeating: We all worship something. We’re all slaves to something. Some piece of our souls, perhaps a piece buried way down deep, yearns for connection with the Divine. Only the humble person will find it.
Finally, chârad, “to tremble, quake, move about, be afraid, be startled, be terrified.”
At the end of this phase of existence, peace will cover the earth like the warmest of blankets. No longer will there be any cause to tremble. Because everyone who will live in the presence of God will be meek and humble, there will be no bullies. No intimidation. No jumping at things that go bump in the night. No shaking hands. No chill up the spine at the sound of a wild animal.
These words of Zephaniah’s cannot apply to the present moment for either God’s people the Jews or God’s people the Christians. There is much that can cause trembling, especially for those living in Israel today. Unease, unrest, bullets, bombs. Peace does not cover the earth.
And yet it can cover our hearts.
How we long for the day when we will be unafraid! I know I do. Desperately. I call to mind the words of Paul, words I love and hate all at once:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV, emphasis mine)
That little word, let? That’s meekness. That’s humility. That’s taking all the things that make us tremble and throwing them at God’s feet, then crawling up into His lap and trusting that He will keep us safe – even if that safety looks nothing like we expect it to.
Once more, it is the “already” and the “not yet.” A siren blares down the street and I know that there is no complete peace on earth. Someday. It will come.
Until then, there can be peace in you and me.
- Read Psalm 37. What do you learn about meekness? Humility? Peace?
- Read Proverbs 16:1-9. What do you learn about meekness? Humility? Peace?
- Read Matthew 5:1-12. What do you learn about meekness? Humility? Peace?
- Read Colossians 3. What do you learn about meekness? Humility? Peace?
- Are you meek? Humble? Full of peace? What do you need to do to cooperate with God in developing these qualities in you? (Don’t condemn yourself. We’re all works in progress. I sure am).
(1) Asbury Bible Commentary (under the “study this” tab)
(2) Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.