By George Paterson
(First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Vol. 28-1, Jan-Feb 1950)
"Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek meekness (humility): it may be you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger." (Zeph. 2:3).
"At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:25-30).
You will note from the opening words of the prophecies of Zephaniah that the word of the Lord came to Zephaniah in the days of Josiah. His prophecies in the main are concerned with the day of the Lord which is at hand - a day which is described as "a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Zeph. 1:15). It is a very sombre picture that Zephaniah paints, and at first glance this is surprising when it is remembered that it was in the time of Josiah that there took place one of the greatest revivals ever known in Judah. This fact is a serious warning, as suggesting that in a day when it looks as if things are going well we must be careful not to draw wrong conclusions. In such a day the Lord may speak from heaven with solemn words concerning the wrath that is coming.
The point of that for the individual is this. The whole of Judah seemed to be in the revival, but it can only have been in an outward way. Their hearts cannot have been in it, or the Lord would surely have turned away His wrath from them. We may be associated with something which in some respects is a real movement of the Lord, and in an outward way we may be taking part in it all, but our hearts may nevertheless be estranged from Him. It is a heart matter, then. That is the vital thing to be considered. It is not a question of whether we are in the outward framework of things, but whether we are in heart adjusted to the Lord.
Particular Counsel for an End Time
Contemplating such a day as is foretold, we come to the second chapter of Zephaniah, and we read verse 3:
"Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek meekness (humility): it may be you will be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger."
Here is the prophet's counsel in a day when great darkness and gloom are impending. "Seek righteousness, seek meekness." I am not going to attempt to speak about righteousness: that is not my theme, though it is equally worthy, of course, of deepest contemplation; but I want to emphasize the exhortation to "seek meekness" in such a day as the prophet foretells. We are living at the end of another dispensation than that in which the prophet lived, but in our case also deep darkness, gloom and judgment are soon to descend upon the world; and may we not take it that the Lord's counsel to us in such a day is the same - "seek righteousness, seek meekness"?
Meekness - Likeness to the Lamb
The question is, what is meekness? I would like to stress that the Bible meaning of the word has no connection whatsoever with that distorted conception of meekness which is commonly held by so many; we scornfully describe a man as 'meek and mild'. That is not the meaning of the word 'meek' in the Bible. I have been trying to discover just what meekness is. In the epistles it is named as one among other moral virtues (Gal. 5:22,23, etc.). It is not, technically at least, the sum total of all other virtues, but it seems to gather into itself so many other virtues that, for practical purposes, we shall be keeping very near to the truth if we say that it is the consummation of every grace and virtue. For this we have some warrant from the lips of our Lord Jesus Himself. He might have said of Himself, 'I am patient, I am kind, I am true, I am everything that is good'; but the one thing He selected out of all the virtues was meekness. "I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matt. 11:29). If, therefore, we say that meekness is Christlikeness as manifested during His life here on earth, we surely shall not be very far wrong. Our thoughts immediately associate with the word 'meekness' the symbol of meekness which is everywhere in the Word of God - the lamb; and when the Lord says, "seek meekness", He surely means, "Seek likeness to the lamb."
What is that in practical terms? How does it work out? If we reflect upon almost any of the worthy characters in Scripture, we shall find in them some aspect of what meekness is. We can, at this time, look at only one or two.
The Outcome of Meekness
First of all, as to the use of the word itself. David said, "The meek shall inherit the land" (Ps. 37:11) and the Lord Jesus Himself confirmed this when He said - "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). So meekness is related to inheritance. The possession of that which God has for us comes to us as the outcome of meekness. "The meek... shall inherit."
Then, when the Lord rode into Jerusalem on the occasion which we call the triumphal entry, He rode upon an ass, and in Matthew's record of the incident words are taken from the prophet Zechariah and quoted as follows:- "Behold, thy king cometh unto thee meek, and riding upon an ass" (Matt. 21:5). So that with Him, at least, meekness is linked with royalty, dominion, authority; and this is confirmed by the later word, "in the midst of the throne... a Lamb..." (Rev. 5:6).
And then meekness is undoubtedly associated with the matter of knowing the Lord. Psalm 25 particularly is one in which David uses this word, and others with a similar import. "The meek will he guide in justice; and the meek will he teach his way." "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." Meekness qualifies for the knowledge of the secrets of the Lord. It was in that very connection that the Lord Himself spoke of meekness. He had been speaking about the revealing of the Son and of the Father, and said, "I praise you... because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." (Matt. 11:25). Whenever the Lord wanted an example to set over against the highminded, proud thoughts of men, He always took a little child and set him in the midst, saying in effect, 'Here is the supreme example of what you ought to be'. It is to babes that the Father reveals the secret things. And in the portion of Matt. 11 to which we have just referred the Lord almost immediately followed the reference to revelation by saying, "Learn of me, for I am meek". So we are justified in saying that meekness is the ground of all true revelation. The knowledge of the Lord is given to the meek.
If those three things alone - inheritance, dominion, revelation - depend on meekness, then we have ground enough for seeking meekness; but let us keep in view all the time that this counsel of the prophet to seek meekness is in the light of the day of wrath that is about to come. "It may be ye will be hid in the day of the Lord's anger." There are tremendously big possibilities bound up with seeking (and, of course, finding) meekness.
Meekness Expressed and Developed
(a) In Moses - The Patient Bearing of Reproach
The man outstanding in meekness above all others of his time was, of course, Moses. You remember the story of Miriam and Aaron who said, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only with Moses?" (Numbers 12:2), and the Lord's defence of His servant - "If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, I will speak with him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so... with him will I speak mouth to mouth... and the form of the Lord shall he behold." Moses had revelation beyond that given to others. And what was the explanation of this outstanding knowledge of God? "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3). Meekness was the ground of revelation.
Did Moses have anything to do with inheritance? It was he who led the people right through to the very brink of their inheritance, and then he himself missed it on one point - a breakdown in meekness. "He spake unadvisedly (offendedly, angrily) with his lips" (Psa. 106:33), and because of that breakdown, he personally could not enter into the land. One breakdown in meekness resulted in the loss of inheritance.
And Moses was related to government and authority, for he was an uncrowned king over his people; he led them like a shepherd leading a flock. Surely his qualification to reign was because his meekness before God constituted him a man Divinely equipped. It was a lamb in the throne, when Moses reigned over Israel.
So Moses illustrates the threefold fruit of meekness. But that itself is not particularly helpful. Help comes when we begin to contemplate the practical expression of his meekness and the school in which he acquired it. How was it produced? In passing, let us remark that it says of Moses that the skin of his face shone with the light of heavenly glory, and he did not know it (Ex. 34:29). Do let us take note that meekness is not something we boast in, or even know about; meekness is what others see upon us. The glory of the meekness of Moses was an unselfconscious glory, and so it must always be.
But what made Moses what he was? To find that, we must review his whole history. No doubt there was a good deal of self-esteem in the beginning. He had every reason to be proud in virtue of his upbringing and abilities. Then followed those forty years in the wilderness, when every conscious ability was lost. Then those other forty years, leading that provoking people through the wilderness. That was calculated to produce something in a man in Moses' position, and that is the emphasis which stands out for me. We too seek meekness, and if so be that the Lord grants us our request, how may we find what we seek? Perhaps in the same way that Moses found it - shut up for a prolonged time with a people ungrateful, intolerant, impatient, unjust, ready to fling at him a charge of cruelty or incompetence the moment God withheld something from them. No water? - then Moses is to blame! No flesh to eat? Moses must somehow produce it! It is Moses who is responsible! He had to bear it all; all came on him, an innocent man; one unjust accusation after another was flung at him. It takes us right over to the meek One of Whom it is said, "when he was reviled, (he) reviled not again; when he suffered, (he) threatened not" (1 Pet. 2:23).
If you want to see the consummate expression of meekness in the case of the Lord Jesus, of course you turn to the story of His trial, and you read of the taunts, the jeers, the smitings and spittings and insults - and wrath rises up within you. It did not rise up in Him, because He was meek. It rises in us - we say, in indignation for Him. Well, perhaps that may be right in one sense, but our trouble is that it rises up in indignation for ourselves when we are found in that position - and that is the proof that we are not meek. Under unjust accusation, with people ungrateful for all our pouring out of ourselves on their behalf, throwing back our kindness in our face, charging us with a motive of injury rather than of helpfulness, and we knowing the truth to be what it is - how do we respond then?
We know how the Lord Jesus responded. That is how we ought to respond. The Word says "seek meekness". Are we prepared to seek meekness on those terms? Thank God, in matters like that, He does not consult us. He acts sovereignly for us and leads us into the school that is going to develop what we want. But He probably does wait for our heart desire in that direction. It may be that the situation that we are in now is like Moses' situation; we feel it is intolerable, and unjust, and that for the sake of righteousness (which also we are bidden to seek) we ought to rise up and put other people in their place and have matters out with them. But remember, we have to seek meekness as well as righteousness; and if we examine our heart, we may find that to bring other people thus to account would not be in us the expression of our close following of the Lamb, but rather of the lion - the natural lion in us roaring because it does not like the conditions. Is this true? None of us can speak down to another in this. It takes but a little of this kind of treatment to find out whether the Lamb or the roaring lion is dominant within us; but this was the way meekness was developed and expressed in Moses' case.
Many of our brethren in the earth today are being called upon to go the way the Lord went - suffering ignominy, scorning, spitting, reproach and imprisonment for the Name. What if they rise up in wrath against their enemies? Will that serve them or the Lord? But if they are finding meekness, they are bearing the trial as He bore it, and they are overcoming as He overcame. It does not present an easy prospect. May not this become more and more a feature of the end of the dispensation? for remember that Zephaniah's exhortation to "seek meekness" belongs to an end time.
(b) In David - Waiting for the Lord
Let us add a few words concerning meekness as seen in David. Did David know anything about inheritance, and dominion, and revelation of the Lord? It was he who was God's chosen king to have dominion over Israel, and who brought the people of God to the fulness of their inheritance as no other before him had ever done. As to revelation, his psalms express an intimacy with God such as few men have ever known; and it was he to whom was given the pattern of the temple, that wonderful embodiment of Divine thoughts. And when we come to examine the qualities of this man of such outstanding achievements we have no difficulty in seeing that meekness was a marked feature of his character.
The word 'meek', or others expressive of the same idea, are common in his psalms. How did he acquire meekness? One line, at any rate, along which he was pressed into knowing its meaning was by that almost intolerable waiting for Saul. We do not know precisely for how long he was hunted by Saul in the wilderness, but it was evidently for some years; and during all that time he suffered wrongfully, being kept from his Divinely-appointed place, unable to enter in and do what he longed to do, and what he knew in his heart God had called him to do - deprived of his rights because another stood in the way. And yet he writes, "Fret not because of evil doers... they shall soon be cut down like the grass... the meek shall inherit the land" (Psa. 37:1,2,11). "Soon" be cut off! What do you and I mean by "soon"? David waited years. Waited for what? - for Saul to die? That is what most of us would have said. But David says otherwise. He says, "Wait for the Lord" (Psa. 37:7,9). It was a favourite expression of his. With him, "soon" meant "as soon as the Lord chooses". He had committed his cause to the Lord, and was content to leave the issues with Him. This is the mark of meekness. The meek man is he who has his eyes on the Lord and is submissive wholly to His will. The man who is not meek has his eyes on Saul and says in his heart, 'When are you going to get out of the way and let me have my place?' Even though another be usurping what is ours, and our rights be taken from us, the meek man says, 'Lord, if You do want me to have them, when Your time comes You will give them to me, and until Your time, I will not do anything to get them myself'. Remember how David nearly fell to the temptation when Saul was in his power. He went so far as to cut off the skirt of Saul's robe, but he had a bad time about it and repented. Then there is that story of Abigail who saved David from avenging himself on Nabal. David says, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me: and blessed is your discretion, and blessed are you who have kept me this day from bloodguiltiness, and from avenging myself with mine own hand" (1 Sam. 25:32); and then, speaking of Nabal a little later on, the Word says that the Lord smote him. David thanks the Lord Who did for him that which he himself had not been suffered to do for himself. This is a man learning meekness. But it is a fiery business indeed to learn that lesson.
We have not much of David's spirit in us by nature. Can we wait for the Lord? Can we wait patiently, restfully, confidently? In times of such trial as David endured, all that which is the reverse of meekness will reveal itself by an impatient and intolerant spirit, not merely toward men, but also toward the Lord. In the case of David, there is nothing so magnificent as his ability to wait and wait until the Lord did the thing which he might have done for himself again and again if he had been other than the man he was.
"Seek meekness" - and it may be that in answer to our prayer the Lord will put someone else in our place, take away all our rights and let another have them, and then say to us, 'Just wait; wait for Me'. It will put us through discipline. Meekness is a thing that has to be sought, and it is hard to find when it is to be found only along a road like that. But go to Him. He was the meek One. He let go all His rights, counting them not something to be grasped at, emptied Himself right down to the depths of the Cross, letting all go until His Father gave it all back to Him; and He lived in the quiet assurance of that coming day. The meek man says, 'By meekness I shall inherit, by meekness I shall reign; no, in meekness, I do reign; in meekness, I am inheriting - for every new measure of meekness that comes into my life is a new possession of Christ, I am inheriting Him'. And as the heart learns meekness, it is newly opened to the precious secrets of the Divine heart, and the counsel of the Lord is with such a one.
Meekness a Fruit of the Spirit, Not a Work of the Flesh
Meekness is the inwrought nature of Christ which qualifies him who possesses it to share the Throne of the Lamb. That Throne should be more and more in our view as we approach the end of the age, when the dark day of the Lord's wrath for this world is drawing nigh. Would we "be hid in the day of the Lord's anger", and do we aspire to share the Throne? Then let us heed the prophet's counsel to "seek meekness", making sure that ours is an actual heart experience of the reality, and not a mere outward association with what seems to be an activity of God. Meekness is not something which can be put on; nor is it the product of any work of ours. It comes only from within by the Holy Ghost as we submit to the disciplining hand of God upon us. It is costly to acquire, and the price demanded is our utter death to all self-interest. But the Throne is the Throne of the Lamb, and "if we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Tim. 2:12).
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)