Jesus paraphrases Psa 37:11 when he says the meek shall inherit the earth. But this is not just a proof text showing that prophecies come true. Rather, Jesus is declaring the entire context of v. 11 as coming true —
(Psa 37:1-11 ESV) Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
Notice the themes:
* Patience in waiting for the Lord’s justice. Justice will prevail, but perhaps not as quickly as we’d prefer.
* Evil people sometimes prosper but God will reverse this in due time.
* In the meantime, pursue faithfulness to God. Your reward will come.
* God blesses those who trust him and those who are meek.
* God will bless the meek by giving them “the land.”
In this Psalm, “meek” translates anawim. As we covered in the last post, we should think of the meek as the oppressed who look to God for justice. It’s not so much about humility as being in humble circumstances.
Jesus is likely also referring to Zephaniah 3:12, part of a prophecy predicting the Babylonian captivity, followed by God preserving a remnant for himself —
(Zep 3:11-20 ESV) 11 “On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.
12 But I will leave in your midst a people humble [anawim] and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD, 13 those who are left in Israel; they shall do no injustice and speak no lies, nor shall there be found in their mouth a deceitful tongue. For they shall graze and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.”
The poor in spirit, the meek, will be preserved and will celebrate when the time of exile ends. And the exile will end when God sends his Messiah —
14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. 18 I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
19 Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20 At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the LORD.”
To the Jews of Jesus’ day, the Babylonian exile had not yet ended. Yes, Ezra and Nehemiah had rebuilt the Temple and the city walls. Judea was a province filled with Jews, but most Jews remained scattered across the Roman Empire, Judea was a vassal state to Rome, severely taxed and oppressed, and most importantly, the end of exile was to be marked by the coming of the Messiah, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the establishment of a blessed Kingdom ruled by God himself. This had not yet happened.
But the prophets had also said that the Kingdom would consist of but a “remnant,” a minority of the Jews, and this remnant would be filled with the anawim, the poor in spirit.
In an honor culture, the prophets promised the anawim praise and renown — a good reputation among the nations: honor.
The first three Beatitudes therefore declare that this is what is happening. The exile is ending, the Messiah is coming, the Kingdom is being established, and the remnant — the oppressed, the poor, those who look to God for justice — will finally receive their reward.
In the first three Beatitudes, Jesus promises the kingdom of heaven, comfort, and the earth. By now, the point of the kingdom and comfort should be obvious. Why “the earth”?
Interestingly, Psa 37:11 promises “the land,” that is, the Promised Land that God promised to Abraham. But over time, this promise was expanded by God’s messengers, especially in the NT. John Mark Hicks comments,
The Abrahamic promise was first given to ethnic Israel but, by faith and because of the Messiah, it includes the nations as well. Perhaps on the new heaven and new earth the redeemed of ethnic Israel will dwell in Palestine–in the land between the rivers of Egypt and Babylon–but the whole earth will belong to the people of God as they again reign on the earth with God. The kingdom of God will fill the earth!
I think this accounts for Paul’s language about inheritance. He writes about inheriting “the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; cf. James 2:5). He praises God for the gifting us with the Spirit as a downpayment of our inheritance which will arrive when God has fully redeemed his possession (people; Ephesians 1:14–that phraseology is loaded with Hebraic expression and thought). Through faith, Paul writes, we are “qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12).
The fullness of the kingdom of God, which is yet future, is our inheritance. It is the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise through which God will make Israel a great nation, a great name and bless all the nations. That promise includes the land–the whole cosmos, and it belongs to all those who place their hope in Yahweh’s Messiah.
Consequently, the new heaven and new earth as the renewed (new) creation is integral to the plot line of the story of God from Abraham to the eschaton. The earth is the inheritance of God’s people and one day the reign of God will fill it from the east to the west, from the north to the south. The whole earth, unlike its present condition, will be “Holy to the Lord.”
This language will seem odd to those who’ve been taught an afterlife in disembodied bliss. If the earth will be destroyed and we’ll live as phantasms in the clouds, why do we need the earth? Again, John Mark Hicks explains,
The root of this expection is the promise to Abraham. The land, the whole world, is the inheritance of Israel. The creation belongs to the Son of David, the Son of God. As co-heirs with Jesus, we, too, are heirs of the world.
Too often Christians have thought they must escape the creation and fly away to glory in heaven. If, of course, one means that they want to escape the “present evil age” or escape the decaying, destructive powers of death, then I understand their meaning. I, too, want to escape that. But the biblical story is not about escape but redemption. The picture drawn in Revelation 21 is that heaven will come down to earth. Then the whole earth will be filled with the glory of God. Heaven will be on earth as heaven and earth are one.
That union of heaven and earth–the union of the dwelling of God with the dwelling of humanity within the creation–is the moment when the glory of God will fill the earth. Everything within it will be called “holy” and the earth will know the righteousness, justice and peace of the fullness of the kingdom of God.
This was the hope of Israel. They yearned for a time of peace and justice, of righteousness and love (hesed). They hoped for a time when the lion and the lamb would lie down together. They expected a time when all the nations would bow before Yahweh. They trusted that God would reign fully in his earth. These are the promises and prophecies that will be fulfilled when God renews the heavens and the earth and comes to dwell with the heirs of the promise.
The goal (telos) of the creation is not annihilation, but redemption. For some God created materiality in order to ultimately destroy it. In this view God created materiality as some sort of probationary period to prepare people for lliving as purely spiritual beings. Humans, then, reach their goal in spiritual existence without materiality. Consequently, at some point, creation itself will not only be unnecessary but inherently inferior, a lower level of existence.
But this is not the Biblical story that I read. God created the cosmos in which to rest, delight in, and enjoy. He did not create it to snuff it out of existence. Though subjected to frustration, God will redeem it and the resurrected saints will enjoy the harmony, peace and wholeness of both creation and community as they bask in the love of God. Resurrected saints need a resurrected (renew) cosmos in which to dwell with God.
“The meek shall inherit the earth” — this means so much more than “be meek and God will make you happy.”