SOTM: Matthew 5:5 (The meek shall inherit the earth)

SOTMJesus 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.

The earth

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.”

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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17 Responses to SOTM: Matthew 5:5 (The meek shall inherit the earth)

  1. Marc says:

    It’s interesting that both Jesus, who describes himself as “meek and lowly of heart” and Moses (Numbers 12:3) are described as meek, which really bears you out. Good job! Moses waited for God’s judgement and not taking matters into his own hands when criticized. So did Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) Two great examples.

  2. Ray Downen says:

    I wonder how we are expected to reconcile this promised heaven on earth with the promise that this universe will be destroyed by fire when Jesus returns, to be REPLACED by a new Jerusalem which is cubic rather than curved as everything in this universe is. How does this view compare with the present reality? Jesus is preached throughout the world. Christians and Jews are being murdered throughout the world. Islam is on the march and must be fought against by people of good will, for the aim of Islam is destruction and death to all “unbelievers.” Someone is misunderstanding the prophecies, it seems.

  3. Dwight says:

    Who has the earth right now? We could argue, well it is God’s, but in another sense satan has control over the earth and he is the prince and power of the air. Satan works thruogh our fleshly, worldly thinking, while God seeks to transecend us to the spiritual thinking and realm where He dwells.
    The word earth, ga or ge, can also be translated as land. It is possible that the burning up by God will not su much be destruction, but cleansing as God will never destroy the earth by water. It is possible that the land will remain, but still the promise for thos in Christ is heaven “many mansions”.
    Whatever the case, the down trodden and meek will reap rewards and blessings, while those that try to secure the land by force and aggression will not.

  4. R.J. says:

    After looking at all the uses of Anawim in the OT, I find that it doesn’t always signify the literal poor and downtrodden. But sometimes figuratively stands for the gentle, humble, and lowly in spirit. For instance, in Proverbs it says…

    “God scoffs at scoffers, but shows his favor to the anawim”.

    The contrast is not rich and poor but arrogance and humility. The Septuagint translates that Hebrew passage as…

    God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble“.

    Both Peter and James interpret that verse as describing a virtuous characteristic. Not as a call to forsake all riches(I know you didn’t say the latter Jay, but some have used these and other verses to justify the Poverty Gospel).

    In Luke, Jesus gave four woes to balance out the four blessings. If one read Ezekiel, they would understand these grievances not as speaking against merely being wealthy, eating good food, or having a jolly old time(If so then how do you explain Abraham, Job, Solomon, Joseph, or even Onesimous). But a rebuke against the oppressors who would fatten themselves on the backs of the poor and disadvantaged. James perfectly illustrates that in the 5th chapter of his epistle.

    In Ezekiel, the phrase “fullness of bread” did not signify all who were well-fed. But only the proud, self-sufficient ones who refused to share their bounty with the [literal] anawim.

  5. Jay Guin says:


    The only passage that speaks of destroying the world with fire is 2 Pet 3:11-13, which does raise a challenging question. Isa 65-66, Rom 8, and Rev 21-22 all speak of the earth being renewed and redeemed — but purged by fire; whereas 2 Pet 3:11-13 seems to speak in terms of destruction. I think the problem is resolved by reading 2 Pet 3:11-13 in light of the prophetic language that Peter repeats. See my brief series on the question at /?s=%222+peter+3%22. If you want to discuss, post over there so readers have access to the arguments and background discussion there.

    PS — That was 5 years ago. I’m a little cold on the question.

  6. Jay Guin says:


    For whatever it’s worth, the KJV “many mansions” is a mistranslation. It should be “many rooms.”

    (Joh 14:2 NIV) My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?

    The word could mean a “dwelling place” as in some other translations, but Jesus is speaking of his Father’s “house.” Houses have rooms, and that is a conventional meaning of his word.

    Hence, the image is not a Beverly Hills mansion on an estate lot but a room in the house where God lives. With breakfast hosted by God every morning.

    Well, I made the breakfast part up, but it sounds very much like a boarding house to me.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    RJ wrote,

    After looking at all the uses of Anawim in the OT, I find that it doesn’t always signify the literal poor and downtrodden. But sometimes figuratively stands for the gentle, humble, and lowly in spirit.

    I think that’s exactly right.

  8. Dwight says:

    RJ, I think the poor and down trodden would most likely fall into the the gentle, humble and lowly in spirit category, as opposed to those who are rich and ruling as being proud, harsh, and self-centered, not always, but they probably have a closer connection to those characteristics than the rich and people on the top tier, which is why Jesus and the apostles make it clear that a rich person has a harder time gaining the kingdom, than a poor person.

    Jay, yes…many rooms in the house of God. I don’t mind being a tenant.

  9. R.J. says:

    I agree Dwight. The one thing that was amiss in the rich young rulers life was his idolatry. As a hoarder, the Great Physician lovingly gave the remedy-“sell all you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me”. But he just could not let go of his many attachments.

    To paraphrase what Jesus said in Mark…

    “It is easier for a camel to jump through hoops then for those who trust in their riches to enter the kingdom of God”.

  10. Randall says:

    Dwight has already alluded to the scriptural teaching that the earth was destroyed once already, by water and the next time it will be by fire. Romans teaches that the very creation groans awaiting redemption. 18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. from the NASB on line:

    I grew up believing the that “heaven” was a spiritual never never land where we existed as as disembodied spirits. Paul does much to correct that in one of his letters to the Christians at Corinth (1 Cor 15). There he makes it rather clear that our bodies are resurrected. God can do that no matter if the body was utterly destroyed by fire, cremated or whatever. Historically, those that believe in the resurrection of the body bury their dead e.g. Jews Christians, Muslims. For Muslims what would be the point of 72 virgins if one didn’t have a body? Those that didn’t believe this tended to cremate e.g. Buddhists. I do NOT mean to suggest that it is wrong to have your body cremated. My preference is to be buried but I certainly don’t intend this to be a teaching that it is wrong for a Christian to choose cremation. God can and will do whatever God wants to do.


  11. Alabama John says:

    I still have confidence in the young ruler. He left disappointed that he had to go sell all and not follow Jesus until then. He wanted to go with Jesus right now.
    Remember Jesus looked on him and loved him.
    That was him following Jesus scantly clothed when Jesus was taken prisoner and ultimately to His death.

    I want that mansion we sing about and to walk the streets of gold.
    Heaven will not be a slum or like a low income two or three multifamily project.
    It will be more beautiful than anything we have ever seen or can imagine.

  12. laymond says:

    A.J. I have been places where all I wanted was a warm dry place, and a little bit to eat, I can’t imagine anything better than when I finally got it.
    I can’t see Jesus going to build places of separation, or individual rooms, when he preached oneness or togetherness while he was here, he even prayed to God for oneness.
    You take your Golden streets and mansion, I will accept my place at the feet of Jesus, gladly, until he places me at the feet of God.

  13. Dwight says:

    The reality is that we dont know exactly what we will be like or look like or what heaven will look like or what even the spiritual world consist of. Right now we are to be spiritual and not fleshly. We are supposed to look forward to someplace better than where we are right now. It is possible that God will take the earth and refurbish it and yet are we expected to come back to an earthly existance as the JW imagine, which would seem to defeat the whole purpose of not being earthly or fleshly. I think that God has placed something valuable in front of us in terms we can understand and that this may not even express what is awaiting.
    Jesus was resurrected in “body” and he had not ascended to heaven and still bore the scars of the crucifixion. I have herd those say that Jesus is in heaven with those same scars and wounds, which I find hard to believe if Jesus is spirit and Jesus is perfected as before.
    But….that which we don’t know is that which will be revealed to spite our preconceptions.

  14. laymond says:

    Dwight, it is a fanciful magical book we read and place our religious faith in, but it is written about an unrestrained being we call God, so the book could be written in no other fashion. Cached
    Full Definition of FANCIFUL 1 : marked by fancy or unrestrained imagination rather than by reason and experience 2 : existing in fancy only <a …

  15. Dwight says:

    Much of the descriptive language in the scriptures are hyperbolic in nature often times over emphasizing what something is or might be to place an indelible image in our heads to represent something we may not understand from God’s persepective. The streets may or may not be paved with gold, but I am to act as if they are.

  16. Alabama John says:

    To act as if they are. Beautiful!

    all of us want to be at the feet of Jesus and God when we get to heaven.
    How much more wonderful heaven will be is described as best we today and those back then can understand. In the days this was written Gold was the most precious but today if we were to attempt to describe heaven as the ultimate, we could use far more valuable special things than the streets of gold.

    Also the ROOM interpretation has no dimensions stated so one room could cover a city block or anything larger than the mansion we so often mention as being written about.

    Ever what it is, and we can guess and debate all we want, but in the end, we’ll ALL agree for once, that we’ll thankfully take whatever it is.

  17. R.J. says:

    And no. The “many rooms” that Jesus speaks of are not polygamous bridal chambers(as the Mormon’s incorrectly implied)..

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