“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek…” (Matt. 21:5).
There is a certain truth in the theory of Thomas Carlyle, “The history of this world is the biography of its great men.” Certainly it is true that the great leaders of this world have left their mark on history’s lessons. Equally true is that great eras in history are closely associated with the great leaders of that era. Alexander the Great (the glorious days of Macedonia), Julius Caesar (the mighty Roman Empire), Napoleon Bonaparte (France’s day in the sun), even Adolph Hitler (Germany’s ignominious rise to power).
What is the quality(ies) which is required for leadership? What brings an Alexander the Great, an Adolph Hitler, or a Ronald Reagan from virtual obscurity to the highest positions of leadership in the world? Historians say that Napoleon could greet thousands of soldiers by name and that the American politician, James Farley (1888–1976), could call over 50,000 people by their first names. Is the necessary quality for leadership the ability to relate in a personal, intimate way with the masses? Today probably more than ever before this is a desirable quality for leadership—at least it is one important way to become a leader.
Undoubtedly, the qualities most sought after and expected in a world leader are that he is dynamic, forceful, charismatic, diplomatic. A man with a golden tongue is high on the list, his rhetoric such that he is able either to appease or to excite the masses; and good looks don’t hurt a potential leader either. Promises of the good life—plenty of “food and fun”—have always lured the people to follow a Pied Piper.
When it comes right down to it, modern day man’s expectations for its leaders has not changed essentially from that of Israel’s of old. Why did Israel’s heart swell in hope at the sight of Saul? His bearing was kingly; “from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.” And then later, “Saul has slain his thousands.” “He has clothed us in scarlet and put ornaments of gold upon our apparel.” In today’s language, “He is strong; he has brought us the good life.”
All of these are qualities which men look for in a leader. Are these also the important traits which God looks for in a leader? We would do well to remember that Saul was never God’s choice for Israel’s leader. Nor were Jesse’s older sons, handsome and debonair though they were. Even Samuel was fooled by outward appearance. It seems that God, however, reserves to himself a requirement for leadership that man has rarely, if ever, considered. God knows the vanity, the futility, in outward indications of leadership potential. As always, God looks past—and through—the outer shell of a man and his eye penetrates deep within the recesses of a man’s heart. And what does he want to find there which makes a man suitable for leadership? He is looking for one outstanding virtue for his leaders, be it in the world or in the church. His leaders must be meek! Meek, you say? Who would ever want a meek leader? In man’s opinion meekness has never been a necessary ingredient for leadership; in God’s judgment it is paramount. Scan the Scriptures from Genesis through Revelation and you will find that every leader that God ever chose was first and foremost meek. If Saul had one qualification going for him at the outset of his kingship it was that he was lowly-minded. Would today that more leaders were “hiding among the baggage,” being begged and coerced into the position of leadership.
When Saul became king, the adage held true, “If you wish to know what a man is, place him in authority.” Saul’s very soul became warped through it. “It is an observation no less just than common that there is no stronger test of a man’s real character than power and authority (leadership, MBL), exciting as they do every passion, and discovering every latent vice.” Saul could not hold up under these aroused passions; his latent vices soon rose to the surface.
In leadership there is the inherent vice, “Take heed lest thou become a Caesar indeed; lest the purple stain thy soul.” In fact, it is only a leader who is meek who can withstand the intoxication of power and authority—whose soul will be untainted by the purple.
We often equate (wrongly) meekness with “mousiness.” And in a world of “Stand up for your rights” and “I’ll show you who is first around here” the quality of meekness is oft times strained. Meekness makes a man “all things to all men.” Meekness is enduring injury with patience, without resentment. Meekness is largeness of spirit, denial of self, and willingly subjugating oneself to God and the neighbor. Meekness is an attitude of the heart which makes one willing to subordinate all one’s own rights, real or assumed, to the service of peace and unity. Dr. Thomas Goodwin (puritan preacher) says, “Meekness must spring up out of one’s heart, as that heart is more and more softened, and tamed, and humbled, and sweetened by the grace of God and by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.”
To be meek is to be as submissive as Abraham, as self-effacing as Moses, as penitent as David, all to God’s glory, for Jesus’ sake, for the advance of the Gospel, and the welfare of the neighbor. Out of the many possible examples of Scripture’s leaders (the judges, the prophets, the apostles), it is upon these three leaders that we will focus our attention as those who evidenced the fruit of the Spirit, meekness.
Abraham was a leader chosen by God whose entire life was characterized by the virtue meekness. Although already in Ur he seems to have been a man of import, he willingly packed up all his possessions at God’s behest to go to a strange land about which he knew nothing. It was because Abraham exercised meekness towards God that he was able to maintain peace and unity amongst the herdmen by showing a spirit of meekness toward his nephew, Lot. The pious patriarch took no account that he and he alone had been given the promises of God and the whole land for his inheritance, but rather, he “condescended to Lot’s equal although he could not be compared in age, dignity, or office” (Luther, Commentary on Genesis, p. 238).
How meekly he stands on those wind-swept plains—the title to those lands all his, clear and free—speaking softly and smoothly to avoid the confrontation which is smoldering right on the surface. Hear him as he says to Lot in honeyed tones, “We are brethren, let there be no strife between us” (Gen. 13:8). In this incident we see Abraham keeping Christ’s injunction in Matthew 20:27 and 28, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister….”
But Abraham’s supreme example of a meek and quiet spirit came near the end of his life when, after waiting nearly one hundred years for the promised son, God commands him to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac. See, then, this great Old Testament leader (put to the ultimate test of bearing injury patiently for God’s sake) walk meekly up Mt. Moriah, lay his beloved son on the altar, and with no forthcoming explanation from God, grasp the hilt of his knife to obey God unquestioningly and plunge it deeply into his son.
In Abraham, God chose a leader/friend who was meek towards him and towards his fellow man.
No biblical example of a meek leader would be complete without Moses. For it is of Moses that we read a phrase which is found of no one else in all of Scripture: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). It is a tribute to this Old Testament leader that the saying is common yet today, “He is as meek as Moses.”
And again, it was because Moses was first of all submissive towards God, voluntarily leaving the gilded courts of Egypt to spend forty long years in the wilderness of Midian as a lowly sheep-tender, that he is able to evidence that same spirit towards God’s people. With what meekness he leads the complaining children of Israel all the way to the Promised Land. What meekness is his when his own brother and sister try to pull him down from the exalted position in which God has placed him. For Moses, this was the final blow to any pride or self-exalting to which he might have been inclined —his own family humbling him by its envy and ill-will. This family dispute, coupled with his wife Zipporah’s earlier stand-off over the issue of the circumcision of his sons, had done much to humble and make meek the heart of this man, Moses.
And yet, as with all the Christian virtues, the most meek of men has only a small beginning of this godly virtue as is shown in the narrative of Moses when, on the very borders of Canaan, Moses, as fiery and quick-tempered as when he had slain the Egyptian taskmaster, struck the rock and called God’s people rebels. How beautifully Alexander Whyte gives verse to this incident in the life of Moses:
Moses, the patriot fierce, became
The meekest man on earth,
To show us how love’s quick’ning flame
Can give our souls new birth.
Moses, the man of meekest heart,
Lost Canaan by self-will,
To show where grace has done its part,
How sin defiles us still.
Thou, who hath taught me in Thy fear
Yet seest me frail at best,
O grant me loss with Moses here,
To gain his future rest.
In Moses, God chose a leader/friend who was meek towards him and towards his fellow man.
It was while David was yet a youth that God looked deeply into his boyish heart and, liking what he saw, chose David to be king over all Israel. It was of this ruddy young man that Scripture says, “A man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14). Without question, God saw much sin in that heart, sin of the grossest sort (adultery and murder!), for David was guilty of the worst of all sins beyond any other sinner in the whole Bible. But there he also beheld repentance, tears in the night, real sorrow over sin. He saw subjection to him. He saw a leader brave, fearless, and loyal, but also meek and humble. And so, Samuel must go to the unlikely sheepfolds of Bethlehem, to a lowly farmer’s home, to procure Israel’s greatest king.
Even though David’s brothers taunted him and accused him falsely when he was sent by his father Jesse to Saul’s battle camp, there was no pride in his heroic slaying of Goliath, but rather, “The Lord will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine…so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (I Sam. 17). How God loved the humility, the meekness, of the young stripling from Bethlehem. In David he saw the meekness of his own dear Son.
For many years after his anointing, David had to wait patiently, at great cost to his own reputation, for the crown to be placed upon his head. During those years Saul pursued him relentlessly. In retaliation, David had had more than one opportunity to take Saul’s life and thus to place the royal diadem upon his own head. In meekness he waited for God to crown him just as he had anointed him so many years before. Indeed, David’s self-restraint was the only thing that prevented civil war in the land of Israel. On one occasion, David did draw his sword but, to the consternation of his men, he only cut off the skirt of Saul’s garment. To the end of his days, David rued that he had even dared to take a piece of Saul’s robe for, after all, in David’s own words, “Saul was the Lord’s anointed.”
To behold David’s most Christ-like example of meekness we must see him and his band of mighty men as they are walking wearily past the top of a hill. His son Absalom has risen against him and his friend Ahithophel has betrayed him. A man named Shimei of the house of Saul comes out cursing David like a wild man and throwing stones and dirt at him, David’s men, hands already on their swords, are eager to do in this “dead dog.” But David, walking the way of sorrow, detains his men. Willingly, he endures the insults, the slights, the injuries, and meekly he says, “Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David… It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day” (II Sam. 16).
Whether David was on the hillside tending his father’s sheep or performing his duties in Saul’s court, whether he was in the wilderness fleeing for his life or wielding the scepter from his throne, and especially in the sanctuary, David was meek towards God and towards the neighbor. Who of us finds it easy to prostrate himself before God, putting away every excuse, crying from the depths of his soul, “I am the man!”? It is with David’s Psalmist pen that we are able to most clearly see the meek, lowly, penitent spirit of Israel’s greatest of kings. “I acknowledge my sin.” “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” “I waited patiently for the Lord.” “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.”
In David God chose a leader/friend who was meek towards him and towards his fellow man.
Of David a voice from heaven said, Thou art a man after mine own heart, and it is that same voice which thundered centuries later. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Who is so meek a leader as Jesus Christ?
We sing of Christ in Psalter number 243:
A mighty leader, true and brave,
Ordained, exalted, strong to save.
And well we should. But listen to what Jesus says of himself: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
As one authority so well put it: “So utterly did the Son of Man renounce his own words, and works, and will, that we know comparatively little of him. All was from the Father and to the Father” (Paul, F. B. Meyer, p. 40).
“Come, learn of me for I am meek.” See him now as he relinquishes heaven’s courts for a lowly manger. See the one who framed the starry skies and suspended the planets in their orbits hammering nails to help his father Joseph make a living. See how meekly this king sits on the foal of an ass. See him stoop to wash his disciples feet. See him now, when smitten, turn the other cheek. See him reviled and mocked, answering not a word. Hear how submissively he prays, “Not my will, but thine be done.” See how meekly he bends his brow to receive a crown of thorns. With what divine meekness he pleads for us, his murderers, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Would you be an imitator of Christ, a leader such as he? Then, “Come learn of me…I am meek.”
“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek…” (Matt. 21:5).