Yeshua says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Who are the meek? The Greek text behind this saying implies one who is mild-mannered, gentle, soft, and passive. Why are the passive and meek-hearted destined to possess the earth?
Yeshua did not teach in Greek. He did not have passivity or sheepishness in mind when he spoke of the blessed meek. Instead, the saying alludes to the Hebrew of Psalm 37:11 which says, “The humble (anavim) will inherit the land.” The Hebrew anavim refers not to one who is meek and mild-mannered but rather to the powerless, the downtrodden, the subjugated, and the victimized. Psalm 37 pairs “the humble” with those who wait for the LORD, and it contrasts the humble against evildoers and the wicked:
For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more … but the humble will inherit the land. (Psalm 37:9-11)
Great is the peace of the humble, as it is written [in Psalm 37:11], “But the humble will inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Sifre, Numbers 42)
The Hebrew word for “earth” (eretz) also means “land” and in this context it refers specifically to the holy land, i.e., the land of Israel. Therefore, Matthew 5:5 should be understood to say “Blessed are the subjugated and downtrodden, for they will inherit the land of Israel.” In this sense, the beatitude refers to the faithful Jewish people who suffer under the oppression of exile and foreign domination. The Messianic Era will reverse the roles. Those who were once powerless and humbled under the boot of the gentile nations will possess the Promised Land and subjugate their enemies. Then the words of Mary’s prophecy will be fulfilled: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble” (Luke 1:52).
Yeshua’s beatitude about the humble and oppressed contradicted the philosophy of the Zealots. The Zealots believed that the Romans could be driven out by insurrection, armed resistance, and terrorism. The Zealots taught the oppressed to take up weapons and throw off their subjugation. Yeshua taught that, ultimately, the oppressed will inherit the land, not by means of terrorism and insurrection, but by the divine reversal of the kingdom of heaven. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword, but those who patiently endure and hope in the LORD will ultimately receive the kingdom.