When you hear the word “meek,” what do you envision? Probably something similar to the picture above. Before the experimental serum, Steve Rogers epitomized our view of meekness. He was small, frail, and weak. He was gentle, timid, soft-spoken, and submissive. Typically, we do not think meek people such as Rogers can make good heroes or leaders. Like Rogers, the meek are found wanting in society’s scales of leadership and strength. Captain America, on the other hand, is the embodiment of these three qualities; however, there is a problem: Captain America is Steve Rogers. But more problematic is this: we falsely view meekness as weakness.
Dictionary.com offers this flattering definition of meekness: “spineless or spiritless; compliant.”1 The view of meekness as weakness is problematic when one considers the word’s associating characteristics. Another definition, offered by Merriam-Webster, reads “having or showing a quiet, gentle, and humble nature.”2 This is the center of the problem. Meekness is simultaneously associated with weakness, timidity, and “spinelessness,” along with humility, gentleness, and longsuffering. Meekness thus does not rank high on a list of qualities you look for in a leader.
Anyone reading this who has ever won a Bible Bee has probably recalled the kinda-sorta-but-not-really famous verse saying “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3 ESV). Or more likely, Jesus’s actually-famous “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). We can probably go ahead and say that Moses was not spineless and Jesus does not want us to be timid.
So what does “meek” mean?
In Numbers 12:3 the Hebrew word used, עָנָיו, has a range of meanings, including lowly, humble, trustful, and not being self-assertive. The Septuagint uses the adjective πραΰϛ seventeen times, and the same word is used in the New Testament four times as an adjective and eleven times in the noun form.3 If we want to understand what meekness means here, the concept of self-assertiveness is critical. The context of Numbers 12:3 is one where Miriam and Aaron were arrogant, self-assertive, and self-authoritative. Moses’s authority came from God. He was a faithful servant and a godly leader because he acknowledged this.
Moses was a great leader. He was sort of like a super-hero. He stood up to one of the most powerful men in the world, led a very large number of disgruntled Israelites, commanded the Red Sea to separate, and rocked an epic beard to boot. Moses was meek and he certainly wasn’t weak. Moses possessed a leadership style in which his power and confidence rested in his relationship with God. Yet he did this by recognizing God’s authority and not his own.
Jesus also described himself as meek. He told his disciples “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle (πραΰϛ) and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29). Close to meekness is the concept of gentleness, which is best understood as “power under control.” Christ is gentleness personified.
So where does this leave us?
We need to reevaluate how we view leadership. Christians are not in a position to accept the dominant modern Western view of leaders as self-confident, power-strutting, socially-dominating, self-assertive alphas. This isn’t what leadership is supposed to look like. Donald Trump is not our model – Jesus is. Moses and Jesus were the absolute meekest men alive in their times, but they were also the greatest leaders. Christian leaders – and I mean all Christians who lead anything – need to look at the models we have been given. Strive for meekness. Strive for humility and gentleness. Strive for a sense of confidence and assertiveness that rests in your identity in Christ.
Also, watch Captain America again. You will see that Captain America, who is really just Steve Rogers, is, in fact, meek, but not for the reasons initially listed. Meekness isn’t weakness, it is a central virtue of true leadership.
Daniel Lowery ’16 is a Government concentrator living in Dudley House.