Meekness and warhorse seem to be such contradictory terms. Warhorses are fearless, ready to charge into battle, while meekness is often equated with milquetoast, doormats, and weakness. In fact, Merriam-Webster defines meek as “deficient in spirit and courage, not violent or strong.” It lists such synonyms as lowly, modest, unassuming, and unpretentious.
And yet, these scriptural examples appear to contradict such a definition:
- The meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5) — because they are weak? I don’t think so.
- Christians are told to be meek (KJV – Ephesians 4:2;
Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11). But are we expected to be doormats?
- Two people in the Bible are described as meek (KJV): Moses (Numbers 12:3) and Jesus (Matthew 11:29; 21:5). Living their lives required great courage, facing grave dangers, and both physical and emotional pain. So maybe meek means something else.
Consider the original meaning and use of the word meek. Strong’s Concordance lists the Greek word as praus. According to some sources, this word was associated with the breaking-in of horses. Wild stallions were captured in the mountains and brought down to be broken and trained for a variety of uses. It was imperative that the horses retain their spirit, courage, and power. But without discipline and total obedience, those traits were useless.
In fact, the best horses were reserved for warfare, where their courage to race into battle was essential. A warhorse that failed to respond immediately to command was of little value and actually endangered its rider. These warhorses exemplified great power under control.
Taken from a point of complete wildness or rebellion, these animals were transformed into strong but obedient tools. They exemplified true meekness and had been transformed from unbridled willfulness to courage and submission in situations of extreme danger.
Old Testament meekness
Moses showed such courage, albeit a bit reluctantly, when God tasked him with going before Pharaoh. It’s hard to imagine returning repeatedly to the court of the most powerful man in the land and demanding the release of thousands of slaves. Each appearance before Pharaoh followed the latest devastating plague that God had released on the land.
After the Israelites’ release, the problems didn’t end. While facing the Red Sea in front and Pharaoh’s charging army behind, Moses displayed the same controlled power, instructing the Israelites, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today . . . The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exodus 14:13, 14).
Note the confidence in those words: “see the salvation of the Lord” and “He will accomplish” (emphasis mine). There was no doubt, no hesitancy in those words.
One other example of Moses’ quiet strength was when the Lord threatened to destroy His people on Mount Sinai. Disgusted at how quickly they had turned from the one true God to a golden calf, in anger God declared that He wished to destroy them and make Moses into a great nation. Rather than thinking of himself, Moses begged God to reconsider, and He did (32:9-14).
New Testament meekness
Shift forward a few thousand years to another Man who faced extreme danger with courage and followed God’s leading. Jesus repeatedly faced the Pharisees. They constantly rebuked, mocked, and condemned Him, criticized His every move and eventually saw to it that He was beaten and crucified. Never did Jesus fail to point out their faults, confronting them on many occasions with calm strength. Three scenes stand out to me:
- Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple with a scourge of cords (John 2:13-16).
- Jesus telling the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (8:44). And earlier in John’s Gospel: “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (7:19). This must have struck an especially tender nerve with the Pharisees, considering how highly they regarded themselves.
- Jesus’ obedience unto death: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Like Moses, Jesus didn’t back down when faced with danger. He calmly met the derision of the Pharisees and the crowds, continued to perform the mission for which His Father had sent Him to earth, and faced the grueling death He knew was coming.
In such situations, the natural response is to defend ourselves, to explain how we’ve been mistreated or misunderstood, to fight — at least verbally — with those who oppose us. Too often those arguments become loud or heated — definitely not displaying quiet control.
Calm is strength. The louder we become in our defense or in trying to control a situation, the less control we exemplify. Christ’s appearance before the chief priests and council would not have been as effective had He vociferously proclaimed His innocence. His undisturbed responses demonstrated who was truly in charge.
Calm and courageous
To live as effective Christian witnesses, we need to learn true meekness — to allow the Holy Spirit to control our tongues and our actions, to think not of who we are but of Whose we are. We need to be like the warhorses, ready to charge into battle — not neighing and tossing our heads wildly but focusing on our Master. We must learn to submit our will in meekness to His and tap into His strength, rather than try to make it on our own.
Such complete obedience does not come easily. In fact, it requires His Spirit in our lives, guiding us. But it is essential if we are to commit ourselves fully to Christ.