Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any man on the face of the earth.
This quality of meekness, for which Moses is here so much praised, is not without its signs earlier in the narrative of his connection with the Israelites; and as we look back in the light of this express declaration, the quality is very easily seen. Such a declaration was evidently needed here, and we may trace its insertion by some hand soon after as much to the control of inspiration as we trace the original narrative. The meekness of Moses is not only a foil to the pride of Miriam, but evidently had something to do with exciting her pride. She would not have gone so far with a different sort of man. She knew intuitively how far she could go with him, and that it was a very long way indeed. Therefore, to bring out all the significance of the occasion, it was needful to make special mention of the meekness of Moses. Notice the emphatic way in which it is set forth.
"Meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." We talk of Moses as the meekest of men and Solomon as the wisest of men to indicate that the one was very meek indeed and the other very wise. Let us look then in the life and character of Moses to see how that eminent virtue was shown which ought also to be in all of us.
I. The meekness included A CONSCIOUSNESS OF NATURAL UNFITNESS FOR THE WORK TO WHICH GOD HAD CALLED HIM. A consciousness we may well believe to have been profound, abiding, and oftentimes oppressive. God meant it to be so. We know not what Moses was physically. He was a goodly child (Exodus 2:2), but a mother's partiality may have had something to do with this judgment. In after years that may have been true of Moses which Paul pathetically observes was the opinion of some concerning himself - that in bodily presence he was weak and in speech contemptible. It may have been a wonder to many, as well as to himself, that God had chosen him. In that memorable interview with God at Horeb (Exodus 3), the first word of Moses is, "Here am I;" but the second, "Who am I, that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" There was no jumping at eminence, no vainglorious grasping at the chance of fame. He had to be constrained along the path of God's appointment, not because of a disobedient spirit, but because of a low estimate of himself. He abounded in patriotism and sympathy for his oppressed brethren, but the work of deliverance seemed one for stronger hands than his. Perhaps there is nothing in the natural man more precious in the sight of God for the possibilities that come out of it than this consciousness of weakness. The work to be done is so great, and the man who is called to do it, even when he has stretched himself to his fullest extent, looks so small.
II. THIS SENSE OF WEAKNESS WOULD APPEAR IN ALL HIS INTERCOURSE WITH MEN. He was exposed continually to the risk of insult and reproach. The people vented their spleen arid carnal irritation upon him, yet he did not make their words a matter of personal insult, as some leaders would undoubtedly have done. He felt only too keenly his own insufficiency, and how far short he fell of the high requirements of God. Although the particular hard things which men said about him might not be just, yet he felt that many hard things might justly be said, and so there was no inclination to fume and fret and stand upon his dignity when fault-finders began to speak. Even when Miriam joins the traducing herd he seems to bear it in silence. The dying Caesar said, "Et tu, Brute;" but Moses, in this hour of his loneliness, when even his kindred forsake him, does not say, "And thou, Miriam." Each succeeding revelation of God made him humbler in his own spirit, and seemed to increase the distance between his created and corrupted life and the glory of the great I AM. If God were so gracious, forgiving, and bountiful to him (chapter 11), why should not he be long-suffering and meekly tolerant with Miriam? (Matthew 18:23-35). We shall not blow ourselves out and strut before men if we only constantly recollect how defiled we are in the sight of God.
III. This meekness is especially to be noticed because of ITS CONNECTION WITH CERTAIN OTHER QUALITIES WHICH GOD LOVES. The more conscious Moses became of his natural weakness, the more God esteemed him. If meekness springs from the sense of weakness, yet it grows and becomes useful in association with the strength of God. Though Moses was meek, he was not a pliable man. Though meek, he none the less went right onward in the way of God's appointment. This meekness of his went along with obedience to God. He quietly listened to all his enemies said in the way of invective and slander, and still went on his way, with eye and ear and heart open to the will of God. He was like a tree, which, though it may bend and yield a little to the howling blast, yet keeps its hold firm on the soil. There was also a never-failing sense of right. Moses was one of those men - would that there were more of them in the world! - who had a deep feeling of sympathy with the weak and the oppressed. Meek as he was by nature, he slew the Egyptian who smote his Hebrew brother. There was also courage along with the meekness - courage of the highest sort, moral courage, daring to be laughed at, and to stand alone. These are the brave men who can do this, planting alone, if need be, the standard of some great cause; meek and humble, but dauntless in their meekness, confiding in him whose righteousness is like the great mountains. Look at the bravery of meek women for Christ. Then there was persistency. Is not this great part of the secret of the fulfilling of that beatitude, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth?" The violent, the unjust, the greedy, may grasp the earth for a time, but it is the meek, the gentle, never irritating, yet never withdrawing, persistent, generation after generation, in the practice and application of spiritual truth, it is they who in the fullness of time will truly inherit the earth. - Y.
The man Moses was very meek.
How beautiful a grace is meekness! It may be somewhat difficult to define; but whenever we see we cannot fail to know and to feel its gentle and winning power. It is a grace that implies so very much in the heart. It is the beautiful result of many other graces; whilst its place in the beatitudes shows that it is the root on which others grow. Meekness is quite consistent with power and authority; for Moses had great power and authority in Israel, and yet, altogether unspoilt by it, he was the meekest of men. But we may look to another example, far greater than Moses, who said, "All power is given to Me in heaven arid on earth"; and yet added, "I am meek and lowly in heart." It is in such lofty places that meekness is the most beautiful, because it then can, and does, stoop very low. But though this grace is evidently consistent with any power and authority, however exalted, it is altogether inconsistent with the love of power and with the love of authority. Meekness can only grow upon the ruins of selfishness in all its forms, whether it be selfishness towards God — that is, unbelief — or whether it be selfishness towards man, either in its form of pride, love of our own way, love of ease, love of money. But we may trace another feature in meekness from the example of Moses, and learn that this grace is not the attribute of a weak character, but the ornament of a firm and comprehensive spirit. Indeed, we seldom find real meekness in vacillating characters; for such yield when they ought not to yield, and then, rebuked by conscience for yielding, they become angry. Meekness will more often be found in the resolute character when it is sanctified by the Spirit of God, and obstinacy is purged out. Moses was a beautiful example of extraordinary strength of character. His one will was stronger than the united wills of all Israel. And yet amongst them all there was not one to be found so meek as he; and the reason was, because his will rested on the will of God. It was an unselfish will, and therefore it was that its uncommon power did not exclude meekness. We all need this grace in every relationship of life. As parents, for meekness should be the border and fringe of every act of authority; as mistresses, for in the carlessness and want of conscientiousness of servants your spirit may be tried nearly every day; as Christians, for St. Peter exhorts us (1 Peter 3:15
) to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear"; as teachers, for St. Paul says (2 Timothy 2:24, 25
). In these days of collision between system and system, and of sad confusion of views of Divine truth, we specially seem to need the spirit of meekness. For it is not rude attacks upon error, but truth spoken in meekness and love that avails and has most power. Meekness should be the handmaid of zeal. All of us must feel, if we have only made the experiment, how difficult of attainment is this grace; and yet there is great encouragement to seek it. It appears in the cluster of graces described as the "fruit of the Spirit." It is the last but one, perhaps to show us the height at which it grows. There is a beautiful promise of guidance to the meek "The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach His way" (Psalm 25:9
); and in Psalm 149:4
is a larger promise still — "He will beautify the meek with salvation." And then we cannot forget the beatitude uttered by the lips of Him whose meekness never failed — "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!"
Who records this? The popular answer is, Moses. He is the reputed author of the Pentateuch. Moses tells us, therefore, that Moses was the meekest of men. But if so, what becomes of his humility? Some meet the difficulty by reminding us that the verse is a parenthesis. It is enclosed in brackets. Perhaps it was added afterwards by another hand. This, of course, is possible. At the same time it is a desperate mode of dealing with the case. Supposing that Moses did indite it, what then? It is not necessarily a display of vanity. There are two kinds of egotism — the false and the true. If a man refers to himself simply as a historian, and merely because the circumstances of the case call for it, that is quite a lawful, righteous egotism. If, on the contrary, he does it out of conceit, he thereby manifests "vain glory," and merits our scorn. A consciousness of integrity will sometimes impel its possessor to assert it, especially when it is misunderstood and persecuted. The uprightness of Job led him to exclaim, "When I am tried I shall come forth as gold." "The man Moses was very meek." But was he always such? Are we to regard his meekness as constitutional? There appear to be solid reasons for thinking that Israel's distinguished lawgiver was originally impulsive and even passionate! At first, he was anything but slow to anger. And, as we read the narrative of his life, we mark the old disposition ever and anon asserting itself. Just as you sometimes see, in the midst of green pastures and yellow corn, patches of rock, fern, and heather, reminding you of the pristine state of the ground, so now and then the hasty spirit of Moses got the better of him. These were lingering and occasional outbreaks on the part of what the apostle would call "the old man." They were exceptional. So faithfully had he watched against his besetting sin, so prayerfully had he exercised vigorous self-control, that the naturally irritable man became "very meek above all the men who were on the face of the earth." As a certain author admirably writes: "A traveller, giving an account of an ancient volcano, tells of a verdurous cup-like hollow on the mountain summit, and, where the fierce heat once had burned, a clear, still pool of water, looking up like an eye to heaven above. It is an apt parable of Moses. Naturally and originally volcanic, capable of profound passion and daring, he is new-made by grace till he stands out in calm grandeur of character with all the gentleness of Christ adorning him. The case of Moses is representative. It does not stand alone in grand isolation. That our weakest point may become our strongest is one of the most obvious and inspiring teachings of the Bible. Peter Thomas, a physiognomist, closely scanning the face of Socrates, pronounced him to be a bad man. He even went so far as to specify his vices and faults. "Proud, crabbed, lustful," were the charges brought against him. The Athenians laughed this to scorn. Everybody knew its falsity. The distinguished sage was the exact opposite of the description. To their amazement, however, Socrates hushed them, and declared that no calumny had been uttered. "What he has said," be remarked, "accurately describes my nature, but by philosophy I have controlled anti conquered it." Let us be of good cheer. Philosophy is good, but we have something better — "the grace of God which bringeth salvation." Let us but make it our own, and we shall joyfully experience its victories.
What is meekness? It is not the repudiation of self-defence. Everything that is made has a right to exist, or God would not have matte it; and, if any other creature trespasses on this its birth-charter, it is justified in defending itself. Neither is meekness a mental incapacity to discern insults and injuries. A man who cannot do that is not meek but stupid. Nor is meekness a natural mildness which is incapable of being provoked. There are people of such a temper — or, rather, non-temper. It is no credit to them. We may call such people soft; but it would be a misnomer to call them meek. In fact, unless they can be stirred up, they are incapable of meekness; for the more natural fierceness a man has the more capable he is of meekness, and he upon whom anybody that comes along may make his scratch is anything but a meek person. Neither are they meek who are restrained from exhibiting resentment by fear or self-interest. They are cowards. All these are negative qualities. And it is impossible that meekness should belong to this tribe; for it must be immensely positive and tremendously energetic since it is to subjugate the earth and inherit it. The first element in meekness is docility — a willingness to learn, a readiness to go through the drudgery and labour connected with learning, a disposition to suppress the impatience which prevents us from learning. The second element is self-restraint, both toward God and toward man. The tendency of trouble is to irritate, to render the soul peevish, angry, morose, rebellious. But the meek soul has learned in the school of Christ. It accepts the truth that "all things work together for good to them that love God"; and, therefore, disciplines itself to patience under trial. Meekness educates man up to a Godlike standard. It stores up strength in the soul — a strength that shall prove available in the emergencies of life. The meek men are the men of might. They have broad shoulders and strong backs, or they could not carry this load of other men's ignorance, infirmity, and sin; and it is meekness that squares their shoulders, toughens their tendons, and develops their muscles. The meek men are, if the exigency arises, the most terrible of the earth. There are bounds to the exercise of meekness. Paul indicates this when he says: "What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love?" When the meek man does take the rod, he lays it on until the work is thoroughly done.
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