“Blessed are the meek,
For they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5 NIV)
Warfare has been a feature of human history for thousands of years. There is evidence that conflicts over territory and resources have been a common cause of warfare in many cultures throughout history. Some of the earliest recorded instances of territory-based warfare can be found in ancient Mesopotamia, which we know today as Iraq. The Sumerians lived in this region around 4,000 BC and engaged in conflicts with neighboring cities over resources and land. Similarly, in ancient Egypt, there were many battles over control of the Nile.
There are many biblical examples of land wars as well. The Old Testament describes how the Israelites, led by Joshua, conquered the land of Canaan. They fought battles against the Canaanite tribes, including the Battle of Jericho. The book of 2 Samuel describes how King David conquered the city of Jerusalem, which became the capital of Israel. David fought against the Jebusites, who controlled the town, and his victory is seen as a significant event in Israel’s history.
You may be wondering what this talk of war has to do with the fruit of gentleness. In Matthew 5, Jesus is preaching the famous Sermon on the Mount. The sermon includes the Beatitudes, a series of blessings for those who exhibit particular virtues. In the fifth verse of the chapter, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
The Greek word for “meek” is πραΰς (praus). In ancient Greek, this term was used to describe a person who possessed the qualities of gentleness, humility, and peaceful nature.
When reading that verse, I wrestled with the question, “Why would anyone want the earth? Why, if a gentle and humble spirit is a characteristic God wants me to display, would the promise be earth and not heaven?” The historical context of those in attendance at Jesus’s sermon was a people uniquely aware that the primary means of land ownership was by way of violence, war, or oppression. These were people who would likely never inherit land to call their own. There were no “for sale” signs. No way to save up for a down payment for someplace to call their own. Instead, they’d be charged, often unfairly, by the landowner. And only until a more substantial empire came along and violently acquired the land they were leasing. There was no guaranteed permanence or residence.
Jesus, being the perfect student of those he was aiming to reach, knew that morality is fluid to those grasping for power, and the only kind of power those gathered had experienced was full of corruption, one that didn’t prioritize the well-being of the people but instead regularly exploited its citizens to gain more of what it already possessed. Teaching that they would “inherit the earth” was simply a culturally relevant opportunity to introduce a new way: the beautiful upside-down Kingdom where you’re not rewarded for your ability to conquer but earn an eternal inheritance by what you choose to lay down.
In our Western context, we only witness these territorial wars from the comfort of our living rooms. The most current example is the war in Ukraine. I often pray for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters—just collateral damage of a violent attempt by a corrupt empire to acquire more power. But for the Christian, we lean into the same hope Jesus offered the crowd as he preached, hope that though our residence here may be subject to the ebb and flow of manufactured power structures, there is a future residence that is not contingent or reliant upon any earthly entity. Instead, we get to choose the gentle ways of the Spirit and still reap the reward of eternal belonging with Christ.
Sarah Sciarini is the director of Communications for First Baptist Church in Lodi, California, and NorCal NAB. She’s is also a part of EYELET working to elevate the voices of younger leaders in the NAB.