Moses and Mike

Meekness is a lens to view the world and the Word. I saw two powerful portraits of it in the last 24 hours: Mike and Moses.

Mike and his wife have been family friends for almost three decades. They attended my graduation party and our wedding ceremony. They even babysat baby Sam as I sat in on church meetings.

Last year, Mike’s progressing ALS mandated a big move. He and his wife relocated a full day’s drive from southeastern Wisconsin to live near their daughter.

My parents went to visit Mike and his wife in western Iowa last weekend.  Mom and Dad stopped by a day later.

How is Mike doing?  I wondered.

 Dad didn’t use the word meekness in his answer, but he described it to a tee.

“Mike is getting weaker. He always uses his wheelchair now. He’s got a lift when he needs it. Mike welcomes each new limitation.”  

He paused a moment, reflecting.

“I think he takes them as a sort of adventure. He sees God’s gracious hand at work in the deal they found on a mobility van, the grand view they have of a huge cornfield. And Diane has the walk in closet she never had in WI.”  

Mike has been and remains a consummate gentleman.  And he maintains his sense of humor.

“My eating isn’t a pretty sight,” he told my parents before lunch on Sunday.  

His left hand gently pummeled the top of the fork in his right hand. The extra force was needed to impale his chicken.

God’s strength, perfected in Mike’s meekness.

This morning Moses’ meekness was on display. A few chapters in the book of Numbers gave ample evidence for his “meekest man” moniker (see Numbers 12:3).

1. After nearly a year at Sinai the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle. Finally, the tribes can set out by companies, Judah first. At this point, Moses asks his brother-in-law to come along. Hobab refuses. Mr. Meek doesn’t drop it. His Midianite relative knows the lay of the wilderness land better than he. Moses knows he needs help and he’s not too proud to ask.

Please do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. And if you do go with us, whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same will we do to you. (Numbers 10:31-32)

The meek ask for help. And you

2. Now he’s got Hobab as a trusty scout. But the burden of the Israelites weighs heavy. Moses knows his weakness and asks for help again. God answers in wondrous fashion: as they are assembled at the tent of meeting, some of Moses’ Spirit is placed on 70 elders.  As evidence of this divine gift, the men prophecy.

Meanwhile, back at camp and out of the sacred environs, Eldad and Medad also prophecy. This arouses Joshua’s jealousy. He tells Moses to stop them! (Numbers 11:28)

A show of mighty meekness, without a hint of jealousy, Moses responds to Joshua

Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!   (Numbers 11:29)

The meek don’t hoard God’s gifts. And you? 

3. Soon after, Moses faces another round of jealousy. This was a baser type; jealous of-not for-Moses. And, it was from the lips of his very own brother and sister. Aaron and Miriam already had big roles in God’s redemption story, but they wanted bigger parts. So they put a self-righteous cover on their even uglier jealousy.

They spoke against Moses because of his Cushite wife.” And they said, “Has God only spoken through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?”  And the LORD heard it. (Numbers 12:1-2)

Then, the LORD himself becomes at once defense attorney and head prosecutor.  He calls out the envious siblings.  Hear my words, God says:

“Moses is faithful in all my house.  With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly…and he beholds the form of the LORD.  Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the LORD’s anger was kindled against them and he departed. (Numbers 12:7-9)

And when he did, Miriam was leprous. Aaron immediately confesses their sin to Moses and appeals to him on Miriam’s behalf. Moses forgave, and in an astounding act of meekness

Moses cried to the LORD, “O God, please heal her – please.” (Numbers 12:13)

The meek are quick to forgive?  And you?

4.  I saw one part of the portrait of meekness. Alone, it’s enough to land Moses the title of “meekest man on earth.”

Moses had sent spies out to the land. Now they’ve returned, yellow-bellied, except Caleb and Joshua. The faithless reports of giant in the land arouse such fear that all the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “Would that we had died in Egypt!” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:4) Ouch!

Stoning of Joshua and Caleb is averted by only as God’s glory appears before all the people.  And the LORD said to Moses,

How long will this people despise me? How long will they not believe in me, despite all the signs I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they. (Numbers 14:11-12)

 Were I in Moses’ sandals, I’m pretty sure I know how I’d have answered. Something like,

“Great plan, God. Go get ’em God. They deserve it.”

 Not Moses.

Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them…Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, “It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them. (Numbers 14:13,15-16)

In his defense of the rebels, Moses appeals to God’s character. He quotes the very name God revealed on the mountain months before (Exodus 34:6-7).  Moses asks God to save that wicked generation.

And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression…” Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now. (Numbers 14: 17-19)

And God relented.

The meek appeal to God to have mercy on sinners? (Even insolent, hostile sinners.) And you?

Two portraits of the meek in the land. Moses and Mike: meek and mighty. They are the ones who inherit the land. This land, with verdant Iowa cornfields and spacious walk-in closets, manna and water from the Rock. And an even better land.

      And desiring a better country, that is a heavenly one.       
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, 
for he has prepared for them a city. 
Hebrews 11:16

More Meek?

Mom, that sounds like you and Dad arguing, ya’ know?

So interjected seven-year-old Gabe, as I wrote this very post yesterday. In the background, a radio talk show host was arguing with a caller. I wish I could say his comment was scripted.

In May I posted an introduction to Mademoiselle Meekness.  I offered some reasons to pursue her and debunked a couple of misunderstandings about her. Matthew’s Henry’s 1698 essay, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit,” prompted both posts.

Our ladies’ small group finished the book last week.  But before she’s shelved beside Puritan peers, I must pay my respects to the fair lady. 

By way of recap, meekness is not a shy temperament. Nor is she mousy or weak. She is certainly not “tolerant” refusal to reason or settle on truth. I can’t resist including this century old G. K. Chesterton quote, describing such misplaced meekness:

What we suffer from today is humility [meekness] in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason . . .(Orthodoxy, p. 31f.)

Meekness is “an attitude of humility toward God and gentleness toward people, springing from recognition that God is in control.”1 Meekness is power under control. She helps us govern our anger when provoked, and patiently bear the anger of others. She lets us keep silent when the heart is hot, and put up with insults. 

In a June, 2013 Revive Our Hearts broadcast, Nancy Leigh DeMoss shared this wonderful example of meekness.  George Whitefield was an 18th century English itinerant preacher and evangelist. During his ministry he received a malicious letter accusing him of wrongdoing.  He replied:

I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me.

With love in Christ, 

George Whitefield 

Such adornment! Meekness makes us more attractive, certainly to our Lord, and likely to our neighbor. Adorn yourselves with a meek and quiet spirit, wrote Peter, which is very precious in God’s sight.  We must remind the Father of his beloved Son when clothed with meekness.  Learn of me, Jesus said:

for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29)

No wonder a meek spirit is so precious to God.

Are you a spiritual bee? (#4 below)

Matthew Henry offers these “good principles which tend to make us meek and quiet.”  

  1. He has the sweetest and surest peace who is the most master of his passions. Whoever controls his temper is better than a warrior…He that rules his spirit than he that takes a city. (Prov.16:32)  Application: At the start of the T-ball season, our son seemed to be parked in the outfield, without much fielding opportunity. Were the coaches following rotation protocol? (Wo! to the Tiger Mom in me.) My spirit was vexed. In prayer, the Spirit convicted me to wait before I spoke or fretted more. Sure enough, sweet peace was restored-and before the next game when Gabe rotated to pitcher.
  2. In many things we all offend.  We all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2) Henry adds, [Knowing man’s tendency to sin and stumble] should not be used to excuse our own faults and take the edge of repentance…but to excuse the faults of others and take the edge off our passion and displeasure. Application: Sometimes when others do not acknowledge “personal” emails, I (wrongly) take offense. Was it received, read, meaningful? I was just recently working into that peevish state after two unrequited notes, when what should appear?  Scrolling through “marked as read,” I spotted a few of my own. No excuses and no edge off this repentance!
  3. Men are God’s hand, as it is said in Psalm 17:13-14.  Men’s reproaches are God’s rebukes and whoever he be that offends me, I must see that the Father corrects me.  Application: Exhibit 1: Gabe’s quote above. Out of the mouth of men and babes, God speaks.  I stand corrected- again. 
  4. There is no provocation given us at any time, but if it be skillfully improved, there is good to be gotten from it.  It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable. Application: Last Friday a dear friend suggested I was being deceptive during a discussion.  I wasn’t.  I was being gracious, ambiguously allowing the possibility that the subject of our conversation had no ill intent. That’s all, not being deceptive.  I (defensively) explained. Then, buzzed the bee. I zipped my lips. Maybe I could be more forthright. 
  5. What is said and done in haste is like to need repentance. As when Abigail suggested to David that repentance would be needed if he avenged Nabal’s household. Application: An email again.  The tone of the email was sarcastic and accusing.  I drafted my response.  Not mean, just clear and direct.  Then- two sentences in- I paused. Don’t add gas to a fire. Or, to borrow Henry’s word picture, be soft sand, not loud rock, when the waves hit

In case we’d need something more concrete than “principles,” Matthew Henry ends his essay with these “Rules for Direction” (AKA: “9 Tips To Be More Meek “):

1. Sit loose to the world and everything in it. Break a piece of new china when it arrives so you won’t be too attached to the set.
2. Be often repenting of sinful passion. If we confess our sins…
3. Stay out of the way of provocation. If possible.
4. Learn to pause before speaking.  Count to 10 if you must.
5. Pray that God will work a meek spirit in you.  Amen and amen!
6. Be often examining your growth in this grace. As my head hits the pillow.
7. Delight in the company of meek persons. So grateful for the meek, quiet friends God has given me.
8. Study the cross of our Lord Jesus. Who, when insulted, opened not his mouth. 
9. Converse much in thoughts with the grave. Death will quiet us shortly; let grace quiet us now. (p. 143)

“Patient and meek beneath affliction’s rod,
And why her faith and hope were fixed on God.”
-Engraving on tombstone of Bridget Kilroy,
who died in 1848 at age 50 in County Clare, Ireland
Gabe’s comment wasn’t my only tip-off.  I need more meekness. So, I tip my hat to Lady Meekness, and pray she’ll adorn me more and more ’til this life is past.  
1. Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary

    One More Hibernophile

    “He had been thinking of how landscape moulds a language. It was impossible to imagine these hills giving forth anything but the soft syllables of Irish, just as only certain forms of German could be spoken on the high crags of Europe; or Dutch in the muddy, guttural, phlegmish lowlands.” 

    -Alexander McCall Smith, 
    Portugese Irregular Verbs

    I’m smitten with the Irish. One week in and around County Clare was all it took. Add me to the long Hibernophile rolls. 

    My smitten-ness has roots in three emerald green fields: language, history and personality. The ancient Christian history is everywere palpable. It pervades and even preserves, modern Ireland. And there is an “Irish personality,” still.  It is plain and unpretentious. (More on those in the next post.)

    But, oh, how I love their language!  The Irish speak like a song.

    I’m smitten by the sound of Irish speech and its language forms. Irish English and Irish Gaelic; both charm me. Its soft gentle vowels; its gracious, agreeable grammar.

    ‘Tis a lovely sound, isn’t it? 

    Its easy, rolling cadence explains why ‘twas and ’twill, ’tis and ye,  keep jumping in to start sentences.  I think it’s why Irish place names issue from my tongue, unexpectedly, soothing like M&Ms:

    Lisdoonvarna, Ballyhooly,  

    Toomyvara (in Tipperary) Kilkee, 

    Doolin, and Enniskillen.  

    You see?  I bet you couldn’t just say one, could you?

    You end words in hard consonants! It’s like an abrupt and unexpected car crash! Let’s take things easy shall we? The ‘t’ at the end of right is softened almost to a sh sound in the Emerald Isle (or even done away with altogether in North Dublin, and pronounced roy).

    We also “ch” up our t’s and “j” up our d’s if they would have a ‘y’ incorporated in them in British English. So the second day of the week is Chooseday, a tube is a choob, and ‘due’ and ‘jew’ are pronounced the same. And if you are spelling words for us, instead of imitating a pirate when you get to the 18th letter (aaaarrrrgh!!), just say it like ‘or’ please 

    Mapping speech to spelling was tantalizing, too. Why Corca Dhuibhne (Dingle Peninsula) is pronounced “Cor-kah-guy-nay;” why Dia duit! (Good day!) is pronounced “djiah gwich.”  It’s makes my very-amateur philologist head spin!

    Gaelic grammar, though, is way beyond my ken. J.R.R. Tolkien described finding a Finnish grammar book as, “entering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wind of a kind and flavour never tasted before.” What Finnish was to him, Irish is to me. I spent more time than I care to admit in on-line “wine cellars” like this, trying the Irish Gaelic on my own tongue.

    Irish language is at once ancient and modern. Like a fantastic elvish language; like listening in on a conversation between Arwen and Elrond. Thomas Cahill describes the Irish people’s love of their own language, dating as far back as the late 5th century just after literacy reached the island. How The Irish Saved Civilization is explains the love of the Irish for their language. He writes:

    Though the early Irish literates were intensely interested in the worlds opened up to them by the three sacred languages of Greek, Latin, and -in a rudimentary form-Hebrew, they loved their own tongue too much to ever stop using it.  Whereas elsewhere in Europe, no educated man would be caught dead speaking a vernacular, the Irish thought that all language was a game- and too much fun to be deprived of any part of it. They were still too childlike and playful to find any value in snobbery.  p. 160

    Hearing my (poor) imitation of Irish English since my return last week, my 7 year old, asked, “Was ‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves” Irish?  It sounds like how you’re talking.”  (I looked. Victorian Web reports that Lewis Carroll did have “Irish connections.”)

    Just a bit on Irish word choice before I close. It’s quaint. Quaintness graces the lips even of sportscasters. On my return flight, I watched a re-broadcast of the 2013 Gaelic Athletic Association’s hurling championship. Commentary included these delightful phrases: Enterprising move. Great character and fighting ability we see there. He collects it, but immediately dispossessed. Great character, as well.  Isn’t it delightful?

    The Irish do speak like a song. I love it. I’ve taken to warning my friends, Beware my Irish accent breakin’ out upon ye.  And I don’t doubt there’ll be some Irish breakin’ out in heaven.