Towards the end of this week’s reading, God Himself describes Moses as ‘very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.’ Of all the character traits a person can have, why did God choose this particular one to emphasize?
One of the greatest and most succinct quotes I’ve heard on the subject is this one by the late John W. Stott: “Pride is your greatest enemy, humility is your greatest friend.” For the good of our souls, we need to gain a clearer understanding of pride and humility and how to forsake the one and embrace the other.
There are many biblical examples of pride and its consequences in the lives of individuals, and they offer valuable lessons. One of the more notable is that of Uzziah. When he became king of Judah at age sixteen, he set his heart to seek God and put himself under the spiritual mentorship of Zechariah. And “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper” (2 Chron. 26:5). As a result, he acquired wealth and also became politically and militarily powerful. Then things changed. “His fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction”
There are hints in the text that at some point along the way, he stopped seeking the Lord and exchanged his dependence on Him for a growing reliance upon himself and his own strength and wisdom. It is easy to become arrogant when we become stronger, more successful, more prosperous, or more recognized if we forget that all we have comes from God.
As a result of all his blessings, Uzziah, rather than humbling himself in thanksgiving before the Lord, developed an exaggerated sense of his own importance and abilities. This pride of heart led to presumption before God and brought very serious consequences upon him, illustrating the biblical warnings that pride leads to disgrace (Prov. 11:2) and that “pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 16:18).
Interestingly, a famous Harvard psychologist, Gordon Allport, observed,
Any neurotic is living a life which in some respects is extreme in its self-centeredness… the region of his misery represents a complete preoccupation with himself. The very nature of the neurotic disorder is tied to pride. If the sufferer is hypersensitive, resentful, captious, he may be indicating a fear that he will not appear to advantage in competitive situations where he wants to show his worth. If he is chronically indecisive, he is showing fear that he may do the wrong thing and be discredited. If he is over-scrupulous and self-critical, he may be endeavoring to show how praiseworthy he really is. Thus, most neuroses, are, from the point of view of religion, mixed with the sin of pride.
So – how are we to view ourselves? How do self-respect and humility walk hand in hand?
Specifics will vary from person to person, but certain things are common to us all. We are God’s creatures: we are small, finite, dependent, limited in intelligence and ability, prone to sin, and subject to death.
But we are also God’s children: created, loved, and blessed far more than we deserve because of His grace and kindness. We are gifted by God with certain unique abilities, resources, and advantages, which are to be used for his glory. These truths we must never forget or cast aside.
Having a right view of God and ourselves has a profound effect on our relationships with others. Preoccupation with self has become epidemic in our world and nourishes a profoundly narcissistic culture. Repenting of self-centeredness and returning to the biblical principle of loving and serving our fellow man is not an option for those who love God and want to walk in His ways.
Truly, humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s word and opens our hearts to his Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God, who knows the proud from afar, but dwells with him “who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (Isa. 57:15).
In Tune with Torah this week = Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant. It does not happen over night. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. But it does happen if we willingly choose – willingly look for – opportunities to humble ourselves. It is a lifetime journey, this path to humility, but a journey well worth pursuing for humility is the crown of all the other virtues.