What's older than Adam
and more common than a cold? Give up? The sin of pride. When Adam and
Eve proudly decided they knew better than God how they should live,
they weren't breaking any new ground. Satan had already dedicated his
entire existence to pride, and fallen from God's grace as a result. In
exalting their wisdom and judgment above God's, Adam and Eve were just
following Satan's example.
Is it any wonder, given
these deep roots, that pride is the most universal of human traits? It
afflicts Harvard Ph. D's and the illiterate, the old and the young,
the farmer and the fashion model. We all like sheep have gone astray,
Isaiah tells us, each of us to his own way rather than God's (Is
53:6). Left to ourselves and apart from God's gracious intervention,
we are all defined by and, like Satan, ultimately condemned for our
If pride is the poison,
what is the antidote? Humility.
academia, and professional sports see humility as a weakness, a
hindrance, a negative. But God sees it as a great good. In fact, God
actively opposes proud people but gives grace to the humble (1Pe 5:5).
How can a Christian
become more humble? If God wants us to grow in humility, how will he
help us do that? Of the many ways God promotes our humility, one of
the more concrete is the provision of examples in Scripture. In all of
Scripture, one man is singled out for his humility: Moses. Indeed, the
Bible records that Moses was "more humble than anyone else on the face
of the earth" (Nu 12:3).
|Greatness and Humility
When you think of Moses,
"humble" may not be the first word that comes to mind. After all, he
was certainly a very great man, and aren't greatness and humility
natural antagonists? Indeed, what leader has ever achieved more than
He led an unarmed,
untrained, unprepared, poverty-stricken mass of two million rebellious
slaves out of Egypt, plundering it in the process, and into a hostile,
trackless wilderness. For Egypt, this was an unmitigated disaster on
every level — demographic, political, economic, social, etc. — and
took place despite the wishes of Pharaoh and the efforts of his army.
As Moses led these
millions through 40 years of wanderings in the desert, he served as
their judge, lawgiver, prophet, and chronicler. So definitive was his
leadership, that 2,000 years later, in New Testament times, Jews saw
themselves as "disciples of Moses" and referred to the Old Testament
as "Moses and the Prophets."
At the Transfiguration it
is Moses who, along with Elijah, appears alongside the Son of God (Mt
17:3). Both Peter and Stephen preach that Jesus is a prophet "like
Moses" (Ac 3:22, 7:37). What a phrase!
Who else but Moses had a
face that glowed with the glory of God? (2Co 3:7). Who else had the
privilege of building an earthly model of the heavenly tabernacle?
(Heb 8:5) Who else had an archangel get in a fight with Satan over his
body? (Jude 9) Who else spoke with such authority that to reject his
law would be to die? (Heb 10:28) Who else wrote a worship song that
Scripture records as being sung in Heaven? (Rev 15:3)
What kind of an ego would
you expect in such a man? Could anyone be humble after all that? And
yet the narrator's comment about Moses in Numbers 12:3 is that "Moses
was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the
earth." How did he become humble? We know he wasn't born that way. So
how did he learn humility? Let's examine the life of Moses, seeking to
learn how he could be so great, yet so humble.
|In the Courts of Egypt: The Need for
Moses was born into
circumstances that were, in one sense of the word, truly humble. His
was an enslaved and hated race. So despised were the Jews that, at the
time of Moses' birth, Egyptian law required that all male Hebrew
newborns must be killed.
extraordinary providence, the baby Moses, born under a death sentence,
not only survived but was adopted into Pharaoh's household and raised
as a prince in the luxury and excesses of the royal court. Being
educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, Moses became a man mighty
in word and deed. He spoke well, freely walked the halls of power, and
was well known among that great nation's elite. He'd received the best
the world had to offer in literature, horsemanship, military tactics,
and use of weapons. His future was bright and, at age 40, his star was
Then a strange thing
happened. Deciding to visit his kinsmen, he sees one being mistreated
by an Egyptian. Moses' blood boils at the injustice. In a flash of
anger he kills the Egyptian, burying his body in the sand. The next
day our avenger, seeking to break up a fight between two Hebrews, is
pushed aside with these words, "Who made you ruler and judge over us?
Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" (Ac
7:27-8) Moses, knowing he's been exposed, flees Egypt before the
authorities can catch him; indeed, Pharaoh seeks his life in payment
for the crime.
In this phase of Moses'
life, we see a remarkable man, spared by God and destined for
greatness. We see a man who loved his own people, the people of God,
and began to sense God's call to rescue them from bondage. We see a
man bold enough to break up fights and zealous enough to seek to bring
justice where injustice prevailed.
Nevertheless, this first
forty-year chapter of Moses' life closes with him hunted by the people
who raised him, and rejected by the people he sought to save. Why? I
believe it's because of Moses' pride.
Although born into humble
circumstances, Moses wasn't born humble. No one is. He'd received the
best education available, but hadn't yet been educated in the school
of humility. He'd lived forty years, but hadn't outlived pride; he
thought he could deliver his people on his own.
Let us be sobered
by Moses' example. True humility comes naturally for no one. It
is, in fact, an unnatural, otherworldly act. Humility, impossible in
the flesh, is supernatural in origin, requiring a transforming work by
God's power. Lineage, wealth, age, giftings, discipline, church
affiliation — when it comes to gaining humility, none of these matter
in the slightest. Left to yourself, you will never be humble. The
universal root sin of pride can corrupt and destroy whatever you set
out to do, even things done for God.
Moses sensed he was to
rescue God's people. One day he would be their ruler and judge. But
until humility came, he was nothing more than a fugitive.
Let us be
encouraged by Moses' example. Moses wasn't too old or too
educated to become humble. At age 40, he possessed a huge ego, and had
made a real mess of things, but it wasn't too late.
How about you? Where are
you now? Have you started on the road to humility? Are you educating
your soul in humility? Has your pride made a mess of things? Have you
sensed God leading you in a certain way and then tried to force it to
happen in your own timing and power?
Be encouraged. Moses did
that, too. But he ended up a humble, fruitful man. And how did that
humility come about? Where did he learn it?
|In the Desert of Midian: The School
After killing the
Egyptian, Moses fled to a desert place called Midian. There he met and
married a local girl named Zipporah. There he had two children. There
it is possible he learned more about YHWH, the God of the Israelites,
from his father-in-law Jethro. There he encountered God personally as
he gazed into a burning bush. What a change from Egypt!
In the middle of nowhere,
among wandering Bedouins, Moses' former power, wealth, and prestige
meant nothing. Imagine the loneliness of long days in the desert with
the flocks and herds. Imagine the opportunities for reflection on
where he'd been, and where things had gone wrong. It was exactly where
God wanted him.
God often takes us out of
our normal routines to deepen our experience of him and remind us how
dependent we are on him. Even Jesus was alone in the wilderness before
being tempted by Satan. Jonah was alone in the fish. David had to flee
his home from Saul, and later from Absalom. Paul spent lonely times in
prison. How do you respond when you're in the wilderness? Do you see
these times as a blessing or a curse? As a mistake or as a part of
God's loving design for communion with you?
The loneliness and
affliction of the desert became the school where Moses learned
humility. God frequently uses affliction to promote our humility. The
Hebrew word for "humble" in Numbers 12:3 is anaw. It means to
be "bent over (under the pressure of circumstances) and, consequently,
as affliction does its proper work, humble."
Yes, when God brings
pressure in our lives — sickness, unemployment, unfulfilled longings,
or any of a thousand other difficulties — it's designed to humble us,
to bend us over. Moses' forty years in the palaces of Egypt were
followed by forty more in the desert. The desert exposes our
self-sufficiency and pride, teaching us (again!) that God is the
Master and we the servants ... He the Creator, we the created ... He
the Sustainer, we the sustained.
In bringing us low, God's
design is that we'll bow, not with complaints and murmuring, but in
worship, faith, and thanksgiving. In these times, God is not merely
displaying his power. In mercy, love, and grace, he's changing us that
we might be equipped to do his will in his strength.
In that desert, Moses was
bowed down that he might learn to look up. Once he had learned that
lesson — really learned it — he was ready to lead God's people.
|Out from Egypt: The Fruit of Humility
And so, after forty years
in the desert, the fugitive returns to Egypt a changed man. He who was
mocked — "Who made you ruler and judge?" — now returns as ruler
and judge. He returns to lead God's people out of Egypt, to do
miraculous signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and for forty more years in
Same man, same place,
same goal, completely different results. Why? Humility.
After learning to bow
down and look up, Moses knows his limitations. No longer does he
automatically put himself forward as the solution. He who had been
"powerful in speech and action" (Ac 7:22) doesn't even believe himself
qualified to speak the message God has given him. This time, Moses
depends on God.
When the Hebrew foremen
complain to Moses about their plight, Moses prays. When the people are
thirsty at Marah and complain, he cries out to God. When he is opposed
by his own jealous brother and sister, the scene ends with him praying
for his sister to be healed of leprosy. When the spies return from
Canaan and ten give a report full of unbelief, he falls face down in
front of them and intercedes.
Is he sinless? No. Does
he still fall into sinful anger on occasion? Yes. But see how
radically the course of his life has been shifted. Now, when trials
come and bend him over, he looks up. When faced with a need, he prays
to God. Proud people don't pray. Proud people act first, and maybe ask
God later. But Moses prays.
Moses' humility is also
seen in the way he consistently lives for the good of those he serves.
Remember, these are people who don't like to follow. They don't write
many encouragement notes. They all have graduate degrees in Grumbling
and Complaining, with an emphasis on Slandering of Leaders. Yet we
find Moses serving, leading, and interceding for them with
extraordinary patience, even when he's exhausted, even when he's not
Why? Because humble
people know how patient God has been with them. Humble people remember
how grievously they've grumbled and complained. Humble people remember
how they've slandered God. In light of the patience, kindness, and
long-suffering God had showed him, how could Moses not extend the same
to his rebellious countrymen?
|Bringing it Home
So, what is humility? We
might think of humility as operating in three directions: in, up, and
The humble look in.
The humble man accurately perceives his limitations and his standing
before God in Christ. He will not think more of himself — or less —
than God does. Agreeing with God's assessment of himself, he will ever
recall that he is a created, redeemed being whose life is tied up in
The humble look up.
As Moses became humble, he became intensely God-centered. To live
rightly as a creature made in the image of the Creator is to live in
dependence upon and fellowship with God. Humble people pray. Humble
people read Scripture. Humble people look up.
The humble look out.
Humble people use their strengths for the good of others. When Moses
returned to Egypt, wouldn't he have been tempted to work his way back
inside the palace to a position of wealth and power? After all, what a
difference he could make "on the inside"! But he chose to be
mistreated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the
pleasures of sin for a short time (Heb 11:24-5). Like Jesus washing
the feet of his disciples, humility stoops to serve others.
Where are you today? Are
you in the courts of Egypt, interested in the things of God, and
sensing his call, but confused, selfishly ambitious, and proud? Are
you in the desert, set aside by God, bent over by trials so you can
learn to look up to him? In the desert, at the burning bush, Moses had
a defining experience, a life-changing encounter with a holy God. The
result was a humble man who lived the rest of his life fruitfully for
God's glory and the people's good.
Our defining experience
is the Cross of Christ. At the Cross we are measured by God and found
wanting. There, our pride is exposed. At the Cross we are bent over.
Those who, in response to God's grace, look up to him, find a Savior.
This is the Son, the Messiah, the Lamb, who makes the proud humble,
the self-sufficient dependent, and the selfish selfless.
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Article source: Sovereign
Grace Magazine (September/October 2000)