6-5 The Humility of God
The aim of our lives is God manifestation. As such, each of the characteristics God is developing in us is in some way a reflection of the glory of His own character. Humility, therefore, is one of His characteristics- because we are asked to develop it. The difficulty of humility doesn't seem to be appreciated by us very deeply, either collectively or individually. Yet to the Lord, humility was the very epitome of righteousness (Mt. 5:5 cp. Ps. 37:29), as Malachi saw pride as the epitome of wickedness (see the parallelism in Mal. 4:1). There is a telling parallelism in Zeph. 2:3 which equates Yahweh God of Israel with humility: " Seek ye Yahweh...seek meekness" . Pride is somehow ingrained in the very fibres of our nature. And yet even human observation has concluded that the sign of true greatness is in humility. The greatest exhortation to humility is surely in reflection on the humility of God, His humbling of Himself from His physical and moral heights in order to reach out into our tiny lives, and bring us eventually to the heights of His nature. David recognized this when he spoke of God's salvation: " with thy meekness thou hast multiplied me" (Ps. 18:35 AV mg.); and elsewhere he realizes that the majestic highness of Yahweh is because He humbles Himself to behold the things in Heaven (the Angelic system) and on the earth (Ps. 113:4-6). Our efforts to upbuild each other, our outreach into the world, should all be reflecting this same humble devotion.
The Lord Jesus took a child and placed him in a circle of rough fishermen. Whilst humility isn't a natural characteristic of children, we are asked to take as it were a snapshot of that child in that situation, looking at the ground, pining away inside himself. The Lord said that the child had " humbled himself" (Mt. 18:4)- showing that He didn't see children as naturally humble. But as he stood (or sat, Mt. 18:2 Gk.) in the middle of the circle, the impishness and immature self-assertion was driven out, and in a moment the child was humbled. That child in that situation, the Lord said, represented the true disciple; and it represented Himself, the Lord of glory. It seems to me that the Lord was standing next to the child, identifying Himself with it, in the middle of the circle of disciples. In the very same context, a few verses later the Lord spoke of how He was in the midst of the disciples (Mt. 18:20). There is no doubt He saw that humbled child as the symbol of Himself, possibly implying that He Himself had been progressively humbled, from one level to another (1). Yet in Lk. 9:48, the Lord goes further: the child represents not only the believers and their Lord, but also the Father (Mt. 18:5; Lk. 9:48). The humble surroundings of the Lord's birth, the way the exalted Lord of life and glory appeared from the tomb dressed like a working man (whilst the Angels, far inferior, had shining white garments), the way during His life He spoke in such a way that reflected His lack of formal education (Jn. 7:15)- all this shows a humble, super-human Father. And His Son was and is the same. Indeed, Lk. 2:12 RV (cp. Is. 7:11,14) says that the sign would be that the Son of God would be laid in a cattle trough; this was to be the extraordinary indication that God Himself was involved in this wonderful birth.
The humility of the Lord Jesus is a reflection of the humility of God His Father. He spoke of Himself as the sower, who sleeps (in His death) and then works night and day (His present Heavenly labour for us) so that the seed should bring forth fruit- " he knoweth not how" (Mk. 4:27, with allusion to Ecc. 11:1,5,6). Despite all things having been revealed unto Him, and the Spirit unmeasurably given to Him, He had the spiritual and intellectual humility to openly recognize that our spiritual growth and ultimate salvation is a mystery to Him. It was the Father alone who gave the increase.
The Lord Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. It is wrong to think that the Lord was only humble in His ministry, but will return with almost bitter indignation. This is not so. He girded Himself and served His men in the days of His flesh (Jn. 13:4); and He will do exactly the same again, in the glory of His Kingdom (Lk. 12:37). That same essential humility of God and Jesus will be with Him; He won't have changed. It is His fundamental, eternal characteristic. The fear of God lest Israel would not attain the promised land (" lest peradventure..." , Ex. 13:17) shows His humility, in being so concerned for the salvation of petty man; and that characteristic likewise will be His, right up to and through and beyond the day of judgment.
The more we begin to even faintly grasp the height of Yahweh's holiness and spirituality, the more we will be awed by His humility in dealing with us. It requires humility from Him to even behold the Angels (Ps. 113:6). And yet He lets them discuss His will and come up with their own schemes for executing it, many of which he rejects as somehow inappropriate (2 Chron. 18:17-20). The way God does not issue directives and expect robot-like execution of them, the way He suspends or changes His plans in accordance with human response, the way He sometimes allows men to live on a lower level than the ideal levels which He teaches- the depth of His humility is hard to plumb. Doubtless Job 4:17-19 is using exaggerated language to make the point that the fact God deals with humans is marvellous, because the Angels are fools compared to Him: " Shall mortal man be more just than God?...Behold, he put not trust in his servants, and his Angels he charged with folly. How much less in them (men) that dwell in houses of clay...?" . Yet Angels have God's nature, they are totally sinless. And yet in the exaggerated Hebraism of Job, God cannot trust them because they are fools. This shows that it isn't just sin that separates from God; to be without sin even by nature does not mean that we are on His level. Job came to deeply marvel at this fact, struggling to accept that despite God's highness, He tests us and meditates upon us every moment of our lives: " What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him?...that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?" (Job 7:17,18). These words became the basis of the thoughts of the Lord Jesus as prophesied in Ps. 8:4: " What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou visitest him?" . Like Job, the Lord learnt from the depth of His own inner struggles about the moral greatness of the Father. So even God's own Son, peerless and spotless lamb of God that He was even in mortal nature, recognized that such was God's moral splendour that He was surprised that during His mortality, God was so intensely interested in Him. If God's intense interest is a concession to Angels and to His own Son during the days of His flesh, how much more to us. And yet the wonder of this is hard to grasp, because we perhaps lack the appreciation of both the highness of and the humility of God which we should have.
The earnestness of God's desire for our redemption leads Him to this extraordinary humility. The way He allowed Himself to be so hurt by the crucifixion of His Son is an example of this. It is dimly prefigured in the pain of Abraham for Isaac, and the weeping of Jacob for Joseph, a grief which nobody else could enter into, both on receipt of the news of his supposed death, and also when he finally falls on Joseph's neck and weeps for him (Gen. 46:29; note how Joseph tragically reciprocated this by weeping on the face of his dead father, in prototype of the mutuality between Father and Son). Often the prophets denounce Israel's sins and then God makes an appeal to them in the most humble of language, at the very time when He could have taken the high ground of moral principle and demand. Hag. 2:14,15 is an example: " ....so is this people, and so is this nation before me...and now, I pray you, consider..." . Likewise Hos. 5:12 likens God to a moth eating up Ephraim- after having denounced them for the grossest whoredom. Is. 61:11 compares God to soil- the ground, from which He made man. Further, God reveals Himself to us as a God who has passion, and whose passionate decisions often lead Him to great pain- He represents Himself as the jilted lover in Hosea, a 'man' who loved a woman so so much that it 'ruined' Him. Time and again we read of the "great wrath" of God against Israel; and yet His own word uses those same two Hebrew words to comment that a man of "great wrath" is always getting into expensive trouble (Prov. 19:19). This, if you like, is the price God pays for having feelings and emotions and making emotional decisions. God's zeal to persuade men of His grace brings Him to the most remarkable statements:
- Not least are those which liken God to a young man hopelessly in love with a woman (Israel) who was really no good, a man who took the blame when it was undoubtedly her fault (Is. 54:6,7), grieving that she wouldn't return to Him (Am. 4:8 etc.). " I am broken with their whorish heart...I am crushed" (Ez. 6:9; Jer. 8:21 NIV). God likens Himself to a broken man because of Israel's fickleness. He went through the pain of the man who knows He has been forgotten by the woman he still desperately remembers (Hos. 2:13). He allowed divorce only for the hardness of man's heart (Mt. 19:7); yet God speaks as if He, with all His morality and justice, was responsible for the divorce (Jer. 3:8), when in fact it was Israel who had broken the marriage contract by their unfaithfulness. But in His grace, He as it were took the blame. The Hebrew word translated " zeal" in the context of God's zeal for us (Is. 9:7) really means the jealousy which flares up in a man for a woman (the same word is in Num. 5:14,15; Prov. 6:34; Song 8:6 etc.). That jealousy burning like fire (Ps. 79:5) is His passion for us His people. He is a jealous God in His zeal for us; and therefore any other relationships with the things of this world cannot be contemplated by us. That zeal of God will be poured out upon us at the second coming, resulting in a consummation with Him as the wife of His covenant (Is. 42:13,14; 64:1). This is a figure which would be unseemly for a man to devise. But this is His passion for us, which the humility of God drives Him to use; and surely it will one day be revealed. To use this very figure of a man in love and consummating his relationship in marriage is so apparently inappropriate that it reflects the humility of God in even considering the use of it. We are God's heritage, His reward / wages (Heb.), His recompense for all His labour for us (Ps. 127:3 Heb.).
- " Come now, and let us reason together, saith Yahweh. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as snow" (Is. 1:18). This is extraordinary indeed. God is seeking to persuade men to accept the forgiveness available in the blood of His Son. And He asks us to do this work for Him, to reflect this aspect of His character to the world, with that same spirit of earnest humility: " As though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). No wonder in the context Paul says that we should therefore watch our behaviour and attitudes. The fact men turn away from God's beseeching, His praying that they will accept His grace, is surely the greatest tragedy in the whole cosmos, in the whole of existence. Little wonder we should look diligently lest any man fail, or (Gk.) fall away from God's grace (Heb. 12:15) on account of bitterness in the ecclesia.
- In the same context of God lowering Himself to plead with a proud and apostate Israel: " Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel...concerning the work of my hands command ye me. I have made the earth and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded" (Is. 45:11,12). Note the two uses of " command" and " hands" . God commands the stars, His hands created them; but command ye me concerning my works, and I will answer you. We can command God and His hands will answer. The humility of the creator shows He is the creator.
- Balaam was clearly intended to see a similarity between his God and his ass, who had faithfully been there for him all his life long, and had never been unreasonable to him. The humility of God was not ashamed to compare Himself to the humble beast of burden, ridden, used and abused by His people (Num. 22:30).
- Being generous to the poor is likened by Prov. 19:17 to lending to the Lord; and He will repay that 'debt'. There are countless ways in which God's word could tell us that what we give to the poor, we will somehow receive back from God. But God chooses to use this figure- thus indicating His own solidarity with the very lowest of society, and how God feels in the debt of those who are for them. It's of course only a figure, but God surely shows His humility by using it.
- The way in a sense God allows Himself to be beaten in the short term, His purpose apparently frustrated, His power to save limited (2) by the weakness of man…all shows His greatness. Jacob through prayer and allowing himself to be humbled is described by the Spirit as prevailing against the Angel (Hos. 12:4). This is why prayer is sometimes likened to wrestling and struggle against God. The way men like Abraham and Moses reasoned with God and changed His stated purpose indicates the condescension of God to us. The way He hears and responds to human prayer is humility itself. David realized this: " Bow down thine ear to me" he prayed, recognizing that it was through His humility that God hears human prayer (Ps. 31:2). W.E. Vine comments that when the Lord talks about us 'asking' the Father for things (Jn. 15:23), He uses a Greek word which means the asking of an inferior (i.e. God) to do something for a superior (i.e. us). Greek scholars have also pointed out that some phrases in the Lord's prayer show a remarkable lack of etiquette and the usual language of petition to a superior; literally, the text reads: " Come Thy Kingdom, done Thy will" . Is this part of the " boldness" in approaching God which Paul speaks of? That God should encourage us in this (although He also encourages us in reverential fear of Him) reflects something of His humility.
- Because of God's enthusiasm for human response to His ways, the exalted language in which He describes believers, even in their weakness, is a further essay in His humility. The way the Father runs to the prodigal and falls on his neck in tears is a superb essay in this (Lk. 15:20). Thus God " delighted" in Solomon (1 Kings 10:9)- translating a Hebrew word meaning literally 'to bend down to'. It's used about men in love (Gen. 34:19; Dt. 21:14; 25:7), and about Jonathan's deferential attitude to David (1 Sam. 19:2). We have mentioned that David especially recognized this humility of God. In 2 Sam. 22:26 he uses an unusual word to describe how God is " merciful" to His faithful people. The word only occurs elsewhere in Prov. 25:10 concerning 'bowing the neck' in shame or reverence. And this is what the Hebrew means: to bow the neck. This, David recognized in his time of spiritual maturity, was what God does in response to those who shew a truly spiritual attitude to their brethren.
- God grieved over the carcasses of those wretched men whom He slew in the wilderness for their thankless rebellions against Him their saviour (Heb. 3:17). The apostle makes the point: With whom was He grieved?" . Answer: with the wicked whom He slew! A human God or a proud God would never grieve over His victory over His enemies. Even in the fickleness of Israel's repentance, knowing their future, knowing what they would subject His Son to, " His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel" (Jud. 10:16). He delays the second coming because He waits and hopes for repentance and spiritual growth from us. But He praises the faithful for patiently waiting for Him (Is. 30:18; Ps. 37:7). Here we see the humility of God's grace.
- The Lord Jesus reflected the Father's humility. He spoke of how He would come forth and serve us in His Kingdom (Mt. 20:28). How this prediction will exactly be fulfilled is a subject for our reverential meditation.
- That Almighty all-wise God could inspire 1 Cor. 1:25 is another example: “The foolishness of God… the weakness of God”. In Jer. 14:21 we find something wonderful: “Do not abhor us… do not disgrace the throne of thy glory”. We, weak humans, are paralleled with the throne of God’s glory.
- The fact God will ultimately come and live on tiny planet earth with us His beloved people is the ultimate outworking of His humility (Rev. 21, 22 and see God: The Final Reality). The reason why space is so deep and huge may simply be because God wants to show us His humility: in that although He is so far from us, He will come to us, such an infinite distance in human terms, and live here with us. And this Almighty, so distant God... describes Israel as " a people near unto Him" (Ps. 148:14)- using the very word elsewhere translated " near of kin" or " kinsman" . This is how close He comes to His people.
- In order to reveal Himself to men, God uses the principle of manifestation through men. The very fact that He should allow mere men to manifest Him, even to bear His Name when they were weak (Jn. 10:35), to allow men to be baptized into His Name (with all the spiritual immaturity we have at the point of baptism)- this all shows a wondrous humility. So close was His manifestation in men like Moses (for all his short temper at times) that God speaks of how Moses brought Israel out of Egypt, when it was evidently God who did so.
- God is so willing for our repentance and salvation that He almost debases Himself in order to achieve it. But this does not mean that He compromises Himself or offends the basic majesty of His character and Being. There are times when He doesn't 'rush in' and correct error or judge sin just to vindicate Himself. The fact He does sometimes denounce false teachers is in itself an act of humility for the Almighty, who will always be vindicated even if He says nothing.
- The rainbow is to remind men of the essential salvation and patience of God. And yet He describes it as reminding Him of His promise of salvation (Gen. 6:9)- as if He might forget.
- The order of things in the list of essential doctrines in Eph. 4:4-6 is marvellous: " One body" (us) comes first, and " One God" comes last. Behold here the humility of God.
- The parables contain elements of unreality in order to make a point. Lk. 14:31 speaks of a King coming in judgment upon another King who only has half the army which he has. The more powerful King is of course God. But we are likened to a “king” also, on His level in that sense, who has only half His strength. This is altogether such an under estimate of the Father’s physical and moral superiority to us!
A relationship with a God like this really ought to humble us. He, the Almighty, has asked us to humble ourselves so that we might walk with Him, as if He is so far beneath the petty pride of man (Mic. 6:8 mg.). This really ought to humble us. The whole purpose of the Gospel is to bring down the mountains of human pride and lift up the valleys of those who lack any self-respect (Is. 40:4), thereby making an equality of attitude amongst God's people. The vision of the Kingdom in Is. 2:2-4 was used as an appeal for humility amongst Israel (2:10-12). We have been clothed with God's righteousness (Is. 61:10; Rev. 3:18) , and therefore we should be clothed with humility too, as our response to this (1 Pet. 5:5). Above all, the finest essay in the humility of the Father and His Son is seen in the birth, life and death of the Lord. The birth in a manger, no rooms in the inn, growing up in a small town in despised Galilee, the naked shame of the crucifixion (Heb. 6:6 Gk.), Mary thinking the resurrected Son of the Highest was the gardener... the way God Himself ‘dwelt’ in the ark, a small wooden box only a metre or so broad and high. This is the humility of God. Our experience of the humility of God will surely bring us to reflect it within the very fibre of our being.
(1) This is what Phil. 2:4-9 teaches, suggesting that in His mind the Lord worked down and down, until He came to the final humility of the cross. Likewise Heb. 2:9 describes how Christ was " made lower" than Angels- the same Greek word is translated " decrease" . He was decreased lower than the Angels " by the suffering of death" ; perhaps because previously the Angels had been subject to Him, but in His time of dying he was 'decreased' to a lower position?
(2) See The Limitation Of God.