2-14 “When Israel was a Child...”
“When Israel was a child, then I loved him…” is to be paralleled with: “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel” (Hos. 11:1; 13:1). When they were humble, then God exalted them. But in the maturity of time, Israel lost her humility, a callousness and fleck of arrogance crept into her walk, she grew old and brave in her own strength, and she plunged headlong in her relationship with God. Humility is vital. A true, thorough-going, unpretended humility, not some fawning, Uriah Heep announcement that of course, we’re all sinners. But it’s a slippery thing: as soon as we think we’ve got it, we haven’t. And all the rest of the time we spend worrying that we haven’t got it. So it’s something we need to soberly think about. Time and again, the Biblical contrasts are between the sinners and the humble (e.g. Ps. 147:6)- as if humility is the epitome of the acceptable. It is the meek who shall inherit the earth (Ps. 37:11). This is how significant humility is.
Moses, in his day of final maturity, pleaded with Israel: “Now, Israel, what doth Yahweh thy God require of thee, but to fear Yahweh thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve [Him]” (Dt. 10:12). These words are interpreted in Micah 6:8: “What doth Yahweh require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly [‘to humble thyself to walk’] with thy God?”. Walking in God’s ways is paralleled with walking in humility, humbling oneself. This, then, is the end result of our obedience to the way of God: a self humbling through regular submission to God’s principles, as hour by hour we experience the provocations of our flesh. The Lord took Micah’s words further, when He spoke of what we “ought” to do (cp. “what doth Yahweh require…”) in Mt. 23:23: “…the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith”. Micah had spoken of judgment, mercy and walking humbly with God. Faith, a real and serious belief in the victory of the cross, in our salvation by grace, in a real and regular and meaningful experience of forgiveness, in the ever present “grace to help in time of need” that is available even now…the result of this will be a humbling of self to walk with God. For this was parallel in the Lord’s mind with “faith”. Ps. 45:4 speaks in the Hebrew text of meekness-righteousness, as if meekness is the very essence of righteousness.
Our fear of what others think of us, of their reactions and possible reactions to who we are, to our words and our actions; our faithless worry about where we will find our food and clothing, how we will be cared for when we are old, whether our health will fail…all these things detract us from a simple and direct faith in the basic tenets of the Gospel, which is what should lead us to humility. “The simplicity that is in Christ…in simplicity and godly sincerity…by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world…[doing our daily work] with singleness [s.w. ‘simplicity’] of heart, as unto Christ” (2 Cor. 1:12; 11:3; Eph. 6:5,6). Worries about the material things of life, or deep seated doubt developed during years of atheism or wrong belief…these all so easily distract us from the simplicity of a true and humbled faith. If our eye / world-view / outlook on life is single [s.w. ‘simple’ in the passages quoted], then our whole body / life will be full of light (Mt. 6:22). In daily work, in private reflection and planning for our immediate futures and present needs, there must be a direct and undiluted belief of the teachings of the Gospel, connecting those teachings to our daily life of faith. In this simplicity of the life of faith, in a world that makes life so complicated [especially for the poor], we will find humility. With that simplicity and humility will come peace, and the ability to pray with a concentrated and uncluttered mind, without our thoughts wandering off into the petty troubles of life as we frame our words before Almighty God each morning and night. I do so hope we all have that habit, of sustained, concentrated communion with the Father for say 20 minutes or more, especially at night. It worries me when sleeping in the company of other brethren at gatherings, how soon after laying down in bed they are snoring…within minutes they are asleep. And may I also probe: do you teach your children to pray, morning and night…? Forgive this digression. But it’s important.
On at least four separate occasions, the Lord taught that he who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles [s.w. abases] himself will be exalted (Mt. 18:4; 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14). This was clearly a major theme in His exposition of the Gospel of the Kingdom; this is what will happen when that Kingdom is established at His return. He paralleled conversion with humbling oneself (Mt. 18:3,4). The humble will be exalted, and the exalted humbled. Because this will happen, we must now humble ourselves, so that then we might be exalted. The majority of references to humility in Scripture refer to humbling oneself; humility, hard as it is to define, is something consciously done, as an act of the will. Yet the Father confirms us in our efforts. The Lord humbled himself to die on the cross (Phil. 2), and yet the cross humbled him (Acts 8:33). If we don’t humble ourselves now, then God will do this to us through the process of condemnation at the judgment. In this lies the insistent logic of humility. It was the logic Israel failed to comprehend... " When Israel was a child..." . It is prophesied of those who will be condemned: “Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty [as Moses did in this life]. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low” (Is. 2:10-12). “And the mean man shall be brought down, and the mighty man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be humbled: But the LORD of hosts shall be exalted in judgment” (Is. 5:15,16). There are many similar passages; the theme of ‘bringing down’ pride is a major one in the first half of Isaiah (2:17; 13:11; 25:5,12; 29:4; 32:19). They pave the way for the announcement that in man’s response to the Gospel of Christ, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Is. 40:4). By the hills of human pride being brought down, and the giving of confidence to those so low in the valleys of hopelessness and lack of self respect, there is a levelling of all those who respond to Christ. But more than this; in this lifting up of the hopeless and bringing down of the proud, there is a foretaste of what will happen in the future day of judgment. In essence, “we make the answer now” by whether or not we bring down our pride, or whether we summon the faith in God’s grace and imputed righteousness to believe that we, who are nothing, are lifted up in His sight. “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low” (James 1:9-10).
There are many brethren and sisters who live lowly lives, stuck in the lowest levels of society, living as they do with grim acceptance of their lot, who struggle with this: that they, really and truly, are seen as clothed with Christ, that they will be without fault before the throne. Or there are others who feel that their past failures really make it hard for them to ever be accepted by God. But believe it! This is how God eagerly sees you! We will be in His Kingdom, by grace…these are the valleys that must be exalted. And there are so many of us whose mountains of pride must be pulled down to the same level, by the same Gospel. If this happens, we will not need the ‘bringing down’ of condemnation. Flesh must be humbled- either we do it now, we humble ourselves that we may be exalted in due time; or it will have to be done to us through the terror of rejection. Time and again ‘bringing low’ or ‘humiliation’ is the result of condemnation (Dt. 28:43; 2 Chron. 28:19; Job 40:12; Ps. 106:43).
So how, then, can we ‘humble ourselves’? When Israel was a child... she was humble, as we should be after our spiritual rebirth at baptism. It is evidently not something natural; for it is a fruit of the spirit we must develop. It isn’t a natural timidity or nervousness or shyness. By realising our own sinfulness, we will realise our condemnation, and thereby be ‘brought down’. For we are condemned for our behaviour, but saved out of that condemnation. The exact, vast debt is reckoned up- before we are forgiven (Mt. 18). We have been invited through the Gospel to sit down in the Kingdom: “But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:10-11). Humbling ourselves is therefore sitting down in the lowest place- not just a low place. Strictly, the Greek means ‘the farthest’ away from the Lord Jesus, who sits at the head of the table. Like Paul we must somehow get that deep and genuine apprehension that we are “chief of sinners”- and sit in the lowest, farthest place. This would mean that we ‘each esteemed our brother better than ourselves to be’, not in any naïve, meaningless way; not seeing strengths where they simply don’t exist; but seeing him [or her] that way simply in comparison to our own lowness. Seeing others as higher than ourselves is a sure remedy for every case of ecclesial friction and division. So often pride develops from a worry about what others will think of us, a desire to be seen as acceptable and not unusual. It leads to a hyper-sensitivity regarding what others may be implying about us [I am verily guilty of this]. The humbled mind will not see things in these terms. If only we would each, personally, learn this lesson, or at least grasp the truth and beauty and power of it. The publican was so worried about his own position before God that he paid no attention, so we sense, to the hypocritical brother next to him: “The publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner…this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for …he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14). That sin-conscious man is an essay in self-humbling. This is why David sometimes parallels “the meek” and the repentant sinner (e.g. Ps. 25:8,9).
The Lord in His time of dying was and is the definition of self-humbling: “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mt 23:11-12). Being a servant to others is the ‘abasing’ or [s.w.] humbling that will lead to exaltation. The Lord became a servant of all in His death (Mk. 10: 44,45). These things are brought together in Phil. 2:5-11, where we are invited to have nothing less than the mind of Christ in the self-humbling of the cross: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who…thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men…he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name…”. The seven stages of the Lord’s self-humiliation are matched by seven stages of the Father’s exaltation of Him (read on in Phil. 2 and note them!). And this pattern is to be ours. This mind is to be in us. Because of this, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other… look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil 2:3-4). Every time we look on the things of others rather than just our own, not seeking our own glory but esteeming others enough to see them as worth suffering for…we have achieved the spirit of the cross, we have reached self-humbling. As the Lord died for Himself and others, so we are to look on the things of our salvation as well as those of others. This must be the foundation principle of all aspirations to preach or strengthen our brethren: esteeming others, thinking they are worth the effort, seeking their salvation. Be concerned just as much that the guys at work get to the Kingdom, the old woman in the flat next door, that sister in the ecclesia you can’t understand…as you are concerned that you get there. This will give us the motivation to humble ourselves to suggest meeting to break bread with others, humble ourselves to give a tract to someone or start a conversation, to start a spiritual conversation at a gathering with an unknown brother or sister or one with whom you have difficulties...for it is only pride and self-estimation that hold us back in these things. We live in a world which has made the fulfilment of personal aims of paramount importance. It has affected the fabric of every society, and become embedded in every mind. To live to serve, to put oneself down that others may rise…this is strange indeed. John the Baptist had this spirit, for he rejoiced that he decreased whilst the Lord’s cause increased. Paul abased himself that others might be exalted (2 Cor. 11:7), after the pattern of the cross. God’s gentleness, His humility / bowing down (Heb.) has made us great, lifted us up (Ps. 18:35). And we respond to it by humbling ourselves. The man who ‘humbled himself’ smote upon his breast in knowledge of his own sin and his Lord’s grace (Lk. 18:13). The Greek phrase occurs elsewhere only once, again in Luke’s thought, in describing how those humbled by the vision of the cross beat upon their breasts (23:48)- surely in recognition of their sin and contrition before the grace of God outpoured. In the cross, we see self-humbling that we might be exalted. And we respond by likewise humbling ourselves, that others may be exalted. In practice this means guiding our words and example so that others are exalted, not speaking of our own achievements, considering each other as to how we may provoke them to righteousness (Heb. 10:24; earlier in 3:1 the writer speaks of considering the Lord Jesus, and this leads on to considering each other). And so, brethren dearly beloved…consider Him. Humble yourselves and become as that little child who stood so bashfully in the midst of men. Know that when Israel was a child, then God loved him. When he spoke trembling, as we should morning and night, then he was exalted…