Biblical Word Studies Class 6
Humble Humility

C. Michael Holloway
18 October 1998

  1. Opening & prayer.
  2. Review of what we've done so far.
    1. What is the goal and approach of the class? The basic goal of the class is to increase our understanding of the meaning of certain words used in the Bible. We're doing this by concentrating on determining the meaning of certain English words as they appear in the New American Standard translation.
    2. In the second week, we saw that the word heart has several different meanings in the Bible, but that it most often expresses the totality of a person's nature and character and includes all 3 of the traditional personality functions of man: the affections, the intellect, and the volition.
    3. In the third week, we studied the words knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, and saw that the three words are intimately related, but not quite synonymous.
    4. In the fourth week we answered the question: Does the Bible speak of a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge?
    5. Last week, we looked at gossip and slander, and saw that
      1. Gossip and slander are at the root different manifestations of the same sin, namely, saying something about someone that you ought not say.
      2. God hates this.
      3. We need to know how to determine whether something ought to be said.
    6. I've put notes from each of these classes on my web page. If you want to know the URL, let me know, and I'll give it to you. The easiest thing to do might be to send me e-mail. My address is easy to remember:

  3. This week we want to look at the words humble and humility. Your homework was to compare and contrast the characteristics of Biblical humility and false humility. Before we discuss your answers, let me give you some of the basic facts about our words.
    1. The word humility occurs 10 times in the NASB. 4 times in the Old Testament and 6 times in the New Testament.
      1. The same Hebrew word is used all 4 times in the O.T. Its basic meaning is captured pretty well by the English word humility.
      2. In the N.T., 2 Greek words are used, 1 once, the other the remaining 5 times. The basic meaning of the word that's used 5 times is 'lowliness of mind'; that of the word that's used once is 'meekness'; in fact, the NKJV uses meekness in that verse.
    2. The word humble and its variants such as humbles and humbled occurs 89 times in 82 verses in the NASB. 69 times in 65 verses are from the Old Testament, while 20 times in 17 verses are from the New Testament.
      1. In the Old Testament, 12 different Hebrew words are used.
        1. But 3/4 of the occurrences come from one of two basic Hebrew words: kana or ana.
        2. The verb kana 'denotes bringing a proud and recalcitrant people into subjection'. It implies submission to another's will.
        3. The verb ana 's primary meaning is 'to force'; the idea is one of forcible humiliation. The adjective form of ana is anaw.
        4. According to the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, no thoroughgoing distinction is possible between these two words. The basic theme underlying both of them is that of affliction.
      2. All 20 occurrences in the New Testament are derived from the same basic Greek root, although there are 4 different words used. The basic meaning of the root is 'to make low'. Thus, the adjective form literally means 'low-lying.'

  4. One more thing before we discuss the homework directly. I'll read to you some definitions for humility. You tell me whether you think it is a Biblical definition, and why or why not. If you did the homework, you should be well prepared for this.
    1. 'having a feeling that one is unimportant, weak, poor, etc.'
      1. This comes from the World Book Dictionary.
      2. It is definitely not a Biblical definition for at least two reasons:
        1. Humility is not a feeling
        2. Humility does not require thinking oneself to be unimportant, weak, poor, or etc.
    2. 'recognizing that God and others are actually responsible for the achievements in my life'
      1. This comes from Bill Gothard.
      2. It is much better than the previous one, but seems to me to have two flaws:
        1. Putting God and others on the same level understates God's role and overstates the role of others.
        2. Even if we deleted 'and others', this is more of a description of one characteristic of humility than a full definition of it.
    3. 'a grace of the soul that allows one to think of himself no more highly than he ought to think'
      1. This is from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary.
      2. It is better than the two previous ones. It is especially good in that it recognizes that
        1. Humility comes by God's grace, and
        2. Humility involves the soul, that is all of a person, not just the feelings.
      3. Nevertheless, this seems to me to be more of a description of one thing occurs when one is humble, than a full definition of what constitutes humility.
    4. 'an unfeigned submission of our heart, stricken down in earnest with an awareness of its own misery and want'
      1. This is from Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, book III, chapter XII, section 6.
      2. This isn't bad, and in the context in which it was written, it is an adequate definition, but without that context, it isn't clear to whom the submission is given. Also, I don't particularly like the depersonalization of the 'heart' implicit in the pronoun 'it'.
    5. 'esteeming oneself as altogether contemptible and odious in oneself; attended with a mortification of the disposition to exalt oneself, a free renunciation of one's own glory, and an exaltation of Christ above all'
      1. This is based on a discussion by Jonathan Edwards in A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, which, by the way, is a book that you ought to read, if you haven't already.
      2. I believe that this is a good, albeit a tad wordy, definition of Biblical humility
    6. As we now turn to compare and contrast the characteristics of Biblical humility and false humility, we should keep in mind these words, also from Jonathan Edwards, in his Treatise on Grace: "'Tis common for us to speak of various graces of the Spirit of God as though they were so many different principles of holiness, and to call them by distinct names as such, -- repentance, humility, resignation, thankfulness, etc. But we err if we imagine that these in their first source and root in the heart are properly distinct principles. They all come from the same fountain, and are, indeed, the various exertions and conditions of the same thing; only different denominations according to the various occasions, objects and manners, attendants and circumstances of its exercise."

  5. Let's now list some characteristics of Biblical humility. Someone give me one characteristic, and we'll discuss it for a bit, then go on to another characteristic.
    1. Obedience to God
      1. Zephaniah 2:3a Seek the LORD, All you humble of the earth Who have carried out His ordinances; Seek righteousness, seek humility.
      2. James 1:21 Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
      3. Jonathan Edwards wrote, again from his book Religious Affections: "Humility is that wherein a spirit of obedience does much consist. A proud spirit is a rebellious spirit, but a humble spirit is a yieldable, subject, obediential spirit."
      4. Obedience to God and humility are so closely intertwined that Calvin wrote in his Institutes, Book II chapter II section 11: "A saying of Chrysostom's has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility. But that of Augustine pleases me even more: 'When a rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied "Delivery"; what was the second rule, "Delivery"; what was the third rule, "Delivery"; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, "humility."'"
      5. Ultimately, at the root level, every sin reduces to the sin of pride. If we did not think, perhaps not consciously, but certainly subconsciously, that we know better than God what we ought to do, we would not disobey Him.
    2. Submission to authority
      1. 1 Peter 5:5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
      2. Matthew 18:4 "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
    3. Lack of pride in oneself
      1. Proverbs 18:12 Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, But humility goes before honor.
      2. Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.
    4. Acceptance of God's providence
      1. Philippians 4:12 I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
      2. James 1:9 But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position
    5. Esteeming others as more important than oneself
      1. Romans 12:3 For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
      2. Philippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself
    6. Others ...

  6. How do these characteristics compare and contrast with what the world tends to call humility?
    1. As best as I can tell, the world, and many Christians too for that matter, seem to think that there are basically only two characteristics of humility:
      1. Never asserting that something is certainly true.
      2. Never claiming that you are able to do anything better than someone else.
    2. As a result, according to worldly standards, all Christians are necessarily arrogant, because we assert that God's Word is certainly true.
    3. Yet, in fact, there is nothing more arrogant than failing to acknowledge God's Word as absolute truth.
    4. Egalitarianism, which is at the root of the second characteristic of worldly humility, is also arrogant, because it denies a truth that God proclaims, namely that He has given different talents, gifts, abilities, or whatever you want to call it, to different people.
    5. There is also another kind of humility, which isn't the worldly humility we've been talking about, but isn't godly humility either. Edwards calls this 'legal humility' (legal humiliation actually). He contrasts this with true humility, which he calls 'evangelical humiliation' like this: "In a legal humiliation, men are made sensible that they are little and nothing before the great and terrible God, and that they are undone, and wholly insufficient to help themselves; as wicked men will be at the day of judgment: but they have not an answerable frame of heart, consisting in a disposition to abase themselves, and exalt God alone; this disposition is given only in evangelical humiliation, by overcoming the heart, and changing its inclination, by a discovery of God's holy beauty: in a legal humiliation, the conscience is convinced; as the consciences of all will be most perfectly at the day of judgment; but because there is no spiritual understanding, the will is not bowed, nor the inclination altered: this is done only in evangelical humiliation. In legal humiliation, men are brought to despair of helping themselves; in evangelical, they are brought voluntarily to deny and renounce themselves: in the former, they are subdued and forced to the ground; in the latter, they are brought sweetly to yield, and freely and with delight to prostrate themselves at the feet of God."

  7. Let's now look at two passages that deal with humility, one from the New Testament, and one from the Old.
    1. Turn first to Luke chapter 18. We'll start at verse 9 and read through verse 14. Luke 18:9-14 -- And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: {10} "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. {11} The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. {12} I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' {13} But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' {14} I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
      1. In what way was the Pharisee not being humble? Didn't he thank God for his good condition?
      2. Here's another quote from Jonathan Edwards: "The humble Christian is more apt to find fault with his own pride than with other men's. He is apt to put the best construction on others' words and behavior, and to think that none are so proud as himself. But the proud hypocrite is quick to discern the mote in his brother's eye, in this respect; while he sees nothing of the beam in his own. He is very often much in crying out of others' pride, finding fault with others' apparel, and way of living; and is affected ten times as much with his neighbor's ring or ribband, as with all the filthiness of his own heart."
    2. Let's turn now to Daniel chapter 4. I'll read quite a bit of this chapter, fairly quickly, skipping a few parts. Daniel 4: Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth: "May your peace abound! {2} It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. {3} How great are His signs, And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion is from generation to generation. {4} I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. {5} I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. ... {8} But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and I related the dream to him, ... {19} Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, 'Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.' Belteshazzar answered and said, 'My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your adversaries! ... {24} this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: {25} that you be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes. {26} And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules. {27} Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.' {28} All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. {29} Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. {30} The king reflected and said, 'Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?' {31} While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, {32} and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes.' {33} Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles' feathers and his nails like birds' claws. {34} But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. {35} And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What hast Thou done?' {36} At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. {37} Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride."
      1. Based on this passage what is God likely to do to those who are prideful? Whatever it takes to humble them.
      2. What should be the response of someone who has been humbled by God? A recognition of God's absolute sovereignty over all things, and the giving of all praise and honor to Him.

  8. I'll wrap up this morning's class by suggesting 3 applications of what we've discussed this morning about humility.
    1. First, from Zephaniah 2:3, Seek righteousness, seek humility.
    2. Second, recognize that humility is intimately intertwined with all the other attributes of holiness; it cannot be pursued in isolation. You cannot be humble, and not be righteous. You cannot be righteous, and not be humble.
    3. Third, concern yourself first with the log in your own eye, not the speck in another's eye.

  9. Remember that the Reformation Conference is next weekend, so we won't have class next week. If you haven't picked up a brochure about next week's conference be sure to do so before you leave this morning.
    1. Two weeks from now, on November 1, we'll look at the word judge. We'll be concentrating on the use of the word as an verb, not as a noun. I am prepared to devote 2 classes to covering this, but we might be able to do it in 1. We'll just have to see.
      1. Your homework for that class, which you have two weeks to complete, is the following: explain how to determine whether a particular action is a 'high crime or misdemeanor'.
      2. Just kidding, your real homework is this: Explain what is prohibited by Jesus in His statement, 'Do not judge lest you be judged.'
    2. When we finish with judge, we will look at all, world, and predestined. That, too, will likely take 2 weeks. At that point, we'll probably take a vote about what to cover in the final 2 weeks.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright by The Lockman Foundation.