Humility in the Psalms
Humility is an essential virtue for the spiritual journey. We need humility to acknowledge our need for God. But what can we learn about humility in the Psalms? What do the Psalms have to teach us about this crucial virtue?
What differentiates Humility?
I’ve heard that humility lies between courage and arrogance. What a wonderful dividing line. Courage is about others, putting yourself aside to help those in need. This requires humility. Arrogance is all about you, putting yourself first.
I also think humility lies between courage and fear. Sometimes fear masquerades as humility. I claim that I am insignificant and have nothing to offer. Who am I to undertake this endeavor or to speak out for the rights of others, when in reality, I’m afraid. Humility acknowledges that all we have comes from God as a gift, not based on any merit on our part.
Jesus and Humility
We need look no further than Jesus for the ultimate example of humility. He was God, yet he chose to humble himself and become human. Who does that? (Phil 2:5-11) Jesus practiced what he preached. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” he tells us in the beatitudes. Those who humble themselves will be exalted, those who exalt themselves will be humbled (Lk. 14:11), he reminds his followers, following the example of God throughout the Old Testament.
God routinely chose the lowly to carry out his will. He raised a humble shepherd boy, David, to the status of king, removing Saul, who had abused his royal power, from the throne. He chose Amos, a farmer and shepherd, and the other prophets to proclaim his word to his people. Moses was an unlikely leader of the Hebrew nation. And he chose a young girl, Mary, to give birth to his son, Jesus. (Magnificat Luke 1:46-55)
“Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart,” (Mt. 11:27) Jesus told his disciples. Peter, James, and Paul, following the example and guidance of their teacher also spoke about the importance of humility. “Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand.” (1 Peter 5:6) “The proud are cast down.” (James 4:10) “Clothe yourself with humility.” (Col. 3:12-14; 1 Peter 5:5)
Humility in the Old Testament
Besides God’s pattern of choosing the lowly, we see many references to humility in the Old Testament, most notably in Proverbs. Proverbs is one of the wisdom books. It includes a series of sayings, instructions for those who would be wise. “Humility is the fear of the Lord,” according to Proverbs 22:4. Elsewhere in Scripture we hear that wisdom begins with fear of the Lord. Hence, wisdom begins with humility. We have to be humble to accept being taught, recognizing that we don’t know everything.
Other passages on humility from Proverbs are:
- He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed. Prov. 3:34
- When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Prov. 11:12
- The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. Prov. 12:15
- Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the LORD, and humility comes before honor. Prov. 15:33
- Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. Prov. 18:12
- Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life. Prov. 22:4
- Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips. Prov. 27:2
Humility in the Psalms
The poetry of the Psalms reinforces what is found elsewhere in the Bible
- You save those who are humble, but You humble those who are proud. Psalm 18:27
- He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. Psalm 25:9
- But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Psalm 37:11
- The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. Psalm 147:6
- The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. Psalm 146:8
- The Lord takes pleasure in His people; He honors the humble with victory. Psalm 149:4
Perhaps the most beautiful of all is this simple gem, Psalm 131, where the reader is encouraged to come to God like a small child comes to his mother.
Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Israel, trust in the Lord now and forever! Psalm 131
Or Psalm 8, a beautiful prayer by David about how wondrous our God is, and how small we are before our God. Certainly, a masterpiece on humility.
And then there are the penitential psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) where the author admits their guilt and cries out to God for forgiveness. Certainly, it takes humility to ask for forgiveness.
Humility Permeates the Psalms
After all of this, what more can our reading of the Psalms add to our understanding of humility? What is unique to the Psalms?
The Psalms is the prayer book of the Hebrew community. 2 Chronicles 7:14 tells us: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray.” We are called to humbly pray.
Prayer requires humility. We pray to those whom we recognize as being more powerful or greater than we are. The first step in prayer is acknowledging that there is someone greater than we are who deserves our prayer. Often when we pray, we admit our lack and ask for help. Or we simply cry out in wonder and praise at the greatness of this other.
In that the Psalms is a book of prayer; it is grounded in humility. It is found throughout the book of Psalms. Even without using the word, humility is the foundation of the Psalms.
So, what can we learn about humility in the Psalms? It is foundational to prayer, essential for spiritual growth.
What are your thoughts on humility? Does this speak true to you? I’d love to hear from you!
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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