Anyone who has followed the weekly articles of NY Times op-ed columnist, David Brooks, or read his 2016 best-seller The Road to Character, knows that HUMILITY is the character trait that Brooks would consider the most elusive in modern America. And I think it’s fair to say that he would suggest its absence is the main cause of societal problems today.
However, while Brooks, who is not a Christian, longs for societal humility, he struggles to suggest what could possibly generate it. I think I know something that can.
The Bible describes Moses as the most humble man on the face of the planet (Num. 12:3), a fascinating statement for multiple reasons. Assuming the statement is true, however, it’s interesting to see how Moses arrived at that point, and what happened when he did.
Moses was born to Israelite parents, but educated in Pharoah’s court (Ex. 2:1-10). Receiving the best instruction available in the entire world, Moses would have been perfectly groomed, uniquely calibrated for leadership. Furthermore, the nation of Israel, 400 years deep into slavery at this point, desperately needed a leader at that time. But God didn’t use Moses then. I might argue that God couldn’t use him then. Just look at Moses’ character.
Moses was undoubtedly talented, but he was also tremendously arrogant and reckless, evidenced by his murder of the Egyptian who he found beating a Hebrew slave. Moses was of course justified in defending his native people and seeking their justice, but seemingly knew full well he was doing something wrong in killing the Egyptian (Ex. 2:12). His instincts were correct, but his attitude was immature.
If God had used Moses at that moment, it might have looked as though Israel’s success was dependent on Moses’ capacity, rather than God’s grace. An egotistical leader likely wouldn’t have done much for Israel’s spiritual direction either. Instead, God leads Moses into the Sinai wilderness to become a simple farmer.
In fleeing the country, Moses left behind all of the wealth of Egypt to become a penniless vagabond. He left behind a successful career in Egyptian government to become a Midianite farmer. He left behind both his biological family and his adopted family. And Hebrews 11 says he left behind “the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Put differently, Moses willfully made himself less financially, professionally, and relationally comfortable. It was an instinctually counterintuitive move if there ever was one. So why did he do it? Because “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt.” (Hebrews 11:26)
Everything about this is crazy and incredibly humbling to me. Moses is 40 years-old. He’s a man with an incredible education, tremendous leadership skills, and a people who absolutely need him, and he’s wasting away his days with sheep in the desert. How many good years does he have left? His 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s pass him by. He’s 80 years-old. A has-been. And God shows up in a burning bush and says, “I have a job for you. Now that you know you’re NOTHING, I have a job for you.”
This has become such an important lesson in my life. Understood correctly, God doesn’t use somebodies. He uses nobodies. Moses formerly was something in the world’s eyes. God wouldn’t use that. Moses became nothing. And at that moment God wanted him to lead a nation. The moral is that if you sincerely want to be an instrument to advance His Kingdom, you need to empty yourself of yourself and be filled with His Spirit.
Why should this surprise us when God sent our Redeemer, a Greater Moses (Deut. 18:15) to a manger, not a palace; as a carpenter, not a warring conqueror; saving us through his own blood on the cross, not the blood of an enemy on a sword. Our God’s Kingdom building methodology is beautiful, otherworldly, and anti-instinctual.
Become useful for the Kingdom. Empty self. Die to self. Rise with Christ, filled with Spirit.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)