In the middle of today’s chapters comes a wonderful description of Moses,
Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth. (12:3)
This comes as his brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, get fed up of playing second fiddle to Moses, and start gossipping about him. God steps in and reminds them of who his chosen servant is – and Moses sticks up for them. That sounds to me like a good example of humility.
But we’ve already seen Moses’ humility in action, in 11:24-30. There, people are grumbling and Moses is beyond his limits of patience and energy to lead them, so God spreads the anointing of his Spirit to seventy elders to share Moses’ responsibility. But there seems to be some overflow of the Spirit to two men, Eldad and Medad, who aren’t among the chosen elders. They prophesy not at the Tent of Meeting, as they’re supposed to, but where they find themselves, in the camp.
Joshua expects Moses to protect his position, and make it clear that he is the only one who can bring God’s word to Israel. Moses’ reply is wonderful.
Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them’ (11:29)
When he met God at the burning bush, we saw that Moses was ‘humble’ in the traditional sense of running down his abilties, in particular his ability to speak in public. But now he’s showing a completely different kind of humility, and unlike his old running down of the gift and call God has given him, this is entirely healthy. Moses isn’t interested in status, or in being the sole mouthpiece of God. He would rather that he was out of a job – that all Israel knew God as well as Moses did, and heard him just as clearly. The more prophets, the better!
This reminds me of something I remember reading by CS Lewis on humility,
‘True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.’ (Mere Christianity)
Whether it’s his brother and sister causing problems for him or a couple of random prophets in the camp, Moses’ humility is that his attention is fixed on God and on the people in his care – not on his own position or reputation. I think Lewis described humility elsewhere as the characteristic of an architect who could design the best and most beautiful cathedral ever seen, to the glory of God, and then could rejoice and enjoy knowing that his cathedral was the best ever – but who would be just as pleased by the beauty and elegance of the cathedral had it been designed by his most bitter rival.
Another quote springs to mind, though I have no idea who first said it,
It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t care who gets the credit.
Humility is the gift of being able to take ourselves out of the equation in how we respond to what life throws at us or what God calls us to be and to do. It’s not about running ourselves down – God has made us unique and gifted us distinctively, so we do him no honour by failing to value the ‘me’ he has made.
It comes – as do all sorts of other things – from fixing our vision and hearts on God, and remembering who God is more vividly than we insist on who we are. In a different way, that was the distinction between Joshua and Caleb and the other scouts in chapter 13 – those who concentrated on the obstacles saw only problems. Those who concentrated on the God who had already done so much for them saw only possibility and promise.
Where do I focus my vision? On the obstacles, on myself or on the God who made both them and me?