“Wise in Heart”—Yet Humble
1-3. Why can we be certain that Jehovah is humble?
A FATHER wants to impart a vital lesson to his small child. He is eager to reach the heart. What approach should he take? Should he tower intimidatingly over the child and use harsh language? Or should he bend down to the child’s level and speak in a mild, appealing manner? Surely a wise, humble father would choose the mild approach.
2 What kind of Father is Jehovah—haughty or humble, harsh or mild? Jehovah is all-knowing, all-wise. Have you noticed, though, that knowledge and intelligence do not necessarily make people humble? As the Bible says, “knowledge puffs up.” (1 Corinthians 3:19; 8:1) But Jehovah, who is “wise in heart,” is also humble. (Job 9:4) Not that he is in any way low in position or lacking in grandeur, but he is devoid of haughtiness. Why is that so?
3 Jehovah is holy. So haughtiness, a quality that defiles, is not in him. (Mark 7:20-22) Further, note what the prophet Jeremiah said to Jehovah: “You will surely remember and bow low over me.”a (Lamentations 3:20) Imagine! Jehovah, the Sovereign Lord of the universe, was willing to “bow low,” or come down to Jeremiah’s level, in order to give that imperfect human favorable attention. (Psalm 113:7) Yes, Jehovah is humble. But what does godly humility involve? How is it related to wisdom? And why is it important to us?
How Jehovah Proves to Be Humble
4, 5. (a) What is humility, how is it manifest, and why should it never be confused with weakness or timidity? (b) How did Jehovah demonstrate humility in his dealings with David, and how important to us is Jehovah’s humility?
4 Humility is lowliness of mind, absence of arrogance and pride. An inner quality of the heart, humility is manifest in such traits as mildness, patience, and reasonableness. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Never, though, should these godly qualities be mistaken for weakness or timidity. They are not incompatible with Jehovah’s righteous anger or his use of destructive power. Rather, by his humility and mildness, Jehovah demonstrates his immense strength, his power to control himself perfectly. (Isaiah 42:14) How is humility related to wisdom? One reference work on the Bible notes: “Humility is finally defined . . . in terms of selflessness and is an essential root of all wisdom.” Genuine wisdom, then, cannot exist apart from humility. How does Jehovah’s humility benefit us?
A wise father deals humbly and mildly with his children
5 King David sang to Jehovah: “You give me your shield of salvation, your right hand supports me, and your humility makes me great.” (Psalm 18:35) In effect, Jehovah lowered himself in order to deal with this mere imperfect human, protecting and sustaining him day by day. David realized that if he was to find salvation—and even, eventually, achieve a measure of greatness as a king—it would be only because of Jehovah’s willingness to humble Himself in this way. Really, who of us would have any hope of salvation if Jehovah were not humble, willing to lower himself in order to deal with us as a mild and loving Father?
6, 7. (a) Why does the Bible never refer to Jehovah as being modest? (b) What is the relationship between mildness and wisdom, and who sets the ultimate example in this regard?
6 It is worth noting that there is a distinction between humility and modesty. Modesty is a beautiful quality for faithful humans to cultivate. Like humility, it is associated with wisdom. For example, Proverbs 11:2 says: “Wisdom is with the modest ones.” However, the Bible never speaks of Jehovah as being modest. Why not? Modesty, as used in the Scriptures, suggests a proper awareness of one’s own limitations. The Almighty has no limitations except for those he imposes upon himself because of his own righteous standards. (Mark 10:27; Titus 1:2) Furthermore, as the Most High, he is subject to no one. So the concept of modesty simply does not apply to Jehovah.
7 However, Jehovah is humble and mild. He teaches his servants that mildness is essential to true wisdom. His Word speaks of “mildness that comes from wisdom.”b (James 3:13) Consider Jehovah’s example in this regard.
Jehovah Humbly Delegates and Listens
8-10. (a) Why is it remarkable that Jehovah shows a willingness to delegate and to listen? (b) How has the Almighty dealt humbly with his angels?
8 There is heartwarming proof of Jehovah’s humility in his willingness to delegate responsibility and to listen. That he does so at all is amazing; Jehovah has no need for assistance or counsel. (Isaiah 40:13, 14; Romans 11:34, 35) Nonetheless, the Bible repeatedly shows us that Jehovah condescends in these ways.
9 Consider, for example, an outstanding event in the life of Abraham. Abraham had three visitors, one of whom he addressed as “Jehovah.” The visitors were actually angels, but one of them came in Jehovah’s name and was acting in His name. When that angel spoke and acted, it was, in effect, Jehovah speaking and acting. By this means, Jehovah told Abraham that He had heard a great “outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah.” Jehovah stated: “I will go down to see whether they are acting according to the outcry that has reached me. And if not, I can get to know it.” (Genesis 18:3, 20, 21) Of course, Jehovah’s message did not mean that the Almighty would “go down” in person. Rather, he again sent angels to represent him. (Genesis 19:1) Why? Could the all-seeing Jehovah not “get to know” the true condition of that region on his own? Certainly. But instead, Jehovah humbly gave those angels the assignment to investigate the situation and to visit Lot and his family in Sodom.
10 Furthermore, Jehovah listens. He once asked his angels to suggest various ways to bring about the downfall of wicked King Ahab. Jehovah did not need such help. Yet, he accepted the suggestion of one angel and commissioned him to follow through on it. (1 Kings 22:19-22) Was that not humble?
11, 12. How did Abraham get to see Jehovah’s humility?
11 Jehovah is even willing to listen to imperfect humans who desire to express their concerns. For instance, when Jehovah first told Abraham of His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, that faithful man was puzzled. “It is unthinkable of you,” Abraham said, adding: “Will the Judge of all the earth not do what is right?” He asked whether Jehovah would spare the cities if 50 righteous men could be found there. Jehovah assured him that He would. But Abraham asked again, lowering the number to 45, then 40, and so on. Despite Jehovah’s assurances, Abraham persisted until the number was as low as ten. Perhaps Abraham did not yet fully grasp how merciful Jehovah is. At any rate, Jehovah patiently and humbly allowed his friend and servant Abraham to express his concerns in this way.—Genesis 18:23-33.
12 How many brilliant, learned humans would listen so patiently to a person of vastly inferior intelligence?c Such is the humility of our God. During the same interchange, Abraham also came to see that Jehovah is “slow to anger.” (Exodus 34:6) Perhaps realizing that he had no right to question the doings of the Most High, Abraham twice begged: “Jehovah, please, do not become hot with anger.” (Genesis 18:30, 32) Of course, Jehovah did not. He truly does have the “mildness that comes from wisdom.”
Jehovah Is Reasonable
13. What is the meaning of the word “reasonable” as used in the Bible, and why does this word aptly describe Jehovah?
13 Jehovah’s humility is manifest in yet another beautiful quality—reasonableness. This quality is sadly lacking among imperfect humans. Not only is Jehovah willing to listen to his intelligent creatures but he is also willing to yield when there is no conflict with righteous principles. As used in the Bible, the word “reasonable” literally means “yielding.” This quality too is a hallmark of divine wisdom. James 3:17 says: “The wisdom from above is . . . reasonable.” In what sense is the all-wise Jehovah reasonable? For one thing, he is adaptable. Remember, his very name teaches us that Jehovah becomes whatever is needed in order to fulfill his purposes. (Exodus 3:14) Does that not indicate a spirit of adaptability and reasonableness?
14, 15. Ezekiel’s vision of Jehovah’s celestial chariot teaches us what about the heavenly part of Jehovah’s organization, and how does it differ from worldly organizations?
14 There is a remarkable Bible passage that helps us begin to grasp Jehovah’s adaptability. The prophet Ezekiel was given a vision of the heavenly part of Jehovah’s organization, made up of spirit creatures. He saw a chariot of awe-inspiring proportions, Jehovah’s own “vehicle” always under His control. Most interesting was the way that it moved. The giant wheels were four-sided and full of eyes so that they could see everywhere and could change direction instantly, without stopping or turning. And this gigantic chariot did not have to lumber along like an unwieldy, man-made vehicle. It could move at the speed of lightning, even making right-angled turns! (Ezekiel 1:1, 14-28) Yes, Jehovah’s organization, like the almighty Sovereign in control of it, is supremely adaptable, responsive to the ever-changing situations and needs it must address.
15 Humans can only try to imitate such perfect adaptability. All too often, though, humans and their organizations are more rigid than adaptable, more unreasonable than yielding. To illustrate: A supertanker or a freight train might be awesome in terms of size and power. But can either one respond to sudden changes in circumstance? If an obstacle falls across the tracks in front of a freight train, turning is out of the question. Sudden stops are not much easier. A heavy freight train may take over a mile (about 2 km) to stop after the brakes are applied! Similarly, a supertanker may coast onward for five miles (8 km) after the engines are shut off. Even if the engines are thrown into reverse, the tanker may still plow on for two miles (3 km)! It is similar with human organizations that are prone to rigidity and unreasonableness. Because of pride, men often refuse to adapt to changing needs and circumstances. Such rigidity has bankrupted corporations and even toppled governments. (Proverbs 16:18) How happy we can be that neither Jehovah nor his organization is anything like that!
How Jehovah Displays Reasonableness
16. How did Jehovah show reasonableness in dealing with Lot prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?
16 Consider again the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot and his family received explicit instructions from Jehovah’s angel: “Escape to the mountainous region.” However, this did not appeal to Lot. “Not there, please, Jehovah!” he begged. Convinced that he would die if he had to flee to the mountains, Lot pleaded that he and his family be allowed to flee to a nearby city named Zoar. Now, Jehovah had intended to destroy that city. Furthermore, Lot’s fears had no real basis. Surely Jehovah could preserve Lot alive in the mountains! Nonetheless, Jehovah yielded to Lot’s pleas. “Very well, I will also show you consideration by not overthrowing the town you speak of,” the angel told Lot. (Genesis 19:17-22) Was that not reasonable on Jehovah’s part?
17, 18. In dealing with the Ninevites, how did Jehovah show that he is reasonable?
17 Jehovah also responds to heartfelt repentance, always doing what is merciful and right. Consider what occurred when the prophet Jonah was sent to the wicked, violent city of Nineveh. When Jonah marched through the streets of Nineveh, the inspired message he proclaimed was quite simple: The mighty city would be destroyed in 40 days. However, circumstances changed dramatically. The Ninevites repented!—Jonah, chapter 3.
18 It is instructive to compare how Jehovah reacted with how Jonah reacted to this turn of events. In this instance, Jehovah adapted, causing himself to become a Forgiver of sins instead of “a powerful warrior.”d (Exodus 15:3) Jonah, on the other hand, was inflexible and far less merciful. Rather than reflecting Jehovah’s reasonableness, he responded more like the freight train or the supertanker mentioned earlier. He had proclaimed doom, so doom it must be! Patiently, though, Jehovah taught his impatient prophet a memorable lesson in reasonableness and mercy.—Jonah, chapter 4.
19. (a) Why can we be sure that Jehovah is reasonable in what he expects of us? (b) How does Proverbs 19:17 show that Jehovah is a “good and reasonable” Master and also profoundly humble?
19 Finally, Jehovah is reasonable in what he expects of us. King David said: “He well knows how we are formed, remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) Jehovah understands our limitations and our imperfections better than we ourselves do. He never expects of us more than we can do. The Bible contrasts those human masters who are “good and reasonable” with those who are “hard to please.” (1 Peter 2:18) Which type of Master is Jehovah? Note what Proverbs 19:17 says: “The one showing favor to the lowly is lending to Jehovah.” Clearly, only a good and reasonable master would take note of every act of kindness performed in behalf of lowly ones. More than that, this scripture suggests that the Creator of the universe, in effect, views himself as indebted to the mere humans who perform such deeds of mercy! Here is humility of the most profound kind.
20. What assurance is there that Jehovah hears our prayers and responds to them?
20 Jehovah is just as mild and reasonable in his dealings with his servants today. When we pray in faith, he listens. And even though he does not send angelic messengers to speak to us, we should not conclude that our prayers go unanswered by him. Recall that when the apostle Paul asked fellow believers to “keep praying” for his release from prison, he added: “So that I may be restored to you the sooner.” (Hebrews 13:18, 19) So our prayers may actually move Jehovah to do what he might not have done otherwise!—James 5:16.
21. What conclusion should we never draw from Jehovah’s humility, but rather, what should we appreciate about him?
21 Of course, none of these manifestations of Jehovah’s humility—his mildness, his willingness to listen, his patience, his reasonableness—mean that Jehovah compromises his righteous principles. The clergy of Christendom may think that they are being reasonable when they tickle the ears of their flocks by watering down Jehovah’s moral standards. (2 Timothy 4:3) But the human tendency to compromise for the sake of expediency has nothing to do with divine reasonableness. Jehovah is holy; never will he pollute his righteous standards. (Leviticus 11:44) Let us, then, love Jehovah’s reasonableness for what it is—a proof of his humility. Do you not thrill to think that Jehovah God, the wisest Being in the universe, is also sublimely humble? What a delight to draw close to this awesome yet mild, patient, reasonable God!
a The ancient scribes, or Sopherim, changed this verse to say that Jeremiah, not Jehovah, is the one bowing low. They evidently thought it unfitting to attribute to God such a humble act. As a result, many translations miss the point of this beautiful verse. However, The New English Bible accurately has Jeremiah saying to God: “Remember, O remember, and stoop down to me.”
b Other versions say “the humility that comes from wisdom” and “that gentleness which is the hallmark of wisdom.”
c Interestingly, the Bible contrasts patience with haughtiness. (Ecclesiastes 7:8) Jehovah’s patience provides further evidence of his humility.—2 Peter 3:9.
d At Psalm 86:5, Jehovah is said to be “good and ready to forgive.” When that psalm was translated into Greek, the expression “ready to forgive” was rendered e·pi·ei·kesʹ, or “reasonable.”