Humbling oneself before God (2 Chron. 7:14)

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Humbling oneself before God (2 Chron. 7:14)

A few months ago, I was speaking at the 2018 Torrey Conference at Biola University in California. One of the passages I was speaking on was 2 Chron. 7:14, “If my people will humble themselves and pray.” I’d like to share some thoughts on “humbling oneself” from this well-known passage. If you’d like to hear the whole talk, you can access it here.*

Humility seems to have gone out of style. Columnist and author David Brooks laments: “We have seen a broad shift from a culture of humility to the culture of what you might call the Big Me, from a culture that encouraged people to think humbly of themselves to a culture that encouraged people to see themselves as the center of the universe” (The Road to Character, p 6).

Brooks notes that in a 1950 Gallup poll when high school seniors were asked if they considered themselves to be a very important person, 12% said yes. The same question was asked in 2005. 80% said yes.

Yet God calls us to humble ourselves before him, and humbling ourselves means dying to self. It means subjecting oneself to God’s word and his will. It becomes a dying moment when his will is at the center, not one’s own.

The verb “humble” appears 36 times in the Old Testament. It is used in two ways. First of all, it entails military subjection, when God humbles Israel’s enemies (and occasionally, Israel) when they suffer military defeat. About half the occurrences are used in this way.

The second way is when a king or a nation humbles themselves before God. This is not simply referring to a humble person, but it entails a kind of spiritual submission because it is always before God or in response to the word of God. Humbling oneself is a choice of the will. The opposite of humbling oneself is not pride, but being “stiff-necked,” a term used in the Old Testament to describe Israel’s unwillingness to turn toward God and follow him. Instead of turning to God, they stiffen their neck and follow their own desires.

Outward actions are often associated with the act of humbling oneself. When the northern tribes respond to King Hezekiah’s invitation to join the southerners in the Passover, in spite of the mockery of their fellow northerners, this action is described as their “humbling themselves” (2 Chron. 30:11). In doing so, they were returning to the Lord and being united with their estranged brethren in Jerusalem. God had wanted a unified people; the northerners who responded to Hezekiah’s call were subjecting their own desires and plans to a greater purpose—the will of God. As a result, there was great joy as the northerners were reunited with their brethren after many years of hostility. Echoes of 2 Chron. 7:14 appear throughout this story of reconciliation.

King Josiah is another example of a king who humbled himself before God (2 Chron. 34). When the word of God was proclaimed to him, instead of stiffening his neck like the last king, King Zedekiah (2 Chron. 36:11-14), Josiah weeps and tears his garments when he hears God’s word. Huldah the prophetess tells Josiah that because he has humbled himself before God, the judgment against Judah that would be forthcoming because of their unfaithfulness would be delayed. Josiah’s inward tenderness of heart toward God was accompanied by outward actions reflecting his submission to God’s word. God promises that he will hear and answer prayers that are prayed from a posture of humility.

When God makes His will known to us—whether through his word or through prayer as the Holy Spirit reveals it—the question before us is whether we will submit ourselves to his will or whether we will stiffen our neck and hold onto our own desires and plans.

There is no greater example of this kind of submission and humility than our Lord Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). This is the road of humility and submission. Jesus humbled himself before God, and said, “Not my will but your will be done.”

As we submit to God’s will in our lives, we will be inhabiting a radically different narrative than we find in the culture around us. Instead of representing the Big Me culture, our posture will represent the Small Me journey of the cross.

We are surely not at the center of the universe. Our lives need to reflect outwardly the inner disposition of our hearts, where we daily say, “not my will but yours be done.” This is how we humble ourselves before God. In doing so, we are signposts to a different narrative—a Small Me culture—so that a watching world will see that God is the center of the universe.

*I really enjoyed the worship band, For All Seasons, that played at the conference and highly recommend them to you!

Dr. Carol Kaminski

Image Credit: Biola University