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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART TWENTY-SEVEN

SERMON PRESENTED ON 05-13-17

         Having departed from my Proverbs series the last two sermons, to day we will return to that series.  The last Proverb we looked at was 25: 6-7.

       Proverbs 25:6-7: Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, "Come up here," than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.

       I spent much of the sermon on this proverb and explained how this proverb is all about the practice of humility and went on to show how humility is emphasized throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  I gave examples or how several OT personalities humbled themselves before God and how God responded favorably to such humility.  I also gave examples of how God reacted unfavorably to a lack of humility.  We concluded with a quite from Micah 6:8.

       Micah 6:8: He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

       Micah uses a Hebrew word here which means to be lowly and submissive.  We are to walk lowly and submissively before God.  This is the bottom line of how we are to relate to God.  God wants us to submit to Him which means he wants us to behave in line with his will irrespective of all else.  At this point we ran out of time and I mentioned how there is much said in the NT Scriptures about humility and that because this is such an important issue with God, we would take a look at what Jesus and authors of NT Scripture say about this issue.

       So to day I want to expand our discussion of Proverbs 25:6-7 by looking at some additional Scriptural narrative that deals with the issue of humility.  Let’s begin with a parable of Jesus I alluded to last time where I suggested Jesus may have had Proverbs 25:6-7 in mind when He presented this parable.  One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee he noticed something that led to Him using a parable to make a point.

       Luke 14:7-11: When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, `Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, `Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

       Jesus taught that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exulted.  It appears Jesus emphasized this principle throughout His ministry. It is recorded in Matthew that Jesus took the religious leaders of His day to task for the manner in which they conducted themselves before those to whom they were overseers.

       In Matthew 23 it is recorded how Jesus told of how the religious leaders of His day placed heavy loads on men's shoulders, but they themselves were not willing to lift a finger to move them.  He spoke of how they loved the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues and how they loved to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them `Rabbi.'  Jesus said that everything they did was done to be seen of men.  He concluded His remarks about them by once again expressing the principle that those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exulted.

       Matthew 23:11-12: The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

        It is always better if we take the initiative to humble ourselves and not that we allow things to get to the point were God has to intervene in our life and create circumstances that force us into a state of humility.

       Last time we gave examples from OT Scriptures of several kings of Israel who took the initiative to humble themselves before God when they realized they had really screwed up and had utterly failed to be pleasing to God in their behavior.  We saw how God positively responded to these men humbling themselves and retuned them to positions of power and authority.  These were examples of God exulting those who humble themselves.

       We also have Scriptural examples of those who didn’t see the error of their ways, did not humble themselves and consequently God had to step in and humble them.  The classic Biblical example of this sort of thing is King Nebuchadnezzar.  In Daniel chapter 2 we find Daniel telling Nebuchadnezzar that it was the God that he, Daniel, worshipped who established Nebuchadnezzar as king over Babylon.  It’s apparent this didn’t register in the king’s brain.

       In Daniel chapter 3, we have the account of the king setting up a gold image and commanding everyone to worship it.  While the Scriptures don’t say it, it’s likely the image was of himself, Nebuchadnezzar.  Well, old Nebbie had three Jewish subjects named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to worship the golden image. These three men told the king they could not worship any God but the God of their Fathers which of course was the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

       Well, the king didn’t take to kindly to this and had them thrown into a fiery furnace as punishment.  After seeing them delivered from the fire, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that their God was someone to be worshipped and excused them from having to worship the golden image.  Nothing is said, however, about Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging their God as the one true God.  It appears the king simply recognized their God as one among many God’s.

        In Daniel 4 we see Nebuchadnezzar having this dream which Daniel interpreters for him to show that he, Nebuchadnezzar was going to lose his power and authority if he didn’t repent of his sins and start doing what is right including being kind to the oppressed.  Well this powerful king apparently wasn’t about to humble himself before the God of Daniel so here is what happened

       Daniel 4:29-32: Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, "This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes."

       Well this all happened.  It happened because Nebuchadnezzar was unwilling to humble himself before the God who had placed him in power and granted his kingship over Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar had failed to acknowledge God for who He is and acknowledge his need to submit to this God.  Because he wouldn’t humble himself on his own, God took steps to humble him. Daniel does record that Nebuchadnezzar did finally recognize the sovereignty of God and made some necessary changes and in so doing his kingdom was restored to him.

       As I covered in part one of this two part sermon on humility, it is best if we recognize the requirement to be humble before God and become so rather then have God bring circumstances about in our lives that force us into being humble.  A major dynamic of humility before God is to be submissive to his will which means to obey his commands.

       God brought Israel out of Egyptian slavery and began to lead them toward the Promised Land. He gave them a Law to live by and instructions as to how to conduct themselves in all phases of their lives.  Israel failed miserably at following God right form the get go and the result was that God had them wonder in the wilderness for forty years for the specific purpose to humble them which means to bring them around to being responsive to His will.  

       Deuteronomy 8:2-3:  Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

       That man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the God is what Jesus told Satan when Satan tried to get Jesus to turn stones into bread so He could eat after fasting forty days.  Living by every word of God is the key to being humble before God.

       A NT example of someone failing to recognize God as the source of all authority and power and paying the price for such failure is Herod Agrippa the first who was a grandson of Herod the Great who was king over Israel when Christ was born. This king was ruling in Judea at the time the Christian church was developing and he is seen as persecuting the church.  He is the king who had James; the brother of John put to death and imprisoned Peter.  Apparently Agrippa was full of himself and didn’t acknowledge God.

       Acts 12:21-22: On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people.  They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man."

       Josephus, in his Jewish Antiquities, writes the following about Herod’s appearance before the people.

       “He put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery.”

       History records that Agrippa the first was a practicing Jew and would have been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and their insistence on there being only one true God.  Yet Herod apparently does not reject the people glorifying him as a God.  He fails to humble himself before God and instead appears to delight in the accolades of the people.  He appears to accept the worship of the people rather than direct their worship to the one and only God.    

       Acts 12:23: Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

       Here is what Josephus writes:  “A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, "I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death.”

       “And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign.”  (Jewish Antiquities 19.343-44)

       It is instructive that Josephus provides confirmation to what is recorded in the book of Acts as to this event and points out that Herod neither rebuked the people nor rejected their impious flattery.  He subsequently died within a short time of his failure to reject the people’s flattery and his failure to give glory to God.

       What happened to Herod Agrippa is a real life example of how God takes a dim view of those how exalt themselves and fail to humble themselves before God.  Jesus made this very plain in a parable He gave during His ministry.

       Luke 18:9-14: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'  "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

       The Pharisee in this parable didn’t have a clue about what it means to be humble. For him it was all about self exaltation.  For him it was all about drawing attention to himself and receiving accolades for his good behavior. Jesus didn’t deride him for his righteous behavior. Jesus certainly would have approved of this Pharisee not being a robber, evildoer or adulterer. Jesus would have approved of this man fasting and tithing.

       The problem was that this Pharisee did these things to exult himself.  In order to exult himself he had to look down in derision on those who failed to meet the lofty standards he had set for himself.  He compared himself with others and when he perceived those others as not measuring up to his standards he concluded he must be so much better that these others.

        Moreover, by looking at himself the way he did, he also failed to see faults he may have had.  He was so absorbed with himself that he did not see himself as a sinner in need of God’s grace.  By contrast, the tax collector, first and foremost, recognized he was a sinner in need of forgiveness. He wasn’t blinded by any good he did but clearly recognized his need for God’s mercy.

       It is this kind of attitude that God requires of us. While God does not approve of the sin people commit and neither should we, God doesn’t look down on sinners as inferior to others who may be more successful at living righteously and neither should we.  That was the problem with this Pharisee.  He looked down on those who failed to meet the standards he had set for himself and apparently was achieving and concluded he was better than they. 

       God doesn’t want us to see ourselves as better than anybody. While it is true that all humans are at all different levels of righteous behavior versus unrighteous behavior, it is also true that all humans share the common denominator of being a sinner and in need of the grace of God.  Therefore, God not only wants us to refrain from looking down on others but to actually look upon others as better than ourselves which Scripture shows is to practice humility.  

       Philippians 2:3: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

       Here by context, we see that one dynamic of humility is to consider others better than oneself.  By this we see that the practice of humility is not something we only practice toward God but also something we practice toward each other.

       By considering others as better than oneself we avoid thinking that we are superior to others and thus avoid falling into the trap of self exultation which we see in Scripture is something God really frowns on. 

       Much of the problems we see in the world both historically and ongoing is the problem of selfish ambition, vain conceit, and the lack of humility seen here by Paul as a failure to consider others better than oneself.  Just think of what a difference it would make in society if people by and large sincerely considered others better than them selves.  Considering someone better than oneself involves respecting such person.  When you respect someone, you don’t seek to do them harm.  You treat them by that great principle of human interaction called the Golden Rule.  You truly do to them as you would have them do to you. 

       If what Paul instructed the Philippian Christians to do would be widely practiced in the world, we would see criminal activity reduced to a minimum.  You don’t general murder or steel from those you respect.  We can see why humility is so strongly emphasized in Scripture and why God is so condemning of its counterpoint of self exultation.  While self exultation is condemned, it is clear that God will exult those who are humble before Him and before their fellow man. 

       Jesus, Himself was exulted by God because He humbled himself before God and was obedient to God even to the point of death.

       Philippians 2:8-9: And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.

       Here we see humility before God defined as obedience to God.  Jesus was so obedient to God’s will that He died for the sins of mankind.  Because He was obedient, even to the point of death, he became highly exulted which means He was given great glory. 

       Over and over again we see in Scripture that God rewards humility with exultation.  If we want to be exulted, we must first be humble.  Last time I gave a number of examples from the OT of how God exulted certain Kings of Israel after they humbled themselves.  We saw how God restored Nebuchadnezzar after he humbled himself.  Jesus tells us in several parables that God exults the humble.  Both James and Peter carry this same message forward in their writings

       James 4:1:  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 

        1 Peter 5:6: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

       God promises He will lift us up in due time.  When He does this or how He does this is His prerogative.  All we have to understand is that we have His promise that He will do it.  Our goal is to avoid self exultation at all costs.

       Self exultation is simple an expression of pride.  Pride can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing.  While it is certainly acceptable to take pride in what you do or in what others do from the standpoint of being satisfied with what one does or others are doing, it becomes a problem if such satisfaction leads to the kind of thing we have been talking about.  When pride leads to looking down on others and the mechanism whereby we see ourselves as better than others is when pride becomes a problem. Even in the expression of rightful pride we must be careful.  Paul made an interesting comment to the Galatians.

       Galatians 6:3-4: If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.

       Paul here is defining the right use of pride as objectively examining ones behavior and accomplishments and becoming satisfied with such behavior and accomplishments not by comparing them with what others are doing but with the standards one may have set for oneself.

       1 Peter 5:5: All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

       We began our discussion of humility by looking at Proverbs 25:6-7 where Solomon instructs not to exalt oneself in the king's presence or claim a place among great men but leave it to others to exalt you.  Building on this principle, we have seen that throughout Scripture there is an emphasis on being humble before both God and man and if we do, God will exalt us in due time. We are not to exalt ourselves but leave that up to God.   

TWENTY-EIGHT