Refresh Your Soul with Humility

Cultivating humility before God is among the healthiest things we can do for our souls.

God gives grace to the humble. To those who humbly trust him with all their heart, he gives the grace of guidance. To those who humbly refuse to be wise in their own eyes, he gives the grace of refreshing peace. To those who humble themselves under his hand, he will give the grace of exaltation. And to those who humbly cast their cares on him, he gives the grace of carrying their cares.

 

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you may have memorized the following verses without trying, simply because you’ve heard them quoted so often:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)

This promise is so beloved because it is so freeing. We are finite and there is so much that exceeds our understanding, it can be overwhelming. But in this command to trust the omniscient one, we find a place of refuge that allows us to maintain our sanity. We find peace in the promise that if we are humble enough to obey this compassionate command, God will direct our course.

I wonder why, then, given how less I’ve heard them quoted over the years, we don’t seem to be as familiar with the next two verses:

Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:7–8)

I would think that the promise of God-given refreshment would be nearly as precious to us as God-given guidance.

Similar but Not the Same

It’s clear that the writer meant for his son (Proverbs 3:1) — and the rest of us — to read these eight lines (four verses) together. I doubt he intended them to be separated, because they form the kind of parallelism so common in Hebraic poetry and wisdom literature:

  • The command, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart”, corresponds with “Be not wise in your own eyes”;
  • “Do not lean on your own understanding” corresponds with “fear the Lord, and turn away from evil”;
  • And the promise in verse 6 (“he will make straight your paths”) corresponds to the promise in verse 8 (“It will be . . . refreshment to your bones”).

The genius of this kind of parallelism is that it allows the writer to make related statements that are not redundant. There’s a clear connection between what verses 5–6 say and what verses 7–8 say, but they don’t say identical things. Trusting in God with our whole heart is not the same thing as not being wise in our own eyes (though we can’t have the former without the latter).

What God Gives the Humble

What the proverb is doing is turning the diamond of a profound truth in the light of God’s wisdom so that we see a different refraction of that light. What is this profound truth? We learn more explicitly further down in the chapter: “toward the scorners [God] is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Proverbs 3:34).

Proverbs 3:34 is one of the most quoted verses in the whole Bible. If you don’t recognize it, that’s probably because you are simply more familiar with the Greek translation of the verse (from the Septuagint), which both the apostles James and Peter famously quote: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).

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