In Numbers 12:3, we are told, “the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.”
Moses wrote the first five books of the Law. Thus, it is Moses himself testifying that he is humble.
Kind of weird, isn’t it? Like the old joke about the city commission who gave a guy an award for being the humblest man in town … and then took it away because he accepted it!
In all seriousness, Numbers 12:3 makes an important point about what humility is and is not.
Humility is not Weakness or Silence
I can’t think of a more inflexible, uncompromising, confident leader than Moses. I would run out of space pointing out all the places where Moses declared the commandments of God, demanded obedience to them, and warned of the consequences of disobedience. He didn’t just reveal, he exhorted! For example, on one occasion, Moses stood before the armed soldiers of Israel and boldly said, “Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the Lord, when it will not succeed? Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the Lord is not among you” (Numb. 14:41-42).
In fact, God’s punishment for sin sometimes came through the hand of Moses, such as when “Moses’ anger burned and he threw the tablets from his hands and shattered them … and he took the calf which they had made and ground it to powder and … made the sons of Israel drink it” (Exo. 32:19-20).
Humility is not shrugging your shoulders. That’s complacency. It would be hard to tally up all the battles Moses won, all the enemies he defeated, all the evil schemes he withstood, all the sinners he punished. It’s been said that leadership is all about knowing where you’re supposed to go, and convincing others to follow you. Moses was humble, but he knew his destiny (Acts 7:25) and he made the bold choice to serve God (Heb. 11:24-26). He admonished people to follow.
Humility does not Mean You’ll Always be Loved
The people of Israel were an obstinate people. They often expressed their displeasure with their circumstances or with the rules by lashing out at Moses, sometimes even accusing him of grandstanding and abusing his power. The family of Korah rebelled, saying, “why do you exalt yourselves above” the rest of God’s people (Numb. 16:3)? Dathan and Abiram accused Moses of taking them away from the bountiful foodstuffs of Egypt and lording it over them (Numb. 16:13). After God Himself dealt with these rebels, the people grumbled again, blaming Moses for their deaths (Numb. 16:41). On one occasion, even Moses’ brother and sister accused him of pride (Numb. 12:1-2).
Leaders must realize that people will say cruel things that are completely out of touch with reality. Like the Corinthian Christians did, who accused Paul of being wimpy (2 Cor. 10:1) and stuck up (11:7). At the end of the day, all of God’s leaders must do what is right, and must leave it to God to reveal the motives of each man’s heart (1 Cor. 4:5).
Humility is Pointing People to God, Not To Yourself
When God first tapped Moses the lowly shepherd to lead the people out of Egyptian captivity, Moses was very reluctant (Exodus 3-4). Moses did not believe he had the skills or disposition necessary to lead God’s people. God assured him, “I will be with you” (3:12) and “I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt” (3:20) and “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to say” (4:12).
Then, and throughout his ministry of leadership, Moses never wished to attract attention to himself. Moses was concerned with making followers of God, not making followers of Moses. The one and only time Moses exceeded his authority—striking the rock rather than speaking to the rock (Numb. 20:11)—God punished him harshly.
In fact, on one occasion God was so fed up with Israel He announced His plans to destroy Israel and start over with Moses, making him a great nation (Deut. 9:14). A prideful man would have greedily welcomed this turn of events. But Moses loved the people of Israel, despite their flaws, and asked God to forgive them, falling on his face and interceding on their behalf. “O Lord God, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants … do not look at the stubbornness of this people” (Deut. 9:25-28).
Moses always had their best interests in mind, which is why he often demanded uncomfortable things of them. —John Guzzetta