Every dog has a place in the pack.
Day 9: Matthew 5:5
Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised.
So what are the promises that Jesus is referring to here at the beginning of his ministry? If you read the Old Testament from beginning to end, you find that God’s promises just keep getting better and better.
God’s first promise was given to Noah after the flood was that he would never destroy all life on earth again (Genesis 9:11). That’s something to be grateful for, but it’s not exactly lavish. He promises to put up with us. That’s about it.
God gives Moses a list of more expansive promises in Deuteronomy 7:12-15. These promises are given only to those who obey the Law:
“If you listen to these commands and obey them faithfully, then the Lord your God will continue to keep his covenant with you and will show you his constant love, as he promised your ancestors. He will love you and bless you, so that you will increase in number and have many children. He will bless your fields, so that you will have grain, wine, and olive oil…No people in the world will be as richly blessed as you…The Lord will protect you from all sickness, and he will not bring on any of the dreadful diseases that you experienced in Egypt.”
A full list of all of the blessings of obedience and consequences of disobedience are listed in Deuteronomy 28. One common thread is that God’s Old Testament promises are almost exclusively about this world, not the next.
I have a little book called The Bible Promise Book that I often refer to for comfort and strength. It’s an inventory of scriptural promises! Here are a just couple of good ones from later on in the Old Testament:
God says, “I will save those who love me and protect those who acknowledge me as Lord. When they call to me, I will answer them; when they are in trouble, I will be with them. I will rescue them and honor them. I will reward them with long life; I will save them.” (Psalm 91:14-16)
“In the time of Noah I promised never to flood the earth. Now I promise not to be angry with you again; I will not reprimand or punish you. The mountains and hills may crumble, but my love for you will never end; I will keep forever my promise of peace,” So says the Lord who loves you. (Isaiah 54:9-10)
Happy are those who have the God of Jacob to help them and who depend on the Lord their God, the Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them. He always keeps his promises; he judges in favor of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind. He lifts those who have fallen; (Psalm 146:5-8).
And in the New Testament the promises are even better – like eternal life, for example. A pretty good promise indeed.
So this beatitude says that these wonderful promises of God are available to the humble. But what does it mean to be humble?
Relative to this scripture I always assumed that “humble” means being obedient, compliant, and submissive. It’s being dependent, not self-sufficient. It means that you don’t take yourself too seriously. It means that you aren’t afraid to admit you are weak and that you need help. It means you don’t look down on others or try to impose your will on others. It’s not the same as low self-esteem; it’s simply living a life that reflects the reality that the universe is big and you are very small and doesn’t revolve around you. It may also mean that you don’t have a lot of material possessions to rely on.
Actually, the Webster’s def is “not proud; not thinking of yourself as better than other people” or “ranking low in a hierarchy or scale”. Not exactly the same as what was going on in my head, but pretty much the same. My definition is more submissive, I think.
But the Greek word that Matthew actually applied to paper is praus, which means to be “mild and gentle” (according to Strong’s). Let me repeat that. Mild and gentle. Not the same as my definition, for sure. According to the Book of Matthew, to receive God’s promises we should be mild and gentle. To be humble in the Biblical sense is to be mellow. To be humble in the Biblical sense it to be “chill”.
We have two dogs, Bubbles and Chico. We got Bubbles first, but we decided she needed a companion so we got Chico. Bubbles fits her name – outgoing and Bubbly. And Chico is chill. Bubbles is a manipulator. Chico is a lover. Bubbles is a go-getter. Chico is humble, mild, and gentle. Chico is a little nervous, Bubbles is fearless. Bubbles likes to be in control, and that’s fine with Chico. What Bubbles does, Chico does. Even though she is the little one, Bubbles is the leader and she’s always looking to expand her territory.
But sometimes things get out of balance. Sometimes Bubbles isn’t feeling well. Sometimes we start cuddling Chico a little more than Bubbles. Sometimes we inadvertently encourage Chico to be a little more aggressive. Sometimes we feed him first, or let him go out the door first. And when these things happen, trouble ensues. He starts getting puffed up. He starts chasing Bubbles and knocking her down and
intimidating her and even nipping at her. He gets stubborn and resists putting on his harness for his walk. He starts lunging at people or other dogs when we walk him. He stops playing with his toys and scampering around the house and doing runs in the yard and rolling in the grass. He just sits around and sulks. The only cure is to give him the cold shoulder, reestablish our authority as pack leaders, and lavish attention on Bubbles. Then Chico falls back in line and returns to being his happy, loveable self.
Bubbles is a natural leader. She is a happy dog when she is in control. While Chico feels compelled to step up into a leadership role when thinks things are falling apart, it doesn’t seem to make him happy. It seems to stress him out. Chico is only at peace when he is humble – mild and gentle. When he starts trying to control his world he becomes a very unhappy little dog. The burden of responsibility doesn’t suit him.
I think most of us are like Chico. We are closest to God when we are humble, mild, and gentle. When we start trying to step in and take over we become unpleasant and mess things up. The more we try to control our circumstances and manipulate those around us, the unhappier we become. God’s promises seem to move farther and farther out of reach. When we surrender, relax, let things go, roll with the punches, and allow ourselves to enjoy the journey of life, God’s promises become a reality. We find peace, we begin to love and be loved, we are healthier and happier. We are in better spirits when we give up worrying about the future and learn to appreciate our lives as they unfold. And because we are in a better state of mind and heart, we also become more effective in our ministries to the world.
So in this beatitude, or blessing, Jesus points us in the right direction. When Jesus praises the virtue of humility it’s not that he wants us to fixate on our deficiencies and flaws. Humility isn’t the same as self-loathing or shame. God loves us and wants to help us and build us up. But not too much. God doesn’t want us to feel like we are totally responsible for everything that goes on and that we have to step in and take over every time we think he isn’t doing his job. When we do that life will stress us out and knock us down. We need to recognize our limitations. God wants us to have faith in him and also in humanity and all the rest of his creation. He wants us to live gentle lives, calmly doing his work as we are able and trusting in him to do the rest.
As Jesus says a little later in Matthew 6:33, “Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things.” Yup. All God’s promises are “yes and amen” – especially to those with humble, mild, and gentle hearts.
What does this scripture say to you?