What first comes to mind when you think of humility?
Is it a dejected stance, head hung down because you made a mistake? Or maybe a timid attitude, avoiding eye contact and feeling inferior?
In today’s self-obsessed society, humility gets a bad rap. And that’s partially just due to the nature of the society we live in, but it’s also because humility is deeply misunderstood.
I’d never given this topic particular thought until I landed on this devotional in my bible app, and something clicked for me.
“Have you ever been humbled by nature? Have you ever walked through a field of tulips or watched a sunset and been reminded of how incredibly awesome God is and how small you are by comparison? It’s humbling. The Hebrew word anavah is what we translate as “humility”, but the literal definition of anavah is to occupy your God-given space in the world—not to overestimate yourself or your abilities, and to not underestimate them either.” (quoted from the devotional on YouVersion/Bible.com)
This really brought humility to life in a way that I’d never considered before, and caused me to want to dig even further into humility in the bible. Note, the original devotion uses “avanah”, but throughout my research I can only find it spelled “anavah” from the root anav, so that’s what I’m using throughout this study because I think it was just a typo.
There are several Hebrew words that can be translated as “humble” or “humility”. This one comes from the root anav, which denotes a condition of character—depending on God due to internal, spiritual orientation rather than external factors. The root of this word also indicates that relying on God is a choice, not merely because you physically have to.
Humility and meekness are closely related, but I’m not getting into meekness here because it’s a big study in its own right, and one I intend on doing. They come from the same root word and the two are sometimes used interchangeably in the bible, but there are some nuances in meaning that are worth exploring. To my mind, meekness is more expressed toward others, whereas humility is more inward—how you think about and see yourself. But they’re two sides of the same coin.
Humility in the bible
As is always the truth, we can learn a lot about the word itself and God’s attitude toward humility (and anavah in particular) by looking at how it’s used in the holy scriptures.
Anavah (H6038) is strongly associated with the fear of the Lord throughout the Old Testament, and seen as something that comes from wisdom and leads to honor.