This emerged as the most stand-out quote from Rupert Murdoch’s appearance before the parliamentary select committee yesterday. It got me thinking about the use of the word “humble”. We talk about people being humble. Someone may live in a humble abode or in humble circumstances. But can a day be humble? I wonder if Mr Murdoch, the newspaper proprietor, really meant “humble” or “humiliating”.
But then perhaps we ought not to be harsh. The word “humble” is widely misunderstood. It tends to be associated with Uriah Heap who contrary to his own profession was not ever so ‘umble. Or in the old days letter writers would close obsequiously “your humble and obedient servant” as if to curry favour.
In Hebrew the word “humble” is closely connected with the word for “poor”. What started out as a simple description of someone’s economic situation developed into a rich complex ideas, indicating poverty of spirit, recognition of God, and a reliance on His provision. In the prophecy of Zephaniah, for example, the faithful remnant of Israel are encouraged to seek righteousness, seek humility before the Lord visits the nation in judgement (Zeph 2:3). The Lord promises that after His judgement I will leave within you the meek and the humble, who trust in the name of the Lord (Zeph 3:12). There is a rich spiritual dimension to the word humble, which at its heart describes a proper understanding of your own relationship to the Lord.
In the Old Testament this concept of humility extends beyond one particular economic class. For the true test of power according to the prophets is seen in the way the rich and the powerful treat those who are themselves poor and needy. The humble are not seen as vulnerable people to be exploited and manipulated, but as those to be defended and protected, by those who themselves know their need of God.
I can only pray that all those involved in this sorry saga in the end learn the true meaning of humility. Not just for their own sake, but for the sake of society as a whole.