Humility is not one of the lessons that seems apparent from the life of Pharaoh, but it's there. The other day as I was reading in Exodus, it struck me. Somewhere in the midst of the terrible plagues.
God comes to Pharaoh and says, Because you have not humbled yourself before me....
It struck me, I think, because I had never really thought of any of God's pursuit of Pharaoh as a pursuit of humbling. It doesn't occur readily to me that the interaction here is between God and Pharaoh. It seems to me that I've always read these passages and figured it was God against Pharaoh, that God had really no use for the ruler except in terms of what he would or would not do for the people of God, whom God was primarily interested in. And "let my people go" doesn't really seem to be a request for piousness and humility. More a simple...demand of God.
So I read those words - Because you have not humbled yourself before me - and I thought, what does that even mean? What does it mean for Pharaoh to humble himself before God?
Is he supposed to offer sacrifices with the Israelites? It seems not, as God only ever requires sacrifices from His people and Pharaoh was not what we would call God's people. Is he supposed to burn all his foreign gods and serve only YHWH? Again, probably not. He was an Egyptian, not an Israelite. In all this back-and-forth, I don't think we ever see God trying to convert him. Even Moses and Aaron aren't trying to convert him. Everyone's just trying to get him to recognize the spiritual reality of the nation of Israel - that they need their God, and that their God desires them, and so they must be permitted to go worship.
And that, I think, starts getting us closer to what it means for Pharaoh to humble himself before God.
Pharaoh doesn't have to confess that God is anything special. He doesn't have to believe in the deity of YHWH. He doesn't have to come to understand what Israel knows about her God. He doesn't have to buy into any of it. But what he does have to do is recognize his place in the grand scheme of things and to understand one very important thing that God is trying to tell him:
These are MY people.
Pharaoh thought these were his people. These were his slaves, after all. They were the entirety of his work force. These were the men who were building his cities, and he owned them. Or so he thought. When God chides the ruler for his lack of humility, it's for this very reason - Pharaoh thinks he owns something that he doesn't; it's God's. His failure to recognize this very simple fact is what gets his hard heart in so much trouble.
It's what gets my hard heart in so much trouble sometimes, too.
I'm prone, like Pharaoh, to think that the people in my life are my people. And when I think this, I treat them as such. It's not...pretty. It's not edifying. It's not holy. I think about the way I talk to, relate with, live with, and fail to love the people in my life, and it's because of this very simple misunderstanding. It's because I think they're my people.
But these are not my people. These are God's people. And when I start to think of them this way, it changes the way I interact with them. It changes the way I talk to people, relate to people, live with people, love people. Because I don't ever want to be responsible for undoing what God is doing. I want to be on His team. So I look at what's already unfolding in people, what God is already at work doing in them, and I try to get on that page. I try to water the fields more than I till them. I try to plant more than I harvest. I try to sow more than I reap. I try to encourage. To build up. To strengthen. To love. Because these are God's people. He may have entrusted them to me for awhile (and entrusted me to them), but that doesn't make them mine. They're still His. They always will be.
I just have to humble myself to remember that.
And if I can't, well...I apologize in advance for the locusts.