Failed Humblebrag? Mosaic Self-Promotion? Or True Humility?

Some people think it ironic that Moses purportedly wrote Numbers 12:3, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (NAS).

The irony is obvious, right? It’s hardly humble to declare yourself the most humble man in the world.

Unless it’s true.

In which case, it wouldn’t be a humblebrag fail.  Nor is Moses touting his own virtue.

If it’s true, wouldn’t it be proud false humility to act or speak as though this weren’t the case?

Others think that this verse has to be one of those verses Moses obviously didn’t write.

I think Moses did write it, and I don’t think this statement is either ironic or an instance of Mosaic self-promotion.


Moses has been having face to face conversations with God (Num 12:8; cf. Deut 34:10). No one else on the face of the earth enjoys that kind of access, that kind of direct revelation from God (cf. Num 12:6–7).

If anything will create humility, face to face interaction with Yahweh will do the job. Moses knew the greatness of God like no one else. Moses thereby knew both his inadequacy and his massive task like no one else.

Moses knew from this direct interaction with God what God’s intentions were and what part God intended Moses to play in the program. Only a reprobate fool would be made proud by such knowledge, and Moses is neither.

So Moses, I contend, is humbly speaking the truth. The access Moses had to God made him the humblest man in the world, and part of the proof of his humility is that he doesn’t cave to the proud desire to avoid doing anything that might make people think he isn’t humble.

The irony there is that sometimes the humble thing to say or do strikes some people as proud. This dilemma no doubt contributes to displays of false humility meant to mask the proud desire to have others think we’re humble.

How do we find clarity in the moral confusion of this fallen world?

We have to see by “the light of the knowledge of the glory God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Knowing God will make us humble, and it will enable us to rise above the impulse to cloak our pride in false humility, the impulse that keeps us from doing the humble thing. We overcome this because we know God and are convinced that his judgment is the only one that matters.

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  1. There are problems and perplexities in the Bible which are so great that they transcend and defy all human logic. Indeed, the force us to create new categories of thought in order to be able to grasp even a few of the many scintillating reflective fragments that sparkle from the dark mystery of a ligh so bright that it is virtually blinding. Consider how the diablectic of Hegel and Marx gets turned around in the Christian Faith and how the poles, the thesis and the antithesis become the means of creating a tension in the human mind that enables the believer to become balanced, flexible, creative, magnetic, and enduring. One so armed can deal with a situation as it is required, for example, either with the objective assessing analytic approach in order to gather information or with the subjective affirming supportive approach need for healing the situation. A whole other ball game suggests that the best scientific method would be one that is syntehtical.

  2. “If anything will create humility, face to face interaction with Yahweh will do the job.” I suppose this is one of the reasons I discount the testimonies of those who have “died” and come back to write a book about it that seems to be more about their own glory than God’s. When you have seen his glory—he must increase and I must decrease.

  3. For me the simple answer is that Moses was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this. Surely, the Holy Spirit knew Moses’ heart more than Moses did himself.

  4. I don’t know if this is quite as cheeky as John referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

  5. Great post. Especially great point about how Moses’ humility is a result of his seeing and knowing God. And this is another reason his acknowledgment of his humility was not proud: because he is not the source of his humility.

    If Moses was claiming to be the source of his humility, that would be proud. But since God is the source of it, it isn’t prideful for him to acknowledge it here.

  6. I’m confused by verses in Deuteronomy where Moses seems to blame the people for the fact that he is not allowed to enter the Promised Land. (e.g. Deut 1:37; 3:25-26) Perhaps he seems to be blaming them for his anger.

    In Num 20:10-13, God seems to hold Moses and Aaron accountable for their disobedience and “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel”. I believe that Moses “was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth”, but I’m trying to see how seeming to fail to take blame for your own actions firs in.

    Any ideas or suggestions?

    1. Off the cuff it would seem that Moses is pointing to the way the people had frustrated him, which contributed to his inappropriate action. I don’t think he’s refusing to take responsibility, and I think we can agree that had he not been harried and harrassed by the people, he probably wouldn’t have acted out the way he did. It doesn’t remove his culpability, but it does point to the presence of more factors than just the character of Moses . . .

      Hope this helps,


      1. THX, Jim… And thanks for deleting my reply to Dr. James Willingham’s first post.
        (Still don’t know what he was trying to say tho.)

  7. When I think of the word “humble” as regards a Christian, I think of someone who is completely dependent on God for everything. Moses would have known whether that description fit himself or not.
    Which goes along with what you said about “Moses knew the greatness of God like no one else. Moses thereby knew both his inadequacy and his massive task like no one else”.

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