Whatever happened to humility?


For the week of June 20, 2015 / 3 Tammuz 5775
Torah: Bemidbar/Numbers 16:1-18:32
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 11:14 - 12:22

Oh Snap!

Oh Snap!

They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" When Moses heard it, he fell on his face... (Bemidbar/Numbers 16:3-4)

It's cool to be cocky. I remember years ago comedians bowing to applause, gesturing the audience to stop with one hand, yet egging them on with the other. But that was supposed to be humorous. Not today. Victories in sport, for example, are often accompanied by all sorts of self-aggrandizing displays. Making a successful point in a discussion or argument is followed by the point-maker's exclamation of "Oh snap!" along with a snapping hand gesture.

Some people confuse confidence with being cocky. Cocky is a type of confidence, but a misguided one. Merriam-Webster defines it as "boldly or brashly self-confident" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cocky). Confidence is a state of assurance. Referring to sports again, a team might go into a game confident of winning based on their understanding of their strengths and weaknesses compared to that of their opponents. Their assessment may be correct or not, but as long as they perceive that their ability to win is significantly greater than their opponents, they understandably would be confident of victory. There's a fine line, however, between being confident and cocky. Cocky is an inordinate form of confidence, where the behavior is disproportionate to the reality of the situation. It can cause a team to lose focus, thinking they are far better than they really are.

But what if someone really is the greatest in the world at something, perhaps the greatest of all time? Would not great celebratory displays be appropriate in that case? I think a lot people, most people, would still say, "No." Maybe you have a deep sense that there is something really wrong with being cocky. But do you know why? I am confident I do.

Remember how the dictionary defines cocky as "boldly or brashly self-confident." The main problem with being cocky is it is "self-confident." It fails to recognize that the basis of our assurance about anything should be based on God, not ourselves. There is nothing wrong with recognizing the adequacy of our abilities and boldly acting upon them. But if we don't acknowledge that everything we have in life is a gift from God, then our confidence is misguided. Being cocky denies that the One who bestows our abilities upon us may also take them away. That is what makes the self-focused celebrations so foolish. Today's hero so quickly becomes tomorrow's goat.

This week's parsha (Torah reading portion) is a cocky vs. confidence clash. A man named Korah and 250 other leaders challenged Moses's leadership, claiming his role was of his own making. It was not as if Korah and company were in the fringes of Israelite society. They were Levites, the tribe assigned to assist the descendants of Moses's brother Aaron, the priests, in the service of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), the predecessor of the Temple. But this special role was not special enough for them. They wanted to be priests too and blamed Moses for misusing his leadership for not making them more special.

How did Moses handle this aggressive challenge? "He fell on his face." No self-aggrandizing here! Moses was so confident that God would take care of the situation, he threw himself into the most vulnerable posture imaginable, trusting that the God who appointed him to his position would back him up, which he did - so unlike Korah who thought he could blow away Moses with his brash self-confidence. His big show proved futile in the end as he faced someone whose confidence in God was unshaken.

By the way, do you know what happened to Korah and company? The earth swallowed them up. Oh snap!

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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