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Modesty Is Proof of Wisdom
Proverbs 11:2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the modest is wisdom.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace: The Hebrew noun rendered pride (זָדוֹן zadon) refers to one who is arrogant, insolent, that is, his concept of himself is inflated, he is self-willed and not humble, and is a complete moral failure (Prov. 13:10; 21:24) It is a behavior to which he does not have a right because his view of himself is not reflective of the reality. Then comes describes what must naturally follow as a natural consequence of his pride, disgrace. This disgrace (קָלוֹן qalon) is a state of dishonor and shame.
but with the humble is wisdom: The Hebrew root verb (tsana) is rendered modestly in Micah 6:8, its only occurrence. The related adjective (tsanua) is rendered modest, which is its only other occurrence here in Proverbs 11:2, where it is contrasted with pride. This is a person characterized by modesty, who does not overestimate himself or think more of himself than is necessary, does not pretend to be more than he is, as well as being aware of his limitations, and lacks pretentiousness or pride. Wisdom (Heb. chokmah) is the ability to apply knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, or insight. Because he has acquired both experience and wisdom, he possesses the skills to live and obey the laws, principles, and values of God’s Word.
Many Bible translations render the Hebrew root verb (tsana) humbly in Micah 6:8, and the related adjective (tsanua) is rendered humble here in Proverbs 11:2. The Hebrew can refer to one who is modest, conforming with accepted standards based on God’s Word of respectable or moral behavior, and having personal purity about oneself. However, it can also refer to one who is aware of his limitations. With Micah 6:8 we are simply urged to “walk modestly with your God,” so it can have either meaning. Here in Proverbs 11:2, however, modesty is contrasted with pride. The opposite of pride here is modesty in the sense of not thinking more of oneself than necessary, not presuming too much, one who is aware of his limitations.
There is a distinct difference between being humble and being modest. For instance, King David, in speaking of God, said, “your [God’s] humility made me great.” (Psalm 18:35) This might surprise us, but God was willing to humble himself, that is, lower himself, personally, taking notice of an imperfect human, and being patient with him until he became a great king in Israel. It is also said of God, “Who is like Jehovah our God, who is enthroned on high, who looks far below on the heavens and the earth?” (Psalm 113:5-6) Clearly, the Almighty God, our Creator, is so highly enthroned (exalted) that he must look down or condescend (below his dignity or level of importance) in order to look at his creation.
God can be humble in that he is willing to have dealings with persons so far below him, it is inconceivable. However, God cannot be modest, for how could it ever be that he does not overestimate himself, or think more of himself than is necessary, does not pretend to be more than he is, he is aware of his limitations? What limitations could God have? He is infinite in wisdom and power, absolutely flawless and perfect when it comes to justice and the very personification of love? There is no one that could ever be compared to him, not even the highest-ranking angel, Michael. – Jude 9.
As imperfect humans, we must recognize and come to terms with our limitations. We should never think more of ourselves than is necessary, and we should never overestimate ourselves or pretend to be more than we are. Having a humble recognition of our limitations is wisdom. Pride is manifest in disobedience, or envy, and brings disgrace. Being modest, though, does not mean that we adopt a defeatist attitude about ourselves. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about oneself and being aware of our abilities or possibilities.