God does not tell use His expectations without giving examples both positive and negative. He has given examples of what it means to be “poor inn spirit” from the earliest writings and stories. Here are six people in Scripture who, when encountered by God “face to face” showed they were “poor in spirit.” Upon recognizing they were in God’s presence they immediately realized they were sinful and unable to stand before Him because of His holiness.
Many stood before God and questioned Him, or argued with Him, or ran away from Him. After they sinned Adam and Eve ran from God presence when they heard Him walking in the Garden. There is no suggestion in Scripture they repented. Abraham listened to God, heard Him speak, even face-to-face with the Angel of the Lord before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and argued with Him. While Abraham is declared righteous because of his faith in God’s promises not because he understood the truth and extent of sin. Jacob wrestled with Him. Moses, before the burning bush, argued with God. Joshua challenged Him. Elijah ran to Him, then covered his face before complaining to Him.
Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible. God loves Job and they have an intimate relationship. However, it doesn’t appear God loves Job when He allows Satan to afflict the man and take away his belongings, his family and health. Throughout the ordeal Job does not sin in what he says to those who try to entice him to sin. Even his wife criticizes him.
Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”In all this Job did not sin with his lips. [Job 2:9-10 ESV]
Throughout the book of Job, during the discussions and arguments with his “friends” Job lays out his case, asking for God’s justice over and over. He wants to stand before God and plead his case knowing God would listen. He never admits he has done wrong though he readily admits many things are wrong and sinful before God. He never admits he has done any wrong. There are many things he knows are wrong and does not do them. He does not allow his eyes to wander and lust after other women. He has not lied or stolen but taken care of the needs of the poor, the orphan and widow. He has not put his trust in wealth nor is there anyone who has a charge against him. Throughout the book Job defends his righteousness, a righteousness given him by God. But Scripture tells us there are none righteous. None seek after God. All are sinful and under God’s wrath. Job doesn’t see this until he is confronted by very God.
Then Job answered the Lord and said: I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. [Job 42:1-6 ESV]
Perhaps one of the most worshipful gestures of all is the uncommon one Job here performs. He figuratively and poetically covers his mouth with his hand. He has been speaking eloquently, answering his friends arguments and accusations. He has defended himself before them suggesting he could also defend himself before God. But once he hears God, listens to His wonders, sees him with his own eyes, Job knows nothing he has said carries weight before his Creator. He “despises” himself. He “repents” of his rash words. He stops talking. This act is a demonstration of total submission. One can fall on one’s face and yet continue to blubber and babble. To yield the tongue is to yield everything. If you can’t change your thinking then at least stop talking. Standing in God’s presence require silence.
If the goodness and right actions of a man like Job cannot justify themselves before God how much less the self-righteous and sinful actions and attitudes of a whole nation who claim to worship God but do not. In the first five chapters of Isaiah the prophet describe a people, a nation, who have turned their backs on their God, while calling their rebellion “worship.” God calls His nation, the nation of Israel, “Sodom and Gomorrah,” equating the sin of the people called His own to the sin of those destroyed cities. Isaiah is a prophet calling the people of God to turn away from their sin, to repent and return to God. He is sent to Judah, the Southern Kingdom, just before the fall of the Northern Kingdom. Perhaps the people will see what happens to their countrymen to the North and learn.
Yet, God states blatantly, they will not listen. If they would only turn away from their sin and turn toward God He would bless them and their land. They refuse to even acknowledge their sin.
They do not listen and refuse to learn. Over a century later Judah falls, Jerusalem is destroyed, the Temple, the center of false worship, is razed and the people are exiled replaced by pagans. God had been telling them from the moment they entered the “Promised Land” they must follow Him wholeheartedly. Ezekiel, a prophet among the exiles of Judah, 140 years after Isaiah, continues to tell them, God’s people in exile, to turn from their sin and return in obedience to God.
There are many viewpoints about what a prophet is supposed to do and be. Prophets are truth-tellers. They “forth-tell” not just “foretell.” Everything they say must be truth. If what they say is not truth then they are considered by God a false prophet. God metes out harsh punishment for those who tell lies and even harsher punishment for those who attribute those lies to Him. God makes those who are His prophets lovers of the truth and haters of lies. These people will bluntly confront the lie, sin, with truth, justice and righteousness, even when reviled or ignored, persecuted or killed. Prophets view themselves as wholly belonging to God. They recognize who God is and who they are before God.
Look at Isaiah and Ezekiel. How did they view themselves before God? Both had a vision of holy God. Isaiah’s vision was simple. “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” [Isaiah 6:1 ESV] Ezekiel’s vision was elaborate, filled with images and detail. All of the first chapter of Ezekiel describes holy God.
And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. [Ezekiel 1:26-28 ESV]
Job stopped talking. Isaiah recognized even his words, every thought and word and action and attitude was corrupted before the voice of God. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” [Isaiah 6:5 ESV] God cleansed his lips with a burning coal. When Ezekial saw God he “fell on his face.” [Ezekiel 1:28 ESV]. He did not just stop speaking, or just see his words as corrupted. He saw his whole being as unworthy. God sent those who were unworthy of Himself to turn a nation of those who are unworthy back to Himself, knowing only a few would actually return.
Do not the words of a person show what is in the person’s heart and head? Does not our speech define for God and the world who we are? Those who are “poor in spirit” recognize their utter unworthiness before the absolute holiness of God. Yet, God blesses those who are “poor in spirit.” His blessing comes through the sacrifice of His Son who took upon Himself the sin of those who refuse to recognize their sin and continue in their rebellion. Poverty of spirit is the first step toward God in obedience.