One of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen is a sunrise coming up over the mountains of Papua New Guinea. Many years ago while I was in college, I got to spend the summer in Papua New Guinea with New Tribes Mission learning how to share the good news with people who’ve never heard anything about God or His Word and who did not even have a written language. Our main camp was in the Highlands–a beautiful location with mild temperatures and stunning sights. I woke up early in the morning and brought my Bible to one of the highest spots and had my morning devotions there. Those were sweet times, but were also one of the most broken times of my life.
For various reasons having to do with unexpected spiritual difficulties to unfulfilled romantic hopes, I had reached a low point in my life at that time. I was actually in full-fledged depression. I had never experienced anything like that before, and, to be honest, I never used to understand why people couldn’t just “get over it”. But here I was feeling like a huge weight was on me, a darkness that I couldn’t overcome. I recognized my complete inability to do anything about the state I was in, and it scared me. When I became a Christian a few years previous to this, I tried to fix myself by sheer force of will. I was intense, and I was legalistic. It took God some time to strip me down to the person sitting on the mountains of PNG, but I will come back to that girl in a just a few moments.
Mountains are a powerful symbol in the Bible. Most of us think of them as places of spiritual growth and refreshment. Many important events occurred on mountains: the Law was given on Mt. Sinai, Elijah confronted the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Jesus was transfigured and taught His famous sermon on mountains. These were locations of direct instruction or interaction with God. These interactions were amazing, life-changing, and relatively short. We all long for those mountain moments with God, but usually forget the prerequisite for those awesome moments. Humility. And, specifically, humility as a result of suffering and difficulty.
In the following verses, we see a unique image of Christ. We see Him being prophesied as a humble root that is exalted by God.
“Thus says the Lord God: ‘I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender ones, and will plant it on a high prominent mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell. And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish; I, the Lord, have spoken and done it.‘” Ezekiel 17: 22-24
Read these for other similar prophecies: Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Psalm 2:6, Isaiah 2:2-4, Micah 4:1-5, and Zechariah 2:11.
The main allusion in this passage (especially in the context of several other passages) is about the Humble Servant who humbles Himself and is exalted. There’s a few important things to note here:
1) God is the one who does the exalting–Jesus never exalted Himself. He let God do it. If we want to serve God, we must not exalt ourselves, but be humble like Christ.
2) The result of being exalted is not that everyone just thought the tree was great–it was useful, fruitful, and a blessing.
3) Again, God is glorified by the exaltation because He has done the work.
The girl who sat on the mountain those many years ago was humble, but mainly humble from making lots of bad choices and then having to deal with the consequences of those choices. For the first time, I realized that I was completely helpless, and that’s when I had an encounter with God. I cannot say that the result of this humility was an exalted state, but I definitely felt lifted up by God. I understood that the pressure for making me what I wanted to be wasn’t actually on me–it was on Him. And like this passage mentions, the work of bringing us to the place of true usefulness is up to Him. Our job is simple–keep ourselves humble and then let Him use us. Jesus is truly a model in this because He gave up so much to come to us, and then lived His life in humble service. He suffered, not because of His bad choices, but because of ours.
So how do we humble ourselves like He did?
We make reaching people where they are a priority.
We speak the truth in love.
We help people.
We sacrifice for others.
We listen to and obey God.
We are authentic and genuine.
We are kind, hospitable, and generous.
We rejoice with those who are rejoicing and weep with those who are weeping.
We bless those who persecute us.
We cling to that which is good.
If we want those mountain moments, we have to first become humble servants, the tender roots that God will lift up and transform!