(Num. 12:3) How could Moses write this, if he was more humble than all men?

CLAIM: Numbers 12:3 states “Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” And yet, he himself was the author of this verse. How could Moses be humble, if he called himself humble?

RESPONSE: There are two ways of handling this difficulty:

OPTION #1: Meek should actually be translated “miserable.”

In his article “Moses: Meek or Miserable?”[1] Cleon Rogers makes a compelling case that this Hebrew word anaw should actually be translated as “afflicted” or “miserable,” rather than humble. He points out that this word is used for both humility and affliction through the Hebrew Scriptures. Thus we need to look at the context to determine which translation should be preferable. Of course, in this context, Moses is being surrounded on all sides by those who want to depose him of leadership—even by his own family members. Therefore, in this context, it would make more sense to believe that he was the most afflicted man on Earth, because of his difficulties.

OPTION #2: This could refer to humility.

Given this perspective, a number of observations can be made:

First, in addition to being a human document, the Bible is a divine document (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). While it might be arrogant for Moses to make this statement by himself, it is not arrogant when we consider that this passage was inspired by God.

Second, while Moses made this statement, it was still true. That is, we shouldn’t look to see if the author is biased in making this statement; instead, we should look to see if this statement is, in fact, true. For instance, Jesus claimed that he was humble, and in that case, it was also true (Mt. 11:29). Similarly, Michael Jordan’s mother might refer to her son as the greatest basketball player of all time. While we might say that she is biased in making this statement (she is his mother after all), it would still be a true statement. Therefore, we should take her statement on its own merits.

Third, in context, it makes sense to see Moses as incredibly humble, when we consider the other men who had spoken with God. In the context, Miriam and Aaron had only been used by God a little, and they were boasting about it a lot! By contrast, God had used Moses for several years now, and he wasn’t boasting at all. This demonstrates the type of faith and character that Moses had.

[1] Rogers, Cleon. “Moses: Meek or Miserable?” JETS 29/3 (September 1986). 257-263.