“My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 131:1)
I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically use the word haughty a lot. Thus, when I come across this word as I pray Psalm 131 each week, I’m not really sure what to do with it. All I know is that having haughty eyes is something King David wants to avoid at all costs. That’s probably because, as Proverbs 6:17 tells us, it is one of the things God hates. Which are pretty strong words.
The word haughty, in the Hebrew, is ruwm, which means to be high actively, to rise or raise, to bring up or exalt (self). It is very similar in meaning to the word most often translated proud, which is also in this psalm—gabahh. Gabahh means to rise, or soar. So the goal of both words is basically the same—the elevation of self—but how it goes about accomplishing that goal is subtly different. To see the distinction, it is helpful to see the core meaning of the two words in English. To be haughty, the dictionary tells us, means “to have a big attitude and act like you are better than other people. A haughty person acts superior and looks down on others.” So the key difference between pride and haughtiness is that pride focuses too much on self, puffing up, while haughtiness focused too much on others, looking down. Pride has too high a view of who we are, while haughtiness has too low a view of others.
Strangely enough, it is haughtiness, and not pride, that makes the list of “six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him” in Proverbs 6:17, which is probably because of how haughtiness causes us to treat others. While pride can cause us to be far too focused on ourselves, haughtiness can cause us to be cruel, dismissive, critical, condescending, and even judgmental of the very people God has called us to love and care for. It can cause us to belittle them and see them as incapable, inadequate, and insignificant. It is bad enough when we have a distorted or delusional view of ourselves, but when it causes us to mistreat those who have also been made in God’s image, then it has gone too far. That is when it really draws God’s ire.
Very wisely, David prayed against both, since one often feeds the other. He prayed that he would not have an overinflated view of his own importance, or an underinflated view of the worth, value, dignity, and significance of others. Only then could he be the leader God wanted him to be, a leader who cared more about God’s people than he did about himself. A leader who was able to be still and quiet before his God, totally content and utterly dependent. And maybe, just maybe, if I continue to pray his prayer, I will be too. Well, a man can dream, right?
Lord, my heart is meek before you. I do not consider myself more important than others. I am content to not pursue matters that are over my head—such as your complex mysteries and wonders—that I’m not ready to understand. I am humbled and quieted in your presence. Like a contented child who rests on its mother’s lap, I’m your resting child and my soul is content in you. O people of God, your time has come to quietly trust, waiting upon the Lord now and forever. (Psalm 131:1-3, The Passion Translation)