The word, abase, is found in its various forms nine times in the English Bible.
- Four times as abase (Job 40:11; Isaiah 31:4; Ezekiel 21:26; Daniel 4:37)
- Four times as abased (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14; Philippians 4:12)
- Once as abasing (2Corinthians 11:7)
The word is used four times in the Old Testament and five times in the New Testament.
The word, abase, came from Latin though the French to the English. To abase literally means to bring to the base (the base being the lowest part of a column); to bring down low. Historically, it referred to lowering in a physical way or to casting something down. Biblically, it means to humble or to humiliate. This often includes a lowering in rank, office, or condition; but certainly in state of mind.
According to Crabb’s Synonyms (1837), abase “expresses the strongest degree of self-humiliation… It is at present used principally in the Scripture language, or in a metaphorical style, to imply the laying aside all the high pretensions which distinguish us from our fellow-creatures, the descending to a state comparatively low and mean; to humble, in French humilier, from the Latin humilis humble, and humus the ground, naturally marks a prostration to the ground, and figuratively a lowering the thoughts and feelings.”
God challenged Job to demonstrate his abilities by abasing the proud (Job 40:11). Nebuchadnezzar identified God as the one who is able to abase those who walk in pride (Daniel 4:37). When the Lord returns to earth, He will not abase Himself for those who rise up against Him (Isaiah 31:4), but He will abase him that is high (Ezekiel 21:26).
Jesus used abase in the sense of being humiliated; that is, brought down low by an outside source. Those who humble themselves will be exalted, but those who exalt themselves will be abased (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11 18:14). Paul learned contentment because he knew how to be abased and how to abound (Philippians 4:12). He paralleled being abased with being hungry and suffering need.
Paul complained to the Corinthians that they had been offended because he had abased himself by freely preaching the gospel (2Corinthians 11:7). That is, he preached the gospel to them without charge when he would have had the right to expect financial support from them. However, instead of being grateful for his act of love and kindness, they turned from him to others who would misuse them and charge them for their troubles.
Though abase is a strong word, it must be distinguished from “voluntary humility” (Colossians 2:18) and “neglecting of the body” (Colossians 2:23). Voluntary humility refers to an outward humility that demonstrates the person’s strong will (voluntary being connected to volition, which refers to the will). This is especially connected to the “neglecting of the body” as in the ascetic practices of hermits and monks. This kind of act is rejected by the Apostle Paul.
Scriptural abasement refers to the inner lowering of the mind and heart. It is the personal recognition of unworthiness and the heart of humility in the believer. It is the spirit that says with John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Symbolically, it is the act of taking the “lowest room” with the confidence that God will exalt in due season (Luke 14:10).