Question: "What does it mean to humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Peter 5:6)?"
Answer: In 1 Peter 5:5–6, Peter addresses younger Christians who are not leaders in the church and, likely, less mature in their walk of faith. He urges them to practice humility in all of their relationships—with elders, other believers, and with God: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (ESV).
Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God is an expression that entails submitting in a spirit of humility to God’s sovereign dealings in your life. It means trusting God and accepting His will, no matter what hardships He allows. In the next breath, Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). We are to humbly trust God even in times of adversities, giving all our worries and concerns to Him.
In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter quotes Proverbs 3:34: “Surely He [God] scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble” (NKJV). The sin of pride is linked with rebellion against God (Ezekiel 28:13–17). A proud person sets himself against God, causing God, in turn, to set Himself against the proud. A humble person agrees with God and receives His favor and care.
In a strikingly similar teaching, James references the same proverb: “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. . . . Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:6–10, ESV).
Both Peter and James highlight the difference between God’s dealings with the proud versus the humble. The Lord opposes the proud but raises up the humble person who casts himself entirely on God’s grace. Peter’s pronouncement echoes the psalmist’s: “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).
The mighty hand of God is an anthropomorphous expression referring to the Lord’s superior strength. When Peter says, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” he is reminding Jewish Christians of the Lord’s unequaled power. God’s “mighty hand” and “outstretched arm” have humbled Israel and brought His people to repentance over and over again in the past (Ezekiel 20:33–44; Jeremiah 15:6; Isaiah 5:25).
Perhaps more than most, Peter understood that it’s far better for followers of Christ to humble themselves under God’s mighty hand than to reach the point of needing to be humbled by God. As a young, immature believer, Peter had bragged that he would always remain faithful to Christ, choosing to die rather than ever deny Him: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33; see also Mark 14:29, 31). Yet from that lofty place of boasting, Peter plunged into unimaginable depths of denial (Luke 22:54–61). When the rooster crowed, and Jesus turned to look into Peter’s eyes, the apostle was profoundly humbled under the mighty hand of the Lord. Yet it wasn’t long before Peter was restored by the Lord (John 21:15–25). His pride had hurled him down, but God lifted him up.
Although our human tendency may be to react with pride, the Lord calls us to respond with humility to all people and every adversity we face. After receiving “surpassingly great revelations,” the apostle Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited and boastful (2 Corinthians 12:7). Peter acknowledged the same principle—that God often allows trouble and adversity to keep us humble and dependent on Him.
To humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God means to trust in the Lord’s power, recognizing that our strength comes from Him and not ourselves (Psalm 121:2; 2 Corinthians 12:9). It involves accepting His sovereign dealings in our lives, submitting to our elders, and acting humbly toward our brothers and sister in the body of Christ.
We get to choose how we will respond to adversity. We can fret and chafe under the Lord’s mighty hand, or we can accept the tests that God sends. We can trust in His faithfulness, knowing His hand is strong to deliver us. We can offer our worries to Him, knowing He will take care of us. God will give us the grace we need to endure so that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). And He will lift us up at the proper time.