In which a hill must be leveled

by Craig on July 13, 2011

So let’s say my name is Marcellus.

I build roads…


…for the Roman Empire.

The Empire hearts its roads.

The roads I build are one of the reasons there are so many letters making up the New Testament. Because of them a first century letter could get from Spain to Jerusalem in a matter of a few days…

hence, the majority of the New Testament.

The roads are constructed for military use – to get the army from here to there in the shortest amount of time. So, as much as possible Rome demands straight lines.

A straight flying eagle arrives quicker than a wriggling inchworm.

If a mountain stands in the way of the line, I go around it.

But what of a hill?

The hills…

they get leveled.


The Greek word for this is


pronounced “ta-pay-nah-oh” with emphasis on the second to last syllable, and spoken like a Greek chef.

It’s the word used in Luke 3:5. The words are about John the Baptist. They could just as well have been the words of our Roman engineer – both had the same goal – to clear the way.

Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.

and in Philippians 4:12 Paul uses the word, but I read all of the different translation of this verse and I lose sight of the “leveling”:

I know what it is to be in need… (NIV)
I know how to get along with humble means… (NASB)
I know how to be humble… (ISV)
I know how to be abased… (KJV)
I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances… (NAB)

only in the ESV do I see it:

I know how to be brought low…

It’s not that the other translations are bad. The humbling is the thing to get across, and they all do that.

What gets lost is the nuance…
the nuance of being humbled…
being “leveled”….
the heights razed because the lower is needed…


because only the lower and straighter will do.

Paul uses the word in the infinitive form, and the middle (passive) voice. This means that Paul’s humbling wasn’t something he did. He didn’t level himself – it was done for him – to him. Paul was “leveled”.

I know what that’s like Paul. You think you’re God’s gift. You think God “needs” you. You’re on the fast track to becoming the Pharisee of Pharisees and you are going to use this new movement in the Jewish faith, the one following that false Messiah, as a stepping stone.

What can stand in your way?

You’re highly educated,
have great connections,
everything is blooming daisies and roses.

Who wouldn’t think themselves a mountain…


and lose sight that they’re just the hill in front?

But then you find yourself on one of those Roman roads…

and something happened…

you got “leveled”.

I’m considering “humility” for the second week now along with Ann Voskamp.

This is part one of the “leveling”…

part two is over on Deep into Love today…

would you consider scooting over there for it?

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle July 13, 2011 at 8:47 am

Beautifully put. I think I need to add the ESV version alongside my NIV so I remember what it means.


Craig July 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm

actually you could put the Craig translation which would be, “I know what it is to be leveled” – or even better write the Greek word for “to level”. we are so lucky in our generation to have the original languages available for everybody. Anyway, thank you Michelle, really, and God bless you as always.


~ linda July 13, 2011 at 10:12 am

A picture in words, a picture in pictures! Both take me closer to the meaning.
Thanks, Craig.
~ linda


Craig July 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm

thank you Linda, thank you. One reason I write in this community, a community with writers like Ann Voskamp – and not with some a egg-heady theologian types are the pictures. I heart pictures. I never knew I hearted pictures so much – but once I found that you can add pictures to blogs – and this community does it best – well, besides the heart that women write theology with (that men don’t)– that’s why I’m here. Thank you very much for your kind words Linda, and God bless and keep you.


Joe July 14, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I think you are right about men & theology… they don’t write much with heart. … too scared. You can’t write much about the goodness of God when your heart is so full of fear that He really plans to clobber you the next time you mess up.

Thanks for what you said about hills and their need to be brought low. I will remember that picture. Life flows so much better without having to push against gravity.


Craig July 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I don’t know why it is that there is so much more heart from the keyboard of women with their theology – I just know it’s true. It’s just true. Thank you for your kind words Joe, and God bless you.


Joe July 16, 2011 at 10:17 am

… seems to be like “wildcatting” for oil … drill in the hope of finding it. Know it is there. Absorb the dissapointment when you do not find it and go on the the next well – that’s the choice we all make.

Thank you.

Craig July 16, 2011 at 11:19 am

Amen Joe, a brilliant metaphor, brilliant, really. That’s how I found my first Christian female written blog. read hundreds of blogs by men first. Then came Amber Hames, and then came Ann Voskamp – and then it was all over. This community is where the best oil is!! God bless you Joe.


Cora July 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

Thank you! I left my comment at the other site, but wanted you to know I just loved this definition, picture-word study, heart piercing, life changing post! I won’t ever forget it.


Craig July 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Cora, when was the last time I told you how delighted I am that you read me? Was it yesterday? If it was, I should still do it more often (◠‿◠) – it’s funny how a few nights with little sleep, and one night with almost no sleep, can make you deliriously poetic – at least on this particular topic. God bless you Cora.


Kris July 13, 2011 at 11:12 am

Loved this, Craig. Ahh, the being leveled. Thank you for these beautiful images and word images. I so appreciate your scriptural insight for us non-seminary people. 😉 This practice of humility thing is tough, but oh, how He loves us through. Blessings, friend!


Craig July 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm

and Kris – I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the scriptural insight of “non-seminary people”. I’ve read theology like I have never read it before since blogging in this community – and reading people like you! Blessings to you too Kris.


Becky Dunlap July 13, 2011 at 11:48 am

Craig, your writing is beautifully put. You describe your heart (and God’s heart) in such a way that I can “picture” being, in that moment.
I’m awed as I realize all the many ways my mind and heart are plauged with pride. Thank you for sharing, a glimpse of the heart of what Jesus sees as “humility”.
Your hunger and searching to see what the Word says in it’s original intended way, I like that about you. Blessings on you as you allow God to bring you into humility.


Craig July 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Becky, thank you, really, thank you. And trust me when I say I hope I always remember to stay humble – even though, as you put it so well there are “many ways my mind and heart are plauged with pride”. I need to keep the humble because I’m really not in the mood for any more “leveling” (◠‿◠)

again, thank you, your words are kind. God bless you Becky.


tinuviel July 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Well said. I had not thought of humility in association with the leveling of hills in the prophecy about John. Thanks for sharing these insights.


Craig July 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I really heart that this word is such a blue-collar word. It’s not one that was used by the architects of the roads – it’s one that was used by the guys who had to actually level the hills. And I heart the expression “being leveled” – and the way it’s developed over time, so that what it means now adds even a little more to what it meant back then. Thank you for reading me. God bless you and keep you.


Angela July 13, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Wow Craig, beautiful! {I’m clapping furiously for you with gladness}. I LOOOOOVE this post! Oh, gosh, you touched my heart. The pictures are exquisite. You’re finding your place, my friend, becoming comfortable and it shows marvelously through your writing.

Such a lovely post. I feel myself become “leveled” it’s weird b/c I seem to level more in the valley now. I’m about to start reading Vision in the Valley {or something like that}. Once I pondered on that title, I thought, “Yeah, that’s true I do get clearer vision when I’m in the valley.” My path levels a bit, I guess you could say.

Thanks Craig!


Craig July 13, 2011 at 7:32 pm

thank you Angela, I look back at my earlier posts – all those many many many (8) months ago – and I think I actually am getting a smidge better at blogging (◠‿◠). and I don’t know of the book – but I do know of the Valley, and it’s in the Valley that we seem to pay the most attention, and when we pay the most attention, that’s when we learn the most. I don’t heart the Valley – but I heart what God can do through the Valley as he walks through it with us – you know – yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

You know I heart your words. And I heart that you read me. Thank you Angela, and God bless you.


Nicol July 13, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Craig- this really resonated with me…I think the verse that you are quoting should be Phillipians 4:12, right? as an author, be thankful that you have a Berean reader!! I love the content (fresh), the included history, the pics, and the application- Wonder if Marcellus knew as he labored in the dust and rock the magnificient contribution he was making to church history? Wonder if all of us Marcelluses know? Perhaps that is why we are “leveled” (and I love the included grammar syntax) so that we do not become “puffed up” in ourselves as Paul once was.


Craig July 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm

you ARE a Berean reader ƪ(◠‿◠)╯ !!!! I didn’t put the verse number in there! I gave all those different versions of the verse – but not the verse. Did I mention I was sleep deprived and maybe a little bit delirious when I wrote this? (◠‿◠) it’s there now – thank you for being Berean. And if I’m getting the character of Marcellus right – I think he just built the roads – he was a blue-collar guy. But God knew! And I think it’s kind of up to us to “level” ourselves – I think it’s only when we don’t do that, that Our Lord will. At least it was that way with me – and apparently Paul too. You are my hero today Nicol!! Thank you. and God bless and keep you!!


Craig July 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm

EEEEEK – I might still be sleep deprived. I didn’t NOT put in the verse number – I put in the wrong one! You really ARE my hero!


Connie@raise your eyes July 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Craig….walking with you…in the leveling….


Craig July 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Amen Connie – we are all walking with each other in the “leveling” – just some of needed more “leveling” than others. I think it’s way, way better to be self leveling (◠‿◠). God bless and keep you Connie.


Jennifer July 14, 2011 at 12:09 am

You explained that so clearly. “brought down low”
My middle child likes to pick her memory verses from the ESV.


Craig July 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I graduated from the seminary that produced a number of the translators of the ESV – good men – really good men. It’s a solid translation. It’s not my favorite – but it’s a really good one. Your middle child has good Bible taste (◠‿◠)!! and thank you for your kind words, really, a humble thank you. God bless and keep you and each and every one of yours Jennifer!


Debra July 14, 2011 at 12:50 am

Beautiful! This reminded me of a song I love…
Love the scripture from Isaiah 40:4
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain…
You bring the meaning to life!


Craig July 14, 2011 at 1:48 pm

it really is true, that the New Testament is just a continuation of the holy, holy, holy of the Old Testament. in this case the leveling of Paul brought his humility to life – and that brought the description of John the Baptist’s mission to life – and the description of that is just the quotation of Isaiah 40:4 – and it’s all connected – God is so good that way! And the song was inspirational – thank you. God bless you Debra!


bluecottonmemory July 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I’m thinking of the Appalachia – and how difficult it is to “level” – dynamite? Big trucks that could run into a pancake? The process of leveling is so painful – but then how much easier to get to our Lord! (Parenting teens can be very leveling!). History stories + insight = a wonderful message to read!

So glad I came by! We are recovering from a Big Move – and I am finally able to visit!


Craig July 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm

EXACTLY! SO. RIGHT. ON. THE. NOSE! I hope your move went well. I heart when you read me. And I REALLY hearted this brilliant comment Maryleigh!! God bless you and all of yours!!


Susan@ThoughtfulSpot July 19, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Paul was “leveled”. . . . Susan was leveled. . . the heights razed because the lower is needed . . . so eloquently expressed. . . sigh. . .going over this post a couple of times. . . avoiding Ann’s topic did not make it less true. . . blessings, Craig; again you so easily open eyes squeezed shut with your word pictures. . .


Craig July 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Susan, I’m behind on replying to my comments – sorry, really, sorry. Now, come back and tell me what you meant by “avoiding Ann’s topic” – the topic was humility right? So come back and straighten that one up for me okay? And thank you Susan, thank you for your really gracious words. God bless and keep you.


Susan@ThoughtfulSpot July 22, 2011 at 8:55 am

Please don’t apologize! I think it is lovely the way you respond to each comment. Humility is one of the harder grace gifts for me. . . the letting go and saying nothing when no one is looking. . .waiting for God to defend. . .sometimes it feels like humiliation.. .and that’s when I know I need a lesson on boundaries, when confrontation is right and saying “this far, and no farther.” I avoided the topic, not Ann. . .You and Ann have written so beautifully on the topic . . . and your words have become part of the journey for me. Blessings, friend.


Craig July 23, 2011 at 10:37 am

oh, I get it – thank you for explaining. It reminds me of the time in seminary when I wanted to write about pride – and went through all the stacks and got all of the gigantic books on ethics, and other big books on pride – and one tiny paperback written centuries ago by an old French monk – the 12 steps of humility – and I thought – I don’t want that – I’m looking for pride. I could have sworn I put it back on the shelf, but somehow it snuck its way into my huge stack of books – and was one of the most important things I’d ever read. It’s easy to write about humility – when we realize that in a way – it’s just the opposite of pride – and pride – most of us, including me, know all too well. someday, if you have the time – I’ve written a whole series on Bernards 12 steps of humility – I hearted that series. If you just search on the site for “Bernard of Clairvaux” you’ll find it. But only if you have time. God bless and keep you Susan – and thank you for coming back and explaining.


A. August 1, 2011 at 11:21 am

Craig, I am reading this days late, and if I had read it the day you wrote it, the meaning would have been less impactful than it is today. I love how God works this way in our lives. So, thank you even though this is a very late comment.


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