[Pride: refusing to learn from the mistakes of the past]
There was a time when I really didn’t care too much for history. Maybe it was because I struggled with my studies in general or perhaps, I simply found history boring. Whatever the reason, I had no use for it, and I’d have told you that studying history was one of my least “favorite” subjects. This wasn’t so wise.
However, Biblical history becomes remarkably important when you begin to understand that learning from the past, and from the mistakes of others, is the heads-up that can keep us on course. It can also help us to make those necessary course corrections if we do veer off in a perilous direction.
If history can teach us both what to do, and what not to do, then following Jesus is much like taking someone’s gracious offer to lead us safely over treacherous terrain; they’ll undoubtedly turn to you and say, ‘step where I step.’ Andrew has said this to me a time or two as we’ve walked across icy parking lots, even offering his hand to steady me when needed. I imagine, that if pride were to rear its ugly head, I would instead refuse his loving protection. I might even say, ‘I’m fully capable of figuring out where to step on my own, thank you very much.’ I’d also likely fall flat on my face. Pride is like that, and it absolutely does go before the fall (Proverbs 16:18).
“He who says he abides in Him [Jesus] ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”–1 John 2:6
“The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand. I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. ” –Psalm 37:23-25
“The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip.” –Psalm 37:31
Pride is being focused on one’s self. It puts up walls, between us and God. This makes it difficult for God to have His way in our lives because we must be pliable rather then rebellious and resistant in order for God to work on and through us. When we allow ourselves to soften and become weak we become strong because to humble one’s self before Jesus invites God’s mighty hand and heavenly help into our lives, lifting us from our pit of despair, setting us upon a rock, and establishing the work of our hands.
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” –Psalm 40:2
“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands.” –Psalm 90:17
There are pitfalls and consequences that come with that over confident pride, and we have so many examples in Scripture that reflect this. One of those lessons is this one: God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a very mighty kingdom, but he became prideful because he believed that his kingdom and power were of his own doing. He also was stripped of his kingdom due to his prideful words, when he declared that his kingdom was of his own power, for the glory of his own majesty.
“he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?””–Daniel 4:30
Even while these words were still on his lips however, God had something to say. His gavel came down swiftly.
“The words were still in his mouth when a voice from heaven said, “King Nebuchadnezzar, these things will happen to you: Your royal power has been taken away from you. You will be forced away from people. You will live with the wild animals and will be fed grass like an ox. Seven years will pass before you learn this lesson: The Most High God rules over every kingdom on earth and gives those kingdoms to anyone he chooses.” –Daniel 4:31-32
These had to be some very sobering words for King Nebuchadnezzar. Ignorance, or arrogance in this case, is no longer bliss when we are faced with the cold hard truth. One way or another we all find out the truth, and I personally would prefer to learn things in a less gut wrenchingly painful way whenever possible.
God’s words to Nebuchadnezzar were immediately fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird (Daniel 4:33). At the end of this time he raised his eyes towards heaven and his sanity was restored. Then Nebuchadnezzar praised, honored, and glorified God.
“…His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: “What have you done?”” –Daniel 4:34-35
At the same time as Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity was restored to him, his honor and splendor were returned to his throne and became even greater than before. God is more than fair. This isn’t our only example of God’s restorative grace. It also isn’t our only example of God repaying someone more than they’d lost.
Nebuchadnezzar could never earn what he was given, but how much more amazing does that make God’s grace then? You’d have thought that Nebuchadnezzar’s fall would become a great lesson for his family, but his descendant Belshazzar refused to learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s mistake.
Belshazzar holds a feast, and he and his royal guests are drinking from vessels that have been taken from the Temple of the Lord when a hand appears and begins to write words on the plaster of the wall. Belshazzar’s understandably terrified by this, and so he sends for his wise men, but they aren’t able to read the writing on the wall. However, when Daniel is sent for, Daniel reminds Belshazzar that when Nebuchadnezzar became arrogant, he was thrown down until he learned that God has sovereignty over the kingdom of men. Belshazzar too has dishonored God, so Daniel says to him, “But Belshazzar, you already knew these things. You are a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. But still you have not been sorry for what you have done. Instead you have turned against the Lord of Heaven…” (Daniel 5:22-23)
Unfortunately, Belshazzar never received the same opportunity to repent that Nebuchadnezzar had been given. Instead, the message he received stands out in Scripture as a warning to those who refuse to learn from the past. Daniel reads the message on the wall and interprets it: God has numbered Belshazzar’s days, he has been weighed and found wanting, and his kingdom will be given to the Medes and the Persians. Belshazzar received his death sentence, and that very night he lost his life.
If we know what we should do but don’t do it, this is sin. Scripture says that those who do such things deserve death. Aren’t we glad then that our merciful Jesus accepted death on a cross so that we could be set free from the wages of sin?
“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” –Romans 1:32
Belshazzar wasn’t just making a mistake, he knew better, yet he was unrelenting and unremorseful. If we’re not grateful for what we’ve been given (that includes God’s grace) and we don’t honor Him with it, what we have will be taken away from us; God will give it to someone who will honor Him. (Matthew 25:24-29)
Even Moses was guilty of pride. His task was to speak to the rock so that water would gush from it, that the people may drink and be refreshed. Instead, Moses took control of the situation, and even tried to take credit for this miracle.
Moses didn’t trust God to bring water from the rock by speaking to it. Instead he struck it twice. He didn’t heed God’s words. In his impatience with the Isrealites he made a show of things. However, Moses too would have to suffer the same consequence that all who’d treated God with contempt faced: he too would not be permitted to enter the promised land. (Num 14:20-23) For Aaron’s rebellion, like Belshazzar, his life also was cut short. What Moses missed is that he too had a rebellious heart. That’s pride.
“He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” –Numbers 20:10
God’s impartial, so Moses wouldn’t be the exception to the rule, even if he was the one God chose as a priest and a prophet to His people. It’s sad. I didn’t understand this for quite a long time. (I guess I couldn’t see it.) I felt that it was unfair, that Moses and Aaron wouldn’t receive that reward after all the time they’d spent leading the Israelites in the desert.
“But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe me, and because you did not honor me as holy before the people, you will not lead them into the land I will give them.”” –Numbers 20:12
What I understand now, is that the damage sin causes is always sad for those who commit the sin; it’s also unfair for those who are affected by others poor choices, and I imagine that God doesn’t enjoy it either. What good parent enjoys disciplining their child? I doubt God enjoys being forced to withhold something from us, but sometimes we force His hand. Like Moses, what I failed to see also, was that God was the One who was truly leading Israel, not Moses and Aaron. They were instruments that God was using, but Israel is God’s chosen people, and it was God who rescued them from captivity.
God should have received the glory. Moses failed to represent Him as he should have: as Holy, and with honor. Instead, in his impatience and disbelief, Moses stole the show. I’m sure we’ve all done this at one time or another, whether we’ve recognized it or not. We should be thankful then that God is patient, but we also have no good excuse to remain ignorant to the truth.
This wasn’t the first time that Moses jumped the gun, so to speak. When Moses was 40 he was pretty gungho to be the deliverer of God’s people. When He saw that one of the Israelites was being mistreated by an Egyptian he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using Him to rescue them, but they didn’t. (Acts 7:24-25) Here too Moses thought wrong.
I can relate to Moses. (Uh, not the killing part.) I can be overzealous or over eager also, and impatient even. I’m well meaning—at least I hope and believe that I am. (I’m also very convinced that God will prove me wrong if I’m wrong.) I too can forget to look before I leap, or rather do things assuming that this is what’s supposed to “go down,” but I get things wrong. I’m starting to feel that this is why He’s been continually reminding me to trust Him.
We do have a great example, however, of what we can expect if we do choose to trust and honor God. In Daniel chapter 1, Daniel decides that he is not going to disobey God by eating the king’s food. Because Daniel and the other three men with him we’re dependant on God, He gave them great wisdom. God is very fair. Those who do what is right are rewarded, but those who don’t are disgraced and will have to face the consequences of their sin. As God said to Cane, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7)
Thank you Lord for your amazing grace, and your offer of assistance in our lives. Lord, please humble us, and create in us a pure heart; protect us from ourselves; strengthen our leaders, and forgive us our sins. Please help us to honor you, so that we can give you the praise that You are so due! ❤
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. –Proverbs 3:5-8
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” –Matthew 23:12