[Pride: weak leadership, and refusing to learn from the mistakes of the past]
There was a time when I really didn’t care much for history. Maybe it was because I struggled with my studies in general, and I found Social Studies to be one of those more challenging subjects. Maybe my Social Studies teachers didn’t present the lessons in an interesting way, or I simply found history boring. Perhaps I was just young and undisciplined, but I was never too concerned with the past. My future was still a blur to me then, making “the now” my main focus. Whatever the reason–maybe it was even all of the above–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 veer off in a perilous direction, protecting us from falling into the very same traps as those who’ve gone before us. Why have we become so obstinate then?
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 thinking more highly of yourself than you ought to, meaning that you believe you are somehow different (better) than everyone, or someone else. It can also be believing that you are stronger and more capable on your own. This is why we become strong when we are weak, because to humble oneself 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 didn’t earn this grace he was given, but how much more amazing does that make God’s grace then? Why then do we seem to stomp all over His grace like it’s nothing at all? 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 didn’t receive the same opportunity to repent that Nebuchadnezzar did, Instead the message he received stands out in Scripture as a warning to those who refuse to learn from the past. (We’re still doing it today!) 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.
It’s never wise to test God’s patience. If we know what we should do but don’t do it, this is sin. 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) He’s been known to take those who boldly and unremorsefully dishonor Him completely out of the picture when His hand is forced to do so.
I don’t doubt that he’s very willing to do the same today. God doesn’t change. Though we have a new agreement with Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is still God. His grace never meant that when we choose continual unrepentant sin we’d get off Scot free. It also doesn’t mean that we can go off on our own merry way doing the very things God hates. This is tantamount to snubbing God, or looking a gift horse in the mouth. Israel did this. What His grace means is that He is lenient while we are learning, but there are, and always will be consequences for unrepentant sin, and God’s grace should be respected.
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We prefer to think of Jesus as being passive because He is humble and gentle in spirit, always deferring to the Father. This is after all our example to follow, but we don’t emphasize enough that God is also just and will deal with us according to our deeds (Romans 2:6) The words Jesus used when He turned over the tables of the money changers reminds us of God’s intention and desire for the temple, and it also stands as a rebuke to those who continue in unrepentance under His roof.
When Jesus drives everyone out of the temple including the cattle He states this: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.'” These first words ‘My house will be called a house of prayer’ are cited back to Isaiah 56:7 where twice God’s temple is referred to as a ‘house of prayer’ The temple was to be a place where the faithful would make their offerings to God. Instead the temple leaders were abusing His house, and God made known that this wasn’t acceptable.
Jesus words ‘den of robbers’ is cited back to Jeremiah 7:9-22, which is God’s rebuke to those who believed that they could be unrepentantly unfaithful, turning God’s house into a hideout for the wicked.
“‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD. —Jeremiah 7:9-22
If we read further, we’re reminded that those who did such things in the past did not escape God’s retribution. Next God states that even though He sent those to rebuke Israel many times, to turn them back to Him, they still wouldn’t listen. They remained obstinate (Jeremiah 7:12-13). God informed Israel that what they believed could protect them (the temple itself) could not in fact protect them from Him.
Neither will church attendance protect us if we continue to openly do the things God hates in His house, but the church continues to allow this. Our leaders even knowingly refuse to expel these people from the church, but they should be expelled. (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). However, God will act, even if those in question, including our leaders won’t, but Scripture seems to indicate that it would be better for these people if our leaders would act (1 Corinthians 5:5). It would also be better for the church if we dealt with things in accordance to God’s word. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch. It only takes one incorrect understanding to cause the rest of the flock to believe that God’s grace covers unrepentant sin. It doesn’t. The church should be sending a stronger message, but it’s leaders have become weak themselves.
“Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy.” –Proverbs 29:1
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep His commandments. But those who hate Him He will repay to their face by destruction; He will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate Him. –Deuteronomy 7:9-10
“If a person does not repent, God will sharpen His sword; He will bend and string His bow. He will prepare His deadly weapons and shoot His flaming arrows.” –Psalm 7:12-13
Weak Leadership is not a new concept, it was also pride that caused Moses to fail at the task God had given Him. 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. He’d become overconfident making a show of things in his impatience. Yes, even Moses, who had once been afraid to speak to the people for God.
However, Moses too had 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 as well for that matter, wouldn’t get that prize 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. All those in leadership positions should remember this.
It was God who should have received the glory. It was God that Moses failed to represent 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.
God has given us everything we need, so we should strive to grow in understanding. Thankfully, we do have His favor and grace as we follow Him, and our sins are no longer counted against us. However, there’s a difference between willfully sinning and making an honest mistake. Sin is something we do that we know we shouldn’t do, yet we do it anyways. A mistake (or stumbling) is the result of an error in judgement based on that lack of understanding. God examines the heart, so He knows the difference, and He’ll judge accordingly. If a person continues in their sin however, their will be consequences. Let’s be thankful then for His loving guidance, which sheds light on our weakness and shields us.
“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” –Psalm 84:11
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.
Trusting Him means that we take time to listen. (Really listen.) I personally have to slow everything down, pray, and pay closer attention, always seeking Him, and then when I’m confident that I’ve understood correctly I can proceed. Trusting God also means that we believe in Him; not just who He is, but in His plan as well, and what He’s fully capable of accomplishing. God also asks us to pray for more belief, because like Moses, we too are prone to doubting Him. We don’t always believe. We sorely underestimate His power, and cheapen his grace. If pride takes center stage however, we can totally disregard His grace, or at least we can foolishly try. However, God cannot be mocked.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”–Galatians 6:7
It’s not wrong to take pride in our work, or the people we love. I believe this kind of loving pride pleases God, but if we don’t tune our hearts to Him, we can instead choose our own way. Pride is a gateway sin I guess you could say. It leads to many other hated offenses. So, when we’re ungrateful for what we already have, we can be tempted to believe that we are more deserving than we truly are. When we don’t accept both bad as well as good from God we can question His wisdom, putting our understanding above His. Any attitude that elevates us, and puts others below us, including God Himself is pride, and when we don’t honor God as being holy, and the One who is doing the work in us, that pride leads only to more sin in our lives.
However, there’s also a wonderful lesson to be learned in the Book of Daniel, for those who do choose to 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)
Sometimes we stubborn human beings prefer to see God as a big meany though, always denying us, correcting us, punishing us, and causing us pain, but that’s only pride talking. We don’t have a clue, but we like to believe that we do. The truth is that we do it to ourselves. We’re stumbling around in the dark until we humbly accept His help.
We need to be lead and instructed, but those who don’t take correction also refuse that change, and those who aren’t expelled from the church believe that they can continue in their sin. By not recognizing that we need to change however, we not only deny that God is correct, we also deny that He deserves to have that say in our life. This too is pride, and It’s pride that causes us to become rebellious, as it was Satan’s pride that caused his fall from heaven; the consequence for his rebellion against God. When we choose sin however, we can expect to experience conflict, loss, disaster, pain, regret, and we can even shorten our lives if we choose our own way over God’s way.
We have so many great examples in Scripture to help us avoid the trouble we bring upon ourselves. We also have strong examples of those who did what was right and honored God, including our sturdy foundation, which is the life and works of Christ Jesus. We are bound to make mistakes while we’re learning, simply for the very fact that we are learning, but if we don’t strive to heed God’s words we only create our own problems. We should be thankful then that we have Scripture as our road map. We should also be thankful that we have both God’s grace and His forgiveness through Jesus Christ. However, this is never an excuse to continue to do the things that we know God hates. Unrepentant sin requires remediation.
God’s grace through Jesus sacrifice on the cross is a wonderfully amazing thing. It means that when we do sin we can be forgiven, and that even those who go astray, are never too far gone. We know that Jesus, like the Good Shepherd He is, will lovingly leave the other 99 sheep in the pasture to go after the one that’s lost, until He has found that lost sheep. Let’s not be too proud to humble ourselves before God, continuing to look into His perfect law, not only for our own own benefit, but for the sake of those we guide and love as well.
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. Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in. Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” –Proverbs 3:5-14
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” –Matthew 23:12
“[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. –Philippians 2: 6-13