The Kings of Pride

The Kings of Pride
By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: Joshua Abraham Norton suffered from delusions of grandeur. He preferred to be called His Imperial Majesty Norton I, and in 1859, he proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States. Of course, people were amused by the grand claims of this pauper, but while he was generally considered a little insane, he ate for free at San Francisco’s best restaurants and the city’s newspapers published many of his proclamations — including an order to dissolve the U.S. Congress by force and the construction of a bridge across San Francisco Bay. His humor and deeds were celebrated not only in the city, but around the world. More than 30,000 people turned up for his memorial after his death in 1880.

Rudyard Kipling wrote the clever short story The Man Who Would Be King, a tale about two scheming 19th century friends. The former soldiers set off from British India in search of adventure — and ended up as kings in what is now part of Afghanistan. It’s a fascinating study of how their rise to regal power slowly unleashes the latent pride in their hearts, changing their characters and dividing them as friends.

Most of us have heard the expression “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is especially true for monarchs, who are exposed to the temptations of pride more than the average person. The Bible is replete with examples of men who would be king, and kings who wanted to be divine. In fact, we learn that sin entered our universe through the portal of pride …

The Angel Who Would Be God
In Isaiah 14, we find a fascinating portrait of the first casualty of pride’s poison. It’s the story of how the devil became a devil.
Of course, we know that God did not create the devil. Rather, He created a dazzlingly beautiful angel named Lucifer, who was the highest of the cherubim, the leader of the heavenly choir, and the most intelligent and powerful of all the created beings.

But all of God’s creatures are free to choose whom they will love and serve. Sadly, Lucifer made the toxic decision to choose himself over all others. He became hyper-narcissistic, enchanted by his own beauty. “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! … For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’ ” (vs. 12, 13, NKJV, emphasis added). Lucifer clearly had “I” problems.

As the wayward angel spread his disaffection among the other angels, eventually God had to evict him from the courts of glory. But that wasn’t the end of pride in God’s creation. In fact, it was the first type of temptation that Lucifer, now better known as Satan, presented to Adam and Eve. He told them that if they would merely eat the forbidden fruit, their eyes would be opened and they would be like God, implanting in their hearts and minds his own arrogant desires. And it worked.

Ultimately, pride is a form of idolatry — making ourselves an object of worship. The proud aspirations of the devil throughout the great controversy all revolve around “me, myself, and I.” And in Ezekiel 28, we find a few more details on the many facets of pride that led to Lucifer’s fall — pride of power, position, possession, intelligence, appearance, and more. The chapter should be a wake-up call to Christians in the final era of human history, because these selfish characteristics still contribute to the fall of those who eventually grieve away the Spirit of the Lord. Indeed, pride is the invisible dragnet with which the devil captures the most confident of God’s people.

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The Pride of Power

“Thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezekiel 28:14). The Bible spends a lot of time on kings who were overcome with pride in their own power, which gives the one who wields it incredible attention and adoration, feeding selfishness to no end.

Nebuchadnezzar struggled with this particular pride problem. At the zenith of his power, the great Babylonian king had a dream about a tree from which the whole world was fed and where every bird found a place to roost in its branches. Later he watches the tree being cut down, and the worried king seeks an interpretation. The prophet Daniel informs Nebuchadnezzar that the monarch is the tree who will be cut down. Daniel advises him to turn from his sinful ways, live righteously, and show mercy on the poor.

Convicted by the prophet, Nebuchadnezzar manages to humble himself — for a while. As Babylon continued to grow in prosperity, as his armies continued to win battles, as all his building projects came to fruition, one day the king walked out onto one his palatial balconies to take in the glorious vista of his kingdom. He proclaimed, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).

Sounds like the devil, doesn’t it? He took irresponsible credit for everything over which he was given reign. God took this precise moment in time to send a striking judgment on the prideful king. “While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee” (v. 31).

What follows is quite amazing. For seven years, God took away the king’s wisdom, intelligence, and power. Nebuchadnezzar became like a brute animal, going around on his hands and knees. His advisers didn’t know what to do with him. Fearing this might destabilize the kingdom, they refused to declare the situation to the kingdom’s citizens and released him to pasture in the royal gardens where he went around eating grass like an ox.

After seven years, God had mercy and restored Nebuchadnezzar’s wits. But the lesson is as clear as the story of the devil in Ezekiel: God is the one who deserves our praise, no matter how much power we possess in this world. When God gives us the ability to influence others, we shouldn’t treat it as if we did it all on our own. We should use that power with deep humility. Because of his pride, Nebuchadnezzar lost everything. Pride can also bring Christians to a place where we lose our access to the kingdom of God, just as it did with the devil.

Pride in Position

“Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so” (Ezekiel 28:14). Some people grow proud of their position at work and in life. It is part of the same myriad of issues the devil struggled with before he had to be cast out of heaven. Haman in the book of Esther provides another prime example of self-destructive pride on display in the Bible.

The mighty Xerxes of Persia learned that a Jew named Mordecai had saved his life from an assassination plot. Xerxes wanted to honor Mordecai, but Haman, who had recently received a promotion of high honor from the king, had become angry with Mordecai because the devout Jew would not bow before the haughty noble. Haman became so angry, in fact, that he wanted to kill all the Jews in the land.

As Haman’s inflated pride continued to fester, he bragged to his friends “of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king” (Esther 5:11).

So when Mordecai continued to refuse to show Haman reverence, the noble flipped his lid. He presumptuously decided to build a gallows from which to hang Mordecai, certain that Xerxes would give him permission because of his own high royal standing. Yet before he could ask the king for permission, Xerxes asks Haman, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?”

Pride, a distorted mirror that obstructs clear thinking and reason, allowed Haman to see only himself. Filled with conceit, “Haman thought in his heart, ‘Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?’ ” (Esther 6:6 NKJV). The noble quickly devised the most extravagant procession he could think of for himself — riding on the king’s horse, in the king’s robes, with the king’s crown upon his head, parading up and down the city streets for all to honor. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” and this couldn’t be truer for Haman, who speaks as if he wanted desperately to be the king.

Well, can you imagine Haman’s shock with what followed: “The king said to Haman, Make haste … as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew. … Let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken” (v. 10). Haman was commanded to honor the man his pride so desperately wanted to murder.

The Bible says, “When pride cometh, then cometh shame” (Proverbs 11:2). The story of Haman is a great example of the ultimate payout of pride. He was hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.

This pride of position even infected those closest to Jesus. In Mark 9, we find the disciples arguing about which one of them will be greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. It was as if they had never heard one of Jesus’ most powerful lessons to them: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And who ever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11, 12 NKJV).

If you exalt yourself, striving for position and honor, you will be humbled by God. If you humble yourself, God will find a way to exalt you, in this life or the one to come in eternity. Do you feel as though you’ve been passed over at your job because of favoritism rather than skill? Don’t let it bother you. Be content to serve where God has put you. Christ in His time will lift you up.

Spiritual Pride
Spiritual pride is a hidden pit in which many unsuspecting Christians have fallen. It is especially insidious because it masquerades as virtue. The Old Testament King Uzziah was generally a good ruler, but he fell through religious pride. He thought he deserved the same privileges as the priests. King Saul also lost his kingdom after usurping the responsibilities of the priesthood.

Jesus addressed this fatal flaw in one of His most familiar parables. “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican” (Luke 18:10). Here Jesus contrasts two people who belong to the same church. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were deeply respected for their religiousness, while the publicans were regarded as outcasts.

In the parable, the “Pharisee stood and prayed thus … God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess,” while the “publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:11–13).

According to Jesus, it was the humble publican who went home justified (Luke 18:14). You see, the Pharisee was proud of his good works, believing that his spiritual deeds earned him standing and acceptance before God. But the publican had simple trust in God’s mercy. The publican is forgiven, but the Pharisee isn’t. We can’t miss that lesson if we want to grow in Christ.

Spiritual pride is deadly — and it is the bane of the Laodicean church. When a person or church says, “I am rich and increased with goods,” that’s nothing more than selfish spiritual pride. And God has something to say about that. He says that we’re really “poor and wretched and blind and naked and don’t know it.” The more spiritually proud you become, the more spiritually poor you are. But those who recognize and admit their sorry spiritual state in life, who know they can be saved only by the grace of Christ, have an advantage in their humility. Jesus promises them, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the classic Christ’s Object Lessons, by Ellen White, we learn “The evil that led to Peter’s fall and that shut out the Pharisee from communion with God is proving the ruin of thousands today. There is nothing so offensive to God or so dangerous to the human soul as pride and self-sufficiency. Of all sins it is the most hopeless, the most incurable” (p. 154).

That’s why Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers” (Mark 12:38 – 40). These men, says Jesus, will receive even greater condemnation because of their unchecked pride.

Are you encumbered with spiritual pride? Are you proud of your knowledge of Bible doctrines? Do you go to church mocking those who don’t go the same day as you? Be warned of the spirit of your heart and the reasons why you do religious things. Pride is the seed that Satan planted to get Jesus nailed to the cross. In Mark 15, we’re told, “Pilate answered them [the Jewish leadership], saying, ‘Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy” (vs. 9, 10 NKJV). It offended their pride that Jesus threatened their prominence among the people, so they killed Him.

The Power of Humility

We’ve examined the destructive power of pride in the life of great kings and God’s people. Let’s conclude this study with a little lesson on the restorative power of choosing humility.

The Bible tells us over and over that God wants humble hearts in His people. It teaches, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8, emphasis added).

Pride is a compass needle that always points to self. But we can choose to resist that natural tendency. Through God’s Spirit, we can choose to be humble. The Bible doesn’t say we should ask God to humble us; instead, we are repeatedly invited to humble ourselves (2 Chronicles 7:14). God can certainly find ways of bringing you back down to earth, and He will because He loves you. But that doesn’t mean you will humble yourself: Plague after plague fell upon Pharaoh and his people, but the selfish leader would not humble himself to save anyone, even his own son.

I hope to live and reign with Christ someday, but that’s never going to happen unless I choose to embrace humility now, like Moses chose when he was alive. It is said about this unique prophet, “The man Moses was very meek, above all the men who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

That’s quite extraordinary considering he had the opportunity to live in the palaces of Egypt. Moses could have been a proud king. He could have had the whole world bowing down before him; he could have been looking upon the pyramids when they were still glistening with gold in the sun. Yet he humbly walked away from it because he wanted to serve God.

Guess where he is now? He’s in the presence of Christ, one of the select few already living in heaven. That’s better than being an embalmed pharaoh surrounded by dusty artifacts. And it’s all because Moses humbled himself so that the Lord could lift him up. We need to realize our true status if God is going to transform us from a worm to a butterfly.

Be Like Christ
The contrasting examples of Pharaoh’s pride and Moses’ meekness are a symbol of Lucifer and Jesus. And each one of us must choose to imitate the traits of one or the other. So here is a final unfailing principle you should know: God most exalts those who are most humble and humbles those who are most proud.

Who is going to receive the greatest humiliation on judgment day? Satan, because he wants to be God. He exalted himself more than any other being in creation; therefore, he is going to be humbled more than any other. He who walked next to the Almighty among glistening precious gems is going to be thrown into the lake of fire. It is the biggest demotion in history. He wanted to go from creation to creator; he’s going to experience the opposite.

Who humbled himself the most? Jesus, because He stepped down from His heavenly throne into the pit of humiliation and death out of love for His creation. Jesus was the Creator becoming the creation. Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death. … Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:8, 9).

These primary characters of Jesus and of Lucifer are at war within us all. Never are you more like the devil than when you are proud. Never are you more like Jesus than when you’re humble, because that was one of the greatest demonstrations of His character on the cross. We each are going to copy one of these two models in our lives. For your sake and for the sake of God’s kingdom, choose humility today and ask God to help you.


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