Pride, Deuteronomy 8-9

Let’s turn to Deuteronomy 8.  I noticed some things Moses said in chapter 8 and 9 that I especially need to hear and I think that most American Christians especially need to hear.

The book of Deuteronomy is mainly 3 sermons and a song and a blessing that Moses delivered to the people of Israel camped on the east side of the Jordan River, just before he died and they crossed over the Jordan to enter the land that God promised to give them.  Deuteronomy is basically Moses’ farewell speeches to these people that he has lead out of Egypt and lead in the wilderness for the last 40 years.  These speeches have the emotion and love and concern and seriousness of a father speaking to his children, knowing that it’s the last time in this life that he will ever be able to speak to them.  The one main message that comes out clearly over and over again in Moses’ speeches and that he words in many different ways, is that if they want it to go well with them and their children, if they want to be blessed and not cursed, then they absolutely must trust, fear, and love God with all their hearts and be careful to obey all His commands.  Moses’ speeches are reaffirming and substantiating that truth and explaining what’s involved in loving and obeying God and how to make sure that they do that and that their children do that as well.

In Deuteronomy 8 and 9, in the midst of Moses’ 2nd speech, Moses warns them about a likely problem that will arise in their hearts when they’re settled and comfortable in the land of Canaan, a heart problem that commonly arises when people are blessed and prosperous, and a heart problem that Moses knows will destroy their relationship with God.

When We Are Very Susceptible to Pride

We live in a land that fits the description Moses gives in 8:7.  We live in a good land, a land with brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barely, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey [or at least all that’s available to us at our many grocery stores], a land where we eat food without scarcity, in which we lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper [or at least whatever building materials we want, they’re available to us].  It’s a land where we eat and are satisfied and build good houses for ourselves and our possessions are many.  And on top of that, we in churches believe we have a friendship with God.  We have His forgiveness and favor and are even considered His children, and we are heirs of eternal life, and we have blessings that most do not have.  Moses knew that living in such a good land and becoming rich and prosperous and blessed of God, a circumstance that the Israelites were soon going to enjoy when they conquered Canaan, is a circumstance that brings with it a great spiritual danger.  In 8:12-14 he says here’s what will likely happen, “when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  There’s a great danger of pride when you’ve been very blessed.  In 8:17 he says, “You may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’“  Do you ever think that?  “Look at all that I’ve achieved, because I’m strong and clever and a hard worker and a go-getter.  This testifies to my greatness.”  Here’s another thing Moses warns them about saying.  9:4, “Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land.’“  Do you ever think that?  “I have this, because I deserve it, because of my righteousness, because I’m worthy of it.”

President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 observed, in the general American population, the sort of thing that Moses was warning the Israelites to watch out for when they were settled in Canaan.  And I think these words of old honest Abe would be all the more fitting today, because I think America has only digressed spiritually from his day.  Lincoln said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown.  But we have forgotten God.  We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

The Bible often repeats this warning we see in Deuteronomy 8-9, that whenever people have good things, whether it’s wealth or success or status or fame or knowledge or beauty or strength or talent or even salvation, there’s a big danger of pride.

Daniel 4 tells us about old king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who had so much success in his military campaigns that he’d become the most powerful man in the world.  It says (5:19) that his dominion was to the ends of the earth and all the peoples, nations, and men of every language feared and trembled before him.  And all that success convinced him that he was greater and better than everybody else.  In Daniel 4:30, he walked out on the roof of his palace and said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?

II Chronicles 26 tells us about king Uzziah of Judah who started off as king at age 16.  It says he sought the Lord and did right in the sight of the LORD.  And the LORD prospered him.  He went to war with the Philistines and the Arabians and others, and had great military successes against them.  His fame spread to all the surrounding nations.  He built up the land of Judah with fortified towers, and built a massive well trained, well equipped military.  The economy was flourishing under his reign.  But then II Chronicles 26:16 says, “But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God, for he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.”  His strength and success and prosperity convinced him that he was so awesome and important that God’s laws didn’t so much apply to him as they applied to other people.  He thought he could enter the holy place of the temple and offer incense in there even though God had said only the priests are permitted to do that.

I Timothy 6:17, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited…”  “Tell the rich people in your congregation, Timothy, that they must be very careful not to think that they are superior or more worthy or more important because they have wealth.”

I Timothy 3:6, in giving the qualifications for elders in the church, Paul says you must not appoint a new convert as an elder in the church.  Why not?  He says, “so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.”  Rising quickly to a position over others, to a position of honor, is another circumstance in which it would be very easy to think too highly of yourself.

I Corinthians 8:1, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.”  Or at least, very often, knowledge makes arrogant.  For some reason when we know stuff that others do not know we tend to feel superior to them.

II Corinthians 12:7 Paul said, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations [Paul talking about how the Lord showed things to him that were not shown to other people, how he was even caught to the third heaven and to paradise and heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak.  Paul was given insight and knowledge into spiritual things like no other.  And he says], for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!”  See, whenever we’re blessed with good things, if we have knowledge or talent or wealth or anything like that, there’s a great danger of pride.  So God let Satan afflict Paul with this problem he calls a thorn in the flesh, whatever it was, to keep him humble.

Well, I know that some of us have high paying jobs.  Some of us drive pretty nice cars.  Some of us have a lot of property and our own business and people underneath us in the work place.  I know that there is a lot of talent among us, musical talent, woodworking talents, artistic talents.  Some of you young people I know have great athletic strength and skill and endurance.  We have a lot of teaching talent here.  And we have some very educated people here, some even with degrees in theology, or something Bible related.  And we also believe that we have friendship with God.  I think if Moses were here today he would say “Be very, very careful that you don’t become proud because of what you have or what you can do or what you know or who you are.”

What’s so wrong with pride?

What’s wrong with thinking you’re really something and “My power and the strength of my hand and my cleverness achieved this” or “It’s because of my righteousness and my worthiness”?  Well, there are several things wrong with pride.

In Isaiah 42:8 God says, “I will not give My glory to another…”  Seems to me that pride is doing just that, isn’t it?  It’s giving God’s glory to another, to yourself.  It’s giving self-credit where God deserves the credit.  That’s one thing wrong with pride.

But also in Deuteronomy 8-9 Moses warns the people of Israel about pride because he knows if they let pride arise in their hearts it will push love and reverence and devotion to God out of their hearts.  He knows that if they think they’re self-sufficient and that they can take care of themselves, they won’t feel the need to seek God’s favor and blessing.  And if they think that they’re already plenty righteous and worthy how they are, they won’t pay careful attention to God’s word to see where their lives are and if they’re out of harmony with His will and to see where they need to make adjustments.  Pride destroys devotion to God.

Pride also destroys the character that God calls us to.  Pride and selfishness go hand in hand, because you’re seeing self as extremely important and deserving.  Prideful people are not servants.  They are not givers.  Prideful people are not those to let others have the best seat and control the remote and have the last piece of pie.  A prideful person walks into a room of people with the mindset, “Well, here I am.  Notice me.  Let’s talk about me.  Let me impress you with me.”  A humble person walks into the room and says, “Ah, there you are.  Let’s talk about you.  How are things going?  How can I help you?”… as Christ would.  Pride is behind greed and jealousy, because you think you should have more or you should have what they have.  Pride is behind getting angry when you are not acknowledged or when you’re not invited to a get-together someone is having or when you don’t win the board game, because you feel that you deserve to be respected and served over others.  And since it causes a lot of anger, it will also cause strife in your life.  So pride destroys the character God calls us to.

Pride also destroys your prayer life, because you don’t so much sense your need for God.

And I’ve noticed that pride also causes a lot of stupidity.  It’s why us men won’t ask for directions or read instruction booklets, even though we have no idea where we are or how to build the thing, and we waste hours driving in circles or tearing apart stuff that we just put together.  It causes some people to talk with confidence and make bold assertions and even argue about matters they’ve never studied or don’t have any experience with.  It causes some people to refuse to admit that they’re in the wrong even when it’s obvious to everyone else that they’re in the wrong.

So for many reasons, and as the Scriptures say very often, God is opposed to the proud, and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled.

The Antidote for Pride that Moses Prescribed

The antidote for pride that Moses prescribed for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8-9 was that of understanding and never forgetting certain realities that God taught them throughout their last 40 years in the wilderness.  Let’s notice 3 realities that Moses pleads with the Israelites to understand and never forget.  And these realities I think are just the same for you and me.

Number 1, in 8:3, which is actually 2 things…

Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”

There are 2 truths in that statement.  One is that all that sustains your life has proceeded from the mouth of the Lord.  All the food and water and air and clothing and shelter and medication and all that you been living on all your life is all stuff that God has spoken into being and into your life.  You owe every day you’ve lived to God’s kindness to you.  As Paul said “He gives to all people life and breath and all things”  and “in Him we live and move and have our very being” (Acts 17:25,28).  We live by what proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.

The second point that is made here with the first part of that statement, “Man does not live by bread alone,” is that bread is not the only means by which God can sustain us.  And I think bread is just standing for the natural normal means by which our lives are sustained.  And it’s saying, God doesn’t have to use the normal natural means to sustain you.  He can do it any way He wants to.  That’s why when Jesus had gone 40 days and 40 nights without food in the wilderness, He didn’t have to do as Satan suggested and misuse the miraculous power He’d been given to turn stones into bread for Himself.  He said, “Satan, man does not live by bread alone.”  In other words, “I don’t have to have bread to live.  God can sustain Me any way He wants.”  God could sustain us on just air if He wanted to, couldn’t He?  God sustains us and He can do it no matter how bleak our circumstances appear.

Moses says to Israel, “God taught you this in the wilderness when He brought you into the middle of nowhere where no food was available and you thought you were going to die of hunger and then all of the sudden God fed you that stuff you’d never seen or heard of before.  You even named it “manna,” which in Hebrew means “What is it?”  And He led you where there was no water and you thought you were going die of thirst and then He brought you water out of a rock of flint.  And He showed that He was even in control of the condition of your clothing and your sandals.  For 40 years your clothing and your sandals did not wear out.  God is in control of every bit of His world.  God is why we live every day.

Here’s another reality they had to know and never forget.

Not only is just daily survival given by God, but everything in addition, all wealth, prosperity, success, strength, everything else, is also given by God.

God is not only sovereign over who lives and dies, but also over who has and who doesn’t.

8:10, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.”  8:18, “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth…”  9:1, “Hear, O Israel!  You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, great cities fortified to heaven, 2 a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ [In other words there is no way you could take them on your own.] 3 Know therefore today that it is the Lord your God who is crossing over [that is over the Jordan] before you as a consuming fire.  He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the Lord has spoken to you.”  Moses wanted them to understand that all they have and all they can do is because of God and not them.

And that’s not a truth just for the ancient Israelites, is it?  Paul asked the Corinthian Christians in I Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?  [It was a rhetorical question.  He was just reminding them: all that you have, your wealth, your talents, your knowledge, your brains, your bodies, your energy, the circumstances you’ve been through and the people in your lives that have helped to mold you into who you are, all that you have received, God has given it to you.  And then Paul asked them,] And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”  You only have a right to boast about what you have if you actually achieved or produced it on your own.  But everything has been given to us.  It all has proceeded forth from the mouth of the Lord into being and into our lives.

I love the story of how God taught this to king Nebuchadnezzar as he stood on the roof of his palace and said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?,”  while he was still speaking, a voice came from heaven, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field.  You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time [or years] will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.”  And immediately Nebuchadnezzar was literally driven away from mankind.  He was made insane, unable to string coherent thoughts together any more.  He lived out in the wilderness.  He ate grass like cattle.  His body was drenched with the dew of heaven every morning.  His hair grew long, and his finger nails and toe nails grew long, until the seven periods had passed.  And then God restored his sanity.  And he said, “I get it now.  All that I was and all that I had was not because of me.  It was because of God.  God rules the kingdoms of men and the circumstances of our lives.”  And then God restored him to his throne and gave him everything back (Dan 4:31-36).  I just hope God doesn’t have to resort to measures like that to help me see that it’s all God’s doing, in whatever I might be better at than others, whatever I have, and whatever I’ve achieved.

One more reality that Moses wanted them to hang on to while in the promised land was that…

It is not because of your righteousness that you have.

9:4-7, “Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you.  It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.  Remember, do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.”  And then in the whole rest of chapter 9 Moses reminds them of how unrighteous they have been since the day God brought them out of Egypt.  Moses wants them to know that they do not deserve this land.  And not only that, but they don’t deserve to even be alive.  Moses reminds them of the occasion when he was up on Mt. Sinai receiving instructions from God for them and down below they made a golden calf and worshiped it when just 40 days earlier they made a covenant with God sealed with blood in which they promised to be loyal to God and obey His commands including not making any images for worship.  And 40 days later they did the very thing they promised not to do.  And Moses reminds them that God was going to wipe them off the face of the earth.  God said, “Moses, I’ve had it with these people.  I’m going to destroy them and make you into a great nation and bring your descendants into the promised land.”  But because Moses interceded on their behalf, God spared them.  But had he done that, they wouldn’t be alive.  So they don’t deserve to live, let alone this good land.  Well, certainly that would be very humbling to understand, “I’m unworthy of the air I breathe.”

But that was them.  What about us?  What do we deserve?  McDonald’s says, “You deserve a break today.”  Do you really?  Mercedes Benz used to say, “You owe it to yourself to buy a Mercedes Benz.”  Do you really?  Do you deserve one of those?  Cover Girl makeup company says that you’re supposed to buy their products, “Because you’re worth it.”  Are you really?  Let’s read some verses from Isaiah 53 about Christ who came for us.  Isaiah 53:5, “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.”  And down in verse 8, “He was cut off out of the land of the living For our transgression to whom the stroke was due“.  What does that say about what you and I deserve?  It says we don’t deserve to be here in the land of the living.  We did nothing to deserve to be here in the first place.  God didn’t have to create us.  But then we’ve been so ungrateful and disobedient to the God who has given us life and breath and all things.  We don’t deserve to live, let alone to be entertained, to be acknowledged, to be praised or served or to have money and nice cars and nice homes and good food and all the luxuries and abundance God has given us.

It’s interesting in Deuteronomy 8-9 how many times Moses says, “Remember” and “Do not forget”.  8:2, “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you…”  8:11, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God…”  8:18, “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth…”  9:7, “Remember, do not forget…

Let us never forget that all that we are and all that we have, we have received, and we are unworthy of every bit of it.  To God be all glory and praise!  Amen?  Amen.

– James Williams

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