One of the Bible’s most famous proverbs is Prov 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” It is obviously a warning and is pretty straightforward. Pride can lead to disastrous results.
There is a graphic illustration of this in 2 Kgs 14:1-22. Amaziah, a king of the Jews in the nation of Judah, started his reign in a relatively positive way. It is said that “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” even if he was not wholeheartedly devoted to pleasing Him (2 Chron 25:2). An example of his obedience is given. Unlike many rulers of the day, he did not kill the children of those who had murdered his father. This was in accordance with the Law of Moses (Deut 24:16). God blessed him for his obedience by giving him victory over Edom, an enemy to the south of Judah.
That is when pride came into play. Amaziah became arrogant after his military success. In addition, he began to worship the idols of his enemies, showing that he had forgotten that his victory was the result of God’s blessing. This pride then caused him to do something else foolish.
He challenged his Jewish brothers to the north, in Israel, to battle. Amaziah thought that since he was able to defeat Edom because of his military expertise, he could do the same to Israel.
The king of Israel told him not to get a big head. He advised Amaziah to realize that Israel was like a strong cedar tree, while Judah was like a thistle bush. Picking on Israel was not the same as picking on Edom. Israel had a much stronger army.
But Amaziah’s pride would not allow him to think rationally. When he was told that he was a thistle bush, that made matters worse. He went to war with Israel.
The writer of Proverbs nailed it. Judah suffered defeat, Amaziah was taken prisoner, a portion of the wall of Jerusalem was torn down, treasures in the temple were looted, and important men were taken as hostages. It was a humiliating loss.
Later, when Amaziah was allowed to return home, some conspirators murdered him. They did so because he had turned away from the Lord and because of his defeat at the hands of Israel (2 Chron 25:27).
It was quite the turn of events. God had given him victory in the south. Soon, however, his pride resulted in–to quote the wording of Proverbs–“destruction.”
It is not too difficult to see that Amaziah is an example and a warning for us. While the believer must decide to follow Christ in discipleship and walk in obedience to what the Lord says (Mark 8:34), we must always remember that any fruit we produce, and any success we experience in the Christian life, are because of Christ’s power in us (John 15:5; Gal 2:20).
Of course, eternal life cannot be lost. But at the Judgment Seat of Christ the believer can suffer great loss with regard to eternal rewards. The believer can encounter destruction in this life as well, through the various forms by which we can be disciplined by the Lord. Pride can cause these consequences.
The NT often speaks of the danger of pride. It extols us to walk humbly before God and others (Luke 14:11; 1 John 2:16). How easy it is for the believer who is gifted in a particular area, who has an advanced degree in theology, who has a talent that impresses others, or who is financially successful, to fall into the trap of pride. When we do, a type of spiritual darkness falls over us. We convince ourselves that we are doing great things because of our own abilities.
If we were to find ourselves in that condition, it’s not hard to see how we could be like Amaziah. That was the situation he was in. Just as the Lord disciplined him, He would need to discipline us. We could expect to experience some kind of humiliation and loss in order to teach us humility and reliance upon the Lord.
Amaziah teaches us that lesson so that we don’t have to learn it through personal experience. Through Christ, the believer can do great things. But may we always remember that we are what we are by the grace of God, and that, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31).