Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs – Part 5: The Proud Man

All sin is abhorrent to the mind of God, and totally foreign to the divine nature. In view of this, it would seem perfectly reasonable to ask why is it that the sin of pride in particular calls forth such censure on a number of occasions in the word of God?

For example, in Proverbs chapter 6 verses 16 to 19, the wise man highlights a number of sinful actions, which we are assured ‘the Lord hates’. The expression ‘six things … yea seven’ would suggest that the list is not exhaustive, but in prominent first place is ‘a proud look’. In chapter 16 verse 5, the proud man is condemned as ‘an abomination to the Lord’ and in the New Testament both James, in chapter 4 verse 6, and Peter, in his first Epistle chapter 5 verse 5, quoting from the Septuagint rendering of Proverbs chapter 3 verse 34, remind us that ‘God resisteth (stands against, to oppose) the proud’.

Could it be that each manifestation of pride recalls that occasion when Lucifer, son of the morning, declared, ‘I will ascend into heaven … I will be like the most High’, Isa. 14. 12-15? Or when sin entered the world through the desire of our first parents to ‘be as God’? If that is so, we can readily understand why a holy God is so opposed to every manifestation of pride in the heart of man; pride is a direct challenge to the sovereignty of God.

It was pride in Cain’s heart, when he saw that Abel’s offering was accepted and his own rejected, that led to the first murder, Gen. 4. 8. Pride was behind the rebellion of Korah, Num. 16. 3; the reason for the rejection of Saul, 1 Sam. 15. 17, and the psychotic behaviour of Haman, Esther 5-6. Pride brought Nebuchadnezzar low, Dan. 4. 30, and Herod even lower, Acts 12. 23! It was the proud leaders of the Israel who despised ‘the carpenter’s son’, who looked down on ‘the Nazarene’, who, in their hearts, were saying like the men in the parable, ‘we will not have this man to reign over us’, Luke 19. 14.

If we are honest, we would all have to admit to owning some element of pride. It is an endemic trait of the old nature. The book of Proverbs, however, leaves us in no doubt that pride is not something to be treated lightly, or dismissed as irrelevant. The man with a proud look is closely linked with a number of actions, all of which are designed to hurt others, Prov. 6. 17-19. His look is one of disdain; he considers himself superior. He has no intention of ‘looking on the things of others’, save only to compare them unfavourably with his own things. He is the Pharisee of Luke chapter 18 verse 11. His prayer will not be heard. God will resist him.

The principle of sowing and reaping is woven throughout the book of Proverbs. If we follow the man with a proud look in chapter 6, he travels no further than chapter 11 verse 2, before coming to shame (lit. to be held in contempt). What he thought of others is now visited upon his own head! In chapter 13 verse 10, the wise man traces the background of strife or contention. He finds that it has its roots in pride. This can easily be illustrated by a number of scriptures, e.g., Judg. 12. 1-4; Luke 22. 24. Remember also those disagreements between brethren and sisters which we considered to be just a clash of personalities; the underlying problem is invariably pride!

By the time we come to chapter 15 verse 25, we have followed the proud man to his house. On the way, we passed by the house of the righteous man in verse 6, an altogether different place. The ‘houses’ in the book of Proverbs are a fruitful study for the interested believer; they reflect the character of the occupants and have lessons for us of practical value. The proud man is no exception. We notice, however, that whatever he has managed to make of his house, and doubtless he is proud of it, he is not content. We see him casting a covetous eye toward his neighbour’s property. She is a widow and he considers her an easy target, not unlike the scribes in Luke’s Gospel ‘which devour widows’ houses’. However, he reckons without the One whose eye is on the widow: He will protect her borders, He will not allow the proud man’s ambitions to trouble her. At the same time, He ‘will destroy the house of the proud’, 15. 25.

We are reminded in the prophecy of Obadiah of the pride of Edom. They thought themselves invulnerable. They felt secure in their own strength. How foolish! A perfect illustration of Proverbs chapter 16 verse 18 that ‘pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall’. Their folly was that they looked down upon the Lord’s people, and even stretched out their hand against them, Obad. vv. 12, 13. It is well to remember that none can touch the believer, or lay hands with malicious intent on anything that belongs to the Lord’s people, without leaving themselves open to dreadful retribution.

Another important lesson that we learn from this character is that pride is a disease of the heart, e.g., 16. 5; 28. 25. It is not always evident to others that we may be harbouring pride. Eventually, however, it will manifest itself, possibly just in a look, e.g., 6. 17; 21. 4. An expression on the face which speaks volumes without a word being spoken. An attitude, a gesture that clearly says, ‘I consider myself to be better than you’; there is nothing Christ-like about such behaviour. The Lord Jesus is the complete antithesis of all aspects of pride. The words of Philippians chapter 2 verses 5 to 11, which we love so much, show us One who voluntarily humbled Himself, something totally foreign to the natural heart of man. How clearly we see that He was never a partaker in Adam’s fall. He was not, as the hymnwriter would have us believe, ‘a second Adam’, Cain was that! The Lord Jesus was ‘the second man, the Lord from heaven’, 1 Cor. 15. 47, a man of a different order.

How beautiful it is to follow the steps of the Lord Jesus through the Gospels. To see a true man in whom was no vestige of pride. He was never ashamed of His lowly upbringing in Nazareth, He was content with homespun garments and with the company of those whom others considered unlearned and ignorant. He appreciated the suppers at Bethany; He was grateful for those unnamed ones who would lend Him a donkey or a room prepared for the Passover. He delighted to receive sinners and eat with them; He would take a basin of water and a towel to wash the disciples’ feet in true humility (unlike the annual Romish charade at Canterbury designed to exploit publicity to the full).

Another evidence of pride in the heart is any form of boasting. On a number of occasions, we hear the proud man, as he insists on telling us just how much better he is than others, or what he can do that we cannot, e.g., 25. 14; 27. 1. Few things are more offensive to the ear than a diatribe of boastful claims. How much more acceptable to ‘let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth’, 27. 2, if, indeed, any praise is due!

As believers, we should ever remember the question posed to the proud Corinthians, ‘What hast thou that thou didst not receive?’, 1 Cor. 4. 7. Everything we have, anything we have achieved, all our hopes for the future, we owe to Him! Paul, the once proud Pharisee, grasped the truth of this in Philippians chapter 3 verses 4 to 7. Those things that he once held dear and in which he boasted, he now counted as worthless when compared with the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord. Again, in Galatians chapter 6 verse 14, his only glorying was in the cross, that which separated him from a proud and boastful world.

As we leave the proud man, we cannot but notice that as he began in chapter 6 verse 17, so he ends in chapter 30 verse 13. The intervening warnings and instruction have been ignored. The proud look is still there, but now it has affected a whole generation! Sadly, we see all around us a spirit of independence, rejection of the word of God, promotion of man and his ‘achievements’. May we make it our ambition to always render due thanks and appreciation for all things to our God and Saviour, and to make it our prayer that we may be preserved from a proud spirit.

‘Naught have I gotten
but what I received,
Grace hath bestowed it
since I have believed.
Boasting excluded, pride I abase,
I’m only a sinner saved by grace’.