Is Pride Always Condemned in the Bible? (Part 2)
In the first part of this two-part series, we examined human “pride” which is opposed to God and which exalts oneself above God and His Law and other human beings. This kind of pride can also be described as a boasting and a wrong feeling of self-confidence and of being inflated with self-conceit. David brought it to the point when he remarked that such a proud person is not concerned about and does not seek God so that, consequently, he persecutes the poor.
We pointed out that in the Old Testament, the Hebrew words “gaon,” “gavah” and “geuth” are rendered with “pride” in English translations, when referring to wrong and ungodly human pride. At the end of part 1, we asked the question whether the concept of “pride” could also be applied in a right and godly way.
This might be a puzzling question, as we are used to thinking of pride in strictly human negative terms. But would it be beyond imagination that God might feel proud about His accomplishments, and that God’s disciples might feel proud about abilities which God gave them–not to glorify themselves, but to glorify God? Would it be wrong to have godly pride and satisfaction in God’s marvelous works? Would it be ungodly to find satisfaction and pride in one’s godly work, or to tell our children when they have accomplished something worthwhile after a long and arduous struggle, “I am proud of you”? Would it be ungodly to tell parents that they can be proud of their righteous and upright children?
It is a common theme throughout the Bible that Satan uses a godly concept and perverts it into something which is ungodly. We could think of numerous examples, including righteous godly anger and the wrong kind of human anger; godly righteousness and human self-righteousness; godly jealousy and wrong human jealousy; godly desires and wrong human desires; just to name a few. Could something similar be applicable when examining the concept of “pride”?
The answer to this puzzling question may become clearer when realizing the original meaning of the Hebrew words, which, as we discussed in the first part, are translated with “pride” in English Bibles. However, these words have additional meanings as well.
The Hebrew word “gaon” can also mean “excellency” or “majesty” (Strong’s Concordance of the Bible, #1347). This Hebrew word is applied to human pride, as we saw, but it can also apply to God in many instances.
We read in Exodus 15:7: “And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth Your wrath; It consumed them like stubble.”
Also, we read in Job 37:1-5 about God’s greatness or majesty and His marvelous works:
“At this also my heart trembles, And leaps from its place. Hear attentively the thunder of His voice, And the rumbling that comes from His mouth. He sends it forth under the whole heaven, His lightning to the ends of the earth. After it a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice, And He does not restrain them when His voice is heard. God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend.”
Micah 5:2-5 speaks of Jesus Christ and especially His coming worldwide rule on and over this earth. It states the following:
“‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting… And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; And they shall abide, For now He shall be great To the ends of the earth; And this One shall be peace.”
The book of Isaiah contains many references to and descriptions of God’s “majesty”.
In Isaiah 24:4-6, 14-15, we read about the majestic God’s punishment of haughty and disobedient people who are cursed because they transgress God’s Law:
“The earth mourns and fades away, The world languishes and fades away; The haughty people of the earth languish. The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, Because they have transgressed the laws, Changed the ordinance, Broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, And those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, And few men are left…They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing; For the majesty of the LORD They shall cry aloud from the sea. Therefore glorify the LORD in the dawning light, The name of the LORD God of Israel in the coastlands of the sea.”
As we saw in the first part, another Hebrew word which is used in English translations to describe ungodly human pride is “geuth.” According to Strong’s #1348, it also includes the meaning of “excellent things” and “majesty.”
In Psalm 93:1, 3-4, the contrast is beautifully described between the “proud” and “noisy” floods and the much more powerful majestic God:
“The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty; The LORD is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength…The floods have lifted up, O LORD, The floods have lifted up their voice; The floods lift up their waves. The LORD on high is mightier Than the noise of many waters, Than the mighty waves of the sea…”
A third Hebrew word, which we discussed in the first part and which has been translated as “pride” in reference to man’s ungodly haughtiness, is “gaavah.” This word has also the meaning of “excellency,” “majesty” or “ornament” (Strong’s, #1346). It is translated in Isaiah 13:3 as God’s “exaltation” in which man can rejoice.
We read in Psalm 68:32-35:
“Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth; Oh, sing praises to the LORD, Selah. To Him who rides on the heaven of heavens, which were of old! Indeed, He sends out His voice, a mighty voice. Ascribe strength to God; His excellence is over Israel, And His strength is in the clouds. O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places. The God of Israel is He who gives strength and power to His people. Blessed be God!”
We read in Isaiah 26:9-11, 21: “… when Your judgments are in the earth, The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. Let grace be shown to the wicked, Yet he will not learn righteousness; In the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly, And will not behold the majesty of the LORD. LORD, when Your hand is lifted up, they will not see… behold, the LORD comes out of His place To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity…”
Isaiah 2:9-21 uses two of the three Hebrew words. It describes how the majestic and exalted God will deal with ungodly people who are proud of their ungodliness:
“And each man humbles himself [before an idol]; Therefore do not forgive them. Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust, From the terror of the LORD And the glory of His majesty. The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, The haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the LORD of hosts Shall come upon everything proud and lofty, Upon everything lifted up–And it shall be brought low–Upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up, And upon all the oaks of Bashan; Upon all the high mountains, And upon all the hills that are lifted up; Upon every high tower, And upon every fortified wall… The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, And the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; The LORD alone will be exalted in that day… They shall go into the holes of the rocks, And into the caves of the earth, From the terror of the LORD And the glory of His majesty, When He arises to shake the earth mightily… [They will] go into the clefts of the rocks, And into the crags of the rugged rocks, From the terror of the LORD And the glory of His majesty, When He arises to shake the earth mightily.”
The Hebrew word for “majesty” is “gaon.” The Hebrew word for “haughtiness” is “gaavah.” This is remarkable as the word “gaavah” can also describe, as we have seen, God’s majesty. So, in this passage, both concepts are being introduced—man’s ungodly “pride” and God’s righteous and majestic excellency—His unparalleled glory and exaltation.
It is important to realize that the Bible also uses the words describing God’s majesty and excellency in reference to His creation—including man.
We read in Deuteronomy 33:26-29 about Israel—apparently a reference to both the remnant of physical Israel in the Millennium and, even more so, glorified and immortal Christians—spiritual Israelites—in the Kingdom of God:
“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to help you, And in His excellency on the clouds. The eternal God is your refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, And will say, ‘Destroy!’ Then Israel shall dwell in safety, The fountain of Jacob alone, In a land of grain and new wine; His heavens shall also drop dew. Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, The shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! Your enemies shall submit to you, And you shall tread down their high places.”
The Hebrew word for “excellency” is “gaavah,” and the Hebrew word for “majesty” (the Authorized Version says here too, “excellency”) is also “gaavah.” But notice, it is the sword of ISRAEL’S excellency. So God will make man excellent or “proud”… but it is the right and righteous kind of pride which God Himself has for His creation; and man should not deny this fact and reject that kind of appropriate pride for God and His Work.
We read in Psalm 47:1-9:
“Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the LORD Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth… He will choose our inheritance for us, The excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah… Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne… He is greatly exalted.”
Here, the Hebrew word for “excellence” is “gaon.” But God speaks here of the excellence of Jacob—the satisfaction and “pride” which He has for Jacob.
Another and even more revealing thought is expressed in Isaiah 60:15-16, 18-21, speaking about “Zion” at the time of the Millennium and beyond:
“Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, So that no one went through you, I will make you an eternal excellence, A joy of many generations… You shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob… Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, Neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; But you shall call your walls Salvation, And your gates Praise. The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the LORD will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also your people shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified.”
The Hebrew word for “excellence” is “gaon.” God will make “Zion” an eternal excellence; the people will live in righteousness, and God will be glorified. Realizing that the word can also mean “pride,” a picture is being described here of which one can truly be proud; and God will indeed be satisfied with and even be proud of His people.
God had called Israel to give them the feeling of the right kind of pride and praise towards Him and what He accomplishes. But Israel failed miserably. We read in Ezekiel 7:20-21:
“As for the beauty of his ornaments, He set it in majesty; But they made from it The images of their abominations– Their detestable things; Therefore I have made it Like refuse to them. I will give it as plunder Into the hands of strangers, And to the wicked of the earth as spoil; And they shall defile it. I will turn My face from them, And they will defile My secret place; For robbers shall enter it and defile it.”
The Hebrew word for “majesty” is “gaon.” God gave them ornaments for their majesty of which they could have been proud—not in the sense that they had acquired them due to their own strength or that they were worthy of receiving it, but in the sense that they realized that they were God’s people and that in spite of their frailties, God had accepted them. We should have this same kind of pride in the right way since God has called us and has given us the Holy Spirit, so that we can have the urge, zeal and dedication to make God proud of us, in living worthily of our calling. However, Israel became proud in the wrong way—they rejected God’s presents and blessings, treated them without appreciation and even used them for the service and worship of other gods.
And so, as we read earlier in Amos 6:8, God said that He abhorred the pride [“goan”] of Jacob—that human pride opposed to God and His Way of Life. While Jacob should have had a right sense of pride, which was godly, they replaced it with self-centered feelings of haughtiness and inflated self-aggrandizement. But we also read that once Jacob comes to repentance, God will restore Jacob’s excellency or that right kind of pride. We read in Nahum 2:2:
“For the LORD will restore the excellence of Jacob Like the excellence of Israel…” The Hebrew word for “excellence” is “goan.” As God hated the self-centered pride of Jacob, so He will restore the right kind of pride to the people who will live in a godly way so that God can be proud of them, and they can develop an appreciation of the right kind of pride towards God.
God challenged Job to do what He could do. If that were possible, note what would have been the outcome, in Job 40:8-12:
“‘Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, And array yourself with glory and beauty. Disperse the rage of your wrath; Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low; Tread down the wicked in their place.”
The Hebrew word for “majesty” is “gaon.” As God is adorned with majesty, so Job would be, and then he would be able to humble those who are proud in the wrong way. Then Job would be able to have the right kind of pride in his work… not the self-righteous wrong kind of pride in his “innocence” which he was trying to uphold.
God is excellent, majestic, exalted, and what He creates is likewise supposed to be excellent and majestic; except that man has polluted this world and has replaced God’s righteous character traits with satanic counterfeits of unrighteous pride, unrighteous anger, unrighteous desires and unrighteous jealousy. When God had completed the restoration of the earth and the creation of plants, animals and men, He looked at His work and found it to be very good. We can read between the lines and see that He was satisfied with His work and that He was proud of and found pride in His work.
When we realize that God is working in us, we can have the same kind of satisfaction and godly pride… not that we amount to anything on our own, but that God is calling us worthy to obtain His mercy and protection and that He is qualifying us to ultimately inherit eternal life. Everything we have is from God (1 Corinthians 4:7), but we must not belittle what He gave us and treat it as something without value. We should not reject praise, which we might receive for our good deeds, but we should accept such acknowledgement with the consciousness that it is for God’s glory who does His deeds in and through us. We read that people will see our good works and praise and glorify the Father for them (compare Matthew 5:16).
We should not treat whatever talents we have received from God as something which we developed on our own (Deuteronomy 8:11-18); nor should we neglect these talents, but in using them, we glorify God who in turn will be proud of us… and so we should be proud of God and what He does.
True majesty and righteous pride belong to God, but when we forget that, we usurp godly pride, which we should have, and change it into unrighteous and selfish pride, which we must not have. When we do that, then the high and mighty God will humble us until that human pride is eradicated from our lives.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link