Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book 1 Samuel: Little in Your Own Eyes—A Different Kind of Pride
Surely, God hates arrogant narcissism and self-exalting pride. Those who lift themselves up can expect to be cut down by God. Those who think they can rely on their own power will be shown to be weak. Those who glorify themselves will be mired in shame. We see this pattern evident in the story of Scripture. When King Nebuchadnezzar pridefully boasts in his kingdom in Daniel 4, God made to him to be like a beast of the field, out of his mind and humbled. In the book of Acts, Herod is struck down and eaten by worms for not giving the glory to God. Self- exaltation, self-glorification, self-deification, and arrogance are easily detectable and are overtly ugly. Yet, there is a subtle form of pride that is just as foul and just as damaging. Yes, pride manifests most clearly in quests for glory, but pride can also be displayed in false humility and irrational feelings of inadequacy that lead to the shirking of God-given responsibility. We can feel so small and so worthless that we are paralyzed by fear and by a desire to please others. Pride isn’t always thinking much of yourself; often it can mean thinking about yourself much. An intense focus on the self can flow out into deep feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that do not match reality. If we are always so concerned about what others think of us or about our own faults and failings, we will tend to ignore the needs of others and the call that God has for us because we think we will never be good enough.
One of the clearest examples of the dangers of this form of pride come in the book of 1 Samuel through the character of King Saul. Saul might exist in our imaginations as the maniacal and murderous King of Israel corrupted by power, desperately clinging to his throne as he tries to kill his servant David. It would be simple enough to say that Saul’s unhinged rage and downfall was motivated by pure lust for power and self-aggrandizing arrogance. Yet, the real story is much more nuanced and tragic.
In 1 Samuel 8, the people Israel reject God and ask for a king like all the other nations. After warnings from the mouth of the prophet Samuel about this dangerous desire, God grants Israel’s request for a king. When we are introduced to God’s choice for this role (Saul) in 1 Samuel 9, he is portrayed as likeable and qualified prospect for the throne. He is wealthy, handsome, taller than any of the people, respectful to his servants, and seems to be of honorable character. He is everything that Israel could have wanted in a great military leader and champion. When the prophet Samuel reveals to Saul that he is the future king of the nation, Saul responds with seemingly admirable humility:
“Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way?” (1 Samuel 9:21).
Yet, it is the feeling of inadequacy, which is hinted at here, that will be part of the root of his eventual downfall. Although Saul’s modesty gives hope for his reign, this quality also possesses a darker side and signals a glaring weakness in Saul’s character. This trait manifests itself as insecurity and self-doubt as Saul, the tallest man in Israel, is humorously found hiding among the baggage when chosen to be king (10:22). Rather than accepting his divine task and stepping up, he is cowardly and hiding away. Throughout his rule, this will result in a dangerous deference to the will of the people rather than a commitment to obedience to God.
1 Samuel 13-15 chronicles several episodes in the reign of Saul that lead to God’s rejection of Saul as king, and each is connected to Saul’s desire to please the people. For example, as the Israelites are about to enter battle against the Philistines, Saul eagerly awaits
Samuel to come and make a sacrifice the Lord. Saul seems to have intention of being obedient to procedure in this regard, but when Samuel does not arrive by the appointed time, Saul makes the sacrifice himself. When he is confronted by Samuel about this grave error, he knows it was wrong because he admits he “forced” himself to do it (13:12), but he excuses it because the “people were scattering” (13:11). In 1 Samuel 15, God commands him to utterly destroy the Amalekites, but they spare the king and some of the livestock. When he is again confronted by Samuel for this sin, Saul points to the actions of the people and places the blame on them (15:15). The LORD, through Samuel, responds in a way that highlights the disappointing nature of Saul’s leadership and shows that it is rooted in the king’s insecurity:
anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed” (15:17- 18).
God saw and believed in the potential of the king who had hidden among the baggage, so much so that He made him to rule over His people. He gave him responsibility and a mission and equipped him with the resources to accomplish the task. Yet, Saul was so little and insecure in his own eyes and heart that he was never able to see this potential in himself. His lack of trust in God’s commands and in himself caused him to succumb to the will of the nation. He will admit as much in 15:24: “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” Because he is too little in his own eyes, he is never able to trust God’s power and plan to work through him.
“Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?
Aggressive self-doubt, paranoia, and anxiety continue to plague Saul and result in extreme jealousy as David enters the story. After the young David slays Goliath and returns home, the women of Israel sing his praises, proclaiming that “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (18:7). This angers Saul so much that he subsequently attempts his murder David on several occasions. Perhaps this is because Saul sees in David everything he failed to be. Little boy David, with his great trust in God, steps up to the task of defeating the giant Goliath as the tallest warrior in Israel, King Saul, stands by helplessly watching the lowly shepherd boy. Once again, the tall king is too little in his own eyes to face the giant.
While it is normal to sometimes feel inadequate or small, a debilitating self-doubt could be a result of a lack of faith in God to work in us and through us. We are small and frail, but God has empowered his people and given them great responsibility and honor. Each of us has abilities, talents, roles, and opportunities that God expects us to use, however big or small those things might be. Feeling like we are not good enough is no excuse to hide from our God-given mission. Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 25 to this effect. In the story, a master gives varying amounts of money to three servants as he prepares to go on a journey. He gives one five talents, another two, and another one talent. The first two servants multiply the money given them, but the one with the least given to him is paralyzed by fear and hides his share in the ground. When the master returns, the first two are greatly honored and given more, but the third servant is severely punished. If we do not use what God has given us for good, we cannot please God.
We may feel woefully unprepared or inadequate to do what God has commanded of us. We may feel weak and untalented. We may feel worthless. But in Christ, we are greatly valued and treasured by God. Not only that, but we are given power, courage, and strength by God’s
Spirit to do all that God has set out for us. Setting our eyes on him and his adequacy rather than ourselves will remove self-pitying or self-exalting pride. Having a right view of our identity in Christ, who he has made us to be, and how much he loves will prevent us from being too little or too great in our own eyes. Because God has made us strong, we can serve him with joy and passion, without fear that we might not be good enough.