Pride Hunting: Identifying pride in your own life and ridding your life of it.

Proverbs 29:23  One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

by Danny Ehinger

What Is Pride?

Pride. I had a native German for a friend and mentor in the electrical field. We met when he was newly arrived. He spoke very little English and we worked together every day. He understood electrical very well and always carried around a translation dictionary so he could communicate with others on the jobsite. We got along very well and after a bit he made me a deal: if I helped him with English he would help me learn electrical better.

We talked during the day while we worked and at lunch. We were gossiping one day about the way others worked and how we cared about our work while most didn’t seem to. I remember saying, “It is like others do not take pride in their work.” He stopped me there and wanted to know what word I had used. He didn’t understand the word pride. I tried to explain it as he looked it up in his dictionary. When he found it, his reaction was memorable to say the least. “No! No! No! Danny this is no good.” He explained that this was not a good word in German. I tried to explain that there was a positive and negative use of the word in English, but he would not have it. No, he told me, it is no good.

I had never really thought about pride, and his reaction to the word stuck with me. Pride had always been mostly negative for me, I mean the sense of the word. I felt many people were prideful in my family and the phrase, ‘take pride in your work’ never really set well with me. I could not think of a reason why, except that pride seemed so negative. I never saw myself as prideful though. Others had called me arrogant and prideful before, but they just didn’t know the whole story, in my view. It was the way I understood pride that kept me from seeing it for so long.

The clearest way to describe what I understood pride to be is to watch Disney’s animated version of Beauty and the Beast, particularly the scene where Gaston sings his ballad. That has always been what I thought of as pride. Pride meant thinking highly of yourself and overestimating your abilities or knowledge. That was not me; I hated myself. How could I be prideful?

Recognizing My Own Pride

No, I had a different problem. I did not know what my problem was, but I would not even consider pride in my life for many years. I wanted to be free from my personal issues, so I sought the truth as much as I could. I would constantly have problems with other people and pride would come up, but I knew that was not the real issue. I had a hard time dealing with people around me and constantly found myself simply dropping issues because I had no solutions and there were none to be had.

I thought nonstop. Before doing anything I would spend countless hours looking at each experience from every imaginable angle and try and figure out every possible outcome beforehand so that, when I was in the situation, I would be able to do the right thing. I get that this may not be bad behavior for a person who is going to do some big thing, but I did it over everything. Everything I did was thought out.

This kind of worked two ways to make life harder for me and those around me. First, I was never with the people I was with at the time. I was thinking about what was coming up. Then when I got to the situation, I knew exactly what to do and why. Others around me had not spent hours thinking about things, so they didn’t know everything that may happen, and they were experiencing things for the first time. This made our experiences different. I knew what was going to happen and it did, while they had a fresh experience and would want to communicate about it. I had already thought about it making me ready to move on while they felt belittled.

As I said this behavior has its place. It is great if I am planning how to complete a job or a raid to capture Osama Bin Laden. However it is not the best behavior for eating dinner, watching a movie, having sex, going out to eat, playing at the park, or any of the things that make life enjoyable. I was living life before I got there and then, when I was there, I was planning how to get through what was coming. It was exhausting.

I was obviously not living with those around me. The real problem was that I could not see it as a bad thing. I was the one in the know; I was ready. I had already solved the mystery in the movie, and I was right most of the time. When you say something and you’re correct it is not being prideful. It is being accurate. Add self hatred to that and I had absolutely no way to ever see my problem was pride. As a Christian, I was all about seeing my issues and dealing with them, but I was not interested in people who didn’t have everything figured out. (You can imagine how many people I was interested in.) I wanted help and answers, and I couldn’t find them, so I was figuring out the answers myself. I learned a lot, but it didn’t really do anyone any good because I wouldn’t take the time to explain myself. You either got it or you didn’t, and I was moving on to the next thing. See ya!

Then I came to a point where I actually made a mistake. I said something obviously wrong, and this time the people in my life stood up. (I say “this time” because it is likely I had made blatant errors before and people in my life couldn’t or didn’t want to stand up to me.) In the discussion, pride was brought in as the cause of the issue.

At the very same time, I was in a controversy with some others, and in this controversy I was not the offender. It was another. These two events were happening isolated from each other but at the same time. In one I was the problem; in the other it was another person, but the issues were the same. In one I was defending myself; in the other accusing another. I was in earnest working to help the other person see his issues and thinking about them while defending myself. At one of the last meetings before I saw, I was looking at the person I was accusing and asking myself, “Am I looking into the mirror?”

I found myself offering correction and being corrected at the same time. Knowing what I have shared about how I analyze everything, imagine what kind of pickle I was in. I was analyzing how I was right and analyzing why I was wrong at the same time. I think about how amazing God is when I think about the situation that He ordained so that I could have my eyes opened. Talk about a stubborn person. I had to start taking my own advice and analyzing myself. I hated who I was. I know that because I hated it when I saw the things I was doing in others. I just never saw that I was doing the very things I hated.

OK, so I saw my error. Friends labored with me for months and a long week or so over it, and finally I saw it. It was obvious. The error, to me, was not the big news. The big news, as far as I was concerned, was that I could make such an obvious error and not see it or acknowledge it. They kept pointing the error out and I kept talking about everything else but the error. It is embarrassing to think about. It is like having a note put on your back and everyone sees it but you. The only difference is that I was the one who put the note on my own back.

Getting Outside of Myself

Shame aside, I was relieved. Even with all my contemplating of every conceivable angle, I still could not see every possibility, and that brought great relief, because that means that every outcome was NOT dependent upon me. Things could happen and, even when they didn’t go well, it was not because I had the capability to stop them and didn’t. I didn’t even have the capability to fully see every outcome. The world’s problems were not because of me. Whew!

I was relieved for another reason as well. Trusted brothers in Christ told me the issue was pride and gave me a little insight that I didn’t have before. I accepted the rebuke and believed that I had a problem. God opened my eyes and I experienced freedom again from the prison of having to know everything.

I am not sure if it was backsliding (trying to figure everything out again) or not but this led me to thinking over pride. I started to tell everyone in my life that I had an issue with pride and asked them, if they saw it , to point it out to me. I didn’t have the first clue as to what it was. Again, the definition I was working with meant to be puffed up, and that meant Gaston, and I was not that. I had low self esteem.

So I started to attack this thing from every angle. This time, however, I included my family. I felt like this was a big deal, I had never had pride explained to me, nor could I find a very good explanation, yet I knew it was a big problem.

A Working Definition of Pride

Months went by. I cannot recall all of my thoughts, and at the dinner table, while discussing it with my family, we formulated a working definition for pride. By working definition, I mean it was something we could use to start identifying pride in ourselves and each other but not totally settled. Pride was being confident about something that you had not proved so this is the definition we came up with:

“Pride is acting and/or depending on an assumption that could be easily verified.”

It is important to understand the full idea here. It is not prideful to assume. We have to assume many things. We assume that the sun will come up tomorrow. We assume we will be able to walk after a night of sleep. We assume when we post a writing, someone will read it. Life is full of assumptions and we have to assume almost everything to continue to live happily, because it is not in our capabilities to know everything.

It is not prideful to act on assumptions; we do that all the time too. We assume our wife will like flowers. We write letters to people, assuming they care about what we have to say. We stop to see if a person needs help when their car has broken down. We assume people who come to church will drink coffee. We can act on assumptions without being prideful.

The hardest part in the definition is the distinction in the words to “depend” or to “act” on the assumption. What I mean by “acting and/or depending” is that we use the assumption to build upon. I mean we set a foundation upon this assumption and build on that foundation.

Let me illustrate what I mean.

Let’s say I assume my wife will want flowers, so I stop at the store to pick some up. I don’t want to ask her because I want it to be a nice surprise. Not being prideful here. I buy some flowers, her favorite, assuming, again, that she didn’t change her mind since the last time we talked about it. I start to go home and on the way I envision her response, she is going to be so happy, she is going to think I am a good husband and she is going to want to have some alone time latter to thank me.

PRIDE ALERT!!!

See the husband has now built on the assumption, he is now depending upon his original assumption for the rest of his assumptions. The wife is now hopeless unless she can read his mind. He gets home, she just finished with the bills and they have little money. She thinks she is allergic to those flowers now and she just started her period. Needless to say, she is not thrilled about the flowers, and all of his plans have come crashing down. This may be a fight now from what was supposed to be a very kind act.

If the husband had not built on his original assumption he would have come home and gave the gift, listened to the new information from his wife, thrown the flowers out, and went on with the evening. She may have seen his caring heart and, though the situation was a bummer, they now know each other a bit better. I plan to give more examples, but I hope you can see what I mean by ‘acting and/or depending’ on an assumption.

Lastly, what I mean by “easily verified” is that we take an assumption and build upon it when we could, with very little proportionate effort, verify the assumption.

Our world is built upon assumptions and many cannot be verified even if we wanted to. Many things, especially in relationships with others, are easy to verify. For example, you leave for work and though your spouse normally makes your lunch, today there is no lunch for you. You wonder why and decide she is mad at you for something you did. You think that is unfair and you get mad at her for getting mad at you. By the time you get home you have built a case against her, and you let her have it. You fight.

In reality, she just forgot. You could have very easily put off building assumptions upon assumptions until you verified your first assumption. A simple question, “Why didn’t you make my lunch today?” would have allowed you not to worry and fret and fight. Not everything in life is easily verifiable but most relationship issues are. When we choose not to go to the person and simply ask to verify our thoughts and or feelings we are walking in pride.

Pride Hunting

In order for us as a family to help each other see pride we started a game. We called it, “Pride Hunting”. The game worked like this, if you hear someone acting on an assumption that they could easily verify, you shoot them with an imaginary bow and arrow and make the sound of hitting the target. “Swooptttt.” Then the shooter has to explain why he thinks the person is being prideful. He has to show an assumption that is being acted upon. If he cannot, of course, we all get to shoot him. This led to some amazing discoveries. (FYI, we did go through an initial phase of this being fun, then it got a little hurtful and now it is fun again and also more rare as we are all trying not to be prideful.) Here are some examples of what we discovered together.

We discovered pride is not only happening when we are puffed up like Gaston, but rather it was also happening when we got depressed. Mom or dad would offer some form of correction and the child would become sad and sulked. We would ask why they were doing that. The reply was along the lines of, “I feel like you don’t love me,” or something to that effect. We then would shoot them and say, “You’re in pride.” Then we would point out why we said that. They had heard our correction and assumed we gave our correction because, in this case, we didn’t ‘love them’. Then they acted on their assumption (they became sad and sulked) rather than verify it. We then had them ask us about their feelings. “Mom I feel like you don’t love me anymore because of your correction, is that true?”

Mom gets to dispel that idea and replace it with the truth. We see here that self loathing is a result of pride as well.

I struggle with self hatred and depression. Learning from our experiences with the children the next time I became depressed. After I had spent a day in bed and my wife and I were able to talk again, I shared the reasons I fell into depression with my wife, and we spread the situation out and had a long talk about what went on. I brought up all the assumptions I had felt before getting into the pit and found each one was false or just needed some more information. It feels silly as an adult to ask my wife questions about the way I feel. “Honey, when you said this, I think you meant this and this. Is that true?” Rather that verifying the truth I had assumed and allowed my whole world to collapse. What a waste of time and energy. My wife had her things too, and we went through them as well. When we were done, it was like we knew each other better. There was hope.

One of my children was upset with his siblings. He felt like the girls didn’t like him and he was mad at them. We had him ask them. It turned out he was right: they did not like him. His behavior was prideful, however, because he was blaming them for not liking him. They admitted they didn’t like him, and they said why. He was always hitting them or being bossy or changing their games. They had good reason not to like him, but instead of listening to them and working to change, he depended on his right assumption and was angry with them and did more of what they hated. In this case he should have verified his assumption by asking if his feelings were true and then worked to understand how to correct the behavior. This conversation revealed a bundle of pride on everyone’s part.

What we were seeing is that all of our thoughts and feelings need to be verified by asking questions of the people we have the thoughts and feelings about. If we do not verify them, then we certainly shouldn’t build anything upon them.

Let’s look at giving a gift. I talked earlier about when a husband may stop and buy his wife some flowers. The question is how can we give a gift without being prideful? I’m singling out gift-giving because most gifts are acting on an assumption that we do not want to verify because we want it to be a surprise. So how do we pull this off? I think we have to give the gift expecting…..nothing. Even expecting a thank you or a smile of gratitude is building on an assumption and, if that simple assumption of ours is not met, we will be disappointed. I think in order to give gifts freely, without pride, we even need to be ready to have the person we are giving to be disappointed. It is just not fair to assume a person’s response for them. I know I hate that pressure as well.

Another thing that had to go in our home due to the ‘pride hunting’ game was generalizations. We started to realize just how much we generalized, as in “you ALWAYS do that”. Arrows began to fly at the words: ALWAYS, EVERYTIME, EVERYONE, CONSTANTLY, NEVER because they were easy pickings. Those words need qualifiers and we soon learned we needed to stop using them and be more accurate when we exposed things others do that we don’t like. We are now more careful to say things like, “it SEEMS like you are doing that a lot” etc. It is funny, but that little bit of breathing room given, rather than the suffocating generalization, makes a huge difference.

Deconstruction

After a while of focusing on this, I realized that this problem in my life had been there for a long time. It is hard to explain but, when God opened my eyes again (as described above), I felt a release from a fear I didn’t know I had. I had a fear of learning. I am not exactly sure how it worked, because I know that I learned stuff, but I felt this release to learn anything I wanted. The fear was gone. I didn’t exactly understand this fear of learning until realizing how much of my life was built upon assumptions.

When you decide to build upon assumptions, the fear that comes with pride is anyone proving your assumptions are wrong. When that happens, you lose everything built on top of those assumptions as well. That means you have to start over again, and starting over can be a painfully embarrassing enterprise. I think that is where my fear of learning came from. Subconsciously I was protecting all of the assumptions that I had been too lazy or selfish to verify. What a crock!

I think this is the reason that, the older people get, the more they refuse to hear anything that might challenge what they “know”. I realized that in my life I needed to allow a process of deconstruction and reconstruction. Deconstruction is the process of digging through past thoughts and feelings and verifying them. It is looking through issues in life and tracing them back to a point of pride. For instance, the way I may feel and think about my father. “Why do I think this way about him?” may be the question I ask. If the answer is because “he did this”, what about him doing that made me feel like I do? This may lead to twenty incidences over 23 years until I get to the actual root. Then, when I get to that root cause for my feelings for him, I can deal with it by sharing my thoughts and repenting or forgiving him. From there go to the next thing that comes to mind.

This may be a long process and some things that come up may not be able to be dealt with directly. The person could be dead, for instance. It seems to me it is still important to go through them and deal with the issues. I believe this type of work is something that takes courage and must be led by the Holy Spirit. I believe this type of work will be systemic and lead to us being healed and to the healing of many who live in the same prison. I also feel this type of thing is what we do when we actually believe “that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Another aspect of depending upon an assumption that could easily be verified is not correcting past wrongs. “Yeah we did that thing way back in high school, but I am sure they are over it by now.” Really? How can we be sure? Are you over the way you were treated? One example of this in my life was when I believe the Holy Spirit brought to mind a cruel thing I did in high school and was able to, through the power of Facebook, apologize.

Programmed Assumptions.

Programmed assumptions are things society teaches us that we accept and never verify. It is amazing how many things we are taught to believe and most never question. One example is how we are taught that the Civil War was fought because of slavery. That is the popular story, and I remember the first time hearing the war was about states’ rights and that slavery was a peripheral issue. These types of programmed assumptions go on and on. We need to learn to verify facts and not build our beliefs upon things we are told.

Floating Assumptions.

This is the last and maybe the most frustrating assumption of all. A floating assumption is putting on assumptions like eyeglasses and viewing the world through them. This is the type of assumption that makes us think about others, “There is no hope for them.” The Word says this, “Do you see a person wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 26:12

Floating assumptions are likely assumptions we have received from our parents as children or we put them on as a self-defense mechanism. I think racism is an assumption like this. Many church doctrines or other family or social beliefs get put on from a young age, and it literally takes an act of God to remove them. These floating assumptions that we wear like glasses taint all we see and, not only do they go unnoticed, but because there is no contrast to identify them, they are the wearer’s reality.

The truth is I may have one even now, or you might. The only way I know of identifying them and removing them is through relationship with others and a willingness to bear with one another even through ferocious fights. If you are constantly having issues with people and you cannot see the problem, you may have a floating assumption. Removing a floating assumption can be like a drug addict coming down and detoxing. It takes a tough love, a much tougher love than most are willing to endure. I am thankful for those in my life for going through tough issues and I believe there are more to come as Jesus continues to reveal truth and set us free so we can be healed.

Becoming a New Man

My hope in writing this is to simply share a hope that God has given me. I want to expose the evil of pride, share the NEW life that comes from not assuming things and from living in the real world and I want to give you the tools that have helped me overcome this sneaky serpent. As men and fathers we lead by example, if we are prideful we are not at all like our Messiah. I believe overcoming any issue in our lives is an act of God, it is His work and He does His work in the light(in honesty and vulnerability).

You may not think you are prideful, if that is true then you should have no issues investigating to be sure you are not. Ask a friend to be honest with you, ask your father and mother, ask your wife. If they are not afraid of you, they will tell you. If they are afraid of you, you can be sure you walk in pride.

Pride is ALWAYS short lived and has nothing to do with following Jesus. Please turn from pride today.

That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
James 4:6

A man’s pride will be the cause of his fall, but he who has a gentle spirit will get honour.
Proverbs 29:23

Welcome to the Wilderness

And you shall remember the whole way that YHVH your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. Deuteronomy 8:2

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that YHVH swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that YHVH your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of YHVH. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, YHVH your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of YHVH your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
Deuteronomy 8:1-6

Israel spent forty seemingly pointless years in the wilderness wandering from one mountain or oasis to another. Forty years of uncertainty, of not knowing where they were going to live, where they were going. No houses, no fields, no real homes. Just tents, long hikes, lots of dirt, and manna….every day, manna.

But there was a point, because God always has a point.

Israel’s unfaithfulness in believing the bad report of the ten spies was the immediate trigger that launched their long journey through the wilderness, but those forty years were essential to developing their national character. It was always part of God’s plan.

God had at least three objectives in taking Israel on the scenic route to the Promised Land.

Self Discovery. Repeated tests, both failed and passed, demonstrated to Israel exactly who they were and how they were completely inadequate to their task without God.

Honeymoon. Forty years in barren landscape with God himself there in the middle of the camp was a perfect opportunity to explore Israel’s relationship with her God.

Education. From the first Passover in Egypt to the respecting of the borders of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, Israel learned what it means to love God and keep his commandments.

We all go through wilderness experiences, periods of testing and uncertainty, as individuals, as families, and even as nations. The key to surviving and ultimately to becoming who God wants us to be is in trusting his plan. Whatever comes, whatever goes, YHVH is in charge. Follow his instructions. Keep his commandments. He will bring you through it.

The wilderness is always unpleasant–it wouldn’t serve its function if it weren’t–but if we love God and trust him with our whole beings, we will be stronger and more mature when we cross the Jordan on the other side.

We’ve Done Nothing

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10

Two men once climbed a mountain together. They trudged up the lower slopes and scaled cliff faces to reach the tree line. Past the mid-point, they spent days camping at various points to adjust to the thin, oxygen-poor air. They pulled and pushed each other along, sometimes tied together with a long cord so that if one misstepped, he might be saved by the other. After weeks of enduring howling winds and biting cold with the help of oxygen tanks and state-of-the-art gear, they finally reached the summit.

The first man, barely able to pull in enough air even to speak, turned to his friend and said, “Look…what we did…we saw…we conquered…”

The second man smiled and, looking around at the deadly beautiful mountain range, replied, “Thank God…made all this…gave eyes…and feet…”

Together, they achieved something that only the tiniest fraction of humanity could hope to emulate. They really did something great.

The first man will die and be forgotten within a generation. His experiences and labors will die with him. The second man, however, will never die. He will inherit all that he sees from one of the highest points on earth.

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
Deuteronomy 9:4-6

Israel was nothing special in the world. We did nothing to deserve God’s favor. He rescued us from Egypt, made us a people, defeated our enemies, and gave us a country, yet we were stiff-necked, rebellious idolaters. And God knew this before he ever spoke to Abraham, our father.

As Moses was preparing the people to cross the Jordan and expel the Canaanites from the land that God had promised to Israel, he reminded them that they deserved nothing good from God. If they were blessed, it wasn’t because they had done anything to earn it. If they had victory in war, it wasn’t because they fought or planned better than their enemies.

Victory was assured because God had promised the Patriarchs, and God always keeps his promises.

The Anakim and the Canaanites had forgotten to whom they owed their existence and had exchanged worship of the Creator for things they themselves had created. They had succumbed to the basest sin of all: pride. And so God determined to destroy them. They are remembered now only as a vile people who sacrificed even their own children to gods of their own making.

Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones to fall so low.

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 2:11-13

Despite having witnessed the utter destruction of the Canaanites before God’s power, the ancient Israelites followed in their corrupted footsteps. They erected sacred pillars and worshipped every false god they could imagine and manufacture with their own hands, as if the glory of a created thing could ever exceed that of the one who created it. They rejected the real glory of being God’s special people for the false glory of dead things that can’t move, hear, or speak.

Over and over again, God called Israel to repentance. We repented and regained his favor only to fall again into “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.” We exchanged service to the Most High for slavery to sin. We rejected the source of Living Water for broken cisterns of our own invention.

We don’t appear to have learned anything since then. We cut and splice God’s creatures, claiming to make them better. We kill millions in the name of profit and energy. We slaughter our own children for the sake of convenience. We build machines and send them into space and say, “Look what we did!”

Whether we call our own creations “gods” or “science”, we worship them as if the glory of dead metal and plastic could possibly exceed that of the One who created the particles, the energies, and the physical laws that make it all possible and which we have barely begun to comprehend.

Machines are good. Genetic science is good. I love to see the astonishing accomplishments of today’s space engineers. SpaceX landing rockets on their tails like something from a 1950s science fiction was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen!

But all of these things are only possible because God has made them so. We have minds to imagine and invent, because God gave them to think. we have hands to create, because God fashioned them after his own. Yet we still say, “Look what we did!”

Pride is the greatest barrier of all to spiritual health and restoration of people to their Creator.

We’ve done nothing.

But despite all this, God still promises forgiveness and even glory for those who repent, who love him above all earthly things, and determine to keep his Law.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:10

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9

But there is no true repentance without humility. It is impossible to say honestly, “God, forgive me! Aren’t I great?” Humility requires that we give credit where credit is due, and all credit is due to him who makes all things possible. We must say instead, “God, forgive me! Not my will, but yours be done in the world and in my life.”

Today Is the Day of Our Salvation

He who goes over before you as a consuming fire is YHVH your God. Deuteronomy 9:3a

In Deuteronomy 9:1-6, Moses told the Hebrews that they were about to cross the Jordan to confront numerous, stronger enemies. The people who lived in Canaan in that day were bigger, stronger, more technologically advanced, and better trained than Israel. Despite their massive disadvantage, Moses said not to fear, because God would precede them into the land and subdue their enemies before they ever met them in battle.

Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, 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?’

Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the LORD your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you.

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.
(Deuteronomy 9:1-6 ESV)

But they still had to fight the battles.

Notice the introductory phrase in verse 1: “Hear, O Israel.” In Hebrew this is “Shema Yisrael.” It’s the same phrase used to introduce the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:1 and the passage in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 commonly known by the single Hebrew word Shema.

Hear, O Israel: YHVH our God, YHVH is one. You shall love YHVH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Yeshua quoted these verses when he was asked what was the greatest commandment of all (Mark 12:28-30), and they are immediately followed by instructions for Israel to remember the commandments, to teach them to their children, and not to forget them after God had made them secure in the Promised Land.

When Moses used those same two words, shema Yisrael, in Deuteronomy 9:1, the people would have immediately recalled the Ten Commandments and the Greatest Commandment and connected them to what he said next.

They were about to enter the Land, and Moses repeated God’s promises to deliver it into their hands, so there was definitely a connection to the Commandments and the reminder not to forget them when the conquest was complete, but the connection to the Shema itself is even deeper.

Hear, O Israel – The word shema means more than just “listen up” or “pay attention”. It means to hear and obey. Shema Yisrael is a call to action, much like the blast of a shofar: “Listen to what I have to say, internalize it, and do it.”

Moses said that they were going to cross over the Jordan “today”. Crossing into enemy territory was the next major event on Israel’s calendar, and it was time to start moving.

YHVH, our God – Let there be no confusion: YHVH is our God and we have none other. He is our ultimate authority, our supreme commander. His commandments are more than legal codes, they are the foundation of our existence. What he says, we will do.

When God told Israel to cross the Jordan and displace the Anakim and other nations who lived in Canaan, he meant it. There were no other options available for Israel. They must either cross and conquer or die in the wilderness like their fathers.

YHVH is one – God is unified in purpose. He is not duplicitous or double-minded. He doesn’t promise one thing and deliver something else. Much Christian theology says that God gave the Jews commandments that he knew were impossible to keep and promises that he never intended to deliver, but this is a horrible lie. What an evil and capricious god that would be! No, God is One. If he commands us to do something and tells us it’s not too hard, then we are fully capable of doing it. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

God gave the Hebrews a task that looked impossible from man’s limited perspective, but they had also seen the destruction of Pharaoh’s chariots and the annihilation of the Midianites. God is indeed a consuming fire, and nothing can stand against his decrees.

You shall love YHVH your God – Moses, Yeshua, and John taught us that to love God is to believe his promises and to keep his commandments. If a servant loves his master, he obeys him. If a master loves his servant, he does what is right for the servant, even to the point of sacrificing himself as Yeshua did for us.

God told Israel that he loved them and would fight for them. If Israel loved God in return, then they would believe his promises and obey his orders, even to the point of charging into battle on foot against armored giants and iron chariots. Their love for him waned at times, so not every battle was won, but when they obeyed, God ensured their victory every time.

With all your heart – A true love of God changes our innermost being. We must allow him to work in our hearts, to remove our doubts, fears, pride, and conflicts. He will not accept second place, and he will not share our affections with any other god.

Israel was required to memorize God’s words, to meditate on them, to hide them in their hearts, and to teach their children to do likewise. After they crossed the Jordan, they were to destroy every idol and every pagan holy place they found in Canaan. They were forbidden to learn the ways of the heathens, to “re-purpose” them in God’s name. It didn’t matter how meaningful or touching some ceremony or statue might be. Destroy it, because if God is to be in your heart, there is no room for his enemies.

With all your soul – The Hebrew word for “soul” here doesn’t refer to the spirit, but to the whole of one’s being: the body, breath, energy, spirit, and life-force that makes a person human.

As Israel faced their foes in the Promised Land, they were to hold nothing back. Their very existence depended on taking the land from the Canaanites. God doesn’t ask us for one day per week, a few dollars, and a good deed now and again. No, he wants everything. Every step, every thought, every breath belongs to him.

With all your might – Showing up isn’t enough. Crossing the Jordan isn’t enough. When God tells you to go, you have to go strong.

God said that he would fight on behalf of Israel, but that didn’t give them an excuse to sit on their hands and watch. He expected them to show up on the day of battle with armor on and weapons in hand, ready to fight for their lives, families, and future. “God helps those who help themselves” might not be in the Bible, but it’s true none-the-less.

When Moses prefixed God’s marching orders with the words, “Shema Yisrael“, a chill would have swept through the gathered multitude. “Today, you will cross the Jordan to dispossess peoples greater and stronger than you. Now is the time to stand for God. Now is the time to advance. Now is the day of our Salvation in Adonai!”

There are no excuses for inaction in God’s Kingdom. Whatever task he has set for you–and he has set a task for you!–God has made you capable of fulfilling it. No emotional baggage or physical infirmity is a handicap to God. When he sends you across the Jordan, your job isn’t to say, “But…but…but…” Your job is to draw your weapon and walk through the parted waters to face God’s enemies on the other side.

Whoever or whatever your Canaanites might be, show up humbly and in obedience to God, ready to fight with all of your heart, soul, and might, and God will subdue his enemies before you.

613 Ways to Love Your Neighbor

613 ways to shower your neighbor with blessings by keeping Torah

“And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.”
(Deuteronomy 7:12 ESV)

Deuteronomy 7:12-8:9 contains a long list of blessings that God promised to Israel in exchange for obedience to Torah. These blessing should be understood to apply to the nation as a whole and not necessarily to every individual within the nation. In order for the nation to be blessed in these ways, many more individuals than otherwise must be blessed as well, because a nation is a group of individuals connected by blood, culture, tradition, and religion. As you narrow your focus to a single community, family, or individual, however, you cannot necessarily say that this person is well because he kept God’s commands and that person is not well because he did not. The entire book of Job refutes the idea that a person’s spiritual state can be determined by his physical state.

None of this is to say that it does not matter how we behave. It matters quite a lot. Thou shalt love yourself is not one of the two greatest commandments, but rather love God and love your neighbor. We love God primarily through our obedience. We obey His commands because we love Him, not because He promised to give us stuff.

As we love God, we love our neighbor—and here is the answer to so many difficult questions—also by keeping God’s commandments. The truth of this statement is obvious in some commandments, such as care for orphans, widows, and the indigent, but it is harder to discern in commandments such as those that concern lepers, sacrifice, diet, and sexual morality. This passage draws them all together. If we, as a people, a collection of individuals, obey God’s commandments, we, as a people, will reap the benefits of collective obedience, and what is more loving of a neighbor than to bless him with good health, financial prosperity, and many children? If we want our families to be healthy and productive, then we ought to live holy lives and teach others to do likewise.

This is an abbreviated list of the things that God promised to Israel in return for obedience to Torah:

  • God’s faithfulness
  • Steadfast love
  • Fertility and children
  • Productive farms and ranches
  • Good health
  • Military victory over enemies
  • Peace within the nation’s borders

What blessings are within our power to grant our neighbors by our behavior!

P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe for updates, anniversaries from American history, and links to interesting, enlightening, and useful stuff from around the Internet.

12 Sources of Life in the Promised Land

In Deuteronomy 8:7-9 God lists twelve things that the Hebrews would find when they finally arrived in the Promised Land.

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.
(Deuteronomy 8:7-9 ESV)

Why does he pick out these things in particular? What about the pastures or the fish in the Kinnereth? Honestly, I can’t tell you why God didn’t specify other things, and I can only guess at what He meant by the things He did list. One thing I can say for certain is that His selections were not random. God does nothing without a good reason. In fact, He usually has more reasons for everything He does than we could possibly comprehend. One clue that they are not intended to be understand merely as a random sampling of the Promised Land’s good qualities is their chiastic arrangement:

A. Brooks of water/Fountains and springs out of the valleys and hills. (Water that comes from the ground.)
………B. Wheat/Barley (Raw ingredients for making other food.)
………………C. Vines (Fruit from which another product is extracted.)
………………………D. Fig trees/Pomegranates (Fruit trees whose produce is usually eaten raw.)
………………C. Oil olive (Fruit from which another product is extracted.)
………B. Honey/Bread (Processed foods, one the product of the labor of bees, the other the labor of men.)
A. Iron from stones/Bronze dug from the hills. (Metals that come from the ground.)

It could be argued that chiastic structures such as this are simply poetic devices. While it is true that they can be found in the literature, both religious and non-religious, of many cultures, we believe that the Bible was inspired by God, and it seems unlikely that God would employ such devices without purpose. Let’s examine each of these items to see if there is further meaning that can be drawn out.

1. Brooks of Water

The Hebrew word translated as “brooks” is nahal (נחלי) and refers to the seasonal creeks that are commonly called wadi today. Like the arroyos of the American Southwest, these brooks are dry for much of the year, only filling up after a good rain, and only flowing steadily during the rainy season in winter.

  • In Genesis, Jacob wrestled all night with God at a ford of the brook Jabbok. (Genesis 32:23-32)
  • Throughout the Torah, histories, and prophets, brooks are used to mark the borders of various lands.  (E.g. Numbers 34:5, Deuteronomy 3:16, etc.)
  • Brooks are also another sort of border, but a border to be crossed. They mark a transition from one phase to another. (E.g. Genesis 32:23, Deuteronomy 2:13 & 2:24)
  • Job referred to his friends as brooks, meaning that they are an unreliable source of support, providing water only in the rainy season, and having nothing useful to offer when life is harshest. (Job 6:15)
  • Brooks are places of hidden water that must be uncovered. Frequently, if you dig at the lowest point of a dry creek bed, you can find water. Large trees can thrive next to a seasonal creek either because they are able to withstand long droughts or because their roots can reach the water that is below the surface. (E.g. Genesis 26:19, Job 40:22, etc.)
  • Elijah was fed by the ravens at the brook Cherith. (1 Kings 17:3-7)

If I had to take some meaning from these things, I would say that brooks of water are symbolic of seasonal refreshment or relief after a long struggle in preparation for the next long struggle. Life in the Promised Land was never intended to be a life of ease, but one of predictable rewards after honest, hard work.

2. Fountains and Springs from the valleys and hills

The Hebrew word translated as “springs” in the English Standard Version is tehom (ותהמת), which is frequently translated as “depths” or “the deep”. They are underground reservoirs (e.g. Genesis 7:11) and the deepest places of the seas (e.g. Exodus 15:8). These are mysterious places that men cannot visit, measure, or know, the domain of God alone. In connection with “fountains” (Hebrew ayin (עינת), which can also be translated as “eye”), this seems to describe natural springs. Short of a major engineering project, there is nothing you can do to create a spring. It comes out of a mysterious source below the ground or it does not.

I suspect this refers to one of two things:

  • Supernatural provision from God that flows regardless of the season. Sometimes God simply provides for us, whether we have worked for a reward or not. The sages say that wealth does not necessarily come to those who work hardest, but to those who are most ready for it.
  • The moving of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus (aka Yeshua) said in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Seven Species of Deuteronomy 8:8 (image from Wikipedia)

3. Wheat

A good wheat harvest is the result of prolonged hard work. It is a source of wealth and, since it stores well, also of ongoing nourishment.  In more spiritual terms, it is the result of sustained evangelistic efforts, of preaching, teaching, and living exemplary lives. It sprouts long after the barley and is harvested later still. (See Exodus 9:32.) Wheat is a picture of delayed rewards multiplied many times and of the righteous in the last days before the final harvest. (See Matthew 9:37-38 & 13:30.)

4. Barley

Barley sprouts and is harvested earlier than other grain crops. It was used as a standard to measure the value of land and other property. (See Leviticus 27:16.) Barley has always been considered an inferior crop, courser and of poorer taste and nutritional value. At times it was thought only good for animal fodder. Revelation puts the price of a measure of barley at one-third that of wheat. (See Revelation 6:6.)

Despite its humble status, Yeshua used barley loaves to feed the multitude in John 6:9. Barley sustains the people until the later grains are ripe, makes a more plentiful food for the poor, and has been used to brew mild alcoholic beverages since long before the Hebrews left Egypt. Barley is a picture of the simple, first adopters of faith. It is the Hebrew rabble that first left Egypt, David’s Mighty Men who were debtors and running from trouble, and the twelve disciples who were commoners and a tax collector.

5. Vines

The grape vine is associated with family, children, lineage, and inheritance. It is the source of growth in progeny and ideology. It is a picture of unbroken inheritance. Psalm 80:8 speaks of nations in terms of vines. Genesis 49:11 contains a prophecy of the Messiah coming from Judah’s line. On the surface, it tells of Judah’s rich inheritance in the land. On another level, it appears to says that the Messiah will come from Judah’s descendants, his vine. Princes in times of peace rode on donkeys, and Zechariah 9:9 says this is how the Messiah will appear. Judah binding the ass to his vine is an image of the future King of Judah entering Jerusalem on the colt. (See Matthew 21:1-11.)

But the vine is more than an image of physical descendants.

In Deuteronomy 32:32, Moses gave another dual prophecy simultaneously calling the Israelites and their enemies the heirs of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this prophecy, God predicts the apostasy of Israel and their defeat at the hands of their enemies.

For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter;
(Deuteronomy 32:32 ESV)

On the one hand “they” in this verse refers to Israel who has adopted the ways of those perverse people and inherited much of their fate with it. But on the other, “they” refers to Israel’s enemies who are even more the spiritual descendants of Sodom and possibly even the physical descendants who have misunderstood their victory over Israel as evidence of their own strength rather than God’s discipline of the people He loves.

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of a grape vine used to illustrate a spiritual or ideological inheritance is found in a lengthy teaching that Yeshua gave just before His death:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
(John 15:1-6 ESV)

6. Fig Trees

Fig trees are an image of prosperity, contentment, and security, the well-deserved product of honest business. They provide sweet fruit, income, and shade long after the work required to establish them has been completed. The man who dwells beneath his own fig tree has no wants or worries. (See 1 Kings 4:25, 2 Kings 18:31, etc.)

7. Pomegranates

Vines, pomegranates, and figs go together in scripture for a total picture of peace and prosperity (See Numbers 13:23 and Numbers 20:5.), and appropriately so. All three are symbols of fertility and prosperity, but of these three, because of its large number of seeds, the pomegranate is more associated with fertility than the others. (Figs are also considered fertility symbols, but not as strongly as pomegranates.) Tradition places the number of seeds in the fruit at 613, which is also the traditional count of individual commands in the Torah. The implication is that keeping God’s commands makes one fruitful, both in body and in enterprise.

Like the fig tree, most of the labor is required long in advance of the extended reward.

8. Olive Oil

Olive oil brings to mind the anointing of priests, prophets, and kings, and is symbolic of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It was used to fuel the Menorah in the Tabernacle, which is also a picture of the Spirit. Olive oil is a source of light, while the Spirit is a source of enlightenment. The oil was used in cooking, as a base for perfumes and incense, as skin care, and for countless other uses.

9. Honey

(Note: An alternate interpretation of “honey” is the date palm because of its syrupy juice.)

Honey was the sweetest thing known to the ancient Israelites. The idiom “land of milk and honey” was frequently used to describe a near paradise. It was used as a gift, as a special treat, and those who over-indulged were thought decadent and corrupt. Honey has two distinct qualities: First, it is very sweet. Second, someone else does all the work to produce it. Honey, like all of the sweetest things in life, is best taken sparingly lest we lose our taste for anything less, and fall into the habit common to all libertines of constantly searching after the next high.

There is nothing wrong with honey and fine things; they are a gift from God. But they are a gift that is easily abused. Remember that most things worth having don’t come easy.

10. Bread

Since wheat, barley, and olive oil are already listed, it seems odd to add bread, but there is a difference. The raw ingredients have nearly indefinite shelf lives if they are protected from vermin, but no so bread. It goes moldy or stale very quickly. On the other hand, the raw ingredients aren’t easily eaten or digested on their own. They require a certain amount of processing. The end product was treated as the single most important part of any meal.

Bread was a fundamental element of hospitality. Abraham offered bread to his three divine visitors (Genesis 18:6), and Abigail presented David with two hundred loaves of bread as part of a peace offering to prevent the death of her husband (1 Samuel 25:18).

The Showbread Table in the Tabernacle held twelve loaves of bread, one for each of the tribes of Israel. It is a picture of the Messiah, who called himself the Bread of Life.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
(John 6:35 ESV)

His body, striped by the centurion’s whip and pierced by the crown of thorns and the nails of crucifixion, is illustrated to this day in the matzoh eaten at every traditional Jewish of Passover. Just as bread made with grain and oil was fundamental to the Hebrew physical diet, so is the Bread of Life fundamental to our spiritual life. There is no spiritual life without Yeshua.

The last two things prophesied to be found in the Promised Land are a little more enigmatic. All of the previous items were things that you put into your body: water and food. The following are metals that are transformed or taken out of something else, and I believe the sources of the ores might be as significant as the ores themselves. Forgive me if I seem to be indulging in so much speculation in these last items, because I am. My opinions here are not cast in iron or set in stone, and they are certainly not so well polished as a brass mirror. (Also, please forgive the bad puns. I can’t help myself.)

11. Iron from Stones

Stones have a very complex representation in Scripture. Spiritually calloused and rebellious people are said to have hearts of stone. Stones can represent individual people or groups of people. They are the foundations (as altars), media (as tablets), and witnesses of covenants. They are instruments of punishment, markers of wealth, ornaments, and most significantly, they are used to represent the Messiah.

Iron is very similar to stone, but where stone is hard, iron is unbreakable. Where stones can be symbols of wealth, iron signifies strength, power, and punishment. It is unyielding, impenetrable, and forged into weapons of war.

I imagine two possible meanings of “a land whose stones are iron”:

  • The Lord disciplines those He loves, and His harsh discipline transforms hearts of stone into hearts of iron.
  • Even the common people of Israel are iron to their enemies.

12. Bronze Dug from the Hills

(Note: The word for bronze is sometimes translated as copper or brass.)

Hills appear to be as symbolically versatile as stones. They are places of refuge from disaster and points of connection between Heaven and Earth. They are platforms for prophecy and divine pronouncement. Armies gather and fight in the hills. Finally, hills are symbols of strength and permanence.

Bronze, unlike iron, is used extensively in the Tabernacle and Temple, and is usually taken to symbolize judgment and the process of purification. (Think of the bronze laver, in which the priests were to wash before serving in the Tabernacle.) It also has military uses, in weaponry and armor. Bronze and iron were often paired in prophecy to represent a harsh and unforgiving land or a hard and unrepentant people.

I have only one good thought about the bronze:

Hills can be dangerous, wild places with any number of hiding places for shelter or ambush. Primarily, they are a place where people in fear of the wrath of God flee in search of futile protection. Bronze, however, is an image of God’s refinement of his people. Through God’s judgment and Law, His people are brought out of the hills into which they have fled, exposing their sin to that refining fire. God’s people have been scattered throughout the world, many forgetting even that they were ever chosen. But God knows them and where they have hidden themselves and been hidden. He has prophesied their repentance and has promised to bring them back again from all the places they were driven.

God knows you. He knows all your hidden sins, and you can’t hide from His law or His call.

America is not Israel, and we cannot automatically claim all of the promises made to the Hebrews simply because we worship the same God. But believers in Yeshua of whatever ancestry are none-the-less God’s people, grafted into the tree of Israel. We are not in the Land of Israel, but I strongly believe that God’s Laws are universal and founded on Natural Law. The promises God gave to Israel for obedience are in large part an expression of cause and effect. If any person keeps His law with a right heart, they are bound to benefit in many ways, although trying to keep God’s Law with evil intent or in a misguided attempt to earn your salvation will likely do you more personal harm than good.

Throughout history, nations that keep more of God’s Law benefit from it, while those nations that reject it suffer by their rejection. We can learn from the principles described in this passage. In keeping God’s Law–not for salvation because that’s impossible–we will undoubtedly become a stronger, healthier, wealthier nation.