Presumptuousness Leads to Dishonor
“Has presumptuousness come? Then dishonor will come; but wisdom is with the modest ones.”—PROVERBS 11:2.
1, 2. What is presumptuousness, and in what ways has it led to disaster?
AN ENVIOUS Levite leads a rebellious mob against Jehovah’s appointed authorities. An ambitious prince concocts a devious scheme to usurp his father’s throne. An impatient king disregards the explicit instructions of God’s prophet. These three Israelites share a common trait: presumptuousness.
2 Presumptuousness is a characteristic of the heart that poses a serious threat to all. (Psalm 19:13) The presumptuous person boldly takes liberties without having the authorization to do so. Often, this leads to disaster. In fact, presumptuousness has ruined kings and toppled empires. (Jeremiah 50:29, 31, 32; Daniel 5:20) It has even ensnared some servants of Jehovah and led them to their ruin.
3. How can we learn about the dangers of presumptuousness?
3 For good reason the Bible states: “Has presumptuousness come? Then dishonor will come; but wisdom is with the modest ones.” (Proverbs 11:2) The Bible provides us with examples confirming the truthfulness of this proverb. An examination of some of these will help us to see the danger of overstepping due bounds. Hence, let us consider how envy, ambition, and impatience caused the three men mentioned at the outset to act presumptuously, leading to their dishonor.
Korah—An Envious Rebel
4. (a) Who was Korah, and what historic events was he undoubtedly part of? (b) In his later years, what notorious act did Korah instigate?
4 Korah was a Kohathite Levite, a first cousin of Moses and Aaron. Apparently, he was loyal to Jehovah for decades. Korah was privileged to be among those who were miraculously delivered through the Red Sea, and he likely shared in executing Jehovah’s judgment against the calf-worshiping Israelites at Mount Sinai. (Exodus 32:26) Eventually, however, Korah became the ringleader in an uprising against Moses and Aaron that included the Reubenites Dathan, Abiram, and On, along with 250 Israelite chieftains.a “That is enough of you,” they said to Moses and Aaron, “because the whole assembly are all of them holy and Jehovah is in their midst. Why, then, should you lift yourselves up above the congregation of Jehovah?”—Numbers 16:1-3.
5, 6. (a) Why did Korah rebel against Moses and Aaron? (b) Why can it be said that Korah likely undervalued his own place in God’s arrangement?
5 After years of faithfulness, why did Korah rebel? Surely Moses’ leadership of Israel was not oppressive, for he was “by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.” (Numbers 12:3) Yet, it seems that Korah envied Moses and Aaron and resented their prominence, and this led him to say—wrongly—that they had arbitrarily and selfishly lifted themselves up above the congregation.—Psalm 106:16.
6 Part of Korah’s problem very likely was that he did not cherish his own privileges in God’s arrangement. True, the Kohathite Levites were not all priests, but they were teachers of God’s Law. Some also carried the furniture and utensils of the tabernacle when these had to be transported. That was no insignificant task, for the holy utensils could be handled only by individuals who were religiously and morally clean. (Isaiah 52:11) Hence, when Moses confronted Korah, he was, in effect, asking, Do you view your assignment as something so trivial that you must also secure the priesthood? (Numbers 16:9, 10) Korah failed to realize that the greatest honor is serving Jehovah faithfully according to his arrangement—not the attaining of some special status or position.—Psalm 84:10.
7. (a) How did Moses deal with Korah and his men? (b) How was Korah’s rebellion brought to a disastrous end?
7 Moses invited Korah and his men to gather the following morning at the tent of meeting with fire holders and incense. Korah and his men were not authorized to offer incense, since they were not priests. If they came with fire holders and incense, this would clearly indicate that these men still felt that they had a right to act as priests—even after having had an entire night to reconsider the matter. When they presented themselves the next morning, Jehovah rightly expressed his wrath. As for the Reubenites, “the earth opened its mouth and proceeded to swallow them up.” The rest, including Korah, were consumed by fire from God. (Deuteronomy 11:6; Numbers 16:16-35; 26:10) Korah’s presumptuousness led to the ultimate dishonor—God’s disapproval!
Resist the “Tendency to Envy”
8. How can “a tendency to envy” manifest itself among Christians?
8 The account of Korah is a warning to us. Since “a tendency to envy” is present in imperfect humans, it can manifest itself even in the Christian congregation. (James 4:5) For example, we might be position conscious. Like Korah, we might envy those who have privileges that we desire. Or we could become like the first-century Christian named Diotrephes. He was highly critical of apostolic authority, evidently because he wanted to be in charge. Indeed, John wrote that Diotrephes “likes to have the first place.”—3 John 9.
9. (a) What attitude toward congregation responsibilities do we need to avoid? (b) What is the proper view of our place in God’s arrangement?
9 Of course, it is not wrong for a Christian man to reach out for congregation responsibilities. Paul even encouraged such a course. (1 Timothy 3:1) However, we should never view privileges of service as badges of merit, as though by attaining them, we have moved up a rung on some so-called ladder of advancement. Remember, Jesus said: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:26, 27) Clearly, it would be wrong to envy those who have greater responsibilities, as if our value to God depended upon our “rank” in his organization. Jesus said: “All you are brothers.” (Matthew 23:8) Yes, whether publisher or pioneer, newly baptized or longtime integrity keeper—all who serve Jehovah whole-souled have a valuable place in his arrangement. (Luke 10:27; 12:6, 7; Galatians 3:28; Hebrews 6:10) It is truly a blessing to work shoulder to shoulder with millions who are striving to apply the Bible’s counsel: “Gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another.”—1 Peter 5:5.
Absalom—An Ambitious Opportunist
10. Who was Absalom, and how did he attempt to curry the favor of those coming to the king for judgment?
10 The life course of King David’s third son, Absalom, provides a study in ambition. This scheming opportunist tried to curry the favor of those who came to the king for judgment. First he insinuated that David was indifferent to their needs. Then he dropped the subtlety and got right to the point. “O that I were appointed judge in the land,” Absalom intoned, “that to me every man might come that happens to have a legal case or judgment! Then I should certainly do justice to him.” Absalom’s crafty politicking knew no bounds. “When a man drew near to bow down to him,” states the Bible, “he thrust his hand out and grabbed hold of him and kissed him. And Absalom kept doing a thing like this to all Israelites that would come in for judgment to the king.” With what result? “Absalom kept stealing the hearts of the men of Israel.”—2 Samuel 15:1-6.
11. How did Absalom try to usurp David’s throne?
11 Absalom was determined to usurp his father’s kingship. Five years earlier, he had David’s eldest son, Amnon, murdered, ostensibly in revenge for the rape of Absalom’s sister Tamar. (2 Samuel 13:28, 29) However, even then Absalom might have had his sights on the throne, viewing Amnon’s murder as a convenient way to eliminate a rival.b In any event, when the time was ripe, Absalom made his move. He had his kingship proclaimed throughout the land.—2 Samuel 15:10.
12. Explain how Absalom’s presumptuousness led to dishonor.
12 For a while, Absalom had success, for “the conspiracy kept getting stronger, and the people were continually growing in number with Absalom.” In time, King David was forced to flee for his life. (2 Samuel 15:12-17) Soon, though, Absalom’s career was cut short when he was slain by Joab, pitched into a hollow, and covered with stones. Imagine—this ambitious man who wanted to be king did not even receive a decent burial upon his death!c Presumptuousness truly led to Absalom’s dishonor.—2 Samuel 18:9-17.
Shun Selfish Ambition
13. How can an ambitious spirit take root in the heart of a Christian?
13 Absalom’s rise to power and his subsequent fall serve as a lesson for us. In today’s cutthroat world, it is common for people to fawn over their superiors, trying to ingratiate themselves to them simply to make an impression or perhaps to gain some type of privilege or promotion. At the same time, they might make bragging assertions to their subordinates, hoping to curry their favor and support. If we are not careful, such an ambitious spirit can take root in our heart. Apparently, this happened among some in the first century, making it necessary for the apostles to give strong warnings against such ones.—Galatians 4:17; 3 John 9, 10.
14. Why should we avoid an ambitious, self-exalting spirit?
14 Jehovah has no place in his organization for self-aggrandizing schemers who try to “search out their own glory.” (Proverbs 25:27) Indeed, the Bible warns: “Jehovah will cut off all smooth lips, the tongue speaking great things.” (Psalm 12:3) Absalom had smooth lips. He spoke swelling things to those whose favor he needed—all to acquire a coveted position of authority. In contrast, how blessed we are to be amid a brotherhood that follows Paul’s counsel: “[Do] nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind [consider] that the others are superior to you.”—Philippians 2:3.
Saul—An Impatient King
15. How did Saul at one time show himself to be modest?
15 At one time Saul, who later became king of Israel, was modest. Consider, for example, what happened in his younger years. When God’s prophet Samuel spoke favorably of him, Saul humbly replied: “Am I not a Benjaminite of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the most insignificant of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? So why have you spoken to me a thing like this?”—1 Samuel 9:21.
16. In what way did Saul manifest an impatient attitude?
16 Later, however, Saul’s modesty vanished. While at war with the Philistines, he withdrew to Gilgal, where he was expected to wait for Samuel to come and make entreaty to God with sacrifices. When Samuel did not come at the appointed time, Saul presumptuously offered the burnt sacrifice himself. Just as he finished, Samuel arrived. “What is it you have done?” Samuel asked. Saul replied: “I saw that the people had been dispersed from me, and you—you did not come within the appointed days . . . So I compelled myself and went offering up the burnt sacrifice.”—1 Samuel 13:8-12.
17. (a) At first glance, why might Saul’s actions seem justifiable? (b) Why did Jehovah censure Saul for his impatient act?
17 At first glance, Saul’s actions might seem justifiable. After all, God’s people were “in sore straits,” “hard pressed,” and trembling because of their desperate situation. (1 Samuel 13:6, 7) Certainly, it is not wrong to take the initiative when circumstances warrant it.d Remember, though, that Jehovah can read hearts and perceive our innermost motives. (1 Samuel 16:7) Hence, he must have seen some factors about Saul that are not directly stated in the Bible account. For example, Jehovah may have seen that Saul’s impatience was stirred by pride. Perhaps Saul was deeply irritated that he—the king of all Israel—had to wait for someone he viewed as an old, procrastinating prophet! In any event, Saul felt that Samuel’s tardiness gave him the right to take matters into his own hands and to disregard the explicit instructions he had been given. The result? Samuel did not praise Saul’s initiative. On the contrary, he chastised Saul, saying: “Your kingdom will not last . . . because you did not keep what Jehovah commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13, 14) Once again, presumptuousness led to dishonor.
Guard Against Impatience
18, 19. (a) Describe how impatience can cause a modern-day servant of God to act presumptuously. (b) What should we remember about the operation of the Christian congregation?
18 The account of Saul’s presumptuous act has been recorded in God’s Word for our benefit. (1 Corinthians 10:11) It is so easy for us to become annoyed at the imperfections of our brothers. Like Saul, we may become impatient, feeling that if matters are to be handled properly, we must take them into our own hands. Suppose, for example, that a brother excels at certain organizational skills. He is punctual, up-to-date on congregation procedures, and gifted in speaking and teaching. At the same time, he senses that others do not measure up to his meticulous standards, and they are not nearly as efficient as he would like. Does this give him license to express impatience? Should he criticize his brothers, perhaps implying that were it not for his efforts nothing would get done and the congregation would falter? This would be presumptuous!
19 Really, what holds a congregation of Christians together? Management skills? efficiency? depth of knowledge? Granted, these things are advantageous to the smooth operation of a congregation. (1 Corinthians 14:40; Philippians 3:16; 2 Peter 3:18) However, Jesus said that his followers would primarily be identified by their love. (John 13:35) That is why caring elders, while orderly, realize that the congregation is not a business that needs rigid management; instead, it is made up of a flock that needs tender care. (Isaiah 32:1, 2; 40:11) Presumptuous disregard for such principles often results in contention. In contrast, godly order produces peace.—1 Corinthians 14:33; Galatians 6:16.
20. What will be considered in the following article?
20 The Bible accounts of Korah, Absalom, and Saul clearly show that presumptuousness leads to dishonor, as stated at Proverbs 11:2. However, that same Bible verse adds: “Wisdom is with the modest ones.” What is modesty? What examples from the Bible can help to shed light on this quality, and how can we show modesty today? These questions will be considered in the following article.
a Since Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn, those of his descendants who were swayed by Korah to rebel might have resented that Moses—a descendant of Levi—had administrative authority over them.
b Chileab, David’s second son, is not mentioned after his birth. Possibly he died sometime before Absalom’s uprising.
c In Bible times the interment of the body of a deceased individual was an act of considerable importance. Hence, to be deprived of a burial was calamitous and was often an expression of God’s disfavor.—Jeremiah 25:32, 33.
d For example, Phinehas took quick action to halt a scourge that killed tens of thousands of Israelites, and David encouraged his famished men to join him in eating the showbread in “the house of God.” Neither course was condemned by God as presumptuous.—Matthew 12:2-4; Numbers 25:7-9; 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
Do You Recall?
• What is presumptuousness?
• How did envy cause Korah to act presumptuously?
• What do we learn from the account of ambitious Absalom?
• How can we avoid the impatient spirit manifested by Saul?
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Saul became impatient and acted presumptuously