“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:18-19 ESV)
Our exposition of the Book of Proverbs continues with the second half of Chapter 16. At the heart of this section lies a familiar phrase: “Pride goes before destruction” (verse 18). We will focus our attention on the destructive nature of pride.
While the text addresses more than pride, we can be sure that pride, or self-righteousness, or self-sufficiency, is the root of folly. The “worthless man” (v27), the “dishonest man” (v28), and the “man of violence” all find the cause of their pet sins in the love of self (v29). Charles Bridges (d. 1869) has much to say concerning verses 18:
“What more vivid exposition of these Proverbs is needed than our own ruined condition? Our father’s pride–desiring to ‘be as God’–hurried his whole race to destruction. ‘O Adam,’ was the exclamation of a man of God, ‘what have you done!’ ‘I think,’ said another holy man, ‘so far as any man is proud, he is kin to the devil and a stranger to God and to himself.’ The most awful strength of Divine eloquence seems to be concentrated to delineate the character and ruin of pride. Examples abound throughout the Scripture, each sounding this solemn admonition: ‘Be not high-minded, but fear.’ Fearful indeed is our danger if the caution be not welcomed, if the need for it be not deeply felt!
“The haughty spirit carries the head high. The man looks upward instead of to his steps. What wonder, therefore, if not seeing what is before him he falls? He loves to climb. The enemy is always at hand to assist him; and the greater the height, the more dreadful the fall. There is often something in the fall that marks the Lord’s special judgment. God smites the object of which the man is proud. David gloried in the number of his people, and the Lord diminished them by pestilence. Hezekiah boasted of his treasure, and the Lord marked it to be taken away. At the moment that Nebuchadnezzar was proud of his Babel, he was banished from the enjoyment of it. The vain daughters of Zion, priding themselves on their ornaments, were covered with disgrace. Yet, after all, the state of heart that prepares man for the fall is the worst part of his condition, for that which is our pride is our danger. ‘Why,’ a wise man asks, ‘is earth and ashes proud? Pride was not made for man.’
“But have we been preserved from open disgrace? Examine secret faults. Trace them to their source–a subtle confidence in gifts, attainments, and privileges. And then praise God for his painful discipline–the preserving mercy from ruinous self-exaltation. Truly the way down to the valley of humiliation is deep and rugged. Humility, therefore, is the grand preserving grace. The contrite publican was safe when the boasting Pharisee was confounded. Better then–more happy, more honorable, more acceptable to God and man– is a humble spirit keeping company with the lowly, than the spoil of the haughty conqueror, ministering only to his destruction. Better is a humble spirit than a high condition; to have our temper brought down than our outward condition raised.
“But who believes this? Most men strive to rise; few desire to lie low! May the example of our blessed Savior keep us low! ‘When Majesty,’ said pious Bernard, ‘humbled himself, shall the worm swell with pride?’”