“He is a person who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.” Bootstraps, of course, are the pieces of leather that a person grabs to pull the boot over their foot. So to pull oneself up by your own bootstraps means that you pull yourself up. No one has to help you get what you want or get you to the point where you want to be. To continue the shoe imagery, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is the adult equivalent of a 3 year old insisting that they can put their own shoes on or tie their own shoes; “I can do it all by myself!” And the common theme underneath both things is this: pride! We want the credit for accomplishing what we do. Even if we don’t accomplish it, pride sneaks in again in that we think it was all up to us.
In Deuteronomy 8, God is giving the Israelites two tests regarding their relationship with him. God wanted to know what the people of Israel would do when they had nothing and what they would do when they had so much they didn’t know what to do with it all. As we face the same tests, we will uncover another element in our struggle with pride. In both adversity and prosperity, we must learn that we don’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps but we must always rely on God. Pride is seen during adversity when we aren’t trusting in God and pride is seen during abundance because we forget about God. Let’s read Deuteronomy 8:1-20.
I. Let’s look at what has led up to this setting in Deuteronomy.
God had rescued the Israelites out of Egypt where they were enslaved. God then led them safely across the wilderness in spite of their constant complaining. When they sent spies to Canaan, they complained that God had lead them out here to be killed by the inhabitants of Canaan and said they would have been better to stay in Egypt. And so as punishment, God sent them back to the wilderness again for 40 more years. During that time, that whole rebellious generation died. Now there is a new generation that is ready to enter the promised land.
In Deuteronomy Moses is calling the people together to have a long talk with them. He reviews the laws that they have to follow in their life with God. Now in chapter 8, Moses explains to the people about the tests from God. In verse 1, Moses explains that God has been testing them in the past and God will also be testing them in the future as well.
Moses tells the people to remember what God had done for them in the past 40 years. They had just spent 40 years of their lives wandering in the desert. Did they ever wonder why they had suffered, watching a whole generation die? In verse 2 Moses answers that the purpose was first of all to humble the people to find out what was really in their hearts and minds. God wanted to know if they would blame or trust God as they faced adversity. Now there were some who did blame God. In Deuteronomy 1:29-32, Moses says, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place. In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God,...” Still there were some who trusted in God and realized that God was taking care of them.
Now how did God specifically administer this test? Look at verse 3. First, God let them hunger while they were in the wilderness. The people had nothing to fall back on; they were completely vulnerable. Then, God fed them with manna daily which helped them to realize that they were totally dependent on God for their lives and for their very existence. If God had not fed them, they would have died and that is indeed very humbling. If someone took all your food and then gave you just enough to live on, you would have to realize that you were totally dependent on that person for your life. But God wanted them to learn a very important lesson about life: “Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Man’s life depends completely on God who gives all things for man’s life. If they were to truly live, then they must obey God completely.
Now the proof that God was actually testing them comes in verses 4-5. Moses tells them to look at how God took care of them in every respect. They had plenty of food and clothing which did not wear out in 40 years. Moses says that just as a father disciplines his son, so God was disciplining them. If God didn’t care for them or love them, he would have let them destroy themselves; instead he disciplined them so they would trust in God alone.
Now what does this first test that Israel took have to say to us today about pride? Pride is seen during adversity when we aren’t trusting in God. We don’t want anyone to think that we need help. We want others to think we can do what? Do it all by ourselves! Or we may despair because we forget that God is the one who takes care of us. Our pride makes us forget that it is God who cares for us and provides for us. And God’s point for Israel is the same for us: man needs God to live, not just bread. In John 4:34, Jesus said that his food was to do the will of God. That should be our “food” as well; to do God’s will will give us life. Moreover, when Jesus says people cannot live by bread alone, he’s saying something truly revolutionary. Because in John 6:35, Jesus speaks of himself as the “Bread of Life.” Jesus is our life and he is the only one who can give us true and eternal life. If you want life in the fullest sense, you must respond to Jesus in faith. We have to let our pride go in thinking we can do it all by ourselves.
Pride in adversity is seen when we aren’t trusting in God. After I graduated from seminary in 1983, I was looking for a church and one of the churches that was interested in me was a church in Holland, Michigan. Now you have to understand something about churches in Western Michigan: if you have a church in Grand Rapids or Holland, you’ve made it! It’s where many pastors wanted to end up because it was a status thing. Big churches and lots of recognition come with those churches and this church was interested in me! Yet when they extended a call, they chose someone else and I was devastated! I didn’t think in terms of where God wanted me to be or where I could be best used in ministry. It was all about pride and the adversity of not being chosen to go to that church in Holland, Michigan uncovered it. I wasn’t trusting in God’s leading and provision; it was all about my pride. Pride is seen during adversity when we aren’t trusting in God.
III. The second test was the test of prosperity which we see in verses 7-20.
Moses now tells the people what their lives will be like in the future in the land of Canaan. Everything in the future will be an abundance! Verse 7 says that there will be water in abundance, in contrast to the desert. Verse 8 says that there will be an abundance of all kinds of food, in sharp contrast to the daily manna which God provided while in the desert. Verse 9 says that the land will be rich in natural resources so that the people will be able to build a life for themselves. As a result, as it says in verse 10, the only appropriate response should be for the people to praise God for blessing them in such an abundant way. The second test for the people is if the people will remember God or forget him.
Now the test itself is explained by Moses in verses 11-16. God will see to it that they are firmly established in the land but when that happens will Israel forget their God who delivered them from Egypt? Will they say instead that it was their own ability that gave them their wealth? Or will they remember that God is the source of all these good things? What are the results of this test? If Israel remembers God, then they will continue to be blessed by God according to the covenant promises and they will prosper tremendously in their life with God. If they, however, forget God, then God will punish them and destroy them. Israel would not pass this second test for they forgot God and worshiped other gods. They forgot the Lord and boasted in their own abilities instead of praising God. And as a result, they were swept away, except for a small remnant which God kept so that he could keep his covenant promises to his people. And because of God’s faithfulness, we have Jesus who came and saved us.
Abundance can cause us to become proud and forget that it is God who has blessed us. It is one of our culture’s greatest desires to have others think that if we are successful that we did it ourselves. Think about it: if anyone has wealth or abundance that they did not work for or get for themselves, our culture tends to look down on them. “Yes, he is a millionaire, but his dad set him up.” Whereas if a person worked since he was 15 and worked his way up, we applaud that person because he did it all by himself. But it is not just for the well off for we too are often tainted by that kind of pride. “I worked hard to get where I am. I did it!” We are proud of what we may have accomplished in our lives!
Whatever it is that we do, when we have success or abundance, we tend to become proud and we forget that it is God who is making it possible. We forget that God gave us the ability to do what we do. We need humility to remember that it is God who makes it possible for us to have abundance. Pride is seen during adversity when we aren’t trusting in God and pride is seen during abundance because we forget about God.
IV. So what are the lessons on pride from this?
Pride is at the root of things when we don’t trust God in our trials. We think it’s all up to us and we don’t trust God as we should. And since we can’t figure it out, in our pride we often can fall into despair. And then often our pride cuts off any help from others because we don’t want others to know that we may need help. Often we aren’t really trusting in God and trusting that God can use others to fill our needs.
Pride is at the root of things when we forget about God in our successes as well. We are proud of what we have done and forget that it has been God who has done all these things for us. We forget that it is God who gives us the ability to have what we have. Pride in adversity means we aren’t trusting in God and pride in abundance means we forget God. Again, the antidote is humility where we humbly thank God for what he has done for us in caring for us during the difficult times and blessing us in the times of abundance. We continually need to learn that we don’t live on bread alone but on God. Let’s continue to pray for God to clothe us with the humility we need to live with our gracious God. In our adversity, let’s completely trust in God; and in our successes, humbly thank him for the blessings that he alone has given us.