"Position does not give holiness of character" (Prophets and Kings, p. 30). How frequently we as leaders need to be reminded of this.
Consider the experience of Solomon. His true humility and sense of divine need was markedly demonstrated when at Gibeon he prayed, "Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad." He realized that without divine aid he was as helpless as a little child to fulfill the responsibilities resting on him (Ibid.).
Unfortunately, through the future years of prosperity and the gradual spiritual neglect of his own soul, he lost his way. "From the wisest and most merciful of rulers, he degenerated into a tyrant. Once the compassionate, Godfearing guardian of the people, he became oppressive and despotic" (Ibid., pp. 55, 56). "From being one of the greatest kings that ever wielded a scepter, Solomon became a profligate, the tool and slave of others" (Ibid., p.58).
The Peril of Success
Solomon couldn't stand success. Before he was aware of it he had wandered far away from God. "Almost imperceptibly he began to trust less and less in divine guidance and blessing, and to put confidence in his own strength" (Ibid., p. 55).
The once wise king had declared, "I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in." But pride and self-glory found their way into his heart until, no longer feeling his need, he accepted the praise of men and took to himself the honor of Heaven's blessing.
We are told: "Man cannot show greater weakness than by allowing men to ascribe to him the honor for gifts that are Heaven-bestowed" (Ibid., p. 68).
This was the great sin of Moses. Because of it he was denied entrance into the Promised Land. When chided by the people, the patience of this meekest of men finally gave way and he angrily declared, "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" In such a declaration the great leader gave the impression that it was within his power to supply the water.
Through journeyings of the Israelites Moses had repeatedly warned the children of Israel that their murmurings were not directed against him, but against God.
Now "his hasty words... were a virtual admission of their charge, and would thus confirm them in their unbelief and justify their murmurings" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 419). It was to remove this impression forever from their minds that Moses was forbidden to enter the Promised Land.
What a lesson for all who labor for the Lord! What a warning against the temptation to assume the glory that belongs only to God! We are told: "If the children of God, especially those who stand in positions of responsibility, can be led to take to themselves the glory that is due to God, Satan exults. He has gained a victory" (Ibid., p. 421).
How many times we permit Satan to gain such a victory, and how the cause of God inevitably suffers for it. "It is to place us on our guard against his devices that God has given in His word so many lessons teaching the danger of self-exaltation" (Ibid.)
What Might Have Been
It was during the days of the united empire that God's plans for His chosen people came nearest to realization. We can hardly imagine the further blessings that would have come to Israel had Solomon remained humble and dependent upon God. But through personal ambition and prosperity he fell so low that "his case seemed well-nigh hopeless" (Prophets and Kings, p.75).
The warning is for us. "It is not the empty cup that we have difficulty in carrying; it is the cup full to the brim that must be carefully balanced. Affliction and adversity may cause sorrow, but it is prosperity that is most dangerous to spiritual life. Unless the human subject is in constant submission to the will of God, unless he is sanctified by the truth, prosperity will surely arouse the natural inclination to presumption.
"In the valley of humiliation, where men depend on God to teach them and to guide their every step, there is comparative safety. But the men who stand, as it were, on a lofty pinnacle, and who, because of their position, are supposed to possess great wisdom these are in gravest peril. Unless such men make God their dependence, they will surely fall" (Ibid., pp. 59, 60). (Italics supplied.)
King David's Problem
The important lesson is taught also in the experience of David. Through repeated victories over their enemies the kingdom of Israel came finally to reach the extent indicated in the promise to Abraham. It was then that the king became self-confident and was lured into his great sin. "In the time of his greatest outward triumph David was in the greatest peril, and met his most humiliating defeat" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 716).
Through self-confidence and self-exaltation the good king gradually lost his sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and came to trust in his own wisdom and might. Then came his fall.
Fortunately, he accepted rebuke and was led to thorough repentance. God intended the history of David's fall to serve as a warning that even those whom He has greatly blessed and favored are not to feel secure and neglect watchfulness and prayer" (Ibid., p. 724).
Let the warnings of Bible history teach us. "If one comes to lose sight of his entire dependence on God, and to trust to his own strength, he is sure to fall.. . . It is impossible for us in our own strength to maintain the conflict; and whatever diverts the mind from God, whatever leads to selfexaltation or to self-dependence, is surely preparing the way for our over-throw." (Ibid., p. 717).
Orley M. Berg lives in North Fork, California. He was Associate Secretary of the Ministerial Association at the General Conference when he wrote this article.