RPM, Volume 15, Number 39, September 22 to September 28, 2013

The Arrogance of Man

Isaiah 2:12-22

By D. Marion Clark


Last week we considered the condition of Israel, or Judah. The nation was experiencing prosperity. She seemed to be secure militarily. And all this was taking place in the midst of rampant idolatry and mixing in other religions, specifically the practices of divination. By their very unfaithfulness to God's commands, they seemed to be prospering. Through their own ingenuity — economic, military, and religious — they had made themselves into a great people, or so they thought.

What they had really made themselves into was a nation ripe for judgment. I had asked how Israel had gotten herself into such a position. How was it that a nation selected and really formed by God could have strayed so far from him, forgetting his commandments and warnings? The answer was arrogance. Through their arrogance they presumed to take for themselves the glory reserved only for God. The passage closed with a warning of the judgment to come. If you recall, I did not spend much time with that, instead reflecting how wondrous that God, who receives such great offense, would in his mercy let his Son take the judgment in the place of those who have offended him.

Our passage this evening requires that we stay focused on the judgment. For though Jesus has saved the elect from destruction, it nevertheless will come on the wicked.

The word of judgment begins at verse 9, which sets the theme and tenor. There is the theme of arrogance being humbled: 9 So man will be brought low and mankind humbled.

See it again in verse 11 — 11 The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low — and also verse 17 — 17 The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled.

12-16 lists the great symbols of pride that had always mesmerized Israel — the tall, lofty cedars of Lebanon, the great oaks of Bashan, the majestic mountains and hills. There are the great works of man — high towers and strong walls of cities and the great trading ships. Yes, God has something in store for all these signs of greatness — they will be brought down, made low. They will be humbled.

These things will take place on the day of the Lord that he brings judgment. And note how Isaiah depicts the judgment.

19 Men will flee to caves in the rocks
and to holes in the ground …
20 In that day men will throw away
to the rodents and bats
their idols of silver and idols of gold,
which they made to worship.
21 They will flee to caverns in the rocks
and to the overhanging crags …

Men will be filled with terror. They will hide in the deepest depths they can find. They will throw away as worthless all the idols they had made to make them prosperous and secure.

And what is it that they will be fleeing? God in his exaltation. They hide from dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty! Three times that is stated (10,19,21). Read verse 21:

They will flee to caverns in the rocks
and to the overhanging crags
from dread of the LORD
and the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to shake the earth.

We have a picture of God rising as out of a deep sleep. It's as if he literally has been laying low. But now he rises, and seeing the pretentiousness of the world, he gives it a good shake, making all of its vanity fall to the ground and the inhabitants hiding in fear. Isaiah is saying, "You want to see real greatness? Real loftiness? Some day you will when you are confronted with the majesty of God. I promise you, you will not be standing tall then. You will not be smiling serenely as though God had come to acknowledge your importance. His splendor will terrify, not delight you."


Why is God so upset with pride? Think about it. It really is through pride that great things have happened. Men do great things because men want to make a name for themselves. We push into new frontiers because we want the satisfaction. So we climb mountains, cross oceans, fly into the sky, even go to the moon. We may have other reasons, but really, what causes the first to make such daring exploits is glory (and a healthy measure of greed in many cases.)

We make discoveries and inventions, think new ideas and create new works of art, again, for glory. Otherwise, why do we compete to be the first or recognized as the best? It's our pride that stirs us on. And it has taken us rather far. I bet the old Greeks would have thought they had been transported to the world of the gods, if some could be transported to now.

Pride, we would agree, is not the best of character traits, but it does get things done. We may not personally find a person filled with pride all that nice to be around, but we have to admit it makes him able to accomplish more than most. We know that if you really want to get action out of someone, stir his pride. Why then does God get so bent out of shape with pride?

One reason is that God is true and just. The truth is no man has accomplished anything good on his own. There is no mountain that he has climbed without God giving him the strength to do it. There is no discovery, no invention, no creative act that has come from anyone without God making it all possible. Indeed, the only reason anyone lives is because of the breath God has given and continues to give him. Man has but a breath in his nostrils.

What is just is for man to do all he is gifted to do for the glory of God. If that had been his motive, the accomplishments so far would pale in comparison to what could have been accomplished. Just think what could have been done if cooperation instead of competition was our main means of operation. What could have been accomplished if we had not been distracted with lawsuits and publicity and campaigns and everything else we get caught up with to get our share of glory (and wealth)?

Pride can spur men on to do great things, but because it is itself a sinful motive, it always pushed them on to act unjustly. Because he is not acting for God, he acts in ways contrary to God's just commands. It has been educational listening to a book-on-tape on the history of the West. One common theme throughout the book is that every act of progress brought with it a measure of devastation. And the main reasons for the devastation were the sinful motives of pride and greed that spurred men on.

God cannot be true and just, if he were to turn a blind eye to the wickedness of pride, whatever great monuments may be made.

Here is another question: Why should God's splendor terrify instead of delight? To see God's splendor — isn't that what everyone wants? We love splendor. We travel the world to see its splendors. We spend a lot of money to see splendors produced by man in all its forms. We like pageantry. Why should a person hide from the splendor of his Creator? That should be the best show.

We would consider the rising sun to be a display of splendor, wouldn't we? We can't help when watching it to feel satisfaction. But what if we watched it from the vantage point of Mercury. As the planet rotated and the sun came into view, we would feel a bit discomforted, especially if we had no protection from its heat. The sheer greatness of the sun would terrify us for the brief moment we are able to survive.

Man does not know what he asks when he calls upon God to show himself. He scoffs at God; demands that if he is real to prove himself; he boasts of his own efforts as if he, and not God, was the maker of his world. Some day God shall show himself in all his splendor. What then shall any man do who is not covered with the righteousness of Christ? What shall anyone do who must behold God's full glory with his unprotected eyes and his naked soul? Dread, not a peaceful satisfaction, is what awaits such a person.

Let me close with the moral of our passage — trust God not man.

22 Stop trusting in man,
who has but a breath in his nostrils.
Of what account is he?

Isaiah's point is this. Yes, men may seem to be great with their ships and towers and conquests of nature, but if you just pinch their noses and cover their mouths they die in a minute. And they all, sooner or later, do just that — die.

To put it another way, man is nothing more than the grass or flower of the field which lasts but a short while and is then gone. In fact, he does these supposedly great things precisely because he is but a breath. He knows that and he longs to leave a name that will pass on through the ages.

Of what real account is he? He may be like Pilate and claim to have the power over another man's life. But he has only what authority and power God grants. He may be like Nebuchadnezzar and claim to have built Babylon by his own power. But it is God who is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes (Daniel 4:32). Man has no skill, no knowledge, no ability except what God has given, and any of it may be taken away at any time. The Olympics, for all its pageantry and display of athletic prowess, always becomes a display, as well, of man's weakness — the sprinter who pulls up lame, the gymnast who makes one judgment error, the skater who twists his ankle, the runner who just gets too tired. Man is but a breath.

Of what real account is he? He cannot create or give life. At best he can extend it or make it seem better. He might seem to be able to take it away; even then he cannot touch the soul. Indeed he can do nothing that affects eternity. No tower that he builds can get anyone to heaven. No telescope can give a glimpse of God. No ship or plane can get a soul into the kingdom of God.

There is only one person in whom to place our full and ultimate trust — that is God.

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