I’ve been reading about the kings of Israel and Judah, and this morning came across a story about King Ahab, the king of Israel, when threatened by one of his enemies, Ben-hadad:
“A warrior putting on his sword for battle should not boast like a warrior who has already won.”* In the New Living Translation this reads like a proverb that may have been common in those days, akin to the saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they have hatched.” It can be foolhardy to brag about victory before the first shot has been fired.
It got me thinking about whether it is ever appropriate for Christ-followers to boast about an outcome before we see it.
Immediately David came to mind, when he was just a boy dispatched to bring lunch and check on his older brothers at the front. As the giant Philistine Goliath taunted and
mocked him, David replied,
“You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Sam. 17:45-47).
David had killed a lion and a bear protecting his flock, and now with this great cause before him, he expressed supreme confidence in a victorious outcome. The victory would not depend on the size of the army David represented or his own strength and skill. It depended on the greatness of the God he represented, and the supernatural power that could work through a sling and a small stone. This was the basis of David’s boast.
To draw a contrast, we could look at Haman, King Nebuchadnezzar, Herod the Great, Hezekiah, and others who boasted about their own greatness, power, and riches. All were brought low or died in horrific ways. The Lord humbles those who exalt themselves and exalts those who boast in him, and not themselves. The Lord admonished his people through the prophet Jeremiah:
“Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things” (Jer. 9:23-24).
In the apostolic writings of the New Testament, believers are warned not to boast in any of the things that the world might consider markers of superiority—social or religious status (Rom. 2:17); works (Rom.3:27, 4:2); our calling in God (1 Cor. 1:28); the human leaders we follow (1 Cor. 3:21); our ministries or spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 9:16, 13:3-4).
Paul sums it up this way—”I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me…” (Rom. 15:18). He boasts of his weaknesses rather than his strengths, pointing to the only true target for boasting: the grace of God through the cross of Christ.
Outside of the Bible, where has this truth and sentiment expressed better than by Isaac Watts in this famous hymn?
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.
Lord, I boast only in knowing your amazing love, and gladly give you my soul, my life, my all.