Sin is often defined as the actions or habits that contravene God’s law. We break the commandments; we commit murder, theft, or adultery. These actions disrupt our faithful obedience and create a spiritual separation between us and our Lord. Sin, however, is not solely about the wrongful actions of our lives; sin also pertains to our inclinations and attitudes.

A spirit of pride is, perhaps, one of the most destructive attitudes we can cultivate. Pride destroys our life with God. It fundamentally disrupts our vision of God’s identity, God’s good creation, and even ourselves. Ultimately, pride will always lead us to ruin.

The tale of King Belshazzar, found in the book of Daniel, is a great example of this. God acts against Belshazzar and brings his reign to an abrupt end because of his prideful arrogance. Belshazzar, therefore, stands as a warning to the destructive nature of pride. 

Pride Denies God’s Sovereignty

We first meet King Belshazzar in the fifth chapter of Daniel. The Babylonian king throws a banquet for his nobles. This was a common occurrence of the day. These parties were large and extravagant, designed to illustrate the opulence of the King. Belshazzar, however, takes things too far. As the party goes on, the King orders that the holy goblets, taken from the temple in Jerusalem, be brought to the party “so that his wives and concubines might drink from them” (Daniel 5:4). This is the height of Belshazzar’s arrogance. Belshazzar takes what belongs to God and uses it for his own pleasure.

This may not seem like much, but the goblets of gold and silver had been previously consecrated to the Lord. This means they were to be used exclusively for ritual worship. They were objects set apart to bring glory and praise to Yahweh. To take God’s holy vessels as a means for human drunkenness displays a complete and utter disrespect for that which belongs to God. Belshazzar assumes that he is of such an exalted status that he may use, or misuse, God’s good creation for his own personal enjoyment or pleasure. Belshazzar sees himself as the rightful owner of holy things. 

Daniel charges Belshazzar with “not humbling yourself but setting yourself up against the Lord of heaven” (Daniel 5:23). This is what pride creates in our spiritual lives. While we may not use sanctified objects as vehicles for human drunkenness, we can similarly misuse God’s good possessions for our own purpose or glory. Whenever we act disdainfully toward that which God calls holy, we set ourselves up against the Lord of heaven and earth. We assert that our pleasure overrides God’s sovereignty in life. To do so is to deny God as the rightful King over heaven and earth.

Pride Leads to Idolatry

As if drinking from the holy vessels were not enough, Scripture relates that Belshazzar and his companions “praise the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Daniel 5:4). In doing so, Belshazzar “did not honor the God who holds in his hand [his] life and ways” (Daniel 5:24). Belshazzar denies the power of Yahweh in his life. He believes that it is his material possessions that give him life and protect his future. 

This act of praising material possessions is a direct violation of the first commandment. The commandment to “have no other gods but me” (Exodus 20:1), stands as the foundation of our life with God. This commandment is rooted in God’s identity as “the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Attributing salvation to any other being, particularly those “who cannot see or hear, or understand” (Daniel 5:23) is an insult to God’s lordship in our lives. 

What does this have to do with pride? When Belshazzar heralded the gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron wood and stone, he was not bowing down to a pantheon of gods. The Babylonian god was primarily Nebu – known to be son of the god Marduk. Nebu and Marduk were the gods of vegetation, literacy, and art, not the gods of wealth. Thus, in praising the wealth before him, Belshazzar was essentially praising himself. Belshazzar saw himself as the arbiter of his life, the one in control of his future. His possessions, wielded by his own mastery, were the testament to his god-like status.

Pride leads us to exalt ourselves. Our focus turns inward as we view ourselves in the place of God. This has always been a temptation for humanity, and stands behind the first great sin. The serpent in Genesis tempts Adam and Eve under the promise that eating the forbidden fruit will make them “like God, knowing good from evil” (Genesis 3:5). When we live from prideful arrogance, we exalt ourselves above God. We are tempted to see our own plots and strategies as that which secures our earthly and heavenly futures. Instead of salvation being received as a gift from God, given in grace and mercy, we see salvation as that which we earn or achieve by our own effort. Such an attitude completely disregards the activity of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Pride Leads to Ruin

Belshazzar’s pride convinced him that he would never suffer the consequences of rejecting the power of God in his life, even though this had been witnessed in the past. Belshazzar was keenly aware of the plight of Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar was also a prideful king, one who saw himself in godlike ways. He continually abandoned the way of God, even erecting a stature of himself for all to worship. God humbled this arrogant king and drove him into the wilderness where he spent his days “eating grass like cattle” (Daniel 4:32). It was only when he acknowledged the sovereignty of God that Nebuchadnezzar comes to his right mind. In fact, the last words recorded by Nebuchadnezzar are “I Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. Those who walk in pride he can humble” (Daniel 4:37).

Although Belshazzar knows the history of his ancestor, he believes that such humbling will never happen to him. In pride he believes himself immune from the Lord’s rejection. This, of course, is not the case. In in response to his arrogant pride, Daniel declares that “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end” (Daniel 5:26). That very night, the kingdom is taken aways from Belshazzar and placed in the hands of another. 

The book of Proverbs declares the well-known truth that “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before the fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Pride leads us to abandon the ways of God and thereby step away from the source of eternal life. When we assert that the life before us is under our own mastery, we walk in the way of destruction. We cannot help but fall. 

Pride Is Damaging

The story of Belshazzar depicts the damage that pride can do in our lives. We can look at Belshazzar’s folly, therefore, as a way to assess our faithful witness of the Lord. For example, are we tempted to deny or misuse that which God loves? Do we see others as mere pawns for our own enjoyment? Does our devotion to God become coloured by our desire for prestige or greatness? These questions are challenging but important as they potentially expose deep or hidden sins and temptations within us.

As followers of Jesus, the servant-King, we are called to reject a spirit of pride. Our attitude should be that of Christ, “who being in the very nature of God did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but humbled himself” (Philippians 2:6-7). The way of self-aggrandizing arrogance is completely antithetical to the way of Jesus. Jesus did not come to be served, or to tout his own might and prowess, but to give his life as an offering to the world. This is the way of Christ and the very path we are called to walk. 

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SWN authorReverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.