"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling"
Many people can quote this proverb but have not heeded its warning.
This is the Hebrew word gaon, which means to exalt, to rise, to begin to focus attention upon yourself. This is pride. Now pride can be used in a positive sense. It is not used so here, but there is a swelling or exalting that comes to a person for doing the right thing. Here the idea is that clearly there is an inordinate focus on oneself. There is a swelling sense of importance which causes the person to focus attention upon himself. The Scripture, in some instances, uses the idea of a rising and expanding pillar of smoke as the picture of what pride looks like in a person's life. You are expanding and everybody can see it, but it is really not substantive expansion.
Pride, in this negative sense, could be understood as what adds "er" to your life. It is not enough to be fast, we must be faster. It is not enough to be rich, we must be richer. It is not enough to be clever, we must be cleverer than the next guy. It is not enough that we do something well, we feel a need to do it better than the people around us. Pride is a competition that wants to be ahead of and better than the person or people around us. Now it is important at this point to say that winning competitions is not wrong or bad; it is the desperate need to set up competitions and the need to win them that suggests that the fuel we run on is pride.
Is it possible for you to allow someone else to be ahead of you? Can you allow others to be good, rich, smarter, and/or talented without it internally setting up a competition between you and them? Humility has a component in it in which you allow others to be who they are, even celebrate who they are, and you allow yourself to be who you are. And your relative strengths and weaknesses are not competitive.
I have seen a number of instances of pride becoming destructive. I have seen pastors who have begun to believe they were really great preachers and then getting full of themselves which caused them to begin to cut moral corners.
I have seen teens who won some races or awards or elections and let it go to their heads. It caused them to believe that more and more attention should be focused upon them. Instead of enjoying the momentary spotlight, they wanted it more and more. They began to treat others as if they were beneath them because they hadn't won the race, award, or election. They were now important and above others.
There is a need to celebrate achievement and significant moments. This causes the focus to be upon you but realize that as good as that feels, it is not the way all of life should be lived. Everyone likes to be noticed, but it is a temporary affair. And every success is always the result of lots of help from others. When your balloon swells, let it deflate again or God will allow others or circumstances to carry sharp pins to pop it.
One of the greatest strategies I have ever heard on how to not be too proud is to realize that your success is the result of lots of others’ contribution into your life. Start thanking them. One man said, "If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know that it did not get there on its own." When praise comes to you, enjoy it but immediately start thanking and appreciating all those who helped you come to this place in your life. It keeps you from over-swelling.
This is the Hebrew word lipne, which means before and comes from the idea of face or facing. When one allows oneself to stay swollen from attention or the desire for attention, then one starts down a path that will end in destruction. Pride turns you toward destruction. This is why you must deflate and turn away.
It is almost as if Solomon is saying there are a number of paths that radiate out from where you are. If you stay proud and bloated on attention, this will always spin you and point you down the path which has destruction as its destination. Only in the act of deflating to normal size, deflecting praise to others through gratitude, and promoting others will that pathway not be taken.
This is the Hebrew word seber, which means a breach in the wall or ruin. This meant destruction if there was a breach in the outer walls of a city. Solomon is saying that pride will bring about the conditions in which a person will be brought down or low. There will be devastation in one’s life who allows pride too long. This is the way that life works. A swollen image of oneself and/or a demand for inordinate amounts of attention heads a person down the path that leads to ruin. Another part of your life will be laid waste because you did not bring your desire for attention and praise under control.
It is important to say at this point that all people need respect and value to live in a healthy manner. Pride is when the need for respect, value, and attention runs overboard and won't be moderated or controlled.
and a haughty spirit before stumbling
This is the word gaboah, which means high, exalted. The idea is clearly here that people who allow their spirit to be high or exalted begin to look down upon others as somewhat beneath them. When this happens, they will stumble.
This is the Hebrew word kissalon, which means stumbling but, more significantly, a calamity. It definitely entails tripping and stumbling but also came to mean a moral fall, a financial stumbling, a relational stumbling which brings a level of destruction into one's life. When people begin to believe that they are better than others and others are in some sense beneath them, then they will trip over something and the fall will not be pretty.
Solomon is telling us the way life works. He isn't asking us if we want it to be that way. He is saying to watch out for pride and haughtiness. These two very enjoyable, pleasurable feelings have a dark side which should cause you to get away from them quickly. We don't often think of being tempted to be proud or haughty in our culture, but that is exactly what happens. Just as a person can be tempted to steal, commit adultery, lie, and a number of others sins; so a person can be tempted to wallow in pride and just enjoy the good feelings of how wonderful they are. You can be tempted to begin to put down people and contemplate how certain people or groups are beneath you. This is temptation to sin; it must be resisted. If it is not, then you have just started the time bomb ticking on destruction. You have just altered your course to the pathway of stumbling and destruction.
If you have been on this roadway for a while, get off. Start writing notes of gratefulness to others. Write lists of positive qualities, actions, and characteristics about the people around you. Do not allow pride or haughtiness to cling to you. Deflect attention off yourself to others who are also deserving. Realize in the larger picture, you are just a small piece.