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Into the Valley of Death

Charges the fool with his prideful speech

Proverbs 6:16-17

16 These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

17 A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,


Proverbs 13:10

10 By pride comes nothing but strife,
But with the well-advised is wisdom.


They are the Forlorn Hope, the Thin Red Line, the cream of the British Cavalry–and they are on a thunderous charge into the very face of doom:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.–Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Charge of the Light Brigade”


The failed charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, has been bathed in glory and immortalized in literature, but it was a reckless, futile act of folly. The bloody action resulted in over half of the 670 horsemen killed, wounded or captured by the defending Russians. The glorious disaster prompted an observer, French Marshal Pierre Bosquet, to state: "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre." ("It is magnificent, but it is not war.”). 

The confusion of orders from the British commander, Lord Raglan, and the hubris of the brigade commander, Lord Cardigan, combined with the unit pride of the Light Brigade to lead to a mounted charge against entrenched Russian guns–instead of a lightly defended rear area. Prior to the fateful day, accusations of cowardice against the cavalry’s seeming reluctance to engage fierce Russian Cossacks had been whispered throughout the army. This would not stand.

And so the fateful charge was made.  Similar to other ill-fated attacks, such as Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg and Custer’s Last Stand in South Dakota, the Charge of the Light Brigade is a monument to the folly of the pride of man.

Solomon has a thing or two to say about pride in the book of Proverbs. You have read where pride can bring you from the heights of self-glory to the depths of disaster. You have learned that pride will sap the sympathy from your heart and turn thoughts away from compassionate responses to that of selfish coldness. 

In Chapter 6, Solomon identifies pride as one of the “seven deadly sins” that God hates:

16 These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

17 A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,–Proverbs 6:16-17

Indeed it is the foundation of many other sins–if not the foundation of all sin, for pride was in the Garden when our parents first fell. Joel Beeke calls out pride as the “first and last sin:”

Pride was God’s first enemy. It was the first sin in paradise and the last we will shed in death.–Joel Beeke

This thread of pride that stitches together the sinful heart, when left unchecked, will inevitably lead to strife, conflict and hurt. Just as bruised egos and whispered accusations may have led to a military blunder, so too the words of you and I on an ordinary day can lead to broken relationships or years of heartache. 

When you are filled with pride you will not help but say things that bring hurt upon others. When you want your way, or express an unbridled opinion because “you have to tell it like it is,” you can often move like a bull through a china shop with the pain you bring upon others.

You may not cause a military disaster with a boastful comment but you may find yourself dominating others by force of will, much like Biff Tannen in the movie “Back to the Future.” Often this happens whether you realize it or not. Pride is so toxic a sin that it will impact others in your life by its very nature: 

10 By insolence comes nothing but strife,
    but with those who take advice is wisdom.–Proverbs 13:10 

Wherever there is trouble in your home, the workplace, and even your church, you will find pride in the wheelhouse steering the ship. “Insolence” here denotes prideful speech, and the sinful human heart is such that where pride rears its head in relationships, it will inevitably clash with the pride of others–or send weaker brothers and sisters away to seek shelter. 

This is captured in another proverb: 

In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride,
But the lips of the wise will preserve them.–Proverbs 14:3

Foolish, prideful speech is like a “rod” that lashes both the speaker and those who hear him. Commentator Bruce Waltke describes this as:

…indiscrete, insulting speech that prompts others to react with anger, derision, disdain, and revenge and/or from the fool’s speech that endangers them.–Bruce Waltke, “Proverbs” 

When you try to rebuke such a person, it can make things worse. Again Waltke explains:

The arrogant fool is neither prepared nor able to take up better convictions than his own and therefore to relent. He speaks only from above and does not listen. Rebuking him only results in fruitless violent arguments and disturbed community.–Bruce Waltke

Are you beginning to see how pride can invade and wreak havoc among groups of people, and even the family of God? Church is no safe haven. In fact, I imagine that you have actually thought of two or three boorish-types who readily make their opinions known about the policies of the church, the decisions of leadership, or things that they think could be improved.

You may be one of them. This type is easily identified, however. If you are one of the “quiet ones” you may not be off the hook so easily. Being “quiet” or non-confrontational is not necessarily humility. There is a type of passive pride that can build up in those who seek to keep a low profile in the church or in a group–and yet pride can still rear its head. 

Making snide comments, or harboring disdainful thoughts can lead to gossip and other treacherous pitfalls that can have just as much of an impact as a comment made aloud. You can make quiet criticisms among friends that can get back to others and cause just as much hurt. What’s more, the proud speech of the passive ones can lead to factions and grumbling, just as easily as a loudmouth will. 

What to do? The answer lies within the proverbs above themselves: you must practice true humility. There is One who is the purest example of this, who “being very nature God” nevertheless “emptied Himself” to become a man.  

Jesus was no stranger to this black mark of prideful speech and the destruction that it has caused. Present from before the forming of foundations of the earth, He “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18)” and was there in the Garden when the great betrayal occurred. 

Jesus's earthly life and ministry is filled with dealing with the pride of others. He continuously debated with and eluded the snares of the religious leaders–men puffed up with pride who sought to destroy Him. 

Even Jesus’s own inner circle was not safe from the arrows of prideful speech. His own disciples would often argue among themselves over who was the greatest in their band of followers: 

46 An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”–Luke 9:46-48

Jesus’s response here exemplifies the wisdom of humble speech. Confronted by the arrogance of his own disciples–men he had called Himself–Jesus could have sent them packing and chosen a dozen more from the hundreds, if not thousands of follower who trailed behind him. Instead He responded in a disarming way. Tim Keller describes the incredible deference and purposefulness of this action of Christ:

Humble, careful discrete speech, on the other hand, disarms people and protects you from the great cost of interpersonal strife. The ultimate example is Jesus himself, who, unlike fools who turn friends into enemies, made a career out of making enemies into friends (Romans 5:10).–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

This then is the key to defeating the sin of prideful speech and the trouble that comes from it. Instead of a truthful–yet tactless–comment that can bring pain and division, recall the need to use discretion. This is not “peace at any price” or simply not making waves, but having the wisdom to say the things that need to be said in such a way that the person to whom you need to address, actually listens to you. 

Instead of the temporary satisfaction of “speaking your mind” or putting someone in their place, you can choose the wisdom of Christ, who sought to change hearts in love. This is possible because it is only at the cross that this sin can be mortified and true peace can be found. 

Jesus bore the sins of the pride of others on that cross, and so that is where your pride must die. As the old classic hymn of Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” intones [wonderfully performed here by the Norton Hall Band]:

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–Isaac Watts

Can you truly look upon the cross of Christ, that bloodstained tree, and still carry your stubborn pride? Before making those comments–aloud or under muttered breath–stop first and remember He who died that the pride of man would be overcome forever. Lay your pride here, and go seek your brother and sister in love. 



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.



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