How we become prone to self-pity

If you developed a top 10 list for Bible characters, Moses and Elijah would probably make the cut. Men of strong faith, used mightily by God, and respected by the people they served. Yet, both had moments when they struggled, when self-pity took root, and discouragement followed. The biblical accounts of their struggles are helpful, because God answers them, revealing his perspective on their situations.

What you learn from Moses and Elijah is that we are most prone to self-pity when see ourselves improperly. That improper view of self (and ultimately God) distorts the truth.

Here is the truth: Moses was used by God to lead the people out of their slavery in Egypt, but it was God who would do the delivering. Notice God’s words when he called Moses,

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . . (Ex. 3:7-8).

Moses was on the road to the Promised Land when the unsatisfied desires of the Israelites put him over the edge. It’s not that Moses hadn’t heard their complaining before, but this time was unique; because, Moses assumed the burden to be his that only God could bear.

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent  . . . Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of the people on me? (Num. 11:11).

God never placed the burden of the people on Moses, Moses assumed it. While his life was typically characterized by humility (Num. 12:3), in this situation he thought to highly of himself. God was not placing a burden on Moses that he was to carry alone. Moses seems to have forgotten that God was the one who had promised to deliver the people.  

For a moment, Moses saw himself in the God position – as if the burdens of the world were his alone to bear. Trying to hand a seemingly impossible situation on his own brought about his bout of self-pity.

Ultimately we embrace self-pity not only because our perspective of self is too large, but because our view of God is too small. Notice the dialogue between God and Moses,

But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” (Num. 11:21-23)

God had promised Moses he would not have to walk this road alone, but briefly Moses looked around, felt alone, and lived that way. Ultimately, the burden was too great, and he reverted to self–pity under self–imposed pressure.

What does a King desire?

What does a king desire? Palm Sunday announces the triumphal entry of Jesus as king into Jerusalem. 500 years earlier the prophet Zechariah told of his coming.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9)

Jesus fulfilled that prophecy upon his entrance into Jerusalem. He was claiming to be king, and the people were acknowledging him as such.

The phrase King of the Jews is found four times in the Gospel of Matthew. A careful examination of those uses will reveal why the Palm Sunday accolades were superficial at best.

Jesus was born King of the Jews.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?”(Matt. 2:1-2)

Jesus was tried King of the Jews.

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed (Matt. 27:11-14).

Jesus was mocked as King of the Jews.

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head (Matt. 27:28-30)

Jesus was executed as King of the Jews.

And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matt. 27:35-37).

Born, tried, mocked and executed as King of the Jews. The action word that is missing from this list is the word followed.

Yet, follow me was a request that Jesus repeatedly made (Matt. 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21). It’s just that so few were listening.

Two thousand years later the King makes the same request of us. Will you follow me?

The lesson from Palm Sunday is this: It’s a lot easier to cheer the king from the sidelines, than to follow him where he leads.