In 1 Kings 20 there is an interesting account of an incident during the reign of evil King Ahab of Israel. The Arameans had come up against Samaria, the capital city of Israel, and Ben-hadad, king of Aram, had laid claim to all of Ahab’s personal wealth, along with his most beautiful wives and children. Ahab initially agreed to this demand, but then Ben-hadad sent word that he wanted even more.
Ahab consulted with the elders of the land and they advised him to refuse to comply. When Ben-hadad received Ahab’s refusal, he said, “May the gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria will suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me” (1 Kgs. 20:10). When Ahab learned of this threat, he replied, “Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (1 Kgs. 20:11). The point of Ahab’s reply was simple. Ben-hadad should not boast until he had won the battle.
Ahab’s reply seems like so much empty saber rattling since he had only the day before been extremely fearful of Ben-hadad and his army. However, as events unfolded God stood by Israel and Aram was soundly defeated. Ben-hadad’s boast proved to be unfounded, but only because God intervened to protect His people. As an added insult, God brought defeat on Aram at the hands of Israel a second time at the turn of the year (1 Kgs. 20:22-27).
This incident illustrates a timeless truth about boasting. For a boast to be legitimate, it must be based upon actual accomplishment. It is one thing to talk about the things one might do if given the opportunity, but until one has actually done those things, such talk is worthless. Indeed, this kind of talk is rude and insulting, especially to those who have in fact accomplished great things in their lives.
Too often young people make this mistake. They disregard and disrespect the accomplishments of their ancestors, while touting how much better their ideas and abilities are in comparison. This was one of the fallacies of the unrest of the 1960s generation who protested “the establishment”. They ignored the fact that “the establishment” had gone to war in the 1940s and had defeated Fascism in order to create the society in which these young people were free to protest the things they didn’t like. Sadly, the generation that grew up in rebellion have not done nearly as much to make the world a better place as the generation against whom they protested.
The same is true in many respects in the church. Many today deride and discount the efforts of Christians in the early to mid-20th century. They point with disdain to the supposed flaws of those earlier generations and proudly proclaim how much better the church would be under their direction and influence. The plain truth, however, is that were it not for the tireless and successful work of those previous generations, the church would not be as widespread across the world as it is today. Just like the 1960s protesters, the current generation of detractors has done little in comparison to their predecessors.
The scriptures generally decry the idea of boasting. It is easy to see why this is the case. Too often boasting is all about personal aggrandizement. Such is not becoming for those who belong to the Lord, especially in comparison to the giants of the faith to whom we are indebted. One of the greatest apostles, whose achievements are far beyond anything any of us have done, said that we should only boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31). In Gal. 6:14 he said, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
We have done nothing worthy of boasting. Therefore, if we must boast let us boast only in the Lord, who has in fact removed His armor, having defeated once for all time, the enemy of mankind. To God be the glory!