13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. (James 4:13-16)Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)
I don’t think this is telling us not to make plans for the future. But I think it tells us that when we communicate our plans to others we need to keep in mind the possibility that Heavenly Father might have something else in mind for us besides our purposes. The completion of our plans as desired happens at Heavenly Father’s will or sufferance.
A case study how the Lord’s purposes were served by one king’s success but only to a certain point is seen in Isaiah 10.
Ancient Israel was under threat from the invading King of Assyria, who hoped to conquer it and add it to the list of all the countries he’d already conquered. In Isaiah 10:12-17, Isaiah revealed that the King of Assyria boasted his success had been because of his great strength and wisdom. The king said he was so strong that no nation protested his conquest, like they were hens that never peeped when someone gathered eggs out from under them.
In response to the Assyrian king’s boasts, Isaiah proclaimed that all the Assyrian king’s success was because the Lord intended to use the Assyrian king to chastise Israel for wickedness, and once that work was done, the Lord would figuratively burn down the Assyrian empire in a day.
If we apply this to ourselves and learn a lesson from the Assyrian king, any success we achieve is not because of our strength and wisdom, but because the Lord has a particular work for us to do. His purpose may be quite different from ours. If we boast in our success, the Lord can burn down our empire in a day too.
Here’s another case study of boasting about the future:
10 And Ben-hadad sent unto him, and said, The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me.11 And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off. (1 Kings 20:10-11)
Ben-hadad essentially makes an oath that Samaria’s spoils will not be enough to satisfy his armies, even if dust or land was part of the spoil. Clearly there is an implicit boast that his army will have no problem conquering Samaria.
The king of Israel told him though not to boast beforehand if he hadn’t done it yet. Again, plans can often be frustrated when we think they are a sure thing.
As an interesting aside, I ran across a term on Wikipedia closely related to boasting among soldiers. It is beot. A beot is a ritualized boast, threat, or promise usually on the eve of battle that is used to gain glory of accomplishing something very difficult before one actually does it. (see Wikipedia article on Beot.) Oddly enough, it is an Anglo-Saxon term, but you can see the practice in various places in the scriptures, like with Ben-hadad in the Old Testament and when the Nephites boast in their army’s strength.
During the Book of Helaman, the wicked Nephites boast in the strength of their armies and it gets them in trouble and we see a pattern of punishment that they suffer.
And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands. (Hel. 4:13)
There are three different words to describe how the Nephites were left to themselves by the Lord:
1) Afflicted – The Lamanites made their lives difficult in a way they hadn’t been able to do before. This seems like persecution or cutting off opportunities or freedom.
2) Smitten – The Lamanites wounded the Nephites. Their defenses were not sufficient and it gives us a sense that Nephite armor had holes.
3) Driven – This implies a total rout and devastating defeat in battle when Nephite armies could not withstand an attack, but had to flee.
(Also note that the lack of prosperity was part of this too.)
Their boasting meant they lost the Lord’s help to bear afflictions, strengthen their defenses, and withstand large onslaughts.
Let’s look at another instance of a Nephite army boasting--the armies of King Noah.
And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.(Mosiah 11:19)
Boasting their 50 could stand against thousands of Lamanites was certainly extravagant, since they didn’t observe the Lord’s help in their deliverance. They followed the D&C 3:4 pattern in that their boasting progressed to the point that they set the Lord’s counsel (as given by Abinadi) aside and followed their own carnal desires of bloodshed.
We also know what happened to them. Eventually their real weakness was proven when after Alma’s people leave, the people all fled from the surprise Lamanite invasion instead of standing and beating it off with just 50 men as they boasted they could do.
We can also see the punishment pattern of affliction, smiting, and driving in their history, though it was in a different order. They were driven by ambushing Lamanite armies, they were smitten by task-masters in their bondage, and they were afflicted in many different ways, with hunger, with grievous taxes, with thefts, with loss of the main family providers.
I can point to different places in my life when I’ve been afflicted, smitten, and driven for my pride. Maybe you can too.
Limhi’s people didn’t get out of their predicament until they humbled themselves and began again to keep the commandments.
This is certainly isn’t the most cheerful thing to read about, but it can give us real intelligence if we’ve fallen into the same predicaments. The way they got out is the way we get out—humility and repentance and obedience.