Self-defeat, the dysfunctional activity of harming oneself, manifests itself in many ways. Some are obvious; others, less so. Suicidal behavior and the various types of addictions obviously are harmful. The harm of manipulation and deception cloaked in spiritual platitudes often is not as obvious.
As a complex phenomenon, self-defeat has a variety of behavioral, psychological and spiritual exigencies. We must avoid the temptation of reducing it to an oversimplification. For instance, neurological, cultural, relational and idiosyncratic factors can weigh in as causes of self-defeat. From a biblical perspective, one causal factor stands above all others: self-exaltation.
Invariably, leaders who exalt themselves do so at a harmful cost. They might be fortunate enough to get good returns on investments, lead in organizational growth and development, advance innovations, or earn notoriety for their brand. But if they exalt themselves, achieving these ends might cost their loss of integrity, damage their relationships and, most assuredly, undermine their walk with God.
In the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, numerous examples are found of leaders who disobeyed God, ignored his warnings and pursued their own self-serving agendas. In the end, the consequences of their actions proved to be self-defeating. How can we forget the self-exaltation of Pharaoh, King Saul and King Nebuchadnezzar?
On the other hand, let’s not overlook the more subtle approach of Gideon (Judges 8:22-33). After enjoying successful leadership in obedience to God, he too capitulated to self-exaltation.
He collected wealth and clothing fit for a king.
He married many wives (a symbol of kingship in the ancient Near East).
He had 70 legitimate sons.
He had concubines (another symbol of kingship).
He named his illegitimate son Abimelech, which meant “My father is king.”