When the Israelites requested that they wanted a king to rule over them and rejected the theocratic reign of God, God gave them Saul son of Kish as their king. It was God’s decision to continue to rule the Israelites through a human representative. Later, God rejected Saul as unfit to continue to rule the Israelites. Why was Saul’s leadership condemned?
Solomon was one of the many kings who ruled Israel after Saul. He had a long and peaceful reign over Israel. His son Rehoboam succeeded him as king. But shortly after his accession to the throne, the United Kingdom was divided into two and he lost the greater part of the kingdom. What made the United Kingdom divide and disintegrate under king Rehoboam?
After the Death of Joshua and the elders who out-lived him, there was a great problem of leadership in Israel. God raised up judges from time to time to deliver his people from oppression and rule over them. Samson was one of those judges that God raised. The Israelites, whom Samson was raised to deliver on several occasions tried to hand him over to their oppressors. Samson later became a prisoner of the philistines until his death. What happened to this great man that God raised as a deliver?
For a woman to rule a nation like Israel, she must certainly have some great qualities. Therefore one cannot be wrong in saying Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah, who also ruled Israel, had great qualities. However, in the seventh year of her reign the people conspired against her and put her to death by the sword. What was wrong with her leadership that caused her subject to have acted in this way?
The four leaders mentioned failed in their leadership roles. For this reason their leadership has been characterized as bad. However, is it because one fails in leadership that one’s leadership is bad? Failure is an indication that there are certain characteristics of one’s leadership that are not good. These Characteristics, which cause leaders to fail, would now be identified in the leadership of the four leaders. This will be done under the following headings: (a) A reflection on the leadership of five leaders in Bible times ( b) Basic characteristics of their leadership (c) An evaluation of their leadership.
A reflection on the leadership of five leaders in Bible times
This section is a reflection on the leadership of five leaders whose leadership has been characterized as bad. As mentioned in the introduction each of these leaders have experienced failures in their leadership. But, is it because of a failure that one’s leadership should be characterized as bad? This reflection is the first step in answering the question posed above. The leadership of Saul, Rehoboam, Samson and Athaliah will be briefly discussed focusing on their preparedness or fitness to lead and on their specific areas of failure.
Saul was the first king of Israel. Saul is chosen by divine guidance. He is a man of humility, consecrated by holy oil and filled with the spiurit.1 It cannot be denied that Saul was prepared for leadership by the assurance of divine support and the special dualities that God gave him as a person. As Joyce Peel rightly pointed out, at the very beginning of his reign Saul proved his ability to lead as he rescued the city of Jabesh from the control of Nahash the Ammonite. The victory over the Ammonites gave Saul acceptance among all the people.
Without disagreeing with Joyce Peel that Saul had good qualities for leadership and was prepared for leadership by the assurance of divine support, Ted Engstrom stated that Saul lacked most of the fine qualities one expects in leadership.2 To substantiate his point, he made reference to an account in second Samuel Chapter five. This account was in reference to a request the people of the northern tribes of Israel made to David, asking him to also be their King. In their appeal to David, Engstrom observed that they said David was the real power in Saul’s government and Saul was only a figurehead. It was David who led Israel out to battle and won victories for the nation. In addition, Engstrom pointed out that the nation that Saul left behind was torn by civil wars.3
In may be true that Saul lacked most of the fine qualities one expects in leadership, but the qualities that he had were good enough for him to succeed. Identifying the areas of Saul’s failures can prove the point that he had what would have made him succeed. According to William J Dumbrell, there were three main areas of failures in Saul’s leadership. The first was when Saul defies Samuel’s orders to wait in Mizpah until he comes to offer sacrifice before the soldiers go to battle. Saul went along and offered the sacrifice though he was not a Levite. The second was, as Dumbrell puts it, his food taboo and his proposed death of Jonathan. Jonathan had eaten some wild honey not knowing that Saul had pronounced a self-determined religious fast, enforced with a curse, until the pursuit of their enemies was over. In addition, Saul’s victorious army was so hungry when they returned that they slaughtered and ate the animals without cooking the meet. In this situation Saul certainly lost control of his followers. The third failure was when he failed to carry out God’s instructions concerning the Amalekites. He was supposed to destroy them and their animals completely, but he spared the king and the best of the animals.4
Saul’s failure must however be seen in its wider context. The issue was that he refuses to acknowledge God’s authority established through the prophet Samuel. Samuel was to provide divine guidance to Saul for him to succeed.
Rehoboam was the son of king Solomon. One can assume that as one of the king’s sons he would have been very much interested in the kingship. As the king’s son he would also have been groomed for leadership, especially when one considered the fact that under normal circumstances one of the king’s sons had to succeed him. He therefore had potentials that qualify him to lead. However, according to some authors, Rehoboam was not adequately prepared for leadership. William J Dumbrell observed, that Jeroboam, the one time forced labor supervisor in the north, capitalizes upon the ineptness of Solomon’s son Rehoboam and leads the northern ten tribes into succession as the kingdom of Israel.5 Dumbrell’s argument was that if Rehoboam had been adequately prepared for leadership he would not have acted the way he did on that particular occasion. One can gain more insight from the observation of Joyce Peel that Rehoboam was not adequately prepared for leadership. She affirms that Rehoboam, like Absalom, is arrogant. Brought up in Solomon’s palace, he sees royalty in terms of privilege and absolute power. He ignores the advise of older counselors, and encouraged by his arrogant men he returned a harsh answer.6 It can be observed from what Joyce peel said, that the problem of Rehoboam’s unpreparedness for leadership was basically his. It was a matter of his character or conduct. Every person should be personally accountable for his or her character and conduct. King Rehoboam failed in maintaining the United Kingdom left by his father. The incident already cited resulted in the division of the kingdom. Although the division of the kingdom had already been prophesied, Rehoboam’s action should not be overlooked. His failure, one must observe, resulted not only in a political division of the nation, but also in the apostasy of the northern tribes.
Samson was one of the judges raised to rule Israel before the start of the monarchy. According to Judges 13:15-23, he was the promised son of a barren woman. Even before he was born, God began to make preparations for him as a chosen leader. Samson grew up to be a Nazarite, sworn never to drink or cut his hair. The secret of his phenomenal strength lay in keeping this vow. It should be observed that Samson’s preparation as a spiritual leader was of extreme importance to God. One should take into consideration that it was because of the apostasy of the nation that they were experiencing suppression by their enemies. The enemies during Samson’s time were the philistines, who were controlling most of the land and they had exclusive possession of iron weapons. Maybe for that reason God raised Samson to be exceptionally strong to confront them even without a weapon.
When Samson assumed his leadership role, Joyce Peel described the kind of person he turned out to be: “But Samson was lustful, self-willed and irresponsible.” Peel made references to the two philistine women he married, who infatuated and deceived him. The first one who got the secret of his riddle from him and the second, Delilah, who got the secret of his strength.
The people whom Samson was supposed to lead considered him a failure. On some occasions they tried to hand him over to their enemies because they saw him as the cause for greater suppression. Arthur E. Cundell described the humiliation of this great judge in the hands of his enemies in these words: “The weakened Samson was now easily captured by the philistines. His eyes were gouged out and he was brought down to Gaza, the scene of one of his earlier feasts of strength (16:1-3) and put to work at the tedious task of grinding out corn.”8 Samson’s life, which promised so much, taking into consideration the special abilities God gave him, was blighted and ultimately destroyed by his sensual passions and lack of true separation to the Lord.
The last of the four leaders to be discussed is Attaliah, the mother of Azariah. As already been pointed out, she ruled Israel for six years. Eugene M. Merrill described how she came to leadership in the following quote: “The empty throne of Judah was left by default to Attaliah, Azariah’s wicked Israelite mother.”9 The Biblical record in 2Chronicles 22 shows that she puts to death all those she can find who had right to the throne. Therefore describing her as a wicked woman can be justified. However, to be able to accomplish such a goal she must have had good support. The fact that this woman was able to sit on the throne for six years, show that she had leadership abilities. This is however not to justify the way she used her abilities.
On the seventh year of her reign, the biblical records show that she was overthrown and killed by the very people she was ruling. In just retribution for her blasphemies and murders, she was maneuvered away from God’s house which her sons had ransacked (2Chronicles 24:7) and was slain near the palace.10 This shows that the people she was ruling never accepted her leadership. She had managed to use force and her position as queen mother to stay in power.
Basic characteristics of the leaders and their leaderships
Having briefly reflected on the four leaders and their leadership, it will now be appropriate to discuss the basic characteristics of their leadership. This will be done under three sub-headings:
a) The leader as a person;
b) His or her leadership;
c) The followers.
This is because leadership involves a relationship between these three elements.
a. The Leaders
According to Bob Gordon and David Fardouly, many people fail in leadership because they did not receive a divine call to leadership. A call from God comes with an inner recognition that the individual will be equipped for the task. They said without God, no one would be sufficiently equipped to accomplish any task in God’s kingdom. The individual will only be operating in his or her own strength.11 It is worth noting that two of the leaders being discussed received divine call, but they also failed. Was it because they operated in their own strength? Gordon and Fardouly’s point is that one of the reasons why leaders fail is because they operate in their own strength, which in some cases, may be an indication that they have not been called. In other cases, they may have been called but have turned away from God’s authority and support. Therefore, from what Gordon and Fardouly have said, one of the characteristics of bad leadership is seen in the conduct or character of the leaders who do not recognize their inadequacy and try to do everything by their own strength.
b. Their leadership
In discussing the leadership of the four leaders, two main things have been given primary importance. These are their vision and leadership styles. As John Haggai rightly observed, “a vision has a direct bearing on his leadership style.12 As a starting point, one could ask, what were the4 visions of these leaders? What was Saul’s vision for Israel? Or did Saul really have a vision for Israel? A close examination of the observation of John Maxwell will help one determine whether Saul really have a vision. Maxwell observed that after he tasted success in battle, he mistook his position as king for real leadership. Though he had the title, power and crown of a king, he never moved the monarchy beyond a chairman-based judgeship. He was made a general but he never attracted a large standing army. He created no organized government to preserve his gains. And when God no longer favoured him he though the title of king entitled him to continue leading.13 From these observations one could rightly say that Saul had no vision that he pursued on behalf of Israel. As a result, his style of leadership was mainly seen in his response to Israel’s enemies. During those occasions he demonstrated more of o dictatorial or authoritative kind of leadership.
King Rehoboam on the other hand considered to have achieved his goal when he sat on the throne. One can deduce from his reply to the Israelites who appealed to him to reduce the burden of king Solomon placed on them, that he had no proper vision for the people. It was clear from his reply that his vision was for the people to serve him and make him comfortable. Also, the caliber of the counselors he chose supported the fact that he had no vision for Israel. His vision might have been to sit on the throne until he retires or dies. As a result of his lack of vision, his style of leadership was more of an authoritarian or dictatorial one.
Samson was no different from Rehoboam. According to Joyce Peel, Samson was lustful, self-willed and irresponsible.14 Samson was never seen in any constructive leadership role in Israel. His attacks on Israel’s enemies were purely based on personal revenge. He was however supposed to subdue the nation’s enemies because of their suppression of the nation. The life he lived showed that he had no clear vision for the nation. So his style of leadership was more of an authoritarian or dictatorial one.
Like the others, queen Athaliah did not have a vision for Israel. She came to power in a palace coup and her only goal was to stay in power. The only way she was able to do that was by exercising a dictatorial style of leadership. Leaders like Athaliah demand total obedience from their subjects.
c. Their followers
Some of the Characteristics of bad leadership can be identified with the followers. One must take into consideration Anthony D’souza’s statement that leadership involves an inter-relationship between three elements:
a) The quality skills and needs of the leader
b) The needs and expectations of the group
c) The demands or requirements of the situation.15
On several occasion Saul’s men abandoned him in battle. On other occasions he forced them to do what he wanted. For instance, when he declared a fast until Israel completed the pursuit of their enemies. This caused the soldiers to sin in the end, by eating meat with blood or in other words, meat that was eaten raw and not cooked.
In the case of Rehoboam, the greater number of Israelites rejected his leadership and revolted against him. Samson’s situation was even worse. His followers were willing to hand him over to their enemies. They saw him as the cause of their problems. Athaliah’s followers revolted against her and killed her. None of these leaders chose their successor. In fact with the exception of Rehoboam they all died gruesome deaths. Rehoboam escaped such death, by buying peace from Shishak who was planning to invade Jerusalem. Rehoboam bought peace by giving him the treasures in the temple in Jerusalem.
In the introduction the following question was posed: ‘Is it because someone failed that his/her leadership should be characterized as bad?’ In attempting to answer this question, which forms the thesis of this chapter, the leadership of four leaders in the Bible has been examined. These leaders – Saul, Rehoboam, Samson and Athaliah, were selected because their leadership had been characterized as bad. The goal of the evaluation was to identity the main characteristics of their leadership in order to determine what was common to all and then compare these characteristics with those of good leadership.
1Joyce Peel, A Journey Trough the Old Testament: The Story of God’s Relationship with Man, Woman and the World (Oxford: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 1993), p. 66.
2Ted W. Engstrom, The Making of a Christian Leader: How to Dvelop Management and Human Relations Skills (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p. 30.
3Ibid, p. 30.
4William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: It’s Expression in the Book of the Old Testament (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), p. 80.
5William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: It’s Expression in the Book of the Old Testament (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), p. 87.
6Joyce Peel, A Journey Trough the Old Testament: The Story of God’s Relationship with Man, Woman and the World (Oxford: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 1993), p. 66.
7Joyce Peel, A Journey Trough the Old Testament: The Story of God’s Relationship with Man, Woman and the World (Oxford: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 1993), p. 62.
8Author E. Cundell, Judges and Ruth: Tyndele Old Testament Commentaries (Illinois: Inter-varsity Press, 1968), p. 179.
9Eugene H. Merrill, 2 Chronicles: The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Colorado: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1985), p. 636.
10John J. Davis and John C. Whitcomb, Israel: A Commentary on Joshua – 2 Kings (Michigan: Baker Book House, 1970), p. 438.
11Bob Gordon and David Fardouly, Master Builder: Developing Life and Leadership in the Body of Christ (Kent: Sovereign World, 1990), p. 6.
12John Haggai, Lead On! Leadership that Endures in a Changing World (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1986), p. 16.
13John Maxwell, The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leaders Day in a Leader’s Day: Revitalize Your Spirit and Empower Your Leadership, (Nashville Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), p. 4.
14Joyce Peel, A Journey Through The Old Testament: A Story Of God’s Relationship With Man. Woman and The World (Oxford): The Bible Reading Fellowship, 1993), p. 62.
15Anthony D’souza, Being A Leader (Achimota: African Christian Press, 1990)