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"Leading and Following"

"Leading and Following"

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nomadic family and tribal groups, wandering the

so-called “fertile crescent” of the Trans-Jordan, from present day Egypt to

Syria. Scripture and tradition

though not necessarily history

tell us that

these tribes were then enslaved in Egypt before they were released from

captivity, led by Moses, but delivered by the God of their ancestors. But

Moses was only a proxy for God, physically leading the people on God’s

behalf and upon God’s orders. God was the true deliverer, the king marching

out before the armies of Israel, preparing to conquer and claim the Promised

Land for God’s chosen people.

of 1 6But Moses did not live to see the day when God’s chosen people would live

in the Promised Land. Joshua, son of Nun, was ordained by God through


Moses to lead this wandering confederation of tribes into Canaan, and to take

the land by force and treaty.

Joshua led the great conquest, securing the “Promised Land” for the people of

Israel, which was then divided among the Tribes of Israel.

Grateful for their deliverance from slavery and the countless victories over

their enemies, the tribes of Israel settled in to their newly acquired homeland

and (for the most part) faithfully worshipped God —at least for a little while.

A generation or so after Joshua’s death, Israel had forgotten their covenant

with God, and began worshipping foreign Gods. God felt abandoned, God’s

anger was kindled, and so God sent enemies to plunder and capture Israel.

And from this, a cycle emerges: The people rebel against God. God punishes

the people (usually with an invasion and defeat). The people repent. God

sends a deliverer. Once again suffering at the hands of their enemies, the

people cried out, and God took pity on them and appointed Judges,


instituting a new form of government to act as God’s earthly proxies.

A judge’s commission was time-limited, serving as a provisional government

over a loose confederation of tribes. They were called upon to lead the

people through particular times of crisis, usually war or invasion. While they

did perform judicial duties, their primary responsibility was military

leadership: calling together the able-bodied members of the various Israelite

tribes when it was time to go to war. Since judges were only raised up during

times of crisis or specific needs, and judgeships were not hereditary or

dynastic positions, nor where they necessary lifelong terms, and so there

were often several or more years of leaderlessness or “decentralization”

between judges. Then, at an appointed time of need, a prophet, channeling

the will of God, would ordain the next judge. For several generations, this

Deuteronomy 32:48-52


Judges 2:18


of 2 6model worked well enough. But the cycle of abandoning God, divine

punishment, repentance, and deliverance continued.

Even when a judge was in power, when God had sent a “deliverer” and the

tribes were theoretically united for a common cause, you read again and

again in the Book of Judges how the people ignored the judges. After the

death or retirement of each Judge there was even greater chaos



during these interim periods. There was no unity among the people

of Israel, with warring and treachery between the tribes. The people of Israel

would begin to worship the Ba’als, foreign gods, and would abandon the

God who led their ancestors out of Egypt. But God continued to raise up

judges to attempt to govern and protect this unruly mob.

When Samuel, the final judge, came to retirement age, the people of Israel

became agitated and demanded that a king be appointed over them. Where

patriarchs and judges had failed, perhaps a king could bring the unity,

stability, and enduring fidelity to God among the tribes of Israel, breaking the

cycle of idolatry, divine punishment, repentance, and deliverance. The

Israelites had “king-envy”

they no longer wanted to be uniquely governed

as they had been, but wanted to have a king like the other surrounding

nations. They were unhappy with the leaders that God had chosen for them.

They felt that judges were ineffective, insufficient to protect them against the

wrath of the great nations surrounding them.

This was not the first suggestion of Israel converting to a monarchy. In fact,

the case for a king is made by the very authors of the Book of Judges in the

Hebrew Scriptures. Time and again, when the scripture writer decries the

chaos and rebellion against God perpetrated by the people of Israel, you read

some variation of the line, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the

people did what was right in their own eyes.” This phrase is repeated as the


closing words of the book, and is echoed in at least two other places, with

4 5

Judges 17:6


Judges 21:25


Judges 18:1, 19:1


of 3 6similar laments through the book. Even God predicted desire/need for king,

saying in Deuteronomy, “When you have come into the land that the Lord

your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and

you say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’

you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose.”


Despite the authors of the Book of Judges being so heavily pro-king, and

despite God’s prediction (so to speak) that the people would want a king and

that God would allow it, this passage from First Samuel portrays Israel’s

demand for a king as sinful and an affront to God. In the eyes of God, Israel’s

desire to have a king and “also be like other nations” was tantamount to


abandoning God.

The people wanted a king that would “go out before [them] and fight [their]

battles,” just like the kings at the head of the great armies of Israel’s enemies.


But God was supposed to be king of the Israelites. Starting at the time of the

Exodus, God had covenanted to be the king that would “go before” the

people. The human leaders on earth were simply supposed to be proxies,


representatives, but not the one’s in which you put your faith. The leaders

appointed, chosen, ordained, and given authority by God to rule the people

in God’s place, but were not supposed to replace of God.

While God is offended by this demand for a king, God is also concerned,

cautioning the people about the consequences of getting just what they’re

asking for. Having a king would come at a high price. Monarchy is a more

complex and more costly form of government than confederated tribes. In

fact, the whole emphasis of this chapter is not necessarily God’s sense of

betrayal, but on the high cost of having a king.

Deuteronomy 17:14-15


I Samuel 8:19-20


I Samuel 8:20


Exodus 23:23; commentary on I Samuel 8:1-22


of 4 6Spoken through Samuel, God cautions, “These will be the ways of the king

who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his

chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will

appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and

some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements

of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be

perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and

vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.

He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his

officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female servants, and the

best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-

tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”

Military conscription and the establishment of a huge, powerful standing

army? The creation of a military-industrial complex? Taking the hard earned

fruits of the peoples’ labor and giving them to his cronies? Good thing we

don’t live under a system of government like that!

As with God’s warning to the ancient Israelites demanding a king, we, too,

would do well to remember that our form of government comes at a cost. We

will incur a greater cost if we mistake our leaders for gods. There is a tension

between the desire for strong leadership and the desire for freedom. We want

strong leaders that will bring order, security, and prosperity

and we want

them to achieve these things by fair and just means while maintaining liberty

and respecting self-determination, rights, and dignity for all people. The

question is if this can ever be perfectly done. The answer might be “no,” so

long as we choose human leaders

which I’m guessing we will do for the

foreseeable future. We will not elect saviors, deliverers, or messiahs. We will

elect fallible, corruptible, imperfect mortals.

Yet our collective memory fails us, and we return to a demand strong leaders,

which comes at a great cost

sometimes more than we expect, sometimes

more than is just. It is the obligation of leaders to be responsible and faithful

stewards of the power and authority given to them by the people, leading

of 5 6with integrity. And it is the obligation of the people, the followers, to hold

their leaders accountable, and to call out and cry out when a leader has

become corrupt or unjust

just as many of us here have done before, are

doing now, and will do again.


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