The Problem of LeadersBy Nathan Mates
Fallen man is, by nature, disorganized. Adam rejected God's commands and leadership in the Garden of Eden, and that tendency to tell others off and ignore them has persisted since then. We see the necessity for leadership, yet leaders are far from perfect, and followers ignore leaders that they should be following. We will never have the perfect teacher at school, the perfect leader of the family at home, or the perfect boss at work. While we can strive for good leaders, they'll only be human, subject to the same temptations and problems as you-- so pray for them.
The Israelites, as they left Egypt, had one of their best leaders ever, Moses. Put simply, Moses didn't want the job initially [Exodus 3:11], delegated problems when they exhausted him [Exodus 18:13-25], was a prophet, and managed to show enough leadership to get God's people to leave Egypt. Things all admirable for any leader to do. And also, Moses spent plenty of time with God. [Exodus 34:28, many other places] That last point is not just some minor detail; it's one of the points that made him so successful a leader. God had sought him out, and made sure to keep Moses in his presence.
From the beginning, though, there was a split of leadership between the 'nation' of Israel, under Moses's leadership, and the priests of Israel, under Aaron. [Exodus 28:1-4, etc] Aaron, as the head of the Levite tribe, was the first high priest, and his sons were the anointed successors to that line. They were the leaders of the priests, heads of the tabernacle, and the intermediaries to God.
After Moses, things went downhill for the leadership of the Israelites. Joshua was almost as capable of a leader, he still made mistakes-- such as trusting the Gibeonite's story, "but did not inquire of the LORD." [Joshua 9:14] After Joshua, however, things went steadily downhill, as recorded in the book of Judges, as leaders were occasionally raised up, but almost all of them were flawed and barely had a lasting impression.
Finally, it took another prophet to restore some leadership to Israel: Samuel. Samuel led the Israelite army against the Philistines with good success [1 Samuel 7:7-17]. He was the last of the Judges, leading the people against the Philistines, as well as providing justice for the people. Samuel eventually grew old, and the people wanted a different ruler over them from the religious ones, a King. The separation of the leadership of a nation founded on the worship of God away from the priests was finally becoming permanent, to the detriment of the people.
God had planned for this happening centuries before, in Moses's farewell speech to the Israelites: "When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, "You are not to go back that way again." He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. [Deuteronomy 17:14-20]
In my imperfect wisdom, I'd suggest to God that he not have given kings such a checklist of sins to accomplish in their lifetime-- and most of them did. But, God knows better than I, and the kings probably would have sinned even without God's law telling them how they'd misbehave. Saul, Israel's first King, rapidly proved himself unworthy of the job (1 Samuel 13-15), David sinned a fair number of times (2 Samuel 11-12 for the Bathsheba incident), and Solomon collected enough wives to be tempted to make sacrifices to false Gods [1 Kings 11:1-13] Just those three kings alone broke all of the Deuteronomy 17 regulations, and most of the kings after them sinned in worse ways. See 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles for all the gory details of mostly misbehaving kings.
Fast forward to the New Testament, where for a short period of time, we have the perfect leader, Jesus. Patient with his disciples, able to teach thousands, and could act in the most powerful position a leader can take: a servant. Jesus repeatedly described himself as such, saying "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." [John 10:11] In John 13:1-17, Jesus washed his disciple's feet at the Last Supper-- "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." [John 13:15] Jesus then showed an even more powerful act of leadership as a servant by dying on the cross-- he took our sins upon himself. What was ours to suffer, he took. What was our eternal suffering, he took.
Jesus was also a high priest that'll never die, unlike the line of Aaron. "Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever." [Hebrews 7:26-28] Jesus is our High Priest forever, something we can take of advantage of right now. Jesus's kingdom where he is our direct leader has not yet arrived, but it will after the resurrection.
In the meantime, what are we to do about leaders? Following the Bible is always a good plan: "Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men." [Titus 3:1-2] We also need to pray for all leaders, secular or religious, Christian or not. "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way." [Hebrews 13:17-18]
At times, we have the ability to help choose leaders, and the Bible is quite clear on this subject as well. 1 Timothy 3:1-13 is a great place to use as measuring mark for leaders:
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being
an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be
above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate,
self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given
to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover
of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his
children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how
to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He
must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall
under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good
reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and
into the devil's trap.
Instead of the Deuteronomy passage where we have sins marking a bad leader listed, we have the positive traits of a Christian leader here. In fact, you may want to use this list as a checklist of how current political leaders measure against God's standards, and see how many traits they do or don't follow. We should be looking for the most Godly leaders we can find, and continually exhorting people to measure up to these standards even if they're not leaders-- such standards should be evident in every Christian, whether an explicit leader or not. Is your life characterized by being above reproach? Being temperate? Self-controlled? Respectable? Hospitable? Able to teach? Sobriety? Gentleness? Able to put God before money? Managing a family well? If you fall short in any areas, pray to God to help you in those areas, and seek out other humans to be accountable to-- knowing that someone else is praying for you and helping you stay committed to God is a huge boost.