Summary: Good leadership is more than just giftedness. It also involves faithfulness to God, a right focus and direction for God’s people.
If you go to the book shop and browse the shelves in the management area, chances are you’ll find a host of books focusing on leadership as the critical factor in the success of a business. And when you think about it, it makes sense. If the person at the top is a good leader then the organisation is likely to follow him or her to success. But let’s think about that some more. What if the person is a good leader but they get the direction wrong. I could suggest a few struggling companies in Australia at the moment who are suffering from that sort of issue: companies who have employed a good leader who didn’t understand the industry they were moving into. We’ve had a great example of this sort of thing in the AFL in WA recently where someone with good leadership skills has wasted it through a lack of discipline in his personal life.
Why am I raising this question? Because in the history of God’s people so much has depended on good leadership. But not just good leadership gifts. Good leadership gifts combined with a right focus.
Last week we looked very quickly at the leadership of Moses as he brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, - with a lot of help from God of course.
God was taking them from Egypt to Canaan, to the land that he’d promised to give to Abraham’s descendants forever. This was to be a land where God’s blessing would be experienced as the nation of Israel began to live as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. They were meant to be a beacon to the surrounding nations so that people would see how God provided for them and as a result would want to become part of God’s people as well.
But as we read on in the story we find a series of failures. The people constantly complain as Moses is leading them through the desert. When he goes of to get the 10 commandments they make a golden calf to worship. When they finally get to the borders of the land and send spies in to check it out, all they can see are the difficulties, the barriers. All, that is, except for Caleb and Joshua. They see God going with them and fully able to give them the land.
But as so often happens the majority win out. They rebel against Moses leadership. They refuse to enter the land. And so God gives them what they ask for. He sends them back to wander the desert for another 40 years, until every one of the adults has died, apart from Caleb and Joshua.
When their children finally get to the land and begin the task of conquest they do well for the first year or two, but then the work gets too hard for them. The inhabitants seem so strong. Days are passing and they haven’t yet established their own homes. For some, their wives and families are waiting for them to return from war. And so the effort slowly wanes until by the end of Joshua and the beginning of Judges, the people are settled in the land but are living among the local inhabitants. They’ve come to a political stalemate, a compromise, that in the end affects not only the way they relate to their neighbours but the way they relate to God.
In the last chapter of Joshua, Joshua calls the people together and tells them they need to decide who they’re going to worship from now on. Either the gods of Egypt or the gods of Mesopotamia. As for Joshua he’s decided to serve the Lord. He suggests they not consider that path because they’ll inevitably fail. They protest that they will serve the Lord, but he says they can’t do it. He knows them too well. He knows that the moment he dies they’ll go off on their own and do whatever seems right to the individual.
He’s seen their failure in not driving the inhabitants of Canaan out of the land. And he knows what will happen. And so as we read on into Judges we see the sad story of their continuing failure repeated over and over again in a cycle of disobedience, judgement, repentance and salvation, each time depending on one person to lead them to salvation. God sends them godly leaders to rescue them, to bring them back to God time and time again.
Then comes Samuel, the prophet called by God to lead his people back to faithfulness. But even he can’t do it. Finally the people cry out for a king, just like all the other nations they live amongst.
This is one of those pivotal moments in history. A moment that could result in great things or disaster. Has God led them to this point or is it just their wilfulness? Samuel thinks it’s wilfulness. But God allows it. He has a larger plan in mind.