Leadership: Old Testament Style

Who are the greatest examples of leadership you can think off?

Image by Craig Parylo
Image by Craig Parylo

Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher, Ian Paisley, Adolf Hitler?

Martin Luther-King, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall?

Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer?

John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur?

Moses, Joshua, Nehemiah?

These are all people I have come across in books, seminars and blog posts on leadership.  Sometimes referencing them has helped, sometimes it has hindered.

But throughout all this material on leadership I have never come across any discussion on perhaps the most significant passage in the Old Testament to deal with leadership – laws concerning the king in Deuteronomy 17.  This is surprising because theologically the king was perhaps the most important leadership position in ancient Israel.

Three leadership lessons can be briefly drawn from Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

1. Lead like minded people

The nation of Israel was permitted to place a king over them at some point in the future (v14-15).

Obviously being God’s people it had to be someone that God had chosen (v15), but there was an additional stipulation.  That additional stipulation was that the Israelites had to appoint someone who was a brother to the position of king – ‘One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you.  You may not put a foreigner over you who is not your brother’ (v15).

The reason for Israel adhering to this stipulation was to protect their religious uniqueness.

The surrounding cultures in the ancient Near East worshipped a plethora of gods – not Yahweh the one true God.

Therefore, Israel could only have a king who worshipped the God of Israel.  In other words, they needed a leader on the same theological wave length.

For those of us who seek to lead people we must ensure that we seek to lead like minded people.

Now, this does not mean that we will find a group of people who think exactly like us, or whose ideas on certain issues will be as developed or formulated as ours.  Rather, this means we must ensure that we lead a group of people who are sympathetic to where we want to take them; a group of people who will gather around and behind us as we point the way.

2. Trust not in yourself

In the middle of this passage are three prohibitions that the king is to observe.

The king is not to acquire many horses, acquire many wives and acquire much gold or silver (v16-17).

In the ancient Near East horses equalled military strength, wives equalled political agreements (and a significant distraction) and gold and silver equalled wealth and status.  If the king of Israel acquired all these things he might be convinced that he could win any battle, he could barter with any nation and he could support himself financially.

This is not what Yahweh wanted from his vice-regent.

Yahweh wanted the kings of Israel to know they were dependant on him so they wouldn’t rely on their own perceived strengths.

The heart issue in these two verses is trust.  The king was not allowed to accumulate possessions in case he trusted in himself.

So too we must not trust in ourselves.  No matter what gifts and talents we possess, what effort we exert and what opportunities we can make the most of in leadership, we must never fall into the trap of trusting in ourselves.

We must trust in God, and him alone.

3. Submit to the Word

The final verses of this passage are undoubtedly the most important.

‘And when [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel’ (v18-20 ESV).

The king was to be completely subject to the law, to the Torah.

The Torah was the Word of God for the Israelites, this was the revelation God had given of himself and the demands he placed on his people at that stage of redemptive history.  For us today the equivalent is clearly Scripture in its entirety.

This is an important lesson for us to learn as leaders, especially those leaders charged with teaching God’s word.  We must submit ourselves to the Word.

D. A. Carson asserts “To our shame, we have hungered to be masters of the Word much more than we have hungered to be mastered by it” (Collected Writings on Scripture, pg. 108).  While this is true for each Christian individual, it is an all the more acute danger for the leader.  Carson continues “Our finiteness and our sinfulness continue to guarantee that our knowledge is always partial and frequently faulty, and therefore we need to walk humbly” (pg. 178).

Therefore, it is wise to submit to the infallible, inerrant Word of God.

There we have it, leadership: Old Testament style!

Are these characteristics in your leadership?

As you look at the week that lies before you will there be opportunities to exercise these three principles?  This past week have there been times in which you have failed to exercise these principles and need to seek forgiveness?  Is there someone who you should pray for, or encourage to, put these lessons into practice?


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