Recently I’ve been reading through portions of the Old Testament. There is so much wisdom to be found throughout every section of Scripture, whether its a historical book, one of the prophets or wisdom literature. That’s what I love about God’s Word- He speaks to us in all of it.
What struck me in the 1 Samuel narrative was how God commissioned the people to respond not to the “right” leadership but to God Himself. Ultimately Saul was put in place as king over Israel, though he was not God’s choice. Not only was Saul not God’s choice, the desire for a king outside of God’s will was described as “wickedness” (1 Sam. 12:20). It was in the midst of this wickedness that the Lord beckoned the people to turn to Him wholeheartedly, because He would continue to establish them despite the leadership over them. This brought out a key point to my heart: God is sovereign over having weak, imperfect leaders, or even the “wrong” leaders. Let’s dive in a little to the text itself to pull out the gems.
In 1 Samuel 8, Israel begins to demand that a king be put in place over them so that they could be like the other nations (8:5b). Up to that point, Israel had been through a season of being “judged and delivered” by judges, then Samuel was established as prophet to the nation (1 Samuel 3:20). Yet as Samuel aged and his sons did not walk in his ways, Israel became restless and cried out for a king.
The Lord heeded the people’s cries, but the Lord revealed their desire for a king was actually a rejection of the Lord Himself (1 Sam. 8:7). The character of earthly kings was revealed so that Israel would know what they got themselves into (1 Sam. 8:10-20). After giving fair warning, the Lord promised to give them a king. He found that king in Saul– a son of the tribe of Benjamin– and anointed him commander over the people of Israel (1 Sam. 9:14-16; 10:1).
Here is where things get very interesting. God made known that Israel’s cry for a king was not His desire, and He also told them plainly what a king would do to them. Samuel went so far as to say that Israel’s desire for a king was wickedness (1 Sam. 12:20). And yet despite all of this, the Lord still promised Israel’s goodness and blessing if they continued to obey the Lord and love Him wholeheartedly, saying:
“Do no fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart… 22 For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you His people… 25 But if you do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
(1 Sam. 12:20, 22, 25).
As I read this, I was seeing the goodness of God surpass the blunderings and failures of man. Leadership is part of every sphere of society– from international relations, national government, states, cities, business, organizations, and individual homes. We cannot escape how integral establishing leadership is no matter what sphere it is in. If we are following the Lord, the desire is to have the right leadership in place at the right time. But will we get it right every time? The chances are pretty slim that we will. And yet here the sovereignty and goodness of God begins to shine through.
Saul was not God’s choice for Israel, but he was anointed at the people’s cries. Ultimately the Lord’s heart was for the people to love Him, to follow Him and have no idols. This was still possible, no matter who was established as leader at that time. God’s purpose for the people remained same though Saul was made king: “Love Me, follow Me, be holy as I am holy.” The people could do this despite leadership.
Israel’s choice did create certain dynamics for the nation, but the point being drawn out here is that God promised to be God to Israel despite their wickedness and lack of understanding in demanding a king. He was going to continue to do them good as they served Him because He loved them and made covenant with them. God would still establish them and bless them as they turned their hearts to Him.
So often we look at leadership- again, whether on a personal, local, national or international level, and think we are doomed because of who is in place as leader. The Word reveals that it is actually the response of the people to God that either brings blessing or cursing. Do we trust the Lord enough to pursue righteousness wholeheartedly and seek to see it established in others around us and forsake thinking all is lost because of who is in leadership? God is looking for our response to Him. He raises up kings and tears them down, He has used both good and evil men to accomplish His purposes in the earth, but ultimately He is looking at the hearts of the people– will we turn to Him and serve Him with all that we are? Our response to God, not the perfection of our leaders or even the “right” leaders, is what saves us.
There will always be a need to establish leaders in various spheres, but we can be confident in the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness despite leadership as we turn our hearts to Him.