1 Samuel – Introduction – Chapter 620
LEADERSHIP is as important in today’s world as it has been in every society in every age. Some would go further and speak of a contemporary crisis of leadership. There is now widespread cynicism expressed, especially in the media, toward those in leadership. Confidence in our elected leaders is at a low ebb.
Of course, leadership is a much bigger subject than politics. Leadership also matters in the world of business, sports, entertainment, fashion. Indeed leadership is something that touches our lives at every level and in every sphere. All of us choose leaders and reject leaders. That is to say, we allow some people to influence us, and we reject the influence of others. This happens in many different ways—as we choose a career, as we learn, as we make important decisions, as we make life choices, as we develop our values. We do not do these things in isolation from external influences. On the contrary, our lives are shaped by the influence of different people whose example or ideas or vision or teaching or values we follow. These are our real leaders, although it is possible that we do not always think of them, and they do not necessarily think of themselves, as leaders. By definition leaders are those who are followed!
It is interesting to reflect for a moment on the leaders who have shaped your life. Who are the leaders who are now shaping your life? Some will be obvious. Some we might hardly realize.
I recently browsed the shelves of a local bookshop and noticed the number and variety of books on leadership. There is considerable interest in the subject. There is a popular Christian journal called Leadership. Mind you, most of the material I have seen is about how to be a leader rather than how to choose which leaders you will follow—which is surely the more important question.
However, all of us do both. On the one hand, whether we are high-flying achievers who think of ourselves as leaders or more humble human beings who see ourselves as small players in the game of life, all of us exercise influence (I am calling it leadership) somewhere. It may be over your children or within your family, a circle of friends, a neighbourhood. To some degree and in some respect and in some areas of our lives, we are all leaders.
What kind of leader are you? What kind of leaders should we be? How do you work that out?
On the other hand, the more important thing is that we all follow leaders. No matter how high up the status tree you may think you have climbed (or think you will climb), there is always someone higher. Furthermore we all choose to follow leaders, the leaders we decide to trust, the leaders we allow to influence us.
What kind of leaders do we follow? What kind of leaders should we follow? How do we work that out?
If we could answer such questions with confidence and had the wisdom to put our answers into practice, it would make a real difference in how well we lived.
I have begun this exposition of the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel with these thoughts because the book of 1 Samuel is about leadership. Mind you, what we will learn from this part of the Bible is very different from anything you will find in your local bookshop in the “Leadership” section. Much in these pages will take us by surprise.
Israel's Leadership Crisis
In 1 Samuel we find the story (which continues into 2 Samuel) of three great leaders of the nation of Israel, through a period when Israel experienced a massive leadership crisis that led to an historic change in the character of the nation’s leadership.
The three leaders were: Samuel (whose story begins in 1 Samuel 1), Saul (the first king of Israel, who will first appear in 1 Samuel 9 and whose death occurs at the end of 1 Samuel), and David (Israel’s second and greatest king who will enter the story in 1 Samuel 16 but will not become king until the early chapters of 2 Samuel).
Let us briefly set the scene. The book of I Samuel takes us back more than 3,000 years. The date was about 1050 B.C. It was a time when the question of leadership was very much in the air in the small and relatively young nation of Israel.
There had been about 200 years of extraordinary social upheaval, verging at times on anarchy. These were the 200 years after the Israelites had come into the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. The era is often referred to as the period of the judges. Much of it is recounted in the book of Judges, which concludes with this summary: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). In other words, there was no established and permanent political authority in the land. Anarchy reigned. There was a crisis of leadership in Israel. Or so it seemed.
What kind of leadership did this troubled society need?
We must, of course, remember that Israel was then different from any other nation in the history of the world. Israel was God's chosen people. They had become a nation because of God’s promise to their ancestor, Abraham. The promise was that God himself would make them into a great nation and that through them he would bring blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:1-3).
So the leadership question had a particular spin to it in those days at the end of the book of Judges and the beginning of 1 Samuel. What kind of leader did Israel, God’s own people, need? Through the period of the judges God had again and again raised up a leader (a “judge”) according to the need of the moment. But could that unpredictable arrangement be permanent? Could Israel survive lurching from crisis to crisis, as they had for the last two centuries? As we will see, threats from other peoples, especially the Philistines, were growing. We will also see that internal instability, even corruption in the nation’s leadership, was threatening Israel’s life. What was the solution for this special people whom God had made his own? What kind of leadership could provide stability and security to Israel? That is the question in the air as 1 Samuel begins.
Already we should realize that the Bible will introduce an important element to the leadership question: What does God have to do with leadership? As we follow the unfolding leadership crisis in Israel, we cannot avoid introducing this new element into the questions of our leadership crisis: what difference does God make to the kind of leader I should be and (more importantly) the kind of leaders I should follow?
The book of 1 Samuel is going to tell us the extraordinary story of the leadership crisis in Israel at the end of the second millennium B.C. In ways that will surprise us, it will point us to God’s astonishing answer to Israel’s predicament. We will see that God’s answer for Israel turns out to be his answer for the whole world and for each of us individually.
However, we must not jump ahead too quickly. In order to appreciate the important things that God has caused to be “written down for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11 ) in 1 Samuel, we must listen carefully and patiently to precisely what is written and consider its significance in the context of the whole Bible.