Leadership (V): Avoiding Authoritarianism (A)

God said that when the children of Israel chose a king after possessing Canaan,

when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment… (Deut.17:18-20).

This passage hints at something: leaders must watch that they avoid authoritarianism. What is that? The dictionary defines authoritarian behaviour as favouring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom.”

But it’s really more than that. It’s acting as though authority can be held autonomously, without accountability to God and others. This was implicit in Satan’s promise to Adam and Eve in the Garden. He said “you shall be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen.3:5).

Our Lord had to face this issue head-on in the wilderness temptations. The devil tried to lure him with the offer of autonomous power, rather than the ethics of submission. “…If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Mat.4:3).

Jesus reminded the devil of the requirement for maintaining the kingdom grant: obedience. Prosperity is not a matter of power; it is a matter of covenantal obedience. His power over the stones was unquestioned. The devil did not suggest otherwise. In fact, the temptation rested on the presupposition that Jesus possessed such power. The nature of this temptation was an appeal to power. This was one more example of the power religion vs. the dominion religion. Jesus refused to invoke power rather than ethics.[1]

God is the perfect authority, and all authority is derived from Him. It was the resurrected Jesus Christ Who declared to His disciples that “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mat.28:18). Whatever authority men hold is derived from God, and is to be held in a representative way, according to His law. Our Lord explained to Pilate, “you would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above…” (Jn.18:11).

The primary obligation of a king (or any leader, for that matter) to be accountable to God was where King Saul fell down. What did Saul do wrong? He confiscated property, introduced income tax, murdered people and consulted a medium. These were breaches of the First, the Sixth, the Eighth and the Tenth Commandments. Thus the Bible says that

Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making enquiry of it, and did not enquire of the Lord. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse (I Chron.10:13-14).

Rehoboam was warned by the elders that served his father Solomon, “if you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever” (I Kings 12:7). This was Rehoboam’s opportunity to avoid authoritarianism, but he didn’t have the heart. He wanted those taxes! Consequently he lost most of his kingdom (v.16), and suffered invasion (II Chron.12:1-8).

Ahab and his wife Jezebel conspired to murder Naboth and confiscate his vineyard. But God commanded Elijah to say to Ahab, “have you murdered and taken possession?” (I Kings 21:19). Elijah went on to predict the destruction of Ahab’s household, which later occurred. The common pattern of the evil kings of Israel and Judah was theft and murder, leading to both individual judgment and collective captivity.

Will we be any different? The pattern of massive taxation of Saul and Rehoboam is repeated today in Australia, on a scale never dreamed of in Saul’s day, when it exceeded 10%. Furthermore, when Governor Generals and Prime Ministers retire they receive a vast sum annually, along with a full-time secretary and free travel, all of course at taxpayers’ expense. With godly reconstruction, this will have to change.

The prophet Samuel was different. He challenged Israel mid-way through his ministry,

“Bear witness against me before the Lord and His anointed. Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? I will restore it to you.” They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand” (I Sam.12:3-4).

(To be Continued)


[1] North, G., “Priorities and Dominion,” 2000, ch.1.

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