Leadership (V): Avoiding Authoritarianism (B)

Despite holding all authority in the universe, God Himself is not authoritarian in His dealings with people.

What do I mean by this? He is not arbitrary or capricious with us. On the contrary, His dealings with His people are based on His covenant with us, along with His total awareness of our frailties and needs, for He made us. The Bible says that “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Ps.103:14).

Numbers 11 tells us of one of the tough times Moses was having leading the children of Israel. He said to the Lord,

Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favour in your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which you swore to their fathers’? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favour in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness (Nu.11:11-15).

What is God’s response? God doesn’t rebuke Moses for his complaint. God understands Moses’ situation perfectly. Firstly, He commands Moses to gather seventy men from the elders of Israel, and promises to come down and take of the Spirit that is upon Moses, and put it on these men, so Moses will not have to bear the burden of two to three million people alone. Then, He tells Moses that He will come tomorrow, and send a meat supply that will be more than enough for the people.

Is this a mean authoritarian figure in heaven, angry with a struggling delegate? Hardly.

Secondly, we read in Numbers 27 that the five daughters of Zelophehad came to Moses with  a complaint, relating to the law God had given concerning the distribution of inheritances. Their father had died and they had no brothers, and it was sons who normally received the inheritance. So they complained to Moses, “why should the name of our father be withdrawn because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers” (Nu.27:4).

Now it could be argued that these women were finding fault with God’s law. They were certainly drawing attention to an injustice that they would suffer, if the Mosaic law as it stood was followed inflexibly.

But observe God’s response to Moses’query. God did not say, “Well, that’s the way it is girls. The law’s been decided now, don’t you know? Life can be tough, and you will have to live with this. Don’t bring your legal anomaly problems to me, because I can’t be bothered.”

No. He said

The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them (v.7).

God dealt with these women with perfect understanding of their situation, and perfect justice. Their legitimate complaint led to God instructing Moses to change His law (v.8-11).

God is different to human, authoritarian despots. Their behaviour is completely alien to Him. He commands us to “vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute” (Ps.82:3), because that is what He does, even if justice means a change in the law He had instituted.

Thirdly, the example of the Shunammite woman (II Kings 4:8-37) is very significant. After she showed hospitality to Elisha, he promised her that she would bear a son, which she in fact did (v.17). But when her son who had been given to her miraculously through a prophet’s intervention died, she was left with a broken promise not just from the prophet, but indirectly from God, and she held that prophet accountable!

She found the prophet Elisha and said, “Did I ask for a son from my Lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?” (v.28) Elisha’s response is immediate: he knows that not only is his reputation on the line; so is God’s. He goes straight to that woman’s home where the boy was laid dead on his bed, and through the power of God raised him from the dead (v.34-36).

The Bible says,

Who is like the Lord our God, Who is enthroned on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people (Ps.113:5-8).

God Himself is our best example of how not to be authoritarian. His promise is clear:

He who rules over men righteously, who rules in the fear of God, is as the light of the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds, when the tender grass springs out of the earth, through sunshine after rain” (II Sam.23:3-4).

Conclusion: The goal of good leadership is to represent God, according to His Word. That means justice, integrity and accountability, according to His law. The misuse of power is abhorrent to God and leads to His judgment, but godly leadership leads to blessing (Ps.112:1-3).

God is on the side of those who oppose and avoid authoritarianism, because the Bible says that “the one who despises the word will be in debt to it, but the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded” (Prov.13:13). Rehoboam ignored this advice from his father, to his loss.

Jesus commanded us to “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls” (Mat.11:29).

Wouldn’t you rather your leadership to be like His?

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