What happens in the absence of leadership?

Judges 19:29-30  29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!”

I did NOT want to write about this chapter today, mainly because I was disturbed.  Here you have the story of a Levite and his concubine (kind of like a wife, but considered purely property).  She runs away, he goes after her, and they journey back home.  On the way home, the men of a village want to have sex with the man – okay gross.  Instead, they take his concubine and completely rape and abuse her to death.  I can’t even fathom this whole scenario.  It is disgusting and vile and every other wicked word you can come up with.

So when the Levite gets home, he cuts his dead concubine up into 12 pieces and mails them to all the tribes in Israel.  I have received a lot of packages in the mail, but imagine receiving a leg or an arm.  That’s just plain wrong!  So why did he do it?  What drove him to this extreme thing?  The first verse of the chapter gives us a clue.  It said that Israel had no king; they had no leadership.  And without leadership, lawlessness prevails.  That’s partly what led to the horrific thing done to this concubine.  But it’s also what led the man to this odd mass mailing.  He had no leader to appeal to for justice.  He had no judge, no supreme court.  So he appealed to the entire nation and I guess he thought this was the best way to get their attention.  He didn’t have email, twitter, or the local news to get the word out.  He had to rely solely on himself.

Which makes me grateful for leadership.  It makes me grateful for order.  Without leadership in our lives, we are forced to figure out on our own what is right.  Without leadership, we don’t have anyone to hold us accountable for our actions, and the depravity of the human condition will emerge in a leaderless society.  So we need to be led, whether we like it or not.  That’s why I value leadership so much.  There are times where I think it would be easier to be out there on my own not having to answer to anyone, but I recognize the danger in that kind of thinking.  So I surround myself with accountability and leadership over my life.  And it starts with God.  We must first let Him lead and from there allow Godly leadership into our lives.  Because once we venture out on our own, we will eventually find ourselves in danger with no one to cry out to.

It’s important how you start

Judges 9:1-6  1 Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, 2 “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”  3 When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” 4 They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless adventurers, who became his followers. 5 He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. 6 Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.

Holy smokes this is a brutal chapter of the Bible.  Talk about your ultimate case of sibling rivalry.  Here’s the scenario: Gideon has 70 sons, which to me seems a bit excessive.  One son, Abimelech decided he should be in charge around here so he convinces the people to help him.  Now you should now that Abimelech’s mother was a slave of Gideon (first problem: sleeping with your slave), so his relatives were a different people group than the other sons.  He convinces his relatives that he should be the only one in charge.  After all, a throne with 70 guys on it gets a little crowded.   Well, they agree with him and he beginning days of his leadership aren’t something to be proud of.   And his choices at the beginning of his leadership defined the remainder of his days.

Abimelech made three horrible choices at the beginning of his rulership: 1. He accepted money from the temple of a false God.  He essentially used dirty money to launch his authority.  2. He hired fun, free-spirited, reckless adventurers for his team.  There are two problems with this – buying his followers and selecting a bunch of trouble causers.  3. He killed people to gain authority.

Now this last one seems like an obvious no-no, but let’s also take a look at the other two.  Because I see these same things happening in our world today.  Number one, people are offered dirty money to get ahead.  Examples of this are bribes, stolen money, and sketchy business deals.  Number two, surrounding oneself with people who flatter them and are willing to do what you say as long as you pay them to say the right stuff.  Number three, stepping on whoever is necessary to get ahead.

This is corporate America, people!  This is the way of the world.  And it always works and it never works.  It always seems to work out in the short-term.  It provides instant results, but it usually catches up with the person in the long run.  They may later be exposed for their incompetency and it is discovered that they cheated their way to the top.  They may later crack under the pressure because they don’t have the skill set necessary to lead.  No matter the cause, leadership that starts off corrupt usually ends with poor results.

This is why it is so important to start things the right way.  Abimelech’s life was ended in a miserable, shameful way – a lady dropped a brick on his head.  The decisions he made at he beginning of his rulership followed him.  He became defined by how he started.  He started a cheater, so he led like a cheater.  He started a murderer, he led like a murderer.  He couldn’t escape it.  (Well he could have escaped it by repenting and turning to God, but he didn’t.)  He chose the way he would be defined.  We, too, choose the way that we are defined.  We get to decide how we start things.  We can hold integrity as a high standard and follow the ways of the Lord or we can lie, cheat, and steal our way into power.  We just have to keep in mind that whatever path we choose will define our leadership.  It will stick with us.  So let’s choose to have ethics that we can be proud of.  Let’s start things with the right motives in the right way.

The real boss

Judges 8:22-23  22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.”  23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”

Today’s passage gets to the very heart of why Gideon was successful.  In this chapter we see a different Gideon – we see a confident Gideon.  He destroys anyone in his path with such great confidence that it is terrifying.  The scared wimpy Gideon of the past is gone and the mighty warrior of God has arrived at the scene.  And the best part about it is that he realizes why he is different.  He recognizes the change in identity and purpose.  The difference is the changing power of God in his life.

So when the Israelites come to him and ask him to rule over them, he simply responds to them with the truth.  He says that he will not rule over them, but the Lord will rule over them.  The thing is: Gideon did rule over them.  He was the big boss; he ruled the nation.  But Gideon pointed toward God with his leadership.  He told them that God was the real boss.  God was the CEO, the CFO, and the COO.  He was the real one in charge.

It’s the most effective way to lead really, God through us.  With God, all of your shortcomings become a non-issue.  With God, all of your wisdom is trumped by all of His.  So when we lead our homes, our kids, our friends, or our companies, we should remember Gideon.  We should remember that it is the Lord who is truly leading.  Let’s just make sure that when we say that, we are really letting Him lead.  Doing so will produce the greatest success anyone’s ever known.

Famous last words

Joshua 24:14-15 14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

I wonder what my last words will be when I get old.  I wonder if it will be profound, touching, or something cranky like “get out of my room!”  Here’s a list of famous last words that I don’t want to say:

“Hey, watch this.”

“Are you sure the power is off?”

“I can pass this guy.”

“What does this button do?”

“Does it bite?”

Now, who wants to have something stupid be what they are remembered for?  Not me.

Fortunately, Joshua had much better last words than any of those.  Here in chapter 24, Joshua is giving his final charge to the people of Israel.  He first reminds them of all that God has done for them.  He walks them through history recalling the greatness of God.  After all the buildup he says, “well I guess if you don’t really feel like serving God go ahead and do your own thing. But my household will be marked by serving the Lord.”  Of course the people respond that they will serve God forever and ever, which they don’t.  Joshua calls it too – he tells them they don’t have the capacity to serve a Holy God.  (Thank goodness for Jesus, huh?)

Back to these famous words of Joshua: as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. Joshua was about to die.  He wasn’t talking about his household serving God for the next few weeks.  He was talking about the legacy that he intended to leave behind.  He was marking the generations to come with a seal of their inheritance in the Lord.  Leaving a legacy requires leading today and preparing tomorrow’s leaders to lead tomorrow. You see, Joshua wouldn’t be able to make such a statement unless he had already trained up his sons and daughters to live for the Lord.  It takes work, but it’s work that I am willing to do.  I, too, want to be able to say that my household will serve the Lord for generations to come.

I’ll go last

Joshua 19:49-50 49 When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, 50 as the LORD had commanded. They gave him the town he asked for—Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he built up the town and settled there.

Have you ever been the last one to be chosen?  Or possibly you have been the last in a very long line.  Going last requires patience and endurance.  Going last means you have to be content with what is left over.  Going last means that you might not get the best choice.  So who would choose to go last?  Why would someone want to do that on purpose?  I find here in Joshua 19 that a good leader would.

Joshua has been spending much of his time handing out the different pieces of land to the Israelites.  This must have been an exciting time, because these people didn’t know what it was like to have their own land.  Some of them may have been children when their parents were slaves in Egypt.  But most of them had been wandering around the desert for 40 years with no place to call home.  I am sure that Joshua was eager to claim some land of his own as well.  And what I see reflected in today’s worldly leadership is that they take care of themselves first and then give to the rest of the people.  Joshua didn’t have this mentality; he trusted the Lord.

When you trust in the Lord, last place doesn’t matter.  Even though Joshua took nothing for himself, the Israelites turned back to him and said, “take whatever you want.”  So he chose a hill country in the land of his family.  It was just what he wanted and he didn’t have to set it aside first.  This is the kind of leadership that God is looking for.  He desires a man who will lay down his rights and serve the people he is leading.  But we know that Jesus told us that he who lays down his life will find it.  He told us the last shall be first.  So there is no need to worry, no cause to fear.  When we put others before ourselves, we give God the opportunity to lift us up.