Leaders who don’t lead | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Leaders who don’t lead

Nature and Scripture abhor weak rulers

You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining. You've read all of your free articles.

Full access isn’t far.

We can’t release more of our sound journalism without a subscription, but we can make it easy for you to come aboard.

Get started for as low as $3.99 per month.

Current WORLD subscribers can log in to access content. Just go to "SIGN IN" at the top right.


Already a member? Sign in.

“When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2). 

Birds fly. Pigs root. Stars shine. They all do their jobs well. O that rulers would rule well.

Judges is a compact book. Reading it, you would think the pantheon of leaders of Israel in its pre-monarchical days cropped up thick and fast and kept the citizenry in a permanent state of martial readiness. But there were in fact during those 410 or 589 years (depending on how you count them) more stretches of spiritual doldrums than of heady deliverances.

Suddenly, out of the moral morass, would arise an Othniel or a Deborah to momentarily rouse the people from their state of moribund resignation, and remind them who they are.

Heading into our nation’s 2024 election season, I think wistfully of “The Song of Deborah”: When “the leaders took the lead … the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord.”

The first clause of the song is necessary to the second. Scripture itself declares that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). The people will willingly offer themselves when the leaders have vision and lead. That is the law of leaders and the led.

For leaders not to lead is an affront against nature itself, as when clouds are all puff and no rain, or trees are all leaf and no fruit. Such leaders are “shepherds who feed only themselves” (Jude 1:12). They run when they see a wolf coming (John 10:12). Or they are the wolf. “Woe to the shepherds! … Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezekiel 34:2).

King David did not lead that woeful day “in spring when kings go out to war” (2 Samuel 11:1) but stayed behind and gave the devil opportunity. Samson hindered his own leadership with many women (Judges 14). Rehoboam hearkened to his friends and not the aged (1 Kings 12). Tribes failed to lead: “Reuben … why did you sit among the sheepfolds, to hear the pipings for the flocks? … Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan, and why did Dan remain on ships?” (Judges 5:15-17).

Saul, for all his faults, at least broke off from stalking David when his soldiers came and told him of a Philistine attack (1 Samuel 23:27-28).

Do you know who said these words: “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British prime minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep”? That was Winston Churchill’s predecessor as prime minister—and much of the world has forgotten his name. Such is the ignominy of the ruler who fails to rule well.

Across the English Channel a more complicated leader was Marshal Phililppe Petain, who went from hero of the First World War to shame of the Second as presider over collaborative Vichy France.

When God appoints Joshua the new ruler, He says three times in nine verses to “be strong and of good courage” (Joshua 1). Courage is the signal attribute of rulers—willingness to eschew the popular thing for the good thing. Finger-to-the-wind rule is “when leaders follow,” not “when leaders lead.”

A profile in courage: In the 15th century, King Sejong of Korea’s Choson Dynasty disdained popularity and the disgruntled nobility to do his nation good by inventing an alphabet to replace the ponderous Chinese language. Sejong sought to promote literacy among the lower classes and to liberate the gifts of men he ruled. He awarded government positions based on merit and not class. His picture is still on Korean money to this day.

Alas, in life under the sun, good rulers are not always rewarded with cultural immortality: “There was a little city with few men in it; and a great king came against it, besieged it, and built great snares around it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that same poor man” (Ecclesiastes 9:14-15).

I say we find that wise man and elect him!

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...