“With the leaders wholly dedicated in Israel, the people volunteered; bless Yahweh!”
The first part of this verse is cryptic and is the subject of a good deal of debate. The word in question is oårDp (para’) and it is used twice (back to back) at the beginning of this verse, initially as an infinitive construct of the verb and then as a noun. The common meaning of the term is “to let go” or “to neglect” (see Exodus 32:25; Numbers 5:18; 6:5; Ezekiel 44:20; Proverbs 4:15), and it is most commonly found in connection with hair being allowed to hang loose and in an unkempt way. It is an odd way to begin this song of praise. When the Hebrews translated this into Greek, though, they chose to use the term a¡rcw (archo), which means to govern, which adds an additional level of curiosity to the text.
The argument is that this is a figure of speech that the Hebrew translators were rendering into Greek…that to allow one’s hair to hang loose (as a man) is a reference to being wholly committed to a plan of action. The Nazirites, in Old Testament law, took a vow which set them apart from the rest of society as being wholly committed to God. Part of their vow was to allow their hair to grow out and be uncut (see Numbers 6:1-21 for the rules of the Nazirite). Thus, for one to be “let go” in terms of their hair, was to have been fully committed, in this case, to leading (something that the men of Israel had been remiss in doing) — hence the translation in the Greek Septuagint, that the “leaders lead” (a translation that our English translations have chosen to follow).
The practical application is simply that we are in much the same boat. We have leaders, but the majority of them (it seems) don’t lead, but serve themselves. And then, people wonder why the people of the nation do not follow the lead of the leaders. When leaders lead in a Godly way — an office of service — then people will rally and follow. This applies to the church as well. How often it is that leadership is more or less a meaningless title and those elected to lead Christ’s church sit back and allow people to do “whatever seems right in their own eyes”! How often leaders assume that the pastor will just do everything…(He’s the one that gets paid, after all!). How often strong individuals or influential families tend to lead and do so to suit their own agendas. How often pastors, even, use the church for their own agendas, not for the glory of Christ! How often our churches seem like the majority of the churches given letters in Revelation 2 and 3, filled with problems and rebuke!
When the leaders lead…when those whom God has called to lead, lead in a way that is wholly dedicated to the design and plan of God…when they lead sacrificially and to the glory of Christ, then God’s people will follow. And when God’s people follow God’s leaders, He changes the world around them. The primary testimony of the church’s failure in America to have leaders lead in this way is seen in the fact that we have lost the “culture war” (though I am not entirely sure that the church even really engaged in the war in a Biblical way in the first place).
This verse ends with the words, “bless Yahweh!” They become a kind of refrain that is repeated throughout, but the principle is clear…when God’s people live for God’s glory and faithfully do what God has set before them, then we bless our God. May we do so.