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Leaders Should be a Threat

“And he said to Zebach and to Tsalmunna, ‘Where are the men which you slew at Tabor?’ And they said, ‘They were just like you; each one resembled the son of the king.”

(Judges 8:18)

This little verse is filled with idioms that don’t translate well at least in literal word for word English. First is the use of “Where are the men…” Gideon is not so much as looking for the location of the bodies of his brothers who were slain, though this is likely what we would presume from the literal translation of the text. The word “where” can also refer to “what condition” or in “what state” were these men when you executed them. One might even ask, in more idiomatic English, “Why did you slay them?” This understanding makes more sense of the answer that the two kings offer…these men that they slew appeared to be kings — leaders of men, just like Gideon.

The second idiom that is awkward in English comes in the response of these two kings. Literally they respond: “Like you; like them.” This can be understood in connection of the language of the son of the king — another idiom that refers to one’s comportment or bearing — the confident air that one in leadership would embody. It was obvious to these kings that the men they slew were leaders amongst men, not followers.

The practical application to the church of this is how many church leaders really distinguish themselves as leaders…so much so that the pagans who are against Christianity see them as a threat? And here, I am not just talking about pastors…in fact, I am not primarily talking about pastors, but the leadership of the local church…the Elders, Deacons, and other leadership of the congregation. Sadly, I fear that it can be said of few of them that “like you; like them” or that they carry themselves as a son of the King in such a way that the enemy would be threatened by their work and character. People wonder why the church in America does not influence American life…a big part of it is because the leaders of the church do not live their lives in such a way as to influence American life.

When Leaders Lead

“With the leaders wholly dedicated in Israel, the people volunteered; bless Yahweh!”

(Judges 5:2)

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.

Laban or Abraham; Managers or Leaders?

“And Rebekah had a brother and his name was Laban. Laban ran to the man which was standing by the spring. Thus it was when he saw the nose-ring and the bracelets over the hands of his sister and when he heard the words of Rebekah his sister saying, “This is what the man said to me,” he went out to the man and behold, he was standing by the camels by the spring.”

(Genesis 24:29-30)

 

The temptation might be to see these two verses as somewhat redundant, the second just giving more detail than the first. Some have even gone as far as to suggest two sources are being combined here by a later editor, but such misses the point of what the author is seeking to do. One must remember that the audience would largely have heard these stories told orally and that this story is meant to be a dramatic one. Here too we are at the climax of the story when Eliezer has finally found and identified Rebekah and we are excitedly waiting to find out what might happen next. In addition, we are being introduced to Laban, who will once again become a major character in the life of God’s chosen people for it is to Laban that Isaac’s son, Jacob, will go to find a wife. So, as the story is told, all of these things are being combined together with narrative style to build tension and to give a taste of what is to come.

Thus, when we read the second verse, we should not see it as redundant but as a dramatic foretaste of the character of Laban. We are told that Laban ran to the man who was standing by the spring, but as Moses is writing this account many years later, he also wants to give us insight as to why Laban is running to meet this man. And the “why” begins with the fact that Laban has seen the wealth with which Rebekah so casually returns. It will not be until Isaac’s son encounters Laban that we see the extent of the man’s greed and conniving ways, but here we are given clear enough indication that money and personal gain is a focal point of his life, hence what some perceive as repetition.

Sadly, Laban is not all too different than many professing Christians. How often people take the mindset of, “what will this do for me?”, rather than “how can I serve you?” How often churches also fall into this trap, focusing on their own personal agendas rather than on the glory of Christ and on His greater kingdom. How often do we find one church helping to pay off the mortgage of another in the community? How often do we find one group within a church saying, “let’s work together to see your goals realized before we see our own goals met.” How often we have agendas and not goals, ideas but no vision? All too often we act more like Laban than like Abraham or even like Eliezer.

It is said that in church leadership what we usually get is managers, people who labor to maintain the status quo, keep people happy and content, and seek to make sure that the financial obligations of the church are met. Yet, leadership is not management. Anyone can manage; few can lead because leadership takes vision and direction and means walking forward and challenging people to follow. Management means keeping expectations consistent where leadership demands that the bar of expectations be raised and then reached for. Management will raise up Labans into authority; Leadership calls for Abrahams. The question is which will it be? Labans lead to churches, segments of churches, and people that are self-serving and who will protect their assets; Abrahams lead to churches and people who walk forward in faith no matter what the cost. Which looks more like the church that Christ has called us to be?