I was struck again the other day from the Book of Judges by how foolish we human beings tend to be when it comes to choosing our leaders (and no, this is not a comment about Trump or Biden; the recent election of a new Archbishop; the appointment of our new Senior Minister or any other contemporary real world situation…).
There they were, the people of God, in all sorts of trouble once again following the death of Gideon. For although he’d led them well, subduing the Midianites and giving rest for 40 years (8:28), Gideon had also made an ephod which had ensnared many (v.27), while also somehow managing to father seventy (70!!) legitimate sons + at least one illegitimate one (v. 30-31) which meant that the question of succession would be a contested one: There were certainly no shortage of candidates.
And it’s at this point that illegitimate Abimelech, aka “the Bramble” (9:14), steps forward with a proposal for his mother’s family clan: “Which is better for you,”, he asks, “that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon) rule over you, or that one rule over you? Remember that I am your bone and your flesh.” Abimelech puts himself forward as a leadership candidate and for some reason, the people accept his offer. After all, there was an undeniable pragmatic logic to what he was saying – one is better than seventy. And it’s better the devil you know, right?
But it all ends in disaster as Abimelech goes on to perpetrate an almost unimaginable atrocity (perhaps even believing himself to be acting with his family’s support), killing every one of Gideon’s 70 sons bar one to secure his rule, leaving the survivor Jotham to question the “good faith” and “integrity” of the people’s choice (9:16, 19). Because the simple fact is, far from being the great shining virtue it’s often portrayed as, democracy (i.e. “the people’s choice”) divorced from the will of God has actually been instrumental in causing a great deal of evil over the years. Think of Israel’s choice of “tall Saul” because of his looks and a desire to be “ like the other nations” (1 Samuel 9:2; 8:20); or of Jerusalem’s choice of Barabbas. In the memorable words of Winston Churchill:
‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’
How good it is to know, then, that God’s choices are not like ours, being based on very different criteria! Hebrews 1:9 tells us that the reason God appointed Jesus to serve as our great Messiah King, anointing him “with the oil of gladness beyond [his] companions”, was because he “loved righteousness and hated wickedness”. In other words, God’s choice of Jesus came down to his character in the end, making Him a leader we can trust and have absolute confidence in no matter what situation or circumstance we might find ourselves in. For He will always make the right call. May this thought bring you great comfort and joy this week!
In His grace,