Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Point of the Exercise

It is God who confers authority, but he doesn’t do it for its own sake.

Sure, a position of authority often comes with side helpings: popularity, riches, dignity, power, a (usually temporary) legacy ... and (in Old Testament times at least) a bunch of wives. But these are baubles. They are not the point of the exercise. Other things come with authority too: abuse, rebellion, heckling and a horrible, frequently harrowing level of responsibility — but let’s not get into those.

My point is that it is always and only the WORK that matters to God, not the status or other benefits that authority confers.

Jobs and Titles

When God called Saul to be king over Israel, one of his jobs was to “restrain” God’s people, a point I have considered briefly here. Being a source of restraint is a much-overlooked aspect of a leader’s role, and one worth considering.

But other Hebrew words are also used to describe Saul’s role. God tells Samuel to anoint Saul “to be nagiyd over my people Israel”. The word is variously translated “ruler”, “prince”, “captain”, “leader” and “governor”, and it was not a title so much as it was a job. It was work, and it was supposed to be Saul’s work.

That is not how things went down, regrettably.

You Shall Shepherd My People

By the time we come to Samuel’s second book, we find the Israelite tribes saying this to David about Saul’s reign:
“In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall [be] shepherd [of] my people Israel, and you shall be nagiyd over Israel.’ ”
You see the problem. Saul was king. He had the title, the throne and whatever status and accolades were to be had from all that. But it was David that ended up doing the actual leading: “It was you who led out and brought in Israel.” Consequently Saul’s title would eventually belong to David as well.

It is the work that God values, and doing the work requires being obedient to his will. Everything else follows from that.

Father Knows Best

This is true in the home, where God has given authority to fathers, which means that father has to actually know best, not just bark out the orders because he’s nominally the man in charge. Fathers that do nothing more than make predictable quasi-authoritative noises don’t usually accomplish much in the long term. Really knowing best requires an avid and ongoing quest for the wisdom and will of God, without which no leader has ever truly prospered, along with a willingness to model the character and perform the duties a father requires of his children.

In short, actually doing the work of fathering.

It’s the work that God values in the local church, where no title ever made a man a pastor in the New Testament sense, but rather doing the actual pastoring, like David did when he “fed”, “pastored” or “shepherded” (go look, it’s a verb) the nation of Israel.

It’s the work God values, I venture to add, for those few Christians who find themselves with God-given authority in this world above and beyond the church and home.

Saul is not referred to as a “shepherd”. David, for all his faults, was first and foremost about the work. When he busied himself with the job to which he had been called, he was a memorable king, the greatest in Israel’s history.

When he got caught up in the baubles ... well, you know the rest of that story.

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