Today’s readings come from 1 Samuel 11 and Colossians 4:1
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Leaders are not necessarily defined by their cunning intellect, their powerful oratory or their ability to lead their nation into battle. Some leaders have fame and wealth, others have characteristics we admire and others instil in us a fear that demands our respect.
Three-thousand years ago in the middle-east, however, kings were predominantly seen as military leaders who were proven warriors in battle. As such, leaders in those times would be tall, strong and athletic. With this in mind it seems only fitting that God appointed Saul as Israel’s first King, a man who ‘was a head taller than any of the others’ (10:23). Despite his physical prowess, Saul had yet to prove his skills as military leader and some people were reluctant to have Saul as their King. This included Saul himself, who was found cowering amongst the supplies when his name was called out by lot (10:22).
Shortly after his initial appointment as King, today’s reading from 1 Samuel 11 describes Saul’s first opportunity to ‘prove his worth’. Upon arriving home to Gilead, Saul found the people weeping and in much distress because Nahash the Ammonite King had taken siege of Jabesh Gilead and was threatening to ‘gouge the right eye of every one of [them] and so bring disgrace on all Israel’ (11:2). Such a mutilation in the ancient Near East would have been used as a punishment for the violation of a treaty. ‘When Saul heard these words, the Spirit of God came on him in power, and he burned with anger.’ (11:6). At this point Saul rallies the Israelites. He takes 330,000 men and rescues the Jabeshites in a good old-fashioned biblical style assault (11:11).
Upon their victory, and Saul’s vindication as a military leader, the people approach Samuel and demand that the men who doubted Saul’s appointment be put to death. But in an act of humility and grace Saul declares ‘No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel’ (11:13). Saul’s demonstration of the leadership qualities necessary to be Israel’s king lead Samuel to undertake an important meeting at Gilgal reaffirming Saul as King. Unfortunately, these qualities were short-lived and eventually lead to his denouncement as King at the same place several years later (15:10-26).
Stepping forward approximately one thousand years and the Apostle Paul is writing to the church at Colossi on the importance humility and grace as necessary attributes of a good Christian leader. Specifically, Paul instructs masters to counter-culturally respect their slaves and give them what they are due (4:1).
The gracious words of Saul, and the radical call to respect the slave, reflects the life we are called to live. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). There can be no greater act of grace; no greater counter-cultural action. We all have the opportunity to interact with and influence others. We are all leaders to someone. The challenge is to live, not as the world expects, as exerting influence due to our status or position. Instead, as we interact with those around us may we reflect Saul’s decision to show mercy and Paul’s call to show respect. Most importantly, let us reflect the servant leadership that we see so clearly reflected in Jesus.