Leadership has been with humanity since the dawn of time. Since the fall in the Garden of Eden, humans formed social groups with specific objectives to accomplish. The emergence of a leader is sometimes informal in which the naturally gifted leader takes charge of a situation or the leader is elected or appointed by birthright. We will see in the following paragraphs that their fellow citizens decide the nature of a leader’s authority, but God ultimately decides the leader’s effectiveness. The Old Testament provides a rich example of the complexities of a leader’s experiences in service to the Lord.
A distinction of the Christian leader requires a commitment to several attributes, including Godly character, understanding the importance of motives, recognizing the power of the Holy Spirit, and practicing the model of servant leadership. The servant leader concept in Christianity differs from other people groups in the first-century middle east. In John 13:1-7, Jesus defines servant leaders as those who humbly serve others because they love him.
God appoints all leaders, whether Jew or Gentile. Themes seen in the Old Testament include that God chooses his shepherds and governs their appointment. A leader’s piety corresponds to the welfare of the people, and that a leader’s success depends solely on the will of God. When a human leader is apostate or goes against God’s plans, that leader receives God’s judgment. ). “Moses and David, for example, were shepherds. Impious kings in Israel were commonly called ‘false shepherds.’ (1 Kings 22:17).”
Theme 1: God Chooses His Shepherds And Governs Their Appointment
Humanity receives the divine authority to rule over his creation as God’s image-bearers. This grant of dominion over the earth comes with responsibility. As image-bearers, humans represent God’s divine attributes on earth. Accepting God’s authority is necessary for all human leaders to succeed. Even pagan rulers are subject to the Lords’ authority in their rule. Pagans may not follow or know of the one true God. They bear the requirement to rule in a just and humane manner. We find in Proverbs 8:15 that “it is by his divine wisdom that kings reign and rulers make laws.
Regardless of the Israelites’ method for their leaders, appointment or hereditary, the resultant leadership must have humility and subjugate themselves to God’s authority. The Israelite kings are not free to wage warfare or confiscate property when they wish. God’s appointed rulers are to meet a higher standard than the surrounding nations. Israel’s establishment creates the means for God’s plan to make a nation of priests an example to the world.
Besides keeping Mosaic Law, the Old Testament kings receive counsel from the prophets sent by God. The prophets advise to kings, priests, and all members of the theocracy. The surest method to assure the prospering of the nation is for the governance to practice God’s law. The Lord’s prophets offer criticism and accountability to the law to ensure that rule is righteous and adequately applies the Mosaic standards.
Theme 2: The Leaders’ Piety Corresponds To The Welfare Of Their People
The degree to which a leader follows the Mosaic Law and the will of God directly influences the prospering of the nation. The first and best measure of the Old Testament leader is their ability to act as a servant. God rewards the king’s discipline with positive results when personal desires and lusts are put aside for the greater good. “As Proverbs 29:14 observes, “If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will be established forever.” God’s judgment is absolute. In Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, we know that “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.”
Humility is crucial for the servant leader. While the Gentiles see humility as a vice, the Old Testament leader must put God first and dismiss their ego. The proper use of authority requires humility as “the misuse of one’s authority, as modeled by pagan leadership, is wrong.”
When the divinely appointed leader practices servant leadership, they gain trust and credibility by focusing on others. The people will willingly follow their edicts and plans by trusting the king or prophet. Proverbs 29:14 says that a large population is a king’s glory, but without subjects, a prince is ruined.” In Romans 13:1, we know that there is no authority except from God. God’s appointed leaders are servants of the Lord (Rom. 13:5). Do what is good, and you will receive approval. God commands the following of his righteous authorities. God’s appointment of officers is the final endorsement. His “oversight legitimizes that leader and invests that individual with authority that stands outside themselves.” For “it is the Lord who raises up leaders, and it is he who brings them down.”
Theme 3: A Leader’s Success Depends On The Will Of God
No matter what the mindset or actions are of a specific leader, their continued success depends solely on the will of God. A leader like David, who repeatedly sinned in no minor fashion, maintains good standing with the Lord because he always remains faithful and willing to learn from his mistakes by repentance, not rationalization in failure. David’s motives remain in pleasing the Lord as a primary goal, securing a place in God’s heart.
God responds to the actions of his appointed authorities. Solomon requests a discerning heart and the wisdom that benefits others. Solomon also receives “wealth and honor” “as long as he lives an obedient life before God (1 Kings 3:13-14).” While God’s will always remains final, he responds to leaders’ ability to follow his law correctly and grants his followers accordingly. Throughout history, we know that “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven (Matt. 6:10).
God’s attribute of constancy promises the desired outcome regardless of human decisions and actions. In the case of Solomon, although he ruled with wisdom, his failing was his marriages that led to his apostasy in worshipping pagan idols. God’s response was the splitting of the kingdoms. Jehoikm’s extravagance led to his downfall to be succeeded by Josiah, who had a concern for the poor. God has patience far beyond the sight of humanity and will delay outcomes based on necessary discipline to his people.
Leaders who hold God’s law in their hearts and actions prove successful. By placing others’ needs with the will of God, the Old Testament leaders go much further than legalism or ritual. God expects his people to follow his will, and “even foreign kings acknowledge the Jews live ‘according to the will of your God’ (1 Esd. 8:16).”
The default trait for a leader must be that of the servant. Possessing the mindset of first serving others following God’s will ensures their success. To servanthood, we add that “Yahweh alone is the king of Israel, and he governs his people through his chosen anointed ones, who are merely viceroys under his command.” Leaders and followers require the status of a servant to Yahweh.
God chooses his shepherds and governs their appointment. God knows the lessons that his people must learn to follow his will correctly. By appointing godly and godless rules, we meet his intention through the actions of his rulers and the response of his people. The vertical command to first love God is paramount. Only after completing this requirement can leaders and followers enjoy a good life.
Old Testament leaders such as Moses, Joshua, Eli, and Samuel “illustrate vividly the power of the role model in preparing others for tasks in leadership and ministry.” Fountain also makes the crucial point that the mark of a great mentor is to allow the protégé to exceed the mentor’s limitations. To be the standard by which to measure is the ultimate aim of every godly leader.
The context of a servant is not a reference to slavery, but one of willing submission to the will of God. We see the theme of the suffering servant in the typology of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Yates says that “Jeremiah and Ezekiel do not merely announce the coming judgment of exile, they suffer the ill effects of God’s judgment on behalf of the people they are called to serve.” Here we can see the foreshadowing of Jesus’s sacrifice as the ultimate suffering servant.
These themes of servanthood, humility, credibility, and accountability to God’s law are vital to mine and all generations to practice authentic leadership. The primary goal of following God’s will must remain foremost in our decisions and actions. We know our efforts are practical only by being accountable to each other. In modern times, the witnessing of failed leaders is more visible than most any other time in history. With social media and other internet-based communication channels, the news of Christian leaders stumbling travels the world quickly. All leaders need to take an inventory of their leadership characteristics and honestly discern their status. To this, our leaders must acknowledge that the grace of God is singularly responsible for their gifts and success. Those in authority must remember Romans 14:12, “each of us will recount himself to God.”
Arnold, Bill T. 1 & 2 Samuel: The NIV Application Commentary from Biblical Text … to Contemporary Life. The NIV application commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003.
Burge, Gary M. John: From Biblical Text … to Contemporary Life. The NIV application commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2000.
Forrest, Benjamin, and Chet Roden, eds. Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader. Biblical theology for the church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Academic, 2017.
Fountain, A Kay. 2004. “An Investigation into Successful Leadership Transitions in the Old Testament.” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 7 (2): 187–204.
Howell, Don N. Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003.
Malphurs, Aubrey. Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003.
Michaels, J. R. “Will of God.” Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.
 Aubrey Malphurs, Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2003), 20.
 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical references are from the English Standard Version. (Wheaton, IL; Crossway Bibles, 2016)
 Gary M. Burge, John: From Biblical Text … to Contemporary Life, The NIV application commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2000), 328.
 Maphurs, Biblical Leadership, 32.
 Bill T. Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel: The NIV Application Commentary from Biblical Text … to Contemporary Life, The NIV application commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014).
 Benjamin Forrest and Chet Roden, eds., Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader, Biblical theology for the church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Academic, 2017), 33.
 Forrest, Biblical Leadership, 34
 Daniel J. Estes, “Proverbial Lessons: Leadership in the Proverbs,” in Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader, Biblical Theology for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017), 169.
 Maphurs, Being Leaders, 35.
 Andrew E. Hill, “Depending on God Alone: Leadership in Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi,” in Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader, Biblical Theology for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017), 223.
 R. Alan Fuhr, “King Yahweh: Leadership in the Pre-Exilic Minor Prophets,” in Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader, Biblical Theology for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017), 213.
 Don N Howell, Servants of the Servant: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003), 100.
 Tremper Longman III, “Leading in a Fallen World: Leadership in Ecclesiastes,” in Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader, Biblical Theology for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017), 180.
 Tremper Longman III, “Leading in a Fallen World: Leadership in Ecclesiastes,” in Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader, Biblical Theology for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017), 181.
 Gary Yates, “A Call for Faithful Servants: Leadership in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel,” in Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader, Biblical Theology for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017), 192.
 J. R. Michaels “Will of God.” Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley.(The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.), V4, 1064.
 Bill T. Arnold, 1 & 2 Samuel: The NIV Application Commentary from Biblical Text … to Contemporary Life, Kindle edition, The NIV application commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014), location 8958
 A. Kay Fountain. 2004. “An Investigation into Successful Leadership Transitions in the Old Testament.” (Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 7 (2)): 187–204.
 Gary Yates, “A Call for Faithful Servants: Leadership in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel,” in Biblical Leadership: Theology for the Everyday Leader, Biblical Theology for the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017), 195.