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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Leadership and the Rise and Fall of Nations in Bible Times

By Leopold A. Foullah

This section is a historical reflection of specific periods of two nations in Bible times. These periods would be periods of success and failures. The goal of the reflection is basically to identify the roles played by the leadership during these periods and see the relationship between the roles and the rise or fall of the nations. The nations that will be discussed are Israel and Egypt.

THE RISE OF ISRAEL UNDER GOOD LEADERSHIP

During the long history of Israel between the time of the exodus from Egypt and the return to Judah from Babylon captivity, there had been times that Israel had prospered as a nation. The periods of prosperity and success can be identified with specific leaders or leaderships. Three of these leaders-David, Solomon and Nehemiah will now be discussed.

David

The biblical records show that David came to the throne about 1000BC and reigned for approximately forty years. Ted W Engstrom made two observations about the forty years reign of David. First, he pointed out that David fought many wars.1 It was observed from the biblical records that David took up leadership in Israel at a time of political instability. Israel had many enemies and some were afraid of Israel becoming a powerful nation, which will subsequently dominate them. In fact, when the Philistines heard that David had been made king they came to attack him. For this reason David had to make his throne secure from Israel's enemies. One can therefore understand why in his first campaign as king he captured the walled city of Zion or Jerusalem and made it his capital. Without political stability there would hardly be any form of development in a nation. It should be observed that political stability is not only an external matter but also an internal matter. For this reason, David did not only fight the enemy nations of Israel but also established a capital to exercise his rule and control over the people. Second, Engstrom pointed out that David established international relationships with other nations, citing Hiram of Tyre as one of them.2 A leader who looks forward to development and progress in his country seeks relationship with other countries that will help him achieve his goal. Later on, under Solomon's government the benefits of these relationships will be better seen. David took special precautions to handle the political situations of the nation because it can directly affect the nation positively or negatively.

William Dumbrell also observed that David moved the Ark of the Lord from Kiriath-Jearim to the capital he had established. He said this was to centralize all of Israel's sacred traditions in his new capital. Dumbrell further observed that the move was a blatant political one.3 It is noteworthy that one cannot completely separate religion from politics. The unity of a nation can to some extent be maintained under the banner of religion.

Political rest or stability and religious unity of a nation establishes the foundation for her economic prosperity. This was not so for the nation of Israel under the leadership of Saul. So, David who succeeded Saul changed the potentially bleak destiny of the nation to a positive one. David also built up the resources and made preparations for the development of the nation. One example is his provision for building the temple.

Solomon

Solomon was David's son who succeeded him as King. John Maxwell observed that Solomon took a good kingdom and turned it to a great kingdom.4 A reflection on the state of the kingdom David left for Solomon, gives one an understanding of what Maxwell meant by good kingdom. The biblical records in the first three chapters of first Kings state that Solomon himself possesses both wealth and wisdom as he began to rule. Also, Israel had become a major military force, and in addition David had accumulated wealth and some of the materials for the building of the Temple. Solomon achieved a great deal in assuming leadership. What then did he do for the nation for Maxwell to have said he turned a good kingdom to a great one. Maxwell pointed out what impressive administration that he built, and the fact that he made use of the talents of his twelve governors. Also, about the alliances he built with neighboring powers, the trade relationships he established, his building projects and extensive defensive fortifications for the city.5 There is no question about the fact that the nation prospered under Solomon. The nation enjoyed peace and saw great development. It should be noted that the political stability and the religious unity achieved during the reign of David laid the foundations for Solomon's success.

Nehemiah

John White observed that the setting of the book of Nehemiah is the rebuilding of a nation. It may be misleading to consider the setting of the book as the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall and gates. To make his point, White gave a historical reflection of what happened to the nation prior to Nehemiah's leadership. He said the Babylonians had plundered Jerusalem and the southern Kingdom of Judah, and exiled the citizens about a hundred and fifty years before Nehemiah came. But when Babylon fell to the Persians, King Cyrus reversed Babylonian policy and allowed some Jewish groups to return back to Jerusalem in 538 BC. However these people were not able to make the city defensible again. There was political instability, poor economy and a collapse of the true Jewish religion and tradition, which usually unites the people as a nation. It was from this background that Nehemiah exercised leadership.6

The nation of Israel at that time had no future hope. They seemed to have been left at the mercies of their enemies. Under Nehemiah's leadership the situation changed. The wall and gates of Jerusalem were built, but not only that the future of the nation was changed. This was because the nation began to experience security and political stability, unity of the people as a result of religious awakening, and prosperity once again. Ted W. Engstrom observed that these achievements should be ascribed to Nehemiah because as a leader he displayed great courage in the face of much opposition, had deep concern for his people, and exhibited by his insight, tact, impartiality, and decisiveness.7 The way Nehemiah handled the political situation, the religious atmosphere and the economy, changed the destiny of the nation at that point in time.

THE FALL OF ISRAEL UNDER BAD LEADERSHIP

This section is a reflection of the three hundred years of Israel's history under the Judges. Eugene H. Merrill noted that the three hundred or so years of the history of Israel under the Judges were marked by political, moral, and spiritual anarchy and deterioration. The situation was so pervasive that even the sons of Eli, the high priest at the end of the 12th century, had completely apostatized, and had used their priestly office for their own gain and licentious pursuits?8 One may wonder what happened to this powerful nation which left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, conquered and took possession of the Promised Land under Joshua's leadership.

God raised up many Judges to rule Israel during this period of time. Duane F Lindsey pointed out that these Judges were primarily military and civil leaders, with strict judicial functions included as appropriate.9 Joyce Peel highlighted some of the problems for Israel's failure. She noted that the various tribes failed to drive out all the Canaanites from the land. Also, the pure worship of Yahweh was contaminated by the idolatry of the Cananites.10 Peel, like other Bible commentators, acknowledged that the nation failed during the period in question and the areas of failures that she highlighted can be seen as political and religious. It follows that once a nation fails in those two areas, there is an obvious economic failure, and this is evident in the book of Judges. Peel made a striking statement as she concludes her commentary on the book of Judges. She observed that Judges 21:25 is a diagnosis of the troubles that were past, and a pointer of the remedy lying ahead.11 Judges 21:25 reads: "In those days Israel had no king everyone did as he saw fit...." This verse points to the fact that lack of good sustainable leadership was the cause of Israel's failures. Under these conditions Israel was doomed for complete destruction had it not been for the timely intervention of God.


THE RISE OF EGYPT UNDER GOOD LEADERSHIP

There has been a series of rising and falling of the nation of Egypt. In this section, however, a particular period is in focus-the period the nation experienced seven years of agricultural bounty, which was followed by seven years severe of famine. R K Harrison, in his article discussed this period in Egypt's history. Citing the biblical records in Genesis, he said the ruling Pharaoh had prior knowledge of the seven years of agricultural bounty, which will be followed by seven years of severe famine. This knowledge came to him through a dream that was interpreted for him by Joseph. Joseph followed up his interpretation bay advising Pharaoh to 'look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt'. Pharaoh and his men accepted the advice, but appointed Joseph as second in command over all Egypt, and gave him the responsibility to plan for those fourteen years 12. The strategy that Joseph devised saves the nation and surrounding nations from seven years of severe famine. Pharaoh's leadership must be commended here. Many political leaders like Pharaoh, have had knowledge of a failing economy, or of problems in their country and failed to take action. Pharaoah's political action was very tough-he appointed a foreigner, a slave and prisoner for that matter, over all other officials in Egypt. Pharaoh certainly would be aware of the potential danger, but because that action was really necessary for the nation to survive the period, he was willing to take the challenge. Also, a relationship between religion and politics can be seen. Pharaoh in the first place didn't question the dream from God, nor the interpretation given by the godly man.

The effects of those seven years of famine could have been devastating for the nation. However, good leadership changed the destiny of the nation at that time.

THE FALL OF EGYPT UNDER BAD LEADERSHIP

An another important period in the nation of Egypt's history was the period preceding the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The Egyptians had prospered and developed their nation by using the Israelites as slaves. As a result of the free labor the nation was exploiting, Pharaoh Amenhotep II refused to let the Israelites leave his country. William Dumbrell observed from the narrative that pharaoh was warned before any of the plague, which devastated the nation, was commanded by Moses. According to Dumbrell, in the first three plagues, God showed his supremacy over the magicians of Egypt. In the following three plagues (Insects, pestilence, boils), God showed his presence in Egypt, making a distinction between the Israelites and Egyptians. In the next three plagues (hail, locust, darkness) God emphasizes his incomparability. Pharaoh's unreasonableness must give way before Yahweh's manifested power.13 Pharaoh belongs to a nation which reverence supernatural powers. He was aware that what was happening was far beyond the natural, but he still clung to his ways. He resisted until the economy of the nation was destroyed, and after the tenth plague led his army to total destruction pursuing the Israelites. He had advisers but was determined to do things his own way. His actions were clearly that of a present day dictator, and one can see how such leaders can destroy a nation. It can be seen, that when politics or political powers, religion and the economy of a nation are not handled properly, the nation falls,

Conclusion

The examples of Israel and Egypt cited in this article regarding good and bad governance typify a situation that is still prevalent in our modern world - Africa in particular and the so-called third world in general. The entire Bible is full of teaching concerning the relationship between righteous rule and peace. The opposite is, unrighteous rule and turmoil.

True religiosity rests on justice - "He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor." National progress rests on righteousness - "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov. 14:31; 34).

End Notes

[1] Enstrom, Ted. W., The Making of a Christian Leader: How to Develop Management and Human Relations Skills (Michigan: Zonderman Publishing House, 1976) p. 32.

2 William Dumbrell, The Faith if Israel: Its Expression in the Books of the Old Testament (Leicester. Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), p.81

3 John C. Maxwell, The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in Leader's Day: Revitalize Your Spirit and
Empower Your Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000) p. 263

4 Ibid. p. 263

5 Ibid, p. 263

6 John White, Excellence In Leadership: The Pattern of Nehemiah (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), p. 10

7 Ted W Engstrom, The Making of a Christian Leader: How to Develop Management and Human Relation Skills (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p. 34.

8 Eugene H. Merrill, I Samuel: The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Colorado: Chariot Victor Publishing, 19985), p. 431.

9Duane F Lindsey, Judges: The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Colorado: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1985) p. 374.

10 Joyce Peel, A Journey Through The Old Testament: The Story of God's Relationship with Man. Woman and the World (Oxford: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 1993) p. 58

11 Ibid, p. 62

12 R. K. Harrison, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982), p.

13 William Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: Its Expression in the Books of the Old Testament (Leciester:Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), p. 32

Dr. Leopold A. Foullah is currently Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, Mount Aureol, Freetown. He is also the General Superintendent of the Missionary Church of Africa, Sierra Leone Conference. He holds the following academic qualifications: Dip.Th., B.Th., M.Div., M.Th. and Ph.D (Leeds University, England). He is interested in Biblical Theology and Social Issues. He is External Examiner for both The Evangelical College of Theology (TECT), Jui and the Sierra Leone Theological College & Church Training Centre in Freetown. He is married with three children.

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