We see in the story of King Solomon typical leadership.
Solomon began as a King of Israel with a spiritual fervor to serve the Lord and His people. He built the Temple to God’s specs and outfitted it in great splendor. He proceeded to give honor and praise to Yahweh in special speeches, prayers, and offerings. [1 Kings 8]
When Solomon finished, he threw a party for all who were there. After the major-league blast, the writer of 1st Kings says, “On the eighth day he sent the people away, and they blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shown to David his servant and to Israel his people.” [1 Kings 8:66]
Solomon had shown great wisdom as he began to reign in Israel following his father, David’s death. Rather than seeking wealth or fame, he asked his Lord, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” [1 Kings 3:9]
God did indeed give Solomon wisdom.
Immediately the story of a prostitute is told to illustrate his wisdom. The prostitute had stolen the baby of another prostitute when hers died. The fight between the two women became a “he said, she said,” situation. But, Solomon, having wisdom from God, figures out who the true mother is through a rather clever ploy of discerning which woman had true compassion for the live child.
When God gave Solomon wisdom, he also gave him a promise: “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” [1 Kings 3:14]
For a period of time he ruled well, walking in the ways of Yahweh.
Solomon’s story illustrates a common process of Christian leadership – leadership that is humble and seeks the good of those they serve and the blessings that follow. Idealism pervades those early days of building an organization. Even secular business management experts see it and write great tomes of analysis on leadership that is other-serving and its benefits to all involved [see “Good To Great“].
But, of course, the promise in 1 Kings 3:14 came with an implied warning. If you don’t follow me, I won’t bless you. If you pursue other gods (like money, fame, glory), you do not have these promised blessings.
In the pages that follow Solomon gains great riches and honor and he slips into moral destruction. He pursues more and more wives who served other gods. And in the abundance of his wives, he begins to turn his attention away from Yahweh – Who created him, made him ruler, and blessed him with great wisdom and wealth.
Unfortunately, the growth of an organization, church, or corporation is like 700 wives leading the founder to worship the gods of mammon and power. In order to hold on to the wealth, power, or fame, the temptation to take control through intimidation, deceitfulness, and manipulation overcomes the leader.
The leader may begin with a heart to serve God and others. Honest updates from the mission field. Transparent financial dealings. Family-like workplace. But, then more is needed. More attention. More power. More honor.
The leadership of the organization with whom we served took this trajectory. Though in the beginning (over 40 years ago) the founders of our organization sought to be a witness of a redemptive God, they have come to their last days exhibiting arrogance, control, and image-building. They are more concerned about propping up their image as extraordinary people rather than seeking God’s glory.
Their updates are often full of exaggerations and the marketing of the mission is at times downright deceitful. One brochure had a picture of two “orphaned” women on the front. Even after being confronted that in fact the two women were not orphans, the CEO simply shrugged it off. When promoting their educational ministry to a granting institution, radical changes were made in the classrooms to make it appear they were doing much more than they really were. Children who were present for the unfolding were disgusted by the deceit in addition to the principal of the school.
Several chapters later in 1st Kings, Solomon’s servant, Jereboam is given a promise by God that he will rule 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel following Solomon’s death. Despite Solomon’s idolatry, God does not cut him off from his position of power immediately. Rather, it would only be after his death that the kingdom would be divided. Though God’s blessings would continue for Solomon, Israel would no longer have a son of David ruling the entire nation…a great blow to Solomon.
Rather than humbling himself before God, turning from his idol worship and hunger for power, Solomon seeks to kill Jereboam. He seeks to control his losses at any cost. The long-term consequences of Solomon’s failure to lead under God’s rule were experienced for centuries to come [see the rest of Kings].