In 2016, the dominant conversations in society were about leaders. The presidential election stirs this up every 4 years, but this last year was different; it was about much more than who would be our next president. There was a much deeper discussion about the purpose, characteristics, and limitations of those who lead us. Questions like:
Does it matter if our leaders have a moral structure?
Do we need an empathetic leader or a powerful one?
Do we want a leader who works within the status quo or one who will shake things up?
What flaws can we overlook and which ones are disqualifying?
It went well beyond who lives in the White House. Due to data leaks and website hacks, we were left questioning the interests of our government. Police shootings and aggressive tactics had us wondering if law enforcement could be trusted. Even the media, who had been the trusted source for rooting out bad leaders, has been cast as an abusive authority. This has led many to extreme view of freedom/liberty: that no person should ever be in a position to rule over another person. For others, it simply leads to confusion; in every area of life, we are left wondering: do we need anyone to lead us? If so, what should that leadership look like?
1 Samuel answers many of these questions, not by giving a quick shorthand to twenty-first century politics, but by giving us a story about the establishment of the monarchy in Israel. As Israel is going through the transition to a king, they are given direction by God through teaching, through experience, and through a contrast of the different people that God raises up to lead them. In all of this, God is making a statement about leadership and about being led. He is showing us what is important in how we understand our relationship with the power structures of the world.