Much more than we tend to realize, character matters when it comes to leadership. From front to back, the Bible is clear on that. God-fearing leaders who were men of character and principle like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and Josiah were instruments of mercy through whom God brought blessings to the people. On the other hand, wicked leadership was and is and will continue to be a curse on the people.
“When the wicked rule, the people groan,” warns Proverbs 29:2. A perfect example from the Old Testament is Jeroboam, the first ruler over the northern part of the split kingdom. Because of his wickedness, Israel was led into continuous idolatry that extended from its very inception to the day God brought the final judgment down upon them when they were defeated and hauled away by the Assyrians a couple centuries later. Interestingly, Jeroboam made what appear to be brilliant strategic decisions. His problem wasn’t incompetence; it was character.
Quite remarkably, when you survey the 90 or so references to him in the Old Testament, you discover that Jeroboam was famous not as much for his wickedness as he was for the destructive influence his wickedness had on others, including the dozen and a half kings who succeeded him and “did evil in the eyes of the LORD by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit” (2 Ki 13:2-3). He made the people groan even long after he was dead. If any one man ever brought down a nation, it was Jeroboam.
If you don’t trust the Bible that character matters–you should, by the way–you can examine centuries of political history from nations and leaders on all continents. There is one clear and consistent lesson which leaves no excuse for ignorance. And yet, we Americans insist on it. We demand to learn the hard way (except that we never actually seem to learn).
To say we are headed for misery and groaning is to say that snow is in the forecast for Canada. Somehow, for this 2016 Presidential race we have nominated two of the most deeply flawed candidates ever to represent the two major political parties, from a character standpoint, that is. The astonishing thing is that no one appears to be denying it. The best and most commonly cited reason for voting for Hillary is that she isn’t Trump. The best and most commonly cited reason for voting for Trump is that he isn’t Hillary. In other words, “Our Jeroboam isn’t as bad as their Jeroboam.” The Assyrians don’t care, incidentally.
In the early days of our republic, Noah Webster fervently pleaded,
Let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers [upright and moral] men. . . The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty; if the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good, so much as for selfish or local purposes. . . the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded.
Lord, what have we done? The better question is: What have we become? The painful truth is that in a representative republic the leaders always reflect the people who put them in power. The reason we elect and re-elect villains is not only because that is who we want; it is because that is who we’ve become. Our prosperity has produced pride. Our pride has caused us to forget the source of our blessings. This rejection of God has invited all forms of immorality. Twisted values come from twisted minds which come from twisted values. Consequently, we no longer treasure what is good — merely what is pleasurable. Predictably, we have not guarded our liberties nor our character. Our national soul is in the sludge pit. We are a spiritually broken nation and mostly blind to our brokenness. If God’s Word is still true, we can be sure that having chosen wickedness, it is our fate to groan.
As we pray and wait and groan in the days ahead, may we remember that character matters not only in Israel and in Washington D. C.; it also matters in our homes and in our churches and in our workplaces and in our neighborhoods. If we ever hope to raise the standard for our political leaders, we must first raise the standard for ourselves.