Human lust for power seems to be a prime cause of misgovernment within leaders—the will of one person to exert rule over others, no matter what form that may take.
"Know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed." With these words, a little-known Swedish chancellor during the strife of the Thirty Year's War of the 1600s, Count Axel Oxenstierna, effectively put forth a maxim that explains much of the crisis in today's world leadership.
And in the words of America's second president, John Adams, "While all other sciences have advanced, government is at a stand; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago."
I encountered these quotes while reading famed historian Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, a masterfully insightful book written in 1984. Tuchman chronicled the folly of governments from the ancient world to more modern times.
Misgovernment, she wrote, is of four kinds. First is tyranny or oppression, of which history provides so many well-known examples. Second is excessive ambition. Among those cited is Germany's twice-attempted rule of Europe by a self-conceived master race. Third is incompetence or decadence. Czar Alexander II, last of Russia's Romanov dynasty, is a prime example. Finally she lists folly or perversity.
History is full of examples of each of these kinds of misgovernment. Common to all, it seems, is the unbridled lust for power that, once attained, can result in disastrous consequences that endures for generations. There is a principle from Scripture that confirms the long-lasting effects of doing wrong, both personally and collectively: "The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation" (Numbers 14:18).
Tuchman retells the biblical story of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who succeeded his father in the 10th century B.C. to the throne of Israel, a nation composed of 12 tribes descended from the patriarch Jacob.
Rehoboam was determined to continue Solomon's heavy burden of taxation despite pleas from representatives of the people who sought relief and fairer treatment from government. His act of folly led to the threat of secession by the 10 northern tribes who gathered around the town of Shechem, the political center of the revolt. Rehoboam immediately traveled to Shechem to confront the rebellion. When met by a delegation and after hearing their demands for a new wage and work contract, he asked for three days to consult with advisors and return with an answer.
Rehoboam, young and energized with the sense of power and authority, heard two completely contrary sets of advice. His older counselors advised renegotiation of terms and to "speak good words to them." More good will would be gained, they said, and "they will be your servants forever" (1 Kings 12:7).
Rejecting this course, he turned to his younger advisors, men he had grown up with—of his own generation. Seeking the favor of the young king and falling into the habit of obsequious counselors to this day, they advised against any new contract provisions.
You can imagine some young speechwriter offering this slogan for which Rehoboam would be forever known: "Whereas my father put a heavy yoke on you, I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scourges" (verse 11).
Upon hearing this speech, the northern 10 tribes instantly broke off talks and moved to form a separate nation, no longer tied to the royal house of David—the dynasty of rulers descended from David. "To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!" became the rallying cry (verse 16).
All other attempts at reconciliation were rejected, and a new nation was formed. The tribes selected a man named Jeroboam to be king. He reigned for 22 years, and there was continual strife between him and Rehoboam the entire period. After a 200-year period of decline and religious apostasy, the 10-tribed nation of Israel was taken captive by the Assyrian Empire and disappeared into the mists of history, to emerge at length in a modern form.
The kingdom of Judah lived on, eventually overtaken by Babylon. The descendants of that nation are the Jewish people—some of whom now dwell in their ancient homeland under the flag of the state of Israel. Even today the land is not without conflict, as the Jewish state must contend with the claims of indigenous Arabs and the enmity of surrounding Arab nations, resentful of their presence, their prosperity and their heritage. The consequences of Rehoboam's folly has left its mark through almost 3,000 years of history.
Human lust for power seems to be a prime cause of misgovernment within leaders—the will of one person to exert rule over others, no matter what form that may take. If John Adams' insight about government is still true—and current events and trends make it evident it is—then we should not expect this world to dramatically change in that respect, no matter what any politician might promise. "Hope and change" is still an ephemeral vision.
Yet times will ultimately change. Isaiah foretold the coming of One who will bring that change—the greatest Leader who was ever born, of the lineage of David, who will soon return to this earth to rule:
"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Until then the burden is on each of us, with His help, to monitor our character, curb our ambition, avoid corruption and mature emotionally. Doing this will help us develop the character of a leader like Jesus Christ.