Princes and Presidents
See Proverbs 24:13–14
Every four years on this day in the United States a president is sworn in. This civic celebration represents a national moment of hope and renewal; America entrusts the future of the nation to a new leader who will need to call upon all his or her wisdom to fulfill the promise of the moment. Unhappily, when it comes to princes and presidents, wisdom and good judgment have often been in short supply, and the people and their nations suffer as a result. One Old Testament story illustrates the inevitable consequences when a leader lacks wisdom in fulfilling his trust.
When King Solomon died, his son, Rehoboam, ascended to the throne. Shortly after assuming power, representatives of the people of Israel petitioned the new king to lift the crushing burden of taxes that had been imposed in earlier years. The people could no longer bear the excessively heavy load and sought relief from the new king.
Rehoboam sent the people away while he conferred with his advisors. First, he consulted with the elders who said, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants” (1 Kings 12:7). Then Rehoboam turned to his youthful companions who told him to assert his power over the people by saying, “My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:11). The king rejected wise counsel and followed the misguided advice of the foolish and inexperienced companions, and so peace in the land was fractured. The people rose up, and civil war broke out.
The wise ruler should always think of himself as the servant of the people. The foolish leader will always think that the people are only there to serve him.
—Eric Kampmann, Signposts