**Warning** this post is controversial, controversial because it draws upon the Bible to illustrate the leadership cycle. Some readers may applaud the decision to use the Bible, some might be offended and others are unsure what to think because extreme interpretations of Supreme Court Cases in the US and cultural trends throughout the world have all but pushed the Bible completely out of public conversation and public education. The result—generations of people raised to believe that discussions and/or study of the Bible is too religious, too passé, too unsophisticated or too controversial to discuss in public settings. But I challenge you to look past that and consider what John Adams, 2nd President of the United States, had to say about the Bible, “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. . . . What a Utopia – what a Paradise would this region be! (1)” Now that bold statement from a highly influential person in history should at least spark curiosity to investigate its contents. So whether you believe the Bible to be the word or God or not, let’s see if we can at least learn some “Utopian” principles right now from its pages.
Around 1200 B.C., Ancient Israel, a real nation, was cycling in and out of captivity without the rule of a definitive unifying monarch or theocrat. Around this time the Midianites had overrun the land “like grasshoppers” the Bible says and they were consuming everything in their path. In fear, the Israelites headed for the hills and dwelt in caves barely subsisting for seven years. Under these conditions they humbled themselves and cried out to the Lord for relief. They were then reminded that the Lord their God delivered them from the oppression of the Egyptians and gave them a choice land, but that it was their complacency and errant ways that caused them to lose their freedoms. Under these humbling circumstances God called an unlikely hero named Gideon who at the time was actually hiding from the Midianites in order to prepare wheat to feed his family. While thus engaged, a man who turns out to be an angel converses with him calling him “a mighty man of valor” who is to go in “your strength” to save Israel from Bondage. Gideon, lacking self-confidence, immediately responded, “Me? I come from the smallest and weakest tribe in Israel and am the most insignificant person in my family.” He must have thought, “I know God has delivered us in the past, but that was another time and place and under some other leader who was surely better than me (Judges Ch. 6).”
In spite of self doubt, he did take action to complete the Angel’s first request to cut down the alter and sanctuary his people had built up to the false gods of their oppressors and instead make an offering to the God of Israel. This he immediately did, but under the cover of darkness because he feared the backlash of the people who indeed demanded his life for doing so. In short, his boldness in running against the status quo inspired other boldness which not only saved his life but got the people to think differently and rise up and fight for their freedom. Still doubting his ability to lead Israel to victory, Gideon asked God to strengthen his faith through two supernatural requests and God patiently complied.
Gideon, having acted boldly and being bolstered by faith building experiences then is commanded to cut the military force that gathered around him. He invites all who are “fearful” to go home and over two thirds of his 32,000 troops depart. Still the Lord says there are too many and so a selection criterion is given and only 300 men pass this test. Now these 300 alert, courageous and faith-filled men join Gideon in a march to the camp of the Midianite hosts that had gathered for battle. Following meticulous instructions, they execute the plan with exactness ending with a blast of their trumpets and a fearful battle cry of “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” Waking to this sound and the sight of torches on all sides, a fearful Midianite camp panics and turns on each other in chaotic retreat. At the sight of this, the rest of Israel joins in the pursuit and destroys their former oppressors, placing Gideon in judgment over Israel to enjoy peace and prosperity for a season.
In studying the way the founders of America looked for knowledge in their readings, including the Bible, I began to see lessons in leadership in this story that I had missed before. Let’s quickly review the story through a leadership lens. First, leadership usually arises in answer to a crisis or challenge. Your own leadership will emerge only when you can solve your own challenges and those of your constituents. Second, a leader will suffer from self- doubt, pointing out their inherent weaknesses just like Gideon did. Third, a vision of who you can be must be established. If you don’t have an angel to declare you “a mighty man [or woman] of valor”, then look to a friend, a mentor, inspiration or your own personal affirmation statements to see your potential more clearly. Fourth, a leader takes bold action even if the crowd is going in a different direction. In this case, Israel was blindly worshiping the idols of their captors. Fifth, when self-doubt inevitably comes, seek inspiration through books, association, scripture, prayer, motivational audios and videos, etc. Sixth, work with the faithful not the fearful and let your combined victories inspire the masses. Seventh, create a plan and execute it with precision as a team and the results will astound you.
Certainly this story in the Bible is fantastic. One who does not believe it to be the word of God may discount it and miss the underlying messages left there for us to discover today. Only you can discover for yourself if the Bible is divinely inspired, but if the verdict is still out or not for you, either way I invite you to take a closer look in order to discover the principles of freedom and leadership that abound therein. The founders of America used the Bible as their principle reference in framing a great nation that unleashed unprecedented freedom—how will you use it and other great books in your fight for wider freedom, prosperity and justice for all?
1. John Adams, Works, Vol. II, pp. 6-7, diary entry for February 22, 1756