By Jim Reiher
Can a good leader make monumental mistakes?
Can a man who leads a country, who allegedly prays about major decisions, and who comes across as a reasonably nice guy - can someone like that make huge errors of judgment?
The answer of course is yes.
In recent times, Australia under John Howard went to war. Along with America, Britain, and other nations, we went off to fight Saddam Hussein in Iraq. John Howard, I am told, is a sincere Christian. He is a good caring man. He is a regular church attendee. Surely a good prayerful church going leader won't make monumental mistakes. When I question the government's decision to go to Iraq and be a part of starting a war, some fellow Christians come back with lines like: "Of course it was the right thing to do!" and "We have to fight terrorism!" I would like to state categorically, that good leaders - even God fearing ones who pray - can make bad decisions. I believe very strongly that it is wrong to start wars. It was wrong to follow America into Iraq and join with them in their vendetta against Hussein. In the Bible, there are two examples of God-fearing Kings who also go to war wrongly. King Jehoshaphat (II Chron. 17) and King Josiah (II Chron. 35:20ff.).
Good King Jehoshaphat
King Jehoshaphat loved the true God and is one of the great Kings of Judah. The scripture says of him: "…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord" (I Kings 22:43). It also says of him: "His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord" (II Chron. 17:6). He even sent specially appointed people to visit town after town to teach the common people the law of God (II Chron. 17:7-9). But Jehoshaphat also made a huge mistake: he made an alliance with King Ahab, and on Ahab's bidding he went off to war with him. He went off not on a defensive war. Not on a war responding to an invasion. No, he went off to fight with Ahab on a war that was purely designed to allow Ahab to dominate over another land: Ramoth Gilead (II Chron. 18:3). Jehoshaphat committed to the venture (verse 3) and then as an afterthought said that they should check with God (verse 6). A true prophet of God was called in, (after false ones said, "Go! It will be successful!"). The true prophet predicted disaster for the army and the death of Ahab (18:22, 27). Despite this, good King Jehoshaphat still went to war with Ahab (verses 28, and then 29-34)! Why would he have gone? Well, he had an alliance with him. They traded together. Israel was a stronger neighbour, and it was good to keep a healthy alliance with that nation. There were a lot of good political and economic reasons for going to war, even a war of aggression, with Ahab. That war nearly resulted in the death of Jehoshaphat except for the fact that "the Lord helped him." Even though the battle was lost, Jehoshaphat got away. We are not told how many men from Jehoshaphat's army were killed that day. We are not told how many families were devastated by the loss of their sons or fathers or brothers, because the good God-fearing King did not heed God's word. When Jehoshaphat came back to Judah after the disastrous war, a prophet spoke honest words to him (II Chron 19:1-3). The prophet Jehu said to the good King: "Should you help the wicked… Because of this the wrath of the Lord is upon you. There is, however, some good in you..." A good leader, someone who did have "some good in them" made a monumental mistake in going on a bad war. Wars of aggression; wars that are designed to increase the aggressor's power and influence - these are not Godly! What a telling story! And the tragic thing is that it happened again, to another God-fearing King! And the next time, with much more severe consequences!
Good King Josiah
Josiah came to the throne when he was just 8 years old. He would reign for 31 years. The scripture says, "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning to the right or to the left" (II Chron. 34:2). When he was 16 he began to "seek" God (v. 3). When he was 20 he became more passionate about serving God faithfully (vs. 3-8). When he was 24 he began to repair and restore the Temple of God (vs. 8-11). This led to finding the "Book of the Law" which had been forgotten and misplaced, and then to revival in the land (vs. 14-33). What a story! Some time later, however, we read of a different incident. "After all this…King Neco of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle" (II Chron. 35:20). Suddenly in the story we see Josiah about to battle another King - an Egyptian one. Why? What led him there? Neco asked Josiah (through a messenger), "What quarrel is there between you and me, O King of Judah? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house [of another power] with which I am at war. God had told me to hurry: so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you" (v.21). What a strange comment. The non-godly King of Egypt is claiming that God is with him and will give him success. He warns Josiah that if Josiah stands in his way, then God will punish Josiah - punish the God-fearing King! The story continues: "Josiah however would not turn away from him…He would not listen to what Neco had said at God's command but went to fight him" (v.22). The writer of this book admits that God actually was with the Egyptian King and had commanded him to do the deed he was embarking on. (In the bigger schemes of God and all the nations, somehow this was in his will it seems.) Good King Josiah would not listen to God's command however, and he still went to war. As it turned out, Josiah was mortally wounded by an arrow and died after the battle (back in Jerusalem). A good God-fearing leader made a monumental mistake and went out on a bad war. This particular war might have been arguably more justified than the one Jehoshophat went on. Perhaps. It seems that the Egyptian King needed to pass through Josiah's lands to fight his foe. That could have been perceived as an invasion. But the Chronicler (who clearly loves the good kings of Judah) is provocative enough to write that it was Josiah who missed God's will on this one. A prayerful, revival starting, law loving, God fearing leader, did not obey God in a colossal way - that cost him his life.
The parallels with our modern times are striking. Especially the Jehoshophat story. The only main difference in that story, between then and now, is that George Bush is allegedly a Christian as well. If so, he is not quite of the evil calibre as Ahab (though I know some commentators who would happily compare the two). You know, after September 11, not many voices in the west, including Christians, asked questions like: "How is it that these people hate us westerners, especially Americans, so much?" Or: "What have we done to contribute to such hatred?" Or: "Should we respond to violence with violence?" Or "If we really are Christians, should we bless those who curse us, instead of seeking revenge?" "Where does forgiveness and doing good to those who hurt us, come into all this?" Both Howard and Bush (and Tony Blair too) made a wrong decision. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no serious threat to world stability having Hussein in power. He was not a nice leader, granted. He did evil things. But there are dozens of evil leaders in this world. No: it was immoral and godless to start a war that has led to the inevitable guerrilla warfare and ongoing slaughter of soldiers and civilians. The western leaders will be judged by history (and by God?) for what they have done. They are aggressors. The war was never justified, never "Godly", and should not have happened under the circumstances in which it did.
Jim Reiher is a full time lecturer for Tabor College in Victoria. He oversees the South East extension campus of that college. His views are not necessarily those of other Tabor faculty or colleges. Jim is a member of the Greens Party and is the nominated candidate standing for the seat of Holt in the upcoming Federal election later this year. Holt covers most of Endeavour Hills, Doveton, Hallem, Narre Warren North and Narre Warren, Hampton Park, Lynbrook, the southwest of Berwick, and most of Cranbourne.