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When Leaders Fail


1 Samuel 2:22-25, 3:21
Bible Studies for Life, Jun 6


What a surprise! A corrupt nation is led by incompetent leaders.

What else would you expect? The code of the nation at the beginning of 1 Samuel was “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The phrase, “and the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (3:1) says it all. Interestingly enough, it was leadership that thrust Israel into this stage of rampant moral decay and it was leadership that changed their course and moved them into a time of spiritual and national success.

The First book of Samuel relates the entire journey. Think about it, an immoral nation and her leadership becoming convicted, repentant, and corrected. Could there be a more timely study for our present day?

In this initial lesson we are confronted with leadership on three levels – national, spiritual, and familial. Israel had a priest that had failed in all three. The vile actions of Eli’s two sons were legendary and clearly known by their father. His response to their wickedness was a firm “talking to” (2:23-25) but he allowed them to continue in their leadership, a decision that was condemned and judged by the Lord (3:12-14).

Eli had become gluttonous (4:18), an example that his sons took to an extreme overindulgence in their evil passions. As leaders, we can ill afford to have areas of wanton disobedience as it allows those that follow us an excuse to imitate such behavior in excess.

Success rises or falls on the shoulders of those called to lead. The choices and actions we make on the day-to-day level indelibly mark those that follow us. This is easier to teach than to live.

Those closest to us are magnifying glasses that reveal the areas of weaknesses we may deem as insignificant or even acceptable. Leadership, thus, should never be entered into flippantly.

Most leaders are unaware of the subtle conditions that can lead to failure. This section of 1 Samuel illustrates three such conditions.


Conditions and leadership failure

Elevating credentials over character. As a grandson of Aaron, Eli had the right lineage for carrying out the duty of the priesthood along with his two sons. However, Eli turned a blind eye to the evil actions of his sons, actions that called for the death penalty. There was an imbalance in his judgment as he was overly lenient with his sons yet quick to accuse Hannah of drunkenness though it was an unlikely time of day and such actions were contrary to her reputation.

Although it is obvious to see the failures in Eli’s life we are usually slow to put ourselves under the same examination. Are you placing your credibility on credentials, education, or a title instead of on the supernatural power of grace in your life over sin?

Equating position with righteousness. Eli judged Israel for 40 years (4:18) and served also as the high priest. His sons served beside him in priestly duties, yet they perverted the sacrifices, violated the dietary laws, and molested the women when they came for worship, actions that caused the children of Israel to transgress God’s law (3:24). How could they see themselves as “priests” when their actions were so vile?

Consider this, current statistics reveal that 37 percent of ministers regularly visit cyber-porn cites. The percentage of fathers addicted to pornography is even greater. When leaders in the home or in our churches allow immorality to control their lives, it is no surprise that the results are no different today than in 1100 B.C., as we “make the Lord’s people transgress” (3:24).

Establishing a double-standard for leaders. The righteous decrees of God are for everyone, especially leaders. However when leaders feel they are exempt it creates a double-standard, an inequality that has dire consequences such as a lack of respect for those in charge, distrust in authority, and disillusionment or confusion with the established standards of Almighty God. That is why men did “what was right in their own eyes.”

The mantra of their day can be echoed in ours. The key is having genuine, godly leadership.

The move from corruption to conviction in this era of Israel’s history begins with an unlikely candidate. Hannah was the barren wife of Elkanah. In these days the value of a woman was connected to her ability to conceive and bear children.

The painful blow to Hannah was not only her barrenness, but she had a rival, the other wife, that had many children. The double-blow was that this other wife mocked her relentlessly. Hannah’s appearance in the temple and the steadfast conviction of her prayer was born out of deep anguish.

From this crucible of sorrow came the promise of Israel’s next priest and last judge – Samuel. Through his leadership the road to spiritual recovery began.

Almost immediately with Samuel the word of the Lord was no longer rare! As a young boy Samuel heard God’s call and once he finally answered the Lord, he was given a chilling prophecy concerning the fate of the current leadership (3:11-14). Throughout the rest of Samuel’s life the word of God was abundant, as it says in 3:21, “for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh, by the word of the Lord. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

It’s no accident that God revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh, meaning “place of peace.” A nation that has the word of the Lord passionately revealed by godly leadership will more aptly receive that word leading them to be a “place of peace.” Oh, how desperately we need godly leadership today!