David and Absalom: Success

In this final reflection on the contrast between the leadership of David and Absalom, we’ll look at how they viewed and measured success. All leaders long for success and either consciously or unknowingly ask themselves, “Am I successful as a leader?” David and Absalom answered that question in very different ways.

David sought God for success; Absalom sought the advice of men. David often “inquired of the Lord” before he went to battle or made major decisions. He recognized that his success depended on God rather than his own human wisdom or ideas. He sought God’s direction before he listened to the counsel of others.

In contrast, Absalom sought only the advice of men. Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your advice. What should we do?” (2 Samuel 16:20). Absalom moved when he thought the people were ready, not at God’s instruction. He was like many subversive* leaders who test public opinion before deciding what to do. His primary concern was how others would respond, not God’s direction. He had no regard for God’s direction and instead looked to people around him to bring success.

Servant leaders look to God for success rather than their own plans. They are able to wait on God for direction. This does not mean they do not seek advice from others; even David had good counselors. But the ultimate direction for a servant leader will come from God, not from the views of others.

David measured success by obedience; Absalom measured success by outcomes. David was anointed to be the king but didn’t pursue that position; he simply walked in obedience to God and waited for His timing. David was a successful leader before he had a position because he was already “a man after God’s own heart.”

He recognized that his success was not measured by the outcomes of power or position but by his obedience. This is reflected in his statement to the priest, Zadok, as he was fleeing from Jerusalem. Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him” (2 Samuel 15:25-26). David’s success was not measured by his role but in humble obedience to God.

Absalom, in contrast, was obsessed with becoming the king. His success was measured only on the outcome of getting power and position. By that standard Absalom was only successful for a few days.

Many leaders measure success by tangible markers like position, finances, numbers of people who follow, profit, expansion, etc. But servant leaders learn that the only valid measure of success is obedience. In some settings, a faithful leader may serve for years with very few visible results. Servant leaders measure success by obedience and leave the outcomes to God. Subversive leaders measure success by outcomes and obey God only if it helps them reach their goals.

David attributed success to the Lord; Absalom attributed success to himself. In many ways, David had evidence of the standard measures of success. He had power, a prized position, and accomplished much as a king. But he attributed his success to God’s presence. And he became more and more powerful, because the LORD God Almighty was with him (2 Samuel 5:10). David saw his success as an opportunity to bring glory to God and expressed his desire to build a temple for God.

In contrast, Absalom built a monument for himself. During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.” He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day (2 Samuel 18:18). Absalom saw his leadership as an opportunity to advance himself. His leadership was only to draw attention to who he was and had nothing to do with who God was.

Many leaders join Absalom in using success to draw attention to themselves. They are quick to tell others, “See what I have done.” Subversive leaders turn success into monuments to themselves. But servant leaders turn success into monuments to God. What kind of monuments will you leave behind? It depends on how you answer the question, “Am I successful as a leader?”

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler


For further reflection and discussion:

  • What is my own definition of success as a leader? Have I clearly defined it in my own life and leadership? How does David’s life challenge me to modify how I define success?
  • In what way am I tempted as a leader to value the opinions of men more than God’s? How does that impact my decisions?
  • Do I focus more on outcomes or obedience? Can I give one example from the past week of how that was reflected in my leadership?
  • In what way can my position, power, or influence be used to bring glory to God? In what ways am I tempted to use them to bring glory to myself?
  • What kind of monuments am I building with my life; are they monuments to God or to myself? How would those who follow me answer this question about my leadership?

*Subversive means to seek to undermine or destroy an established system. A leader who is subversive intends to overthrow the established authority to take power for themselves.


Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

David and Absalom: Relationships

Leadership is all about relationships and the way we relate to those we lead. There is no leadership without relationships. But how relationships are viewed and developed varies greatly. In this reflection on the contrast between David and his son Absalom, we will examine their relationship with their followers.

Both David and Absalom had relationships with their followers, but they built and maintained these relationships in very different ways. David, as a servant leader, built relationships in a manner that benefited everyone involved. As a subversive* leader, Absalom used relationships to advance his own cause. We learn about our own leadership relationships as we reflect on their examples.

David built relationships with production; Absalom built relationships with promises. David attracted others to follow him with his courage, first displayed when he killed Goliath. Saul’s son Jonathan saw the faith and courage in David’s life and became a lifelong friend and supporter. Soon after that, David began to lead the men into battle and won their loyalty by his accomplishments as a leader. He even influenced some of Israel’s enemies, men from Gath, to become loyal supporters (2 Samuel 15:18).

David won peoples’ hearts by what he did as a leader. They recognized his victories in battle and acknowledged that God had called him to leadership.

In contrast, Absalom never accomplished anything as a leader. He attracted people to follow him by leading a conspiracy against the king. Ahithophel, David’s counselor, chose to follow Absalom, likely because of his disgust at David’s relationship with Bathsheba, his granddaughter. Absalom promised results but never produced. He said, “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then…I would…” (2 Samuel 15:4). He took the easy way of criticizing the current leader instead of offering leadership.

Subversive leaders build relationships based on their leadership dreams. Servant leaders follow God and accomplish results that attract people to follow them. Subversive leaders promise results; servant leadersproduce results.

David honored relationships by listening; Absalom listened only to use relationships. David listened well. He first listened to God and often sought His counsel. He listened to the counsel of his commanders (2 Samuel 18:4; 19:5-8). And David listened to the rebuke of the prophet Nathan.

But Absalom only appeared to listen to those who were coming to the king for justice. His goal was only to steal their hearts so that he could become king (2 Samuel 15:1-6). Later Absalom refused to listen to the advice of Ahithophel, which led this counselor to take his own life (2 Samuel 17:1-23).

Subversive leaders pretend to hear, hoping that will build relationships. Servant leaders honor relationships by listening. Listening to others does not produce weak leadership; it builds relationships instead.

David sacrificed self to build relationships; Absalom sacrificed relationships to build his leadership. David built strong, loyal relationships by continually sacrificing himself for the people he led. The best example of the strength of these relationships is when David longed for water and his mighty men broke through enemy lines to fulfill his desire. But instead of quenching his own thirst, David poured out the water since they risked their lives to get it (2 Samuel 23:13-17). He used relationships to build others.

In contrast, Absalom sacrificed relationships to advance his own position. He ordered the death of his older brother and then led a rebellion against his own father! And 20,000 men lost their lives in the battle at the end of his life. Absalom used relationships to build himself.

Servant leaders attract others to themselves when they willingly sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. They show honor to others instead of only focusing on themselves. But subversive leaders view their own advancement as more important than relationships. They embrace any relationship that advances their cause and discard any relationship that doesn’t serve their ambition.

David and Absalom demonstrate two very different ways leaders build relationships. They illustrate that at least for the short term, both ways attract others. But lasting success comes to leaders who attract others by sacrificing self, listening well, and producing results.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • What have I done as a person that could make others want to follow me? If very little or nothing, what do I need to do before seeking a leadership role?
  • Have I ever made promises to attract others to follow me? If so, what was the result?
  • Am I able to listen to the counsel of others, even when they disagree with my actions? If not, what can I do to become a better listener?
  • Do I ever pretend to listen so that others will think I am a great leader? If so, what is God inviting me to do to change?
  • In what way have I sacrificed myself for those who follow me? Are there steps I can take today which can demonstrate that I value their relationship more than their performance?

*Subversive means to seek to undermine or destroy an established system. A leader who is subversive intends to overthrow the established authority to take power for themselves.

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

David and Absalom: Sin

Sin is a universal reality for all leaders, but the leaders’ response can be as different as David’s and Absalom’s. David’s most well-known sin is his sexual relationship with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. Absalom has a longer list of sins including the murder of his brother, destruction of personal property, rebellion to authority, and sexual immorality.

David responded as a servant leader while Absalom dealt with sin as a subversive* leader. And the outcomes could not be more distinct. David, in spite of his sin, is known as a “man after God’s own heart.” Absalom paid for his sin with his life. What can servant leaders learn about sin from the lives of David and Absalom?

David declared his sin; Absalom denied sin. David initially tried to cover his sin, attempting to make it look like Bathsheba’s pregnancy was from her husband. Then he had her husband killed. But when the prophet Nathan came to confront David, he quickly acknowledged, “I have sinned against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:13). In his psalm of confession, David says, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:3-4). David recognized that he sinned not only against the people involved but against God.

In contrast, Absalom, after murdering his brother, says to Joab: “Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death” (2 Samuel 14:32b, emphasis mine). David sinned in secret, but repented openly and cried out to God for forgiveness. Absalom sinned openly but refused to repent. He never acknowledged his sin to God or his father.

All leaders are tempted, like Absalom, to cover their sin. Hiding sin is a natural response and it is easy to conclude that confession will damage our leadership. David demonstrates a better way. Servant leaders acknowledge their sin quickly and openly; subversive leaders cover their sin.

David allowed sin to shape his character; Absalom used sin to shape his leadership. David repented of his sin and said, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10-12). David sinned in a moment of passion, but as he repented his character was shaped by God. The experience of God’s grace made David even more effective as a leader.

In contrast, Absalom deliberately sinned to advance his leadership, by sleeping on the rooftop with his father’s wives. (See 2 Samuel 16:21-22.) He used sin to gain more followers! Absalom had no regard for character; he only desired to be the king. Leadership was his goal, not integrity.

Some leaders, like Absalom, base decisions not on what is right or wrong but on what will advance their leadership. They are willing to compromise integrity for short term gain. Servant leaders allow sin to shape their character; subversive leaders use sin to shape their leadership.

David’s response to sin made him better; Absalom’s response made him bitter. David’s life was shaped by his sin and he drew closer to God as a result. He also promised God that after forgiveness he would, “teach transgressors your ways” (Psalm 51:13). Servant leaders repent of sin and allow their mistakes to make them better. They draw closer to God and experience His grace and forgiveness. As they do, they share what they learned with those who follow. They become more compassionate with those they lead as they recognize their own failings and are able to extend grace to others who sin.

Absalom’s response to sin only drove him to a life of bitterness, revenge, and rebellion. His initial sin of murder and denial of guilt led to rebellion, then sexual immorality, and a life of broken family relationships.

The difference between leaders is not in how we sin but in how we respond to sin. Servant leaders accept God’s grace and allow their sin to make them better; subversive leaders allow sin to make them bitter.

Our response to our own sin will shape our leadership. Servant leaders acknowledge sin and allow God to use it to shape their character and make them better leaders. Do you follow David’s example or Absalom’s?

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

*Subversive means to seek to undermine or destroy an established system. A leader who is subversive intends to overthrow the established authority to take power for themselves.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Read Psalm 51 to reflect on how David responded to his sin. What is God speaking to me through this chapter?
  • How has my own sin changed the way I lead?
  • In what areas am I most tempted to make leadership my goal instead of integrity?
  • Are there currently hidden sins in my own life which need to be confessed?
  • What specific step is God asking me to do in response to this reflection?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.