David and Absalom: Power

All leaders have power, but not all leaders handle power the same way. David and Absalom demonstrated two very different ways that leaders gain and use power. They saw the power of the kingship in very different ways.

David accepted power; Absalom sought power. The difference between how David and Absalom came to power could not be more distinct. David was a shepherd who was busy tending his sheep when he was anointed to be the next king. He accepted the call of God to leadership, but he never sought power. When he was in power, he marveled that God chose him for that position. Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18)

Absalom’s intention from the beginning was to get power at any cost. He grew up in the palace as a child of the king. But he wanted to do more than be close to power; he wanted to be the king!

Leaders who humbly accept power can use their influence for the good of others. They can identify with the powerless and those with no voice. Leaders who are in positions of authority because they want to have power tend to abuse those they lead. They take advantage of the poor and weak. It is not wrong to desire to have influence or lead. But servant leaders guard their hearts against the temptation to be motivated by a desire for power. Servant leaders accept power; subversive* leaders seek power.

David waited for power in God’s timing; Absalom wanted power in his own timing. David waited for years on God’s timing to become the king. He was anointed as a young man and knew his destiny. But for years King Saul sought to kill him. Twice David had a chance to kill Saul and gain power quickly. Both times, David refused. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish (1 Samuel 26:10). As David waited, God developed his character so that he became a man after God’s own heart.

In contrast, Absalom couldn’t wait to become king. He didn’t wait for his father to hand over power or die; he wanted power now! Absalom waited only for as long as it took to build enough influence to overthrow his father’s authority. Instead of using this time to develop his gifts and relationship with God, Absalom used the time to develop a following.

Leaders who wait for God’s timing to bring them to positions of power develop character that shapes their leadership. As they wait, they also develop skills which they can later use to influence those they lead. Those who are in a hurry to become leaders substitute charisma** for character. They desire power over others before they have learned to lead themselves. Servant leaders wait for God’s timing to gain power; subversive leaders work to get power as quickly as possible.

David shared power with others; Absalom seized power for himself. David saw himself as a steward of power. As king, he recognized that God gave him a position of influence to use for God’s purpose. His power was a gift to share, not something to keep for himself. So David developed other leaders. He raised up many giant killers (2 Samuel 21:18-21). David developed a team around him to accomplish God’s purposes for the nation.

Absalom desired power for himself. He used people to make himself look good, not for the good of the nation. “In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him” (2 Samuel 15:1). He used people only to increase his power, and those who did not help him accomplish his dreams received his wrath. When Joab would not respond to his request, Absalom burned his fields (2 Samuel 14:29-33).

Leaders who seize power for themselves see their position for their own advantage. They focus on what they will get by being a leader and they use others for their own goals. But godly leaders recognize that their position is a gift from God, given to be shared with others. They focus on what they can give to those they serve. They develop others for the common good. Servant leaders share power; subversive leaders seize power.

Servant leaders learn from the examples of David and Absalom to handle power carefully, as a gift given to them by God to serve the good of others. There is power in your leadership, use it well!

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.

**Charisma is focusing on personal giftedness to win favor with others.

For further reflection and discussion:

•             Did I come to my current role as a leader because I was seeking power or because I accepted the call of God and others to lead? How does that shape my leadership?

•             Did I wait for God’s timing on my own leadership journey, or did I rely on my own plans to gain power? Am I currently willing to wait on God’s timing to have more influence, or do I seek to make it happen on my own?

•             Do I primarily see my position as an opportunity to share power with others or as a way to gain power for myself? What leadership decision have I made in the past week that illustrates this? What leadership action should I take to share power with others?

In the next issue, we’ll examine how David and Absalom used influence differently in their leadership.

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

David and Absalom: Intimacy

David is a servant leader that we admire in many ways. He is known as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). And David led well. “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalms 78:72).But David’s son Absalom provides a very different picture of leadership.

Absalom was the third born son of David and his name means “father of peace.” But his leadership was not peaceful! Absalom was a subversive* leader, working to undermine the authority of the king and take power by force. Absalom killed his own brother, Amnon, and for some time was separated from his father as a result. Later, he plotted to undermine his father’s authority as a king and led a rebellion that forced David to flee from Jerusalem. Absalom’s life ended on the battle field where he was killed by David’s men. His story, found in 2 Samuel 13-19, provides the context for this series.

We will consider the differences between David and Absalom’s leadership in six different areas. First, let’s examine the difference in their intimacy with God, expressed in how they worshipped.

David pursued intimacy in worship; Absalom pretended to worship. David, as a man after God’s own heart, danced in worship and pursued a relationship with God (2 Samuel 6:14-22). Absalom, as a young boy, likely witnessed this event. But in the story of Absalom there is no indication of any intimate relationship with God.

The only time it is recorded that Absalom worshipped is when he asks his father to go to Hebron to worship. David agrees, not knowing that the plan of Absalom is not to worship but to rebel. “While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel…, David’s counselor, to come…. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing” (2 Samuel 15:12).

Absalom only pretended to worship. It made him look good. But he was filled with hatred. He was estranged from his earthly father and it appears that he had no relationship with God as father. Absalom used worship as an instrument to gain power; David saw worship as a gift of God’s presence.

Servant leaders don’t worship to look good; they worship because God is good. Servant leaders pursue intimacy in worship; subversive leaders only pretend to have intimacy.

David surrendered pride in worship; Absalom sought power in worship. David understood that in true worship surrender is required. Worship is not to manipulate God to do what the leader wants, it is to surrender the heart of the leader to what God wants. David says, “Let him do to me whatever seems good to him” (2 Samuel 15:26).

Absalom used worship to get power. He only wanted God to grant him what he wanted. Servant leaders surrender to God’s will in worship; subversive leaders seek power in worship.

David exalted God in worship; Absalom exalted only himself in worship. When David worshipped he exalted God. “David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering” (1 Chronicles 21:26).

In contrast, “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).

Servant leaders exalt God; subversive leaders exalt themselves.

Intimacy with God, or the lack of it, shapes how every leader leads. Servant leaders, like David, pursue intimacy with God in passionate worship, surrender of self and a genuine desire to exalt God through their leadership. Like David, they become leaders after God’s own heart.

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 the entire account of Absalom’s life in 2 Samuel 13-19. What do I learn about leadership from his life?
  • In what way am I tempted to pretend to worship? What happens to me as a person when I do this? What impact does it have on my leadership?
  • Do I pray to get from God what I want or do I pray to hear from God what He wants? How does this impact my leadership?
  • When I report what has happened through my leadership, do I exalt God or draw attention to myself? Are the monuments I spend my life building devoted to God or self?

Copyright, Global Disciples, 2018.