Moses, David, and Leadership

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Last time we started a conversation on voting as Christians. This week, I want to continue that conversation, but widen it out a bit, too. The question I’d like to consider is: What are the most important qualifications for a leader?

The question definitely applies to voting, but it applies to more than that. I believe we, in general, have a faulty system for choosing leaders. The problem is not necessarily the system itself, but our criteria are lacking not only sound judgment but also attention to statistics.

How do we choose a leader? What are the most important qualifications for a leader? 

I’ve had this conversation a number of times with people, and we tend to come up with different answers. Some believe that the most important qualification for a leader is that they have leadership capability. But what does that mean? When pressed, their definition of leadership capability is that a person commands respect, manages people, casts a vision, and commands a following. These are important things in a leader, perhaps. But you and I both know a lot of people meet these qualifications, and they lead us into terrible things. History can offer up a parade of people who qualified as a good leader under this definition, but their legacy is one of destruction and harm. 

I’ve written entire papers on the qualifications for leadership, given the that I just finished a doctorate on church leadership. There were a lot of qualifications in those papers. But somewhere there has to be a priority list. Particularly when we are choosing between candidates with a lot of different qualities and beliefs.

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Of course, we first turn to scripture. How did God choose leaders? It’s interesting that when Israel demanded its first leader, God gave them someone very much like the definition of a good leader that I spoke about above. Saul is described as a handsome man who commanded respect, an imposing man, and one of wealth to whom people looked up. Literally. He was big.

It was a disaster. 

On the other hand, when God chose his first leader, David, scripture tells us that he didn’t look for the things that human beings look for. He chose someone everyone else overlooked. Why? We find it is because David had a heart after God. What does that mean? It means that he wanted to know God and follow him as best he could. It means he was humble, knowing his place before the Lord of the universe. Yes, David was very strong, and very courageous. But these were secondary qualities to the fact that he wanted to obey God and do the right thing in every circumstance. That he did not do so was later quite evident. Power corrupted him, and  he did terrible, terrible things. 

Still, his heart in the beginning was one that chose right, and in the end, his humility when confronted with his own sin shows that he remained a man who wanted to please God, despite the middle part that nearly destroyed his kingdom and family. We can learn good leadership qualities from both aspects of David’s life. 

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One is obviously humility. David chose to admit that he didn’t do everything right. He chose to accept that he didn’t know everything. He willingly leaned on other people to correct him and to guide him. The kings in the Old Testament who refused guidance were the ones continuously referred to as those who “did evil all their days.”

It’s simply a good leadership quality to know your own weaknesses and to surround yourself with people who know what you do not.

We see a leader in the New Testament doing this as well. The Roman army captain who came to Jesus to ask for healing showed that he understood God was above him and he needed to retain his humility. Because of this, Jesus healed his servant (Luke 7). We should look for humble leaders who can lead us holistically in this way.

God chose Moses as perhaps his greatest leader partly also because of this humility. It says in Leviticus that Moses was one of the most humble humans alive (Numbers 12.3). That’s a pretty amazing commendation. This isn’t a prerequisite for leadership that we think about very often. We tend to look more at the confident, even overconfident person and think—oh what a great leader. They will really be strong and tough for us. But God considers humility a number one qualification. This is counterintuitive to the way we tend to do things. Yet it makes so much sense. Humble people rely on teamwork, and all business models agree that this is a much better way to succeed. 


Why else did God pick both Moses and David? Well they were strong. They had both made a living as shepherds, which means they did learn to be tough, protective, and physically capable. It certainly does come in handy as a leader to be tough. You get a ton of arrows shot at you, and if you can’t handle it, you don’t do well. So it’s an excellent quality to have, although again, we tend to equate strength with brashness, boldness, and masculinity, none of which it needs to be. You can quietly protect your sheep, as Jesus did, without all the fanfare. Personal strengths is very important. We come by it in many different ways. Some earn it by being tested physically, some by being tested mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. Strength has many faces. 

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To be a shepherd, however, one must also be compassionate and caring. A shepherd, as we know from Jesus’ stories, goes after lost sheep. He heals them. She cares for their wounds, calms their nerves, and makes sure they have everything they need for survival. This means that a good leader, according to God, also considers compassion and care as some of the most important qualities to embody. Moses, in particular, is constantly interceding for his people, begging for mercy and offering to take the blame for their misdeeds. He is pretty incredible, really.


A good leader leads the way in difficulty. She or he goes first when things are hard. Moses was the first one who walked into the Red Sea. He consistently showed his people that he was willing to take the first step in the vision he was trying to leave them toward. David did the same with his band of men. When he didn’t go first, when the others were at war, is when he made his most fatal error. A good leader won’t let others take the fall.


Integrity and humility go hand-in-hand, and it appears that in Scripture they override policy and personality every single time.

Finally, continuing to look at both David and Moses, we see that a good leader is one who we can trust because she or he has integrity. Yes, both men really messed up. Yes, they both exhibited terrible judgment at times. Yes, our elected officials will as well. They will have policies with which we do not agree. But are they people whose integrity has been generally proved over time? Have we seen a track record, like we do with Moses and David, of choosing what is right over what is expedient? Do we see a willingness to listen, learn, and adjust? Integrity and humility go hand-in-hand, and it appears that in Scripture they override policy and personality every single time.

40 Years of Voting

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The first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote came a month after my birthday. I had to vote absentee, since in November I was in the weeds of my freshman year of college six hours from home. I excitedly blacked in the circles on my first ballot and mailed it back, thankful to be able to cast the first vote of my life.

I didn’t vote for either major party candidate for president. I chose John Anderson, partly because he appealed to college students like me across the board, partly because he hailed from my home state, so loyalty won. Of course, I guess Reagan did too, but only by birth. In any case, geography is, I realize, a poor rationale for voting decisions.

This year, I’ll vote early in person, and the gratitude for being able to cast a vote hasn’t really faded. I still recognize it as a privilege and hope I always will. With a dad who walked the decks of a battleship in the Pacific at the age of 16, I think I’d be letting him down if I didn’t.

I want to spend October on this touchy subject. How should Christians vote? No, not for whom. We’re not going there. Pretty sure you know I have definite opinions, but that’s not the point here. What I want to talk about is the theology around voting wisely and well.

First, Scripture addresses the issue of loyalty, and that matters immensely when we think about the theology of voting. Loyalty is BIG in the Bible. God self-labels as a jealous God, who won’t brook competition (Exodus 34.14). The first commandment is all about —no other gods before me! God isn’t a fan of idolatry—yet it’s clear in many places that his reasons are for our good. Having other gods always leads to unhealthy relationships with all of them and a divided self that doesn’t function well in any arena.

The Bible involves a lot of paradoxes, mostly because life this side of eternity is just plain messy. It’s not certain, and our reality and scripture both reflect that. One of those paradoxes is that we are a part of this world that we live in, yet we are not supposed to consider it our real home. 

Jesus says that we are in this world but not of it (John 17). He says he is leaving us here but that we are to live here as he did, having been sent as hew was sent. The way he lived here is not at all the way most people do. His every word and action very much showed that his loyalty was not with any powers of this world. That’s what got him put on a cross.

Peter says that we are always sojourners, foreigners in this land. Yet he is careful to say that we answer ethically to the people around us. (1 Peter 2)

Prophets like Jeremiah told God’s people to make our homes here and to create lives that blessed everyone around us (Jeremiah 29). Yet the prophets also make it clear that we are always longing for our real land, and this isn’t it. It is one of those paradoxes that we feel but do not understand.

This is my home, but it is not my home. I am to do well in it and bless others in it, but I am to hold it very lightly and loosely, because it isn’t mine. How does this affect the way we choose to vote in this country?

It sets us up to understand better where our loyalties ought to be. Let’s look at a few Bible verses.

Exodus 20.3 You shall have no other gods before me. First commandment. So, pretty important.

“Before” actually means beside—like, not only can’t we have any gods that are more important to us than the One true God, we can’t even have any that we put alongside God in competition. There are to be no close seconds. God is the runaway winner—no one else is even on the track.

Luke 14.26-27 If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus uses hyperbole here, a common technique in the Bible, to make a point. No, he doesn’t want us to literally hate our families. But he does want to make certain his disciples know the extent of the expectations and commitment. They are to place him first, and anything that comes in the way of that needs to be subordinated real fast. It might well mean sacrifice and putting other things before their own well-being and desires. So he’s preparing them for that.

Matthew 6.24, 33 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

The context here is money, which is why he uses this example.  But it’s clear he means we cannot serve God and anything else. See again, first commandment.

So what’s the point of this? It’s that God does not accept competition. There isn’t any allowance for mixed loyalties. We are either God’s or we are not; there is no option for being partly God’s and partly something else.

Our complete loyalty has to be to getting up every morning and saying to God, “I am yours and I belong to your kingdom. How does that work out in my life today?”

Remember—God doesn’t even want a close second place finisher. 

Why? Because if we try to divide our lives up into loyalty for God plus loyalty for country, culture, family, anything, we find that they take precedence before God every single time. It’s just human nature that when we put something next to God, it always overtakes that first loyalty in our hearts. And God doesn’t take second place. When we do that, we are just serving whatever that other thing is then. God will leave us to it. 

There is, therefore, no such thing as the American church. The church belongs to God, and it is universal. There is no such thing as, God forbid, this new “denomination” that’s being created called the Patriot Church. (Heresy detected. Run away fast.)

We are citizens first in God’s kingdom, and to mix God and country so completely and indistinctly together is to create a soup with no eternal substance. 

Remember—no other gods even beside the one true God. That leaves zero wiggle room for worshiping our country. Gratitude for it? Absolutely. Care and concern? Sure. We’re to live in this world—and so to bless it and be good caretakers of it. This is why we vote. But we are to be always careful of what is receiving our ultimate loyalty.

To worship something means to consider it perfect. You see no flaw in it. It means to think of it first and to put your trust in it. It means you think that thing matters above all other things, and you are willing to sacrifice anything or anybody for it. This is fine, if that “thing” is God.

But if you hear things coming out of your mouth like, “my country right or wrong,” “Love it or leave it,””Don’t criticize the good old USA—it’s the greatest place in the world!”? That’s not patriotism. It’s worship. Patriotism is to tell God thank you for giving you a wonderful place to live and asking God to make you a better citizen while here on earth. And the prophets would agree with that idea. Yet we must all the while remember—this country is not our real citizenship. We’re God’s people, through and through, with ALL our priorities.

The next verse, a familiar one, puts this all together.

Matthew 22.37-40 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So we reiterate here that God is first and alone in our hearts in terms of loyalty. But then he adds that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves as a necessary corollary. That brings this world into the picture. It speaks to the balance we talked about in the beginning between belonging to eternity and belonging to this place we live in.

It is because we place God first that we act in ways that love his image here on this earth. To honor God is to honor his image, which is every single person we ever meet or hear about. Paul talks about how this works out:

Ephesains 2.10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Our task here on earth, our way of showing loyalty to God’s kingdom alone, is to do his good works here. The main one of those works is to love our neighbor as ourselves. So one of the ways we approach the concept of voting in a free country is to approach it as a way in which we can love our neighbor through our voting priorities.

How does this work? Well, let’s look back at some of the ways the Bible says we can love our neighbor.

The parable of the good Samaritan comes to mind first, obviously. A good neighbor binds someone’s wounds up. She or he offers healing and the means that a person might need in order to completely heal. The good Samaritan paid for the hotel room and the treatment. Sometimes, that’s what a good neighbor does. They heal and provide. 

Jesus said that giving clothing, food, water, and visiting the sick and imprisoned was being the same kind of neighbor to people as if we were being a neighbor to him. So loving our neighbor means to make sure they have what they need and to make sure they aren’t left lonely. 

Paul says in several places that loving someone sometimes means helping them get back on the right path. Sometimes it means to correct them. At other times, we love people by mourning with them and rejoicing with them. We love people by freeing them from oppression. We love others by teaching them right from wrong. Being a neighbor even means to love your enemies. All of these examples have multiple Bible verses that show God has decided this is how we love the image of God on this earth.

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So how do we vote in a way which loves our neighbor? Remember, this is all prefaced on the truth that we are here on earth in order to do his good works, the foremost of which is loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • How would you like the laws to be if they were applied to you?
  • How would you like voting to go if you were one of the people mentioned in the verses above—hungry, alone, sick, spiritually lost? 
  • What woulds you like this country to look like if it looked good for everyone?
  • What are the hopes and dreams of others, and how could my vote help those along?

These sorts of questions help us to think about the question in a way that doesn’t put “me” in the center of our voting action.

To vote in a way which loves our neighbor means first we have to put ourselves in our neighbor’s position. We can’t possibly do it if we cannot imagine ourself as a person with different needs. So it first requires empathy. It means getting out of the “me” silo and talking to and learning about other people. Listening to their stories. Knowing what their hopes and dreams and needs are. If we don’t know our neighbor, we can’t really love him or her.

I hope that gives a good theological overview of how Jesus first and second commands—love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself—should influence how Christians choose to vote. It’s complicated. But it’s worth asking ourselves a lot of good questions.