Perspectives on Leadership

An olive tree in Greece. 


Judges 9:14-15
So all the trees said to the bramble,
‘You come and reign over us.’
And the bramble said to the trees,
‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
then come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’


This passage of scripture may be the earliest fable in written history. Fables were often used when the people would no longer listen to truth, but were clouded by their own thoughts of grandeur. Instead of being able to have honest conversations, there were wise individuals who would have to resort to story-telling to get the attention of the people. There, the listeners would discover themselves, and, possibly, realize the folly of their ways. Fables use nature, or animals to tell a story, while parables use people, but they are both devices that are used, especially when people won’t listen. Jesus knew this well. 

This fable uses the story of trees to give us perspectives on leadership. Both the olive tree and the fig tree refuse to take the position of leadership and say that they believe it is more important to focus on that which they do well. Because none of the others will take the place of leadership, finally all the trees submit themselves to the bramble. The problem with the bramble is that, in comparison with the fig and olive trees, it is quite small. The large trees will never find shelter in the branches of the bramble, which is a type of thorn bush. This is a tree with limited shelter, but that can also be destructive. Sadly, the offer of refuge is not genuine, and is followed by a threat. If now, they do not allow the bramble to rule over them, then the bramble will destroy them. 

This story is thought to represent Abimelech, a man of great cruelty, juxtaposed against Gideon and his seventy men. If Abimelech rules, he will destroy. 


There are a couple of ways in which this passage can be interpreted that can give us perspectives on leadership. Let’s try version one:

. The people want a leader who can rule over them. The problem is that good leaders with the right motivation are probably not inclined to take the position. A good and productive person, like the olive and fig, are busy doing good things and they really don’t want to get involved in the politics of power. This is of no appeal to them. On the other hand, the worthless person is excited when they are offered a position of power and authority. Unfortunately, this last type of leader ends up destroying the very people who ask him to rule in the first place. 

But what about version two?

. In this view we find the olive and fig trees, both of which are extremely responsible. Unfortunately, they are unwilling to give up their personal and private interests for the good of others. Or, in their humility they do not take the position because they are afraid that the power may go to their head and therefore they would become unfruitful. There is an interesting potential consequence here, that the one who does good may be afraid of becoming too great. However, if the responsible individuals do not seriously think about the state of affairs and step up to take responsibility, the irresponsible bramble will take over, and all will die in the fire. 

Ultimately, when opportunities are placed before a leader, they must be very careful and cautious in their decision making process. There may be times when it is right to remain where you are and carefully manage that which God has placed into your hands. At the same time, there are moments when we must sacrifice our comfort zone for the sake of the greater good. However, to be a leader is to always submit humbly to the authority of God. When we give power and authority to the bramble, for whatever reason, there will be negative consequences. Leaders need to consider that carefully. 


Lord, leadership is a burden which you share with others. May we always be reminded that this is from you, and be a discerning people, serving with great humility. Amen. 


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