By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“After you have taken possession of the land that the LORD your God is going to give you and have settled there, then you will decide you need a king like all the other nations around you. Be sure that the man you choose to be king is the one whom the LORD has chosen… He must be one of your own people; do not make a foreigner your king. The king is not to have a large number of horses for his army, and he is not to send people to Egypt to buy horses, because the LORD has said that his people are never to return there. The king is not to have many wives, because this will make him turn away from the LORD; and he is not to make himself rich with silver and gold… When he becomes king, he is to have a copy of the book of God’s laws and teachings made from the original copy kept by the levitical priests. He is to kept this book near him and read from it all his life, so that he will learn to honor the LORD and to obey faithfully everything that is commanded in it. This will keep him from thinking that he is better than other Israelites and from disobeying the Lord’s commands in any way. Then, he will reign for many years, and his descendants will rule Israel for many generations.” — Deuteronomy 17:14-20
The midterm elections for local and national leaders are just around the corner. And so, it is but proper and fitting to remind us once again of some Biblical principles of choosing leaders. The Book of Deuteronomy gives us some important reminders on how to choose our leaders.
Deuteronomy is considered to be a product of serious reflections on leadership, especially on what leaders could do to make or unmake a nation. Although the book talks about the events during Moses’ time, it was actually written, according to Biblical scholars, during the latter years of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, shortly before it was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the people with their leaders were carried away to Babylon as captives.
The people of Judah at that time had already seen how the United Kingdom of Israel was divided after a civil war, then how the Northern Kingdom of Israel had come to an end in 721 BCE – all because of leaders who were corrupt, abusive, and unfaithful to their covenant relationship with Yahweh their God and the people whom they are supposed to serve. Hence, the Book was meant to warn the people at that time, especially the leaders, and to help prevent a similar destruction for the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
The aforementioned Biblical passages (Dt. 17:14-20) provide us some useful guidelines in choosing our leaders even for our own time. It says that we should choose “the one whom the LORD has chosen” (v.15). We do believe that power and authority ultimately comes from God. Therefore, we should choose the ones whom God has chosen, for we are bestowing upon the leaders the power and authority which ultimately comes from God. There is a popular dictum saying, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Now, what kind of leader is the “one whom the LORD has chosen?” We could glean from our Biblical text several characteristics or indicators of a God-chosen leader. Let’s take them one by one.
One of our Own
Firstly, the leader whom the LORD has chosen should be one of our own people, not a foreigner. Part of Verse 15 says, “He must be one of your own people; do not make a foreigner your king.” To be one with our own people is not only a question of blood or race, but rather it is a question of solidarity. You can be a Filipino by blood or citizenship, yet your interests are not for the Filipinos but for the foreigners. In that case, you are not one with your own people; you are not really a Filipino, you are a foreigner!
A leader who is one with his own people carry with him the genuine interests, hopes and aspirations of his own people. Although the Israelites came from different tribes, they became one people, because they were one in sufferings and hopes. They were one in their covenant relationship with their God who brought them to a Promised Land with a new future and destiny.
To be one with our own people would also mean the offering of oneself in the service of our people. It is possible that leaders pretend to be pro-people, but in reality they are just using the people for their own vested interests. They may project their interests as the peoples’ interests, but in reality they are simply following their own selfish desires. Such leaders are also considered foreigners. Contrary to their own claims, they are not really one of their own people. Therefore, they are not the “ones whom the LORD has chosen”.
Not a Warlord or Oppressor
Secondly, the leader whom the LORD has chosen should not be a warlord or an oppressor. Verse 16 says, “The king is not to have a large number of horses for his army, and he is not to send people to Egypt to buy horses, because the LORD has said that his people are never to return there.” Building up a large army at the expense of peoples’ basic needs speaks of a leader who is warlord and warlike. It is a leader who thinks that the best way to resolve conflicts among people is to kill each other.
Chariots were the most advance armaments in those days. And King Solomon during his time had to buy horses in Egypt and make chariots for his own army and for sale to the armies of other friendly kingdoms (cf. I Kings 10:14-29). All these were done at the expense of the peoples’ basic needs. King Solomon was rich, but the people were poor. He had to build an enormous army in order to protect his enormous wealth.
In Israel’s history, Egypt was a symbol of oppression. For many years, the Israelites suffered so much under the Egyptian Empire (cf. Exodus 1). Hence, to return to Egypt would mean to return to the ways of Egypt – the ways of oppression. But the LORD is the God of freedom. The LORD liberated the Israelites from their Egyptian oppressors and brought them to a “land flowing with milk and honey”. Hence, a leader whom the LORD has chosen must be one who shuns away from every form of oppression. A God-chosen leader is a liberator of the oppressed.
Our country has its own share of oppression – from the time of our Spanish colonizers to the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In many ways than one, we have kept on returning to Egypt – to the ways of oppression. The two People Power Revolutions that happened in our recent history could be seen as our people’s responses to the ways of oppression. Thus, the warning not to return to Egypt could be a continuing warning even for us today.