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Four Leadership Lessons from a King Who Finished Poorly

July 8, 2015

Unfortunately, we don’t have to look far to see failure in leadership. All leaders need to know what God wants them to do and not to do.

The books of 1 and 2 Kings share many lessons on life and leadership from Israel’s many kings – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Each king’s legacy is typically summarized in a statement describing if the king lived a life pleasing to the Lord or if he followed the way of other wicked kings. The portrayal of King Jehu’s story in 2 Kings 9-10 recently struck me. Here is a brief summary:

  • Jehu was chosen by God and anointed by Elisha to be king of Israel and destroy the wicked house of Ahab, which was filled with Baal worshippers, as the Lord had promised him earlier. Jehu had a divine calling by God to destroy the house of Ahab.
  • Jehu then made quick work of assassinating the current king of Israel, as commanded, but didn’t stop there — he also assassinated the king of Judah, something not commanded.
  • Then Jehu exterminated Baal worshippers from the land by gathering them all together in the house of Baal — and sending in men to slay them. He even ensured that worshippers of the Lord were spared. This was to fulfill his calling and the word God spoke against Ahab earlier in Kings. 2 Kings 10:28 summarizes this event: “Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel.” (That’s good!)

Then something caught my attention. Verse 29 says,

But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin — that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.

Even though Jehu obeyed the Word of the Lord by successfully campaigning against one type of idol worshippers, he did not give up the idols that he himself treasured. Even so, the Lord both rewarded him for his good actions (2 Kings 10:30) and punished him for the bad (2 Kings 10:32).

Verse 31 provides a biting summary of the rest of Jehu’s life,

But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.

Like many kings mentioned in the Bible, Jehu is a mixed bag. I don’t want to leave a legacy like that. Here are a few leadership lessons we can glean from Jehu:

1. God wants your whole heart.

This is a continual theme in 1-2 Kings and in the whole Bible. God doesn’t want a share of your affections and love — he wants 100%. Just because we forsake one idol in the name of the Lord doesn’t mean we don’t have others to forsake. Our goal must not be to solely destroy idols but to replace idol worship with the worship of the One True God.

As we pursue him with greater fervency and intensity, God will expose idols by his grace and help us forsake them. As Calvin said, our hearts are “idol factories,” constantly churning out false gods to worship. We must constantly be on watch of worshipping something or someone other than God alone.

2. A divine calling doesn’t ensure a life pleasing to God.

Jehu had a divine calling and was given a very specific task — to eliminate Ahab’s house and destroy Baal worshippers. He did that, but he did not take care to walk in the law of the Lord as the kings of God’s people were commanded to do (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Jehu’s story, which started with a divine anointing and prophecy, teaches us that a great start doesn’t mean a good finish. We may feel a divine calling on our lives, but we need to continually submit ourselves to the Lord and his Word with all of our hearts.

3. God rewards justly.

God rewarded Jehu for the good things he had done and punished him for others. For those who are in Christ, we know that Jesus took our sins upon himself and that we will not be punished eternally for them. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have consequences for our actions here on this earth. Our sin might affect us, those close to us, or possibly an entire nation, like we so often see evidenced in the kings of Israel. At the Great White Throne of Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), God will reward believers according to their works. Our eternal rewards should push us to live lives that honor God in every detail.

4. Success can make us complacent.

After we succeed, we can become overconfident and think our jobs are done. Jehu took care of part of his assignment from God by destroying Baal worshippers — but he didn’t take care to walk in God’s ways or forsake his own idolatry. Success can lead to pride and complacency if we are not careful. Jehu should have humbly thanked God for his help and rededicated himself to his service. When we succeed, let us take heed that we don’t fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

I have noticed in my own heart that after God uses me, I am susceptible to coast spiritually and pat myself on the back, not continuing to seek the Lord like I should. Just because he did use me doesn’t mean I’m done needing him!

Thankfully, the Old Testament provides good examples of kings, along with the bad ones. It also points us forward to the only King, Jesus Christ, who did walk perfectly in the law of the Lord with all of his heart — the One who will reign perfectly forever and ever.

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

The Author
Kevin Halloran

Kevin Halloran is a blogger and coffee aficionado. He serves with Leadership Resources International, training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

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