Transitions in leadership come in various forms and as a result of differing situations. Some of them are smooth – the result of preparation and planning. Others are disappointing and even damaging – the result of painful circumstances, scheming, disloyalty and failures in character. The bottom line: Rejoicing over a leadership transition can come for a variety of reasons – some noble and healthy, others ignoble and unfortunate.
I thought about that this morning as I read the account of Saul’s death in 2 Samuel 1 in the Bible. Saul as king of Israel had proven himself to be a weak, jealous and unpredictable leader. Judgment upon his leadership had been prophesied by Samuel. His successor, David, had already been identified and “anointed.” And although David was aware of that fact, he patiently waited for God’s timing and refused to engage in subterfuge and plots to overthrow Saul.
Then a tragic battle with the Philistines on Mount Gilboah! Israel was defeated and King Saul and his son Jonathan, David’s dear friend, were killed! The news reached David in Ziklag. An Amalekite brought the news to David, reported that he found Saul dying after trying to take his own life, and indicated that, at Saul’s request, he finished off the King. David’s adversary was now dead! The Kingdom would be David’s! In fact the Amalekite reported: “Here, I took the crown that was on Saul’s head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have them here for you, my lord!”
What kind of response would you have expected from David to that news? Perhaps rejoicing? Would he have joyfully reached out to take the crown and the armlet from the Amalekite? After all, his adversary and his son, the only natural heir to the throne, were now dead! He was the anointed one to be the successor! Leadership of Israel was now his for the taking!
Not David! The Bible says, “Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them! … He mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword!” (In fact David killed the Amalekite for daring to take matters in his hands and kill “the Lord’s anointed.”) Then David wrote a song of lamentation, honoring Saul and Jonathan and grieving their death and defeat… “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!” (from 2 Samuel 1)
What character David demonstrated in a difficult transition… No greedy grasping for the crown and the leadership armlet! Instead deep grief and concern over Israel’s defeat and the death of King Saul and his dear friend!
The lesson for us in difficult and disappointing leadership transitions? May those who are successors in such situations exhibit that their greatest concern is the welfare of the organization! May there be no greedy grasping of position or gladness expressed over the disappointing circumstances of such transitions. And may there be an appropriate expression of appreciation for the contribution, even failed leaders, have made to the organization. That’s class! That godly character! Help us O Lord to respond like David!!