People and Nations Get the Leaders They Deserve

Every nation gets the government it deserves.

~ Joseph de Maistre

The above quote has been misattributed to Lincoln and Tocqueville at various times.  Still, is it biblically true?  What does the Bible say about this topic?

24 Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you.

25 But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king.

~ 1Sa 12:24-25

Samuel gives the people a warning in 1 Samuel 12.  They asked for a king, which displeased Samuel and God greatly.  He warns them to not turn aside from serving God wholeheartedly, else both they and their king would suffer the consequences.  He is not warning the governor; he is warning the governed!

We often read of the accounts of the kings of both Israel and Judah, and we read how so-and-so was more evil than his ancestors, but do we stop to think why?  Do we consider that God gives people over to the fates they deserve, which includes who will rule over them?

4 This is what the LORD my God says: “Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter. 5 Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, ‘Praise the LORD, I am rich!’ Their own shepherds do not spare them. 6 For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,” declares the LORD. “I will give everyone into the hands of their neighbors and their king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue anyone from their hands.”

~ Zec 11:4-6 (NIV)

Zechariah prophesies that people will be turned over to one another as well as the king over them.  This is speaking of division and internal strife.

14 Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the family bond between Judah and Israel.

The staff of the Shepherd called Union or Unity was broken, thus severing ties, i.e. causing division, between Israel and Judah.  Again, it was due to the sins of the people.

As we have previously discussed on this blog, division is caused by arrogance, ego, doing what is right in our own eyes and a scornful attitude.  In many cases, the division and spirit of discord starts at the very top!

Yet, when isn’t the type of leadership in place not reflective of the collective character of the governed?  Why did God break the staff of unity?

8 In one month I got rid of the three shepherds.

The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them

Could it be any clearer?  We are seeing Israel’s attitude before having a king.  God rid them of the foreign oppressors.  He freed them from Egypt, the Canaanites and the Philistines, but in return He received only hatred!

There are many passages that bring out the general principle that the wicked have their own evil returned upon their own heads.  Just one example of this is found in Jeremiah:

19 Your wickedness will punish you;
your backsliding will rebuke you.
Consider then and realize
how evil and bitter it is for you
when you forsake the LORD your God
and have no awe of me,”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.

~ Jer 2:19 (NIV)

This works individually, but remember that Jeremiah was a prophet sent to warn all of the people in Jerusalem (v 2).  They would be punished for their collective wickedness!

Likewise, Isaiah prophesied of a time when no one who is worthy would want to be a ruler of the people.

6 When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand:

7 In that day shall he swear, saying, I will not be an healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: make me not a ruler of the people.

8 For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.

9 The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.

~ Isa 3:6-9

It would be their reward to have children as princes and babes as kings (v 4).  As a result, oppression will be the order of the day (v 5).

It is true that God sets up kings and throws them down.  However, it is important to realize that is the character of the people that determines the type of leader that will be set over them by God.  Notice that God chose Saul by lot to be the first king.  However, God makes it clear that it was Israel who chose the king.

13 Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have desired! and, behold, the Lord hath set a king over you.

~ 1Sa 12:13

Yes, God set Saul over them, but it was the type of leader they desired!  God knew their hearts and wanted their king to be a reflection of their own ambivalent attitude towards Him!

Isn’t that just one example of how God works in people’s lives?  He puts people in our path all the time that are there to teach us something about ourselves.  In a sense, they become mirrors to what is going on in our own hearts and minds.

19 You see your face in a mirror
and your thoughts
in the minds of others.

~ Pr 27:19 (CEV)

If nothing else, from whence come a nations leaders?  Do they not come from among the people who live in the society and are influencing and influenced by the mores, laws and traditions that surround them?  Leaders reflect the society because they are a part of it!

Christianity focuses a lot upon the individual, and that is understandable.  God’s Church is there to train individuals to reign, judge and rule in the world tomorrow.  However, we should not forget that God also deals with people in a corporate manner as well.  He has dealt with entire nations in the Old Testament, and He kept His promise to Abraham’s descendants in a corporate manner as well.

I believe God deals corporately with church organizations as well.  Witness how Christ addressed each of the seven church organizations in Revelation 2 – 3.  He calls upon individuals within each group to do the right thing all the while giving a general judgment upon that particular church.

We are individually responsible for our own actions.  However, groups are made up of individuals.  Together, individuals create a group that has a personality reflective of those who make it up.  It should be no surprise that God still deals with us not only individually but collectively as well.


  1. Dear Mr. Carmack,

    Hi – how are you? If I may say so, you seem to be on a roll this week. It is clear to me from your remarks that we are on the same page in some pertinent respects, but it does raise some interesting concepts for discussion.

    For example, if people get the leaders they deserve, and I find myself unduly expelled by leaders from a group without due process and subsequently find myself then in the company and companionship of individuals and leaders who eschew such an approach but embrace a compassionate and accountable culture, am I not better off? In which case did I get the leaders I deserve?

    For example, I make a decision to miss too many classes to be able to graduate due to illness, job losses and being needed by my family. Rather than simply denying me the privilege of graduating my class based on excessive absences as a matter of policy, the leadership chooses to expel me from all school functions for life.

    If I choose to simply accept their decision and move forward, is this not similar to accepting the consequences without justifying the poor leadership? In other words, this does not preclude me from being able to recognize the harsh nature of the decision or its handling – but if I accept the decision and move forward, are not both sides better off in the long run?

    Won’t those inclined toward leadership of poor judgment, lack of good faith and disrespect of due process end up with the leadership that has expelled me in this draconian manner, rationalizing, justifying, excusing and following that leadership; while I will be free to move on to a less oppressive collective endeavor?

    • @Deborah: This goes to why I attempted to make a distinction between how God works with us corporately vs individually. One does not completely extrapolate to the other.

      Consider for a moment what “individual” means. It means that God has a unique plan for each of our lives, if only we will allow Him to guide us. Not everything is a blessing, nor is everything a curse. Some things may be simply pushing us in a different direction, and other things may be tests.

      Individually, however, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to God and to society (the corporate entity). A corporate body by definition is made up of individuals, but God will deal with the collective body as a whole even while He deals with each individual (at the right time, in the right place).

      For example, Israel had a set of laws that included punishments for individuals who break those laws. If Israel, as a corporate entity, were righteous, there would still be the need to punish evildoers. As long as Satan has sway over this world, there will be those whose hearts are set upon doing that which is not right. Furthermore, even after Christ returns, we see at least one uprising in spite of righteous leadership. The corporate body must rid itself of the evil individuals, but it cannot dictate free will for them.

      OTOH, what of Jeremiah? Did he deserve to be thrown into the cistern? Did Daniel deserve to be thrown into the lion’s den? Yet, these men certainly served unrighteous leaders to the degree in which they followed God.

      This is why the only sure foundation is the word of God. Only that can be used as a yardstick. If you are unrighteously expelled from a group, and if that is provable by the word of God, then you have your answer, don’t you? However, if you had a part to play in stirring up discord, then who is to blame? God is the ultimate judge, and if you take the matter to Him in humility and prayer, won’t He show you whether or not you are at fault?

      If a situation arises where illness and other matters prevent you from fulfilling an education, then perhaps it is not a punishment at all but rather God steering you away from something. Perhaps even it is a test.

      31However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.

      ~ 2Ch 32:31 (NLT)

      Notice how God did not punish Hezekiah for this event, but it did reveal his pride. If Hezekiah did not show the Babylonians everything in the kingdom, would God have not still used them to punish Judah? No, I think it wouldn’t have changed anything, but rather it was an illustration of how the pride of the Jews would end in their subjugation.

      Other events can come as a test, but again we must use the word of God as a yardstick.

      13 If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,

      2 And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;

      3 Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

      ~ Dt 13:1-3

      Again, we see that God uses even the unrighteous to test us.

      This is why judging a brother is so dangerous! We almost surely do not have all the facts at hand, and even our reactions to their behavior or misbehavior might be a test for us as well.

      What we do know from the Bible is that people, that is humanity as a corporate entity, will wax worse and worse until God must step in and stop the madness. We know that the descendants of Israel, again a corporate body, have a particular obligation because the Bible has been carried throughout the world along with them as a witness against them. We know that the Church has an even greater responsibility, but that Rev 2 – 3 also reveals that not all will take that responsibility seriously.

      Yet, what do we also see? We see God throughout the Bible always calling out individuals to do the right thing no matter the circumstances. In fact, He calls out people to do the right thing regardless of the physical rewards or lack thereof. He calls out people who will do the right thing in spite of friends, family or corrupt leaders. If everyone on earth were willing to do that, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. There would be disagreements from time to time, but they would be worked out in a godly manner rather than through violence, war and malice.

      However, have you considered the most interesting wrinkle in all of this? We are called to obey even the unrighteous governments of the world except when it breaks God’s commandments to do so. Romans 13 was not written during a time when Christians were viewed favorably. 1 Peter 2 also calls us to the ordinances and rulers of men. Then, Peter writes:

      20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

      What can I say? Christ never promised us a rose garden. In fact, He promised us the very opposite. Yet, then, how do we know?

      Dare I beat a dead horse? It requires discernment!

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