Uniform 04.13.2014: The Leader We Need

Jeremiah 23:5-6; Zechariah 6:9-14; John 19:1-5

Beauty shop gossip is a well-established tradition, at least for women. You go to get your hair trimmed or colored or washed, and you sit there listening to the hairdressers and their clients discuss religion, politics, relationships, kids—basically any topic that comes up. You might add a point or two from time to time.

On Wednesday, April 2, I was at a salon and overheard a couple of patrons talking about President Obama. “Obama made some speech,” the woman said. “Did you watch it?” “Not yet,” said the man, “but I know what he said about that stupid Obamacare. How is that going to help anybody?” The two of them went on to have a lengthy, sometimes heated conversation about the president’s healthcare plan.

But something else was on our leader’s mind that day. In what seems to be a time of increasing gun violence, a veteran from the war in Iraq shot and killed three people, wounded sixteen, and then killed himself at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Apparently, before the incident, the killer “was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In his remarks about the event, President Obama asked us all to keep “the families and the community at Fort Hood in our thoughts and in our prayers. The folks there have sacrificed so much on behalf of our freedom. Many of the people there have been on multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. They serve with valor; they serve with distinction. And when they’re at their home base they need to feel safe. We don’t yet know what happened tonight, but obviously that sense of safety has been broken once again. And we’re going to have to find out exactly what happened.”

In the United States, what do we expect from our president? I imagine it’s much the same as what the Israelites expected of their king: one who “shall…deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land,” and who will make it possible for everyone to “live in safety” (Jer 23:5-6). Like those ancient people, we honor our rising leaders with special ceremonies, provide them with a stately residence, and entrust them with our welfare (see Zech 6:9-14).

And then, when they don’t live up to our expectations—and they never do, regardless of party or stance—we tend to flog them with our words, mocking their decisions and behaviors, doubting their abilities, and wishing them out of office. That’s human nature. We are always looking for the next best thing and hoping that it will live up to our desires.

But there was only one man who was ever able to live up to being the kind of leader we truly need, and the people got rid of him too (Jn 19:1-5). His example of leadership was that of a servant who cared for the needy, who guided broken people back to a better path, who constantly humbled himself and pointed to his Father, and who welcomed all people, no matter how they’d sinned or what their jobs were or whether they were even worth it in society’s eyes. To those who witnessed his leadership, his actions weren’t always the kind that “execute justice.” They were not always actions that caused his followers to “live in safety.”

Jesus Christ is a leader who asks more of us than any earthly leader would: that we be humble, take risks, love people, welcome those who are different, strive to stay connected to God, focus more on relationships than on rules, and take up our cross and follow him. If we really think about it, he is not an easy leader to follow. But he is the leader we need.


Dave Montgomery, Manny Fernandez, and Ashley Southall, “Iraq Veteran at Fort Hood Kills 3 and Himself in Rampage,” New York Times, 2 April 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/03/us/gunshots-reported-at-fort-hood.html?hpw&rref=us&_r=0 (accessed 3 April 2014).

“Transcript: President Obama’s Remarks on Fort Hood Shooting,” Washington Post, 2 April 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/transcript-president-obamas-full-remarks-on-fort-hood-shooting/2014/04/02/86996ea4-bac3-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html (accessed 3 April 2014).


1. When someone starts a conversation about the current state of our country’s leadership, what is your inclination? Do you have firm opinions that you wish to speak about, or do you prefer to keep your thoughts to yourself?
2. Have you ever tried to put yourself in the president’s shoes? What would it be like to try to win votes? To succeed in getting elected? To work with partisan people? To try to protect your family life? To be entrusted with the weighty decisions of a nation? To hear the praise and also the criticism of your work in office? To maintain your sense of self?
3. What do you think are the qualities of a good leader?
4. What were Jesus’ qualities as a leader? How do these qualities differ from the ones you might have mentioned in question 3? Are any the same?
5. How can we strive to follow Christ, the leader we truly need, and yet also be supportive of the various levels of leadership we encounter in our daily lives—from supervisors to ministers to government leaders? What would God have us do?

Reference Shelf

Verses 5-6 move from the “shepherds” whom God will raise up (v. 4) to a single leader from the line of David (note the dynastic point) whom God will raise up, whose rule of justice and righteousness (see 21:12; 22:3, 15) will be that of a true shepherd. The verses could be related temporally. That is, upon return from exile, God will raise up shepherds who will rule justly over the returned community, from among whom will be chosen the “righteous Branch,” who will rule as God himself would rule. Alternatively, the “righteous Branch” is a way of speaking of each of a succession of promised shepherds. The latter seems to be the interpretation of these verses when they are repeated in 33:15-16 (with modifications; see 30:9), for 33:17 speaks of a succession of rulers when it promises that “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel.”

This future of a community over whom a righteous king rules is made possible only by God’s action: God will raise him up; but once raised up, the king himself will rule. The fundamental characteristic of the reign of this future king is that he will rule wisely and with justice and righteousness. He would thus be true to God’s calling for the kings in 22:3 (21:12) and stand in the tradition of Josiah (22:15). This verse may be linked with other prophetic texts that speak of a coming king who will rule wisely and justly (see Isa 9:5-7; 11:1-5; Ezek 34:23-24, which speaks of this king as a shepherd).

The name given to this king of the Davidic line is “The Lord is our righteousness” (cf. the names given in Isa 7:14; 9:5). That is, he will rule as God himself would rule; God’s righteous rule would be exercised in and through this individual. Given his name, it would be God’s rule, not the rule of the Branch that would be seen and recognized by the community. This name may be a wordplay on Zedekiah (=“Yahweh is righteousness”), the last king of Judah, whose name was given him by Nebuchadrezzar at the time of his appointment (see 2 Kgs 24:17). The point would be, in effect, God is our righteous king, not Zedekiah (though some see a positive reference to Zedekiah here). The decisive effect of the rule of God’s righteous branch is that “Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.” Note the reference to both northern and southern kingdoms. Moreover, the force of this salvation language is not narrowly spiritual in nature; salvation encompasses every sphere of life, which will characterized by health, deliverance from their enemies, safety in the face of any threat, and general well-being—back on the “land.”


Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008).

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.


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