to Barack Obama
First, a confession: this lesson was written for its “what if?” value. What if King Solomon, that wisest of kings, were to coach President Obama? What would he say to him? It may surprise you to see what he would say, taken from Proverbs; it may surprise you more what he does not say. Of course, Solomon has nothing to say about democracy, it being unknown in his time – but rulers were common enough. Your attention, please, Mr. President.
We may first begin with Solomon’s advice to the citizenry. It is not becoming for us to advise the president without first taking advice ourselves.
Seeking his favor
Proverbs 16:14-15 NASB The fury of a king is like messengers of death, But a wise man will appease it. (15) In the light of a king's face is life, And his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.
It is obvious enough that we should want to be in favor with our rulers; any four year old can see that. But see one good reason for retaining that favor: that the president will not grow angry – with us, or anyone else. Tell me, does it become the president to be angry, particularly because someone has failed in wisdom?
Approach with humility
Proverbs 25:6-7 NASB Do not claim honor in the presence of the king, And do not stand in the place of great men; (7) For it is better that it be said to you, "Come up here," Than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince, Whom your eyes have seen.
A little respect, please. Military veterans will remember that you “salute the uniform, not the wearer.” Whoever the president is, he should be respected – and that includes approaching him in humility.
Why? Because of the burden he bears. “Respect the burden,” said Napoleon. Remember that he is loaded with cares the likes of which you and I do not have; therefore, do not be quick to condemn. Rather, give intelligent sympathy to his troubles.
If you happen to be in his company, do not put yourself forward; rather, let him recognize you. He has enough people with colossal egos; he needs the humble.
Fear the Lord, fear the king
Proverbs 24:21-22 NASB My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those who are given to change, (22) For their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin that comes from both of them?
Please remember that “change” in this context does not mean the ordinary progress of events, but rather the sort that changes dynasties. In our context, it would mean the overthrow of our constitutional government. The progression is simple:
· Rebellion – not just against the policies of the day, but against the entire government. This forces that government to spend its resources in dealing with the rebellion.
· Revolution – if the rebellion succeeds, it’s clear that revolution must follow. After all, didn’t we throw out one government to get a different type?
· Ruin – when the revolutionaries triumph, their first target is those who uphold the old order of things.
It would be well to remember that Germany elected Hitler.
We begin now with advice to the president. Our first section concerns the matter of the people he selects to be around him. We start with a warning.
Know your own terror
Proverbs 19:12 NASB The king's wrath is like the roaring of a lion, But his favor is like dew on the grass.
It is well, Mr. President, that you know that you are clothed with great power and therefore a terror to those beneath you. If you ask in wrath, you will get an answer designed to soothe that wrath – which is not necessarily the truth.
Indeed, beware of the “tell him what he wants to hear” problem. You will soon be making your decisions based on your own opinions – which everyone around you will tell you are wisdom itself. You know you’re not really that perfect – don’t you?
Favor the wise, crush the wicked
Proverbs 20:26 NASB A wise king winnows the wicked, And drives the threshing wheel over them.
Proverbs 14:35 NASB The king's favor is toward a servant who acts wisely, But his anger is toward him who acts shamefully.
May we make three points?
· It is wisdom you need, not just knowledge. Knowledge is plentiful; wisdom is rather scarce these days.
· Show that the wise are favored. Make it clear that you expect wise counsel and will settle for nothing less.
· Actively deal with the wicked. Do not just “let it go;” rather, make it a point that the corrupt are dealt with severely. You must set an example.
Love pure and gracious speech
Proverbs 22:11 NASB He who loves purity of heart And whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend.
It is said that you can always get the truth from an American politician – once he’s given up hope of the presidency. Your advisors need the purity of heart that comes with dedicating themselves to their country – not to their careers. By the time they reach your level, Mr. President, they should already be experienced in making the choice between what’s right and what’s profitable. Your trust should be placed in those who choose what’s right.
This is not to say, however, that you want someone who is both honest and shooting his mouth off. Gracious speech is not only more pleasant, it’s also much less embarrassing.
In shaping his policies, there are three things which the president would do well to remember.
You are rendering decisions on behalf of God
Proverbs 16:10 NASB A divine decision is in the lips of the king; His mouth should not err in judgment.
Remember, you are the active agent of God, as much a part of his plan for this world as any minister. Act like it; take into account just what God’s purposes are for you and your people. Among other things, God relies on you to provide:
· Justice. More about this in the last section.
· Peace. “It is the first duty of statesmen to eschew war” said Mr. Churchill – and I submit he was in a position to know.
· Security. Is the average man secure in his person? Is his house likewise secure? Are the streets ruled by the gangs, or are they safe for even the elderly?
Loyalty, truth and righteousness
Proverbs 20:28 NASB Loyalty and truth preserve the king, And he upholds his throne by righteousness.
Loyalty, of course, we all can see. Of course you want your staff to be loyal to you. Is it not obvious as well that the loyalty of your people is a requirement as well? You don’t need the agreement and support of your opposition – but you do need their loyalty.
Truth, too, is a necessity. In our age we have become accustomed to “spin.” We expect every communication from the White House to be carefully crafted to cleverly sidestep the problem but pile glory on the administration. Did you think us such fools?
Righteousness? It is the core characteristic of great kings – and great administrations. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts – all these men understood this. They had their political opponents, often bitter ones; but their character is known to history. Mistakes are forgiven (and fewer) when the man is known to be righteous.
Accept His guidance
Proverbs 21:1 NASB The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.
That’s how it’s supposed to be. God knows where your actions will lead. His intent is that you be a blessing to your people. If you will incline your heart to His word He will see to it that what you do is blessed.
The policy is simple: find out what God wants – and see that He gets it. And what is it that God wants from his leaders? Justice!
Rid yourself of the wicked
Proverbs 25:5 NASB Take away the wicked before the king, And his throne will be established in righteousness.
Get rid of the wicked around you – work in righteousness, not in back room dealings. How so?
· In the criminal justice system, is it clear that there is no tolerance for those who take a bribe to pervert justice? Is it clear that there is one standard of justice for both the rich and the poor?
· Are those you appoint to high office models of rectitude – or those who are “having a little problem” with the IRS, for example?
· Are you visibly intolerant of injustice – leading by example?
Stability comes by justice
Want to get re-elected?
Proverbs 29:4 NASB The king gives stability to the land by justice, But a man who takes bribes overthrows it.
This obviously applies in the judicial sense – if it’s known that justice may be subverted if you have enough money, then that government risks complete failure. But there is also justice in the social sense. A good example here is in the use of racial quotas. If the people perceive that this is a correction of injustice, then quotas bring credit to the administration. If they see only the reward of political allies, they have no reason to support yet another president who does everything in a smoke filled room.
Justice for the poor
Proverbs 29:14 NASB If a king judges the poor with truth, His throne will be established forever.
This cuts both ways. If it is seen that the rich (which might just be those of us in the middle class) cannot get justice because sympathy with the poor gets in the way, we have a problem. Think, for example, of lawsuits which result in outrageous rewards to the plaintiff, clearly out of proportion. This results in a cynical view of the court system – in fact, one in which the normal citizen will give up seeking justice simply because he isn’t politically in favor.
But if the poor get true justice, does that not also guarantee that the rich will get the same? Who then would refuse support for such an administration?
Justice in your eyes
Proverbs 20:8 NASB A king who sits on the throne of justice Disperses all evil with his eyes.
It comes down to this, Mr. President: do you, personally, render justice in all you do? If it is known that you are intolerant of evil and injustice, personally seeking it out to rid yourself of it, it’s hard for the rest of us to view you as just another cynical politician.