How do you rule the people around you? What kind of leader are you? Don’t think of yourself as a leader, as a ruler? Think again.

Whether we want to admit it or not, each of us are leaders. For better or worse, we influence people around us.

I thought about the power of personal influence as I read again about the life of Gideon in the Bible’s Book of Judges. He’s always been one of my favorite men from that period of history, but he is complicated.

Gideon is clearly a hero, but the legacy he left behind is mixed – a bit of a cautionary tale.

I’ve written previously about the unorthodox military leadership he provided under God’s direction. We all know the story of him gathering the 300 soldiers, and defeating an army of thousands. The Sunday School lessons usually end somewhere between that victory over Midian, and Gideon’s refusal to be named a king.

It appeals to our American heritage. I recall Gideon being described as a “George Washington” figure. After his military success, the people of Israel pointedly asked him to be a king. He replied, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”

That, my friends, is the Sunday School answer if you are studying the biblical history of self-governance. The bell rings, and class is dismissed.

Except the story, inconveniently for those preferring neatly wrapped stories, didn’t end there.

Gideon asked the men of Israel to share some of their plunder with him. This made him exceedingly rich. With the gold, he made a religious icon that we are told “Israel whored after” – that’s not a good thing, as one might imagine. When he died, the people “turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side.”

Gideon was right to refuse a monarchy; God specifically wanted the people to be self-governing under His lordship. But even a self-governing people will look for opinion-shapers, for wise counsel, for smart leadership among themselves. They had seen all that in Gideon, and respected him for it.

As it turns out, Gideon handled war and adversity better than he handled peace and success.

He used the people’s respect to enrich himself, and then he abused it by giving his countrymen the opportunity to set a false god over themselves – rather than the God of Jacob.

When the fighting stopped, as Israel entered a 40-year period of peace purchased by Gideon’s early efforts, his poor leadership led a complacent people into a worse place than they had been before. Gideon said he and his son’s wouldn’t rule, but they did; they just did so very poorly by their example.

What about you and me? How are we ruling? How are we leading? In times of peace and plenty do we lazily point people to the false gods of the day, or we are zealously encouraging them to pursue self-governance under God?

Whether we want to admit it or not, each of us are leaders. For better or worse, we influence people around us. Let us resolve daily to make it for the better.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, and a dog. Check out his podcast, Reflections on Life and Liberty.

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