WHAT KIND OF LEADERS DO WE NEED?
When a politician running for public office makes promises about what he plans to do or not do, do you feel any obligation to hold him accountable for his promises? Did it bother you when George Bush promised not to raise taxes and then under pressure from congress broke his promise? Does a politician’s lying or committing adultery or killing innocent babies have anything to do with his effectiveness and trustworthiness as a leader of the freest nation on earth? Does the Bible provide us with any insight into the kind of leaders we need—not only in the political arena but also in the business community, in the educational establishment and in churches? I invite your attention to Jeremiah 23—one of the great biblical chapters on rotten leadership.
As you know if you have read the Old Testament carefully, the prophet Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry just a few years before the Jews were carried into Babylonian exile. Jeremiah was one of the most uncompromising, dedicated and powerful preachers the world has ever known. He was pressured not to preach anymore. His life was threatened by his own people because they did not like what he had to say. Finally, this great man of God was placed in a dungeon but escaped to Egypt before his enemies could kill him. He became discouraged and said, “I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jer.20:9). Jeremiah wanted to quit preaching, but the fire in his bones would not allow him to do so.
Leaders cannot escape responsibility for the great damage their poor leadership brings about in society. When the leaders of a nation behave in immoral and irresponsible ways, they can expect the people to imitate their behavior. The prophet Jeremiah knew what had brought the nation of Israel to the brink of exile. “My heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man’ and like a man whom wine has overcome, because of the Lord, and because of the words of his holiness. For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourns; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right” (Jer. 23:9-10)
Jeremiah does not blame all the evil in the nation on the prophets, but he does recognize their god-ordained duty to oppose the kind of immorality which was destroying the nation. The prophets’ failure to adequately warn the people had literally made Jeremiah sick. The prophets had not provided the leadership Israel so desperately needed. Because of their fear of the people or lack of fear of God, they had neglected to warn the Jews of impending danger. The land had become corrupt just like the leaders. The land was full of adulterers. Jeremiah probably was referring to their turning from God to serve Idols. He probably also was calling attention to their sexual indiscretion.
Later in the same chapter, Jeremiah wrote: “I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing; they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen the hands of evildoers, that no one turn from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets; Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink of the water of gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land” (Jer. 23:14-15). As you listened to these powerful and disturbing words from the seventh century B. C. prophet, did they remind you of what has occurred and is occurring in the United States of America?
My concern in the lesson today is not primarily the spiritual leadership in our country, although that should be of great interest to every one of us. I want to apply the message of Jeremiah 23 to the men and women who serve in our local communities, in our state capitals and in Washington. You must remember that the prophets and priests in the Mosaic dispensation were also political leaders, as is evident if you read carefully the book of Isaiah.
Jeremiah had seen first hand how the prophets in Jerusalem had been involved in gross immorality. They committed adultery. These were men who were supposed to represent God to the people of Israel. They were not perfect men, but they had the obligation to be examples of devotion to God’s work. I do not know which prophets had been guilty of adultery, but those who had engaged in sexual immorality had led the Israelites into deep trouble. The land was full of adulterers (Jer. 23:10). The prophets might not have been able to remove all sexual promiscuity from the land, but they could have tried. At least, they could have ceased from being sexually immoral.
It was a great disappointment to me when I learned of the sexual infidelity of presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight David Eisenhower. How can a man who is the chief administrator of the United States set such a poor example for the millions of young people who look to him as example? According to his most committed supporters, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had a bevy of young women who flocked to the White House to engage in sexual activities with President Kennedy. When you examine the immorality of the men who have occupied the highest office in our land, do you wonder why teenage pregnancy, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases have proliferated in our nation? If our top public officials feel no compunction to control their sexual appetites, why should the nation’s young people just say NO?
But is adultery a legitimate political issue? It was in Bible times and it is today. When a man commits himself to a wife, he promises to be faithful unto her until death. If he reneges on that commitment, is that not the breaking of a very significant promise? If he will break that promise to his wife, will he keep any promise? The news media apparently think committing adultery is not a serious breach of moral law—unless, of course, the adulterer is a politician they do not like. In that case, they make him out to be the worst human being who ever lived.
I am aware that in a nation such as ours, public officials are not required to abide by the law of God. Our constitution does not demand that our congressmen, senators and presidents believe in God and obey the gospel. But betraying one’s spouse by committing adultery is not only contrary to God’s law; it is also contrary to the laws of the state. Frankly, I would not trust any man who committed adultery—unless he repented of that sin and made it right with his wife. I most states of our union, adultery is an indictable offense. Adulterers should be prosecuted—whether or not they are in high political offices.
Besides, adulterers may contract sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, gonorrhea and AIDS. I have documented cases of men who brought home to their wives various venereal diseases. One man was divorced by his wife for adultery. He eventually wanted to come back to her and she took him back. What she did not know was that he was HIV positive. Now she is also HIV positive. She will probably die because of his adulterous behavior. She said if she had known he had been engaging in bisexual activity she would not have taken him back. Adultery can have serious physical consequences. It can also have eternal repercussions. How can we ever vote for a man who has continuously committed sexual indiscretions?
The prophets of God in Jerusalem had not only committed adultery—both spiritual and physical—they were walking in lies. As I have indicated, adultery often involves lies—either explicit or implicit lies. There have been cases, such as Joseph Kennedy, which did not necessarily involve lies. The whole Kennedy clan knew Joseph Kennedy had women all over the United States and abroad. He even tried to seduce his sons’ girlfriends. Rose Kennedy had to know that her husband was sexually involved with Gloria Swanson and various other movie stars. Joseph Kennedy told plenty of lies and committed many other immoral acts, but he apparently did not have to lie about his many affairs. Nobody in the Kennedy family seemed to care so long as he did not cause any scandals. He had enough money to pay news reporters to quash any stories he did not want published. In fact, he kept one news reporter on his payroll for years.
But lying on the part of public servants destroys men’s and women’s faith in government. My first vote for any public official was cast in 1952 for Dwight Eisenhower. It was with great disappointment that I learned of his lying about the U2 spy plane incident. I was naïve and could not believe my president would lie. I was also devastated with I learned of the plotting and lying of Richard Nixon. How could men like Eisenhower and Nixon lie and deceive the American people? The truth of the matter is—and this is very discouraging—there are very few public officials who do not lie. It has become a way of life in many of our state capitals and is Washington. And then we wonder why crime and immorality have become powerful growth industries in the United States.
Tragically, we have had and have men and women in political office who contradict themselves from day to day and sometimes in the same speech. There have been cases where a politician told an audience in California the exact opposite of what they said in New York or in Tennessee. Do we want men in high office who would not know the truth if they met it in the middle of the road? I remember a neighbor where I grew up of whom the other neighbors said, “If the man told the truth on any topic, he could not sleep until he changed his story.” I am not accusing any of our public officials of such blatant lying, but I often wonder about them.
The priests and the prophets were alienated from the God they were supposed to be serving. “For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, says the Lord. Wherefore their way shall be unto them as slippery ways in the darkness: they shall be driven on, and fall therein: for I will bring evil upon them, even the year of their visitation, says the Lord. And I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they have prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err” (Jer 23: 11-13). How can the leader of any nation imagine they can turn their backs on God and on common decency and expect that nation to prosper? God threatened the Israelites with punishment. “I will bring evil upon them.” Can we expect any less? Do we believe the principle of sowing and reaping has been abrogated? It is always tragic when anyone goes astray from God’s way. It is more tragic when the leaders cause God’s people to err.
Jeremiah taught that sexual immorality among God’s prophets would destroy the nation. “I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing; they commit adultery, and walk in lies; they strengthen also the hands of evil doers, that no one does turn from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah” (Jer.23:14). Modern Americans—especially liberal theologians—probably have difficulty understanding Jeremiah’s language. Why would he call the prophets’ adultery “a horrible thing?” Since many moderns do not accept the existence of any absolutes, they cannot grasp Jeremiah’s troubled speech. Why should anyone be so excited about state and national leaders being involved in adultery?
Adultery in the Old Testament often referred to idolatry. When God’s people turned from God to serve idols, they were accused of committing spiritual adultery. The book of Hosea accused the Jews of committing whoredom or prostitution. And oftentimes, those who worshipped idols also committed sexual sins. Spiritual adultery and physical adultery were companions among many of the Israelite people and within the heathen nations. That was particularly true of those who worshipped Baal—one of the heathen fertility gods. It is possible—in fact it is probable—that Jeremiah was writing of both spiritual adultery and physical adultery.
The prophets should have been warning the Israelite people of the grave dangers they faced because of their immorality. Instead, they were themselves walking in lies and committing adultery. They actually strengthened the hands of evildoers so that none of the evildoers turned from their wickedness. Do you get the impression from this Old Testament prophet that he was describing what is occurring today in our nation’s capital? So many of our public officials have no compunction or conscience about lying or about committing adultery. If they are caught and exposed for their corrupt behavior, they will probably be like the Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who admitted committing adultery. He said he made a mistake. Why did he not say, like King David of old, “I have sinned.” Mistake, indeed!
The leaders in Israel during Jeremiah’s day had reached the point where they reminded God of Sodom and Gomorrah. He apparently was not accusing the Jews of engaging in homosexual conduct, but saying their attitudes and behavior made God think of Sodom and Gomorrah. Is anything happening is Washington and in various state capitals which makes you think of Sodom and Gomorrah? When one of our American states—the state of Massachusetts—continues to send Jerry Studs—a confessed homosexual—to congress, it should bring Sodom and Gomorrah to our minds. When Washington politicians appoint homosexuals and lesbians to responsible posts in the government and when those same politicians continually appeal to homosexuals for their votes, it is time everyone read carefully what the Old Testament says about those two infamous cities—Sodom and Gomorrah. When the United States Supreme Court overturns a legitimate law in the state of Colorado which would have forbidden the state to give homosexuals special consideration, it is time Americans rise up in holy horror at such blatant disregard for moral values. When our politicians talk so piously about “family values” and yet violate laws designed to protect and to encourage strong families, it is time for pulpits to ring out with condemnation of such hypocrisy.
If the prophets and the people thought God was not noticing, they were sadly mistaken. “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets; Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall: for from the prophets of Jerusalem is ungodliness gone forth into all the land. Thus says the Lord of hosts, Listen not unto the words of the prophets who prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord: (Jer. 23:15-16). Because the United States is killing 4,000 babies per day and promoting other kinds of evil, are we not already “eating wormwood and drinking the water of gall?” How can any civilized nation—let alone one which claims to be Christian—permit and even encourage such gross evil? How can our leaders claim to be Christians when they support these great attacks on common decency?
God instructed the Jewish people not to listen to the prophets. The prophets were supposed to speak God’s word to his people so they could more nearly live in harmony with his will. But the words of the prophets were making God’s people vain. The visions the prophets were supposed to be receiving and delivering to the Jews came not from God but from their own hearts. The prophets were misrepresenting God to the Jews by saying, “You shall have peace.” They assured the people who were walking after the imagination of their own hearts, “No evil shall come upon you” (Jer. 23:17). Do we not constantly hear from Washington the same kind of assurance from the national leaders? When the so-called “Christian right” attempts to warn the American people, the leaders on the national scene tell us that everything is alright when we know in our heart of hearts that they are lying.
Deuteronomy 18 tells us that the prophetic office was God’s idea. He promised to send a line of prophets like Moses to guide his people in their wanderings in the wilderness and in their life in Canaan. But the prophets who were preaching lies to the Israelites and committing adultery were not God’s prophets. “I have not sent these prophets, yet then ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (Jer. 23:21). Do not be deceived into believing that every politician or every preacher has your best interests at heart. He may pretend to be looking out for his constituents, but all the time, feathering his own nest. Not all prophets in Old Testament times had God’s approval. Not all leaders in our day have God’s approval. We have to be discriminating to keep from being led into vicious error and into soul-condemning practices.
If the prophets had all been faithful to God and proclaimed his word without alteration, they could have led the Jews into being a righteous nation. “But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings” (Jer. 23:22).
Jeremiah does not lay all the blame for the immorality and rebellion in Israel on the leaders, but they had to be held accountable for failing to deliver God’s message in God’s words to God’s people. God had given the prophets the information they needed to prevent the Babylonian exile, but they were more interested in calming the people’s fears and making them feel good than in telling them what God had said.
Perhaps the prophets thought God was not listening to what they were telling the Jews, but he assures them he was. “I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying I have dreamed, I have dreamed” (Jer 23:25). How easy it is for modern television evangelists and others to tell their followers: “I have had a dream from the Lord” and then reveal the message they allegedly received. Tragically, many followers of the television evangelists swallow hook, line and sinker what those men say simply because they claim to be speaking for the Lord. It is time, dear friends—in fact, it is past time—that we cease paying attention to these false teachers. Jeremiah’s words should stick in our minds: “How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Yea, they are prophets of deceit of their own heart; which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal. The prophet who has a dream; and he who has my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like as a fire? says the Lord; and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who steal my words every one from his neighbor. Behold, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, that use their tongues and say, He says. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, says the Lord, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their recklessness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, says the Lord” (Jer 23:26-32).
I am aware, dear friends, of some of the differences between the leaders of Israel and the leaders of our own nation. The true prophets were chosen by the God of heaven. We choose our leaders. But there are many similarities. God expected—in fact he demanded—that his leaders be committed to his will and to strengthening the Jewish nation. We must have leaders who are not opposed to good and who desire to help our people lead decent lives and have strong, stable homes. We must not have men and women in positions of power who tell lies, commit adultery, promote the killing of babies and who attempt to make the homosexual lifestyle appear to be honorable. We must have men who will call homosexuality what is really is: a deathstyle, unnatural and an abomination in the sight of almighty God. We cannot endure any less.
I beseech you to think about the principles I have read to you today when you go to the polls in the fall to vote for the future of your home and for the future of this great nation.
The International Gospel Hour
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