Lust for Power
Leaders feel exposed and vulnerable when they must forge ahead, so they surround themselves with people they can trust. But no one trusts a leader who derails the mission to the community in order to accomplish a personal mission of power and control. When loyalty is tested and allegiance demanded, only fear and jealousy of the leader is revealed just as we see in the story of King Saul.
Andrea Bakas demonstrates how the Book of Samuel subtly reveals even our own lust for power as we find ourselves rooting for the young David and his rise to power against the suspicious and paranoid King Saul. We quickly forget that the Lord warns his people about their rebellion against Him in seeking an earthly king who constantly abuses his power on the backs of those he rules.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Grateful to have Fr. Timothy Lowe join me as a co-host in these next few episodes on the Doulos podcast. So salutations, Fr. Timothy!
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:28
Well, thank you, Hollie. Again, nice to be here.
Hollie Benton 0:31
And we're so pleased to welcome Andrea Bakas on today's episode. Andrea has had a lifelong interest in religious studies and attended Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and she focused her studies on Scripture and scriptural interpretation. She is the founder of the Los Angeles Bible Lecture Series and is a member of a Greek Orthodox parish in the LA area. She is a nurse practitioner in orthopedic surgery and holds masters degrees in nursing and public health. She too hosts a podcast on the Ephesus School Network entitled Vexed, inspired by St. John Chrysostom's Paschal homily. Vexed. What a great name. I love it. Welcome, Andrea.
Andrea Bakas 1:11
Thank you, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 1:12
So Andrea, in preparing for today's podcast, we've been discussing how so many of our world leaders, and even leaders in our businesses, schools, hospitals, and even churches, jockey for position and test their people for signs of loyalty. Leaders by their very definition of forging the way ahead, making decisions with far reaching consequences, often feel exposed and vulnerable. As leaders, they want to know that those closest to them, their advisors, their management teams, their assistants, their deacons, even their children, have their backs. But this need for assurances, for loyalty, for trust can sometimes make a leader a bit paranoid, like we shall see in the example of King Saul. The demand for loyalty can derail the original mission, which generally includes serving and caring for a community, and instead trumps that mission in an effort to secure personal loyalty and power. So why do you think so many leaders struggle with this? For starters, as a nurse, you work in an operating room, and I'm sure it's critical that the head surgeon trust his nurses. At which point can critical trust and loyalty become dysfunctional to the mission at hand, where trust and loyalty are no longer in function to the work at hand, in serving a community, but in function to the power consolidation of one individual leader?
Andrea Bakas 2:40
I would say trust and loyalty cannot be demanded. That's bullying. The funny thing about that question, what we're about to read about Saul, is that any leader who makes demands for trust or loyalty has already lost. It's already a dead end, because that's an expression that they're failing. So if you're doing well, you would have the loyalty of your colleagues. Once someone is lashing out, that's really a portend. It's over for that person. So to your question, I would say that, why do leaders get in trouble in this manner, I'd say that when you forget who your boss is, that's when you get in trouble. Everyone has a boss, absolutely everyone, no matter at what level, what position, what station. When a leader thinks that they're free to do whatever they want, that's when the mission is lost. In the context of surgery, for example, a surgeon can't do whatever he or she wants, in the sense that the nature of the mission is such that he or she has to defer to others. They have to defer, for example, to the anesthesiologist who has a big role to play if not a more important one, as captain of that ship. If there's a problem with a patient, a surgeon has to defer to their judgment, has to defer to the anesthesiologist's judgment. And there are others also who serve critical roles. A surgical technician who's responsible for the instruments, for example, has a really important role to play. They have a quality control function. So if they, for instance, see a piece of equipment or an instrument tray is contaminated, they have an obligation to make that known. And a surgeon is not permitted to dismiss that by virtue of the nature of the work. I mean, the surgeon, the leader cannot accomplish the mission without others who do play roles that he doesn't play. He doesn't have complete control over the process.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 4:44
It sounds so complex that actually I don't want to have surgery. Because they have to work so well together in order for me to survive. No surgery for this guy when he needs it.
Andrea Bakas 4:58
You're quite right. It actually is an amazingly complex process. It's remarkable that sometimes I feel like it's amazing we pull off what we do. Given all the moving parts and pieces and players, I feel like the public really has no idea. So, yes, beware.
Hollie Benton 5:18
So let's take a look out one of many examples where King Saul is becoming unhinged and paranoid. He saw the very man who was most loyal to him, David, as being the biggest threat to his own kingly power. It was the faithful David who submitted to King Saul's command from going out on the front line to fight the Philistines, to playing the lyre to console him, that made Saul crazy with anger and fear and jealousy. It didn't matter that Saul's other advisors, his high priest, and even his children loved and respected David. In fact, it was their kindness to David that made Saul even more paranoid. Consequently, King Saul viewed that any friend to his enemy, must also be his enemy. And then he slaughtered even the priests who questioned Saul, and defended David's faithfulness. So here it is from First Samuel. "And Saul said to him, why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, and that you have given him bread and a sword, and have inquired of God for him, so that he has risen against me to lie in wait, as at this day. Then Ahimelech answered the king, And who among all your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king's son-in-law and captain over your bodyguard and honored in your house? Is today the first time that I have inquired of God for him? No, let not the king impute anything to his servant, or to all the house of my father, for your servant has known nothing of all this much or little. And the king said, you shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father's house. And the king said to the guard who stood about him, Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also was with David, and they knew that he fled, and did not disclose it to me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the Lord. Then the king said to Do'eg, you turn and fall upon the priests, and Do'eg, the Edomite turned and fell upon the priests and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, oxen, asses, and sheep he put to the sword." So it's amazing here, that even the servants of the king would not put forth a hand to slaughter the priests of the Lord, who defended David's faithfulness, even though Saul commanded it. Instead, Saul has to turn to one outside his community to Do'eg, the Edomite, to incite him to fight his battle, and to fuel his hatred. What else is going on here, Andrea?
Andrea Bakas 8:03
Well, this is a very interesting story in how hyperbolic it is, this buildup of a grand kind of a drama. There's a couple things about this particular section of the story. One is we have the character Do'eg, the Edomite, which we can talk about. But also what I noticed when I was studying this is I had to go back a few chapters to remind myself what the context of this was. Because really, it's only in doing that, in hearing it sequentially, that you can appreciate how the story tracks. One of the reasons that this drama and the tension is so high for the hearer is because the Lord is sort of the puppeteer behind all this. So we learned back in chapter 16, that the Lord has made a decision to remove his favor from Saul and decided that No, David was going to be his appointed. And he directs Samuel, that's the way it's going to be. Samuel was complaining and crying over it. And the Lord told him, knock it off. This is how it's going to go. Knowing that, it builds the tension for us as hearers that we see what's happening. These characters think they have agency, but we as a hearer know that they don't. It's like when you watch a play, you know, when you watch a Shakespeare play, you know what other characters don't know. And so that raises the stakes. And that's why there's so much tension in it. So it's very cool on that level. I did some research about Do'eg the Edomite. Very interesting. Well, Do'eg apparently means fearing, I would assume the fearing one. I find it hard to believe that it would mean one who is afraid because he's depicted as sort of a fearsome character.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 9:53
Yeah, Do'eg means in the sense of worry, fear, afraid of something, anxiety. So if you say I am worried you say "ani do'eg" so it does have that odd connotation. Fear with worry. He is the slaughterer.
Andrea Bakas 10:10
Hmmm, right. I don't know if you're a Game of Thrones person, but I'm a Game of Thrones nerd. You know, he's a hatchet man character. If you're familiar with the Game of Thrones story, it's the mountain. The mountain who is this big hatchet man for one of the major house kingdoms or households in the Game of Thrones. He was the Lannister's Hatchet Man. Anyhow, so he's depicted as a hatchet man. And he is said to be a couple of things we know about him. He is said to be the chief herdsmen who belongs to Saul, which actually in the Hebrew is ro'eh, right, which means shepherd. So it's interesting, on one level, he's chief. He's said to be the top man, and he's a shepherd. But he's also an Edomite. And so I had to go back and remember that we know about Edom, from the book of Genesis in chapter 25. When we're hearing Do'eg the Edomite, we remember, because we've already heard Genesis, that this has to do with Esau, the story of Jacob. So Esau, you recall from Genesis, his name is changed to Edom, which means red. The interesting connection here is that he's depicted as a killer. So you have somebody who's fearful, fearsome, somebody who's causing worry, and who is red, said to be red, which, you know, blood. It's sort of an ominous connotation of blood and massacre, it seems to fit with what's depicted here. But the other thing about this character, he's pitted, we have David, the chief Shepherd, under the Lord's house, pitted against this other Do'eg, chief shepherd of Saul. So there's like two opposing camps, if you will, again, just adding to the tension. It's just a very interesting device to ramp up the tension in the story.
Hollie Benton 12:03
Yeah, the remarkable thing about this story of King Saul and King David, is that while the sin and paranoia and consolidation of power is not so subtle with King Saul, it just seems to seep in quietly with David. The writer of this biblical story I think is amazing, because we hear in the beginning, and let's not forget the beginning, like the greater context that the Lord warns Israel through his prophet Samuel, that they are going to regret asking for a king, but he gives them one anyway. And clearly Saul is a terrible king. And as hearers of the story, we find ourselves rooting for David, he's the underdog. He's the faithful and courageous shepherd boy, the one who defeats Goliath with a single stone from his slingshot. But as Saul's paranoia ramps up, we begin to see little hints of David acting in fear, and beginning to consolidate his own power and test his own allegiances. And just before the passage that we read just now, we learned that when David comes to Ahimelech, the priest, David actually had lied to him and claimed that he is on a special mission for King Saul, rather than confessing that he's running for his life. We also hear about David forming his own coup among those who were discontented, about 400 of them who joined David, who was hiding out in the cave. And still, as hearers of the story, we root for David, we want to see him crowned as king, forgetting that this was the Lord's warning in the very beginning. And so I think it's kind of funny how we fall for it every time. This lust for power is just ready to bite us in the nose, and we still just can't see it.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 13:45
Everybody starts off at the beginning, okay. I mean, even Saul at the beginning, okay, he's from a lesser family. He's tall, handsome. So you know, he fits the profile, right? As opposed to the ruddy David. And that is the biblical story, it starts okay, and then it just turns to disaster.
Andrea Bakas 14:02
What strikes me is just the hyperbole of it, their decisions and how they conduct themselves. It's laughable. It's such an obvious silly power plays and intrigues going on it's hard to know what to make of it.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 14:14
I think what is important when we're looking at biblical characters, is to see the arc of development, as you say, it starts here it goes here it goes here, and at what point they crash and burn. I mean, Saul, if you look at his character, it's just like, he didn't get a break. He's already tossed aside by the Lord, but it has to play itself out. So the exaggeration that you're talking about, his rise to crazy paranoia and mania. It's so sadly true of leaders, we can talk about present leadership included. As this arc continues, and once they get the paranoia, then they are capable of the most obscene crimes, the slaughter of the innocents, by this time by the foreigner. And what you said earlier, it caught my attention because Esau ultimately did not take revenge. So he is the epitome of the righteous one. And here you have the Edomite from the tribe of Esau, willing to take vengeance at the command of the King, the offspring of Jacob. It just shows you again, the descent into disaster and slaughter of innocents. The slaughter of innocents, by the way, I mean, it's reflected also, in the gospels, the same paranoia. King Herod, for example, if you want another biblical sort of parallel.
Andrea Bakas 15:28
Yes, the thing I would say, which I think is intended by the writer, it's interesting how both characters forget the Lord. No one is checking in with Samuel to find out what they should do, how they should proceed. What is the truth of the matter? As you say, it's subtle, and it's happened slowly, but David is lying to save himself, presumably. And so that doesn't work out. And he admits later that he's responsible for that massacre. That's a problem which I brought up in the beginning, about leadership and foibles, is that if you forget who your boss is, you know, that's where you get in trouble. Everyone has someone they have to answer to. I think that's at the crux, where this maniacal paranoia, demands for loyalty, are a harbinger of bad things. If you forget who your boss is, you forget that you're not free to do whatever you want, then, I don't know, that's essentially the problem.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 16:28
Well, it goes back to leadership, as doulos as service, and the reference point is something greater than yourself. And of course, for us, it is the scriptural God, judgment. Judgment, as the reference point. We will be held accountable. Therefore, that's always in our frame of reference, in our mind, and therefore we are not unto ourselves. And the problem with leadership, as we've described earlier, is that people are ultimately self-referential, and therefore no accountability, because they're the reference.
Andrea Bakas 16:58
Fr. Timothy Lowe 16:59
Hence the disaster of kingship in the biblical sense. And then leadership in the modern political world as well. And what happens, the innocent suffer.
Hollie Benton 17:09
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:10
Andrea Bakas 17:11
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:12
And we're not imagining that because we see it now every day on our websites and the news.
Hollie Benton 17:17
Yes, it's a shame.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 17:18
And for myself, why do I get shocked all the time? Why does it surprise me? When I read it, okay, I study it in the biblical text, see the repetition, repetition, repetition, the same stories over and over again. And yet when it still happens, I'm still like, as if this is the first time. What does that also say about my hardheadedness, right? Figure it out.
Hollie Benton 17:45
We would do well to hearken to the word, remember it, and have it remind us that we're going to be accountable someday.
Andrea Bakas 17:53
Right. Accountability puts a constraint on you. As we saw from the story, when you're at the level of paranoia and rash behavior, you're a god unto yourself.
Hollie Benton 18:05
Thank you, Andrea.
Andrea Bakas 18:07
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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