This is the attention-grabbing tagline of a book with a much milder name, A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards. Written in 1980 to counter the threat of authoritarian leadership in the church, it has become a minor classic which has proved highly therapeutic for victims of domineering leaders.
We have mentioned before in these blogs how some mission leaders can be ill-equipped for their leadership role, which is why Syzygy is committed to leadership development and mentoring, and are looking at other ways of supporting leaders. Sadly, many Christian workers have been hurt by leaders who, uncomfortable in their role, resort to domineering or manipulative leadership styles to enforce their authority, brutally crushing ‘rebellion’ and marginalising the ‘rebels’. We know, because we’ve been there. And reading this book was part of the recovery.
A Tale of Three Kings traces the life of King David, first as a young man working for a tyrant, and later as a king overthrown by his ambitious son, Absalom. These are the eponymous three kings. Edwards uses them as types – Saul as an insecure leader who wrongly feels threatened by anyone competent, Absalom as a proud, ambitious achiever quick to claim power that is not his, and David as a humble, broken leader who will not fight to take what is not his, nor to keep it. He argues that despite the great suffering caused to him by both Saul and Absalom, David is the only one of the three who acts righteously throughout.
The answer to the opening question is “You get stabbed to death.” Because in the brokenness, the dying to self that pain brings, you kill the Saul within you whose fleshly response is to retaliate. That is what helps equip you to become a leader. The minute you pick up the spear and throw it back, you become another Saul, Edwards argues. Moreover, he argues that it was David’s suffering at the hands of Saul that equipped him to become a great king, because he saw first hand how a tyrant destroys.
Saul’s response to the challenge he perceived from David was to destroy. In doing so, he revealed his own character weakness. As Edwards puts it,
Outer power will always unveil the inner resources, or the lack thereof.
This book is not to everyone’s taste, and its literary style takes a bit of getting used to, but for the Davids among us it brings great comfort, and to the Sauls and Absaloms, a thought-provoking challenge. Many people who think they are Davids will be brought up short to discover how much Absalom is in them! The book deserves its subtitle A Study in Brokenness because that is exactly what it is, as it aims to help us study the brokenness (or lack thereof) in our own lives. A helpful section at the back makes this specifically personal by asking such questions as:
- Who throws spears at you? How does God want you to respond?
- What needs to happen to put your own inner Saul to death?
- Sauls see only Absaloms. Absaloms see only Sauls. Neither can recognise a David. How can we distinguish the one from the others?
- David considered the throne to be God’s, not his own to have, to take, to protect, to keep. Could you say the same about what God has given you?