Collateral Damage

by Jared Johnson 

We have probably all heard the phrase (or used it ourselves) “kick the can down the road.”  It seems, in our society, that the national debt is the topic about which this phrase is typically expressed.

Unsurprisingly, we find an example of this kind of abdication and “not-my-problem” thinking in the pages of the Bible.

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul was ordered to purge the Hebrews’ territory of all Amalekite people.

Leaving aside the intractable issue (for a blog) of “sanctioned genocide,” there is a leadership lesson to be gleaned from the fallout of Saul’s failure in this chapter.

Saul, in his own mind, followed the direction of 1 Sam. 15.3 and attacked.  As he did so, he struck down Amalekites “from Havilah to Shur” (v 7).  Specifics about those two places are debated; we don’t know where exactly they were.  But we know, unequivocally, that Saul and the whole army kept, basically, whatever they felt like (v 9), especially animals.  Saul spared the life of the king, Agag, for whatever reason, despite God’s instruction to the contrary.

Some number of years passed by the time we get to 1 Samuel chapters 28-31.  Sparing a number of the intervening details, David and the entire band of men with him returned home from a military outing and found that … Amalekites had raided their homes and carried off all their wives and kids, along with possessions.  Had Saul carried out the direction to purge the Amalekites, David and crew and their families probably would have been spared the heartache and travail of 1 Samuel chapter 30.

Our tendency, in leadership, to put off a decision or to not definitively complete a task or initiative can – does – have repercussions.  And those repercussions can be outright harmful.  Saul’s ungodly leadership, his sin of omission, directly resulted in the kidnapping of hundreds of women and children and the ransacking and burning of David’s hometown at the time, Ziklag.

Decisions can’t be made with perfect clarity.  And when we make mistakes we need to admit as much and course-correct quickly.  There are usually unintended consequences.  However, there is also, especially from this biblical example, the very real phenomenon of avoidable pain.  Saul was irresponsible.  He deliberately chose personal convenience and preference over God-honoring leadership, and it harmed many people in many ways.

David was, usually, an example worth following.  Saul was not.  Let’s be careful that our chosen paths in leadership aren’t kicking proverbial cans down the road; we don’t want to cause collateral damage.  

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