Strength through Distributed Authority
If you hold a position of authority in government, no matter how small the domain, consider the responsibility a demonstration project, to shine your Godliness and radiate positive impact in every direction. The impact will grow more widespread than you could ever imagine. We discuss an example from the bible based on Israel’s victory over Philistines that started with a small battle initiated by Commander Jonathan. His success was small initially but expanded quickly to become an overarching victory.
Positive effort by a single individual with limited authority over a small domain could produce an impact that grows to affect the entire nation. We discuss an example from the bible based on interactions between Israel and Philistines during the time of King Saul. The Israelites and Philistines had setup for battle, but Israel was over-matched in people and equipment; so much that their men were afraid and “hid in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits” [1 Samuel 13:6]. Israel’s army was organized under two commanders: Saul and Jonathan. The army was in despair and afraid of the formidable enemy [1 Samuel 13:7]: “Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.”
Commander Jonathan, accompanied by his armor bearer, launched an isolated attack against an enemy outpost and killed twenty Philistines in the battle. News of the attack caused panic among the Philistines. They ran and fought against themselves in confusion [1 Samuel 14:15]: “And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling.” The Israelites became aware of the Philistines flight, re-assembled, and pursued them: “When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit” [1 Samuel 14:22]. Israel won a great victory over the Philistines.
We discuss three lessons based on the account. First, a military structure that delegated authority to commanders allowed Jonathan sufficient freedom to apply his initiative. His action set the stage for God’s favor to Israel through him and illustrates a benefit of governing through a system of distributed authority and responsibilities. Second, Jonathan’s focused effort yielded positive results that were limited in scope initially but grew into a widespread impact that benefited the entire nation. His accomplishments illustrate the effort of one individual with limited authority in a small domain could become the catalyst for positive change through the entire nation. Third, Jonathan sought and relied on God’s guidance as he contemplated attacking the Philistines outpost. His success illustrates faith of God and commitment to Godliness will direct a person’s effort toward making positive impact in his/her domain of authority.
Strength Through Distributed Authority
The military structure organized by King Saul consisted of two commands: “Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin” [1 Samuel 13:2]. Each commander was authorized to initiate battle without consultation and required to join battle initiated by another commander. Thus, when Jonathan attacked a Philistine garrison at Geba, Saul declared a battle against the Philistines and summoned all Israel to Gilgal for the battle [1 Samuel 13: 4]: “Now all Israel heard it said that Saul had attacked a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel had also become an abomination to the Philistines. And the people were called together to Saul at Gilgal.”
Jonathan exercised the authority again in a second attack [1 Samuel 14:1]: “One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armor-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father.” Saul became aware of the attack later and joined with the rest of Israel when his lookouts saw the Philistine army “melting away in all directions” [1 Samuel 14:16].
The military structure with commanders authorized to initiate battle illustrates the principle of government by distributed authority. Most modern-day governments function through a hierarchy of branches (e.g., ministries, parastatals, departments; regional, provincial, state, or municipal governments, etc.), each with authority in specific areas of responsibility. The system of distributed authority motivates individuals to apply their initiatives, as defined by the governing rules and regulations. The system provides opportunities for deploying the initiatives of multiple individuals, but the primary benefit derives from the fact that each individual leader in a distributed authority system is potentially an independent channel for God’s favor to the nation. For example, God granted favor to Israel through Jonathan at a time that the other commander Saul had fallen out of favor with God (as discussed under Punishment of Saul Conveys God’s Promise). God granted favor to Israel through Jonathan in spite of disfavor with Saul.
Thus, a nation gains strength through government by distributed authority because each authority is potentially an independent channel for God’s favor to the nation. Therefore, a good ruler (e.g., king, president, prime minister) will honor and seek to increase the effectiveness of the system of distributed authority. In contrast, a bad ruler will seek to undermine the system to accomplish selfish objectives.
Expansion of Positive Impact
Israel’s victory over Philistines in the battle [1 Samuel 14:1–23] illustrates the expansion of positive impact from a small beginning to widespread effects. Jonathan’s initial victory was highly limited in scope: “In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre” [1 Samuel 14:14]. The victory would have been insignificant if the Philistine army of “three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore” [1 Samuel 13:5] had understood they were being attacked by two lone soldiers. However, the attack struck panic in their camp and they were confused and ran helter-skelter hoping to escape.
In the example, the effects of the initially localized success expanded because of panic that occurred miraculously among the Philistines. However, in the context of modern-day governments, localized success could occur in various forms. For example, in a country over-run with corruption and ineptitude, the leader of a small department in a government parastatal could enforce high performance standards and transparent honesty in their service. If the program is successful, other departments could emulate the same, thus joining an oasis of government efficiency that could grow to a greater influence than the initiating department leader anticipated.
Jonathan’s initial, almost insignificant, success expanded into an overarching victory for Israel. Similarly, a localized positive impact due to the effort of one individual could expand to produce widespread effects that benefit the entire nation.
Commitment to Godliness
A key aspect of Jonathan’s effort in the attack is he was driven by faith of God and commitment to Godliness. He believed in a close relationship with God and in human effort aligning with the will of God because of the relationship. Therefore, when his soldiers were generally demoralized, in hiding, and not ready to fight, he believed God will direct his human effort to guide them to victory. Therefore, he set out “single-handed” with his armor bearer [1 Samuel 14:6]: “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” He prayed through a conversation with his armor bearer and asked for God’s guidance [1 Samuel 14:9–10]: “If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the Lord has given them into our hands.” He received God’s guidance exactly as he prayed and moved in to attack.
Commitment to Godliness means living in the image of God. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Keeping Watch by Living in the Image of God, living in the image of God implies representing God in every human interaction such that your actions and words radiate Godliness and provide opportunities for others to feel his presence. Furthermore, you fulfill your responsibilities as God’s provider assistant, willingly and gracefully providing service to benefit others when God places a need in your path, or accepting service provided by others with heart-felt appreciation and happiness. Your actions are motivated by “hunger and thirst for righteousness” [Matthew 5:6]. Your purpose will align with God’s purpose as you rely on receiving and implementing his guidance and direction. Your accomplishments even in a small domain of authority will set examples that other people could emulate to expand your positive impact.
Therefore, if you hold a position of authority in government, no matter how small the domain, consider the responsibility a demonstration project. Let your Godliness shine and radiate positive impact in every direction. The impact will grow to effects more widespread than you could ever imagine. That is our lesson based on Israel’s victory over Philistines that started with a small battle initiated by Commander Jonathan.
Summary of What We Learned
Government by distributed authority provides opportunities for the nation to gain strength because each authority is potentially an independent channel for God’s favor. Further, a positive impact in the domain of influence under one authority could produce widespread effects that benefit the entire nation. We discuss a bible illustration using Israel’s victory over Philistines that started with a small battle initiated by Commander Jonathan. He faced generalized despair among the people and an apparently formidable enemy. His success was small initially but expanded quickly to become an overarching victory.
Therefore, if you hold a position of authority in government, no matter how small the domain, consider the responsibility a demonstration project. Let your Godliness shine and radiate positive impact in every direction. The impact will grow to effects more widespread than you could ever imagine.