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David and Absalom: Success
In this final reflection on the contrast between the leadership of David and Absalom, we’ll look at how they viewed and measured success. All leaders long for success and either consciously or unknowingly ask themselves, “Am I successful as a leader?” David and Absalom answered that question in very different ways.
David sought God for success; Absalom sought the advice of men. David often “inquired of the Lord” before he went to battle or made major decisions. He recognized that his success depended on God rather than his own human wisdom or ideas. He sought God’s direction before he listened to the counsel of others.
In contrast, Absalom sought only the advice of men.
Absalom said to Ahithophel, "Give us your advice. What should we do?" (2 Samuel 16:20). Absalom moved when he thought the people were ready, not at God’s instruction. He was like many subversive* leaders who test public opinion before deciding what to do. His primary concern was how others would respond, not God’s direction. He had no regard for God’s direction and instead looked to people around him to bring success.
Servant leaders look to God for success rather than their own plans. They are able to wait on God for direction. This does not mean they do not seek advice from others; even David had good counselors. But the ultimate direction for a servant leader will come from God, not from the views of others.
David measured success by obedience; Absalom measured success by outcomes. David was anointed to be the king but didn’t pursue that position; he simply walked in obedience to God and waited for His timing. David was a successful leader before he had a position because he was already “a man after God’s own heart.”
He recognized that his success was not measured by the outcomes of power or position but by his obedience. This is reflected in his statement to the priest, Zadok, as he was fleeing from Jerusalem.
Then the king said to Zadok, "Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD's eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, 'I am not pleased with you,' then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him" (2 Samuel 15:25-26). David’s success was not measured by his role but in humble obedience to God.
Absalom, in contrast, was obsessed with becoming the king. His success was measured only on the outcome of getting power and position. By that standard Absalom was only successful for a few days.
Many leaders measure success by tangible markers like position, finances, numbers of people who follow, profit, expansion, etc. But servant leaders learn that the only valid measure of success is obedience. In some settings, a faithful leader may serve for years with very few visible results. Servant leaders measure success by obedience and leave the outcomes to God. Subversive leaders measure success by outcomes and obey God only if it helps them reach their goals.
David attributed success to the Lord; Absalom attributed success to himself. In many ways, David had evidence of the standard measures of success. He had power, a prized position, and accomplished much as a king. But he attributed his success to God’s presence.
And he became more and more powerful, because the LORD God Almighty was with him (2 Samuel 5:10). David saw his success as an opportunity to bring glory to God and expressed his desire to build a temple for God.
In contrast, Absalom built a monument for himself.
During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.” He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day (2 Samuel 18:18). Absalom saw his leadership as an opportunity to advance himself. His leadership was only to draw attention to who he was and had nothing to do with who God was.
Many leaders join Absalom in using success to draw attention to themselves. They are quick to tell others, “See what I have done.” Subversive leaders turn success into monuments to themselves. But servant leaders turn success into monuments to God. What kind of monuments will you leave behind? It depends on how you answer the question, “Am I successful as a leader?”
Until next time, yours on the journey,
Reflections for Servant Leaders
*Subversive means to seek to undermine or destroy an established system. A leader who is subversive intends to overthrow the established authority to take power for themselves.
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