Have you ever paid attention to the leaders in the Bible? If you have, you’d have noticed that there were good leaders and bad leaders. Those who wholeheartedly embraced the call to lead, and those who ran away from it.
Let’s study 9 leaders in the Bible to see what lessons we can learn from them.
4 Bad Leaders in the Bible
Table of Contents
Before we begin this discussion on leadership, let us establish who a leader is. For our purposes, let’s define a leader is anyone put in authority over someone or a group of persons.
Since I believe we can learn from inept leaders, let’s look at what we can learn from these men and women.
The Pharoah in Exodus
After Joseph died, there arose a Pharaoh who didn’t know him and what he’d done for Egypt (Exodus 1:814). He realized the Israelites had become a mighty nation. He feared they’d ally with his enemies.
Rather than seek to make them his allies (or check out the archives to see how they’d gotten to Egypt in the first place), he enslaved them and treated them poorly.
When we read the book of Exodus, we see where this Pharoah not only made himself abhorrent to the Israelites but also to God (Exodus 3:7-10).
From this Pharaoh, we learn that before we make assumptions about people, we should learn about their history.
Also, from him, we learn that when we mistreat people; we create enemies. This Pharaoh was responsible for the destruction of Egypt. And the loss of his workforce and the members of the Egyptian army who died in the Red Sea after they pursued the children of Israel.
During the era that Jesus was born, Herod was the tetrarch over Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been under Roman rule, so Herod was more of a figurehead than an actual ruler.
When the magi went to ask Herod where they could find the king whose star they’d followed miles away from their home, he panicked. First, Herod tried to trick the magi into giving him information about the whereabouts of the king.
When that plan failed, Herod ordered the murder of every male child two years and younger (Matthew 2:1-18). Can you imagine the level of callousness it took to make that order?
If you check the historical archives, you’ll learn Herod was so obsessed with maintaining his tenuous power that he murdered his own children.
From Herod, we learn that the desire for power corrupts and can cause us to act ruthlessly. It can cause us to put our needs and desires above the people we’re supposed to be serving.
Ahab and Jezebel
We can’t talk about bad leaders of the Bible and not talk about this power couple. The Bible calls Ahab the worst king of all (1 Kings 16:30).
Under Jezebel’s influence, he led the Israelites into great apostasy (1 Kings 21:25).
From Ahab and Jezebel, we learn that when we chase after our selfish desires, not only do we destroy ourselves but also those around us.
3 Good Leaders in the Bible
Okay, now that we’ve talked about some of the poor leaders in the Bible, let’s talk about some of the good guys. These will be the men and women who inspired God’s people or led them to greatness.
This man came from humble beginnings. The son of slaves, he should have been thrown into the River Nile, but God had a plan for him. Moses grew up in Pharoah’s household as a prince (yes, the same Pharoah who’d ordered his death and that of the sons of Moses’s people).
Moses would become one of the greatest leaders in the Bible. A man the Jews still revered when Jesus was on earth. But Moses didn’t step into his role as the leader of God’s people easily. His first attempt at helping his people resulted in him killing a man and then 40 years in the desert (Exodus 3).
How did this man go from cowering in the desert to challenging Pharoah? How did he become the man who the Israelites spoke of with such reverence and awe?
It started with humility and a desire to do the will of God (Exodus 4). The Bible calls Moses the “humblest man who ever lived” and also the man God talked to as a friend (Numbers 12:6-8, Exodus 33:11). Wow! From this leader in the Bible, we learn to humble ourselves before God and He will exalt us.
This is one of my favorite leaders in the Bible. Nehemiah rises from his position as the king’s cupbearer to the governor of Jerusalem. The book of Nehemiah starts with a conversation between Nehemiah and his brother. When Nehemiah learns about the conditions in Jerusalem, he’s disheartened for his people (Nehemiah 1).
What I love about Nehemiah is how he responded to trials. From the first chapter through to the last, Nehemiah brought his requests to God. The man was always praying. Sometimes his prayers were long and eloquent. Other times, they were short and to the point. There was also at least one “helicopter prayer”—a quick cry for help when he was in a dire situation (Nehemiah 2:4).
From Nehemiah, we learn how to respond to trials and adversaries. We learn to pray through our problems and to choose prayer as our first response.
Could we do a Bible study on prayer and not mention the greatest leader who ever lived? Jesus left heaven and came to earth to die for humanity. He walked among his people, not as a titled nobleman, but as a humble servant.
The lessons we can learn from Jesus are too much to expound on in this simple Bible study, but I’d like us to focus on two aspects.
1. Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven to come to earth to die for us. Let that sink in for a minute. Do you know any princes who would voluntarily leave their father’s palace to live in the barn?
Not only did Jesus choose to be born among the poor, but he had a hard life. His mother got pregnant out of wedlock, his father died, his siblings hated him, and people cast aspersions about his parentage.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the same people He came to help ostracized Him, mocked Him and eventually murdered Him.
He would have left heaven knowing all of those things would happen, and still He came.
2. The second aspect of Jesus’ leadership is the way He lived while on earth. Jesus was born into a culture where those in authority lorded it over their servants. Jesus taught another model. He served those He led. It is because of Christ that we have any concept of servant leadership.
From Jesus, we learn to esteem those we serve as better than ourselves. We learn to lead by example, rather than through dominance.
2 Female Leaders in the Bible
Not all the leaders in the Bible were male, there were several women who held a position of influence in their society.
The Bible mentions one female judge, and that was Deborah. We read Deborah’s story in Judges 4-5. Deborah’s assignment was to instruct Barak to go into battle against Sisera, commander of the Canaanite army. For whatever reason, Barak wasn’t willing to answer the call unless Deborah was by his side.
She accepted his challenge and went to battle with him. And her work wasn’t done. In the battle, she had to encourage Barak for him to do the work God had called him to do (Judges 4:14).
From Deborah, we learn to go boldly into the battle to do God’s work. We learn to walk beside those who we lead and to encourage them when they falter.
We read Lydia’s story in Acts 16:14-21, 40. Lydia was a leader in her own right–a seller of purple when that color was worn almost exclusively by the wealthy and royalty.
The Bible calls her the first convert in Europe, but what I love about Lydia’s story is that when she was baptized, so was the rest of her household.
After she became a believer, Lydia opened her home to Paul and his companions.
Has God called you to be a leader? I believe there are two instinctive reactions to this question. Those who shy away from the idea of being a leader and those who wholeheartedly embrace leadership. Leadership is not for the fainthearted, and it begins with seeking God first.