Changing Leaders: Understanding The Times (part 1)

And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment (1 Chronicles 12:32).


 Do you sense the turmoil within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in recent years? In this season of Annual Council, to be followed by the North American Division Year-End Meeting and General Conference 2020, Adventist voices agitate pet issues by voice and pen and across social media.

 How should I, as a loyal Seventh-day Adventist, “understand the times” and the needed actions? Is the solution simply to gather votes in a certain direction, to change leadership in key positions or vote key policies? Where’s Jehu? Where’s Jehoiada?

Scripture goes deeper. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (emphasis supplied) reminds us,

“...we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

 Remember King Saul, and the battle for his mind and kingdom? Refusing the higher character traits, Saul forfeited his position, and David was anointed to replace him...but not right away. The men of Issachar played their role years later (1 Chronicles 12:32). Considering leadership crises and transitions today, I believe this story, and its delays, was never more relevant to Seventh-day Adventists.

 Proud and Presumptuous

 In 1 Samuel 9-31, Saul’s life is recorded. The humble young Benjamite became a proud, lying rebel who consulted a witch because God refused to answer him for his continued disobedience (Isaiah 59:2 explains.). Twice Saul failed divine tests sent to determine the longevity of his kingdom.

Patriarchs and Prophets gives further insights on Saul’s rise to power and his demise in the wake of his trip to Endor. Character development was key as God set up and removed this king (Daniel 2:21).

 Chapter 60, “The Presumption of Saul,” explains how Saul went wrong. At Gilgal, he couldn’t wait for Prophet Samuel to arrive, so he “forced” himself (1 Samuel 13:12) into the priestly role. “God’s providence had detained His servant...God had directed that only those consecrated to the office should present sacrifices before Him. But Saul...equipped...with armor and weapons...approached the altar and offered sacrifice before God,” (PP 618). Then Samuel showed up!

Saul offered excuses for his presumption: The people were scattering, Samuel was delayed… But the judgment was certain: his kingdom would not continue.

“If Saul had shown a regard for the requirements of God in this time of trial, God could have worked His will through him. His failure now proved him unfit to be the vicegerent of God to His people. He would mislead Israel. His will, rather than the will of God, would be the controlling power,” (PP 621).

 Shunning the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and thus depending on himself, Saul went from light to darkness. He disbanded his army at an inopportune time, then scrambled to assemble them when crisis came. “Here was a serious error,” (PP 616). He exchanged his initial humility and piety for zeal in the forms of religion. He made a rash prohibition and vow in battle, which nearly cost his son Jonathan’s life.

Bewitched by Rebellion

In Chapter 61, “Saul Rejected(Please read it.), Saul was avoiding Samuel due to the Gilgal rebuke. So God sent the prophet to him with another test.

“That the monarch might realize the importance of heeding the command, Samuel expressly declared that he spoke by divine direction, by the same authority that had called Saul to the throne,” (PP 627).

He gave instructions to destroy Amalek, sparing no animals, saving no people.

The forbearance that God has exercised toward the wicked, emboldens men in transgression; but their punishment will be none the less certain and terrible for being long delayed.…The Lord is “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,... forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Yet He will “by no means clear the guilty.” Exodus 34:6, 7. While He does not delight in vengeance, He will execute judgment upon the transgressors of His law. He is forced to do this, to preserve the inhabitants of the earth from utter depravity and ruin….And the very fact of His reluctance to execute justice testifies to the enormity of the sins that call forth His judgments and to the severity of the retribution awaiting the transgressor (PP 628.1, emphasis supplied).

God’s probationary forbearance is the same for His leaders as for the wicked. Once again, Saul modified the instructions according to his own judgment, saving the king as his battle trophy, and the animals as substitute sacrifices for Israel’s cattle. This was his final test, and his presumptuous disobedience sealed his fate.   

Samuel was dispatched to the scene. Oh how he wished Saul would repent, that his kingdom might continue! “But when the first step is taken in the path of transgression the way becomes easy. Saul, debased by his disobedience, came to meet Samuel with a lie upon his lips,” (PP 630). He had done the job, he said. Haven’t we heard this? 

“Baa, baaa!” came from behind him, and Samuel was not deceived. Saul now blamed the people, yet they had merely followed his directions. Where have I heard this excuse recently? In righteous indignation and grief, Samuel questioned the errant king. Finally, he passed divine sentence in the words children memorize in Sabbath School:  “ obey is better than sacrifice...For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft...Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king,” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).  

Though Saul pleaded and began his mock repentance, and though God did instruct Samuel to stay for a religious service, the rebel’s kingdom was lost from that moment and God sent Samuel to anoint David the shepherd boy. It was only a matter of time until Saul would travel to Endor, proving the endpoint of his rebellion.  Chapter 61 shows that when I venture to “improve” or “overlook” or “modify” plain commands of God through His Word, His Messenger, His church, I am playing with witchcraft en route to Endor.  

Waiting for the Promised Throne 

After Saul’s death, David, by contrast, awaited God’s leading, God’s timing. God sent him to lead Judah from Hebron. “But no effort was made to establish his authority by force over the other tribes,” (PP 697). Instead, David endured two years of  “King Ishbosheth,” whom the wily and jealous Abner set on the throne. After the murders of Abner and Ishbosheth, “there was a general desire among the leading men of Israel that David should become king of all the tribes,” (PP 701, emphasis added). In God’s providence and timing, the way opened for David’s kingdom to be established over all Israel.  

“The change in the sentiments of the people was marked and decisive. The revolution was quiet and dignified, befitting the great work they were doing,” (PP 701, emphasis supplied). The patient, obedient shepherd warrior became the king after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). The courageous men of Issachar, viewing the events, played their part to effect the divinely-ordained transition, “and all their brethren were at their commandment,” (1 Chronicles 12:32).  

What Took So Long? 

But why did Saul reign so long, if God saw Saul’s pride, presumption, rebellion so early in his reign? Why did he spend all those years chasing David? Why didn’t faithful Israelites remove him? The answer I found surprised and rebuked me.  

“In Saul, God had given to Israel a king after their own heart….They did not ask for one who had true nobility of character….They were not seeking God’s way, but their own way….Under the rule of this king they would obtain the experience necessary in order that they might see their error, and return to their allegiance to God,” (PP 636, emphasis supplied).

 Since I became involved with World Church Affirmation Sabbath I have learned how true this is. Careless, uninformed, unconsecrated Seventh-day Adventists often compose church boards, conference executive committees, etc. By neglecting God’s principles in their lives and in their deliberations, they, no we, make poor choices in selecting those who manage God’s church.  

Like Israel, I have grieved over church officers I nominated too hastily. It is harder to remove someone than to install them. A General Conference Executive Committee member bemoaned the fact that a candidate’s statements before election obscured the character that was revealed since. “Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach,” (Joel 2:17) and let me not make things worse.

Our Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual provides 14 reasons for discipline on page 62. I pray for wisdom for those effecting consequences at every level of the Seventh-day Adventist representative governance structure. This delicate but necessary task may save a soul from eternal destruction (Ezekiel 18 et al), but the process takes time. “Let all things be done decently and in order,” 1 Corinthians 14:40 is God’s principle and He lets events play out to reveal character and expose deception, as in the fall of Lucifer.  Stay tuned for Part 2.

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 Holly Joers is a lifelong Seventh-day Adventist who lives in North Central Arkansas with her husband Skip and son Elijah. She is learning to trust God’s timing while praying and working (Zephaniah 4:6) for His church and its leaders.