Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 20:28
"Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness"
This is the question of how does a leader stay in power. What are the secrets of long-lasting leadership?
Solomon states that the "secrets" of long-lasting leadership are three-fold: loyalty, truth, and righteousness. We need to take a look at these three to understand how to be an excellent leader for a long time.
This is the Hebrew word natsar which means to guard, to watch, to keep, to preserve. The question in this passage is whether these are the qualities of the leader or the qualities of those surrounding the leader. It is true that both sides of quandary would preserve the leader – loyalty and truth from one's subordinates and loyalty and truth from the leader.
It may be that this is what God is saying through Solomon. Both sides of the loyalty and truth issue must be present to watch over the leader (his and theirs). Every long-term leader I have ever met has surrounded himself with people who are loyal and truthful to him. And he/she has been loyal and truthful to them. If you do not have loyal people, then there are plenty of places where you can be betrayed. If you betray those closest to you, then they will betray you.
This is the Hebrew word hesed or chesed which traditionally has been translated by the word lovingkindness or just the word love. Somewhat recently certain scholars have sought to emphasize the covenant aspect of this word and have begun to de-emphasize the love idea and increase the loyalty to the covenant idea in the Old Testament. I believe that this is a mistake. It is true that loyalty is an aspect of this word, but it is not the whole of it. When one has biblical love, they are loyal; but they are so much more than that. To love means to meet needs, to pursue, to please. The word loyalty does not mean that. Clearly loyalty is assumed in the word love, but love is not assumed in the word loyalty. So while loyalty is a crucial component of our interaction with others, the primary component is lovingkindness. If we have lovingkindness toward the person, we will not betray them. The Septuagint translated this word as mercy. Those scholars who worked on the Septuagint did not translate it with the word for loyalty. The kind of loyalty that Solomon is talking about is not contained in the word loyalty. It is a level of devotion, respect, kindness, etc., that is beyond just normal loyalty to a boss. It is this kind of love and devotion that one is looking for when one wants to preserve their leadership. If the people around you do not have a level of love for you, then your continuance in leadership is in question.
The NASB translates this word 176 times as lovingkindness, 32 times as kindness, and only 6 times as loyalty. While even leaders will say that loyalty is one of the qualities that they look for in an employee, they often want much more than just loyalty.
This is the Hebrew word amed which is the word truth. The idea of truth, certainty, confirm, support, faithfulness. This is something that can be relied upon; it is true; it is firm. Solomon is saying that the leader must receive this kind of information and have this kind of support in order to stay as leader for a long time.
The pair of chesed and amet are a constant pair in the Old Testament. Love and Truth. These two go together to bring about the type of lifestyle that is pleasing to God. The person who would speak righteously in the New Testament speaks the truth in love. In this verse this is what the leader needs. He does not need disloyalty. He does not need love that will not give him the truth, trying to sugarcoat reality. He needs the facts and the truths of the situation within a context of love, trust, loyalty, and respect.
Notice that Solomon does not fix who these qualities are coming from. They are the context in which he leads. These come from everyone around the leader if the leadership is to be long term. If you are a leader and you have those around you who do not exhibit these qualities, then they will shorten your leadership. If you do not exhibit these qualities, then you will shorten your leadership. Learn them.
Can people count on what you say is the truth? Or do they learn that you embellish or that you will shade the truth to accomplish your ends or that you misrepresent the truth or that you allow people to believe a lie if it helps them. All these undercut your leadership. Be up-front with people so that they know the real story as best as you understand it. People do not stay long working for a boss who is deceptive, manipulative, or lies. It just won't happen.
This is not the Hebrew word sedeq which one would expect with this English word, but instead it is the word chesed again. This is somewhat shocking and a real problem that the translators chose to translate it the way that they did. Twice in this proverb Solomon chose to use the word chesed or lovingkindness. It is what preserves the leader and it is what upholds his authority. The people that you lead – both staff and constituents – must have a clear sense that you love them; that there is a fond affection; that you are committed to meeting their needs and not just your own; that you are loyal to them, not just to yourself; that you will stay focused on them.
Now note that the focus of the second half of this proverb on preserving leadership is about preserving the authority of leadership. The throne is the seat of authority. If you lose that – even if you are in the position – you cannot do much. You must have the authority to act just as you have the responsibility to lead. There is nothing that undercuts a leader as much as having responsibility but not authority.
Solomon says that what gives you the ability to act is lovingkindess. If it is clear that you are out for yourself, then the clamps and inspections will come upon your leadership. You will have to check with all kinds of people before they allow you to act. But if, over time, it comes clear that your decisions have the best interest of the people you are leading at heart, your throne or authority to act will get larger. Do you feel boxed in as though you have no authority? How is your love for the people?
This is the Hebrew word saad which means to sustain, support, establish, strengthen. This parallels the idea of preserves in the first half of this proverb.
Most leaders want to stay in the leadership position. They want to extend the time and reach of their leadership. Solomon is giving wise council. You extend your leadership by lovingkindness, truth, and righteousness.