Great Leaders Choose to Leverage Politics – Ezra 5
The term of “politics” has engendered extremely negative connotations over the past several hundred years! Consider the following collection of quotes on the subject by some leading influencers, thinkers and personalities from around the world and throughout history:
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Groucho Marx
“Politics is the art of controlling your environment.” Harry Truman
“Man is by nature a political animal.” Aristotle
“The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.” Reinhold Niebuhr
“Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business.” Winston Churchill
“Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.” Mao ZeDong
“In politics stupidity is not a handicap.” Napoleon Bonaparte
“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” George Orwell
“Politics is a science. You can demonstrate that you are right and that others are wrong.” Jean-Paul Sarte
“I stay out of politics because if I begin thinking too much about politics, I’ll probably… drop writing children’s books and become a political cartoonist again.” Dr. Seuss
Whatever come to mind when you think about politics, the reality is that it has been a part of human society from the beginning of civilization, and it will continue to be one of the predominant guiding social forces for as long as humans exist on this planet.
The first political interaction in history actually began before humans were event created. Satan, then the beautiful and powerful angel Lucifer, engaged in a political and spiritual war against God. In losing that initial war, Satan and his followers were cast out of heaven and have continued to fight over the direction of the universe, as well as each human soul in the ultimate political power struggle that continues to this day. The first humans played into this game, and lost, when Satan in the form of a serpent convinced Adam and Eve to violate the one and only rule of in the Garden of Eden. What was the enticement that swayed them? It was the promise they would be “like God.” In its basest form, this desire was the beginning of a long and repetitive pattern of political tensions for the human race.
It is important to note that while predominantly used as such, the concept of politics by definition is not inherently bad. The Dictionary.com defines the word “politic” as “shrewdorprudentinpracticalmatters;tactful;diplomatic.” It finds its etymological roots in ancient Greek. The word comes from the root word polis which was used to connote the idea of inherent and obligatory social interaction. Greek citizens were referred to as polites and a city was called a polis. In the 1500, as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages and into the Age of Enlightenment, these concepts evolved into our current use of the word politics and came to mean “the affairs of the state” (www.etymonline.com).
For bette or worse, politics define the social landscape within which we live and lead. A leaders we can not ignore the political realities within which we operate. Failure to do so is be paramount to walking blindfolded through a mine field.
Jesus engaged in politics, frequently demonstrating shrewdness and prudence in regard to practical or diplomatic issues. Consider how he responded to the pharisees when they asked if the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. This was a highly charge and politically motivated question designed to trap Jesus in what would have been a PR nightmare. Jesus didn’t ignore it, nor did he acquiesce to their query. His response was politically brilliant. He asked for a denarius (an ancient coin) and asked whose head was on it? The answer was simple, Caesar. Then he threw out the brilliantly shrew statement, “render on to Caesar what is Caesars.” Time and time again we see Jesus adeptly leverage political realities of his situation.
The leaders of the temple rebuilding effort in the book of Ezra engaged in politics as well. In order to ensure the temple and the city of Jerusalem continued they had to respond to with shrewdness and prudence to political attacks. While they began the rebuilding with the full support of King Cyrus, he eventually died and the subsequent series of kings were eventually so removed from Cyrus that they had no knowledge of Cyrus’ decreed support. The people of the land, led by a foreign governor named Tattenai, sent a scathing and manipulative letter to a newly established king named Darius who was oblivious to the mandate given by Cyrus. If the Jewish leaders had decided not to engage in and leverage politics they would have been thwarted in their rebuilding efforts Instead they crafted a brilliant response. Ezra chapter 5 details this political confrontation. The chapter ends with the statement, “Therefore, if it seems good to the king… and let the king send us his pleasure in the matter” (Ezra 5:17).
In the sixth chapter we read that Darius was swayed by the argument and political reasoning of the Jewish leaders, and he fully backed their efforts. He forbid Governor Tattenai from even being near the rebuilding effort. Their political acumen essentially resulted in order of protection against the opposition of the Israelites.
If we want to lead effectively, we will have political realities that must be navigated.
Great leaders don’t run from politics. Great leaders choose to leverage politics.