Politicians and People

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Moreover Absalom would say, "Oh, that I were made judge in the land, and everyone who has any suit or cause would come to me; then I would give him justice." And so it was, whenever anyone came near to bow down to him, that he would put out his hand and take him and kiss him. In this manner Absalom acted toward all Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel (2 Sam. 15:4-6).

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James Madison, the "father" of the U.S. Constitution, once observed, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Of course, men are not angels, so some kind of government is necessary to constrain the people's unruly impulses. The problem lies in the fact that governments are also comprised of men, who are themselves easily corrupted by power. The challenge is finding honorable men who can wield power without being seduced by it. 

David's son, Absalom, was not an honorable man. His lust for power drove him to rebel against his own father. But rather than stage a direct coup, Absalom took a more calculated approach, shrewdly manipulating Israel's population into supporting him. Notice the outline of his strategy:

First, he pounded on the shortcomings of the current administration. He told the people, "Look, your case is good and right; but there is no deputy of the king to hear you" (v. 3). By dramatizing the occasional miscues of David's rule, he fomented a spirit of discontent among the people. David was not perfect, but he was decent, and Israel was fortunate to have him. But under Absalom's incessant agitating, David became a caricature of incompetence. Politician rule #1: Demonize your opponent unmercifully.

Second, Absalom offered himself as the more qualified alternative to the status quo: "Oh, that I were made judge in the land, and everyone who has any suit or cause would come to me; then I would give him justice" (v. 4). Absalom would right all the wrongs, cure all the ills, avenge all the victims. . . . if only he was king. Politician rule #2: Promote yourself shamelessly. 

Absalom's strategy worked: He "stole the hearts of the men of Israel" (v. 6). His scheme sparked a violent revolution that weakened the kingdom and ended in the deaths of many people--including Absalom. 

Entire populations can be fooled by clever politicians who know how to manipulate the emotions of the mob. That phenomenon explains so much of the dysfunction that has paralyzed our own nation in recent years. Politicians thrive in an environment of political rancor and mass ignorance. 

Whether in a kingdom or a representative republic, this kind of manipulation can be diminished only by ordinary people--that's you and me--opening their eyes to the political tricks being foisted upon them. We must learn to take everything a politician says--both about himself and his opponent--with a grain of salt. 

More importantly, we must look for real deliverance to the only King whose rule can be trusted without reservation.