“Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:9 ESV)
In his providence, God takes us to a portion of scripture that deals with the character of a national ruler while we are concurrently ensnared by our own nation’s election season. We should be on guard against allowing this text to become a catalyst for politics or a subtle voters’ guide. However, this passage does inform us about God’s expectations for kings and all those in national authority.
Proverbs 31 records the words of King Lemuel. As we’ve noted concerning the identity of Agur in chapter 30, commentators have reached no consensus regarding Lemuel. Guesses range from a neighboring king to another name for Solomon himself. We will not attempt to answer this question during our messages in chapter 31, but we will be able to discern the message of this Spirit-inspired chapter of scripture despite our ignorance of the human author. Verses 1-9 provide us with the words of King Lemuel’s mother.
The most striking aspect of her counsel is that she is most concerned about the king’s character. In an age in which character takes a backseat to embellished credentials and empty promises, this emphasis is quite refreshing. In fact, it is consistent with the rest of scripture; for example, the qualifications the Apostle Paul gives for a pastor have more to do with character than anything else. Lemuel’s mother’s advice stands in stark contrast to today’s political environment and leadership industry and brings us back to what really matters.
So what really matters for the character of an excellent king? First, he is not to allow the lusts of his flesh to steal his strength needed to fulfill his noble office. His mother mentions women (v3) and drunkenness (v4-7) as examples of ways in which a king’s heart can be turned from his occupation. Second, he is to use his authority for the benefit of the needy (v8-9). Certainly, the king’s job is not limited to these two categories, but this counsel does encompass a load of responsibilities that we will unpack in our message. Furthermore we can see that these two strands of wisdom are applications of one main attribute of godly leadership: self-denial. In other words, Lemuel’s mother tells him that to be an excellent king is to deny the desires of your own flesh and give yourself entirely to those who need you most. What can be said of an excellent king can be applied to any excellent leader. And where do we look for the best example of this? Solomon certainly didn’t exemplify this perfectly. Lemuel, whoever he was, didn’t either. No king or emperor or United States President, past or future, ever has or ever will perfectly fulfill this role. The only One who is the truly Excellent King is the King of Kings, our Lord Jesus Christ!