by Sandy Quandt
Authority may be defined as “rightful power to enforce laws and extract obedience; power to influence or persuade, resulting from knowledge or experience.” Varying degrees of authority exist in families, churches, social networks, businesses, and governments. At times each of us is in authority. At other times we are under the authority of others. At yet other times we might find ourselves both in and under authority simultaneously.
Whatever our circumstances, we need to make sure we are accountable to those in charge, and to those in our charge, in a manner that is consistent with the principles given us in the Bible. We are to exercise our authority with humility and we are to submit to authority in the same way, knowing whatever our position, God is the final authority.
What principles should guide us in our submission to authority? The Old Testament leader Moses gives us several examples. Like me, Moses was the baby of his family. Like me, Moses had an older sister and an older brother. Unlike me, Moses was more humble than anyone on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3). I wonder if this means Moses never screamed “You’re not the boss of me!” at his sister and brother, like I did.
You’re Not the Boss of Me!
While Moses led the Israelites through the desert, Miriam and Aaron decided Moses was not the only person capable of leading. The two siblings had had it with being under the authority of their baby brother, and they let God and Moses know it.
“’Has the lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’ And the lord heard this” (Numbers 12:2).
The Lord heard and he was not pleased. Just as a parent might call a family meeting, God called the squabbling siblings together for a family chat. When Moses, Miriam, and Aaron stood before God, God did not sympathize with the older siblings. God did not point out the good Miriam and Aaron had already done. God did not give them time to express their feelings. Instead, God dealt with the problem immediately. God let Miriam and Aaron know, in no uncertain terms, he had chosen Moses as the leader of Israel. Moses was God’s appointed authority. God asked how Miriam and Aaron dared speak against the one God had chosen. When God finished speaking, to emphasize his displeasure with the challenge to Moses’ authority, God covered Miriam’s body with leprosy.
Moses never once tried to defend himself. He did not rattle off a list of his qualifications to prove he had the right to be in charge. He didn’t mention the burning bush or his mountaintop experience. He did not list the shortcomings of his sister and brother to prove their inadequacy to lead. Instead, Moses depended on God to defend him. Moses put the question of authority in God’s hands, and he left it there.
After contracting leprosy, Miriam was put outside the camp for seven days. In addition to suffering from the dreaded disease, Miriam lost fellowship with her family and friends while she was outside the camp. God had placed Miriam and Aaron in positions of authority among the Israelites. He just had not put them in authority over Moses. Miriam and Aaron could have worked alongside Moses as God intended. Instead they desired more.
When God places us in positions of authority and we find our authority challenged, when others question our ability to lead, we should take it to God and rely on him to defend us.
Who Does He Think He Is?
Grumbling against our supervisors in the workplace can be contagious. We’ve all heard it—the off-hand comment here, the snide innuendo there. We’ve read the flaming e-mail sent by someone who hit the “reply all” button without thinking. Before you know it, a full-blown rebellion begins to boil over.
That seems to be what happened between Moses and Korah—a well-placed remark here, a bit of doubt there. Gossiping around the well. Before long Korah was leading 250 community leaders, men who had been appointed members of the Israelite council, in rebelliion against Moses’ authority (Numbers 16:2). This mob of discontents confronted Moses and Aaron and said, “You have gone too far! Why do you set yourselves above the assembly?” (v. 3).
Upon hearing Korah and those who joined him in rebellion, the first thing Moses did was fall on his face before the Lord. He did not argue with Korah. He did not shake his staff at the rebels. He did not call in character witnesses. Instead, Moses took the matter to God and let God take care of it.
God had placed Korah and his followers in privileged positions, allowing them to be near his presence as they did the Lord’s work in the tabernacle. Sadly, this was not enough to satisfy Korah. Korah wanted to usurp Aaron’s authority.
God let Korah know whom he had appointed to be in charge. Numbers 16:31-33 tells us the earth opened up and swallowed the rebels alive, with all their households and possessions. Then, just as quickly, the earth closed its gaping mouth. More than 250 men, their families, and their possessions were gone in an instant.
Before we hit “send” and ignite a rebellion beside the water cooler, maybe we should step into the boiler room where only God can hear us. Maybe we should tell God the hurts that rise from questioning hearts instead of raising our fists.
Near the end of Israel’s 40 years of wandering, God told Moses he would die before his people entered the promised land. God did this to punish Moses for an earlier act of disobedience (see Numbers 27:12-14).
Although Moses had been in a position of authority, God is the ultimate authority. Before Moses died, he asked God to put another in authority so the nation of Israel would not be like sheep without a shepherd. Moses was concerned for the people he led. He wanted to make sure they were served well in his absence. Joshua was chosen, and by God’s command, Moses commissioned Joshua and gave him authority over the people (see Numbers 27:15-23).
Because God Said So
Jesus Christ is the supreme example of one who was given authority over all things but humbly submitted to the authority of God. Jesus told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). He told his disciples the reason he placed himself under God’s authority was so the world would learn he loved the Father, and would know that he did what his Father commanded (see John 14:31). Our attitude of submission should be the same as Christ’s.
Whether we are in a position to exercise authority over others, in a position to respond to authority, or in a position to do both, the Bible is our guide. We are told to humble ourselves before God (1 Peter 5:5, 6).
When we are attacked by others, we are to take it before the Lord. When we grumble and rebel against those in authority, we grumble and rebel against God. If God has placed us under someone else’s authority, God expects us to submit to that authority (Romans 13). If God has called us to a position of authority, he will bless our work, not because of who we are, but because of what he can do through us when we humble ourselves before him.
Sandy Quandt is a freelance writer in Seabrook, Texas.
Matt Hammitt, from the contemporary Christian group Sanctus Real, wrote a song about being a godly leader in the home. It’s called “Lead Me” and is found on the group’s album Pieces of a Real Heart.
Matt based the powerful song on a personal situation when his wife appealed to him to be a better leader for their family.
You can listen to the song and watch its video here:
Matt also shares the heart behind the song in an interview found on this blog: