A Tale of Three Kings – A Study in Brokenness – Book Review

A Tale of Three Kings – A Study in Brokenness
Author: Gene Edwards
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
ISBN-13: 978-0842369084

Review by Cees van Leuwen.

A tale of three kings by G. Edwards tells the story of King Saul, King David and of King Absalom and their different styles of leadership and how they became king. The story is heart touching and raises questions about our own leadership. What for king am I, Saul, David or Absalom?

Summary of Story
Saul was a mad jealous king and felt threatened by David who tried to comfort Saul by playing music and singing to him. David was a threat for the King’s kingdom.

David was a very popular and promising young man among the people of Israel. Saul throws spears at David, but David only dodged, and didn’t throw anything back. David showed submission, while he was placed under the authority of king Saul, till the very last breath of king Saul. Absalom was sincere and ambitious a contradiction maybe, but there was rebellion in his heart. Absalom found his justification to critique his father and people couldn’t wait till he was king.

In this tale there are two recognisable leadership styles; the servant leader represented by king David and the toxic leaders represented by king Saul and Absalom. The author strongly suggests while working under a toxic leader, you only dodge but never act to become a leader yourself. Edwards write, ‘he must pretend he cannot see spears, even when they are coming straight at him. Secondly he must also learn to duck very quickly. Lastly, he must pretend nothing at all happened’ (1992, p17). David always avoided a direct confrontation with King Saul while he had many justifications and opportunities to become king. How do we act under toxic leadership?

Frost and Robinson (1999) are writing in their article ‘Toxic Handler’ about men who act under toxic leadership. They will define a toxic handler as “a manager who voluntarily shoulders the sadness, frustration, bitterness, and anger that are endemic to organizational life”. David would fit in this image; the physical attack of King Saul on David was throwing a spear, but the mental attacks at David must have been countless.

Can anything good come from tolerating a toxic leader? Edwards suggest that David had to persist because God wants to use broken men as leaders, but also that Saul was nevertheless God’s anointed king. Lipman-Blumen writes in her book The Allure of Toxic Leaders (2005), what good can come of tolerating a toxic leader? With two of the five points Lipman-Blumen make David is acting different in his situation. Both of these statements are about acting the other three about learning. ‘Opportunities for sufferers to vent their complaints and bond with one another’ and the second statement ’Opportunities to learn how to resist and organize resistance (Lipman-Blumen, 2005, p186).

The most remarkable aspect of David’s leadership is that he didn’t act to become leader or to maintain his position as leader. ‘It is not my responsibility to take or to keep authority’ (Edwards, 1992, p77).

David is recognizable as not only a toxic handler but also as a servant leader. Absalom was an ambitious man with one goal, becoming king. He didn’t have the patience to wait till his father died to gain his inheritance. Had David as a servant leader not the responsibility to channel the ambitions of his son and teach him what it is to lead? How must a servant leader act when there is rebellion among his followers?

The biblical image of a father could play a role in this kind of issues. In his book Builders & Fools writes Derek J. Tidball (1999, p100) about the practice of parenting as a servant leader. A father should give individual care, teaching and should model, by giving the example. ‘Only by emulating his father would a child attain to the fullest expression of his natural inheritance’ (Tidball, 1999, p100). As servant leader David didn’t help Absalom to reach his full potential or to model him. David didn’t use his power and authority to rebuke Absalom and to help him.

Maybe David was a toxic leader, but Absalom wasn’t a toxic handler, instead he created his own circle of influence to complain and to organize resistance.

This book is a treasure, not because it contains theoretical models about leadership, but because it tries to communicate with the soul of leaders. It will speak to the hidden motives in the heart and leaders will reflect how they rule their kingdom. What kind of King are you, Saul, David or Absalom?

Edwards, G., (1992) A Tale of Three Kings, a study in brokenness, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Frost, P. and Robinson, H. (1999) ‘The Toxic Handler, organizational hero-and casualty’, Harvard Business Review, July/ August
Lipman- Blumen, J., (2005) The Allure of Toxic Leaders, why we follow destructive bosses and corrupt politicians- and how we survive them, New York: Oxford University Press.
Tidball, D. J., (1999) Builders & Fools, Leadership the Bible way, Leicester: Inter- Varsity Press.

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