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The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012



This essay is the first in a series of essays on the topic of narcissism viewed from the standpoint of
the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The series will explore the topic of pathological self-admiration
from a variety of angles and sources, with pride of place going to the Writings of the Hebrew Bible.

The Writings were chosen owing to their rich and insightful treatment of the topic of pathological
pride. As we shall see, at times the Writings explore the origins of narcissism; then, at other times, they
delve into the symptoms of narcissism; and then, most tellingly, the Writings survey the outcomes of
obsessive self-love.

The essays have two objectives in hand. The first is explanatory. The essays are written within
the orbit of evangelical Christianity and assume that it will be useful to permit the Bible to weigh in on the
topic of compulsive self-interest. Indeed, the bulk of the essays will explain what the Old Testament
Writings have to say concerning the origins, the manifestations, and the outcomes of compulsive self-
importance. The second objective is prescriptive. While much can be gained from understanding the
dynamics of obsessive self-conceit, the Bible, especially the New Testament, has much to say concerning
the antidote to narcissistic pursuits. In the final analysis, the Cross of Christ is still the real key to opening
up an appropriate level of self-evaluation. In this regard, the letters of the Apostle Paul to the Romans and
the Philippians will brook large.

The rationale for the series of essays engulfs us. As Daniel Altman, writing online in The Daily
Beast, points out, Americans as a whole are simply obsessed with themselves:

Imagine a person who does what he wants, regardless of how it affects
other people. He refuses to take responsibility for his own mistakes,
and he believes he is unbeatable at anything he undertakes, despite
mounting evidence to the contrary. Sounds like a textbook narcissist,
right? Well, these days, it also sounds a lot like the United States.

Others concur. Indeed, Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell go a bit further and suggest that
narcissism is sweeping the nation. They write, The United States is currently suffering from an epidemic
of narcissism.
Most readers would flatly concur: ours is the Its All About Me! culture.

A further justification for this initial essay is lived out among our political classes. In this opening
essay, we tackle one of the more prominent and boorish manifestations of fixated self-love: the narcissistic
pursuit of power among politicians. Leon Seltzer admirably describes what many of us see play out before
our very eyes on the sound-bites over cable TV. Dr. Seltzer pulls no punches when he notes concerning the
narcissistic pursuit of political power, Their desires have no end point. Their inexhaustible appetite for
wealth, recognition, adulation, influence and power winds up being a travesty.

By no means is the churlish, coarse, and ill-mannered demeanor of our current crop of narcissistic
power-politicians something new under the sun. The Writings of the Old Testament offer us a case study
of one such power-hungry politico [2 Chronicles 25]. As we shall see in considerable detail, this case study
unfolds what happens when such a power-obsessed politician finds himself in the hands of the sovereign
Lord of history. There are lessons to learn here.

Daniel Altman, The United States of Narcissism [online]; July 17, 2011; copyright by The
Newsweek/Daily Beast Company.

Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of
Entitlement (New York: Free Press, 2009), 2.

Leon Seltzer, Narcissism: Why Its So Rampant in Politics [online]; December 21, 2011:
copyright by Psychology Today.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


2 Chronicles 25 may be read as a warning: here is what happens to a nation when the political
classes are dominated by those in pursuit of power. Indeed, as we delve into our case study of one of the
early political-military leaders of Judah, a man named Amaziah, we read an ultimately tragic expos of one
politicians maniacal pursuit of political power. The tragedy is that where leadership goes the nation goes

The moral of 2 Chronicles 25 is that the narcissistic pursuit of power yields a harvest of a failed
political-military administration. To be sure, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and
the first step in the collapse of this administration is taken by the pathological self-conceit of the man at the
top. Our case study offers the sobering reminder that the failure of a political administration may have less
to do with failed political policies and more to do with the belief systems of those who govern.

Our case study begins in Judah, during the rule and reign of Amaziah, roughly from 796-767 B.C.

The Chroniclers history opens with the kings accession to power [25:1-4], his war with Edom and its
tragic aftermath [25:5-16], his ill-advised war with Joash [25:17-24], and his catastrophic end [25:25-28].

The shape of the essay

Embedded within the brief outline above is the trajectory of this administration: this particular
political-military leader had power [25:1-4], used power to his detriment [25:5-16, 17-24], and eventually
lost the very power he so feverishly sought to expand [25:25-28].

The shape of the essay follows the trajectory of this failed political-military administration,
provided by the Chronicler.

The origin of this case study in political disaster is theological. The Chronicler will place before
us, in no uncertain terms, the proposition that a political leaders true beliefs about God inform the nature
and shape the outcome of his/her administration. In this case study, the anatomy of a failed administration
and the downfall of an entire nation have their origin in half-hearted devotion to God [2 Chronicles 25:2]
by one who professes belief in God. This theology of half-measures opens the Pandoras Box of
enchantment with power [25:14] for personal manipulation and personal aggrandizement. In the final
analysis, the narcissistic politician may talk about God all he/she chooses, but, that which is truly believed
about God, limited as it is by the agenda of the narcissistic political-power player, will show up in the
obsessive pursuit of power.

The manifestation of the narcissistic pursuit of power in our case study is multi-faceted. To begin
with, the narcissistic pursuit of power exhibits profound moral deafness [25:15-16]. At one level, he who
invokes the name of God easily puts to one side what he already knows God really wants [25:15a]. Beyond
this, one who invokes the name of Almighty God routinely dismisses Gods interests [25:15c-d] in the
course of governance. Furthermore, the narcissistic pursuit power means that such a politico remains
morally indifferent to the spokespersons for God [25:16a-e]. Naturally, when a politician is driven to gain
more and more power, he insulates himself/herself from warning [25:16f-g].

However, the basic manifestation of power in our case study is the self-display of glory and power
[25:17-19]. This pathological level of self-display opens with self-supremacy measured by force [25:17d].
Again, in the frenzy to display power, yet another warning is ignored: exaggerated self-confidence will lead
to disaster [25:18-19a]. In the final analysis, the high-point in the manifestation of a narcissistic pursuit of
power comes with making a display of personal glory through the exercise of power [25:19b]. For
Amaziah, our case studys inflated ego intends to make a display of its power and glory, this time through

For the dates, see John D.W. Watts, ed., The Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 15, 2 Chronicles
by Raymond B. Dillard (Dallas: Word, 1987), 195.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The outcomes are also varied. The Chronicler proposes that there are prices to be paid for the
narcissistic pursuit of power. As one might expect, he/she who governs in the name of self-interest and, to
that extent in defiance of God, will place ones governance in conflict with God [25:5-8]. Moreover, that
human governance that spurns the covenant-God invites the wrath of God in real time [25:15-16].
Ultimately, the Chronicler spells out the rather stunning notion that the narcissistic pursuit of power among
politicians places them at the mercy of a divinely orchestrated downfall [25:20]. Our case study will
expose the truth of what an earlier prophet had affirmed: Yahweh deposes kings and He appoints them
[Daniel 2:20]. Yahweh is the sovereign Lord of history; power-politicians only mythologize their own
autonomous grandeur.

Key proposals of the essay

The two key proposals of the essay are actually two sides of the same coin: its all about God. On
one side of the coin, we have the proposal that what a leader actually believes about God is the crux of
his/her governance. To put that same thing in another way: theology really matters. This point is the drift
of the opening section of the essay: the origins of the narcissistic pursuit of power.

Then, on the other side of the coin, we have the proposal that defiance of God in human
governance is perilous; those who dismiss the God whom they glibly invoke when it suits them find
themselves in the grip of a divinely orchestrated downfall. This point is the upshot of the final section of
the essay: the price to pay for the narcissistic pursuit of power.

Outline of the essay

The origins of the narcissistic pursuit of power [25:2, 14]
Half-hearted devotion to God [25:2]
Where the heart/self should have been but was not
The heart/self in Chronicles
Enchantment with power [25:14]
The power of self-interest [25:14b]
The power of power [25:14c]
The fiction of choice [25:14d]
The myth of God is on my side [25:14e]
Reflections on the narcissistic pursuit of power among politicians
The symptoms of the narcissistic pursuit of power [25:15-16, 17-19]
Morally deaf [25:15-16]
Deaf to God [25:15a]
Dismissive of greater obligations [25:15c-d]
Indifferent to the voices around one [25:16a-e]
Impervious to warning [25:16f-g]
Enamored with the display of power [25:17-19]
A test of strength [25:17]
Ignore yet another warning [25:18-19]
Ego inflation: make a display of glory [25:19a]
Reflections on the symptoms of the narcissistic pursuit of power among politicians
The outcomes of the narcissistic pursuit of power [25:5-8, 15-16, 20]
Conflict with God [25:5-8]
Incur the wrath of God in real time [25:15-16]
Divinely orchestrated downfall [25:20]
Reflections on the outcomes of the narcissistic pursuit of power among politicians

The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The Origins of the Narcissistic Pursuit of Power, 2 Chronicles 25:2, 14

The Chronicler has shaped his history of the administration of Amaziah in such a way as to permit
the following proposal: The narcissistic pursuit of power among politicians is predicated upon a theology of
God. What a leader thinks about God and how he positions himself vis--vis God as God are crucial in
understanding what sustains the narcissistic pursuit of power. Theology matters or at least a suitable
theology should!

As worked out in the Old Testament, what one should think about God as God is reasonably
straightforward. One may understand the key Old Testament proposition about affirming belief in God this
way: God is the ruling Lord. Ludwig KoNhler neatly summarizes what one who professes belief in God
should think about God as a matter of course:

God is the ruling Lord: that is the one fundamental statement in the
theology of the Old Testament. Everything else derives from it.
Everything else leans upon it. Everything else can be understood with
reference to it and only to it. Everything else subordinates itself to it.

However, this basic axiom of life was not the case with the subject of our case study into the
narcissistic pursuit of power. The Chronicler makes it abundantly clear that this politicians theology was
formulated as half-hearted devotion to God [25:2], which sustained his enchantment with power, albeit the
power of idols [25:14]. Borrowing professor KoNhlers language, above, we may map out the theology of
this politician this way: The one fundamental statement about the theology of this narcissistic politician
entails half-hearted devotion to God; everything else in 2 Chronicles 25 derives from it; everything else in 2
Chronicles 25 leans upon it; everything else in 2 Chronicles 25 can be understood with reference to it and
only to it; and, what is most telling indeed, everything else in 2 Chronicles 25 subordinates itself to half-
hearted devotion to God. We have here the genesis of the narcissistic pursuit of power by this particular
politician. Theology matters!

As we shall note presently, the theology of this politician was as shallow as it was self-serving.
Here was a leader of a nation, professing belief in God, but not as the Lord who rules. Rather, his faith,
such as it was, was superficial and feeble. At one level, he did what was right, but not with a whole heart
[25:2]. The narcissistic pursuit of power for this politician was grounded in a theology of half-measures.

Moreover, this shallow theology paved the way for what really mattered power. The compelling
drive in this political-military leader was the self-serving pursuit of power. As we probe Amaziahs
enchantment with the power derived from idols [25:14], we shall see, when all is said and done, that
Amaziahs moral compass pointed toward the enhancement of his personal power. So it is with his modern
successors; as Habakkuk once put it their might is their god [Habakkuk 1:11].

Half-hearted devotion to God [25:2]

The narcissistic pursuit of power among politicians begins right here: this politician, who
professed belief in God, did right in the presence of Yahweh, but not with a whole heart [25:2]. While he
did what was right, he was content to deal in half-measures. The upshot is, by dealing with God in a half-
hearted manner, Amaziahs theology permitted placing limits on how far he would go in doing right in the
presence of Yahweh.

To be sure, his heart should have been focused on seeking God, serving God, submitting to the
Word of God, satisfying the covenant obligations of God, and securing the ongoing support of God.
However, where he should have been firm in his professed beliefs, he was inconsistent; where he should
have been single-minded in his devotion to God, he was vacillating; where he should have lived out a
personal preference for the covenant, his personal preference was focused on the enhancement of his

Ludwig KoNhler, Old Testament Theology, translated by A.S. Todd (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1957), 30.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


personal power; and where what God thought should have really mattered, for this politician what really
mattered was power.

So, lets allow the Chronicler to tease out the details of the origin of the narcissistic pursuit of
power. In his history of this regimes slide into national collapse, the Chronicler begins by pointing out the
highly restricted attachment to God lived out in the day to day governance of this political-military leader.
On occasion, there are bright spots he does what is right [25:2a]; but always, this politician is diligent
about not over-doing things but not with a whole heart [25:2b]. Again, everything else in the
Chroniclers history of this politicians narcissistic pursuit of power derives from and is subordinate to his
theology of God.

He did what was right [25:2a]

To be fair to the man, the Chronicler portrays this power-politician as evincing a level of
faithfulness he did right in the presence of Yahweh.

At one level, the Divine historian is telling us that Amaziah had moments of ethical and spiritual
appropriateness. The Hebrew term glossed right [y~~r] has an ethical nuance to it, describing what is
correct, honest, upright, honorable or just.
Moreover, y~~r is used to depict conduct that is right in the
sense of pleasing to God.
The upshot is that y~~r denotes correct human conduct in regard to ethical
norms and religious values.
Accordingly, as a matter of record, Amaziah showed himself fully capable of
getting it right.

At another level, however, Amaziahs character demonstrates moral lapses, even while he did
what was right. That is, Amaziah is part of a pattern among political-spiritual leaders in Judah. In three of
the ten occurrences of this summary statement he did what was right in the sight of God the historians
add that idol worship was left untouched and unchallenged [Amaziah (2 Kings 14:3), Azariah (2 Kings
15:3) and Jotham (2 Kings 15:34)].

The net effect is that Amaziah is among those who could do what was right and still be dealing in
half-measures. Indeed, as we shall note presently, his faith commitment to the God whom he espoused was
half-hearted and run-of-the-mill at best. All told, this is the deadly compromise that will have catastrophic
outcomes, as the Chronicler will point out.

But only not with a whole heart

This is the compliment in the summary statement that teases out the deadly compromise in the
political-military administration of Amaziah. His loyalty was diluted with reservations: he did what was
right, but only not with a whole heart.
There were limits, restrictions as it were, on just how far Amaziah
would go in subordinating himself to Yahweh. Again, ones personal and operational theology matters!

Ludwig KoNhler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old
Testament, revised by Walter Baumgartner and Johann Stamm, translated and edited by M.E.J. Richardson,
vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 450 [hereafter abbreviated KB
for volume 1 and KB
for volume 2].

Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius
Hebrew and English Lexicon; reprint edition (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1979), 449 [hereafter abbreviated

Willem VanGemeren, ed., The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and
Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000; C-D Rom; hereafter abbreviated NIDOTTE), Hannes Olivier,

All translations are the authors.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


This deadly compromise with faith is fertile soil for the narcissistic pursuit of power for this
particular power-politician. Amaziah seems willing to make concessions in his pursuit of power: failing to
place his whole heart at the disposal of Yahweh allows the narcissistic pursuit of power to gain traction
within the man. The Chronicler teases out the details of this deadly compromise.

To begin with, the Hebrew term translated but only [raq] is a restrictive adverb, signaling a
limitation to the preceding claim about Amaziahs moral and spiritual character. The sense of the entire
line is this: Amaziah did what was right in the presence of God, but only [this devotion was] not whole-
Amaziahs devotion to God, his theology, had constraints; his faithfulness to the covenant had
barriers; his religious fervor had checks and balances. This is the deadly compromise and this is the soil
that will give full flower to this politicians narcissistic pursuit of power.

This statement Amaziah did what was right in the presence of God, but only [this devotion was]
not whole-hearted is the theological origin of Amaziahs narcissistic pursuit of power. The remainder of
2 Chronicles 25 derives from it, leans upon it, can be understood with reference to it and only to it, and
subordinates itself to it. As a matter of his personal theology, Yahweh should have been the axis around
which his heart turned, but, sadly for him and the nation he led, this was not the case.

The Hebrew phrase a whole heart [lNb~b ~lNm] is used fourteen times in the Old Testament
within a range of three lexemes. Review of this phrase will shed light on where Amaziahs heart should
have been but was not. To put the same thing another way, the theology of this political leader allowed for

The theological origin of this narcissistic politicians pursuit of power lies in the fact that his heart
should have been firm and constant in faithfulness to God, but it was not. For example, in 2 Kings 20:3
and 2 Chronicles 19:9, a whole heart is defined in terms of faithfulness [
met], where faithfulness means
trustworthiness, constancy, and genuineness in living out ones espoused faith commitments.

Accordingly, where Amaziahs devotion to Yahweh should have been trustworthy, his theology permits
vacillation; where his devotion to Yahweh should have been constant, his theology permits spasmodic
commitment; and where his devotion should have been genuine, his theology has room for hypocrisy.

The theological origin of this narcissistic politicians pursuit of power further rests in the fact that
his heart should have been single-minded in its devotion to Yahweh, but it was not. For example, in 1
Chronicles 12:39, a whole heart is lived out in the real world as singleness of purpose in serving Yahweh.
Accordingly, where Amaziahs devotion to Yahweh should have been clear-cut and well-defined, he is
divided in his loyalties. On the one hand, he occasionally does what is right; on the other hand, he is fully
prepared to bow before idols if the outcome enhances his hold on power. The theology of this narcissistic
politician permits compromise and concession where power is in the balance; a theology that demands
single-minded devotion to God does not comport with the pursuit of political-military power for this
narcissistic power-politician, nor any other for that matter.

The theological origin of this narcissistic politicians pursuit of power is finally situated in the fact
that his heart should have feared God, but it did not. For example, in 2 Chronicles 19:9, the whole heart is
characterized by the fear of God. This character trait of the narcissist is very telling; for the fear of God
means that ones conscience is governed by the heart-felt theological conviction that what God thinks and
what God wants really matters. Accordingly, where Amaziahs devotion to God should have turned on the
axis of what Yahweh thought and what Yahweh wanted, the theology that governed this political-military
administration turned on the axis of what Amaziah thought and what Amaziah wanted: power.

Bruce K. Waltke and Michael OConnor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona
Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 39.3.5c [hereafter abbreviated IBHS]; see also Ronald Williams, Hebrew
Syntax: An Outline (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 560; and J.C.L. Gibson, Davidsons
Introductory Hebrew Grammar~Syntax (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1994), 144.

, 69.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


By way of summary thus far, the Chronicler makes a unique contribution to the understanding of
the narcissistic pursuit of power among the political classes. The Chronicler affirms that this pursuit of
power has its origins in theology. How Amaziah thinks about God, what he believes about God his
personal and operational theology in other words shapes his governance and governs its failure. Pretty
much the entire story of this failed administration in 2 Chronicles 25 has its origin in the summary
statement in the opening line: he did right in the presence of God, but only [this devotion was] not whole-
hearted [25:2].

One of the more telling facts concerning the theology of this particular power-politician resides in
the little restrictive adverb but only [raq]. Review of the sense of this adverb, above, shows that the
theology of Amaziah permitted him to place restrictions on devotion to Yahweh. In truth, the theological
position should have been the other way around: Yahweh should have put the restrictions on him!
However, Amaziahs theology was ultimately built around himself, and this is the origin of his narcissistic
pursuit of power. The direction of fit for any restrictions should have been from God to Amaziah; however,
his theology is not theocentric, it is anthropocentric. Amaziah, the power-politician, is the one creating the

This anthropocentric theology means that the narcissistic pursuit of power may restrict firm and
constant faithfulness to Yahweh to ambivalence, to spasmodic commitment, and even to hypocrisy, when
and where power hangs in the balance.

This anthropocentric theology means that the narcissistic pursuit of power may restrict single-
minded devotion to Yahweh to compromise and concession. An anthropocentric theology is perfectly
content to supplant a clear-cut and well-defined life of subordination to God with divided loyalties,
especially where power is the trophy.

This anthropocentric theology means that the narcissistic pursuit of power must restrict what God
thinks and wants to what the man in charge thinks and wants. It never occurs to Amaziah that God did not
want the ill-fated war with Joash [25:20]. Little matter; for, an anthropocentric theology turns on the axis
of what a power-politician thinks and wants, not Yahweh.

The heart/self in Chronicles

Before leaving the topic of the heart [lNb], it might be rewarding to take note of the Chroniclers
emphasis on the heart. David Howard notes that the term heart appears 63 times in 1 and 2 Chronicles,
with 44 of this total in 2 Chronicles.
Clearly, the heart is a prominent topic in 2 Chronicles. The
Chronicler teases out the topic of the heart in at least two ways: he deals with what the heart is and what
the heart should be doing.

What the heart is, according to the Chronicler, amounts to what a person is at the depths. The
Hebrew term lNb is an encompassing term for: ones inner self in the sense of ones feelings and
emotions, or ones inclinations and dispositions, or ones determination and courage, ones will and
intention, and finally, ones intellectual capabilities.
The upshot is that the lNb is the inner self, the
person at the depths, entailing the mind, the emotions, and the will in the aggregate.
Taken as a whole, the
heart is the center [emphasis mine] of human psychical and spiritual life, the inner life [emphasis mine] of
a person.

David M. Howard, Jr., An Introduction to the Historical Books (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993),

For the lexical details of lNb, see KB
, 514-15.

BDB, 523.

Alex Luc, lNb, in NIDOTTE.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


Fair enough; far from denying the existence and the shape of the self, the Chronicler affirms that
humans do have a self, an inner core composed of reason, affections, feelings, intentions, goals and
aspirations, resolve and determination, and conscience. At the same time, the Chronicler also depicts the
task set before the heart: respond to God and the life God offers.

What the heart should be doing, according to the Chronicler, is concentrating its attention on
Yahweh. Whatever and whoever comes face to face with God is servant, subordinate, follower or
this is the task of the heart, a journey that is a response to the Divine initiative. The Chronicler
nuances this task in different ways.

The heart should be about the business of seeking. The Chronicler tells us that the lNb, or the self,
should seek Yahweh with gladness [1 Chronicles 16:10]. Gladness or joy may rightly pervade the entire
person who sets out to seek Yahweh. This joyful seeking is rewarded every day and lasts a lifetime.

The heart should be about the business of serving. The Chronicler affirms that the lNb, the very
depths of the person, should serve Yahweh with a whole heart and a willing mind [1 Chronicles 28:9]. This
particular passage, a message delivered by King David to his son and heir, Solomon, underscores two
elements in serving Yahweh. To begin with, it is the task of the heart, the self, to serve Yahweh with
singleness of purpose a whole heart. What is more, it is the task of the self to serve Yahweh as a matter
of personal preference a willing mind from the depths of the person.

The heart should be about the business of submitting. The Chronicler affirms that the lNb, the
inner self, should willingly submit to the commandments, the testimonies, and the statutes of Yahweh [1
Chronicles 29:19]. It is at this point that modern men our modern selves strike back in rebellion.
Submission to the Torah the commandments, testimonies, and statutes is simply regarded as an onerous
burden. Why should ones heart take on a task that, on the surface, seems beyond reach?

There are two ways of thinking about this business of the heart submitting to Torah. On the one
hand, one may view this submission in terms of the heart/self reaching out to God; on the other hand, one
may view this submission as the whole-hearted response to God reaching out to the heart/self of mankind.
In this latter view, the commandments, the testimonies, the statutes of Yahweh are Divine gifts of love that
are offered as blessings to mankind in the real, fallen, world. Commenting on the gift of Torah granted on
Mount Sinai to Moses, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik writes, When the Holy One, blessed be He, descended
on Mount Sinai, He set an eternally binding precedent that it is God who descends to man, not man who
ascends to God [emphasis mine].
When the higher longs and pines for the lower,
when Yahweh
reaches out to man in Torah His commandments, His testimonies, and His statutes then the heart of man
may submit in loving response to the gracious condescension of God to man.

As we have already noted, the narcissistic politician who is the object of our case study tried to
submit to Yahweh in a half-hearted way. Moreover, his anthropocentric theology had no room for God
reaching out to him. Rather, as we shall see more fully in the next section, when Amaziah courts the power
of idols, he prefers to toggle back and forth between Yahweh and the gods of Edom. All of this is pure
fiction; when the self is the master of the self, then collapse is only a matter of time.

KoNhler, 30.

Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, translated by Lawrence Kaplan (Philadelphia: The
Jewish Publication Society, 1983), 48.

Ibid., 39.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


Enchantment with power [25:14]

As we have seen, one of the origins of Amaziahs narcissistic pursuit of power was his theology.
Indeed, one of the more impressive insights that the Chronicler offers by way of explanation of the
narcissistic pursuit of power is the theological belief system of the politician, Amaziah in this case. How
Amaziah, or any politico for that matter, thinks about God, what is believed about God as God, and most
crucially, who sets restrictions on whom, are all elements of a personal and operational theology that
endorse the narcissistic pursuit of power.

Furthermore, to the extent that the theology of Amaziah was anthropocentric, then it should come
as no surprise that, in 2 Chronicles 25:14, we encounter a narcissistic politician whose interests centered on
self-interest. The theology is the measure of the man.

Accordingly, another origin of the narcissistic pursuit of power is enchantment with power
[25:14]. As we probe Amaziahs enchantment with idols, we shall soon discover that his real end-game
was the enhancement of his personal power by whatever means available. John Henry Newman spears the
dominant commitment of power-politicians when he writes, The hunger of the powerful knows no satiety;
the appetite grows on what it feeds. Power exalts itself and is incapable of yielding to any transcendent
judgment; it listens to no voice (Zephaniah 3:2).
We have already made the point that Amaziahs
theology excused him from yielding to the transcendent judgment of Yahweh; indeed, the true centerpiece
of this anthropocentric power-politician is self-interest. Amaziahs self-interest listens to no other voice;
Amaziah has had many successors.

2 Chronicles 25:14 lets the reader in on what the attraction was for Amaziah embracing idolatry:
the enhancement of his personal power by whatever means available. The Chronicler puts it this way: after
Amaziah came from defeating the Edomites, [1] he brought the gods of the sons of Seir, [2] set them up as
his gods, [3] bowed before them, and [4] he burned incense to them [25:14]. In these four actions,
Amaziahs enchantment with power feeds on the idolatry of power.

2 Chronicles 25:14 is about invoking even the imaginary powers of heaven in anticipation of
enhancing personal power. In other words, there is the prospect of pay-offs: the pay-off in terms of
Amaziahs self-interest, the pay-off of enhanced power, the pay-off of options, and then the pay-off of
divine influence.

The theology of Amaziah, what he believed about God as God, shaped his anthropocentric
approach to the powers of the universe; the deities were there for him and he could invoke their presence
and power when he needed them.

The power of self-interest

2 Chronicles 25:14b narrates the action of man addicted to self-interest he brought the gods of
Edom to Judah.

To be sure, bringing home the gods of a conquered nation was fairly common practice in the
Ancient Near East at the time of Amaziah. In so doing, the conquering hero was anticipating enhancing his
own personal power by the means available to him. At the same time, there is no other account of this kind
of activity on the part of a Hebrew king. Amaziah is unique in his infatuation with self-interest.

John Henry Newman, Discussions and Arguments (London, 1872); quoted in Abraham J.
Heschel, The Prophets, Two Volumes in One (Peabody: Prince Press, 2003), vol. 1, 160.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


Raymond Dillard explains the pay-off in terms of pragmatic self-interest in bringing home these
foreign deities:

In the religious apologetics of the Ancient Near East, not only did the
royal deity assist the king in battles, but also the deities of the opposing
nations were often described as abandoning their people and coming to
the aid of the attacking force [emphasis mine]. Though the deities of
Edom were no doubt attractive plunder, their being moved to Judah
was probably an effort to portray visibly that they had abandoned their
people and come to aid of Amaziah [emphasis mine].

Everything about this transport reeks of pragmatic self-interest, the enhancement of Amaziahs
personal preeminence by taking advantage of the means at hand. By bringing these figures back to Judah,
both power in battle and propaganda at home enhance Amaziahs lust for power. In terms of military
power, bringing these gods home would mean not only that Amaziahs victory was due in part to the help
of Edoms gods but that those gods were now able to help him further.
In terms of propaganda power,
Amaziah identifies with other great oriental kings who often did the same thing.

The payoff in power

2 Chronicles 25:14c affirms that Amaziah set up the idols as his gods. As we shall note, to set
these idols up as gods is a power-play.

This power-play comes in dismissal of Yahweh. That is, by setting up idols as his gods,
Amaziahs vacillating and anthropocentric theology permits him to ignore the truth that Yahweh is greater
than all the gods [2 Chronicles 2:4]. Yahwehs absolute transcendence over all is conveniently shuttled to
one side by Amaziah, presumably in his lust for power at the expense of God. Moreover, an entailment of
2 Chronicles 2:4 is unpacked in 2 Chronicles 20:6, which affirms, concerning the transcendent power of
Yahweh, that power and might are in Your hand, so that nothing can stand against You. Unwilling to
subordinate himself to the power of Yahweh, power at his own personal beckoning seems to be the path
down which Amaziah is moving.

This power-play is a power-grab. That is, by setting up idols as his gods, Amaziahs
anthropocentric theology is grasping after power in his own hands. In the Ancient Near East, as depicted in
the Old Testament, a god can become a source of power, such as the power to deliver [Isaiah 44:17], the
power to command obedience [Isaiah 46:6], the power to make revelatory declarations [Daniel 2:11;
Zechariah 10:2], and, the power to energize a war-machine [2 Kings 19:12; 2 Chronicles 28:23; 32:13-15;
Isaiah 36:18; Daniel 11:38-39]. This last consideration the power to energize a war machine
corresponds to Amaziahs victory in Edom. He assumes that these gods had tilted in his favor and sped
him to victory on the battlefield. By bringing them into his orbit, Amaziah is extending his power base
beyond Yahweh and making a power-grab in the bargain.

Dillard, 201.

E. Ray Clendenen, ed., The New American Commentary, vol. 9, 1 & 2 Chronicles by J.A.
Thompson (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 323.

On this point, see William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible,
vol. 13, 2 Chronicles by Jacob M. Myers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 145.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The fiction of choice

2 Chronicles 25:14d affirms that Amaziah bowed before these gods he had transported from
Edom. In defiance of the second commandment of the Decalogue, Amaziah opts for a second set of
options. He wants choices, deference and surrender where and when and with whom it suits him.

Recall, this is the same man who did what was right in the presence of Yahweh, (but only [this
devotion was] not whole-hearted [25:2]); now, he bows before a surplus power-source in his realm. The
upshot is that Amaziah will bow to the demands of Yahweh when it suits him, as when he followed the
letter of the law in executing those who had killed his father [25:3-4]; at the same time, he is fully prepared
to bow before the gods of Edom [25:14d], as needed. In the governance of his political realm, he has
swallowed the fiction of choice. He can toggle between power sources at will.

To be sure, the Chronicler is unambiguous in depicting Amaziahs part in opting for the power of
the gods of Edom. The historian drives home Amaziahs culpability through the verb he uses and the stem
in which he uses it.

The Hebrew action word bowed before means that Amaziah upholds the superior authority of
the one before whom he is bowing.
Terrence Fretheim writes that this verb chavah always refers to
an action or attitude directed toward a human or divine figure who is recognized (appropriately or
inappropriately) as being in a position of honor and authority.
The upshot is that Amaziah is bowing
before a superior, an act of deference, surrender, and honor on his part.

Moreover, the stem in which the Chronicler writes the verb the Hishtaph`el stem underlines
Amaziahs personal culpability. This stem tells us, literally, that Amaziah caused himself to bow in
acquiescence before these power-deities.
The Divine historian pins responsibility for this choice squarely
on the shoulders of Amaziah.

Amaziah, in the spirit of his anthropocentric theology, has swallowed the fiction of choice; he
seems to be quite comfortable with granting a level of submission to his power-deities, albeit the kind of
submission that should be reserved for Yahweh alone.

The Chronicler insists that there is only One before whom men must bow in deference and
submission; any other submissiveness is pure fiction. The Chronicler contends that men must bow before
the glory of Yahweh [1 Chronicles 16:29], do homage to Yahweh [1 Chronicles 29:20], and must give
praise to the lovingkindness of Yahweh [2 Chronicles 7:3]. The implication of this is that entertaining
other directions of bowing in deference is delusional, but this doesnt seem to trouble Amaziah.

Clearly, Amaziah wants to have it both ways. While he can do what is right in the presence of
Yahweh [25:2], he can also bow before foreign power-promising gods [25:14d], presumably when he
decides this is warranted. It would seem that his narcissistic pursuit of power gives Amaziah leave to move
outside the constraints of the covenant and woo other power-sources when conditions merit. The upshot is
that Yahweh is demoted to co-regent with the gods of Edom. As it turns out, this theology of choice is pure
fiction, as the catastrophic results for Amaziah show.

, 296.

Terrence E. Fretheim, chavah, in NIDOTTE.

IBHS 21.2.3d.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The myth of divine influence

2 Chronicles 25:14e affirms that Amaziah burned incense to the gods of the Edomites. With this
activity, the narcissistic pursuit of power took the step of seeking divine influence, for personal ends.

In both the Historical Books and the Prophets of the Old Testament, burning incense is
characteristic of idolatry. Indeed, the verb we have here burned incense is often associated with illicit
The idea behind burning incense appears to be that the fragrance of the incense would rise from
the earth and mingle with the gods, and thus draw them [worshiper and gods] together in fellowship and
In fact, in Jeremiah 44:17, the burning of incense is accompanied by requests to the
appropriate deity.

The net effect would seem to be that, by burning incense, Amaziah was doing what he needed to
do to curry favor with the gods of Edom. Into the bargain, Amaziah seeks this source of divine influence in
pursuance of his own enterprises; in this case, the expansionism linked to his own power in the region [2
Chronicles 25:17-19]. These very gods had helped him before; they could do it again.

Reflections on Amaziahs narcissistic pursuit of power

The Chronicler portrays the political-military ambitions of Amaziah in chapter 25. Overall, the
portrait is of a man with a flexible approach to God and an inflexible grip on his own power goals. It is
little wonder that the portrait of this mans governance is one of failure and ruin.

The Chronicler teases out the source of this failed governance in terms of theology [25:2] and in
terms of the idolatry of might [25:14]. The Chroniclers indispensible insight into the narcissistic pursuit of
power is the location of this quest in this leaders theology; this leaders theology births his idolization of

Amaziahs theology should have been characterized by a commitment to firm and constant
faithfulness to Yahweh; but it was not. His theology should have been dominated by a determination to be
single-mindedly devoted to Yahweh; but it was not. And, this leaders theology should have formulated
deeply within his conscience an unwavering concern for what God wanted and what God thought; but he
did not. As the Chronicler puts it, this politicians grip on God was intentionally half-hearted.

This refusal to come to God as God spells out the genesis of the narcissistic pursuit of power;
there are two points here.

To begin with, the refusal to come to God as God means the refusal to permit Yahweh to be
sovereign. KoNhler lays it out his way:

To God belongs as His part the will, the decision, the arrangement, the
setting of the aim. To others who are not God there falls the part of
obedience, submission, receiving and carrying out. Religion in the Old
Testament is the relation between command and obedience.

See William F. Albright and David N. Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible, vol. 3, Leviticus 1-16
by Jacob Milgrom (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 237.

Ibid., 238.


KoNhler, 30.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


While Amaziah, and others who have walked in his steps, may describe themselves as religious,
this religious commitment to God is not to God as God. Rather, the story of Amaziah is the story of a
man for whom, as his part, belong the will, the decisions, the arrangements, and the setting of aims.

The second point follows from the first. We have already noted the fact that Amaziahs
religious commitment could place restrictions on Yahweh [25:2]. We also observed at the time that this
meant that Amaziahs theology was essentially built around himself and that this is the origin of his
narcissistic pursuit of power. The upshot is that Amaziahs theology is not theocentric, but rather it is
anthropocentric, or what amounts to the same thing, narcissistic. Its all about me!

Accordingly, the religious component of this narcissistic theology can countenance exceptional
flexibility when it comes to God. That is, this narcissistic, anthropocentric theology can be ambivalent
toward God, can evince spasmodic commitments, and can even display stunning hypocrisy, all without
blinking an eye. Moreover, a narcissistic theology is adept at religious compromise and concession;
divided loyalties, for example loyalty to God as opposed to unbridled pursuit of power, seem to escape the
notice of these otherwise religious leaders. The net effect of this narcissistic, anthropocentric theology is
that what the man in charge thinks and wants is the axis around which governance turns.

In an age such as ours, an age of atheism and culturally chic agnosticism, we should not be overly
surprised that we have leaders, like Amaziah, who masquerade as religious people; that is, religious
people who make their own religion rather than having religion, expressly that of the Bible, make them. To
be sure, ours is a time that requires a less than robust theology of God as God among men, including
leaders. For, the problem is that to live by a Biblical theology of God as God is currently seen as

Ours is an age that has progressed beyond the Dark Ages, when people actually thought that the
sacred meant something. There was a time when the alienated man, the estranged man, was the man who
did not believe in God or who did not live out the consequences of belief in God.
But, not anymore; no,
today, the belief in God as God is viewed culturally as a source of profound and irreversible social,
political, and personal alienation. Masterson writes, For today, on an ever increasing scale people
proclaim themselves to be atheists, not so much because of objections to alleged proofs for the existence of
God but rather because they consider that to affirm the existence of God is to set men at odds within
themselves and with one another [emphasis mine].

So, in avoidance of alienating people or being perceived as extremist or intolerant, our religious
leaders tip-toe around God; they may carry a Bible in public view emerging from church on Sunday; they
attend National Day of Prayer services in Washington, DC; they can even claim Ive received a message
from God that this country needs my services and that I should therefore run for President!
But, this is
about as far as the religious component of modern narcissistic leadership is willing to go. Like Amaziah
before them, the narcissistic and anthropocentric theology of these people places the willing, the deciding,
the arranging, and the setting of aims and objectives with them alone.

The upshot of the theology of the narcissist is the idolatry of might; the pursuit of power becomes
the new god.

The Chronicler portrays Amaziah as a political-military leader hell-bent on pursuing power.
Aided and abetted by his narcissistic theology, this politico is firmly committed to the expansion of his own
power, even at the price of war. The net effect is that Amaziah idolizes might.

Patrick Masterson, Atheism and Alienation (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press,
1971), 3.

Ibid., 2.

Seltzer, 3.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


As we have just noted, Amaziahs theology was anthropocentric; ultimately, his personal and
operational belief system revolved around himself. Accordingly, he fills the void that should have been
reserved for Yahweh with a self-interested pursuit of power. In the words of Habakkuk their might is
their god. Men can and must worship something; when men develop an anthropocentric and self-serving
theology, the moral compass is all too often set on power.

The real engine that drives men like Amaziah is the enhancement of personal power by whatever
means available.

To be sure, ours is an age in which men worship might and power. In the final analysis, we have
fully embraced the worship of strength, be it political strength, military strength, or economic strength.
Ours is an age that seems to believe, as an article of faith, that it is by force that man prevails.

Psychologists describe the worship of might and power in terms of the hubris syndrome. At this
point, the reader may benefit from noting the symptoms of this easily recognizable trait and its relationship
to the worship of might and power.

The hubris syndrome is discussed by Miro Jakovljevic. Citing work by David Owen, Dr.
Jakovljevic unpacks the dominant characteristics of this worship of power and might in terms of fourteen
[1] this type of political leader sees the world as a place for self-glorification through the use of
power, [2] has a tendency to take action primarily to enhance personal image, [3] shows disproportionate
concern for image and presentation, [4] exhibits messianic zeal and exaltation in speech, [5] conflates self
with nation or organization, [6] uses the royal 'we' in conversations, [7] shows excessive self-confidence,
[8] manifestly has contempt for others, [9] shows accountability only to a higher court (history or God),
[10] displays the unshakable belief that he will be vindicated in that court, [11] loses contact with reality,
[12] resorts to restlessness and impulsive actions, [13] allows moral rectitude to obviate consideration of
practicality, cost or outcome, and [14] displays incompetence with disregard for the nuts and bolts of

On this scale, Amaziah certainly exhibits traits 1 [2 Chronicles 25:19 will make this point], 2
[again, 25:19 underlines this trait], 7 [see 2 Chronicles 25:18], 12 [see 2 Chronicles 25:17], and 13 [note
25:20] at least, perhaps more. Indeed, Amaziah has had many successors.

In the final analysis, the hubris syndrome, the worship of might and power, or the enhancement of
personal power by whatever means at hand, call it what one may, ultimately means that ours is an age that
has placed all its bets on power. We have concluded that it is by power, human political power, legislative
power, economic power and military power, that men must prevail. Accordingly, among politicians, like
Amaziah, life is a quest for the pursuit of power, for the attainment of power, for the use of power and for
the preservation of power. Fair enough; but, there is a caveat here.

Lord Acton once famously said Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Many readers are familiar with this axiom, but few may be aware of the very next sentence, a serious
caveat on the worship of power. Lord Acton continues Great men are almost always bad men.

The problem, in the days of Amaziah, of Lord Acton, or now is that the worship of power and
might by self-absorbed politicians who have no adequate theology to reign in their hubris is simply
calamitous. Power in the hands of bad men, men with no Divine moral compass to guide them or what are
probably worse, religious men, leads to an intoxication with power that can have ruinous consequences
for them and the nations they lead. Such is the case with Amaziah, as we shall see. There are patterns in

Heschel, vol. 1, 159.

Miro Jakovljevic, Hubris Syndrome and a New Perspective on Political Psychiatry in
Psychiatria Danubina Vol. 23, No. 2 (2011), 137.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The Symptoms of the Narcissistic Pursuit of Power, 2 Chronicles 25:15-16, 17-19

Values have consequences. What Amaziah believes about God and how he assesses power will
have outcomes; symptomologies will surface in governance. An indication of this leaders theology will be
his moral indifference to God; an indicator of his lust for power will be in his manic drive to display honor
and glory and power for their own sake. Note once more the sequence here: the narcissistic and self-
serving theology sanctions an ego that is inflated to gain even more glory via war and power. Theological
values have consequences.

The Chronicler outlines the consequences of Amaziahs theology [25:15-16]. As a religious
leader, he has a flexible, compromising, and limited grasp of fidelity to God as God. Accordingly, the
upshot of this religious approach to God is a self-serving level of moral deafness to God [25:15a], moral
disregard of the covenant [25:15c-d], moral disinterest in the spokesmen of God [25:16a], and utter disdain
for anything like a warning [25:16f-g].

The Chronicler also sketches the results of the value Amaziah places on power [25:17-19]. Even
as a religious man, he can be uncompromising in his pursuit of power. As we shall see in our case study,
this politician reveres the idolatry of might for its own sake. To this end, he must devise a test of strength
25:17d], since strength and power are dominant idols in his world; and, he must continue to be oblivious to
yet another warning [25:18-19]. However, the value that Amaziah places on power comes in the
centerpiece of the Chroniclers account [25:19b]. For, it is here that the Chronicler lets us in on what this
narcissistic politician is all about; this is the trophy: the power and the glory your ego has been inflated to
seek even more glory [25:19b].

The Chronicler delineates the above in a definite sequence. Paralleling the sequence in the origins
of Amaziahs narcissistic pursuit of power, the Chronicler sets out first the theological position of Amaziah
in terms of moral indifference, and then second, the idolatry of might and power this moral apathy entails
in terms of his egotistical lust for power. The latter necessitates the former. Before pursuing his passion
[25:17-19], he must shelve any and all restraints on his obsession [25:15-16].

Moral indifference as a symptom of the narcissistic pursuit of power [25:15-16]

We have noted in terms of the origins of the narcissistic pursuit of power that theology really
matters. Whether a political leader is a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic, all of these positions entail a
theology, a personal and operational set of beliefs about God. In our case study, Amaziah is a king of
Judah and therefore a man who qualifies as a theist. He should have a set of beliefs about God, and indeed
he does. Sadly, his beliefs about God do not comport with beliefs about God as God.

That being said, the Chronicler offers us a case study of a head of state that was more or less
familiar with God. Our case study is not an agnostic any more than he is an out and out atheist. Rather,
here is a political-military leader who is familiar with God, Torah, and the idea of the Covenant.
Accordingly, it is all the more dumbfounding that a political leader with a religious background should be
morally indifferent to God, the Covenant, His spokesman, and finally to clear warnings. But, a morally
unresponsive man is exactly what this religious politician turns out to be.

Morally deaf to God

In 2 Chronicles 25:15a, the historian discloses the moral indifference of this religious politician;
that is, while he must know what God thinks and wants, in the governance of his state this really does not
matter. 2 Chronicles 25:15 fills in the details on this moral apathy.

To begin with, 2 Chronicles 25:15a lets us in on the Divine motive for sending a spokesman to
Amaziah Thus, Yahwehs wrath was kindled against Amaziah. Furthermore, the Chronicler signals
syntactically that Yahwehs wrath is a consequence of Amaziahs power-grab through his flirtation with
the idols of Edom in 25:14. Fair enough; but, this should not have been new information to Amaziah.

The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


Now, the fact that Yahwehs wrath should naturally follow a liaison with non-gods in an
acknowledged power-grab should not have been new information to Amaziah, a religious political leader.
Rather, Amaziah chooses to remain apathetic to what he surely knows about Gods thoughts on the matter
of idolatry and consults the idols of the people of Edom [25:19b] anyway. This is Amaziahs moral
disinterest in his governance in action.

Amaziah would have known that Yahwehs wrath could be kindled especially when affronted with
non-gods. Amaziah would have known that Yahweh viewed such behavior as a lack of trust in Him
[Exodus 4:14; Numbers 32:10]. Amaziah should have known that flirting with non-gods was an act of
disobedience [Joshua 7:1; 2 Samuel 6:7; 2 Kings 13:3; 1 Chronicles 13:10]. While surely knowing this,
intellectually, his moral compass remains untrue to what he knows, and he governs accordingly.

Amaziah would have known that Yahweh abhorred idolatry. If nothing else, the saga of the
covenant people should have reminded Amaziah of Yahwehs abhorrence of his people trafficking with
non-gods. Amaziah would surely have known of one of the most famous, or infamous, stories in the
history of the formation of the nation he now led the golden calf incident in Exodus 32. He surely knew
that no sooner had the people of God ratified the covenant than they fell into the worship of non-gods
[Exodus 32]. To this worship, Yahweh expressed His abhorrence in no uncertain terms [Exodus 32]. It
strains credibility to assume that Amaziah does not know of this abhorrence expressed in this seminal event
in the history of his people; no, he knows and chooses to govern in apathy to it.

The upshot is that when Amaziah set up the gods of Edom as his own gods [25:14] he was
shunting to one side what he must have known about what Yahweh thought and wanted in this regard. In
fact, there is a curious detail in this that applies to Amaziah uniquely. This is the only time that a king of
Judah is recorded as carrying off the gods of a defeated foe. The inference is that Amaziah would have
known what others kings knew dont do it but preferred to remain morally apathetic to what he knows
in the interest of his own power-grabbing purposes.

The first symptom of the narcissistic pursuit of power is this: here is a religious politician-
military leader who must have known what God wanted and expected of him, and yet, in the actual
governance of his realm remains unconcerned and apathetic to what he must know God thinks and wants.
The capacity to remain morally inattentive to the good one knows one ought to do is required for the
unhindered pursuit of power among the ruling elite; the capacity to morally segregate ones religion from
ones governance is required for the pursuance of ones own political goals.

Moral disregard for the Covenant

In 2 Chronicles 25:15c-d, the historian further discloses the moral disregard of this religious
politician for the covenant; that is, Amaziah should have conducted the governance of his state within the
comprehensive guidance of the covenant, but here again he sidesteps this commitment.

Lets consider, first, the details of how Amaziah displays his disinterest in the covenant [25:15c-
d], and then consider what the covenant should have meant to him.

The details of how Amaziah conveniently ignores the covenant are unveiled by an unnamed
prophet who accosts him with the truth, albeit in a subtle way [25:15c-d]. The subtlety comes in the form
of a two-part question: in 25:15c why do you seek the gods of the people and in 25:15d who could not
deliver their people from your power. Both the terms seek and deliver are theologically loaded covenant
terms. By using them in his question, this prophet is both probing and indicting this religious leaders
dismissal of the Covenant.

The prophet uses language embedded in Old Testament covenant theology when he asks Amaziah
why he seeks these non-gods of Edom [25:15c]. To be sure, the theological barb in phrasing the question
this way should subtly remind the religious Amaziah that the covenantal privilege of seeking Yahweh is
complimented by the promise to find Him [Deuteronomy 4:29; 2 Chronicles 15:2; 26:5; 31:21]. Even
more, the responsibility to seek Yahweh rather than other non-gods is unique to the covenant community,
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


of whom religious Amaziah is the head [Deuteronomy 12:30; 2 Chronicles 17:3-4; 19:3; 34:3]. The net
effect is that in phrasing his question this way, the prophet is both probing and subtly indicting the
religious activity of Amaziah in seeking non-gods in his pursuit of power by whatever means available to

Furthermore, the prophet uses even more formidable, theologically loaded language embedded in
covenant theology when he asks this religious leader of a covenant nation why he seeks non-gods who
could not deliver their people from your power [25:15d]. Once more, Amaziah must have known about
Yahwehs track record of deliverance. How could Amaziah miss this!

For example, at the very outset of the covenant arrangement, Exodus 3:7-10 records the fact that
Yahweh intended to personally come down and deliver Israel from Egypt in order to lead them to a land
flowing with milk and honey. To be sure, this personal deliverance is an act of grace and protection for
His covenant partners. Eichrodt notes concerning Exodus 3:7-10 that the deliverance from Egypt was
clearly understood as an act of his succoring love, and for all his terrifying power the God of Sinai is also
the loving protector, who remains true to his promises and exerts his power for the good of his covenant
Thus, per Exodus 3, deliverance has been part and parcel with the covenant relationship from
the get-go. How could Amaziah miss this!

Even more theologically commanding is what Yahweh says later about the covenant. Afterwards,
in Exodus 6:6-8, Yahweh lets Moses in on the end-game for this deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Having delivered them [Exodus 6:6], Yahweh goes on to point out the real benefit of deliverance: Yahweh
promises I will take you for My people and I will be your God [Exodus 6:7]. As John Durham writes
about this promise, The covenant Yahweh has made is stressed not only by reference to the deliverance
about to take place, but also by Yahwehs claim that he is to act as a rescuing kinsman and by singling
them out for himself to be their God [emphasis mine].
The status of the covenant people is that they
recognize that they are, in effect, Yahwehs personal treasure. How could Amaziah miss this!

As a result of the above [Exodus 3, 6], Moses will make it abundantly clear that the covenant
means Yahwehs ongoing and unchallengeable ability to deliver his people. This result should have meant
something to the religious sensibilities of Amaziah. Specifically, Yahwehs promise to deliver forecloses
on his people including their political leadership turning to non-gods for deliverance, since there is no
god beside Me [Deuteronomy 32:39]. This being the case, the covenant people are safe with Yahweh,
since none can deliver from My hand [Deuteronomy 32:39]. How could Amaziah miss this!

In sum, the details of how Amaziah sidesteps the covenant break down along the following lines.
To begin with, this religious political leader should have known that he was perfectly free to seek
Yahweh and find Him, and thus follow and serve Him in political-military governance, but he evades this
promise for his own pursuits. Moreover, the religious commitments of this politico should have
recognized in the deliverance of the covenant people that Yahweh had fixed Himself to this people and that,
accordingly, Yahweh would be the guarantor of His peoples future deliverance. But, in dismissal of this
weighty Divine promise, the religious proclivities of Amaziah prefer to govern with the aid of non-gods,
which he can deploy as he sees fit.

Undeniably, the details of how this religious politician dodged the covenant are one thing; but,
just what was he skirting? What should the covenant have meant to him? The Books of Chronicles lend
their voices to what the covenant should have meant to this professedly religious leader of a nation.

Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol. 1, translated by J.A. Barker
(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 233.

David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, eds., The Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 3, Exodus
by John I. Durham (Waco: Word, 1978), 78.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


If nothing else, the covenant should have meant exclusivity; that is, the non-gods whose support
the leader of the state sought should have been ignored. Solomon affirms there is no god like You in
heaven or earth keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness [2 Chronicles 6:14]. As noted above, from
the time of Exodus 6:6-8, the nation the political and military and social entity that was Israel belonged
exclusively to Yahweh. If nothing else, the covenant should have meant that Yahweh was Israels exclusive
sovereign. This should have meant that the other gods are not denied, they are ignored.

Additionally, if nothing else, the covenant should have meant community; that is, the statement in
Exodus 6:7 I will take you [plural] for My people should have been taken seriously to mean that
Yahweh was creating a covenant community. From the get-go, the covenant was intended to be a
relationship between Yahweh and people in community [1 Chronicles 16:17]. This means that the
individual is never alone [emphasis mine] where the covenant is concerned.
Amaziah operates as if he
were singled out from among the people, an elite operating as if he were the only covenant member about.
If nothing else, the covenant should have meant that Amaziah, even with his privileged power and status,
was neither exceptional nor exclusive; that he should not operate in isolation from the people he led,
especially for his own power-grabbing objectives.

Finally, if nothing else, the covenant should have meant allegiance to a higher cause; that is, as
outlined in 2 Chronicles 34:31, the covenant should have committed the king and his people the ruler and
the ruled to perform according to a higher standard, to recognize the power of a higher calling in life
to perform the words of the covenant [2 Chronicles 34:31]. If nothing else, the covenant should have meant
that right is what is right because Yahweh revealed it in the covenant and wrong is what is wrong because
Yahweh revealed that in the covenant.
The covenant should have meant fidelity to a higher mission.
However, Amaziah maneuvers in his half-hearted manner [25:2], following the higher cause when it suits
him [25:7-10] and pursuing his own ends war with Joash when that suits him [25:17-28].

In sum, the covenant should have meant that Amaziah was responsible to match his life and
governance to a cause higher than his own self-interest. In short, Amaziah should have realized that his
governance was not an end in itself, a pedestrian affair uncoupled from any overarching Divine calling and
cause and ultimate responsibility. Walther Eichrodt captures this point powerfully:

This means, however, that the existence of the nation could not become
an end in itself. From the start it had to remain subordinate to a higher
purpose, an overriding conception, the achievement of the nations
religious destiny.

The second symptom of the narcissistic pursuit of power is this: Amaziahs theology permits him
to elevate political expediency especially where the expansion of power is concerned over the higher
order entailed in the Covenant. The Covenant should have laid a claim to the whole man and called him
to surrender with no reservations.
Yet, what Amaziah should have surrendered to and what he actually
subordinated himself to are two different things. The purpose to which Amaziah subordinates his
governance is the craving for power; the expansion of his political and military power was, in effect, an end
in itself. Amaziahs vision for his governance rose no higher; he has had many successors!

KoNhler, 66.

Ibid., 65.

For this thought, see KoNhler, 67.

Eichrodt, vol. 1, 41.

Ibid., 45.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


Morally indifferent to a spokesman from God

In 2 Chronicles 25:16, the Divine historian chronicles Amaziahs indifference to a spokesman, a
prophet, sent from God. Amaziahs indifference is exposed in his rebuff of the prophet [25:16a-b], in his
rebuke of the prophet [25:16c], and in his restraint of the prophet [25:16d-e].

What this Divine spokesman said to Amaziah is outlined in a previous section morally deaf to
God [25:15]. As noted , this prophet indicted Amaziah for remaining apathetic to what he must have
known God thought and wanted in regard to relying on non-gods in political and military matters. The
prophet impeaches this politician for segregating his religion from his governance in the pursuit of power
by any means at hand. To this, Amaziah responds with a brash rebuff, a harsh rebuke, and an arrogant
restraint of the prophet [25:16].

In 2 Chronicles 25:16a-b, the Chronicler notes the brash rebuff of the prophet as he [the
prophet] was speaking to him [Amaziah], he [Amaziah] said to him [the prophet].

The Chronicler specifies the speed with which Amaziahs moral indifference surfaces in 25:16a
in the very act of speaking Amaziah cuts him off. Having heard enough about his religious derelictions
vis--vis the Covenant [25:15], Amaziah brashly repulses the prophet midstream. Self-important and
misdirected people find it easy and necessary to dismiss, as quickly as possible, the critique of a prophet.
But, Amaziah not only snubs this prophet, he proceeds to rebuke him in no uncertain terms.

In 2 Chronicles 25:16c, the historian reports on the callousness of Amaziahs moral indifference in
his harsh rebuke of the prophet have we appointed you a counselor to the king? The bold and underlined
words convey the ruthlessness of the rebuke and the chutzpah that motivates it.

To begin with, the Chronicler reports that Amaziah posed a rhetorical question to the prophet
have we appointed you a counselor to the king? This rhetorical question conveys moral indifference by
expressing both a rebuke and a definite level of self-importance.

In Biblical Hebrew, the rhetorical question functions to convey information with a certain degree
of passion.
In fact, in this case the taunt in the rhetorical question is to make an assertion that cannot be
denied by the prophet
he has not been appointed a counselor to this politician. Rather than stating the
obvious, the rhetorical question functions as a spiteful poke in the eye directed to a man who is not wanted
as a counselor.
The upshot is that the moral indifference to the mouthpiece from God comes out in this
malicious and sarcastic rebuff of the prophet. Moreover, the rebuff says much about the man.

That is, this callous rebuff displays the self-conceit of Amaziah have we appointed you? To
comprehend the mind-numbing level of narcissism in this rhetorical question, the reader needs to realize
the way the verb appoint is used under normal circumstances. In particular, this verb appoint is
normally used with a first person singular pronoun I and the same second person singular pronoun
you to depict Yahweh appointing some person to some task [Genesis 17:5; Exodus 7:1; Jeremiah 1:5, 18;
Ezekiel 3:17]. The upshot is this: the Chronicler is engaging a bit of irony, cunningly depicting Amaziahs
unbridled self-conceit, which is willing to shoulder a responsibility normally reserved for Yahweh. There
is a certain amount of overconfidence depicted in this rhetorical question. However, this religious
politicians capacity for epic vanity and moral indifference to Gods servant has one more card to play an
arrogant restraint of the prophet.

IBHS 18.2g.

Christo H.J. van der Merwe, Jackie A. Naud0, Jan Kroeze, A Biblical Hebrew Reference
Grammar (Sheffield: Sheffield Press, 2000), 43.2.1(ii)b.

Japhet, 867.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


In 2 Chronicles 25:16d-e, the historian narrates the moral indifference of Amaziah in the attempt
to restrain a prophet Stop (for your own sake)! Why should you be struck down? In 25:16d, Amaziah
issues his own edict Stop attended by an appeal to self-interest for you own sake. Then, in 25:16e, the
master politician intimates a slightly menacing motive Why should you be struck down?

Our religious political leader betrays his moral indifference to a spokesman sent from God by
restraining his speech Stop [25:16d]. The verb used here Stop [ch~dal] means simply to cease doing
what one is doing.
Clearly, Amaziahs moral indifference is embedded in his attempt to restrain the
speech of the prophet. The prophet is told to cease asking impertinent questions [25:15] about the theology
of this religious head of state.

In the same word, our religious politician divulges how much self-interest has penetrated his
own persona. There is a prepositional phrase following the directive to stop that may be translated for
your own sake.
Self-interest has so saturated his own thinking that he seems to assume that others are
equally self-interested. Now, to the extent that Amaziah relates to this prophet on the basis of motives that
have infused his own heart and soul self-interest and self-preservation he places himself in a position of
moral indifference to what this man is saying to him.

In 2 Chronicles 25:16e, this religious mans appeal to the prophets self-interest in preserving
his own skin is a manipulative masterpiece in veiled threat why should they strike you down? Most of
this threat is ambiguous; leaving the prophet to imagine what is in store for him.

The ambiguity is on two levels. First, the perpetrators of this attack on the prophets person are
indefinite they.
Amaziah does not commit himself on just who it is he has in mind, preferring to allow
the imagination of the prophet to conjure up the worst. Second, the nature of the threat strike down is
disguised. The Hebrew verb n~k> may refer to anything from beating, to scourging, to injuring, or to
The net effect is that the threat is roundabout, leaving the gory details to the ingenuity of the

Amaziah will learn that this prophet does not operate out of an inner calculus based on self-
interest. In misjudging this prophet, the upshot is that this religious politician restrains the man sent by
God to speak with him.

The third symptom of the narcissistic pursuit of power is this: refuse to listen to disconfirming
voices; remain utterly indifferent to moral critique, indeed criticism from this prophet, or any other mortal
for that matter, will not be tolerated. At this point, Amaziah exhibits one of the classic traits of narcissism,
of over-inflated self-conceit: narcissists are lousy at taking criticism.
Seltzer almost seems to have
Amaziah in mind when he writes, As cold-hearted and calculating as they can be for they see others as
objects to manipulate for personal gain theyre strangely nave (or even unconscious) about how their
unprincipled acts could be negatively interpreted by others [emphasis mine].

, 292.

For the use of the lamed of interest in the prepositional phrase l
k~ see IBHS 11.2.10d.

For the use of the plural on the verb to signal what is indefinite, see Gibson 15 b, and A.B.
Davidson, Hebrew Syntax (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1964), 126R5.

, 698; see also BDB, 645.

Twenge and Campbell, 42.

Seltzer, 4.
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Utterly deaf to words of warning

In 2 Chronicles 25:16f-g, the historian records Amaziahs moral impassiveness, his utter disdain
for the unembellished warning the prophet gives him. Then, in an act of sheer hubris, Amaziah brushes
aside the warning the prophet gives him and convenes a counsel of war [25:17]. The mans fate is sealed.

The Chronicler records a severe and carefully nuanced warning I know that God has decided
[counseled] to destroy you [25:16f], since you have done this, namely refused my counsel [25:16g].

To begin with, the warning is carefully nuanced by using a play on words. The verb glossed
decided (counseled) [25:16f] is from the same root [y~

ats] as the nouns translated counselor [25:16c],
counsel [25:16g], and exchange counsel [25:17a] in this paragraph. This repetitive word play, spoken by
the prophet in the hearing of Amaziah, would surely have been intended to catch the attention of the head
of state. The prophet is nuancing his warning to try to get the king to listen and think through what he is
about to do. Obviously, the word play is to no avail; Amaziah literally does not hear these words of

Moreover, the gist of the warning is quite severe God has decided to destroy you [25:16f]. The
action that God intends to take is clear and unembellished; to destroy [~chat] means to ruin,
to ruin
deliberately or to annihilate,
or simply to let fall or to wipe out.

But, in the end, the warning is ignored, to Amaziahs loss. For, in the final analysis, what the
prophet prophesied came true: Amaziah was told that God intended to let him fall, which He did [25:22-
23]; that God intended to bring ruin upon him, which He did [25:27]; and that God intended to wipe him
out, which He did [25:27-28].

The fourth symptom of the narcissistic pursuit of power is this: Divine ultimatums are completely
wasted on those chasing power. Indeed, what God thinks or doesnt think really doesnt matter much at all.
One expects that one reason for this indifference may have been hinted at in our discussion of the
narcissistic pursuit of power in 25:16c Amaziahs haste in shouldering responsibility for a task reserved
for Yahweh. The upshot is that lurking behind the moral indifference to what God thinks may be an
element of self-deification. Indeed, self-deification is noteworthy in a seminal example of the narcissistic
pursuit of power. Writing of Adolf Hitler, Ian Kershaw notes:

By 1936, his narcissistic self-glorification had swollen immeasurably
under the impact of the near-deification projected upon him by his
followers. By this time, he thought himself infallible; his self-image
had reached the stage of outright hubris.

Indeed, all four of the symptoms of the narcissistic pursuit of power among politicians may mask
an element of near-deification, at least as far as the politician is concerned. For, the kind of personal
preeminence that mimics self-deification explains how politicians can govern in moral indifference to God,
in subordination to political expediency, in defiance of any disconfirming voices, and ultimately in
governing as if God were on the sidelines, where He belongs.

To be sure, near-deification also explains the idolatry of might, which we are about to discuss.

BDB, 1008.

, 1470-71.

William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 366.

Ian Kershaw, Hitler: 1936-1945 Nemesis (New York: Norton, 2001), xvi.
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The idolatry of might as a symptom of the narcissistic pursuit of power [25:17-19]

Moral indifference to Yahweh has consequences. The varieties of moral indifference just narrated
by the Chronicler in our case study of a narcissistic politician breed the idolatry of might, the lust for power
by whatever means available. Among the political classes, of whom Amaziah is a representative, the
idolatry of power is a dominant consequence and expression of pathological self-conceit.

In our case study, we shall see the quintessential expression of the idolatry of power/might in 2
Chronicles 25:19b your heart, that is your very self, presumptuously seeks even greater glory. For
Amaziah, a political-military head of state, venerates power for his sake. The acquisition of power and the
display of power, even when war is the price to be paid, are the heart and soul of this power-politicians
governance. The sword is not only the source of security; it is also the symbol of honor and glory; it is
bliss and song.
The prophet Habakkuk put the matter succinctly, writing of such governance, he said
their might is their god [Habakkuk 1:11]. So it is!

In 2 Chronicles 25:17-19, the narcissistic pursuit of power has three expressions. To begin with,
when power is ones god, tests of strength must be the order of the day [25:17]. If it is by might, war in this
case, that men prevail, that presumptuous and self-absorbed leaders like Amaziah idolize their god, then
ones strength must always be proven and validated, even if it means war.

Then, if along the way, someone counsels restraint or even reconsideration, then such warnings
must be ignored [25:18-19], even when they come from a fellow-narcissist.

Finally, there has to be a trophy: if people are to be used and manipulated and lied to; if nations
are to be plunged into death or destruction or collapse or mayhem, then, there has to be a prize worthy of
this level of suffering. So there is: one man must be able, at the end of the madness, to bask in the glory

A test of strength

The Chronicler lifts out the first expression of the narcissistic pursuit of power. In 2 Chronicles
25:17, the historian records Amaziahs ill-fated attempt to challenge Joash, king of Israel, to a test of
strength. Post-Edom, Amaziah will attempt to test his power one more time in the furtherance of his
idolatry of power [25:19].

Accordingly, in 2 Chronicles 25:17d, the test of strength is proposed by Amaziah Come; let us
face one another! Again, the Chronicler shows himself to be a master of language; for, he tells us that, in
reality, egos are on the line here let us face one another.

The Chronicler nuances his language to underscore the chutzpah of Amaziah. That is, the
historian uses the Hithpael stem of the verb, r~>, with the noun, p~nTm, to give the reader, literally let
us look one another in the face,
or, more idiomatically let us measure our strength against one
This last gloss neatly captures the egotism implicit in the test of strength.

One of the more common and visible and loutish expressions of the narcissistic pursuit of power is
the seemingly never-ending need to measure our strength against one another. Indeed, the politics of
power calculates its success or failure in terms of measurements of strength against another: as when a
talking head cites the latest poll as a measure of the strength of his/her position; or when the outcome of the

Heschel, vol. 1, 160.

The Soncino Books of the Bible, Chronicles by Rabbi I.W. Slotki, revised by Rabbi A.J.
Rosenberg (New York: Soncino Press, 1994), 279.

Jackie A. Naud0, r~>, in NIDOTTE.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


latest vote on the latest proposition substantiates a measure of the strength of the proposition in question.
Merits and morals are not contemplated, since God is on the sidelines, what actually matters is political
street theatre: who wins; who measures their strength more satisfactorily with the court of public opinion;
or, who carries the day.

Ignore yet another warning

The Chronicler proceeds to lift out the second expression of the narcissistic pursuit of power in 2
Chronicles 25:18-19. This time, rather than coming from a prophet, this warning comes from a man after
Amaziahs own heart. Indeed, the reply [25:18-19] to the test of strength [25:17] oozes chutzpah. One can
only assume that, upon reading the replay, Amaziah could not back down.

2 Chronicles 25:18-19 is a fable, in literary form. In this case, the literary form serves to covey
what amounts to a moral, which Amaziah would do well to heed.

The fable was used in Ancient Near Eastern literature as a kind of short story, often involving
plants or animals as characters, to convey implicitly or explicitly a moral principle.
As we shall note
presently, the moral principle in this fable is that impertinence breeds disaster. To be sure, the mocking
and condescending tone of Joashs reply to Amaziahs test of strength suggests that the testosterone levels
in both royal courts must have been fairly elevated.

The fable does have a structure to it, opening with the fable itself [25:18] and followed by the
interpretation of the fable [25:19]. In order to appreciate what Joash was saying and what Amaziah may
have intuited from the fable, it will be useful to lay out the fable, thus:

The Fable [25:18]

Protagonists The thorn bush which was in Lebanon sent to the cedar which was in
Lebanon, saying:
Proposal Give your daughter to my son as wife.
Outcome But, a wild beast which was in Lebanon passed by and trampled the
thorn bush.

The Interpretation [25:19]

Accusation You brag: Behold you have defeated Edom, and your self is consumed with
gaining greater glory;
Warning Now, remain at home; why should you plunge into misery, so that you would
fall and Judah with you?

The moral of the fable begins to emerge with the depiction of the protagonists: the thorn bush
[Amaziah] and the cedar [Joash]. The thorn bush is essentially a briar that is useful for little more than
The cedar on the other hand is a towering tree that is used as a figure for formidable and
influential nations [Ezekiel 31:3-5]. One doubts that the point would have been lost on Amaziah: the
impertinence, the exaggerated self-perception, is wholly misplaced when putting a cedar to the text. At the
same time, the reader should note the condescension implied in Joashs fashioning the fable this way. As
Sara Japhet notes, Joash sees himself as a cedar, while Amaziah is a presumptuous thistle!

Rolf Knierim and Eugene Tucker, ed., The Forms of Old Testament Literature, vol. xiii,
Wisdom Literature by Roland E. Murphy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 176.

BDB, 296; KB
, 296.

Japhet, 868.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The moral of the fable comes full circle with the outcome: a wild beast which was in Lebanon
passed by and trampled the thorn bush [25:18]. Thus, the moral of the fable becomes clear: impertinence
breeds disaster.

Joash is implying, in a not overly delicate way, that a piece of silage in life had best not over-
estimate its status; the outcome could be catastrophic. Indeed, Joashs fable portrays the hubris of Amaziah
with contempt. Rabbi Slotki summarizes the moral this way:

The point of the parable is the dangerous folly of over-estimating
oneself. The thistle, imagining itself to be the equal of the cedar,
presumptuously suggests a marriage alliance between them; but the
difference in their status was made apparent when a wild beast passed
by and trod the thistle under foot while it was powerless to injure the
tall cedar.

One of the more tragic expressions of the narcissistic pursuit of power lies with over-estimating
ones status and strength. In this case, the fable the two arrogant protagonists, the comedic proposal, and
the predictable outcome moralizes on the tragic folly of misplaced, narcissistic, over-confidence. The
taunting, mocking and jeering tone is redolent of the narcissism of Joash; that this test of strength was
issued at all is sufficient evidence of the narcissistic self-regard of Amaziah. War is inevitable.

The idolatry of power and might

In 2 Chronicles 25:19a-b, courtesy of Joash, the Chronicler brings us face to face with the
narcissistic pursuit of power on the part of this particular politician. In 25:19a, we see the accusation of
bravado: you brag Behold you have defeated Edom. Then, in 25:19b, the accusation is directed to the
man himself your self to his self-evaluation is consumed with and to his master passion gaining
greater glory. The vehicles of choice in pursuing his master passion are power and might.

There is an accusation of bravado in 25:19a: you brag you have defeated. You brag glosses
the very common verb 5mr which may be translated to assure that such and such is the case.
We have
glossed with brag, since this gloss fits the context.

More striking is the portrayal of Amaziahs bravado with you have defeated. Indeed, the
Chronicler uses the Hiphil of the verb n~k> which signals causation.
The sense is you brag that
you brought about the defeat. Clearly, Joash is accusing Amaziah of a self-serving level of bravado, which
conveniently omits the part Yahweh played in the victory [25:8-9].

To assume that Amaziah had played such a central role in the Edomite victory, and further to
assume that this preordained a victory over Joash does show a certain amount of bluster [25:19a].

However, the centerpiece of Joashs claim of Amaziah narcissistic pursuit of power is found in
25:19b: your self is consumed with gaining greater glory. The sense of self-conceit in this line is nicely
captured by Jacob Myers your ego has been inflated to seek even greater glory.
So it has!

To begin with, the narcissistic self-conceit is conveyed by the subject of the sentence your heart
or your ego.

Slotki, 279-80.

, 66.

IBHS 27.3.

Myers, 141.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The heart the lb is shorthand for the man himself; the lb is what the man is at his depths, at
his core; the lb is a substantial part of what makes Amaziah, Amaziah: his inner self.
In a nutshell, the
lb encompasses all dimensions of human existence; the lb is the person:
a mans inclinations, his
dispositions, and his determinations,
in short, ones mind and mood.
Accordingly, the Chronicler opens
up the man himself, his sense of self. Joash has already pointed out that the man has grossly over-estimated
his status and capabilities. Fittingly, as a narcissist, his ego labors under the presumption of an over-
inflated view of his own abilities.
In his lb, Amaziah sizes himself up as fundamentally superior.

The Chronicler tells us that Amaziahs ego is high-minded in the extreme your lb is consumed
[25:19b]. The man himself is fixated!

The action word the Chronicler uses is n~s~, a verb that means to raise high,
or to lift up
To be sure, the line certainly conveys the narcissism of Amaziah you are haughty and
stuck up.
At the same time, the combination of the subject lb with this verb n~s~ more
forcefully signals what one is occupied with, what one is compelled toward, what one desires, or what one
is oriented toward.
Accordingly, we have glossed your self [lb] is consumed with [n~s~ ] gaining
greater glory. The man is preoccupied with power, fixated on power, fanatical about expanding his glory
and power.

The net effect is that the man himself his inclinations, determinations, reason, and his passions
is compelled toward the expansion of his glory and his power. From the very depths of his person, this
politician is single-mindedly obsessed with power. He is occupied with it, is compelled toward it, desires it,
and is oriented toward it.

Accordingly, his master passion is power and glory [25:19b]. The Chronicler uses an infinitive of
purpose to gain/display glory to syntactically signal the master purpose of this egotistical politician.

Moreover, the Chronicler writes this infinitive in the Hiphil stem, which, in this case is probably an internal
Hiphil. An internal Hiphil may underscore what the subject Amaziah does to cause himself to gain

, 514.

Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, ed., Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, 3 vols.,
translated by Mark E. Biddle (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), vol. 2, lb, by F. Stolz [hereafter
abbreviated TLOT
, for the respective volume].

, 514.

Holladay, 171.

Twenge and Campbell, 18.

Ibid., 19.

Holladay, 246.

BDB, 670.

Holladay, 172.

F. Stolz, n~s~, in TLOT
, 772.

For the infinitive of purpose, see Williams 197, Van der Merwe 20.1.2 (iv).

The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


more glory.
If this reading of the Hiphil is appropriate, then Amaziah is obsessed with causing himself to
gain more glory, which in this context is associated with Joash and war. The upshot is that the climax in
this narcissistic pursuit of power comes when and if Amaziah can gain even more glory through the
exercise of power, this time the power won on the field of battle.

In 2 Chronicles 25:19b, the historian locates the narcissistic pursuit of power within a politician
who is single-mindedly obsessed with gaining even more glory than he already has through the power of
war. The glory is the power; the price of both is war.

We began the essay by noting Seltzers point to the effect that a politicians lust for power and
glory has no real boundary. In the case of Amaziah, and others who have shadowed him, this narcissistic
pursuit of power all too often leads to the abomination of war. Indeed, the Chronicler supports what has
become a pattern in history: the etiology of war is often the narcissistic pursuit of power of those who start

Generally speaking, war is discussed in the Old Testament in three categories: first, aggression
(whether in pursuit of land or loot or revenge or self-assertion); secondly, of defense or liberation; and
thirdly, of divine judgment.
As Professor Kidner notes, there may well be a relationship between war
and self-assertion.

To be sure, there is no hint at all that Amaziahs war cry is either a defensive war or a divine war.
Indeed, Amaziah is the aggressor, neither the defender nor liberator. What is more, if there is an element of
divine judgment [and there is!], it is pointed straight at Amaziah, not Joash.

It seems safe to conclude that, using Professor Kidners breakdown, this war is a war of
aggression, embarked upon for reasons of self-assertion. Indeed, the etiology of this war is none other than
Amaziahs obsession with his own glory and power. Power and glory compel him, obsess him and drive
him toward war.

The self-assertion, or narcissism if you will, that can induce wars is eloquently mapped out by the
prophet Habakkuk. Amaziah is not an isolated instance; there are patterns in history.

In Habakkuk 1:5-11, Yahweh responds to Habakkuks previous complaints [1:2-4]. Yes, Yahweh
has been watching the goings-on in Judah and He is about to take action through the armies of the
Chaldeans. For our purposes, the interesting point is this: Yahweh describes the military instruments of His
wrath on Judah in terms of their rapacious self-assertion in war. These details illuminate the narcissistic
pursuit of power.

In Habakkuk 1:6b, Yahweh depicts the quality of the Chaldeans pursuit of power: they are
ruthless and swift. The adjective glossed ruthless [m>r] is from a semantic field of terms for bitterness.
The figurative use of the adjective suggests what is ruthless, fierce, acrid, implying that these warriors
bitterly fight for their trophy.
Thus, the moral quality of their warfare is tainted by cruelty; they fight with
a viciously brutal spirit.

Not only are they brutally cold-blooded, they are also swift. The Niphal participle m~har
represents their military movements as with haste, precipitate, or simply hurried.
One thinks of the
German blitzkrieg lightening war during World War II.

IBHS 27.2h.
F. Derek Kidner, Old Testament Perspectives on War, Evangelical Quarterly, vol. LVII
(1984), 100.

BDB, 600.

BDB, 554; KB
, 554.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


In Habakkuk 1:6c, Yahweh describes the typical objective of the Chaldean war machine; they
seize dwelling places not their own. These dwelling places mik~n may refer to either religious
sanctuaries or simply private dwellings. Either way, the expansionism they pursue is underlined with the
notation that these rapacious warriors cross the earths wide spaces to seize property not their own [1:6].
Their lust for expansionism, in the service of their self-assertion, knows no bounds.

Then, in Habakkuk 1:7b, Yahweh depicts the self-assertion, the narcissistic element in this pursuit
of power: from themselves proceeds their law and majesty. This is a classic statement of what informs and
shapes the narcissistic pursuit of power among the ruling elite they are a law unto themselves! And, they
are sovereign unto themselves!

The prophet front-loads the prepositional phrase from themselves for emphasis. The
importance of the preposition mTn is to signal the authority from whom a standard derives.
interest is the source of their authority; they are the birthplace of what passes for law and majesty.

These are a law unto themselves. The term for law that is used here is mip~t, a noun that can
signify a law, a right, a claim, or what is due someone.
Often, this noun is translated justice. The upshot
is that those with the power, military power in this case, set the rules themselves; justice is what they say it

These are also sovereign unto themselves: from themselves proceeds their majesty. The term
translated majesty is s
t, a noun that may be translated sovereignty or majesty.
Sweeney notes that this
noun describes the preeminent or dominant position of one party over another.
The net effect is that
this is the kind of presumptuous, power-laden leadership that may talk about respect for rules and
regulations in the secret belief that they do not apply to them.
Those with the power are dominant and
sovereign. Might makes right!

Then, in Habakkuk 1:11, Yahweh depicts the outlook of these Chaldean warriors: their strength is
their god. Strength and power, might and force, authority and dominance: these are their gods. Here,
Habakkuk spears the dominant mindset animating political-military power-players: their strength, their
god. Whether Amaziah or the Chaldeans, its all about power, my power!

Men like Amaziah, warriors like the Chaldeans, worship power. The noun translated strength
kach refers to power, the capability to muster and wield force, ones combined physical and intellectual
in this sense, power is efficiency.
The upshot is that kach is vital power,
that is, power
one actually has available for use.

IBHS 11.2.11d.

, 651.

, 1301.

David W. Cotter, ed., Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry, The Twelve
Prophets, vol., 2, by Marvin Sweeney (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 466.

Lasch, xvi.

, 468-69.

BDB, 470.

A.S. van der Woude, kach, in TLOT
, 610.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


Reflections on the symptoms of the narcissistic pursuit of power

Once more, the reader is invited to consider the moral pecking-order for politicians who
shamelessly and obsessively pursue power. First, such power-seekers must be outfitted with a nearly
impenetrable moral indifference to God or anything else that would constrain the pursuit of power. And,
second, the power-elites among us must unflinchingly pursue power for its own sake.

Moral indifference to God is a precondition for the unbridled pursuit of power. The modern
power-obsessed politician must be able to navigate governance in the assured conviction that what God
wants really doesnt matter. It is much better to believe in a God who sits disinterestedly on the sidelines in
heaven while the wise and powerful among the political elite manage the affairs of the world.

Moral indifference to God must leave room for the occasional invocation of God or His Name
without falling into the theological trap of believing in God as God. Rather, as Dr. Seltzer writes
concerning the religion of the narcissistic politician, Curiously, even when they piously tout their
religious convictions, its done with such extravagant show that rather than reflect any sense of humility or
submission, it betrays a smug grandiosity.

To be sure, this smug grandiosity, aided and abetted by a very convenient and tolerant religion,
feeds the narcissistic politicians sense of entitlement. The kind of moral relativism implicit in what passes
for religion among much of the political elite makes room for a sense of right. By definition, entitlement
means acting as if you have a title or right to something even when you dont.
Among power-
politicians, one of the primary characteristics of narcissists is their exaggerated sense of entitlement.

Moral relativism and smug grandiosity entitle the power-politician to game the system, since from their
self-interested perspective, isnt that what the system is for?

The obsessive pursuit of power is the morally justifiable outcome of moral indifference to God.
For the narcissistic politician, the acquisition and retention of power is what the system is all about. Their
might is their god [Habakkuk 1:11]. This idolatry of power can even be measured. In a recent study out of
the Ohio State University, researchers surveyed the relationship between leadership, power, and narcissism.
Among other things, the researchers found that the desire for power is what really drives narcissists to
seek leadership positions.
Public service, voluntarism, making a difference become sloganeering with
the narcissistic politician; what he/she is really after is power.

The obsessive pursuit of power requires confrontation and poll-driven conflict so that power-
driven politicians, and their surrogates, can win the day. Let us measure our strength against one another
animated Amaziah and Joash; it is also the mantra of modern political discourse. Neither the merits nor the
morals of what is being polled matters much, since God has been pushed to one side; rather, what actually
matters is winning in the court of public opinion, carried out by the political street theatre one sees played
out on cable news networks.

Seltzer, 3.

Twenge and Campbell, 231.

Seltzer, 1.


Research News, Narcissistic People Most Likely To Emerge As Leaders, page 2, by Amy
Brunell, William Gentry, W. Keith Campbell, Brian Hoffman and Karl Kuhert with Jeff Grabmeir; on-line
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


Finally, the obsessive pursuit of power requires a trophy: your ego is inflated to seek even more
glory [2 Chronicles 25:19b].

Now, this obsessive pursuit of power knows little in the way of self-constraints. The narcissistic
politician pulls out all the stops when he/she is intent on acquiring power. If ruthlessness is called for, then
so be it. Indeed, the pursuit of power seems to go hand in hand with viciousness and cruelty in pursuing
ones power agenda. On August 22, 1939, Adolf Hitler told his generals, among other things, When
starting and waging war, it is not right [emphasis mine] that matters, but victory.
To be sure, narcissistic
power-obsessed politicians are not constrained by anything like right; rather, its the trophy, the prize at
hand, that really matters.

However, in the final analysis, power for the sake of possessing power is what the narcissistic
politician truly worships. This is the trophy. The narcissistic power-obsessed politician reveres the
capability to muster and wield force. As Adolf Hitler once put it, He who does not possess power loses
the right to life.
One has the sneaking suspicion that this maxim is more prevalent than one might
expect. In any event, the dictum sums up in a nutshell what is most assuredly a key component in the
mental furniture of a narcissistic politician. Its all about power.

Kershaw, 181.

Ibid., 178.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The Outcomes of the Narcissistic Pursuit of Power [25:5-8, 15-16, 20]

As we have noted, the Chronicler has defined the narcissistic pursuit of power in theological
terms. What our case study Amaziah does with God is the centerpiece of the narrative. Indeed, the
theological underpinning of political narcissism is a unique contribution of the Chronicler to understanding
the narcissistic pursuit of power.

That is, the Chronicler has told us that the origin of this narcissistic politicians pursuit of power
had its genesis in his theology, his half-hearted devotion to God [25:2]. The train goes off the rails
precisely here: our case study can vacillate, deal in half-measures, and basically ignore what he already
knows God really wants out of him; however, there will be outcomes.

Moreover, the Chronicler has detailed the symptoms of the narcissistic pursuit of power in terms of
moral indifference to God, yielding a maniacal lust for power [25:15-16, 17-19]. The unholy substitution
that occurs here is succinctly described by Habakkuk in theological terms: their might is their god
[Habakkuk 1:11]; again, there will be outcomes.

Accordingly, it should come as no real surprise to the reader to learn that the Chronicler outlines
the outcomes of this narcissistic pursuit of power in theological terms. The game has come full circle:
ignore God, pursue power and then in the end deal with God one last time. Our case study will deal with
God, to his chagrin, by governing in defiance of Yahweh [2 Chronicles 25:5-8], by incurring the wrath of
Yahweh [2 Chronicles 25:15-16], and by being the victim of a collapse orchestrated by Yahweh [25:20].

Conflict with God

The Chronicler crafts his narrative of the rise and fall of Amaziah of Judah in such a way as to
underline the truth that he/she who governs in a narcissistic pursuit of power will find himself/herself in
conflict with God [25:5-8]. It matters not one whit whether narcissistic politicians realize this or not; it is
simply a fact.

Governance in conflict with God consists in Amaziahs willingness to dismiss God from his
planning. The Chroniclers account of the political governance of Amaziah opens with a report of a head
of state that was willing to leave God out of his political-military strategizing.

The Chronicler narrates Amaziahs attempt to raise an army from the men of Judah and Benjamin;
he mustered those in both territories who were at least twenty years old. The net effect was to raise an
army of about three hundred thousand [25:5].

In the course of his planning, Amaziah seems to think that a force of three hundred thousand, in
this region, is wholly inadequate, so he approaches Israeli mercenaries [25:6]. This action discloses that
Amaziah had dismissed God from his political-military strategizing.

To be sure, considered strictly on pragmatic grounds, Amaziah had a point. For example, another
head of state, Asa, could put five hundred and eighty thousand boots on the ground [2 Chronicles 14:7],
while Jehoshaphat had a force of about nine hundred and eighty thousand men [2 Chronicles 17:14ff].

At the same time, Amaziah was a politician with a religious heritage that included Gods oft-
repeated deliverance of the very people Amaziah sought to protect through his own management. The net
effect is that Amaziahs pragmatic assessment of his comparative military strength leaves Yahweh out of
the planning. This dismissal of God amounts to governance in conflict with God.

The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


That Amaziah was governing in conflict with God is accentuated by the Chronicler. That is, the
Chronicler tells us that Amaziah was warned off calling on mercenaries by an unidentified man of God
[25:7]. In a not too subtle message for Amaziah, the speaker affirms that Yahweh had abandoned the
nation from whom Amaziah sought to draw his mercenaries Yahweh is not with Israel [25:7]. As
Thompson notes, If God was not with Israel, he was against them and against anyone associated with

Amaziahs governance in conflict with Yahweh is accentuated by the speakers subtle
reminder/accusation of what Amaziah is cavalierly dismissing: There is power with Yahweh to support or
to overthrow [25:8]. Who needs mercenaries?

What pragmatic politicians simply dismiss from their repertoire of strategies for survival is this:
Yahweh manages the destinies of nations and human governance. What this shadowy speaker states in
25:8 is spelled out unambiguously in Daniel 2:21 Yahweh changes times and eras; Yahweh removes kings
and establishes them. The pragmatic and practical management of human governance turns on the outright
dismissal of anything like what Daniel and the Chronicler take for granted. The theological quality of this
dismissal is governance in conflict with God.

Amaziah has had many successors. Human history is littered with men and nations that sought to
stand on their own two feet, vainly imagining that military power and international human politicking are
the only real means to govern in a threatening region, or world for that matter. Not so, says this obscure
figure in 25:8. Power and governance do not belong exclusively to politicians, career diplomats and
militarists; rather, God and God alone has the decisive sway in the management of the events of human
history [25:8; Daniel 2:21].

Judging by the subsequent course of Amaziahs governance, this larger point simply escapes him.
The narcissist in Amaziah wants the power in his own hands; unfortunately, for him and the disconsolate
pageantry of politicians that have walked in his steps, this is not a prudent course. Governance in conflict
with God is a clash the human participant is destined to lose.

Incurring the wrath of God in real time

Dismissing God from ones governance entails risks. In 2 Chronicles 25:15, the Chronicler
narrates that the anger of Yahweh burned against Amaziah; in 25:16, the wrath of God ratchets up to God
plans to destroy you. Both of these occur in real time, spelling the end of Amaziahs governance of Judah.

The Chronicler provides the reader with a stunning theological proposition: Those leaders whose
governance is largely a stage for their own narcissistic pursuit of power will incur the wrath of God in real
time, during their rule and reign [25:15-16]. God does not remain on the sidelines after all.

The wrath of God is not indiscriminate; it is neither whimsical nor random. There are reasons
why those in leadership in human governance incur the wrath of God. In the case of Amaziah, and he has
had many successors here, the basis of the wrath is the idolatry of power.

Amaziahs idolatry of power has already been unpacked in the essay. As noted, Amaziahs
flirtation with foreign gods was in his own self-interest through the presumptive availability of divine
influence on demand. Those who idolize power can count on incurring the wrath of God!

Thompson, 321.
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Accordingly, the proximate occasion of Yahwehs wrath is Amaziahs hankering for power at his
disposal. As we have noted, Amaziah flirted with prohibited foreign deities in order to augment his own
power [25:14]. Thus, the direct occasion of Yahwehs wrath is Amaziahs idolatry of power; that is,
Amaziahs assumption that he could wield divine influence in his favor and on his terms. This almost
pathological level of self-importance, of virtually obsessive self-regard, will have outcomes in a universe
populated by the sovereign God.

At the same time, viewed from Yahwehs perspective, His wrath has an ultimate occasion. That
is, Yahwehs wrath is motivated by this religious leaders unfaithfulness to the covenant. As we have
noted in the essay, Amaziah simply ignores his covenant obligations; he is half-hearted in his devotion to
Yahweh, and he idolizes power for his own self-interest. The upshot is to incur Yahwehs wrath in real

To be sure, the covenant should have elicited Amaziahs loving and exclusive loyalty to Yahweh.
As a religious leader, he should have known that his obligation under the covenant is to have only
Yahweh as his God.
The exclusivity of the covenant should have entailed governance in which all
important matters of a single day or an entire life stand within this theology, for they take place within the
invocation of Yahweh.
Yet, covenant loyalty is precisely what Amaziah spurns in his leadership model;
he incurs the wrath of Yahweh for his trouble.

The outcome of Amaziahs dismissal of his covenant obligations in favor of the idolatry of power
is the wrath of God. The Chronicler says the anger of the Lord burned against Amaziah [25:15].

When anger burns against any politician, or the nations they lead for that matter, the outcome
cannot be beneficial. When the nation of Israel so quickly turned aside from Yahweh and pursued idolatry,
Yahweh informs Moses that he should let Him alone, so that His anger may burn against them thus
destroying them [Exodus 32:10]. When the people of God complained bitterly and incessantly of their
adversity, Yahwehs anger was kindled thus consuming some of them [Numbers 11:1]. When the nation of
Israel allied itself with Baal of Peor, their idolatry earned them the anger of Yahweh and the execution of
the leadership in broad daylight [Numbers 25:3]. Moses warned that if the people of God turned from
Yahweh and became idolaters, the anger of the Lord would be kindled so that ecological disaster would
ensue [Deuteronomy 11:16-17].

So it is here; when Amaziah lusts for the idolatry of power in rejection of the covenant, the anger
of the Lord burned against Amaziah [25:15]. The noun glossed anger ap signals an intense
emotional state in which one is more than merely indignant or upset but rather is the sort of anger in which
passions are aroused.
To be sure, to say that anger burned expresses burning wrath or out-and-out

Yet, the rage of Yahweh is moderated by His grace; incurring the wrath of God in real time may
include an element of mercy. At first, the burning rage of Yahweh against the covenant infidelity of this
religious leader is muted through a warning from a prophet [25:15]. Incurring the wrath of God in real
time may involve second chances, the opportunity to weigh and consider trust in foreign gods as a means of
leveraging divine influence. However, once this offer of grace is dismissed [25:16], the wrath of God
ratchets up to out-and-out destruction in real time [25:16].

KoNhler, 66.

Ibid., 67.

Gale B. Struthers, ap, in NIDOTTE.

, 351.
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Accordingly, the Chronicler promises the real time consequence for Amaziahs lust for power:
God plans to destroy you [25:16]. There is an interesting word play used by the historian when he/she
notes that Yahweh plans to destroy Amaziah; the word play communicates a reversal of fortunes for
Amaziah in real time.

The word play on the lexeme y~ ats comes out in 25:16-17. The play on words begins with
Amaziahs use of the lexeme as he brushes off the unsolicited counselor [y~ ats, 25:16a], then refuses the
counsel [y~ ats, 25:16b] of this prophet, and then finally, turns to his own cronies to exchange counsel
[y~ats, 25:17a]. Now, the Chronicler indicates the reversal of fortunes stalking Amaziah when the
prophet says that Yahweh plans [counsels, y~ ats] to destroy him. The word play comes full circle and the
noose tightens on Amaziah in real time.

Ultimately, this reversal of fortunes comes in the form of destruction [25:16]. The infinitive
plans to destroy you is in the Hiphil stem of the verb and may be glossed plans to ruin you
Holladay teases things out a bit more fully when he notes that the verb [~chat] may refer
to [1] bringing ruin upon, [2] letting someone fall, or simply [3] wiping someone out.
In this case, it
seems that Yahwehs destruction of Amaziah will encompass all three in one way or another; Yahweh will
bring ruin upon him [25:27], let him fall [25:22-23], and ultimately wipe him out in death [25:27-28].
Indeed, the Chronicler reports here one disaster after another in real time.

The moral to this story, thus far at least, is that those power-politicians who hanker for more and
more power will reap the whirlwind in their own times in the form of Yahwehs anger and destructive

Divinely orchestrated downfall

The Chroniclers denouement comes in 25:20b: for, from God [was] it, in order to deliver them
into the power [of Joash], for they had sought the gods of Edom. The conflict with God, the wrath of God
in real time, all of this comes home to roost in 25:20b Amaziahs downfall will be divinely orchestrated;
this is the ultimate price for the pursuit of power by this narcissistic politician. Every narcissistic political
power-player will find themselves in the grip of a force above and beyond their own obsessive pursuit of
political and military power. Thompson nicely captures the theme of the denouement thus, Behind the
human affairs of this world is the overruling [emphasis mine] hand of God.

The Divinely choreographed downfall begins in 2 Chronicles 25:20a, where the historian reports
that Amaziah would not listen. In the context, the historian writes that Amaziah would not listen to the
warning from his would-be opponent Joash [25:18-19]. In other words, Amaziah would not be dissuaded
from his pursuit of power. The Chronicler then proceeds to record the explanation for this moral deafness
of Amaziah.

The Chronicler writes: for, from God [was] it, in order that He might give them into the hand [of
Joash] because they had sought the gods of Edom [25:20b]. The explanation of Amaziahs moral deafness
lies with Yahwehs doing. The syntax of 25:20 falls into three parts: causation-purpose-causation.

, 1470.

Holladay, 366.

Thompson, 324.

The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The first statement of causation for, from God [was] it explains the reason behind Amaziahs
refusal to listen to Joashs warning. As Japhet notes, Even this inability to listen is the Lords doing, for
Amaziah must be punished by his earlier idolatry.

Now, this causative statement of Amaziahs moral deafness does not come outfitted with an
explanation of how God does it; we are only told by the Divine historian that Amaziahs moral deafness
was, in fact, Yahwehs doing. At the same time, the how is an interesting question, and another Old
Testament passage does shed some light on how God works among the political elite, Job 12.

One of the more interesting, and germane, claims in the Job passage comes in Job 12:24a. Here,
Job affirms that Yahweh removes the intelligence of the leaders of the peoples of the earth. There may be
much to glean here in order to understand how Amaziahs moral deafness is Yahwehs doing.

To begin with, the sense of Yahweh removes is a crux. The verb He removes is a Hiphil
participle of the Hebrew verb, s|r. The fact that Job uses the Hiphil stem of the verb is crucial, since the
Hiphil stem of a verb can signal that the human subject leaders in this case also participate in the
The semantic-syntactical import of the Hiphil stem is to underline the human complicity in the
process of removal; Yahweh has a hand, to be sure, but He does not act alone.

Now, the semantic sense of removes in the Hiphil stem signals: [1] to cause to turn aside, or [2] to
put away;
or [3] to deny and [4] to push aside.

Finally, that which is removed is said to be intelligence [lNb]. In the Jobian context, intelligence
is best understood in terms of reasoning capability or simply rational reflection.

So then, lets put all of this Jobian material together. When Job makes the stunning claim that
Yahweh removes the intelligence of the leaders of peoples of the earth, Job affirms that Yahweh, with the
complicity of the leaders of the peoples of the earth, pushes to one side more rational reflection on some
course of action. Thus, the figure of removing the intelligence of leaders points to Yahwehs influence in
helping spawn simply irrational courses of action.

In terms of Amaziah, Jobs insight helps us understand that Yahwehs hand in Amaziahs moral
deafness may have taken the form of reinforcing the commitments already in the mind of Amaziah. In
Jobian terms, Yahweh removed the intelligence of Amaziah, with Amaziahs complicity, by simply
buttressing the irrational nature of what he was about to do.

The upshot of the first causative statement is this: when Amaziah found himself in the hands of the
God whom he had spurned in about every way he could, then Yahwehs hand in Amaziahs moral deafness
amounts to Yahweh abetting the course of action to which Amaziah had already committed himself.

Now, this first causative statement leads to a statement of purpose in order to give them into the
hand [of Joash] [25:20b]. The reader should note the import of the expression to give into the hand of
and the use of the plural object them. Not only must Amaziah pay the piper for his covenant infidelities.

Japhet, 869.
For a full-blown expos0 of Job 12, see the authors Politicians in the Hands of a Subversive
God, available on

On this use of the Hiphil, see IBHS 27.1d.

BDB, 694.

, 748.

See BDB, 524; KB
, 514-15.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


The expression to give into the hand of implies the subjugation of Amaziah into the power and
authority of Joash.
Implicit in this abandonment is loss of national identity and autonomy, the loss of
leadership, and the domination of the people by another human sovereign. This divine desertion is the geo-
political side of Amaziahs divinely choreographed downfall.

The net effect of Yahwehs complicity in Amaziahs quite willing moral deafness is Amaziahs
military defeat and loss of his political power. Amaziah and his entire nation will be at the mercy of his
enemy. As Myers puts it, Amaziah was defeated, his army put to flight, the king humiliated before his
people in his own capital, the house of God and the treasuries of the king stripped, hostages taken, and a
portion of the walls of the city broken down.

The Chronicler insists that this defeat was, in the final analysis, the work of Yahweh. The stated
purpose in order to deliver them into the hands [of Joash] differs little in substance from the more
comprehensive statement along the same lines in Daniel 2:21 Yahweh deposes kings and Yahweh
appoints kings. As we have stated, that which the narcissistic politician simply never countenances is the
fact that human governance is in the power of the Lord of History. The price to be paid for the narcissistic
pursuit of power is a divinely orchestrated downfall.

Finally, the Chronicler makes a subtle point by his use of grammatical number. That is, in 25:20a,
when the historian records that Amaziah refused to listen, the Chronicler uses a third person singular verb,
referencing Amaziah individually. But then, when Yahweh acts, He delivers them, using a third person
plural pronoun. This subtle shift in number may suggest that, from the Chroniclers point of view, an
individual leaders actions have national outcomes. To be sure, in one sense, a narcissistic power-
politician may lead his entire nation to ruin, as indeed Amaziah did. At the same time, it may well be the
case, and this will be supported in the next clause, that the people are willing participants with the leaders
who lead them. Narcissistic power-politicians do not emerge out of a moral vacuum.

The last causative statement is for they had sought the gods of Edom [25:20b]. The grammatical
number is unambiguous for they [third person plural]; the nation as a whole evidently had got behind
their leader in the matter of pursuing power.

The duplicity of the people in their own divinely orchestrated downfall is underlined by the sense
of d~ra in this context. That is, the verb suggests that the people made supplication with demands and
prayers to the gods of Edom.
Evidently sharing the viewpoint of the political leadership, the people also
turned to the gods of Edom, seeking divine influence, power, on demand.

The net effect for the nation is predictable: a divinely orchestrated downfall. Overall, then, the
denouement is tragic for the people and their narcissistic, power-hungry- leader:

Instead of royal building programs, the walls of Jerusalem are
destroyed; instead of wealth from the people and surrounding nations,
the king is plundered; instead of a large family, there are hostages;

See Michael A. Grisanti, n~tan, in NIDOTTE.

Myers, 145.

, 233r; BDB, 205r, goes with to seek a deity in prayer and worship; Holladay, 75, opts for
to turn to.

Dillard, 203.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


instead of peace, war; instead of victory, defeat; instead of loyalty from
the populace and long life, there is conspiracy and regicide.

Conclusions and Observations on the Narcissistic Pursuit of Power among Politicians

We began the essay by noting the ubiquity of narcissism in the United States and the way
narcissism pervades the political classes. As Amy Brunell observed, narcissistic politicians become leaders
precisely because they like power [emphasis mine], they are egotistical, and they are usually charming and
Indeed, Dr. Leon Seltzer has put the matter even more succinctly:

Consider that two of the things narcissists most desire are money (i.e.,
lots of money) and power (the more the better). And these two assets
can be tightly interwoven. Consider also that many of the individuals
entering the political arena have already made their fortune, or
inherited it. So, what typically drives them is a lust for power
[emphasis mine], prestige, status, and authority.

While all of this is certainly obvious in much of our countrys current crop of leaders, the nagging
question is: Why are men and women so driven to lust after power? Its all about God!

We may conclude that, according to the Chronicler, the narcissistic pursuit of power among the
political elite in our nation is fueled by their theology. In one way or another, what a politician really
thinks about God will spill over into his/her governance of the nation. More to the point, what the
Chronicler observes is that an inadequate theology of God is the basis for the narcissistic pursuit of power.

One of the inadequacies of much modern thought about God, theology if you will, is the tendency
to segregate the religious from the secular. Our leading, religious, political figures attend prayer
breakfasts and meet with leading religious figures. This tip of the hat to God is surely not serious theology;
it is pandering for propaganda purposes. No, on the contrary, the real decisions are made in the secular
realm where God is not invited. But, it is precisely here that the inadequacy of what modern political
leaders think about God comes to the fore: when one professes belief in God the single axis around which
governance should revolve ought to be God. The distinction between sacred and secular should simply
vanish. As KoNhler puts it, Nothing is secularized any more, little is rationalized. One does always and
undergoes only what can take place in the name of Yahweh.
Sadly, this level of theological insight
showing up in the maneuverings of politicians is simply not evident at this time. Our current leaders are
nothing if not practical and pragmatic.

The Chronicler has made it abundantly clear that the origin of the narcissistic pursuit of power lies
within the theology of political leaders. His case study Amaziah drove home this point from 2
Chronicles 25:2 forward. It seems there are patterns in history. Our nation is currently a nation of atheists,
both philosophical and functional, and of agnostics; neither is the stuff of a robust theology of God. It is the
stuff, however, of a robust pursuit of power among self-absorbed and egocentric politicians.

A second conclusion is even more sobering: God responds to these kinds of leaders and the
nations that aid and abet them. Amaziahs theologically shaped dismissal of God from his governance had
national implications all of the disastrous variety. God does not seem to brook opposition to his
sovereignty; when men, politicians like Amaziah, dare to tread on His territory, He responds in no
uncertain terms.

Brunell, 1.

Seltzer, 1.

KoNhler, 67.
The Narcissistic Pursuit of Power Among Politicians Loren Lineberry, 2012


To be sure, those who idolize power their god is their might [Habakkuk 1:11] will find
themselves in the hands of an angry and subversive God in real time. Sadly, the nations who continue to
provide such leadership go the way of Ashdod also.

As the Chronicler records, God had a clear hand in destabilizing the governance of Amaziah. This
destabilizing work of God is surely evident at this hour.

We may take it for granted that as far as the Chronicler is concerned nothing remains hidden from
God for long, including the narcissistic power-longings of the political classes. As Job puts it, Yahweh
reveals mysteries from darkness [12:22]. So He does; does Watergate ring any bells? Or, Monica
Lewinski? What about Operation Fast and Furious? Having read 2 Chronicles 25, or even Job 12 for that
matter, does any reader really think that these kinds of destabilizing exposures just happen?

We may take it for granted, as far as the Chronicler is concerned, that a pronounced reversal of
fortunes is in the offing for politicians who eschew God and pursue power at any cost. Human history is
strewn with power-politicians who thought they could successfully challenge the sovereignty of Yahweh.
They lost.

For example, in 1935, nearing the height of his power, one of Adolf Hitlers henchmen, Reinhard
Heydrich, said of Hitler, Just you wait. Youll see the day, ten years from now [emphasis mine] when
Adolf Hitler will occupy precisely the same position in Germany that Jesus Christ does now.
To be
sure, Heydrichs statement is an epitaph and a metaphor for all of those narcissistic politicians who denied
God and lusted for power. For, exactly ten years later, Adolf Hitler swallowed a cyanide capsule, put a
bullet in his brain, and occupied a position precisely outside the rear entrance to the Reich Chancellery.
Heydrich was wrong; God does not brook challenges.

In the final analysis, given the origin of the narcissistic pursuit of power a half-hearted devotion
to God and the symptoms of the narcissistic pursuit of power moral deafness to God and scripted
outcome of the narcissistic pursuit of power a divinely choreographed downfall of leader and nation
given all of this, the essay concludes with the following challenge. The only hope this nation has, or any
nation for that matter, is to be delivered from the egomaniacal leadership of the modern political elites.
This means that the church, the people of God, must see to it that, at the grass roots level, men and women
are led to God and to the service of God. Fundamentally, this path leads to the Cross. It should escape no
ones notice that Calvary depicts the precise reversal of narcissistic self-seeking. It is to Cross that we must
turn again and again.

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Nelson, 2010), 165.