The Warren Harding Effect
In his book Blink, author Malcolm Gladwell tells this story of an influential political figure from Ohio meeting a young politician named Warren Harding and being so impressed by the look and temperament of the young Harding that he instantly thought that the state senator had potential to one day be president.
The year was 1899.
As Gladwell describes him, Harding was tall and handsome. He had broad shoulders and a naturally bronze complexion and as he aged, he became more distinguished looking. He had a rich and resonant speaking voice.
He looked presidential.
On March 4, 1921, that same man, Warren G. Harding would become America’s 29th president.
It did not go particularly well.
If you look up rankings of best and worst presidents in American history, Harding is almost always in the bottom handful. He wasn’t particularly intelligent. When he was a U.S. Senator, he was absent for debates on two of the most important political issues of his time: prohibition and women’s voting.
He had a scandal-ridden administration for the two years that he was president before dying of a stroke in 1923.
He had the look of a president. But he didn’t have the intelligence, moral conviction, or leadership skills to actually be a good president.
In 1 Samuel 10, Saul will become Israel’s first king. In chapter 9, we were introduced to Saul. He was a man from relative obscurity, from the tribe of Benjamin who had gone in search of his father’s lost donkeys but through his search, he found the Prophet Samuel.
Now Samuel had a prophetic revelation the day before that he was going to meet and anoint the future king of Israel.
And then he meets Saul. The future king. Meanwhile Saul doesn’t even know who Samuel is when he meets him.
The king who hides
Saul is chosen to be king. 1 Samuel 10:21:
But when they sought him, he could not be found.
22 So they inquired again of the Lord, “Is there a man still to come?” and the Lord said, “Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”
It foreshadows things which were to come and the poor skills as a leader which Saul would display. Saul was fearful and tried to run from his calling.
Anointed, another heart, chosen, signs to confirm that he was chosen and prepared and yet he hides.
The Warren Harding Effect
23 Then they ran and took him from there. And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. 24 And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
So the people see this king who had just been hiding from them. The king that they wanted. And they see that Saul is taller than any of them. When we were first introduced to Saul in chapter 9, the text mentions that Saul was very handsome.
This is how we meet Saul in the Bible.
1 Samuel 9:1-2:
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2 And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.
They don’t see a coward who had tried to hide but they see a tall handsome man and they respond by saying “long live the king.”
The first king of Israel was not a George Washington. The first king of Israel was a Warren G Harding. They had wanted a king so they could be like all the other nations, and they got a man who LOOKED like a king.
They got a man who was tall but he wasn’t a leader. They got a man who was handsome but he wasn’t holy.
He was the king the people wanted, but what the people wanted would prove to be unwise.