The Last Gasp of a Strongman - Word&Way

The Last Gasp of a Strongman

In the life of various biblical tyrants, a moment emerges when they realize their grip on power is slipping away but they still struggle to hold on anyway. Perhaps they don’t believe their own vulnerability. Perhaps they hope to delay the inevitable. Or perhaps they’ve already lost their grip on reality.

Brian Kaylor

Brian Kaylor

Regardless the reason, the fall of a mad king creates a brief dangerous moment. But with their antics, such rulers merely amplify their own humiliation.

Consider the Pharaoh of Egypt challenged by Moses. Confronted over his racial injustices, he responds to the protesters claiming “Hebrew Lives Matter” by cracking down even harder with “law and order.” A series of plagues hits his nation, and yet he hardens his heart. Unable to show empathy for the people he’s supposed to lead, he does nothing as the economy crashes from the pandemics and as people get sick and die.

Then when he loses his control over the Hebrew people, Pharaoh sends his armed police to go after the peaceful people. He then watches impotently as the chariots in which he trusted wash away.

Or consider the end of the rule of Abimelek, a man in the book of Judges who seeks to rule as king over a nation that has a different political system. The people elect him even after another man, Jotham, prophetically warns them about the moral flaws of Abimelek and why his rule would end in a fiery disaster since character matters.

After three years of rule, Abimelek faces a challenger to his power, and responds by lashing out against those who criticize his rule. While overseeing the deaths of many of his own people, the last moments of the misogynistic ruler feature him trying to push misinformation about his own defeat. A woman cracks his head with a millstone, but he asks his armor-bearer to cut him with a sword so it wouldn’t be reported in the “fake news” that a woman killed him. But we got the true story anyway!

Or consider the end of the reign of Queen Athaliah in ancient Judah. Despite allegiances to the leaders of another nation, she seizes the throne — and she promptly seeks to kill other heirs (like her own kids and grandkids). But one grandson, Joash, survives.

When priests bring Joash forward six years later, a large protest crowd gathers in the street outside her walled-off executive building to shout support for him. Hearing the noise, Athaliah goes crazy. Well, perhaps she already was considering how her mad thirst for power led her to slaughter her family. She tears her clothes and shouts “treason!” But these words fail to silence the trumpets of the crowd or save her hold on the throne.

Other similar pathetic ends to seemingly strong rulers could be named from the Bible and since, like the last moments of Adolf Hitler and Nicolae Ceaușescu. Like Pharaoh, Abimelek, Athaliah, and many other tyrants, these deadly rulers lived to watch power slip away, to see their people turn against them, to see the natural consequences of their own immorality.

The power of these “strongmen” was already stripped away like a cheap façade, the cracks in their feet of clay obvious to all. But even after a checkmate occurred, they kept staring at the board expecting that like a miracle the threat would disappear.

In that dark moment just before the end, these not-so-strong strongmen still clung to the power they worshiped. Unwilling to admit defeat or to repent, they shouted out in hopes of convincing others and perhaps themselves:

“This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election. So, our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation. This is a very big moment. This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner.”

But it doesn’t work. The emperor struts down the street with his new “clothes,” but there’s nothing there to hide his humiliation.