Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him.
“Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”
As I reflect on the story of Joseph and his brothers, I’m struck by one aspect of chapter 44. In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw that Judah, one of Joseph’s older brothers, stuck his neck out on behalf of his youngest brother, Benjamin, and their father, Jacob. As Judah imagined returning to Jacob without Benjamin in tow, he pictured his father dying in sorrow (44:32). Thus, he ended his intercession with Joseph in this way: “For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father” (44:34).
I believe that God is in the heart tenderizing business. The more we grow in him, the more we will “weep with those who weep” even as we “rejoice with those who rejoice.”
Now, we might be inclined to overlook such compassion as something rather ordinary. Wouldn’t any son feel as Judah felt? Wouldn’t any son try to prevent the suffering of his father? Well, in fact, the answer is no. More to the point, in an earlier scene in Genesis, Judah himself both contributed to his father’s suffering and failed to alleviate it when he had the power to do so.
Remember the scene in Genesis 37, after Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery. They took his special robe and dipped it in goat’s blood. Then they presented it to their father as evidence that a wild animal had killed Joseph. That’s exactly what Jacob concluded. He tore is garments, dressed in sackcloth, and mourned for days. During this time, according to Genesis, “All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted and continued to grieve for Joseph” (37:35). Now, the daughters may not have known what really happened to Joseph, but the brothers, including Judah, did know. As they sought to comfort their father, they knew very well that Joseph was alive. Yet they, including Judah, stood by as their father grieved bitterly, even though they had the ability to assuage his sorrow.
The contrast between this scene and Genesis 44 couldn’t be more striking. In the latter chapter, Judah anticipated his father’s grief and sought to prevent it, even to the point of offering himself as a slave. Judah’s former selfishness had been replaced by profound empathy. Somehow, he had developed a truly compassionate heart.
Genesis doesn’t tell us how this happened. Chapter 38 reveals a glimpse of Judah’s peculiar integrity, but nothing in this chapter suggests a growth in compassion. In some way, though, during the twenty plus years between Joseph’s being sold as a slave and the brothers’ appearance before him in Egypt, Judah’s heart became more tender. He did not want his father to suffer, even if it meant that Judah would be a slave for the rest of his days.
I believe that God is in the heart tenderizing business. The more we grow in him, the more we will “weep with those who weep” even as we “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). Often, God uses our own suffering to develop greater compassion within us. But, sometimes, empathy is simply a gift of the Spirit, as God enables us to feel what others feel when our hearts reach out in love. No matter how it happens, our growth in compassion enables us to be better leaders, not to mention better sons and daughters, better friends, and better citizens.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What helps you to be compassionate?
As you think about your life, would you say you are becoming more or less compassionate? Or are you staying about the same?
Do you think compassion is helpful for a leader? Or could it be a hindrance? How can a leader be compassionate and, at the same time, make difficult decisions that sometimes make life difficult for others?
Gracious God, thank you for the compassion of Judah in Genesis 44. And thank you for the contrast between this chapter and what we saw in chapter 37. We don’t know why Judah grew in compassion, but we are encouraged to see it and inspired by his example.
Help me, Lord, to develop a compassionate heart. By your grace, may I weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. In my leadership, may my compassion be balanced with clear judgment and wise discernment. Amen.