[Joseph said to his brothers,] “Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in prison for three days. On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they agreed to do so.
In this week’s Life for Leaders devotions (Monday, Tuesday), we have been reflecting on what happens when our leadership is deeply personal. The example of Joseph in Genesis 42 offers a salient example for our reflection. So does the example of Jacob, Joseph’s father, whose leadership in this chapter we will examine soon.
How refreshing it would be to have leaders, in government, business, church, and every part of life, who were confident and courageous enough to change course when their better judgment commended it.
In yesterday’s devotion, we watched as Joseph encountered his brothers for the first time in decades. They came before him, the second most powerful man in Egypt, in order to buy grain for their family during an extreme famine. Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him, though he knew who they were. Joseph did not treat them kindly. Rather, he spoke harshly to them and resolved to test them. He demanded that they bring to Egypt Joseph’s beloved full brother, Benjamin. One of the ten brothers would be set free to fetch Benjamin. The other nine would be kept in prison (42:16). Then, for good measure, Joseph threw the whole lot into prison for three days.
It seems clear that Joseph’s leadership in this situation was shaped by his powerful emotions. He didn’t see before him merely ten needy brothers from Canaan. Rather, he saw his own brothers who had once wanted to kill him and then sold him into slavery. His vision and his decision-making were tainted by all the emotions that understandably sprung up in Joseph’s heart. Thus, Joseph led with greater harshness than was appropriate. Was it really necessary to keep all the brothers save one in prison until Benjamin arrived?
I would suggest that the answer to this question is “No.” Ironically, Joseph himself confirms this conclusion. In the heat of the moment, when Joseph first encountered his brothers, he said he would keep all but one in prison until Benjamin’s arrival. But, after Joseph had a couple of days to calm down and think, he changed his mind. In verse 19 he said to his brothers, “If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households.” It’s clear that Joseph considered his earlier resolution – imprison all but one brother – to be unnecessarily harsh. So he changed his mind and his directive to the brothers.
I’m struck by the fact that Joseph changed course so dramatically and so obviously. A lesser leader would have preferred to appear resolute and confident rather than do the right thing, especially in front of people he wanted to impress with his power. How often in our own day have we seen our political leaders stick by poor decisions for all the wrong reasons? How refreshing it would be to have leaders, in government, business, church, and every part of life, who were confident and courageous enough to change course when their better judgment commended it, even in matters that were deeply personal to them.
In tomorrow’s reflection, I want to think with you about what enabled Joseph to leave behind his harsh directive and choose a wiser and more gracious course. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on your own leadership in light of Joseph’s example.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What might God want to say to you through the example of Joseph’s leadership in Genesis 42:16-20?
Can you think of times when you made a poor decision because you were flooded with emotions? Later, did you change your decision? Or did your pride keep you from admitting your error?
Are there decisions that you need to reconsider today?
Gracious God, once again we thank you for the example of Joseph. It’s both encouraging and challenging to see how he corrected a decision he had made when he was emotionally upset. Thank you for his clarity and courage, for his commitment to doing the right thing even when this meant changing his mind in front of his brothers.
Help me, Lord, to lead wisely. Give me the courage to revisit unwise decisions I have made. Help me to know when I need to step back from something that is stirring up my emotions in an unhelpful way. Teach me to wait upon you. By your grace, may I choose the right course even if this means changing course in front of others.
In all that I do today, Lord, may I glorify you. Amen.