Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry them down as a present to the man — a little balm and a little honey, gum, resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the top of your sacks; perhaps it was an oversight. Take your brother also, and be on your way again to the man; may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, so that he may send back your other brother and Benjamin. As for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we saw Jacob exercising his leadership in a way that was self-absorbed. When faced with a difficult and deeply personal decision, one that would affect the wellbeing of his family, Jacob cared only about himself and his feelings.
We need trusted colleagues who can show us the folly of our way, especially when we are dealing with situations that are deeply personal.
When we get to Genesis 43:11-14, however, we see an altogether different Jacob. He is leading strategically, willing to put his own needs on the back burner for the sake of his family. What accounts for this change in Jacob’s leadership?
For one thing, the situation changed. When Jacob had earlier refused to send Benjamin to Egypt, as Joseph had required, Jacob’s family had plenty of grain from their recent trip to Egypt. But, after a while, they had consumed all the grain and were at risk of starvation (43:2). Jacob wanted his sons to return to Egypt to buy more grain (43:2), but Judah reminded him that they would not be able to do so unless Benjamin went with them. The terms of grain buying had not changed. But the situation — no more grain — had changed.
Still, Jacob did not change his mind on his own. Rather, his son Judah strongly intervened. Judah reminded his father of what Joseph had required of them. When Jacob turned to self-pity (43:6), Judah spoke strongly to him, defending what he and his brothers had done in Egypt and reminding Jacob that his inaction was risking the lives of his entire family (43:8). Judah took full responsibility for Benjamin’s safety and gently rebuked his father for being so slow to act (43:9-10).
Judah put a lot on the line here. In a patriarchal society, his obligation was to honor his father. Yet Judah recognized that, in this case, he could best honor his father by exercising his own leadership so as to convince Jacob to change his mind.
Judah’s effort was successful. His wise words kicked Jacob out of his self-absorbed funk. He began to think strategically about how his sons should approach Joseph (with gifts and extra money). Jacob accepted the possibility that he might lose more of his sons, but realized that there was no way around this risk (43:14).
This story illustrates the value of wise counsel when leadership is deeply personal. Jacob’s feelings of grief and fear were so strong that he couldn’t think straight on his own. He needed Judah to help him see the situation clearly so that he might lead wisely.
We are like Jacob, in that we also need trusted counselors in our life, people who can help us see accurately the convoluted situations in which we exercise leadership. We need advisors like Judah who can say things we may not want to hear. We need trusted colleagues who can show us the folly of our way, especially when we are dealing with situations that are deeply personal. And, like Judah, we need to listen to our counselors, swallowing our pride so that we might make wise choices for the good of those entrusted to our care.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever been in a situation like that of Judah in Genesis 43:1-14? Can you think of a time when a trusted counselor spoke truth to you that you needed to hear, even if it was hard to hear it?
Are there people in your life right now whom you turn to for advice, even and especially in difficult situations? Do you need to listen to those advisors in something you’re facing right now?
On the other hand, are you in a situation like Judah, where you need to speak the truth to a leader? What would empower you to risk speaking openly in this situation?
Gracious God, thank you for people like Judah, for those who speak the truth to us, especially when we may not want to hear it. Thank you for their faithfulness and courage.
Help me, Lord, to listen well to those you have given to me as trusted advisors. May I be humble enough to hear what they have to say. May I be committed enough to the mission you have given me that I am willing to change course when needed. May I be a faithful steward of all that you have entrusted to me.
Help me also, Lord, when I am to be like Judah. May I be committed enough to my leaders and our common work that I am willing to say what needs to be said. Help me to speak truth, and to do so with both conviction and humility. Amen.