February 29, 2016 • Life for Leaders
“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.”
In Genesis 43, Jacob, the father of Joseph, was persuaded by his son Judah to let Benjamin, his youngest son, go to Egypt, as Joseph had required. This risky decision was necessary so that Jacob’s family might buy grain to stave off starvation. Jacob, afraid that something terrible would happen to his beloved Benjamin, nevertheless agreed that he should travel to Egypt.
We can offer ourselves as servants, not just to those who lead us, but also to those whom we lead. We can care for their interests more than our own, seeking their good rather than our own benefit.
When Benjamin and his brothers arrived there and bowed before Joseph, he asked about their father, learning that he was still alive. When Joseph saw Benjamin, he left the room to weep in private because “he was overcome with affection for his brother” (43:30). After Joseph calmed himself, he and his brothers enjoyed a lavish feast together, though the brothers still did not know who Joseph really was.
When it was time for the brothers to leave with the grain they had purchased, Joseph instructed his steward to put the money they had paid in the top of their sacks. Additionally, in Benjamin’s sack the steward put Joseph’s special silver cup. After the brothers left for home, the steward caught up with them, accusing them of stealing Joseph’s cup. The brothers claimed to be innocent, saying that if the cup was found in their possession, the one who stole it should die and the rest of the brothers become slaves of Joseph. When the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, “they tore their clothes” in grief (44:13).
As the brothers appeared before Joseph, bowing low before him, Judah spoke up, volunteering all the brothers as Joseph’s slaves. But Joseph rejected this offer, requiring only Benjamin to become his slave. Judah once again spoke up courageously, asking if he, Joseph’s servant, might speak a word to his lord. Judah went on to explain to Joseph about his father and his father’s special love for Benjamin. Judah said that if they were return to Canaan without Benjamin, Jacob would surely die in sorrow. Judah concluded his intercession in this way: “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” (44:33-34).
How impressive is Judah’s courageous servant leadership in this passage! It is courageous leadership in that he was taking his life into his hands by speaking so bluntly to the second most powerful man in Egypt. Joseph could easily have Judah killed for such insolence. Yet Judah was courageous in his leadership, and not for his own gain, but rather for the sake of others, most of all Benjamin, his brother, and Jacob, his father. He was serving their interests, even to the extent of offering himself as a slave. This is servant leadership par excellence.
You and I will probably never find ourselves in a predicament like that of Judah and his brothers, at least I hope not. But we can be inspired by Judah’s example to speak up courageously for the sake of others. We can offer ourselves as servants, not just to those who lead us, but also to those whom we lead. We can care for their interests more than our own, seeking their good rather than our own benefit. This kind of leadership is rare, to be sure. But it is commended to us in Genesis, and also through the words and actions of Jesus, the suffering servant of God who gave his life for us.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever found yourself in a situation rather like that of Judah, where you felt the need to speak up even if it might be costly to do so? What did you do? How did it turn out?
What would help you to be bold in a situation like this one?
If we work in a culture that does not value servant leadership, how can we expect to grow in this kind of counter-cultural leadership?
Gracious God, thank you for the example of Judah and his courageous servant leadership. Help me to be like him, to consider the interests of others before my own. May I speak up for those whose voices might not be heard. May I offer myself as a servant in the mode of Judah . . . and Jesus. Amen.
Image Credit: x1952-136, Joseph Converses with Judah, His Brother, Artist: Tissot, Photographer: John Parnell, Photo © The Jewish Museum, New York. Public Domain.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.