By William Jackson
When we loss control as leader: Reuben was the first born (Genesis 29:32, 35:23), of Jacob’s twelve sons, so the position of leadership amongst the brothers fell upon him. Yet; on that fateful day, in the pasture of Dothan, Reuben’s other siblings conspired to murder Joseph, the second youngest. Here, Reuben shrunk from his responsibilities. Yes, these brothers adopted a mob like mentality, with hearts heavy with jealousy and minds bent on evil. However; at this point in ancient history, Moses hasn’t yet delivered the famed ten commandments; which clearly states in it’s 6th commandment, “thou shalt not murder1 (Exodus 20:13).” Does this excuse their behavior and choices? No, ignorance of the law would not have work here, since God had already told Noah 600 years earlier 2 that murder was counted as a sin (Genesis 9:5–6). So; instead of Reuben seizing the moral high ground and demanding that they do no harm to their brother, he conjured up an alternative; but agreeable plot, “Throw him into this cistern, here in the wild; but don’t lay hands on him yourselves” (Genesis 37:22). Unknowing to his brothers, Reuben then would double back and rescue Joseph. Such a convoluted approach, instead of just standing up to his brothers and telling them not to commit murder. Then; we have Judah, not knowing any of Ruben’s hidden motives, who decides instead, to sell Joseph to a passing band of marauders. No, not the most ethical decision; but at least Judah makes a stand. As is recorded, the brothers listen to Judah (Genesis 37:27). At this point the mantle of leadership seems to have been passed from Reuben to Judah, even though Judah was the fourth oldest (Genesis 35:23).
Influence is leadership: Judah took a hard stand, sadly they chose giving away their brother; but in lieu of killing him, it was the better option. Thankfully the idea of homicide left the mob’s intentions and a more viable option was agreed upon because of Judah’s influence.
In the US Army leadership is defined by:
“… influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission …”3
The civilian sector also mimics this by saying:
“There can be no leadership without influence, because influence is how leaders lead.”4
Judah influenced the mob, and in turn this action spared the life of his brother.
Note: Reuben’s demise – although Reuben never intended to have Joseph killed, this was not known by the family. For all intentional purposes, he appeared to have slaughter in his sight, just as the rest of them did. One needs to remember the best intentions are worthless if they are unknown. But as we explore Reuben, his bad judgement was not isolated to just this event. We find later that Reuben would sleep with his father’s concubine (Genesis 49:4), and thus; Jacob considered Reuben to be pachaz (uncontrolled). Not a great quality to have in a leader.
Condor: In the next chapter we read the story of Judah and Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law. This story is a sorted one (Genesis 38). Without getting into the details, Judah reneged on a promise made to Tamar to marry his son Shelah. So Tamar took matters into her own hands, causing a perplexing situation that forced one of two situations: either Tamar’s life is put in peril or Judah’s reputation is put on the line. Judah having the power to side step the situation, allowing his character to remain intact, instead takes the costly moral high ground stating “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah (Genesis 38:26).” Many people in leadership positions lose their humility, and through this, although their positions may end up being respected, personal loyalty becomes lost. In the words of a great General;
“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom” – George S. Patton
Voice of Reason/Common Sense Joseph’s brothers returned to Egypt for food which equaled the family’s survival. In doing so, they had to leave behind Simeon, their brother. The Pharaoh’s Governor (Joseph) wanted them to return with their younger brother Benjamin, so he kept Simeon as sort of a hostage. The father, Jacob, was determined not allow his sons to return to Egypt with Benjamin. He had already lost two sons (Joseph and Simeon), and he certainly was not wanting to part with his youngest, Benjamin. Nonetheless; it was a famine, and the family would soon die of starvation unless they could get back to Egypt for supplies. Jacob was allowing his emotions to dictate rather they returned to Egypt; but Judah had to step up and be the voice of reason, in which case, he laid it on the line “Send the boy with me, and we will be on our way. Otherwise we will all die of starvation—and not only we, but you and our little ones (Genesis 43:8).” With that, he promised Benjamin’s personal safety and they left for provisions to save the family.
Sacrifice for your people: There was an abbreviation in the Army that went RHIP (Rank Has Its Privileges); but any combat leader worth his salt never understood this acronym. It’s because we lead by sharing the same hardships with our Soldiers, even when it came to eating, as a leader, you ate last. Judah also placed his comfort and interest behind his family’s. When talking to Pharaoh’s Governor (Joseph), he expresses that he must bring his younger brother home, he guaranteed this to his father (Jacob). He further emphasizes without the boy (Benjamin), his father would die of a broken heart. At this point, Judah offers his own life for his younger brother Benjamin (Genesis 44:30-34). As we see in the next chapter, (Genesis 45) this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and Joseph reveals his true identity.
Ironically, earlier Reuben makes an odd promise to his father Jacob, he tells his father, “if they don’t return with Benjamin, then Reuben would allow Jacob to kill his two sons (Genesis 42:37).” Inwardly, I can’t help but to hope that Jacob would never take Reuben up on that offer and truthfully, if that’s so, and Reuben knew that his father would never do such an act to his own grandsons, it shows that Reuben really didn’t have any “skin in the game.” It would just be Reuben giving a bunch of empty words. Conversely; later, Judah does actually offers his own life for Benjamin’s (Genesis 44:30-34). Just remember, as a true leader you can’t fake it, people know.
Lead from the Front (Genesis 46:28). Judah led the entire family into Egypt; but this was not like heading a parade into a welcoming territory. Egypt was considered threatening, even God told Isaac not to go there (Genesis 26:2). It should be noted that later God did tell Israel (Jacob), that it’s safe to return to Egypt (Genesis 46:3); but what do we see in these decisions? We see that it was obvious here that Jacob’s trust as a leader was in Judah not in Reuben. Jacob made Judah take point into Egypt (Genesis 46:28), a position of critical decisions and danger. Also; this would have inspired Jacob’s small band of Hebrew to move forward and to stay the course inspired by a brother they trusted.
We can liken this to the Battle of Gettysburg (July 3, 1863), during a massive Confederate artillery bombardment that preceded the infantry assault, General Hancock was prominent on horseback in reviewing and encouraging his troops. When one of his subordinates protested, “General, the corps commander ought not to risk his life that way,” Hancock is said to have replied, “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count.5 ” It actually did count in the form of inspiring Soldiers to not cower and to remain on task.
We covered a lot about leadership style today; good and bad. Let’s just do a quick recap:
- Say what you mean, mean what you say.
- Lead from the front.
- Sacrifice for your people
- Be honest, even when it hurts.
- Take the moral high ground, even if it is unpopular.
Many of us that have served under poor and good leaders can definitely use this checklist to separate the wicked chaff from the good wheat (Psalm 1:4).