Lining Up the Dots
by Steve Bacon
Have you ever wondered why there are colored dots printed on some product packaging or why four colored dots appear in the margins of newspaper print?
Those colors are called CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). They form the base colors for all colors used in printing. Basically, any color can be obtained by using these in correct proportions. Plates of all these colors are laid out on a page separately and lined up in the same spot while printing. This is necessary to print a full color page accurately. If the images appear blurry and not crisp enough, you will find the colors overlapping or not in line. On a smaller scale, home or office inkjet printers automatically run an alignment process when new ink cartridges are installed to ensure high quality images.
In a way, this alignment procedure is like the testing process the Lord occasionally requires us to pass through in life. Similar to lining up colored dots, God lays several options before us. He then trusts us to pray and apply wisdom while paying close attention to related principles within His Word, preparing us to proceed in humility and obedience in the direction he is leading. As it is when lining up the dots, when we follow God’s process in decision making, the blurry way becomes sharp, encouraging us to proceed with confidence that we are making a responsible choice.
Of course, this seems to work so much better in theory. Truth is, we don’t always follow every step. We might skip over the prayer “dot” and move ahead using human wisdom drawn from experience. Another dot is skipped when we don’t know God’s Word well enough to access and apply biblical truth in a current situation.
I’m not suggesting we need to pray and fast to decide whether to have pizza or Chinese food for dinner tonight. But the reality is, by hopscotching our way around God’s prescribed methods, we are willfully making ourselves vulnerable to irresponsible decision making.
One Bible character who did this for many years of his life was Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. His story spans 20 chapters in the Book of Genesis beginning with his birth in chapter 29 and ending with his father’s prophetic blessing in Chapter 49.
Being one of 13 children, his early years were no doubt filled with sibling rivalry. Judah grew up watching his mother desiring, but never acquiring, the affection of her husband Jacob, his father. The Bible records several of Judah’s irresponsible actions, the most significant being his suggestion to sell his younger brother Joseph to traveling nomads in Genesis 37, and later, failing to provide for his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, in Genesis 38.
Thankfully, midway through his story, God’s rescuing grace invaded Judah’s world. He turned what would have been an illustration of how to live life as a self-centered irresponsible creature of God into one of selfless servant-leadership. I admit, his is not the kind of story that just floats on the surface of the page. It takes careful thought and combing over small details that resist surrendering themselves in casual reading.
What I’ve gleaned from the final chapters of Judah’s story are a series of “dots” that serve as a guide to inspire responsible decision making. I’ve tried to keep them in the order they appear in the text including the portion Scripture from where they were drawn. I’ve also added brief observations and questions to encourage personal reflection.
We pick up the story in Genesis 43 as the grain from Egypt, acquired by Jacobs’ sons on their initial trip, had just about run out. Since the famine has continued, Jacob can no longer procrastinate and must send his sons back to Egypt for more grain. As the chapter opens, we discover that Reuben, the oldest son, no longer appears to be the leader. That position seems to have been filled by his younger brother Judah.
No longer the irresponsible person he used to be; Judah appears ready to lead his family through the remaining years of the famine. Little did he realize; he would first need to confront his sinful past. In doing so, he would provide one of the greatest stories of reconciliation in the Old Testament.
Below are seven characteristics of responsible leadership that we can learn from Judah’s interactions recorded for us in the Book of Genesis.
- Responsibility takes matters very seriously. “Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’(43:3). At the risk of dishonoring his father through a confrontation, Judah had to remind him they could not return to Egypt without Benjamin. Later, Judah will pledge himself as surety for the life of Benjamin. Taking responsibility of this level is extreme. A measurable improvement from his past behavior.
Q. How do you prepare to confront an emotionally charged situation with someone older than you? How has your level of responsibility increased with your age?
- Responsibility responds to the reality of the situation. “Israel [Jacob] said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?”They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.” (43:6-10). What matters is not what we wish the circumstances might have been, but what they actually are. Wishful thinking may provide momentary relief, but real responsibility comes when facing a situation head on and applying biblical principles to it.
Q. What is gained by stewing over what could have been said or done differently following a matter? How much time do you spend contemplating how much better a situation would be if you simply altered the facts?
- Responsibility testifies honestly and accurately. “So, they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So, we have brought it again with us.” (43:18-31). There was no logical explanation as to how the money from the first purchase of grain had been returned. The text is unclear as to who is speaking to Joseph’s steward, but whoever was in charge, would not allow a lie to be fabricated no matter the cost.
Q. Do the people closest to you know what your spiritual convictions are? Is it more advantageous for you to keep them in the dark simply because the truth seems too far fetched?
- Responsibility will not waver in fulfilling a pledge no matter what the cost. “For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, 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 evil that would find my father.” (44:32-34). It’s one thing to make a vow, and quite another to live it.
Q. What has disrupted your “happily ever after” that has tempted you to compromise a vow or pledge?
- Responsibility does not attempt to excuse or justify what God exposes as sinfulness in our lives. “And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” (44:16).
Q. How eagerly are you to extend mercy? Have you ever been in need of mercy and it was withheld? How did you respond?
- Responsibility will not intentionally make the same mistake twice. “For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.” (43:34). Judah had been in this exact situation years before with Benjamin’s brother Joseph. The irony must have been striking!
Q. Recall a past situation where you were clearly irresponsible. If you were given a make-up test today, how different would the outcome be? Would you commit to seeking the Lord’s guidance to prepare for a second chance?
This final point presents a wonderful motivation for disciples of Jesus Christ to dedicate themselves to responsible decision making.
- Responsibility, when exercised within the purposes of God, will ultimately result in a revival of hope in his people. “Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.” So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob.And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them.But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” (45:24-28). I think it is interesting that Joseph told his brother’s not to quarrel on their trip back home. God had given more for the brothers to celebrate than to fight and argue over.
Q. When it is obvious that God is doing something wonderful in your life, do you still find things to criticize and complain about? Has God used this study to challenge you come to terms with your past if it will lighten someone’s burden?
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Yes I certainly have stewed over something way more than needs to be thought about. I called this ruminating. My prayer partner and I catch each other doing this and we try to remind one another that we can’t go back and change to past. Only trust God to go forward into the future. And ask him to make something good out of our messes! Thank you for your messages Pastor Steve! It is definitely something to be reflected upon again and again, furthermore it is encouraging that God was still able to use Judah in spite of his mistakes and the same is true for us 👍