LAST week’s article, published under the Bible School Business School (BSBS) series titled “The role of personal integrity in business’’, attracted deep reflection from our readers. We are compelled to do a follow-up. BSBS takes insights from the Bible and applies them to business, leadership and personal development.
The Joseph-Daniel model
In last week’s article we alluded to the Joseph-Daniel model of business ethics. However, we focused on the ethical exploits of Daniel and his three Hebrew friends, commonly known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. From the story of Daniel and his three friends we extracted three laws of business ethics: The law of ethical intelligence, the law of ethical minorities and the law of ethical legacy. Daniel and his friends were willing to offer their life rather than live with a violated conscience.
This week we shall focus on the daring ethical feats and nuances of Joseph’s ethical model in ancient Egypt.
To empathise with Joseph’s unyielding ethical stand in the face of relentless assaults on his personal integrity, we need to get a handle on the principle of ethical stewardship, in which Joseph was grounded in from an early age. The principle of ethical stewardship was one of the key pillars of ancient Hebrew ethics. The origins of ethical stewardship in the Bible can be traced back to the Biblical-creation model as recorded in Genesis 2:15 (KJV): “And the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress and keep it.’’ We need to immerse into the deeper meaning of the concepts borne in the foregoing verse. The term “dress” as used in the verse comes from the word aw-bad in the original Chaldean language, which can “mean to work or to serve.” The term “keep” as used in the verse is translated from shamar, which means to guard, to protect, to be circumspect, or to preserve.
These concepts of aw-bad and shamar divide the ethical stewardship principle into three levels.
At one level, in the Hebrew culture, hard work was non-negotiable. In fact, sloppiness and slothfulness was considered unethical. That’s why Paul, a scholar of Hebrew history and culture, would in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (KJV) point out: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.’’ Lest anyone wrest this text out of context, the principle here is that it is shameful for an able-bodied person availed with work opportunities to enjoy the fruit of other people’s honest sweat. A hard-working banker cannot be seen to be helping himself/herself to depositors’ funds. According to ethical stewardship, they should just close shop.
At the second level, ethical stewardship advocates sustainable exploitation of resources. Thus in Hebrew culture, hard work that resulted in the impairment of future productive capacity was considered unethical. Economic crimes were taken seriously in Hebrew culture. Hebrew law required significant compensation for victims of economic subterfuge. Exodus 22:7 (NKJV) reads: “If a man delivers to his neighbour money or articles to keep, and it is stolen out of a man’s house, if the thief is found he shall pay double.’’ Replace neighbour with banker and re-read the verse. The point is that boards of Zimbabwean banks should voluntarily compensate for abused depositors’ funds at a significant premium. Ethical stewardship requires this.
At the deepest level, ethical stewardship in Hebrew culture carried with it the solemn realisation that each individual was just privileged to hold in trust the resources of the original owner and thus was accountable to the ‘owner of the garden’. Thus as Joseph grew up, it was constantly taught him that faithful enterprise, preservation of resources for posterity and accountability to the owner were traits of personal character that could not be traded for anything. At an even deeper level, the physical body of the Hebrew was also held in trust on behalf of the Maker.
These three character traits formed the bedrock of Joseph’s personal integrity. Removed from the parental shield, the fruit of earlier ethical training blossomed in the Egyptian desert. Genesis 39:5-6 reads: “And it came to pass from the time that he (Potiphar) had made him (Joseph) overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.’’ Astounding! Potiphar trusted Joseph’s ethical stewardship so much that he gave him unreserved support. Can you imagine having Joseph as the chief executive of a Zimbabwean bank? Who would not want to put their money in a bank led by a person of the calibre of Joseph? Joseph would not dare take a single cent from a depositor’s money! Which investor would not want to pour money into a company led by an ethical steward in the mould of Joseph?
Then came Potiphar’s wife and her incessant advances wickedly calculated to break down Joseph’s ethical defences. Joseph firmly and respectfully rebuffed Potiphar’s unethical overtures. He drew deeply from the ethical stewardship teachings which had become so deeply ingrained in his psyche that he stood his ground: “But he (Joseph) refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is no one greater in this house than I; nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’’ (Genesis 39:8-9 NKJV). Drawing from the “to the dress and keep” principles of ethical stewardship, Joseph recognised that Hebrew ethics demanded that he view his own body as being held in trust for Yahweh’s mission. Consider carefully what happened next.
Genesis 39:11-12 (NKJV) reads: “But it happened about the time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment , saying, ‘Lie with me’,’’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.’’ This is how Joseph applied the deeper meaning of the principle of ethical stewardship. Joseph ran away with the body which he did not own and left the clothes which he owned. This is the sum of Joseph’s tutorial on business ethics. When we as Zimbabweans begin to ingrain ethical stewardship into our business practices and realise that our talents and skills are held in trust to ‘dress and keep the garden’, our world-renowned skills and natural resources will turn from being a curse into a blessing.
Ellen G White, a 19th Century American Christian devotional authoress, summed it up well when she penned: “The greatest want of the world is the want of men, men who will neither be bought nor sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, …, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”
We need a new kind of national hero in the fashion of Joseph and Daniel. It’s you.
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