Details matter, and when we’re surrounded by noise and stress, we often miss the details. What might we be missing?
On a return trip the other day, I took a route I don’t drive often and used a navigation app for help. To merge from one freeway to the next, the navigator told me to take a particular exit within the spaghetti bowl of bridges, ramps and flyovers. The navigation voice referred only to an exit number. I saw a few signs for the direction I wanted to go but never saw one that included the exit number.
Thankfully, I know the area well enough that I was able to take the exit I needed, but someone new to the area would search in vain for the right exit number, perhaps getting lost in the process.
Details give us direction.
The details of Joseph’s story
While recently reading the story of Joseph and his brothers recorded in Genesis 42-45, I saw a detail I hadn’t noticed before.
Joseph’s brothers were back in Egypt, this time with their youngest brother, Benjamin. After the initial welcome, the brothers were served a meal.
“The men had been seated before [Joseph] in order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment” (Genesis 43:33).
On their first visit to Egypt for food, Joseph asked the brothers questions that should have revealed he knew them, but the brothers didn’t get the clues. They were under duress. They were starving and scared and just wanted to get home alive.
On their second visit to Egypt, Joseph continued to offer them clues, and they continued to miss them. Despite being astonished—whether by their seating arrangements or the simple fact they were seated with a powerful ruler—the brothers didn’t put two and two together.
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How could anyone other than family have known in what order to seat the brothers?
Details illuminate the truth.
The details of our culture
If we pay attention to the messages of our culture, we will see just how much we place our faith in other people.
American culture—especially leadership culture—conditions us to place our faith in particular companies or individuals. Pharmaceutical companies will cure what ails us, hopefully without nasty side effects like addiction. Credit card companies—perhaps even the one in our wallet—will protect us from fraud. Cyber security companies will prevent identity theft. Insurance companies will keep us in good hands.
Pastors will keep the church alive. Coaches will win the championship. CEOs will turn the company around. The president will save the economy.
More than the details of a company’s terms of service, more than the details of a given leader’s context or temperament, one detail must never be overlooked. We must not overlook the source of the promises and guarantees.
The leaders in whom we are asked to place our faith—whether in government, business or religion—are human. No human individual or company can guarantee our health, safety, financial security or success. Any time we hear such a guarantee, we should be astonished. Even more, we should pay attention to where we are placing our faith.
Life and death are bound up in the details
The world is a noisy place these days. We are bombarded by stressors. We often feel overwhelmed, lacking the necessary margin to notice the details. To compensate, we trust in technology for direction and in leaders for security. Yet, the navigator may steer us in the wrong direction; the leader may convince us we have no choice but to vote for him.
“Some trust in chariots and … horses” while others “look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge,” not seeing that “Pharaoh’s protection will be to [their] shame, Egypt’s shade will bring [them] disgrace” (Psalm 20:7; Isaiah 30:2).
We should look more closely at the details of where we place our faith. Rather than the name of Pharaoh, we should “trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7). It is God who holds our health, our safety, our security, our very lives.
Jack Nicholson as the Joker asked, “Who do you trust?” The question and its source are equally important.
While we sit at the table, we should pay attention to the details. There is a message written in the people around us. It is an important message, one that will astonish us.
That message is: No one at the table can save us. Not even Joseph, as much good as he did.
Only the one who stands at the door and knocks can (Revelation 3:20). And only he will.
Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP. The views expressed are those solely of the author.