SHREWD FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST
By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in custody for three days. Genesis 42:15-17
When I hear the word shrewd, I don’t naturally think of it as a Christ-like attribute. It has negative connotations but there is such a thing as Spirit led shrewdness. Joseph made use of it here, not for self-protection, and not for revenge, but for kingdom purposes. He withheld information about his true identity and then went on to manipulate events for his brothers’ ultimate good. One theologian suggests that ‘Joseph played the role of a detective conducting a tough interrogation. He could not proceed with full transparency and expect to get accurate information from them.’
The Hebrew word for shrewdness ‘ormah’ is translated as ‘good judgment’, ‘prudent’ or ‘clever’. (Proverbs 12:23; 13:16; 14:8; 22:3; and 27:12) Shrewdness is called for when I must do God’s work in hostile circumstances. Jesus instructed His disciples to be ‘shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves’. Although this is a life-saving spiritual skill, there is little instruction on how to do it. And without it, many Christians are led into danger. They lack critical discernment; they trust the wrong people and end up in captivity. I know. I was in such captivity for 22 years as I trusted wrong people in ministry.
We are taught that a Christian should always be transparent, always be nice. If asked a question, we should be up front and answer it completely. But there are for varying circumstances. Openness and transparency should be reserved for those who earn it. I am to walk wisely as, once in a while, I am in proximity to someone who does not have God’s interest at heart. They have a track record for dealing treacherously with others. In my gut, I feel it would have negative consequences to be fully upfront with them. I find myself giving them partial truths, a kind of Joseph-answer, in order to protect kingdom enterprises that are fragile. If I am prayerful, void of personal agendas, I can rest in the assurance that shrewdness is wisdom.
The danger here is to read this superficially and conclude that to be on God’s side is to condone all deceit. It should be the exception rather than the rule. Anger, unforgiveness, and personal agendas are signs that plans made with good judgment are skewed. I remember that Joseph had worked through betrayal. He had suffered well. The deception he employed was for his brother’s good, not for his need to make them pay. Ultimately, he knew that God making all of them into a nation hung in the balance. What he did, he did for God, not Himself.
Don’t let false guilt get in the way of sharp judgment. Amen