The failing of the United States infrastructure is a huge problem fast approaching critical mass. The Minneapolis bridge collapse on August 1, 2007 has been widely used to show the potential for our failure to address these kinds of systems before they fail.
While it is somewhat understandable that federal, state and local politicians drag their feet on these kinds of investments since voters don’t recognize the money spent as helping them as directly as other programs, the same short sightedness on the part of private companies is amazing.
Power companies have allowed things like power distribution systems to degrade until customer service is impacted. Why would they allow the income producing elements of their business to degrade to this point? Couldn’t the managers see that their livelihood depended on keeping these systems in good repair? Of course they could but as individuals and as an industry they still didn’t make the incremental investments needed to keep their income producing assets in good repair.
I submit that the failure was not of vision; that is, not the inability to see the potential future problems, but was a failure of ethics or morality. Not necessarily of the individual managers but of the boards that set up the guidelines the managers had to follow.
Those boards made profit to the shareholders their “little god” in violation of the first commandment – Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. The managers allowed themselves to be seduced by their titles and salaries into aiding and abetting this short sighted and self-defeating thinking.
In Genesis Chapter 41 we read the story of God’s warning to treasure his gifts. Joseph, sold into bondage by his brothers languished as a servant of one of the captains of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s guard until Pharaoh had a dream:
14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile,
18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds.
19 After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt.
20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first.
21 But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.
22 “In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk.
23 After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind.
24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.”
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.
26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream.
27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.
28 “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.
29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt,
30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land.
31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe.
32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt.
34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance.
35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food.
36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
There are several lessons in this part of the story.
The first is that the warnings, while not necessarily obvious, are not limited to a select few. The parable is in the Old Testament and the people of the Old Testament are the ancient Jews, followers of the God Jehovah. In this story, God sent his warning not to a Jew but to Pharaoh, a non-believer and a polytheist (a believer in more than one god).
A second lesson is that it may take thought and prayer to understand the warning. Yet a third lesson is that included in the warning will be keys to solving the problems.
The story goes on to show how Pharaoh was to prepare for the events warning foretold.
38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.
40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Why in the world would Pharaoh take a servant and put him over all the leaders of Egypt? Of all the people of Egypt, only Joseph was able to understand the warning and recommend a solution. The lesson for each of us is that the person to recognize the warning is the most likely to know what the solution is and how to implement it.
The very last person to you should ask for advice is the person who didn’t recognize the warning as a warning, since they will cling to the status quo far beyond the point where effective solutions can be implemented.
41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”
42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.
43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.
44 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.”
45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.
46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt.
Here Pharaoh recognized that the contribution Joseph was about to make was far above his station as a servant. Pharaoh changed the station of Joseph in one fell swoop, not just a little bit but massively and immediately. Joseph was raised up partly because in the Egyptian culture of that time, authority was recognized by the status of the person; by their house, their clothes and the number of their servants.
For Joseph to be obeyed it was necessary for everyone he came in contact with to recognize his importance and Pharaoh knew that in order for Joseph to do what needed to be done, the people had to obey Joseph.
Genesis 41: 47-57
47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully.
48 Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it.
49 Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.
50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.
51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”
53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end,
54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food.
55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”
56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt.
57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.
Several lessons are mixed together in this part of the story. Recognizing that the surplus from the seven fat years needed to be stored against the lean years, Joseph began gathering up the surplus instead just consuming it and allowing Pharaoh, the court and all the people to live better in that day.
The story also relates the details of Joseph’s private life. By reporting on his marriage and his children the story reinforces the need to balance work and life. To ensure that in your “drive to succeed” you don’t neglect your family or your spiritual life.
While Joseph “sold unto the Egyptians” nowhere in this detailed account does it describe Joseph raising the price of corn. In other words, just because there was a shortage Joseph didn’t gouge the people to increase Pharaoh’s wealth.
Because Pharaoh listened to the warning he was not only able to protect the people dependent on him but as verse 57 shows, he had surplus enough to sell to “all countries” since the famine was not limited to Egypt.
Whether you are a Christian or not these lessons illustrate the sickness that has overtaken American business. A short sighted viewpoint has caused us to miss the signs of future danger just as surely as restricting your vision to 5 feet in front of your car will cause you to miss the brake lights on the car 100 feet ahead.
Forgetting that with authority over people and control of resources comes an obligation to care for those people and to husband those resources has allowed us to squander both our peoples’ energy and our resources in living exaggerated lifestyles. Pharaoh, an absolute monarch, remembered that even the meanest slave must be cared for since that slave did jobs that needed to be done for his nation to survive and prosper and that without caring for that slave there would be no one to “get ‘er done”.