The old testament offers many shining examples of faith: Noah building an ark, Abraham willing to offer Isaac on the mountain and Moses leading Israel through the Red Sea and across the desert to the Promised Land.
As important as faith is, there are many other virtues we need to practice if we want to live a holy life. Here, again, we find examples in the Old Testament for all kinds of different virtues: Abel being generous by offering his best to God, Job being patient when Satan was allowed to test him, and Ruth being loyal by leaving her people to stay with Naomi.
The Old Testament also features a virtue Christians seem to have forgotten lately. It is the virtue of prudence. Perhaps, the best example of how to practice it can be found in the episode of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold as a slave by his brothers and carried off to Egypt.
Genesis narrates the episode, explaining how Joseph ended up in prison because the wife of Potiphar accused him falsely. She was trying to seduce him. He did the prudent thing, which was to run away.
Have people today really forgotten how to be prudent? Perhaps no one has ever taught them. They think being “prudent” means taking advantage of every opportunity to grab as much as possible before the opportunity to grab disappears. This is not a virtue. It is a vice. It is false prudence. This is why St Paul told the Corinthians: “Do not seek to consider yourselves prudent, for it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the prudence of the prudent.”
True virtues make us more like God. False virtue makes us more like Satan. That is why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
False prudence is often called “prudence of the flesh”. It makes us “wiser” in the ways of evil. True prudence is the virtue that shows us the best way to practice all the other virtues. So Joseph, when working in the house of Potiphar, had the prudence to run away from temptation. When it comes to rejecting temptation of adultery and promiscuity, this is the most prudent thing to do.
One of the saints advised, when faced with such temptations: “Don’t be such a ‘coward’ as to be ‘brave’. Flee!” Another author wisely wrote: “In cases of this kind, it is better to run away than engage in battle.” This is exactly what Joseph did and God rewarded him for his prudence.