The Might of the Corporation

About 350 years ago, one of the most astounding tools for human development emerged. The joint stock company or the corporation first showed up in England and Holland and was largely responsible for rapidly propelling those two countries to international prominence and prosperity. Those early corporations bore names like The Hudson Bay Company, The Dutch East India Company, and the English East India Company.

These were legal creations allowing a group of people to act in unison for a common purpose. They also allowed many people to invest in an expensive venture, say, trading with the Far East, and to limit their liability to the sum invested. Though hundreds of individuals may have held stock in these early companies and although some were princes and some were peasants, they all prayed for the same outcome.

It interests me that this remarkable idea, as innovative and as powerful in the economic arena as was the steam engine in the transportation arena, emerged in two countries closely linked culturally to the Bible. Both England and Holland were Protestant societies in which the Bible and its worldview set the social and cultural norms.

The corporation, which brings together complete strangers and unifies them as partners in a common enterprise, was not invented in countries in which the prime social connection was tribal. It came about in Biblically inspired places where people view non-family or non-tribal members with warmth and trust.

To this day, one of the measures of the economic vitality of a region or of a sovereign nation is the ease with which a corporation can be formed and a business launched. To me it seems obvious that societies in which human bonds depended mainly upon blood or geographical proximity were less likely to be able to form a bond based on something more spiritual. A shared commitment to a system of values that encourages trust and cooperation and a shared interest in the outcome of a venture would make the adoption of the corporation far more likely.

That the corporation was responsible for the creation of so much wealth and human advancement is understandable once one considers the power multiplier of a group of people acting as one. This is true militarily and economically. You can think of a corporation as an army of people fighting under a unified command alongside one another to achieve a financial goal.

Consider this scene: Israel has just experienced the Exodus from Egypt. Seven days later they find themselves on the shores of the Red Sea with the vengeful, pursuing Egyptians rapidly approaching.

…and the Children of Israel lifted their eyes and behold, Egypt was advancing upon them. And they were extremely terrified, and the Children of Israel cried out to the Lord. (Exodus 14:10)

Ancient Jewish wisdom points out that the term “extremely terrified” is unique. Why was Israel so terribly frightened? After all, they had seen God work many miracles for them in recent weeks. Why not assume that He would do so again in the current crisis?

The explanation is revealed in the original Hebrew by noting a change from verse 9 to verse 10*. In the Lord’s language verbs, as well as nouns, are singular or plural. The name of the attacking group in both verses is ’Egypt’ rather than the ‘Egyptians’. However, in verse 9, the verb, chasing, is in the plural, while in verse 10, the verb ‘advancing’ is in the singular. We see an army of individuals turning into a unified entity. The verb that I translated as “advancing” is in the singular to emphasize an unusual unity. Egypt was advancing like one man with but a single thought.

It is always heartwarming and encouraging to see one’s enemies arguing among themselves. But it is very scary to see one’s enemies unified in their determination to “get you”.

In ways that earlier texts demonstrate, the Egyptians were extremely divided as to how to react to the ten plagues. However, now, with Israel trapped on the beach, the Egyptians show themselves to be unified. Naturally the children of Israel were extremely terrified. Unity is an immensely powerful force.

In Volume 2 of his early 1800’s masterpiece, Democracy in America, Alexander de Tocqueville observed “The most democratic country on the face of the earth, is that in which men have in our time, carried to the highest perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desires.”

Whether in your business, social, family, or national life, finding others with whom you can unite in common pursuit of an objective will grant astounding and disproportionate power to your aspirations.

*In our recommended Bible

Exodus 14:9 – p. 206, 5th line from the top, 6th and 7th words from the right.
וירדפו מצרים
And Egypt chased (chased is in the plural).

Exodus 14:10 – p. 206, 8th line from the top, 4th and 5th words from the right.

מצרים נםע
Egypt advancing (advancing is in the singular).

This Thought Tool is dedicated in memory of Lior ben Yaakov, age 44, who was killed defending his home and family from terrorists on October 7, 2023. Along with a few other men, his defense of seven adjoining communities turned the terrorists away from the areas they were attempting to breach. Lior leaves a widow and three children, parents and siblings.

And with continuing prayers for the safety and return of the remaining hostages, and among them, Rom Braslavski, age 19, who was working as a security guard at the Supernova Music Festival on October 7, 2023. Rom helped a number of young women escape and hide, during which time he was shot and then abducted by Hamas terrorists.

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