Merely Well Behaved—or Beloved and Gifted? (On Joseph of Genesis)

Phyllis Nissila


I have heard yet another preacher expound on the superior character of Joseph of Old Testament fame who was betrayed by his brothers, unjustly accused by his master’s wife, imprisoned and then forgotten by two who could have helped him get out (see Genesis 37-50). Nevertheless, he consistently responded by taking the moral high ground.

The preacher insisted Joseph never complained; he never reacted imprudently to injustice.

And we ought to do the same while we wait for our own answers to prayer.

Indeed, perhaps our wait for God’s provision would be shorter if we, like Joseph, always mind our P’s and Q’s.

For that young man, it was a mere thirteen years, the preacher noted and estimated as a brief period of time, from when his brothers threw him in the pit until he was appointed to prominence in Pharaoh’s court.

For some of us, on the other hand, he noted, perhaps our bad behavior/attitude is not only what hinders our progress it may even be what delays God’s actions on our behalf—or worse, what stills His hand of deliverance and blessing altogether.

For we ought to, he noted, at all times, despite the cruelties of critics and circumstances, choose the high moral ground ourselves, react rightly in adversity, and then we will see God work on our behalf and end our troubles, whether they be self- or other-inflicted, whether caused by circumstance or happenstance.


Well, yes, of course.

In a sense.

I mean, didn’t The Law demand perfection for entrance through the famed pearly gates? (Actually, for how Jesus took care of that for us see below. But back to the post.)

Shouldn’t we, no matter what faces us, whether a sudden shock, continuous assault, or some pesky bad habit, always do and think and say the right thing?

And doesn’t the human logic of the good pastor make sense? If we shoulda coulda woulda we probably would not be in the pickle we’re in today.

Another sigh…


But if I may, my take on Joseph, whose story has inspired me over the years, tells me something quite different.

Not that it did at first read, mind you, nor after an initial, steady stream of behavior-based analyses of his story (a popular exegesis) that initially left me with the impression few mortals can achieve the kind of maturity he did in the face of trouble, thus there’s not much hope.

But over time I realized Joseph more than likely DID occasionally take the low ground (for, indeed, “all have fallen short…”).

The (mere human) DID learn a better way at times the hard way (for instance, on the occasions of the scorn his brothers inflicted on him after he disclosed his you-will-all-one-day-bow-down-to-me dreams).

Over time I came to understand that Joseph was probably just as faulty and fail-y as the rest of us.

But despite this, he was spared, saved, and ultimately set in a place to assist others—even as we are so destined.


I believe it was generated by God’s behavior toward him, not his behavior toward God.

And he knew this.

From my own study of Joseph as both an historical figure and an archetypal believer, if you will, I have come to understand that two things kept Joseph going in trouble:

He knew he was his father’s beloved


He knew he was gifted and that his gift would bless not only others but also himself.

Early on, he understood both.

It was this knowledge, I believe, and not necessarily a consistently perfect response to the usual evil suspects prowling about to discourage and destroy (often despite good behavior) that enabled Joseph to both persevere and prosper.

And you know what else I’ve come to realize?

We are also beloved of our Father and bestowed with gifts to aid and save as we, powered by faith not flawless choices, yield to Him.



Early on, Joseph knew he was his (earthly) father’s beloved. His special “coat of many colors” evidenced this. Undoubtedly, this son of his parent’s elder years, thought a special blessing, was also treated very well in many other ways.

Unfortunately, parental preference causes sibling strife (and Scripture records his brothers despised him); nevertheless, such favor can contribute to a child’s self-esteem, self-efficacy, and confidence all of which contribute to a firm foundation for success. Those who study such things in the secular realm understand this, too.

But because Joseph undoubtedly learned at the feet of his earthly father, Jacob, and mother, Rachel, about his heavenly Father, I believe that when his time of testing came, when he was no longer able to count on Jacob and Rachel’s provision and protection, Joseph was able to divert his gaze upward to the Source of all help.

I believe this knowledge inspired and strengthened him to stay the course, his humanity notwithstanding.

I also believe that Joseph understood that his “good behavior,” though a better choice, was not motivated by thinking that perfect performance somehow “buys” God’s blessing or answers to prayer.

I believe that as Joseph matured he responded with more wisdom because of his knowledge of how God had previously provided for him and the patriarchs and matriarchs of yore.

Staying the course on the course that stays was, I believe, one of his primary motivators.

And I believe Joseph knew that although he had behaved badly in youth and though he was no doubt really ticked off (in the Hebrew) when the fellow prisoners he interpreted dreams for forgot their promises to help him out of jail, he knew God was still making a way for him to realize the promises seeded in his heart via the gift of his early prophetic dreams. See more on his “gifts” below.


Though our own earthly parents may fail us, their cause or not, as did Joseph’s, here is a brief testimony of our Heavenly Parent’s, if you will, constancy and care (from Matthew 7:7-11, NIV):

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Aka the “ask, seek, knock” passage)

The timing and circumstances might mystify us some, but here is another truth that, in the meantime, enables patience:

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint (Isaiah 40:31, KJV).

I should say, another truth that enables patience—and joy—as it speaks to God’s sustaining help until visible help, you might say, arrives.

And regarding Joseph’s other ever-present knowledge, that God had bestowed a particularly useful gift upon him, consider:


Joseph’s prophetic dreams and ability to interpret them started in his youth, too.

Note: these gifts were not abilities someone else told him he had, or as is nowadays the case in some “business model” churches, “gifts” ascertained via the results of a test mechanism designed more to fill empty slots in pulpit, pew, and/or pot lucks than to assist believers in discerning God’s endowments.

Not that preaching, praying, and passing out the pie are not valid ministries in the Body of Christ.

But Joseph knew (and we can discern, too) that his (our) gifts are God originated—and enabled. Joseph said as much as he talked with those seeking him for dream analysis (40:8).

Joseph also knew that his gifts, i.e., the dreams and his ability to interpret them, were for both his future and for the edification of others’.

I believe this also helped him sustain hope during the dark periods.

In the language of the gifts of the Holy Spirit [1] we might put it this way: Joseph’s “dream gifts” were for prophesy and discernment to predict, edify, and warn.

And even as he ministered to others, he was himself informed, edified, and warned. And he learned to respond accordingly—to his benefit and ultimately, the benefit of his people.


In the place of budding life in which we were “fearfully and wonderfully made,” where some were even “appointed” and “consecrated” for future use, and within which all are “known” (yada—acknowledged, known, chosen…), God seeded gifts in us, too. [2]

Perhaps in the natural it is a musical or artistic talent that filters through the gene pool, an ability to discern patterns or metaphor, a sense of the nature and structure of God’s creation, a bent to invent, or intuition that enhances interpersonal skills, all honed, of course, by time, training, and testing.

Perhaps it is the prominence of one or more of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit given at the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that we become aware of as we mature spiritually and that are important for our (Holy Spirit) appointments and progress in the Body of Christ. Also honed by time, training, and testing.

(Note: sadly, individuals gifted in these ways may have a particularly difficult time in churches where a few have decided that certain of the gifts no longer operate in the Body of Christ, or only certain people are allowed them, or perhaps, they have decided that none of these gifts apply anymore.)

Whatever our gifts, like Joseph’s, they are for both personal and public benefit. They are given to assist and sustain us in our own times of trouble and jubilation as well as to comfort, exhort, instruct, edify, warn, correct, encourage, and/or heal and deliver others.


But the best gift of all? That speaks of both God’s perfect love and perfect provision? The ultimate Divine endowment that benefits not just now but for eternity?

St. John put it this way:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In short (a few chapters later):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (3:16).

Although Joseph lived prior to the time of God the Son on earth in an era dense with rules and regs, the patriarch knew the Manifester, as it were, of his own era, God the Father. And he undoubtedly came to understand the “behaviors” God really required all along.

As it turns out, the same are required today:

And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

A way made possible in this fallen world among fallen men by grace through faith (itself a gift of God, see Ephesians 2:8) but not as a result of works (efforts, behaviors, decisions, do-goods, maturity, beauty, bucks, brains, or brawn) “so that no one may boast…” (9).

Why not by our good behavior?

Because it is only “in Christ Jesus,” that is to say, by our receiving Him into our “heart” at the moment of salvation wherein we are “born again” of the Spirit by the grace (charis—grace, favor, blessing brought to man by God through His Son) that we are “accepted” (Romans 8:1, Ephesians 1:6).

Why then?

The God of perfect love also requires perfect justice, that is, perfect atonement for evil, sin, bad choices.

Only God’s Own, the Spotless Sacrificial Lamb–Who alone could render such perfect justice in another extraordinary act of Divine Love whereby He paid the sin-debt we owe—could accomplish that.


In our stead.

Whoa (in the English).

And He did.


By the only “saving behavior,” if you will, there is and ever was, “performed” one afternoon outside the old city of Jerusalem on a cross, blood pooled beneath…

Try we might and fail we will this side of the pearly gates; nevertheless, by faith we are still loved, gifted–and saved.

And what is this faith? Is it rare and rarely attainable?


It is the “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Perceived only, perhaps, in a dream; “heard” only, perhaps, in a spirit fed by the Word of God; experienced only, perhaps, in an unexplainable event also aligned with The Text… [3]

Joseph figured it out.

That’s what I believe about him.

That’s what I believe sustained him in trouble and prompted responses demonstrating increasing knowledge and wisdom.

And I believe that’s what enabled him—and enables us—to behave accordingly, by grace, out of gratitude—not goaded by guilt or obligation.


It starts here: ask, seek, knock.

Then, yield.

(And watch out for those behavior-based sermons…)


[1] For a good description of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, see:

[2] See for a list of Scriptures on God’s activity on our behalf as we are (I love this metaphor) “knit together in the womb.”

[3] “Faith (pistis—conviction, belief, trust in God via His divine persuasion…) comes by hearing (akoe—both the physical and the spiritual senses), and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). This is a kind of two-for-one deal: Read God’s manifest and let His “divine persuasion” via His grace-filled message  increase your faith in Him.

This entry was posted in Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Commentaries, Devotionals, encouragement in hard times, most recent posts, salvation by grace, spiritual survival, spiritual transformation, survival tools and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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