If I were to enquire, which are your ten favourite Bible characters by virtue of their legacy of somehow blessing you personally, what would your answer be?
I would be surprised if your answer were the same as mine and would NOT be surprised if, with one exception, none on your list are on mine. One reason for this is none of our journeys, temperaments, interests, outlooks, axioms etc. are the same, often far from it, yet these are the very factors that influence our choices. As far as my choices go, which I will identify and give reasons why they are my choices, one is a prophet but a lot more, two are definitely prophets although in one case it was not his main job, and the rest have, as I have argued earlier, acted prophetically. With a single exception, they were not perfect and three had a notably darker side. While there are many other worthy characters, these are the ones I would cite as being my ten favourite Bible characters.
This was guy was an outsider. He was kicked out of his family home (his mother was a prostitute) and he was rejected by his community. If anyone had an excuse for having a chip on his shoulder, it was him. While on the outside, he attracted around him a band of dodgy characters, who from what we can make out operated as a bunch of mercenaries. This was just what was needed as Israel fell under the cosh by enemies in their midst, frustrated they could do little to protect themselves. They then called on a bemused Jephthah to free them from their oppressors. He did so successfully by the power of the Holy Spirit (i.e. God used him) and was appointed their leader. His weak theology coupled with doing the wrong thing is evidenced by his willingness to sacrifice his daughter because of a vow to God and playing a key part in a short, bloody civil war. While his credentials for favorite may be questionable, Jephthah shows how God uses willing outsiders who are flawed for his glory.
As we have already reflected, the book of Job addresses, although not to one’s entire satisfaction, the big question asked for time immemorial: why do the innocent suffer? It is likely set in the time of the Patriarchs and his story is recounted in cultures other than Israel. In a nutshell, Job was a man who had everything, was materially well off, well respected and life was hunky dory. Moreover, he honoured God. Unbeknown to Job, there was a conflab going on in heaven involving God and Satan. Satan told God that Job only honoured Him because God blessed Job. As if to test this proposition, God allowed Satan to take everything away from Job that he had and Job still worshipped God. We then trawl though many chapters of dialogue between Job and his three comforters, plus toward the end a young fellow who wanted to chip in. In short Job’s friends suggested Job wasn’t quite what he appeared to be and it was why he suffered and, as for Job, he tried to work out, not entirely successfully “why me”? In the end God intervenes without entirely answering Job’s concerns, besides telling him that he didn’t know what he was talking about and as God He could do what He wanted, He restored to Job what he had lost, with interest. Faced as we are with perplexing conundrums, including the unfairness of life, it is well to reflect on Job’s patience and trust in God whatever the weather.
The first thing I notice about Jacob was how unlikeable he was. Comparing Jacob with his older brother, by a minute, Esau, we see Jacob as sneaky and a mummy’s boy and Esau as not sneaky and more a man’s man. Yet God, who always knows what is best, chose Jacob to take and pass on the all important birthright. Two key events stood out in Jacob’s life – the first was at Bethel when he dreamed a dream of angels ascending and descending stairs between earth and heaven when God promised His protection and re-affirmed the promise He gave to his grandfather Abraham. The second was at Peniel, twenty years later, having acquired two wives, several children and lots of animals. He had been outconned and chastened by his dealings with uncle Laban and was not looking forward to facing his estranged brother, Esau, who he had cheated and maybe carrying a grudge, as he returned home. It was at Peniel Jacob had his all-night wrestling match with the Angel, who he would not let go until he was blessed, which he got along with a limp he carried for the rest of his life. Peniel was where Jacob experienced true brokenness. While thereafter flaws in character could be seen, there was wisdom, serenity and sense of the divine. If God can do that with Jacob the supplanter, He can do that with you and me.
The Bible is full of people who had small walk on roles, never to be heard of again and if one doesn’t know one’s Bible may not even be recognised, and yet played significant, even heroic roles. We first come across Obadiah (not to be confused with the Minor Prophet) as one in charge of the Palace of King Ahab, who feared the Lord and was very devout. No doubt he performed his role admirably and it was while about the king’s business when he bumped into the prophet Elijah. During the period while Elijah was away, wicked Queen Jezebel was rounding up the true prophets of the Lord and killing them, with Obadiah doing his best to protect them by hiding them in caves and ensuring their temporal needs were being met. Understandably, Obadiah was fearful meeting the great man, as colluding with the king’s enemy might cost him his life. But he did what Elijah asked and set up a meeting between Ahab and Elijah, and we hear no more about him. Obadiah was one of those people I admire that just got on with life, made the best out of what life threw at him, and honoured God.
Jeremiah will forever be known as the doom and gloom prophet, and for good reason. He started young and was not too confident, had to do some pretty daft things at God’s bequest and suffered terribly at the hands of them he managed to upset, all because he spoke the God’s truth, doing so with pin point accuracy. While he was a contemporary of good king Josiah, the four southern kingdom kings that followed, prior to Judah being taken into exile, were bad, and so were the people. God had had enough; they had reached the point of no return despite many warnings and they were ripe for judgment. The people somehow expected that everything would turn out alright, a message that most of the other prophets proclaimed and which was one the people wanted to hear. But Jeremiah stuck to his guns, despite knowing doing so would harm him. Notwithstanding, he spoke words of comfort too – judgment would be followed by mercy; and ruin by revival. If there is an example that I would want to follow, it is that of Jeremiah, who spoke needed truth to power did what God required of him. Today, his message strangely resonates in the light of events we see unravelling around us.
If you want a best example of a goody two shoes character in the Bible, then Daniel is your man. We first find out about him when as a teenager he was taken into exile, right at the beginning and, seventy years later, at the end of the exile, he was still around. For that entire period, he was faithful to God, obeying the Law to a tee, even when it meant being thrown into the lion’s den. But he also won favour with three pagan kings by the way he conducted himself, impressed by his wisdom and ability as a civil servant as well as how spot on were his dreams and visions, although he also attracted enemies jealous of him. He lived a disciplined life, exemplified by his prayer life and eating habits. He loved God and His people and the way he prayed was amazing. The old Sunday School chorus “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone! dare to have a purpose firm! dare to make it known” pretty much summarises what Daniel was about and throws down the gauntlet, whether young or old, we too can dare to be a Daniel, who stayed the course. What is there not to like?
Barnabas will be remembered as an encourager, who the Apostles looked to, to sort out tricky situations like how to respond when Gentiles were becoming Christians, and above all the man that mentored Paul after his Damascus Road experience, when other believers would not touch him with a barge pole, who would later accompany Paul on his missionary journeys, willing to play second fiddle until they parted company on a matter of principle. My own background puts Paul on such a pedestal that to be critical could be considered sacrilegious and yet Barnabas stood up to him when he considered Paul to be in the wrong. Barnabas represents an example of how Christian discipleship might be carried out. We first learn of him as one dedicated to the cause when he sold land so the proceeds could be used for gospel ministry. We later see him stick his neck out to support the one forever known as the great apostle, Paul. But the one thing that stands out for me, in my day when the need is so blatantly obvious, was how he went out of his way to encouraged others, especially in God’s ways.
Ruth was an amazing woman. Before I found my own “Ruth” she would have been the sort of girl I would have liked to marry, and her husband (Boaz) the sort of man I wanted to be. If it were not for the fact Ruth married two (not at the same time) Israelites who were to be important links in the Messianic line, we would never have known about her. She was a Moabitess and, generally in the Bible, anything to do with Moab was seen negatively. She is intoduced as one of the daughter-in-laws to Naomi, who while living in Moab, her husband and two sons died. She decided to return home and told her two daughter-in-laws to remain where they were. But Ruth insisted she return with her, despite bleak prospects. In one of those remarkable Godinstances that the Bible is good at telling us about, she met Boaz, an honourable, righteous man, who happened to be Ruth’s kinsman redeemer. They fall in love, marry and have a son who happened to be in direct line to Jesus. Ruth’s virtue was there for all to see, and it was at a premium given the story took place in the time of the Judges. Just as Boaz showed the sort of character men should emulate, Ruth did so for women.
The jury has been out for 2000 years what sort of woman Mary Magdalene was. While it is often thought she was an immoral woman and a prostitute, we cannot be sure. What we do know is Jesus cast from her seven demons, suggesting up to them she had been a troubled woman with perhaps a dark past. She became one of his followers, along with other women who took care of some of the practical needs of Jesus disciples. She features particularly at the end as she witnesses first hand Jesus dying on the cross. Then on that third day, she is first to arrive at the tomb to anoint the body and to her surprise and great joy she discovered that Jesus is ALIVE. She was first to witness His resurrection and it is she who told Jesus disciples of this wonderful news. Mary was a faithful follower of Jesus with a caring, serving heart, who despite whatever her earlier life had been Jesus was pleased to reveal Himself to, before anyone else.
Jesus of Nazareth
The top of my list! I feel I do not need to elaborate. Psalm 45 relates!