Category Archives: Characters in the Bible

Characters in the Bible: What Should We Learn from the Life of Silas?

 

Silas was a leader in the early church, a fellow missionary with Paul, and a “faithful brother” (1 Peter 5:12). He was a Hellenistic Jew who, it seems, was also a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37). He is also referred to as “Silvanus” in Paul’s Epistles (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 1:1).

When we first meet Silas in Scripture, he is a leader and teacher in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22, 32). After the Jerusalem Council, Silas was chosen to help communicate the council’s decision to Antioch, along with the apostle Paul. Soon afterwards, Paul set out on his second missionary journey, and he chose Silas to accompany him (Acts 15:40–41).

On this journey, Paul and Silas traveled to Greece. In Philippi, the missionaries were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. But “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). God then miraculously released them, and the jailer, having witnessed their faith, asked them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (verses 30–31). The jailer was saved that night, and he and his family were all baptized. The next day, the city officials learned that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, and they were immediately fearful; their mistreatment of Paul and Silas the day before had violated Roman law. The city leaders immediately released Paul and Silas from custody. The missionaries left town, but they left behind a body of believers—the first church in Europe.

The start of the Philippian church is a great reminder that, even in extremely difficult times, God can bring about great things. God will glorify His name, even through our trials and tribulations. Paul and Silas had this perspective, and that’s why they were able to sing at midnight.

The fact that the prisoners were “listening” to Paul and Silas singing hymns is not a detail to be skipped over lightly. As followers of Jesus Christ, we, too, have people watching how we react to life’s circumstances. If Paul and Silas had been griping or protesting or whining about the injustice of their situation, the jailer would have never been drawn to believe in the Lord Jesus. But they responded to their situation gracefully and with joy—their actions were completely foreign to how others expected them to react. Because they were “salt” and “light” (Matthew 5:13–14), others had their hearts opened to the gospel.

Later, Silas and Timothy ministered in Berea (Acts 17:14), and Silas spent extra time in Corinth, ministering after Paul left that city. Silas served with Peter as well; in fact, he is thought to have delivered the epistle of 1 Peter to its recipients (1 Peter 5:12).

Silas is a great example of someone who used his gifts to serve the Lord and others with all his heart. The apostles called him “faithful,” and he was known as one to “encourage and strengthen the brothers” (Acts 15:32). Multitudes in the early church were blessed by Silas, and Paul and Peter were heartened by his faithful companionship. Silas was “a brother … born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: What Should We Learn from the Life of Luke?

 

The men who were called to be part of the “inner circle” that surrounded Jesus were a very diverse group of men that hailed from every type of social background and occupation. These twelve men, other than the traitor, Judas, formed the foundation of what is today known as “the church.” One of the men who is not listed as an apostle but had a tremendous effect upon the documenting and spreading of the gospel was a physician named Luke. He was evidently devoted to science and research before he came to know the Savior. There is no evidence that Luke ever personally met the man, Jesus, just as Paul never had the privilege of meeting Him when He walked the earth in the flesh. Luke’s intellect shows through his writings, and his deep knowledge of things pertaining to the physical make-up of man is evident in his Gospel.

Luke was a companion of Paul, who called him “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Colossians 4:10–11, 14 indicate that Luke was not “of the circumcision,” which means that he was a Gentile. It appears that he hailed from Antioch, which may be the reason Antioch seems to be at the center of the book of Acts. This means that Luke is the only writer in the New Testament who is not an Israelite (Jewish). Not only did Luke write the Gospel that bears his name, but he also was privileged and inspired by God to write the book of Acts.

Luke’s writings focus on the preaching of the good news, which indicates his joy over the plan of salvation. He uses the term “good news” ten times in his Gospel and fifteen times in the book of Acts, while it is used only once in the other Gospels. Luke was given the privilege of explaining the process of salvation and how God controls the mind and the heart, in both his Gospel and in Acts. Luke 24:45 says, “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.” Acts 16:14 says, “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard [us]: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”

The date of Luke’s death is not known, but the fact that he did not mention the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or the persecution of believers under Nero that began in A.D. 64 or the martyrdom of James in A.D. 62 leads to the belief that he passed away sometime before these events. From the life of Luke it is clear that no matter what course we set for ourselves in life, when God has other plans, He changes our direction. Luke is an example of an open-minded man, which was unusual for an educated Gentile in his day, but he is a lesson for all who are so focused on their own personal agendas and positions that they are firmly glued in their comfort zone. Luke probably had social status in his community as a physician, but when confronted with truth, he not only recognized it, but he realized that nothing is more important than pursuing it, no matter what the consequences. Luke recognized that Jesus is truth, and his life was forever changed.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: What Should We Learn from the Woman at the Well?

 

The story of the nameless Samaritan woman at the well, recorded only in the Gospel of John, is a revealing one, full of many truths and powerful lessons for us today. The woman at the well follows on the heels of Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and prominent member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (John 3:1–21). In John 4:4–42 we read about Jesus’ conversation with a lone Samaritan woman who had come to get water from a well (known as Jacob’s well) located about a half mile from the city of Sychar in Samaria.

This was an extraordinary woman not so much because she was a Samaritan, a race of people that the Jews utterly despised as having no claim on their God, but because she was an outcast and looked down upon by her own people. This is evidenced by the fact that she came alone to draw water from the community well when during biblical times drawing water and chatting at the well was the social highpoint of a woman’s day. However, this woman was ostracized and marked as immoral, an unmarried woman living openly with the fifth in a series of men.

In spite of the similarities in the two meetings between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, there are differences in the way Jesus unveiled grace to them. While Nicodemus needed to see himself as a sinner in order to understand grace, the Samaritan woman, who knew she was a sinner, needed to see herself as a person of worth and value. And this provides us with one of the most powerful lessons in all of Scripture.

This story teaches us that God finds us worthy of His love in spite of our bankrupt lives. God values us enough to actively seek us, to welcome us to intimacy, and to rejoice in our worship. As a result of Jesus’ conversation, only a person like the Samaritan woman, an outcast from her own people, could understand what this means. To be wanted, to be cared for when no one, not even herself, could see anything of value in her—this is grace indeed.

But there are many other valuable truths we glean from this story. We learn that:

1) Only through Jesus can we obtain and receive eternal life: “Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ ” (John 4:13–14; cf. John 14:6).

2) Jesus’ ministering to those outcasts of the Jewish society (the Samaritans), reveals that all people are valuable to God and that Jesus desires that we demonstrate love to everyone … including even our enemies (John 4:7–9; Matthew 5:44).

3) Jesus is the Messiah (John 4:25–26; 1:41; Matthew 27:22; Luke 2:11).

4) Those who worship God, worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24; Psalm 145:18).

5) Our testimony about Jesus is the most powerful tool we have to lead others to believe in Jesus: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” ’ (John 4:39–42).

Additionally, we learn that Jesus’ dialogue with the woman at the well presents us with three absolute truths about salvation:

1) Salvation comes only to those who recognize their desperate need for the spiritual life they do not have. Living water can be obtained only by those who recognize that they are spiritually thirsty.

2) Salvation comes only to those who confess and repent of their sin and desire forgiveness. Before this immoral woman could embrace the Savior, she had to concede the full burden of her sins.

3) Salvation comes only to those who take hold of Jesus as their Messiah. For the absolute truth is that salvation is found in no one else (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: What Should We Learn from the Account of David and Goliath?

 

The story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) is a factual account from biblical history that demonstrates how the Lord intercedes for His people. David was a shepherd, the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse of Bethlehem. King Saul and his men were battling the Philistines, one of which was a 9-foot giant named Goliath. The men of Saul’s army were afraid of Goliath, and there was no one to stand up to him. But David, filled with faith and a passion for God’s name which was being blasphemed by Goliath, slew Goliath with a stone and a sling. Then he cut off Goliath’s head with the giant’s own sword. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled before the Israelites, who had a great victory over them.

An important point in this story is that Goliath was taunting the sovereign Lord of the universe. He was challenging God’s people to stand up to him and demonstrate that their God was more powerful than he was. Until David came into the Israelite camp, there was no one who was willing to step out in faith and face the giant. However, David’s faith was so strong that he was willing to believe that the Lord would go with him and enable him to defeat Goliath (1 Samuel 17:36–37). David’s faith was born out of his experience of God’s grace and mercy in his life up to that point. The Lord had delivered him out of dangerous situations in the past, proving His power and trustworthiness, and David relied on Him to deliver him from the Philistine.

From the story of David and Goliath, we can learn that the God we serve is capable of defeating any of the giants in our lives—fear, depression, financial issues, doubts of faith—if we know Him and His nature well enough to step out in faith. When we do not know what the future holds, we have to trust Him. But we can’t trust someone we don’t know, so knowing God through His Word will build our faith in Him.

As Christians who have trusted Christ as the only way to heaven (John 14:6), our battle with the giants in our lives will result in victory if we cling by faith to God and His power. The illustration of David and Goliath is only one of many examples of the supernatural power of our Lord. He cares deeply for His children and wants only our best. Sometimes that involves trials and battles, but these are ultimately for our good and His glory. James tells us to consider it pure joy when we encounter trials because they test our faith and develop patience and perseverance (James 1:2–4). When we are tested by these trials, we can stand up against any giant that comes to defeat us.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: Who Were Priscilla and Aquila?

 

The story of these two friends of the apostle Paul is told in Acts 18. Aquila, a Jewish Christian, and his wife, Priscilla, first met Paul in Corinth, became good friends of his, and shared in his work. Eventually the Corinthian church met in their home. These two remarkable people belong in the pantheon of Christian heroes, and their ministry is both an encouragement and an example for us.

When we first meet Aquila and Priscilla, we are told that they had come to Corinth from Italy as victims of Roman persecution, not for their Christian faith but because Aquila was a Jew. The Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome, and no doubt Jews deemed it unsafe to remain in any part of Italy. Aquila and Priscilla found their way to Corinth and settled there, pursuing their trade as tentmakers. When Paul, a tentmaker himself, came to Corinth, he went to see them, no doubt having heard of their faith in Christ. Paul lived and worked with them while founding the Corinthian church.

After a year and a half, Paul left for Ephesus and took Aquila and Priscilla with him. The couple stayed in Ephesus when Paul left, again establishing a church in their home (1 Corinthians 16:9). Then an eloquent preacher named Apollos came through Ephesus. Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures, but he only knew the baptism of John. This means Apollos knew Christ had come and fulfilled John’s prophecies, but he didn’t know the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit, or the mystery of the church containing both Jews and Gentiles. Priscilla and her husband took Apollos aside and explained these things to him (Acts 18:24–26). Both Aquila and Priscilla possessed an in-depth understanding of doctrine learned from Paul, and this husband and wife team was able to pass it on to another Christian and build him up in the faith.

These two remarkable people set an example for us of hospitality, seen in opening their home to Paul and using their house as a meeting place for churches wherever they went. We are also impressed by their passion for Christ and their hunger for knowledge of Him.

Another hallmark of the lives of Priscilla and Aquila is their desire to build others in the faith. Paul’s last reference to them is in his last letter. Paul was imprisoned in Rome and writing to Timothy one last time. Timothy was pastoring the church at Ephesus, and Aquila and Priscilla are there with him, still faithfully ministering (2 Timothy 4:19). To the end, Aquila and Priscilla were offering hospitality to other Christians, spreading the gospel they had learned from Paul, and rendering faithful service to the Master.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: Who Was Cyrus in the Bible?

 

Cyrus is a king mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible and is identified as Cyrus the Great (also Cyrus II or Cyrus the Elder) who reigned over Persia between 539–530 BC. This pagan king is important in Jewish history because it was under his rule that Jews were first allowed to return to Israel after 70 years of captivity.

In one of the most amazing prophecies of the Bible, Isaiah predicts Cyrus’ decree to free the Jews. One hundred fifty years before Cyrus lived, the prophet calls him by name and gives details of Cyrus’ benevolence to the Jews: “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him … ‘I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me’ ” (Isaiah 45:1, 4; see also 41:2–25; 42:6). Evincing His sovereignty over all nations, God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please” (Isaiah 44:28).

Cyrus’s decree releasing the Jewish people, in fulfillment of prophecy, is recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22–23: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.” ’ ” Other Old Testament books that mention Cyrus include Ezra and Daniel.

King Cyrus actively assisted the Jews in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem under Ezra and Zerubbabel. Cyrus restored the temple treasures to Jerusalem and allowed building expenses to be paid from the royal treasury (Ezra 1:4–11; 6:4–5). Cyrus’s beneficence helped to restart the temple worship practices that had languished during the 70 years of the Jews’ captivity. Some commentators point to Cyrus’s decree to rebuild Jerusalem as the official beginning of Judaism.

Among the Jews deported from Judah and later placed under the rule of Cyrus include the prophet Daniel. In fact, we are told Daniel served until at least the third year of King Cyrus, approximately 536 BC (Daniel 10:1). That being the case, Daniel likely had some personal involvement in the decree that was made in support of the Jews. The historian Josephus says that Cyrus was informed of the biblical prophecies written about him (Antiquities of the Jews, XI.1.2). The natural person to have shown Cyrus the scrolls was Daniel, a high-ranking official in Persia (Daniel 6:28).

Besides his dealings with the Jews, Cyrus is known for his advancement of human rights, his brilliant military strategy, and his bridging of Eastern and Western cultures. He was a king of tremendous influence and a person God used to help fulfill an important Old Testament prophecy. God’s use of Cyrus as a “shepherd” for His people illustrates the truth of Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: What Can We Learn from the Life of Hezekiah?

 

Hezekiah was one of the few kings of Judah who was constantly aware of God’s acts in the past and His involvement in the events of every day. The Bible describes Hezekiah as a king who had a close relationship with God, one who did “what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 31:20).

Hezekiah’s story is told in 2 Kings 16:20–20:21; 2 Chronicles 28:27–32:33; and Isaiah 36:1–39:8. He is also mentioned in Proverbs 25:1; Isaiah 1:1; Jeremiah 15:4; 26:18–19; Hosea 1:1; and Micah 1:1.

Hezekiah, a son of the wicked King Ahaz, reigned over the southern kingdom of Judah for twenty-nine years, from c. 726 to 697 BC. He began his reign at age 25 (2 Kings 18:2). He was more zealous for the Lord than any of his predecessors (2 Kings 18:5). During his reign, the prophets Isaiah and Micah ministered in Judah.

After Ahaz’s wicked reign, there was much work to do, and Hezekiah boldly cleaned house. Pagan altars, idols, and temples were destroyed. The bronze serpent that Moses had made in the desert (Numbers 21:9) was also destroyed, because the people had made it an idol (2 Kings 18:4). The temple in Jerusalem, whose doors had been nailed shut by Hezekiah’s own father, was cleaned out and reopened. The Levitical priesthood was reinstated (2 Chronicles 29:5), and the Passover was reinstituted as a national holiday (2 Chronicles 30:1). Under Hezekiah’s reforms, revival came to Judah.

Because King Hezekiah put God first in everything he did, God prospered him. Hezekiah “held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Kings 18:6–7).

In 701 BC, Hezekiah and all of Judah faced a crisis. The Assyrians, the dominant world power at the time, invaded Judah and marched against Jerusalem. The Assyrians had already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and many other nations, and now they threatened Judah (2 Kings 18:13). In their threats against the city of Jerusalem, the Assyrians openly defied the God of Judah, likening Him to the powerless gods of the nations they had conquered (2 Kings 18:28–35; 19:10–12).

Faced with the Assyrian threat, Hezekiah sent word to the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 19:2). The Lord, through Isaiah, reassured the king that Assyria would never enter Jerusalem. Rather, the invaders would be sent home, and the city of Jerusalem would be spared (2 Kings 19:32–34). In the temple, Hezekiah prays a beautiful prayer for help, asking God to vindicate Himself: “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19:19).

God, faithful as always, kept His promise to protect Jerusalem. “That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” (2 Kings 19:35). The remaining Assyrians quickly broke camp and withdrew in abject defeat. “So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem.… He took care of them on every side” (2 Chronicles 32:22).

Later, Hezekiah became very sick. Isaiah told him to set things in order and prepare to die (2 Kings 20:1). But Hezekiah prayed, beseeching God to be merciful and to remember all the good he had done. Before Isaiah had even left the king’s house, God told Isaiah to tell Hezekiah that his prayer had been heard and that his life would be extended fifteen years. Isaiah applied a poultice, and Hezekiah was healed (2 Kings 20:5–7).

However, soon after his healing, Hezekiah made a serious mistake. The Babylonians sent a gift to Hezekiah, for they had heard Hezekiah had been sick. In foolish pride, Hezekiah showed the Babylonians all of his treasures, all the silver and gold, and everything in his arsenal. There was nothing Hezekiah did not parade in front of them. Isaiah rebuked Hezekiah for this act and prophesied that all the king had shown the Babylonians would one day be taken to Babylon—along with Hezekiah’s own descendants.

During the years following his illness, Hezekiah fathered the heir to Judah’s throne, Manasseh, who would turn out to be the evilest king ever to reign in Judah (2 Kings 18–20; 2 Chronicles 29–32; Isaiah 36–39). Tradition has it that Manasseh is the one who murdered Hezekiah’s friend, Isaiah.

Hezekiah’s life is, for the most part, a model of faithfulness and trust in the Lord. His faith was more than superficial, as his bold reforms show. Hezekiah’s trust in the Lord was rewarded with answered prayer, successful endeavors, and miraculous victory over his enemies. When faced with an impossible situation, surrounded by the dreadful and determined Assyrian army, Hezekiah did exactly the right thing—he prayed. And God answered.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: Who Was the Asaph Mentioned in the Book of Psalms?

 

There were a number of Levites that King David assigned as worship leaders in the tabernacle choir, according to 1 Chronicles 6:31–32. Asaph was one of these men (1 Chronicles 6:39). Asaph’s duties are described in detail in 1 Chronicles 16. According to 2 Chronicles 29:30, both Asaph and David were skilled singers and poets. Asaph is also mentioned as a “seer” or prophet. The “sons of Asaph” are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 25:1, 2 Chronicles 20:14, and Ezra 2:41. The sons of Asaph were likely a guild of skilled poets and singers, modeling themselves musically after Asaph, their master. The church musicians of our day can be considered spiritual “children of Asaph.”

Psalms 50 and 73–83 are called the “Psalms of Asaph” because his name appears in the superscription at the head of those psalms. Regarding Asaph’s role as a prophet, of particular interest is the imprecatory Psalm 83, which deals with God’s judgment of Israel’s enemies: Edom, the Ishmaelites, Moab, the Hagarites, Gebal, Ammon, the Amalekites, Philistia, Tyre, and Assyria. If we examine the psalms written by Asaph, we can see that all of them have to do with the judgment of God, and many involve the prayers of the people at the prospect or moment of a particular event.

Asaph was a gifted individual. He understood where the gift came from, and he used his music to praise the Lord and communicate His Word to a needy world.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: Who Was Joseph of Arimathea?

 

Joseph of Arimathea was a biblical figure who played an important role in the burial of Jesus Christ. His account can be found in each of the four Gospels: Matthew 27:57–60; Mark 15:42–46; Luke 23:50–53; and John 19:38–42. He is called “Joseph of Arimathea” because “he came from the Judean town of Arimathea” (Luke 23:51) and to distinguish him from other Josephs in the Bible.

While there is not much information in the Bible about Joseph of Arimathea, there are certain things we can glean from the text. In Luke 23:50, we learn that Joseph was actually a part of the Council, or Sanhedrin—the group of Jewish religious leaders who called for Jesus’ crucifixion. However, as we read on to verse 51, we see that Joseph was opposed to the Council’s decision and was in fact a secret follower of Jesus (see also Mark 15:43). Joseph was a wealthy man (Matthew 27:57), although the source of his wealth is unknown. In addition, the Bible refers to Joseph as a “good and upright man” (Luke 23:50).

After Jesus’ death on the cross, Joseph, at great risk to himself and his reputation, went to the Roman governor Pilate to request Jesus’ body. Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had visited Jesus at night to ask questions about God’s Kingdom (John 19:39; cf. John 3), accompanied Joseph. The two men were granted custody of Jesus’ body, and they immediately began to prepare the body for burial. Following Jewish custom, they wrapped the body in strips of linen and mixed in myrrh and aloe. However, it was the Day of Preparation—the sixth day of the week, just before the Jewish Sabbath—and it was late in the day. So Joseph and Nicodemus hurriedly placed Jesus in Joseph’s own tomb, located in a garden near the place of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Unbeknownst to Joseph and Nicodemus, their choice to put Jesus in Joseph’s tomb fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy spoken hundreds of years before Jesus’ death: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9, emphasis added). This is one of the many prophecies that have confirmed Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and Son of God.

The day after Jesus’ burial, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate to request that the stone Joseph had placed in front of the tomb be sealed, and a guard posted, for three days. They cited Jesus’ assertion that He would rise after three days and claimed the disciples might attempt to steal the body in order to fabricate a resurrection (Matthew 27:63–64). Their precautions were for naught, as Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just as He had predicted (Matthew 28).

Many spurious stories and legends have arisen regarding Joseph. Some purport that Joseph of Arimathea was the uncle of Jesus’ mother, Mary. However, the Bible makes no such connection, so the claim is unsubstantiated. In addition, Joseph supposedly made many trips to Britain for trade and is said to have eventually brought the gospel to that country. Again, though, the Bible is silent about Joseph after Jesus’ burial, so we cannot know for sure what path he took later in life. What we do know is what we find in the Scriptures: Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man and part of the Sanhedrin, and he procured Jesus’ body and laid it in his own tomb—from which Jesus would rise again in power three days later.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: Who Was Apollos?

 

Apollos was an evangelist, apologist, church leader, and friend of the apostle Paul. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, described as “eloquent,” “mighty in the Scriptures,” “fervent in the spirit” and “instructed in the way of the Lord” (Acts 18:24). In A.D. 54, he traveled to Ephesus, where he taught boldly in the synagogue there. However, at that time, Apollos’ understanding of the gospel was incomplete, since he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). This probably means that Apollos preached repentance and faith in the Messiah—he maybe even believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah—but he did not know the full magnitude of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Aquila and Priscilla, friends of Paul, spent some time with Apollos and filled in the gaps in his understanding of Jesus Christ (Acts 18:26). Apollos, now armed with the complete message, immediately began a preaching ministry and was used of God as an effective apologist for the gospel (Acts 18:28).

Apollos traveled through Achaia and eventually found his way to Corinth (Acts 19:1), where he “watered” where Paul had “sown” (1 Corinthians 3:6). This is important to remember when studying the first Epistle to Corinth. Apollos, with his natural gifts, had attracted a following among the church in Corinth, but simple admiration was growing into divisiveness. Against Apollos’ wishes, there was a faction in Corinth that claimed him as their spiritual mentor, to the exclusion of Paul and Peter. Paul deals with this partisanship in 1 Corinthians 1:12–13. Christ is not divided, and neither should we be. We cannot love personality over truth.

The last mention of Apollos in the Bible comes in Paul’s letter to Titus: “Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need” (Titus 3:13). Obviously, Apollos was on his way through Crete (where Titus was) at this time. And, just as obviously, Paul still considered Apollos to be a valuable co-laborer and friend.

Some believe that Apollos eventually returned to Ephesus to serve the church there. It’s very possible that he did, although there’s no biblical confirmation of this detail. Also, some identify Apollos as the unknown author of the book of Hebrews; again, there is no
biblical support for such an identification. The author of Hebrews remains unknown.

In summary, Apollos was a man of letters with a zeal for the Lord and a talent for preaching. He labored in the Lord’s work, aiding the ministry of the apostles and faithfully building up the church. His life should encourage each of us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord” (2 Peter 3:18) and to use our God-given gifts to promote truth.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: What Should We Learn from the Tribe of Naphtali?

 

Israel’s tribes were named for Jacob’s children. Naphtali, being the sixth son of Jacob, is one of Israel’s twelve tribes. In the time of Moses, Naphtali was divided into four clans: the Jahzeelites, the Gunites, the Jezerites, and the Shillemites, named after Naphtali’s sons (Numbers 26:48–49). Naphtali was borne by Rachel’s maidservant, Bilhah. He was her second and last child with Jacob. When Naphtali was born, Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won” (Genesis 30:8). Naphtali means “my struggle.”

Naphtali was one of six tribes chosen to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses (Deuteronomy 27:13). By means of these curses, the people promised God they would refrain from certain behaviors. For example, one curse says, “Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor’s boundary stone” (Deuteronomy 27:17). Another states, “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien or fatherless or the widow” (Deuteronomy 27:19). Still another: “Cursed is the man who kills his neighbor secretly” (Deuteronomy 27:24). In all, Naphtali helped deliver twelve such admonishments (Deuteronomy 27:15–26).

When Jacob blessed his 12 sons, he said, “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns” (Genesis 49:21). The image presented is of one who springs forth with great speed and provides good news. Later, Moses blessed the tribe: “Naphtali is abounding with the favor of the Lord and is full of his blessing; he will inherit southward to the lake” (Deuteronomy 33:23). In Joshua 19:32–39, we learn that Napthali’s land was in northern Israel, bordering Asher’s territory, and the Sea of Kinnereth (or Galilee) touched the southern portion of its territory.

Despite all its blessings Naphtali failed to obey God’s command to drive out all the Canaanites living in its territory. Therefore, “the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath became forced labor for them” (Judges 1:33).

In Judges 4:6–9, we learn that Barak was a Naphtalite. He had been chosen by God to lead a military force of 10,000 of his tribe against their Canaanite oppressors. However, when the time came for action, Barak responded in fear and cowardice, agreeing to fight against King Jabin’s army only if Deborah the judge would accompany him. Deborah consents, but she prophesies that the honor for the victory would go to a woman and not to Barak. The prophecy was fulfilled in Judges 4:17–22.

“The Song of Deborah and Barak” (Judges 5) relates that the tribe of Naphtali risked their lives “on the heights of the field” (verse 18) and so was honored in the victory over the Canaanites.

Later, Naphtali responded to Gideon’s call to repel the Midianites, Amalekites, and others from the East from their encampment in the Jezreel Valley (Judges 6:35). Along with the tribes of Asher and Manasseh, Naphtali followed Gideon into battle and chased the Midianites to Zererah and Abel Meholah (Judges 7:23).

When the time came for David to assume the throne, the tribe of Naphtali provided “1,000 officers, together with 37,000 men carrying shields and spears,” along with a caravan of food, to help him (1 Chronicles 12:34, 40). When King Solomon was building the temple, he hired Huram, a man whose mother was a Naphtalite, to do the bronze work (1 Kings 7:13–47).

In the time of Christ, the land of Naphtali was part of the area of Galilee, and it was viewed by the Jews in Judea as a place of dishonor, full of Gentile pagans (see John 1:46; 7:52). But Isaiah had prophesied that Naphtali would be honored: “In the past he humbled … the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan” (Isaiah 9:1). This honor came with the coming of Jesus Christ. All Jesus’ disciples but Judas, who betrayed Him, hailed from Galilee, and much of Jesus’ ministry took place there. Thus, “on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

The tribe of Naphtali had its ups and downs. Its history includes incomplete obedience and shades of cowardice, but it also includes bravery under Gideon and a godly support of King David. Probably the greatest lesson we can take from Naphtali is that God exalts the humble. Naphtali (as part of Galilee) was despised, and Nazareth was the lowest of the low. Yet Nazareth was Jesus’ hometown, and Galilee was exactly where Jesus chose to begin His ministry. For our sakes, He became “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). The King of kings had the most unpretentious start. He is truly “humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Characters in the Bible: What Should We Learn from the Life of Hannah?

 

Hannah was one of two wives of a man named Elkanah who lived “in the hill country of Ephraim” near Shiloh. The other wife of Elkanah, Peninnah, had children, but Hannah had no child. Because of this, Hannah was very grieved. She desperately desired a child but could not conceive. To make matters worse, Peninnah taunted Hannah concerning her barrenness. Although Elkanah loved Hannah and was very kind to her (1 Samuel 1:5, 8), Peninnah’s unkindness on top of her natural grief was too much for Hannah to bear. Hannah cried out to God about her situation. She promised the Lord that if He would give her a son, she would dedicate him to God as a Nazirite (a man set apart to serve God; see Numbers 6:1–8).

While Hannah was earnestly and silently praying, Eli (the priest at the tabernacle) saw her and mistook her distress for drunkenness. He made an ill-advised comment to encourage her to give up drinking, and she corrected his mistake. “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief,” she told him (1 Samuel 1:16). Hannah then explains her predicament, and Eli says, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” After that, Hannah felt better; she had received God’s promise.

The Lord answered Hannah’s prayer. She bore a son and named him Samuel, whose name means “Asked of God.” When the child was old enough, she kept her promise to the Lord, taking him to Eli and giving him to the Lord to serve in the tabernacle. There, Eli worshiped God along with Hannah. And then Hannah spoke a beautiful prayer, recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1–10.

In Hannah’s prayer, God is presented as the One who helps the weak. Hannah and Peninnah represent the weak and the strong in this world. The strong often mock the weak, but God hears and rescues the Hannahs of the world. Hannah’s prayer addresses the arrogance of the proud, contrasting their haughty words with God’s knowledge, which is vast and far beyond their understanding. “The bows of the mighty are broken,” she says, “but the feeble bind on strength” (verse 4). She begins her prayer with “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord.” Hannah recognized that her strength came from God and not from herself. She was not proud in her strength but rejoiced in God’s ability to make a weakling strong.

Hannah’s story gives us insight into God’s heart. God does not despise human desire. Hannah’s longing for a child was obviously placed in her heart by God Himself. Her husband tries to comfort her, saying in loving exasperation, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” He does not understand why she cannot be content with what she has—namely, him! But Hannah’s desire for a son would not be quenched. She was mocked by Peninnah and rebuked by Eli, but heard by God. God did not chastise her for being discontent. We know that godly contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6). But that does not mean that our human desires—even those that overwhelm us with sorrow when they are unmet—are sinful in God’s eyes. He understands our feelings. He knows that “a hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). And He invites us to bring our requests to Him (Philippians 4:6).

Hannah’s story also teaches us that God can use human weakness to accomplish great things. Samuel, Hannah’s son, grew up to be a great man of God—the final judge and the prophet who anointed the first two kings of Israel. But why was Hannah’s story necessary? Why not just start with Samuel in the tabernacle or at the start of his judgeship? Why not simply let him be born to a God-fearing couple and send an angel to tell them to dedicate their son to God? In short, why involve Hannah’s grief? Because God is glorified in Hannah’s story. Her weakness, her trust in God as she turned to Him, the fervency of her desire, and her faithfulness in bringing Samuel to God as promised are all evidences of God working in Hannah’s life. Her tears were ordained to be part of the glorious story of what God was doing in Israel’s history.

Every person experiences desires that will not be quenched and circumstances that cause grief. Many times, we simply do not understand these things. But in the life of Hannah we see that God knows our story from beginning to end, that everything has a purpose, and that trust in Him is never misplaced.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.