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.

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

 

Asher is one of Israel’s twelve tribes. In the time of Moses, Asher was divided into five clans: the Imnites; the Ishvites; and the Berites; and, through Beriah, the Berite patriarch, two more clans: the Heberites and the Malkielites. The first three clans were named after Asher’s sons; the fourth and fifth after Beriah’s sons (Numbers 26:44–45).

Asher was Jacob’s eighth son. His mother was Leah’s maidservant, Zilpah, and he was her second and last child with Jacob. When Asher was born, Leah said, “How happy am I! The women will call me happy” (Genesis 30:13). Asher’s name means “happy.”

Asher was one of six tribes chosen to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses (Deuteronomy 27:13). Through these curses, the people promised God they would refrain from bad behavior. For example, one curse says, “Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother” (Deuteronomy 27:16). Another states, “Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road” (Deuteronomy 27:18). Still another: “Cursed is the man who sleeps with his mother-in-law” (Deuteronomy 27:23). In all, Asher delivered twelve admonishments (Deuteronomy 27:15–26).

When Jacob blessed his sons, he said, “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king” (Genesis 49:20). Later, Moses blessed the tribe, saying, “Most blessed of the sons is Asher; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him bathe his feet in oil. The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days” (Deuteronomy 33:24). Washing one’s feet in oil was a sign of prosperity, and Jacob’s reference to Asher’s food being “rich” indicated that Asher would possess fertile lands. In Joshua 19:24–31, we learn that Asher received land along the Mediterranean coast.

Despite all its blessings, the tribe of Asher failed to drive out the Canaanites, and “because of this the people of Asher lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land” (Judges 1:31–32). In the time of Deborah and Barak, “Asher remained on the coast and stayed in its coves” rather than join the fight against Jabin, a Canaanite king (Judges 5:17). This failure to aid their fellow tribes could indicate a lack of reliance on God, a lack of effort, a fear of the enemy, or a reluctance to upset those with whom they did business. Thus, the example set here is a negative one: although Asher was richly blessed, they did not behave admirably; when the time for action came, they failed to trust in God and honor His plan.

Later in Judges, Asher does respond to Gideon’s call to repel the Midianites, Amalekites, and others from the East (Judges 6:35). In another important gesture, Asher accepts Hezekiah’s invitation to the tribes from the Northern Kingdom to join the Passover celebration in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:11). This was considered an act of humility, proof of a contrite heart before God.

In the end, we find that Asher received many great blessings from God. Having received a blessing, they were expected to obey the Lord’s commands. In this they sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed. We, too, have been blessed by God (Ephesians 1:3), and the Lord expects us to obey His commands (John 14:15). Just as Asher received a prophetic blessing from Jacob, God’s children have received this promise: “For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Praise the Lord for His wonderful plans for us. What a comfort![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 Deborah?

 

Deborah was one of the judges of Israel during a time of oppression. She is called a prophetess and the wife of Lappidoth. The Lord spoke through her as she held court under a tree called “the Palm of Deborah” in Ephraim. The Lord also used her to set her people free and defeat the king of Canaan. Deborah’s story is found in Judges, chapters 4 and 5.

Deborah was Israel’s only female judge. Some scholars have suggested that her position as judge was itself a judgment on the weak-willed men of Israel. Because Israel’s men were unfit to judge, God chose a woman for the job, partly to shame the men who should have taken the leadership. Other commentators believe that Deborah’s role as judge was a sign of God’s comforting presence in the midst of His oppressed and downtrodden people.

When Deborah became judge, the Israelites had been subjugated for 20 years by Jabin, king of Canaan. The commander of Jabin’s army was named Sisera, and he had 900 iron chariots—formidable weapons against Israel’s foot soldiers (Judges 4:3). The Israelites were treated very cruelly by Sisera and his army, and Israel’s spirits were very low. Deborah describes the hardship of living under Jabin and Sisera this way: “The highways were abandoned, and travelers kept to the byways. The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be” (Judges 5:6–7). In other words, people feared to leave their homes; traveling was very dangerous.

God’s word comes through Deborah to a man of Naphtali named Barak. The message is that he will lead the revolt against Sisera. Barak’s response is, “I’ll only go if Deborah goes with me” (Judges 4:8). Everyone was afraid of Sisera, including Barak. Deborah agrees to accompany Barak, but she also prophesies that the honor for the victory would belong to a woman, not to Barak (Judges 4:9).

When the time came for battle, God again spoke through Deborah, who prompted Barak to marshal his forces. The Israelites came against the army of Sisera, and God granted the victory. The mighty Sisera himself was brought down by the hand of a woman, just as Deborah had said. As the commander rested after the battle, a woman named Jael drove a tent peg through his head.

What can we learn from the life of Deborah? We can see that God’s power is what matters, regardless of the instrument He chooses to use. Man or woman, strong or weak, confident or hesitant—all are strong when they are moved by God’s Spirit and filled with His strength. We can also see in Deborah a picture of God’s tender care for His people. As a mother cares for her children, so Deborah led and nurtured Israel (Judges 5:7).[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 Zebulun?

 

Zebulun is one of Israel’s twelve tribes. In the time of Moses, Zebulun was divided into three clans: the Seredites, the Elonites, and the Jahleelites, named after Zebulun’s sons (Numbers 26:26). The tribes were named for Jacob’s children (or grandchildren, in the cases of Ephraim and Manasseh).

Jacob’s tenth son, Zebulun, was the youngest of six borne by Leah. When Zebulun was born, Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons” (Genesis 30:20). Zebulun means “dwelling” or “honor.”

Zebulun 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 carves an image or casts an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 27:15). Another states, “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow” (Deuteronomy 27:19). Still another: “Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out” (Deuteronomy 27:26). In all, Zebulun helped deliver twelve admonishments of this sort (Deuteronomy 27:15–26).

Upon entering the Promised Land, Zebulun failed to drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron and Nahalol, although Zebulun did subject them to forced labor (Judges 1:30). This was incomplete obedience to God’s clear command to drive out all the inhabitants of the land (Numbers 33:52). Not responding fully to God’s Word, as Zebulun demonstrated, is a trait to which we all can relate. How often do we choose to follow our own paths for various reasons, many of which may not be in concert with God’s wishes?

Later, Zebulun returned to God and followed His commands. They participated in the battles led by Deborah and Barak, and they fought valiantly (Judges 4:6; 5:18). The judge Elon was a Zebulunite (Judges 12:11). During the kingdom years, Zebulun joined David at Hebron to transfer Saul’s kingdom to David (1 Chronicles 12:23, 33, 40). This, too, provides insight into our behavior. While at times we turn away from God, His love for us, and ours for Him, draws us back into communion with Him and compliance with His will.

Zebulun’s territory was located in what later became known as Galilee, in Northern Israel. Moses’ blessing on the tribe was that they would prosper in their overseas dealings with Gentile nations (Deuteronomy 33:18–19). Isaiah prophesied, “In the past [God] humbled the land of Zebulun … but in the future he will honor Galilee” (Isaiah 9:1). Isaiah’s prediction is Messianic: Galilee (including Zebulun) would be honored as the first to hear Christ’s preaching, and this would more than compensate for their humiliation at the hands of the Assyrians centuries before.

Numerous verses in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, extol God for His unfailing patience, love, and faithfulness. Indirectly, Zebulun’s history reminds us that God is always present when we return to Him. No matter how battered or bruised we may be or how ashamed we may feel about past transgressions, God can still use us.[1]

 


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

Characters in the Bible: Who Was Absalom?

Absalom was the third son of King David, by his wife Maacah. The bulk of Absalom’s story is told in 2 Samuel 13–19. He had a strong influence on his father’s reign.

The first recorded event defining Absalom’s life also involved his sister Tamar and half-brother Amnon. Tamar was beautiful, and Amnon lusted after her. When Tamar rebuffed Amnon’s advances, he arranged, through subterfuge, to have her come to his house, where he raped her. After the rape, Amnon put Tamar out of his house in disgrace. When Absalom heard what happened, he took his sister in to live with him. For the next two years, Absalom nursed a hatred of his half-brother. Then, using some subterfuge of his own, Absalom invited Amnon to his house for a party. During the festivities, in the presence of David’s other sons, Absalom had his servants kill Amnon in cold blood.

Out of fear of his father, Absalom ran away to Geshur, where he stayed for three years. During that time, Scripture says that David “longed to go out to Absalom,” but we’re never told that he actually did anything to reconcile the relationship. David’s general, Joab, was ultimately responsible for bringing Absalom back to Jerusalem. However, even then, Absalom was not permitted to enter David’s presence, but had to live in a house of his own. He lived this way, presumably never contacting or being contacted by his father, for two years. Finally, once again by way of Joab’s intercession, the two men get back together, and there is a small measure of reconciliation.

Unfortunately, this peace did not last. Possibly resenting his father’s hesitancy to bring him home, Absalom began to stealthily undermine David’s rule. He set himself up as judge in Jerusalem and gave out promises of what he would do if he were king. After four years of this, he asked to go to Hebron, where he had secretly arranged to have himself proclaimed king.

The conspiracy strengthened, and the number of Absalom’s followers grew steadily, such that David began to fear for his own life. David gathered his servants and fled Jerusalem. However, David left behind some of his concubines and a few informers as well, including Zadok and Abiathar the priests and his advisor Hushai.

Upon entering Jerusalem as king, Absalom sought to solidify his position, first by taking over David’s house and sleeping with his concubines, considered an unforgiveable act. Then he laid plans to immediately pursue and attack David’s forces, but the idea was abandoned owing to the advice of Hushai. This delay allowed David to muster what troops he had at Mahanaim and mount a counterattack to retake the kingdom.

David himself did not take part in the counterattack, having been persuaded by his generals to remain behind. He did give explicit instructions to the generals to “deal gently” with Absalom, in spite of his treason. Scripture makes the point that all the troops heard David’s orders concerning Absalom. However, the orders were disobeyed. As Absalom was riding under some trees, his long hair became entangled in the branches, and he was unhorsed. Joab found Absalom suspended in mid-air and killed him there. Thus, the rebellion was quelled, and David returned to Jerusalem as king.

David mourned deeply over his son, so much so that it affected the morale of the army. His grief was so great that their victory seemed hollow to them, and they returned to the capital in shame rather than triumph. It was not until he was rebuked by Joab that David was restored to a measure of kingly behavior.

Much has been said about David’s neglect of Absalom in this sad incident. It is possible that parental responsibility is a lesson we can take from this episode, but Scripture does not expressly teach it here. We do know that David did nothing about Amnon’s rape of Tamar, although he knew about it. If David had avenged Tamar, would Absalom have taken it upon himself to mete out justice? And what was the impact on Absalom’s soul of carrying hatred for Amnon for so long? We don’t know the answers to those questions, but it seems that David’s inaction had a deleterious effect in Absalom’s life.

What we can say with certainty, however, is that pride goes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Absalom’s self-promotion led to nothing. Also, God is sovereign. God foiled Absalom’s plan to overthrow his father’s kingdom (see 2 Samuel 17:14). All events are settled in eternity, and nothing, not even the Absaloms of the world, can thwart the power of God to do as He pleases in history.[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 Ephraim?

Israel’s 12 tribes were named for Jacob’s children or, in the case of Ephraim (and Manasseh), his grandchildren. Ephraim was born in Egypt to Joseph his wife, Asenath. Joseph named his second-born son “Ephraim” because “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:52). When Jacob gave his blessing to his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh, he chose to bless the younger Ephraim first, despite Joseph’s protests. In doing so, Jacob noted that Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh (Genesis 48:5–21).

Throughout the Old Testament, the name “Ephraim” often refers to the 10 tribes compromising Israel’s Northern Kingdom, not just the single tribe named after Joseph’s son (Ezekiel 37:16; Hosea 5:3). The Northern Kingdom, also referred to as “Israel,” was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. (Jeremiah 7). The Southern Kingdom, also known as Judah, was conquered by the Babylonians nearly 140 years later (586 B.C.).

We learn from the tribe of Ephraim (and the other tribes) about our human essence, who we are as people. The history of the early Israelites reflects our universally flawed and sinful nature. As the book of Romans says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

There are several specific events regarding the tribe of Ephraim that we can learn from. While God gifted the tribe as warriors and valiant fighters (1 Chronicles 12:30), Ephraim failed to follow God’s order to remove the Canaanites from the Promised Land (Exodus 23:23–25; Judges 1:29; Joshua 16:10).

During the time of the judges, the Ephraimites became angry with Gideon because he had not initially called for their help in battling the Midianites (Judges 8:1). Gideon wisely displayed godly kindness and extolled the tribe’s commitment and willingness to serve the Lord, thus diffusing what could have become an ugly situation (Judges 8:2–3).

However, ugliness did arise later, and again it can be linked to Ephraim’s pride, jealously, and self-centeredness. When Jephthah chose to fight (and defeat) the Ammonites without the aid of the proud Ephraim warriors, a civil war erupted, and 42,000 warriors from Ephraim were killed. As Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, we are to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). Do not seek glory for yourself; all honor and glory always belongs to God, not to man.

Often, God chooses to use us in a manner less glamorous or spectacular than we would like. Do we pout? Do we yearn for glory? Do we control our pride and jealousy and accept God’s will? Many of us, like the Ephraimites, have difficulty learning those lessons well. God says that we should accept what happens to us as His will, regardless of how good or bad those circumstances seem to us (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

Other lessons of Ephraim complete the picture of the wide-range of human behavior. We see Ephraim turning away from God and doing wicked things (Isaiah 28:1–3), yet we also find the tribe recognizing the need to repent and obey by following the prophet Oded’s instructions (2 Chronicles 28:12).

The biggest lesson from the history of Ephraim is that God loves us as the Perfect Father despite our failings. He is patient and merciful beyond our understanding. He hears our cries of anguish, disciplines and guides us, knows our moments of repentance, and yearns for us to be in perfect communion with Him (Jeremiah 30:22; 31:18–20).[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 Manasseh?

Israel’s 12 tribes were named for Jacob’s children or, in the case of Manasseh (and Ephraim), his grandchildren. After Jacob wrestled with Him all night, God renamed Jacob “Israel,” which means “you have struggled with God and men and have overcome” (Genesis 32:22–30). The name Israel represents not only the modern-day country but also, originally, Jacob’s offspring to whom God promised a great nation whose “descendants will be like dust of the earth … spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south” (Genesis 28:14).

Jacob’s grandson, for whom the tribe was named, was born in Egypt to Joseph and his wife, Asenath, daughter of the priest Potiphera. Joseph named his firstborn “Manasseh” because God had made him “forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (Genesis 41:51).

This tribe provides us with many lessons; chief among them are messages about free will, obedience, faith, and the nature of God.

Early on, we learn that Manasseh is frequently referred to as the “half-tribe” of Manasseh. This designation highlights the choice made by some of the tribe to reside east of the River Jordan (Numbers 32:33; Joshua 13:29–31). They believed the Transjordan was the more suitable land to raise their flocks. The rest of the tribe settled west of the Jordan, in Canaan, following Joshua’s command to enter and possess the Promised Land. As is evident throughout Scripture, God endows His children with the freedom to choose.

Exercising free will can lead to undesirable or even disastrous results, especially if we disobey God or make selfish choices. Manasseh learned this lesson—painfully—when they failed to obey God’s command to destroy the Canaanites. Part of this failure was due to a lack of faith that God would give them strength to overcome a seemingly unconquerable foe. Manasseh illustrates other human failings as well, such as greed and covetousness. The (half) tribe of Manasseh desired more land because they were “a numerous people.” They may have had the numbers, but they were unwilling to follow Joshua’s exhortation to clear “the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites” (Joshua 17:12–18).

On the other hand, the tribe of Manasseh at times exhibits faithfulness to God. Gideon, who would later become one of Israel’s best judges, questioned God when called to “save Israel out of Midian’s hand.” One of Gideon’s objections was that his “clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15). Gideon required proof from God—twice—before he acted (Judges 6:36–40). Once convinced of God’s will, Gideon moved forward with 32,000 troops to conquer the Midianites. But then God told Gideon that he had too many troops for the job, and he reduced his corps to a mere 300 men. Following God’s lead, this paltry force routed the enemy. The battle proved God was with Gideon and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

Other interesting lessons emerge. One is that God is just. Zelophehad, great-great-grandson of Manasseh, had no sons and died in the desert before entering the Promised Land. His daughters petitioned Moses, asking that the practice of male inheritance be changed so they could receive their deceased father’s property. After consulting with the Lord, Moses agreed and developed rules designed to keep property within a family (Numbers 27:1–11).[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 Gad?

Israel’s 12 tribes, of which Gad was one, were named for Jacob’s children (or grandchildren, in the cases of Ephraim and Manasseh). “Israel” was God’s name for Jacob (Genesis 32:22–30); therefore, the phrase “children of Israel” is a way of referring to Jacob’s descendants. Jacob’s son Gad was one of three children born in Paddan Aram to Jacob’s first wife’s maidservant, Zilpah (Genesis 35:26). When Jacob blessed his 12 sons, he said, “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels” (Genesis 49:19). Later, Moses blessed the tribe of Gad, saying, “Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain! Gad lives there like a lion, tearing at arm or head. He chose the best land for himself; the leader’s portion was kept for him. When the heads of the people assembled, he carried out the LORD’s righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel” (Deuteronomy 33:20–21).

Mostly, what we learn from this tribe is that we are rewarded when we obey and honor God (Numbers 32:16–19). During the conquest of the Promised Land, Joshua gave Gad the best of the new land because they obeyed God and punished Israel’s wicked enemies (Deuteronomy 32:20–21). Gad was one of the tribes especially dedicated in the fight to conquer the land as God commanded.

The tribe of Gad was one of three (Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh were the others) to fight for and be awarded lands east of the Jordan River, the gateway to the Promised Land. (Joshua 12:6; 13:8–13). The Gadites fought valiantly for this land but did not stop there. They crossed the Jordan with the other tribes and assisted them in following God’s order to take the inheritance He provided. Gad could have stopped fighting once they had received their own dwelling place, but they did not: “We will not return to our homes until every Israelite has received his inheritance” (Numbers 32:18). The tribe demonstrated how we should not focus simply on our own needs and desires, but commit to the larger picture and promise that is God’s plan for us. Gad was obedient to God: “We your servants will do as our Lord commands” (Numbers 32:25b).

Another lesson for us is that honoring God can present difficulties. After the tribes had settled into their lands, they were shocked to hear that Gad had built an altar in its territory across the Jordan. The other tribes took the altar to be a sign that the Gadites were breaking from the worship of God in Shiloh, and plans were made to attack Gad for its transgression. Prior to battle, however, a delegation went to Gad to learn more about its action and rebuke the tribe for its sin. The emissaries discovered that Gad had constructed the altar to honor God and to prevent the Jordan River, a significant geographical divide between Gad and the majority of the other tribes, from spiritually dividing God’s people (Joshua 22:10–34). “And the Reubenites and Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us that the LORD is God” (Joshua 22:34). War was averted, but we are reminded that differences in how we choose to honor God may result in misunderstanding, discord and strife, even among believers.

Gad, along with all the other northern tribes of Israel, was sent into exile in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29–17:41). Gad’s specific circumstances, triggered by the half-tribe of Manasseh’s unfaithfulness to God, are described in 1 Chronicles 5:11–26.

Perhaps the most important lesson we learn from Gad (and all the other tribes) is to recognize the need for complete faith and trust in God. God commanded Moses to remind the Israelites to “carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do” (Deuteronomy 29:9). “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison” (Deuteronomy 29:18).[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 What the Bible Says about Tamar?

There are two women named Tamar mentioned in Scripture. Both are tragic figures, women who were ruined by the neglect and abuse of close family members. Their stories seem to be included in Scripture for the purpose of providing historical and spiritual information about the Messianic line.

Jacob’s son Judah (patriarch of the line of Judah) had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. A woman named Tamar married Er, but then Er died, leaving her a widow. Since it was required that the next of kin care for a brother’s widow, Tamar was given to Onan, but he also died. Shelah was still a boy and could not marry Tamar, so Judah asked her to return to her father’s house and wait until Shelah was grown up. However, once Shelah was old enough, Judah did not honor his promise. Tamar then went into town disguised as a prostitute, tricked Judah, and got him to sleep with her. She then became pregnant and bore twin sons named Perez and Zerah.

The other Tamar was King David’s daughter. She had a brother, Absalom, and a half-brother, Amnon. Amnon had an obsessive desire for his half-sister Tamar, and one day he pretended to be sick and called for her to come to him in his bedroom to help him. When she was there alone with him, he raped her. Unfortunately, though David was angry, he did not punish Amnon or require him to marry Tamar, so Absalom took it upon himself to murder Amnon in revenge (2 Sam. 13:1–22). Absalom’s anger and bitterness towards his father because of these events eventually led to his attempt to usurp his throne and to disgrace David by committing public immorality with his father’s concubines.

We would expect the twin sons of Judah’s incestuous union with his daughter-in-law to be outcasts, hidden away, or perhaps not even mentioned. However, surprisingly, the Messianic line continues through Tamar’s son Perez. God did not provide a “cleaner” way to continue the line that would eventually include His Son. Perez was the ancestor of Jesus of Nazereth.

It is the same with King David. Absalom’s anger and rejection of his father’s rule seems to have been born out of a festering bitterness towards David. Though Absalom was clearly in the wrong for the murder of Amnon, we sympathize with him, and we sympathize with his disgraced sister. Considering David’s own immorality and the murder he committed, it is easy to see why Absalom thought himself the better man. But despite David’s faults, God still chose to continue the line of the Messiah through David rather than through Absalom.

Why are these unpleasant stories included in Scripture, and why are the people involved—people who hurt others, even their own family members—granted the privilege of being included in the Messianic line? It may be simply to show us that God’s purpose is accomplished despite man’s unrighteousness. In Hebrews 11 there is a long list of Old Testament people who are commended for their faith, and among them are many sinful people who did dreadful things. But because they believed God, their faith was credited to them as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).[1]

 


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