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UNSUNG HEROES OF THE BIBLE

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Presentation on theme: "UNSUNG HEROES OF THE BIBLE"— Presentation transcript:

1 UNSUNG HEROES OF THE BIBLE
TWELVE CHARACTERS FROM THE BIBLE

2 A CHARACTER STUDY APPROACH TO THE BIBLE
We all enjoy a good story or as the Irish would say a good yarn. Stories entertain us. But also they can teach us. We remember a good story. Jesus knew the value of stories. He used them to illustrate deep spiritual truths. We can be thankful that God chose to record many of the Bible’s lessons in story form. The characters of these stories are real people who lived long ago on this earth. They faced the same kinds of problems that we face today. Biblical characters like Moses, David, and Peter made mistakes and learned by their mistakes. Now we can read about what happened and profit by their experiences. Also, we can read of their victories and be strengthened by their faith. In two series of lectures I wish to take you into the world of the Bible through its unsung heroes. Today we shall concentrate on twelve characters: six from the Old Testament and six from the New Testament — all of them women. The second scheduled lecture will focus on male characters: six from the Old Testament and six from the New Testament. Our character study for today takes in: Hagar, Tamar, Deborah, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba, Phoebe, The Syro-Phoenician Woman, The Woman with a haemorrhage, Mary Magdalene, The Samaritan woman, and Dorcas/Tabitha.

3 THE PURPOSE OF BIBLICAL CHARACTER STUDY
The Bible mentions well over 2,900 different persons in its pages — some named and others unnamed. While many of these are only named — what in character study we refer to as flat characters, others are described in some detail, referred to in character study as round characters. Biblical descriptions of characters offer us subject matter for individual study and spiritual food for thought. In character study we look at a person’s life history. We see who he or she was, what he or she did, and what he or she was like. We read and study these personal experiences to gain knowledge and example in our own relationship with God. Today we focus on twelve characters, six from the Old Testament and six from the New Testament — both flat and round characters.

4 HAGAR Hagar represents women in the Bible who are excluded or despised. This might happen because they are childless in a society that valued married women and mothers or a slave in a patriarchal society. The conception and birth of Hagar’s son Ishmael is given in Genesis 16:1–16). Hagar was an Egyptian slave brought into the household by Abraham. She belonged to Sarah, the alpha female of the tribe. When Sarah could not conceive she gave Hagar to her husband as a surrogate. Hagar became pregnant, and God promised that her child would be the ancestor of a great nation. She bore a son, Ishmael. The expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael is recounted in Genesis 21:1–21. Hagar was never fully accepted into the tribe despite being the mother of Abraham’s child, and in the end she was rejected completely and expelled into the desert. But God protected her twice from Sarah’s hatred by sending an angel, and eventually Hagar lived as a free woman, not a slave.

5 TAMAR Despite Tamar’s unorthodox methods, she was a woman of integrity who risked her life to fulfil her duty to herself and her family. She knew she had the right to a child, and she knew that her first husband Er had the right to an heir. Her story is recounted in Genesis 38:1–11. Tamar married into the family of Judah, first to Judah’s son Er and then, after his death, to Onan his brother. Because Onan practised a form of contraception, Tamar did not become pregnant. For a Jewish woman this meant disgrace, because people thought that being childless was a punishment from God. According to Genesis 38:12–19 she claimed her Levirate rights. God punished Onan and he died. By law Tamar should then have married Judah’s third son so she could have a baby who would inherit her dead husband’s share of the tribal wealth. But this did not happen, so she decided to get justice for herself. She dressed as a prostitute, had sex with her father-in-law Judah and conceived twin sons. According to Genesis 38:20–26 she was accused of promiscuity and was sentenced to death. But she saved herself by a clever ploy and according to Genesis 38:27–30 to she bore twin sons. God rewarded her tenacity with the birth of sons, one of whom was the ancestor of King David, Israel’s great hero.

6 DEBORAH Deborah was a prophetess, a speaker of wisdom, whose exploits are told in Judges 4–5. When war came she led the out-numbered and badly-equipped Israelite troops to a great victory. She chose the most able military general and told him what he must do. Deborah tricked the over-confident enemy into driving their iron-wheeled chariots onto marshy land where they were bogged down. Then the Israelite slings men and archers picked them off one by one. The enemy forces were routed, their troops slaughtered, and the Israelites were jubilant. Apart from Deborah, the Judges were hardly role models: Jephthah sacrificed his daughter (Judges 11:29–40), Samson consorted with a prostitute (Judges 16:1), and Gideon agreed to the making of a pagan cult object that the Bible calls an ‘ephod’ but which is clearly different from the breastplate (also called an ephod) worn by priests later in Israel's history, and seems to have been used for seeking oracles (Judges 8:22–28), etc. Deborah stands out for her wisdom, courage and faith.

7 RAHAB The story of Rahab is a story of courage and standing by one’s convictions. Rahab, traditionally portrayed as a prostitute, saved two Israelite spies who had been sent by Joshua to gauge the defences of the city. Rahab left a red cord at her window as a signal to the Israelite soldiers (Joshua 2:1–7) Why did Rahab risk her life to save the spies? Rahab and all the other inhabitants of Jericho knew that Joshua and the Hebrew tribes would attack. Rahab did a deal with the spies to save herself and her family (Joshua 2:8-14) . Rahab helped the spies to escape. They promised that when the city was attacked, she and her family would be spared (Joshua 2:15–24). Joshua attacked Jericho and the walls came tumbling down, but Rahab and her family were saved (Joshua 6:12–25).

8 RUTH Ruth and Naomi suffered a terrible misfortune: their husbands died. Marooned in Moab, the older woman Naomi decided to return to her home in Bethlehem. Ruth, though a Moabite herself, decided to go with her home in Bethlehem. Soon after, Ruth met Boaz, a rich land-owner and relative of Naomi. It seems to have been love at first sight for him, and he ordered that Ruth be well treated when she worked in his fields. The older woman Naomi saw immediately what had happened, and encouraged Ruth to continue working in Boaz’s fields. Shrewdly, Naomi advised the young woman how to catch her man. Ruth approached Boaz during the night, at the threshing floor, and the text obliquely suggests that there may have been some sexual hanky-panky. The next morning, Ruth suggested that they marry, reminding Boaz of his obligation to her as her nearest male kin. Boaz promised to do all he could. Naomi’s plan succeeded. Boaz proved as good as his word, and he and Ruth were married. She had a son called Obed, and Naomi cared for the child, who would grow up to be the grandfather of King David.

9 BATHSHEBA The story of Bathsheba describes two episodes in Jewish history: 1. Bathsheba and King David (2Samuel 11:1–26; 12:15–25) and 2. The struggle for the throne (1 Kings 1:1-37, 2:10-25). Bathsheba was a beautiful, clever and unscrupulous woman. She was seen by King David as she bathed, desired by him, and subsequently became pregnant to him even though married to the soldier Uriah. Uriah was murdered by David, and she then married the King. Her baby died. She had a second son, who was called Solomon. David lost his sexual potency, and therefore his political power, in old age. In a palace coup Bathsheba and her adviser Nathan manoeuvred to secure the throne for Solomon, even though there was an older, more popular brother who was expected to succeed King David. Solomon took the throne, honoured his mother, and was advised by her. She took part in court intrigues, occupying the most prestigious position a woman could hold, Queen Mother. She and Solomon organized the death of Solomon’s older half-brother who had been the popular choice to succeed King David.

10 PHOEBE Phoebe is mentioned by the Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (16:1–2). She was a notable woman whose leadership of the church of Cenchreae was recognised by Paul. She was entrusted to deliver Paul’s letter to the Romans. In writing to the Church that almost surely met in her home, Paul refers to her as a deacon, and as a helper or patron of many. This is the only place in the New Testament where a woman is specifically referred to with these two distinctions. Paul introduces Phoebe as his emissary to the Church in Rome and, because they are not acquainted with her, Paul provides them with her credentials. Phoebe’s exceptional character, noted by her status as a deacon and prostatis—one who should be esteemed highly “because of their work”[1 Thes. 5:12] — may be the reason Paul sent her to Rome where she delivered the letter to Rome. By referring to Phoebe as a prostatis, Paul solicits the attention and respect of the leaders in Rome’s Church, which also included other women, namely Prisca/(Priscilla) [Rom. 16:3], Mary [Rom. 16:6], Junia [Rom. 16:7], and Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis.

11 THE SYRO-PHOENICIAN WOMAN
The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman is found in Mark 7:25–30 and Matthew 15:21–28 about a foreign woman who asks for healing for her daughter from Jesus to which Jesus’ responded that it was not fair to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs. In this story Jesus is portrayed within the context of the Jewish understanding of purity since he regards the Gentile woman as unclean. Despite this, we learn that Jesus was not above appreciating the wisdom others. According to Mark and Matthew Jesus’ mission is to the children of Israel alone, not to the unclean Gentile “dogs” who will not be a part of God’s coming rule. However, Mark’s readers are encouraged by the story’s outcome for it seems possible that Gentiles can participate to some degree in the coming rule of God. Jesus’ initial rejection need not be mitigated out of a strange fear that Jesus’ image will become tarnished. The moral of the story is bigger than that, for as a result of the woman’s brilliant reply participation in God’s kingdom is possible for the Gentiles after all.

12 THE WOMAN WITH THE ISSUE OF BLOOD
The story of this anonymous woman is told in Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8: The early Church was so impressed with her determination that they gave her the name Veronica. She must have been emaciated after a haemorrhage lasting for a life time, which rendered her legally unclean. She could not throw herself, therefore, at the feet of Christ and state her complaint. Her modesty, humility, uncleanness and pressure of the crowd made close contact well-nigh impossible, hence her eagerness to touch in some unnoticed way the hem of Jesus’ garment.

13 MARY MAGDALENE The story of Mary Magdalene has four episodes: 1. Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Jesus (Luke 8:1–3); 2. Mary at the crucifixion (Mark 15:40–41, Luke 23:49, Matthew 27:55–56, John 19:25); 3. Mary prepared Jesus’ body for burial (Luke 23:55–56, Matthew 27:61); 4. Mary witnesses the resurrection (Mark 16:1–11, Luke 24:1–11, Matthew 28:1–10, John 20:1–18). Mary Magdalene is an unsung hero because early Church history tried to tarnish her image and her role as a disciple of Jesus has not been highlighted. It is unlikely she was a reformed prostitute. Mary was present in each of the four accounts of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. All four gospels mention her, faithful to the end. Mary watched as Jesus’ body was sealed inside the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. She could confirm that he was really dead. She and the other women prepared the spices needed for proper burial of a body. Mary Magdalene found that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. She was the first person to witness the resurrection, a world-changing event. She is called “Apostle to the Apostles” since the risen Jesus told her to ‘go and tell my brothers.’

14 THE SAMARITAN WOMAN The Samaritan woman was a foreigner from a despised ethnic and religious group, but her story made a clear statement about the role of women in the early Christian communities. The woman was not silent, nor was she limited to the private world of women. She had a voice, and she moved out into the public arena, into male space. Her story is told in John 4:1–42. She entered into debate with Jesus about issues and questions that interested her. While she comes to recognise him as a Messiah she manages to get Jesus to shift his emphasis by acknowledging “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–24).

15 DORCAS/TABITHA The story of Dorcas in given in Acts 9:36–43 describing a typical Middle Eastern woman engaged in the task of sewing. Dorcas seems to have been a well-off widow living in the coastal city of Joppa. The original Greek text describes this widow-woman as “mathētria” a female disciple — the only time the New Testament uses this word. The next thing we learn about her is that she spends her time doing good works and ‘acts of charity.’ She is therefore an admired member of the community, esteemed by all. She becomes ill and dies. Her illness is unspecified, but we may assume she was nursed by her friends and family; there was nothing corresponding to a hospital or medical centre at that time. Sick people were cared for and treated within their own home, by their friends and family. The 'upper room' has special significance in the Christian story. An upper room was the scene of the Last Supper in Jerusalem, and it is mentioned twice, pointedly, in the story of Tabitha. It is a space that is removed from the hurly-burly of the ground-floor courtyard and public rooms, a relatively quiet place where contact with God might take place and this is where she is healed by Peter.

16 PRAYER For the times when we have been less than heroic, Lord we are sorry. For the times we have not used or abused our God-given hero talents, Lord we are sorry. Give us the courage not to hide our potential but to be generous, not to dismiss others or envy their talents but to celebrate their gifts. Encourage us to emulate the sunny side and avoid the dark sides of Hagar, Tamar, Deborah, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Phoebe, The Syro-Phoenician woman, The woman with a haemorrhage, Mary Magdalene, The Samaritan woman, and Dorcas so that we may have a good go at being unsung heroes ourselves. Amen.


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