March 13, 2013

The 7 Most Compelling Obscure Bible Characters


Abraham. Moses. David. Peter. Paul. We’re pretty familiar with the major characters in the Bible. We listen to sermons about them on a regular basis. We’ve heard their stories since we were kids, have memorized Scripture pertaining to their lives, and can recite their victories and failures.

But the great thing about the Bible is that it’s not all about the big guys. There are dozens and dozens of lesser-known characters who pop into and out of the stories. Some are worthy of their own sermons. Others . . . aren’t. But you still ought to at least be able to identify them, right?

Here are seven of my favorite minor Bible characters:


Key Passage: 1 Kings 1-2

Abishag was a “young virgin” brought in to keep the elderly, shivery King David warm at night. She was said to have been beautiful to look at, though her name sounds a bit like the noises you make when you have a cold. Anyway, you might think the idea of an old man sharing a bed with a beautiful young maiden sounds a little suspicious, but according to 1 Kings 1:4 it was a chaste relationship. When David dies, his son Adonijah wants to marry Abishag, but Solomon sees this move as a grab for the throne and has Adonijah killed. We never hear anything else about poor Abishag.


Key Passage: Judges 3:12-30

The protagonist of one of the grossest stories in the Bible (and that’s really saying something), Ehud was a left-handed Israelite ninja who assassinated Eglon, the super-fat king of Moab. Ehud approaches to “deliver a message” to the king, if by message you mean “an 18-inch long dagger hidden under your cloak.” Ehud sneaks past the king’s guards and offs the king in graphic fashion—we’re told “even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back…and the fat closed in over it.” Blech.


Key Passage: 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

“Wait a second!” you’re thinking. “That guy’s famous! He’s not a minor character!” I disagree. He might be well-known thanks to a certain book, but he shouldn’t be. Before 2000, Jabez was as obscure as someone named in the Bible can get. All we know about him is that he was “more honorable than his brethren” and he had an audacious prayer life. Then Bruce Wilkinson rescued him from two-verses-in-the-whole-Bible obscurity and allowed him to inspire a best-selling book. Weird.


Key Passage: Numbers 16:16-35

Korah was a Levite who got annoyed with God (and, by proxy, Moses) for limiting the priesthood to Aaron’s descendents. Sure, Korah was assigned some trivial Tabernacle duties, but he wanted to do the big stuff, like offer sacrifices. Not fair! In protest, Korah requested a more democratic approach to Tabernacle jobs. He gathered up 250 of his buddies and led them in an uprising against Moses. God didn’t take too kindly to it. In a surprising geological flourish, He made the ground open up and consume Korah, his fellow insurgents, and their families. Presumably the Israelites learned a valuable lesson.


Key Passage: Isaiah 8:3

Proud owner of the longest name in the Bible, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz — we’ll call him MSHB for short — was the son of Isaiah by “the prophetess,” whom we presume to have been Mrs. Isaiah. God tells Isaiah to name the boy MSHB. Why such a weird name? Because, the Lord tells Isaiah, “before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.” See, MSHB means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” It’s a prophetic name! Problem 1: Being given a weird name as an apocalyptic object lesson. Problem 2: It takes less time to define his name than to actually say it.


Key Passage: Deuteronomy 3:1-11

Goliath gets all the “giants of the Bible” headlines, but Og was no small potatoes. The famed king of Bashan and a big-and-tall shopper himself, he presided over sixty gated, well-fortified cities. You would think those would be hard to conquer, but God gave the land over to the Israelites. Among the descriptions of Israel’s impressive plunder of Og’s kingdom, we learn that King Og was the proud owner of an iron bed which measured 13 feet long and six feet wide. Which is an odd detail to insert. We don’t know where Cain’s wifecame from, but we’re told the exact length of Og’s bed.


Key Passage: Judges 3:31

In the same chapter we hear about Ehud’s disgusting assassination, we’re also told of the great and mighty Shamgar, savior of Israel. Samson gets all the credit for striking down a thousand Philistines with a donkey jawbone, but Shamgar’s got some impressive battle chops, too. In his one-verse biblical bio, we learn that Shamgar struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. If you’re not current on ancient Middle Eastern farming implements, an oxgoad was a pointy, seven-foot-long stick for pushing livestock around. That’s right: 600 warriors defeated with a cattle prod. “He too saved Israel,” the author of Judges tells us. Good work, Shamgar.

Israeli ninjas, priestly rebels, and plus-sized kings: These are seven of my favorite obscure Bible characters. What are yours?

[Self promotion alert! For what it's worth, I identify these characters and many others in chapters 2 and 3 of my book Pocket Guide to the Bible.]

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Carl Samans
I good read - loved it. I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a few of my own off the top of my head, but it'll make me think about it in the future.
2 years4 months ago · ( 0 )

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