9 Obscure Bible Characters You Should Know

Because I grew up going to Sunday school each week, I heard many of the same Bible stories over and over again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. When you’re teaching the Bible to kids it’s helpful to emphasize a few key passages to help them see the big picture. Not to mention that a number of stories in Scripture are, um, not suitable for children.

But the whole Bible is God’s Word, so I thought it would be fun and enlightening to compile a list of my favorite “obscure” characters and why they’re important to know about. Here they are:

Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain. These guys are mentioned in Genesis 4:21-22. Jabal was the first rancher, the “father of those who live in tents and raise livestock.” Jubal was the first musician, the “father of all who play the harp and flute.” And Tubal-Cain was the first blacksmith, who “forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” It’s just good information to know. For example, next time you’re doing a particularly good job with some home project, you could say, “Man, I feel just like Tubal-Cain today!” Friends and family will be impressed (?).

Jethro. Moses’ father-in-law was an exceptional man in many ways. His greatest contribution to the nation of Israel was his organizational skills. When he noticed how hard Moses was working to keep up with everybody’s problems, he suggested a division of labor (Exodus 18:13-27). He told Moses to appoint leaders over 1000 people, 100 people, 50 people, and 10 people. Moses himself only dealt with the issues that worked their way up the chain of command. It was smart management. If you work for a big corporation, they probably still use Jethro’s strategy.

Ehud. Ehud is one of the more interesting characters in the book of Judges, because he’s proof that left-handed people aren’t all that bad (Judges 3:12-30). He successfully killed the evil Moabite king Eglon by hiding his dagger on his right thigh, where he could grab it with his left hand. Apparently the dagger’s odd location meant that it went unnoticed when he approached Eglon’s bedroom. Because Eglon was very fat, Ehud actually lost the blade in the king’s belly. (Yuck). But he won 80 years of peace for God’s people.

King Josiah. The history of Israel and Judah is mostly about evil kings who disobeyed God. A few were righteous, though, and Josiah (2 Kings 22-23) stands out. He was the son of an evil king named Amon, and the grandson of Manasseh, perhaps the worst king in Judah’s history. Yet when Josiah took the throne at the tender age of eight, he radically changed the direction of his nation. He destroyed idols, obeyed God’s Law, and restored the Passover. Josiah reminds us that nobody is controlled by his or her heritage alone, but that every generation has an opportunity to follow God.

Mordecai. Esther’s older and wiser cousin, Mordecai encouraged the young queen to stand up for the Jews when their very existence was threatened. The Jewish nation faced extermination at the hands of the king’s evil advisor Haman. Esther was afraid to stand up for her people because doing so likely meant her own death as well. But Mordecai reminded her that God had given her the throne for a reason, perhaps for “just such a time as this” (4:14). His words stand as a reminder that our circumstances aren’t random. God arranges our circumstances to fulfill His greater purposes.

The Father of an Epileptic Boy. The New Testament has fewer obscure characters than the Old Testament, but this guy is one of my favorite (Mark 9:14-29). He brings his sick son to Jesus and asks Him to cast out the demon that keeps throwing his son into dangerous convulsions. He actually asks Jesus to heal his son “if you can do anything.” When Jesus responds that anything is possible for the one who believes, the  man says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” I love the honesty, and I relate to the confusion. And Jesus heals the boy even though the man’s faith is imperfect and doubt-ridden. Beautiful illustration of grace.

Diotrophes. He’s mentioned in 3 John 9-11 as an example of a selfish and unsubmissive church leader. Diotrophes wouldn’t welcome Christian leaders into his home and even threw people out of the church for trying to show hospitality! Just a reminder that being remembered forever isn’t necessarily a good thing if you’re remembered for all the wrong reasons. (Reality TV stars, take notes here).

OK, that’s my list for now. Are there any other unusual or obscure Bible characters that you’d like to share? Why are they interesting to you? 


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My Only New Year’s Resolution

New Year’s resolutions are clear evidence of our longing for grace. Our feelings on New Year’s Day are an amplification of what we feel every day. We wake up each morning craving God’s new mercies, hoping that today will be a new start, the day we put our failures and sins behind us to find forgiveness and transformation.

The Christian knows that grace and transformation are extended to us through Jesus. His death and resurrection provide us with real life, now and forever. So a new day and a new year are just small tokens of the grace we’ll enjoy for eternity. They’re also opportunities to “walk in a manner worthy” of the grace we’ve been given (Ephesians 4:1). So we seek change and growth, not in order to earn God’s favor, but to reflect the favor He’s already given us. A gracious life proclaims a gracious Savior.

But even though God’s grace abounds, we’re not always gracious. At least I’m not. Not with myself and not with other people. I often measure myself by my own impossible standards and expect others to live up to them as well. A Pharisee lurks in my heart, even if he’s not always evident on my face.

“I wouldn’t have made that short-sighted decision.”

“My kids would never act that way.”

“How could that person be so inconsiderate?”

I think like that sometimes. Maybe you can relate. Hopefully you can’t.

So this year I have only one resolution. It’s a bit different from past resolutions, because it’s not exactly about being better or more disciplined or more “together.”

My resolution, if you can call it that, is grace. I want to accept it. I want to extend it. And I want to rejoice in it.

I’m not abandoning truth by pursuing grace. After all, Jesus is filled with grace and truth. I still intend to proclaim God’s holiness and to encourage those around me to live God-honoring lives. My teaching and this blog will still wrestle with questions of truth and righteousness from Scripture.

When I say I’m resolving to be gracious, I simply mean that I want to practice grace on a personal level. I want to stop judging others based on my standards instead of God’s. I want to remember with greater frequency that we all sin, we all fail, and we all need the grace offered in Christ.

Most of all, I want to keep reminding myself that I’m not the standard of all that’s good and true. And the best I can do as a pastor, as a Christian, is to point others to the One who is that standard, and trust Him to provide transformation and new life.

In order to practice grace, I’m going to need a lot of grace. Grace for growth. Grace when I fall. Grace when I get up again. Even grace from you, my friends and family and readers. So if you see that Pharisee look on my face, just remind me again: My resolution is grace.

What about you? Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions? I’d love to hear them. 

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