Unpopular Bible Characters: Why You Should Know Them
I love Bible study because there will always be new things to discover. We can never exhaust God’s Word. Even if you’ve read it cover to cover multiple times, the Spirit reveals new truths each time you open it up and “earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Lately, I’ve been interested in the people in Scripture that we don’t hear about from the stage, in books, or on podcasts. Who are the people God considered important enough to mention but not in detail? Why are their names printed in ink but not their stories? I believe the Scriptures are not only God-breathed, inerrant, and inspired, but they are intentional.
Nothing printed is wasted.
There are 3 people whose names or stories were new to me that I want to dive into.
Eliab’s name might sound familiar from David’s anointing as king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16. Eliab was David’s oldest brother and the first son that Samuel thought would be the next king based solely on his appearance. He’s the reason we were told not to judge by appearance because the Lord looks at the heart (v. 7). Poor, tall, good-looking Eliab was rejected by God based on the contents of his heart — oof. I’m sure Eliab thought it would be him. After all, he was the firstborn, and he had the looks comparable to King Saul.
Eliab listens as Samuel tells each of his brothers, “The Lord has not chosen you.” He’s probably thinking there’s been some sort of mistake, especially when he hears Samuel ask for his youngest brother to come. It can’t be David. But Samuel anoints him to be king right there in front of all his brothers. I can’t imagine the jealousy Eliab was experiencing. David is whisked away to Saul’s palace to play music while Eliab enlists in the army. You know what happens next — Goliath shows up on the scene taunting Israel to send a warrior to challenge him. David shows up with some sandwiches for his brothers on the frontlines only to hear Goliath and wonder why all the men are hiding in fear. David asks them why they are allowing someone to taunt the living God. Well, that ticks Eliab right off. He is over being outdone by his kid brother. He literally accuses him of having an evil heart just after Samuel selects him based on the contents of his heart. Eliab’s insecurities and fears are evident in his outburst.
Don’t we do that? Someone gets the promotion we wanted, and we say, “She manipulated her way to the top.” Our neighbor gets a brand new car, and we say, “There’s no way they can afford that — they must be doing something shady.” Our boss takes an expensive vacation, and we say, “He doesn’t work as hard as I do.” We make excuses for others’ success to explain our insecurities.
The second person is found in 2 Chronicles 22 in the midst of a bunch of leadership changes in Israel. Athaliah is the mother of a newly-installed king named Ahaziah. Her husband, Jehoram had just died a slow, painful death at the hand of God for leading Israel away from God and murdering his own brothers. (If you think you have stomach problems, you should check out 2 Chronicles 21). Athaliah is the ultimate stage mom for her 22-year-old son. The Bible says she was his “counselor in doing wickedly” (2 Chronicles 22:3). We can assume that she was the downfall of both her husband and her son because of the evil in her heart towards the things of God. When her son was eventually murdered, she killed as many of her grandchildren and heirs to the throne as she could so that she would reign as Queen. Talk about a power trip. This woman was willing to murder her entire family to gain power. Her allegiance was always to herself, her country, her customs, and her judgment.
Now, I’m not suggesting we would murder our family to stay on top, but we can have her attitude in many ways. Have you tried to control a situation at home by not telling the whole story so that your husband doesn’t blame you for the missed bill, the dent in the car, or the Amazon purchase? Have you spread negative information at work to keep the girl below you from succeeding? Have you deleted emails or texts so that no one will know what you’re really involved in? Athaliah’s core issue was pride and the pursuit of power. We all have a tendency to protect the “power” we hold in our lives.
The last person has another impossible-to-pronounce name: Ahitophel. He was a counselor of King David who was known for his wisdom. It’s also widely believed that he was Bathsheba’s grandfather (2 Samuel 11:3; 23:34), which explains what’s about to go down. After David committed the sin of sleeping with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband, Ahitophel had enough. A seed was planted and beginning to take root. When David’s son Absalom was plotting to overthrow the throne, Ahitophel took his shot. He jumped ship to join Absalom and conspire against David. When David found out, he prayed that God would turn Ahitophel’s counsel into foolishness. He knew he was in trouble. Soon, Ahitophel has his opportunity when Absalom asked for his advice in how to prove his kingship. Ahitophel instructs him to sleep with all of David’s concubines on the roof of the palace to show Israel who’s boss (2 Samuel 16:21). Does the location sound familiar? Ahitophel wanted David to experience the pain of his granddaughter’s disgrace on the same rooftop. Absalom did exactly as Ahitophel said because he was known in Israel as the mouthpiece of God. No one knew what was in his heart. In chapter 17, he took it too far. He instructed Absalom to make war on David immediately, but Absalom consulted one more advisor just to be sure. This guy advises him in another direction, but once Ahitophel found out that his advice was ignored, he went home and hanged himself. His pride had placed him in an impossible situation. Not only was he embarrassed that his plan to overthrow David after all these years was ruined, but he would likely die in battle with Absalom or be murdered by David for betrayal. Ahitophel had let bitterness grow for so long that it took his own life.
“Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.”
Hebrews 12:15 MSG
Bitterness is a poisonous root. It will grow slowly over time and has the power to ruin your life. It may not be as drastic as Ahitophel’s end, but it promises to produce bad fruit. Is there a hurt in your heart that you’ve allowed to go untouched? Are you angry with someone who harmed you years ago? Do you need to clear out any bitter roots in your spirit that are beginning to affect your attitude or actions?
There is no shortage of unnamed or unpopular characters in the Bible. We can learn so much from people who God thought important enough to simply mention. I hope this inspires you to do some digging into the impossible-to-pronounce names and side stories next time you sit down to read.