The Bible revolves around personalities and, as Augustine expressed it, “The sacred record, like a faithful mirror has no flattery in its portrait.” The biographies of men outside the Bible sometimes leave us cold. The characters portrayed seem to be too ideal. Nothing is said about their faults, weaknesses and sins. But as we pursue our journey through the Scriptures, we are greatly encouraged, for here are those of like passions as ourselves.
In his arresting chapter on “Composite Portraits,” in The Joy of Bible Study, Harrington Lees reminds us that
...the lives of men and women who speak to us from the pages of Scripture may be a veritable gold-mine of experience to us if we can remember the fact that they lived similar lives and triumphed—by faith, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us—or, if they entered not into their land of promise, failed through disobedience or unbelief. All good biography is fruitful, but Scripture biography is singularly so.
The Bible is the most faithful book in the world. It tells the truth about its men and women. We have the tendency to eulogize our heroes, omitting altogether their faults. But the Bible gives us a true picture; light or shade, good or evil are depicted without apology or excuse. It is a wonderful canvas of human life. Every phase of human nature is exhibited in the portraits of the Bible gallery.
Because of the limitations of space we were not able to give a full synopsis of the Bible men biographically treated. For those who desire to follow this line of study the following suggestions may be of service.
Begin with a person whose story is briefly told. Enoch, for example, only occupies six or seven verses, yet what a story they unfold. Mastering a character like Enoch whets the appetite for the study of another who fills a larger niche in the Bible’s gallery of saints.
Collect all relevant Bible passages. It is essential, with the aid of a concordance, to gather into a group all references to the person to be studied.
Analyze the character of the person. Read and reread gathered Bible material with a pencil in hand, noting particular or peculiar traits.
Set down the elements of power and success. Show how heredity or personal ability produce these elements.
Describe evidences of weakness and failure. Indicate the circumstances responsible for these.
Elaborate on victory over difficulties. There is rich material along this line in characters like Joseph, David and Paul.
Suggest various helps to success. In some Bible lives there were many paths to fame and honor.
Mark out any privileges abused. When dealing with a person such as Esau, it is easy to sketch his loss.
Depict opportunities for good neglected, or how the opportunities could have been improved.
Fill in details of the life. Recorded facts of birth, parentage, death, etc., should be mentioned.
Summarize the lessons to be learned from the life. The lives of great men remind us that we too can make our lives sublime!
Note any relation the person may have had to God or to Jesus Christ. Divine relationship shapes character and determines destiny.
Study the authors who have written on Biblical characters. Once you have undertaken personal study, there is a wide field of literature to choose from, such as the books listed in the bibliography.
It has been a painstaking yet profitable task to acquaint oneself with the thousands of named and unnamed men of the Bible. With the majority of them, it has been a mere handshake and the simple questions: “Who are you? Where were you born? What is your background?”
For the most part we have nothing but the monotony of their names. Their human history was not written for our learning. We know nothing of the facts of their families, their sorrows or songs, their tears or triumphs, their vices or virtues. In the company of others, however, we lingered longer, seeing that the Divine Artist sketched their profiles in fuller detail.
Nowhere in all the world have we such an album of human life. The Bible’s portrait gallery is superb. What a mixture of character it presents! Here you will find kings and knaves, princes and paupers, the tenderhearted and the traitorous, saints and sinners, the courageous and the cowardly. Here we have men of like passions as ourselves. No wonder the Bible speaks of itself as a mirror. As we look at the lives of its men, pure and profane, we see ourselves.
The formidable assignment of alphabetically arranging all the men of the Bible appeared when it was discovered that there are well over three thousand specifically named.
How rich in biographical material the Bible is! A distinguishing feature of Holy Writ is its faithfulness in recording human life and character. What a perfect biography of humanity it is! Think of what we can learn from—
The lowly life of Mephibosheth
The tried friendship of Ittai
The holy fidelity of Nathan
The lofty courage of Benaiah
The patriarchal kindness of Barzillai
The princely courtesy of Araunah.
Then there are those men who stand out as beacons, lights, warning us of dangerous vices, such as—
Joab’s deeds of blood
Ammon’s intemperate passion
Absalom’s base ambition
Shimei’s violence and meanness
David’s fatal lapses.
There are also saints at hand to encourage and guide heavenly pilgrims of every age. Think of the variety covered by the men of the Bible! We have—
Abraham for explorers
Job for merchant princes
Moses for patriots
Samuel for rulers
Elijah for reformers
Joseph for men of distinction
Daniel for the forlorn
Jeremiah for the persecuted
Caleb for the soldier
Boaz for the farmer
Amos for the lay-preacher.
Well, all the men of the Bible, from A to Z are lined up for us, so let us go out and make their acquaintance, shall we? And as we meet each one of them, may help be ours to emulate their graces but shun their failures.