I taught for many years at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, TX and learned a lot from my students. Classes were often as much an education for me as they were for my students.
In one class in Bible Study Methods, we were discussing some well-known biblical character (I can’t remember who it was), when a student asked the question: “Why do we study these Bible characters as examples? What kind of examples are they? They lied and cheated; they fought and fornicated; they talked back to God. Most of them are worse than we are!”
I was at a loss for words and just stood there dumbfounded without an answer. A young lady shyly raised her hand. “They ARE examples. They’re examples of grace!”
Right! I think I had known that already, but never had articulated it. But that thought can revolutionize our reading of the Bible. It’s not a record of perfect men and women who led exemplary lives. It’s a record of sinful, deeply flawed persons whom God, for reasons unknown to us, chose for Himself.
Look at some of them:
Noah, we’re told in Genesis 6:8, “found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” In the middle of a passage that tells us that “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (6:5, 6). God chooses Noah to save the world. Yes, it tells us in verse 9 that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God,” but we’re told this after we’re told he found grace.
We like to turn those verses around. I believe Noah was righteous because he found grace, he didn’t find grace because he was righteous. Later in chapter 9, we see this “hero” getting drunk, doing something perverse and cussing out his grandson. Not exactly exemplary behavior!
Or take Abraham whom the LORD chose and called to be the father of the Hebrew nation. He was slow to obey and move into the promise land. He slept with the maid (Genesis 16). He lied and “pimped” his wife twice. Again, not very exemplary behavior.
Or David. We make a big deal out of the fact that he’s called “a man after His (God’s) own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). But that doesn’t mean that David had a heart for God, but that God had a heart for David! (Compare the Hebrew construction in 14:7 and Psalm 20:4.) Yes, David had a heart for God, but only because God had a heart for him! And he still was an adulterer, a liar and a murderer.
I know this upsets some of us. We want “heroes” for our children to emulate. We don’t like anti-heroes. But real heroes are hard to find – not only in history and the newspapers, but in the Bible as well.
But what we do find in the Bible is so much more. We find a God of grace who extends His help and salvation to people we would consider losers.
That includes us!
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).