Category: Men of the Bible


Joab was a son of Zeruiah, King David’s sister (1 Chronicles 2:13–17) and was therefore one of David’s nephews. Joab’s brothers were two of David’s brave warriors, Abishai and Asahel. Joab was positioned as commander of David’s armies because of his victory over the Jebusites, resulting in the possession of the city of Jerusalem. It was through this victory that Jerusalem became “the city of David” (1 Chronicles 11:4–9).

Joab fought and won many battles for the king, but his personal lack of self-control was problematic. In a war against the forces of Ish-Bosheth, Joab’s brother Asahel was killed by Abner, the commander of Ish-Bosheth’s armies. Joab was furious and pursued Abner to kill him, but Abner escaped (2 Samuel 2:12–32). Later, after Abner swore allegiance to David, Joab’s fuse blew, and his desire to avenge his brother’s blood drove him to deceive and murder Abner (verses 26–27). This action deeply grieved David, but the king felt unable to bring justice against the mighty Joab (verse 39). Instead, David pronounced a curse over Joab and his future descendants: “May his blood fall on the head of Joab and on his whole family! May Joab’s family never be without someone who has a running sore or leprosy or who leans on a crutch or who falls by the sword or who lacks food” (verse 29).

As the commander of David’s armies, Joab was provided many victories by God, but Joab caused much grief to the king and to Israel. His anger and perhaps the power of his position drove him to poor decisions at times. In addition to his murder of Abner, Joab killed his own cousin, Amasa—and his betrayal was Judas-style, accompanied by a kiss: “Joab said to Amasa, ‘How are you, my brother?’ Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly, and his intestines spilled out on the ground. Without being stabbed again, Amasa died” (2 Samuel 20:9–10). Joab disobeyed King David’s command to spare Absalom’s life, himself striking Absalom with three javelins (2 Samuel 18). David mourned the death of his son Absalom, a response that was sternly reprimanded by Joab (2 Samuel 19:1–8). It was also Joab who, in accordance with David’s command, placed Uriah the Hittite at the front of the battle to be killed, so that David could feel justified in marrying Uriah’s widow (2 Samuel 11).

Joab, for all his faults, was obviously a capable man of war and valiant on the battlefield. And he ought to be given credit for his loyalty to David for almost four decades. Joab also counseled David when David sinfully desired to take a census; if David had heeded Joab’s advice, he could have spared his nation the plague that befell Israel (2 Samuel 24).

When David was on his death bed, Joab conspired with Adonijah to install Adonijah as the next king, instead of Solomon (1 Kings 1). This action, plus Joab’s other rash decisions, vengeful murders, and inability to take certain important orders, finally drove David over the edge. David commanded Solomon to ensure Joab’s execution, an act that was carried out by Benaniah as Joab was clinging to the horns of the altar in hopes of finding clemency (1 Kings 2:5–6, 28–34).

After the death of King Saul, Abner (the commander of Saul’s army) took Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth and made him king over the areas of Israel called Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, Ephraim, and Manasseh (2 Samuel 2:9). Ish-Bosheth was 40 years old at the time and reigned for two years (2 Samuel 2:10).

During this same time, David served as king over the tribe of Judah in Hebron, a city in southern Israel. David’s men and Abner’s men fought one another in battle. After about two years, King Ish-Bosheth accused Abner of sleeping with Saul’s concubine (2 Samuel 3:7). Abner became angry at the false accusation and promised to turn over all of Israel to David (2 Samuel 3:8–10).

Abner met with David and made an agreement to bring the entire nation of Israel under David’s control. Afterwards, Joab, the commander of David’s army, came before David and accused Abner of falsehood. According to Joab, Abner was only seeking ways to defeat David. Without David’s permission, Joab tracked down Abner and murdered him (2 Samuel 3:26–27). This deed was more than an act of supposed loyalty to David, however. Joab had been seeking to avenge his brother Asahel’s death at the hands of Abner (2 Samuel 2:19–23).

David made all of his people mourn and declared that he had nothing to do with Abner’s death. Joab had been acting on his own. However, when Ish-Bosheth heard that Abner had died, he and all Israel were troubled. Two men named Rekab and Baanah came to Ish-Bosheth’s home “at about the heat of the day.” King Ish-Bosheth “was lying on his bed at noon. And they came there, all the way into the house, as though to get wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach” (2 Samuel 4:5–6). The assassins then cut off Ish-Bosheth’s head and slipped away (2 Samuel 4:7).

Rekab and Baanah brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David, hoping for a reward. Instead, David had them executed, because they had “killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed” (2 Samuel 4:11). David also gave orders to bury the head of Ish-Bosheth in the tomb of Abner at Hebron.

This gruesome series of events paved the way for David to transition from leading the tribe of Judah to becoming king over all of Israel. Despite the violence around him, David remained innocent of the blood of his rivals. After Ish-Bosheth’s and Abner’s murders, David remained in Hebron for five more years until the elders of Israel came to him and made a covenant to establish him as king of all Israel (2 Samuel 5:1–5). At that time, David and his men conquered Jerusalem, making it the capital of Israel and the “City of David.” David ruled from Jerusalem for the remainder of his 40 years as king.

  Ishmael is considered a patriarch of Islam based upon legends that have developed around him and information found in the Qur’an. But what does the Bible tell us about Ishmael?

Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham. God had appeared to Abraham and promised that he would have a son and that he would be the father of many nations (Genesis 15). However, as time went on, Abraham had no children. His wife, Sarah, had been unable to conceive, and they began to question just how the promise would be fulfilled.

In Genesis 16 Sarah suggests that Abraham should have a child with her slave Hagar, an Egyptian. Apparently, this was a somewhat common practice at the time (also practiced in Genesis 30 by Jacob’s wives): the wife would give a female slave to her husband, but any children born would be counted as the children of the wife (perhaps an ancient version of surrogacy). While this may have seemed like a workable solution for Abraham and Sarah, in actuality it caused more problems than it solved.

Hagar did conceive a child with Abraham. When Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to “despise” Sarah, and Sarah appealed to Abraham for help. Abraham told Sarah to do as she saw fit, so she began to mistreat Hagar, and Hagar ran away (Genesis 16:4–6).

The angel of the Lord found Hagar in the desert and told her to return to Sarah. He then told her about her yet unborn son: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. [Ishmael means “God hears.”] He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:11–12). So Hagar went back and bore a son; Abraham was 86 years old.

In Genesis 17, when Abraham is 99 years old (making Ishmael approximately 13), God appeared to him once again and reiterated the promise that he would be the father of many. God told Abraham that Sarah, who was 90 years old, will have a son. Abraham had a hard time believing this and asked that God would fulfill His promises through Ishmael (verse 18). From this we can see that Abraham genuinely loved Ishmael. But God said the promise will be fulfilled through a son that Sarah will bear: “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year” (verses 19–21).

In Genesis 21, Sarah’s son, Isaac, is born, and once again problems arise. Sarah sees Ishmael mocking the young Isaac, and she demands action from Abraham: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac” (verse 10).

“The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring’” (Genesis 21:11–13). Once again, Abraham’s love for his son Ishmael comes through, and God promises to bless Ishmael. Abraham gathered some provisions and sent Hagar and Ishmael away. After the provisions had been exhausted, Hagar and Ishmael were overcome with grief, assuming that they would die in the desert. “God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink” (verses 17–19). Once again, God appeared to Hagar and promised that Ishmael will be a great nation. Finally, we are told that “God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt” (verses 20–21).

Upon Abraham’s death, he left everything to Isaac, but Ishmael did help his half-brother bury Abraham (Genesis 25:9). Genesis 25:12–18 lists the descendants of Ishmael. They are indeed numerous, divided into twelve tribes, and, as God had earlier revealed, “They lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them” (verse 18). Ishmael lived a total of 137 years (verse 17).

Genesis 25 is the last mention of Ishmael as an individual (except for later genealogies); however, his descendants continue to be mentioned in relation to Israel. Esau marries a descendant of Ishmael since his mother did not want him to marry Canaanite women (see Genesis 28:6–8; 36:3). Ishmaelites are mentioned as a people group in Genesis 37—Joseph’s brothers sold him to Ishmaelite traders who took him to Egypt as a slave. Ishmaelites are mentioned incidentally a few more times in the Old Testament (as well as other, unrelated men named Ishmael), but the New Testament is silent about him. Ishmael is not held up as an example either to be followed or avoided.

Islamic lore reports that Abraham took Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca, and Ishmael is considered a patriarch of Islam. While it is not accurate to say that all Arabs are descended from Ishmael, many probably are. There is still a great deal of strife between the descendants of Isaac and those who see Ishmael as their father. One wonders how things might have been different had Abraham simply trusted God to bring about His promise without any added “help” from Abraham and Sarah.

Ish-bosheth was a son of King Saul. His story is discussed in 2 Samuel chapters 2 through 4. David was king in the city of Hebron and over the tribe of Judah. Ish-bosheth was made king over the rest of Israel: “Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel. Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David” (2 Samuel 2:8–10).

Following a battle at Gibeon between Judah and Israel, Abner chose to join David. Abner was a military leader to Ish-bosheth, who accused Abner of sleeping with his concubine. In his anger over the false charge, Abner vowed to turn the rest of Israel over to David (2 Samuel 3:7–11).

During this time, “Rekab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, set out for the house of Ish-Bosheth, and they arrived there in the heat of the day while he was taking his noonday rest. They went into the inner part of the house as if to get some wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach” (2 Samuel 4:5–6). The assassins brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David, expecting to receive a reward. Yet David was displeased at their merciless action and had these men killed, their feet and hands cut off, and their bodies hanged beside a pool in Hebron. In contrast, the head of Ish-bosheth was buried in Hebron (2 Samuel 4:12). These events took place after David had ruled at Hebron for about seven and a half years.

The end of Ish-bosheth’s life, though violent, opened the door for David’s rule to expand from Judah to all of Israel. The prophecy of long ago finally came true: David was the king of all Israel (2 Samuel 5:2). “When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years” (2 Samuel 5:3–5).

Despite the many violent acts that took place between the people of David’s kingdom and the kingdom of Ish-bosheth, God was at work, preparing the way for His promise to be fulfilled. David ultimately reigned over Israel from Jerusalem. He served as an ancestor to Jesus Christ, the One who will ultimately reign forever.

King David had many wives, according to the Bible, although only eight of them are named. Of the eight, five are mentioned only once. The other three wives figure prominently in the story of King David.

David’s first wife was Michal, the daughter of King Saul. Her story begins in 1 Samuel 18—19. Saul gave Michal to David to marry after David defeated a hundred Philistines. But Saul, always fearful of young David’s popularity with the people, planned to kill his new son-in-law. However, Michal, who loved David, warned him of the plot and helped him escape. Following this, Saul gave Michal to another man. After David became king, Michal was restored as his wife (2 Samuel 3). She later despised David when she saw him dancing before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14–22). Michal had no children, perhaps in punishment for mocking the servant of the Lord (verse 23).

The story of David’s second wife of note, Abigail, is told in 1 Samuel 25. She was originally the wife of Nabal, an evil man who disrespected David. In his anger, David planned to attack and kill Nabal and all his household. Abigail, a wise and prudent woman, met David as he and his men were approaching. She bowed down to him and convinced him not to seek revenge and cause bloodshed. David recognized that her good judgment was a gift to him from God. Abigail returned to Nabal and told him how close he had come to death. Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like stone” (verse 37). Ten days later, God struck Nabal and he died, and Abigail then became David’s wife.

The sad story of David’s wife Bathsheba is well known (2 Samuel 11:1–17). She was originally the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a trusted soldier in David’s army. While Uriah was away at war, David saw Bathsheba bathing in her courtyard one night; she was beautiful, and David lusted after her. Even knowing she was another man’s wife, David summoned her to his palace and slept with her. When she found that she was pregnant, she informed David, and the king, rather than repent, added to his sin. David ordered that Uriah be placed on the front lines of the battlefield where he was abandoned by his fellow soldiers and killed by the enemy. Then David married Bathsheba, but their child died shortly after birth. David chronicled his sin and repentance over these evil acts in Psalm 51. David and Bathsheba had four more children (1 Chronicles 3:5). Their son Solomon ruled after his father’s death.

The other five named wives of David were Ahinoam, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah (2 Samuel 3:2–5; 1 Chronicles 3:1–3). According to 2 Samuel 5:13, David married more wives in Jerusalem, but how many is unknown.

Little is known about Luke, the author of the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible. We do know he was a physician and the only Gentile to write any part of the New Testament. Paul’s letter to the Colossians draws a distinction between Luke and other colleagues “of the circumcision,” meaning the Jews (Colossians 4:11). Luke is the only New Testament writer clearly identifiable as a non-Jew.

Luke was the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke does not name himself in either of his books, but Paul mentions him by name in three epistles. Both Luke and Acts are addressed to the same person, Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). No one knows exactly who Theophilus was, but we know that Luke’s purpose in writing the two companion books was so that Theophilus would know with certainty about the person and work of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:4). Perhaps Theophilus had already received the basics of the Christian doctrine but had not as yet been completely grounded in them.

Luke was a close friend of Paul, who referred to him as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). Perhaps Luke’s interest in medicine is the reason his gospel gives such a high profile to Jesus’ acts of healing.

Paul also refers to Luke as a “fellow laborer” (Philemon 1:24). Luke joined Paul in Troas in Asia Minor during Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 16:6–11). Some scholars speculate that Luke was the “man of Macedonia” whom Paul saw in his dream (Acts 16:9). Luke was left in Philippi during the second missionary journey (Acts 17:1) and picked up again to travel with Paul in the third journey (Acts 20:5). Luke accompanied Paul on his journey to Jerusalem and Rome and was with him during his imprisonment there (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke’s vivid description of his travels with Paul in Acts 27 seem to indicate that he was well-traveled and well-versed in navigation.

Scholars have noted that Luke had an outstanding command of the Greek language. His vocabulary is extensive and rich, and his style at times approaches that of classical Greek, as in the preface of his gospel (Luke 1:1–4), while at other times it seems quite Semitic (Luke 1:5—2:52). He was familiar with sailing and had a special love for recording geographical details. All this would indicate that Luke was a well-educated, observant, and careful writer.

John Mark, often just called Mark, is the author of the gospel of Mark. He was a believer in the early church mentioned directly only the book of Acts. John Mark is first mentioned as the son of a woman named Mary (Acts 12:12), whose house was being used as a place for believers to gather and pray. Later, Mark is mentioned as a companion of Barnabas and Paul during their travels together (Acts 12:25). John Mark was also Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10).

John Mark was a helper on Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). However, he did not stay through the whole trip. John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia and left the work (Acts 15:38). The Bible does not say why Mark deserted, but his departure came right after a mostly fruitless time in Cyprus (Acts 13:4–12). Only one conversion is recorded in Cyprus, but there had been strong demonic opposition. It’s likely that the young John Mark was discouraged at the hardness of the way and decided to return to the comforts of home.

Some time later, after Paul and Barnabas had returned from their first journey, Paul expressed a desire to go back to the brothers in the cities they had previously visited to see how everyone was doing (Acts 15:36). Barnabas agreed, apparently upon the provision that they take John Mark with them. Paul refused to have Mark on the trip, however, citing Mark’s previous desertion. Paul thought it best not to have a quitter with them; they needed someone more dependable. Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” about John Mark (verse 39) and wound up separating from each other and going on separate journeys. Barnabas took John Mark with him to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas with him through Syria and Cilicia to encourage the believers in the churches in those areas (Acts 15:39–41).

Barnabas, the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36), desired to forgive John Mark’s failure and to give him another chance. Paul took the more rational view: pioneering missionary work requires dedication, resolve, and endurance. Paul saw John Mark as a risk to their mission. Luke, the writer of Acts, does not take sides or present either Paul or Barnabas as being in the right. He simply records the facts. It’s worth noting that, in the end, two groups of missionaries were sent out—twice as many missionaries were spreading the gospel.

John Mark sails off to Cyprus with his cousin Barnabas, but that is not the end of his story. Years later, he is with Paul, who calls him a “fellow worker” (Philemon 1:24). And near the end of Paul’s life, Paul sends a request to Timothy from a Roman prison: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Obviously, John Mark had matured through the years and had become a faithful servant of the Lord. Paul recognized his progress and considered him a valuable companion.

John Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name sometime between AD 55 and 59. There could be a veiled reference to John Mark in Mark 14:51–52. In that passage a young man, roused from sleep on the night that Jesus was arrested, attempts to follow the Lord, and the mob who had Jesus in custody attempts to seize him. The young man escapes and flees into the night. The fact that this incident is only recorded in Mark’s gospel—and the fact that the young man is anonymous—has led some scholars to surmise that the fleeing young man is actually John Mark.

In the book of Acts, we find a Levite from Cyprus named Joses (Acts 4:36), whom the apostles called Barnabas. That nickname, translated “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36-37) or “Son of Exhortation” was probably given to him because of his inclination to serve others (Acts 4:36-37, 9:27) and his willingness to do whatever church leaders needed (Acts 11:25-31). He is referred to as a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” Through his ministry, “a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:24). Paul uses Barnabas as an example of one with a proper perspective on money and property. When he sold his land, he brought the proceeds to the apostles and laid it at their feet (Acts 4:36-37).

As the early church began to grow, in spite of Herod’s persecution, Barnabas was called by the Holy Spirit to go with Paul on a missionary journey. Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark, served him and Paul as their assistant (Acts 13:5). During that first missions trip, for an unspecified reason, John Mark left them and did not complete the journey (Acts 13:13). However, Barnabas continued with Paul and was with him when Paul’s ministry was redirected to reaching the Gentiles with the gospel (Acts 13:42-52). The only negative mention of Barnabas in Scripture is in reference to an incident in which Peter’s hypocrisy influenced other Jews (including Barnabas) to shun some Gentiles at dinner (Galatians 2:13).

After that first trip, Paul and Barnabas began planning their next journey. Barnabas wanted to take his cousin, but Paul refused, and a rift grew between them to the point that they parted company (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas, true to his nickname, took John Mark and spent time discipling him. That ministry was so effective that, years later, Paul specifically asked for John Mark to come to him, as Mark had matured to the point of becoming helpful to Paul in his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).

Like Barnabas, as Christians we are called to be encouragers, particularly of those who are weak in the faith or struggling. Acts 11:23 depicts Barnabas as a man who was delighted to see others exhibiting the grace of God in their lives, exhorting and encouraging them to remain faithful. In the same way, we should look for opportunities to praise those who bring glory and honor to God through lives that reflect their faith. In addition, Barnabas is an example of a generous spirit when it comes to giving sacrificially to the work of the Lord.

  Adam was the first man to ever exist (Genesis 1:27; 1 Corinthians 15:5). He was created by God as the first human being and placed in the Garden of Eden designed just for him (Genesis 2:8, 10). Adam is the father of all mankind; every human being who has ever existed is a direct descendant of Adam, and it is through Adam that every human being has inherited a sinful nature (Romans 5:12).

God spoke everything else in the universe into existence (Genesis 1). But on the sixth day God did something different. He got down in the dirt and formed Adam from the clay (the name Adam is related to adamah, the Hebrew word for “ground” or “soil”). God then breathed His own breath into the man’s nostrils, “and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). The breath of God is what separates human beings from the animal kingdom (Genesis 1:26–27). Beginning with Adam, every human being created since then has an immortal spirit as God has. God created a being so like Him that the man could reason, reflect, intuit, and choose his own paths.

The first woman, Eve, was made from one of Adam’s ribs (Genesis 2:21–22). God placed them in His perfect world, with only one restriction: they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:16–17). The option for Adam to disobey had to be present, because without that right to choose, human beings would not be completely free. God respects what He has created to such an extent that He will not allow even His overwhelming love to violate our free will.

Genesis 3 details the account of Adam’s choice to sin. Both Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate of the tree which the Lord had forbidden (verse 6). In that one act of disobedience, they brought sin and all of its consequences into God’s perfect world. Through Adam, sin entered the world, and with sin came death (Genesis 3:19, 21; Romans 5:12).

We know that Adam was an actual person, not an allegory, because he is referred to as a real personage throughout the rest of the Bible (Genesis 5:1; Romans 5:12–17). Luke, the great historian, traces the lineage of Jesus all the way back to this one man (Luke 3:38). In addition to his being a real person, Adam is also the prototype for all human beings to come. Prophets, priests, and kings, born with a sin nature, were all children of the first Adam. Jesus, virgin-born and sinless, is “the second Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:47). The first Adam brought sin into the world; the second brought life (John 1:4). Jesus, our second Adam, offers a new birth (John 3:3) with a new nature and new life for whoever believes (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 3:16–18). Adam lost paradise; Jesus will regain it.