Category: Men of the Bible


Who was Belshazzar?

Belshazzar was the last king of ancient Babylon and is mentioned in Daniel 5. Belshazzar reigned for a short time during the life of Daniel the prophet. His name, meaning “Bel protect the king,” is a prayer to a Babylonian god; as his story shows, Bel was powerless to save this evil ruler.

Belshazzar ruled Babylon, a powerful nation with a long history and a long line of powerful kings. One of those kings was Nebuchadnezzar, who had conquered Judah, bringing the temple treasures to Babylon along with Daniel and many other captives. Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson through his daughter Nitocris. Belshazzar calls Nebuchadnezzar his “father” in Daniel 5:13, but this is a generic use of the word father, meaning “ancestor.”

During his life, King Nebuchadnezzar had encountered the God of Israel’s power and was humbled by Him (Daniel 4:34–37), but twenty years after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, his grandson Belshazzar “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (Daniel 5:4). One fateful night in 539 BC, as the Medes and the Persians lay siege to the city of Babylon, King Belshazzar held a feast with his household and a thousand of his noblemen. The king demanded all the gold and silver cups and vessels plundered from the Jewish temple be brought to the royal banquet hall. They filled the vessels with wine and drank from them, praising their false gods (Daniel 5:1–4). The use of the articles from the Jewish temple was a blasphemous attempt for Belshazzar to relive the glory days of his kingdom, to recall the time when Babylon was conquering other nations instead of being threatened with annihilation from the Persians outside their walls.

As the drunken king reveled, God sent him a sign: a human hand appeared, floating near the lampstand and writing four words in the plaster of the wall: “MENE MENE TEKEL PARSIN.” Then, the hand disappeared (Daniel 5:5, 25). The king paled and was extremely frightened; he called his wise men and astrologers and enchanters to tell him what the writing meant, promising that “whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom” (verse 7). But none of the wise men of Babylon could interpret the words.

Hearing a commotion in the banquet hall, the queen (possibly Nitocris or even Nebuchadnezzar’s widow) came to investigate. She remembered Daniel as one whose wisdom Nebuchadnezzar had trusted, and she told Belshazzar to summon the Jewish prophet (Daniel 5:10–12). Daniel was brought before the king, but he refused the gifts Belshazzar offered him—the kingdom was not his to give, as it turned out (verse 17). Daniel rebuked Belshazzar’s pride: although the king knew the story of how God humbled his grandfather, he did not humble himself. Instead, he dishonored God by drinking from the sacred items of the temple (verses 22–23). Then, Daniel interpreted the words on the wall. Mene means “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.” Tekel means “you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Parsin means “your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:24–28). Daniel never revealed what language those words belong to.

That night, the Persians invaded. Cyrus the Great, king of Medo-Persia, broke through the supposedly impenetrable wall of Babylon by cleverly diverting the river flowing into the city so that his soldiers could enter through the river duct. Historical records show that this invasion was made possible because the entire city was involved in a great feast—the feast of Belshazzar mentioned in Daniel 5. “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom” (Daniel 5:29–30). The demise of King Belshazzar illustrates the truth of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

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Who was Xerxes in the Bible?The name Xerxes does not appear in the Hebrew text of Scripture. However, it does appear throughout the book of Esther in the NIV and NASB. In the Hebrew text, the king’s name is Ahasuerus (preserved in the KJV and ESV). Nothing is known of a king named Ahasuerus from secular sources, and the names of all the Persian kings from this time period are known. Most commentators equate Esther’s king with Xerxes I (485–465 BC), son of Darius I, the fourth emperor of the Achaemenid Empire—thus the translation in some modern versions. (There is some evidence to show that the Hebrew name Ahasuerus can be easily derived from the Persian name.) The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the name Artaxerxes, which further complicates the issue, for there were two Persian rulers by that name: Artaxerxes I (465–424 BC) and Artaxerxes II (404–359 BC).

The details on the life of Xerxes found in the book of Esther are not corroborated by any secular sources. While there are many detractors who simply view Esther as fiction, for those who accept the historicity of the book of Esther, Xerxes I is the most likely candidate to fill the role of Ahasuerus. What we know of the character of Xerxes I fits with what we see in the book of Esther. Xerxes had a summer palace in Susa. He was known for his drinking, lavish banquets, harsh temper, and sexual appetite. Esther mentions a foiled plot against his life, and we know from secular history that, later, in 465, Xerxes was assassinated by the head of his bodyguard.

The most likely scenario is that the episode of Xerxes’ life involving Esther took place after Xerxes’ disastrous invasion of Greece in 480 BC. Xerxes’ forces paid a heavy toll at the pass of Thermopylae at the hands of the fabled 300 Spartans and were defeated at Salamis. Returning home, Xerxes turned to domestic affairs.

King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) plays a prominent role in the book of Esther. In chapter 1 he gives a great banquet for his nobles and, after several days of eating and drinking, orders that the queen Vashti appear at the banquet so the men there might see her great beauty. Vashti refuses to attend, so the king deposes her.

In Esther 2 Xerxes begins to regret his decision to oust the queen, and he decides to find a new queen. The queen of Persia was not simply the wife of the king. The queenship was an honorary/political position. The king was a polygamist with many wives and concubines in his harem, but the queen was a special wife occupying a favored position. A call is sent out throughout the kingdom for all beautiful virgins to be gathered into the harem so that the king could choose a new queen from among them. As a member of the harem, a woman would technically be the property of the king—either a wife or a concubine. Each of the women would spend a night with the king. After their night together, each woman would be moved to the “other side” of the harem and would never see the king again, unless he called for her. When he found the “right one,” Xerxes would name her queen, although she would not be his exclusive wife or sexual partner. A woman whom Xerxes never called again would live her life in the harem as a pampered prisoner with no possibility for a real marriage or family of her own.

A Jewess named Esther, who was raised by her cousin Mordecai, was one of the women rounded up for Xerxes. She was eventually named queen, but she kept her nationality a secret. Mordecai is anxious for Esther and loiters day after day near the harem quarters to monitor how she is doing. In so doing, he overhears a plot to kill the king. He reports it to Esther, who reports it to the king, and the plot is foiled.

In Esther 3 one of Xerxes’ chief advisors, Haman, is angered the Mordecai will not bow down to him, so he hatches a plot to kill not only Mordecai but all of the Jews. Haman convinces King Xerxes to authorize the extermination; however, it appears that the king does not know the identity of the people that Haman plans to wipe out—only that they are enemies of the state. He trusts Haman to handle the details. In chapter 4 Mordecai informs Esther of the danger the Jews are in and convinces her to intercede with the king. The problem Esther faces is that Xerxes has not called for her for some time and, if she approaches him without being summoned, she risks death. At this point, neither the king nor Haman knows Esther’s nationality or her relationship to Mordecai. Mordecai encourages Esther to take the risk, saying that perhaps she has been made queen “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

In Esther 5 the queen approaches Xerxes, and he extends his scepter to her, signifying that he welcomes her into his presence. Instead of explaining her predicament, however, Esther invites the king and Haman to a private banquet. At the banquet Esther again puts off addressing the issue; instead, she asks the king and Haman to come to another banquet the next day, which they agree to do. Haman is so overjoyed and emboldened by the special attention he’s receiving from the queen that he decides to have Mordecai hanged in advance of the general slaughter of the Jews.

In Esther 6 the king cannot sleep, so he has the royal annals read to him. When the account of the foiled plot against his life is recounted, Xerxes asks if Mordecai has ever been honored for saving him. When he finds that Mordecai has never been rewarded, Xerxes decides to remedy the oversight. At that moment, Haman enters, and the king asks him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” (Esther 6:5). Haman thinks the king is referring to him, so he proposes a lavish public display: “For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown is set. And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’” The king thinks it is a splendid idea to be carried out immediately and tells Haman, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned” (verses 7–9). So, in what some would call a strange “twist of fate,” Haman has to publicly honor Mordecai. After his humiliation, Haman hurriedly prepares for the banquet with Esther and the king, as Haman’s family laments that certainly fate is against him now.

In Esther 7, at the second banquet, Xerxes asks Esther, “What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled” (Esther 7:2). Esther begs for the life of herself and her people. The king is enraged and asks who would dare plot such a thing. Esther answers, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” (verse 6). The king rushes from the room in a rage, and Haman throws himself upon the couch where Esther is reclining to plead for his life. At that moment, the king returns and misinterprets Haman’s actions: “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” (verse 8). Haman is whisked away and hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.

In Esther 8 the house of Haman is given to Esther, and his position in the court is given to Mordecai. Even though Haman is out of the way, the plot to kill all the Jews is still afoot. It appears that the king’s edict called for citizens of Persia to kill Jews on a certain day and confiscate their property. The edict, which could not be rescinded, is modified to allow the Jews to defend themselves, and in chapter 9 they are able to withstand the attack, and many of their enemies are killed.

God is not mentioned in the book of Esther, but He is conspicuous by His absence. In Esther we do not see any miracles or divine intervention. However, we do see an abundance of providence, which is God’s control and provision through “natural” means. It is clear that the writer of the book intends us to see God’s unseen hand behind every detail and ironic twist of “fate.” Although Xerxes is the king, he is not ultimately in charge. The king of Persia is little more than a bit player in God’s all-encompassing drama. The story of Xerxes is an excellent example of Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

One of the often thought of “name changes” in the Bible is that of Saul to Paul. The change is commonly linked to Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road, when the Lord Jesus commissioned him to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1–19). However, at the time of Saul’s conversion, Jesus still addressed him as “Saul.” Later, Jesus told Ananias to find “Saul” in Damascus and restore his sight. Acts 9 goes on to describe “Saul” as increasing in spiritual strength and understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. So, it was not Jesus who changed his name on the road to Damascus. If it wasn’t Jesus’ doing, how did the change from Saul to Paul happen, and when?

The answer is that Saul’s name was also Paul. The custom of dual names was common in those days. Acts 13:9 describes the apostle as “Saul, who was also called Paul.” From that verse on, Saul is always referred to in Scripture as “Paul.”

Paul was a Jew, born in the Roman city of Tarsus. He was proud of his Jewish heritage, as he describes in Philippians 3:5: “Circumcised on the eight day, of the race of Israel, or the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee.” So zealous and devout was he that persecuting Christians was the natural way for him to show his devotion. He chose to use his Hebrew name, Saul, until sometime after he began to believe in and preach Christ. After that time, as “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), he used his Roman name, Paul. It would make sense for Paul to use his Roman name as he travelled farther and farther into the Gentile world.

It is interesting that Paul began using his Roman name on Cyprus when the Roman proconsul on that island was converted (Acts 13:12). This was during Paul’s first missionary journey and involved a high-ranking, idolatrous Gentile coming to faith in Christ. The fact that the proconsul’s name was Sergius Paulus has led some to think that Saul took the name Paulus/Paul as a reminder of this event, but the apostle’s name being the same as the proconsul’s is most likely a coincidence.

Using his Roman name was fitting for the man who proclaimed that he would become “all things to all people,” a Jew to the Jews in order to win the Jews, weak to the weak in order to win the weak, etc., all for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19–23). Adopting his Roman name would allow Paul to approach the Gentiles to whom he was sent and speak to them in their own language, becoming as one of them and setting them at ease. It is also possible that Paul gave up the use of his Hebrew name, Saul, with its regal connotation and chose to use his Roman name, Paul, meaning “little” or “small,” because he desired to became smaller in order to present Christ as greater (cf. John 3:30).

Unlike the changing of Simon’s name to Peter (Matthew 16:18–19), which Jesus did for a specific purpose, there is no reference in the Bible to Jesus’ changing Saul’s name to Paul.

Who was Mordecai in the Bible? Mordecai is first introduced in Esther 2:5–7: “Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.”

These verses note the following facts about Mordecai: 1) he was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, 2) he lived in Susa, the capital of Persia, 3) he had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, and 4) he acted as a father to Esther. When Esther was selected as one of the virgins to possibly be the next queen of King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus), Mordecai advised her not to reveal her Jewish background (Esther 2:10). Esther was crowned queen (verse 17).

In Esther 2:21–23, Mordecai, who worked at the palace gate, hears of an assassination plot against the king. Mordecai reports the plot to Esther, and the queen passes the intelligence on to Xerxes. The would-be assassins are stopped, and Mordecai’s name is recorded in the king’s chronicles as the one who took action to preserve the king’s life.

Mordecai was hated by Haman, an Agagite who held a prominent office in the kingdom. Haman’s hatred was due to Mordecai’s refusal to bow in honor to him (Esther 3:5). As a Jew, Mordecai would only bow to the Lord God of Israel. Haman was not content with simply doing away with Mordecai, however: “Having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes” (verse 6). Haman spoke to the king and secured the king’s permission to annihilate the Jewish people on select date in the future. When Mordecai heard of the decree, he tore his clothing, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes (Esther 4:1).

Mordecai had been checking on Esther each day. When she discovered he was mourning, she inquired of the cause. Mordecai informed Esther of Haman’s plot against the Jews, telling her to go before the king and plead for the Jews’ lives (Esther 4:8). At this, Esther balked—she did not have freedom to enter the king’s presence without a summons; to approach the king uninvited was punishable by death (verses 9–10). Mordecai responded with logic: if she did not go before the king, she was dead anyway, for she herself was endangered by the king’s edict (verse 13). Mordecai ends his message to the queen with this famous statement: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (verse 14).

Esther agreed that she must break the Persian law that forbade access to the king, saying, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). She fasted for three days and then entered the king’s presence uninvited. Xerxes received her graciously, however, and Esther took the opportunity to invite the king and Haman to a banquet (Esther 5:1–4). At the meal, the king asked Esther if she had a request, and Esther asked for their presence at another banquet the next night.

Haman, who was ignorant of the queen’s ethnicity, was pleased to be honored with not one banquet but two. On the way home, he was “happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai” (verse 9). Once he arrived home, he issued an order to build a 75-foot-high gallows upon which to hang Mordecai (Esther 5:14).

That night after Esther’s first meal, King Xerxes couldn’t sleep. As a sleep-aid, he had his chronicles read to him. It just so happened that the account of Mordecai’s thwarting the assassination was read. The king then discovered that nothing had been done to repay Mordecai for his good deed. At that moment, Haman entered the palace in order to obtain the king’s permission to hang Mordecai—he never got the chance to ask, though, because the king ordered Haman to immediately take Mordecai through the streets of Susa to pay him homage (Esther 6:10–11). Haman was thus humbled before his enemy, and Mordecai received due honor.

After his humiliating experience of honoring Mordecai, Haman returned to the palace for Esther’s second banquet. During the meal, the king again asked Esther if she had a request. This time, she pleaded for the king to rescue her and her people from destruction (Esther 6:3–4), and she pointed out Haman as the one wanting to kill her (verse 6).

Haman was summarily put to death on the very gallows he had erected for Mordecai, and the Jews were given permission to defend themselves. The Jews successfully overcame Haman’s evil plot, and Mordecai was rewarded with a promotion. The final verse of Esther notes, “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews” (Esther 10:3).

The story of Mordecai illustrates the truth of Psalm 75:7, “It is God who judges: / He brings one down, he exalts another,” and Psalm 147:6, “The LORD sustains the humble / but casts the wicked to the ground.” Mordecai’s faithfulness and integrity put him in good stead with the king of Persia, and his concern for his Jewish compatriots brought the blessing of God.

Who was Ehud?

Who was Ehud? Ehud served as the second judge of Israel following Othniel. After Othniel’s death, the people of Israel sinned and fell to the king of Moab, serving him for 18 years (Judges 3:13–14). When the Israelites cried out for help, God sent Ehud to serve as judge.

Facts about Ehud include that he was the son of Gera and belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. He was also noted as a left-handed man (Judges 3:15). This detail would become important to the success of his mission.

Beginning in Judges 3:16, we read that Ehud made himself a small sword (about 16 inches long) and strapped it to his right thigh under his clothes—had Ehud been right-handed, he would have carried the sword on his left side. Next, he visited the Moabites’ King Eglon under pretense of paying a tribute. When Ehud was checked for weapons, his small sword was apparently missed as it was in an unexpected location.

Following the presentation of his tribute, Ehud said that he had a secret message for the king. Everyone left the room except Ehud and King Eglon. Ehud then pulled out his sword and stuck it into the king’s stomach. The king was obese, and the sword disappeared inside his belly. Ehud left the sword and escaped through a porch opening.

When Eglon’s servants later found the king dead, Ehud had already escaped and rallied the people of Israel. Going to the town of Seraiah, located in Ephraim, Ehud sounded a horn or shofar. The Israelites cut off the Moabites at the Jordan River. Judges 3:29 records that about 10,000 Moabites were killed in the battle. Once free from Eglon’s rule, the Israelites enjoyed 80 years of peace, the longest peaceful period recorded during the time of the judges (Judges 3:30).

While this account is one of the more graphic scenes in Scripture, it is also very insightful. The original readers would have seen the power of God in this story for a variety of reasons. First, a lone man walked into the king’s palace, assassinated the king, and walked out without being captured. This was a highly unexpected event that involved great risk. Second, one battle changed the next 80 years of Israel’s history. Ehud’s story involves more than removing a wicked leader; it includes a change in national history for an entire generation. Third, Ehud’s success is a story of freedom. Just as God had redeemed Israel from Pharaoh and the land of Egypt when they cried out for help, God redeemed Israel from their bondage under King Eglon when they turned to Him.

What can we learn by asking the question, “Who was Ehud?” Ehud’s actions offer a valuable look at how God can change the course of a nation in a single day when He responds to the cries of His people. Further, we see God being faithful to His promise to help Israel when they repented of their sins and turned to Him—a lesson relevant still today.

The Moabites were a tribe descended from Moab, the son of Lot, born of an incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:37). From Zoar, the cradle of this tribe, on the southeastern border of the Dead Sea, they gradually spread over the region on the east of Jordan. Shortly before the Exodus, the warlike Amorites crossed the Jordan under Sihon their king and drove the Moabites out of the region between the Arnon River Valley and the Jabbok River, and occupied it, making Heshbon their capital. The Moabites were then confined to the territory to the south of the Arnon Valley (Numbers 21:26–30).

During the Exodus the Israelites did not pass through Moab, but through the “wilderness” to the east, eventually reaching the country to the north of Arnon. The Moabites were alarmed, and their king, Balak, sought aid from the Midianites (Numbers 22:2–4). This was the occasion when the visit of Balaam to Balak took place (Numbers 22:2–6).

In the Plains of Moab, which was in the possession of the Amorites, the children of Israel had their last encampment before they entered the land of Canaan (Numbers 22:1; Joshua 13:32). If we had nothing else to interest us in the land of Moab, it was from the top of Pisgah that Moses, the mightiest of prophets, looked upon the Promised Land; it was here on Nebo that he died his solitary death; it was here in the valley over against Beth-peor where he was buried (Deuteronomy 34:5–6).

A basalt stone, bearing an inscription by King Mesha, was discovered at Dibon by Klein, a German missionary at Jerusalem, in 1868, consisting of thirty-four lines written in Hebrew-Phoenician characters. The stone was set up by Mesha about 900 BC as a record and memorial of his victories. It records Mesha’s wars with Omri, his public buildings, and his wars against Horonaim. This inscription supplements and corroborates the history of King Mesha recorded in 2 Kings 3:4–27. It is the oldest inscription written in alphabetic characters and, in addition to its value in the domain of Hebrew antiquities, is of great linguistic importance.

Perhaps the most significant Bible character to come from Moab was Ruth, who was “of the women of Moab” but was genetically linked to Israel through Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 11:31). Ruth is an example of how God can change a life and take it in a direction He has foreordained, and we see God working out His perfect plan in Ruth’s life, just as He does with all His children (Romans 8:28). Although she came from a pagan background in Moab, once she met the God of Israel, Ruth became a living testimony to Him by faith. Ruth, the Moabitess, is one of only three women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5).

Aram was the Hebrew designation for the nation of Syria, so the Arameans mentioned in the Bible are Syrians. In fact, some translations such as the ESV and KJV, when translating the Hebrew word for “Aramean,” substitute the word Syrian instead (see 2 Kings 7:6). The Arameans lived on an elevated tableland, and the topography is reflected in the fact that the word Aram comes from a root meaning “heights.” Aram Naharaim in Genesis 24:10 means “highland of the two rivers.”

The borders of Aram encompassed a broad region immediately to the northeast of Israel, extending to the Euphrates River and including Mesopotamia. Among the major cities inhabited by ancient Arameans were Damascus (Genesis 14:15) and Hamath (Numbers 13:21). Much later, Syrian Antioch was built and is mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 11:19; 13:1). The various kingdoms comprising ancient Aram gradually unified under Damascus, which grew to be the most dominant of the Aramean kingdoms.

When Abraham sought a wife for his son Isaac, he sent a servant to the land of Aram to find Rebekah (Genesis 24:10; 25:20). Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, is called an Aramean in Genesis 31:10. Jacob himself is called “a wandering Aramean” in Deuteronomy 26:5, since both his mother and his grandfather were from Mesopotamia and therefore considered Arameans by the Hebrews.

During the reign of King David, the Arameans of Damascus came to the help of another group of Syrians. David defeated them, and the Arameans were forced to pay tribute (2 Samuel 8:5–6). Later, the Arameans joined forces with the Ammonites in war against Israel (2 Samuel 10). The Israelites defeated Aram again and kept them in subjugation. This arrangement lasted through the reign of King Solomon (1 Kings 4:21).

After the time of Solomon, the Arameans were a perennial thorn in Israel’s side. They fought Israel during King Ahab’s time, and Israel won (1 Kings 20). In another battle, however, they killed Ahab (2 Chronicles 18:34). They raided Israel (2 Kings 6:8) and later laid siege to the capital, Samaria (verse 24). Elisha predicted the atrocities that the Arameans would commit (2 Kings 8:12). The Arameans fought King Joram of Israel and wounded him (2 Kings 8:28). And they fought King Joash of Judah and wounded him (2 Chronicles 24:23–25). The eventual fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon was aided by the Arameans (2 Kings 24:2).

In a wonderful demonstration of God’s grace and power, Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian of leprosy (2 Kings 5). Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, was an enemy of Israel, but he humbled himself enough to seek the Lord’s help. Naaman discovered that God is merciful to all those who call upon Him—even Arameans—and that discovery drastically changed Naaman’s worldview: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15).

Naaman in the Bible was the commander of the Syrian army who was healed of his leprosy by Elisha the prophet. Naaman was highly esteemed by the king of Syria (or Aram) because of the many victories won by the Syrian army. The Bible calls Naaman “a valiant soldier.” His story is recorded in 2 Kings 5:1–19.

It so happened that Naaman’s wife had a servant—a little Israelite girl who had been captured during a Syrian raid. One day the little girl told her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3). Naaman relayed this information to the king of Syria, who sent Naaman to Samaria with a letter to the king of Israel regarding the matter and a gift of silver, gold, and clothing. In the letter, the Syrian king asked the king of Israel to cure Naaman’s leprosy.

Upon reading the letter, the king of Israel was frightened, believing the king of Syria was trying to pick a fight with him. He tore his clothes (a sign of grieving) and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy?” (2 Kings 5:7). The king of Israel obviously forgot there was a miracle-working prophet in his kingdom—the Syrians knew more about God’s work in Israel than did Israel’s own king.

Elisha heard about the letter, and he calmed the king’s fear, telling him to send Naaman to him (2 Kings 5:8). When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s home, Elisha sent a messenger to tell him to wash in the Jordan River seven times, and that his flesh would be restored to normal after the seventh wash (verse 10). Naaman’s response to Elisha’s word was not good. The Syrian commander was furious: Elisha had not come out to meet him personally; there had been no incantations, no ceremony, no spectacle at all (verse 11). Also, Naaman disliked the idea of bathing in the Jordan, which he considered inferior to the waters of his homeland (verse 12). He could have stayed home and washed in any one of the rivers near him, and it would have done him more good than the Jordan would ever do.

As the proud Naaman was storming off, his servants spoke to him: “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” (2 Kings 5:13). Their logic was solid: Naaman had been prepared to do something monumental—something difficult or expensive or dangerous, even. But the prophet had asked for something simple. Shouldn’t Naaman at least give it a try? Bathing in the Jordan was easy. They persuaded their master that he should try the prescribed cure. So Naaman relented and washed seven times. To his amazement, Elisha’s cure worked—“His flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy” (verse 14). Naaman was cured of his leprosy.

After this, Naaman and his retinue returned to Elisha and offered a gift— ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, ten sets of clothing—Elisha could take whatever he wanted. But the prophet of God would take nothing, despite Naaman’s urging (2 Kings 5:16). Elisha made it clear that God’s healing was free and that miracles were not for sale (see Acts 8:20).

Before he left for home, Naaman gave evidence that his heart had changed, as well as his body. He said to Elisha, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15). Naaman gave up his pagan idols then and there. He asked that he be allowed to take back two mule-loads of dirt from Israel on which he could offer sacrifices to Israel’s God, promising that he would “never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord” (verse 17).

One thing still bothered Naaman’s conscience. Part of his responsibility as commander of the Syrian army was to accompany the king to the temple of Rimmon, a pagan god of Syria. As the king worshiped, Naaman was to be at his side (2 Kings 5:18). Naaman asked the Lord for forgiveness in advance, since he now knew that Rimmon was a false god (who could not heal leprosy). Elisha assured Naaman that all would be well and that God saw his heart (verse 19). Naaman returned to Syria rejoicing in his newfound faith and in his restored physical health.

  Abimelech (also spelled Abimelek), one of Gideon’s sons, served as a judge of Israel following the judgeship of Gideon. He is first mentioned in Judges 8:30–31 where we read, “[Gideon] had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelek.” Gideon was of the tribe of Manasseh and had led Israel to victory despite humanly impossible odds (Judges 7). After this victory, he became wealthy and had several wives, including a concubine in Shechem who became the mother of Abimelech.

Abimelech sought to rule over Shechem by eliminating all his opposition—namely, by killing all of the other sons of Gideon (Judges 9:1–2). All were killed except Gideon’s youngest son, Jotham (verse 5). Abimelech then became king of Shechem (verse 6).

After leading Shechem for three years, a conspiracy arose against Abimelech. Civil war broke out, leading to a battle at a town called Thebez (Judges 9:50). Abimelech cornered the leaders of the city in a tower and came near with the intention of burning the tower with fire.

The text then notes, “A woman [in the tower] dropped an upper millstone on [Abimelech’s] head and cracked his skull. Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, “A woman killed him.”’ So his servant ran him through, and he died. When the Israelites saw that Abimelek was dead, they went home” (Judges 9:53–55).

An “upper millstone” was a large rock approximately 18 inches in diameter, and this is what landed on Abimelech’s head. Though he survived the crushing blow, Abimelech knew he would not live long. He commanded his young armor-bearer to finish him off for the sake of his reputation (a practice seen in other places in the Old Testament). The young man did as commanded, and the battle ended in the defeat of Abimelech’s forces.

Abimelech offers a negative example of how a leader is to influence others. He led by force, murdered his opposition, and led in such a manner that even his subjects sought to overtake him. In contrast to the positive leadership of his father, Abimelech focused on his own personal gain, hurting many in the process.

Interestingly, a reference to Abimelech’s death would be made many years later during the reign of David. When Uriah was put on the front line of battle so he would die, Joab sent David a message that said, “Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez?” (2 Samuel 11:21). This reference held both a practical and spiritual message for David. Practically speaking, the reference noted that Abimelech served as an example of not getting too close to a wall during a battle. Spiritually, the reference pointed out the flaw of leading for one’s own gain rather than out of service to God.

There are actually several men named Abimelech in the Bible. Some translations, such as the NIV, spell the name Abimelek. Either way, the name means “father of the king.”

Some of the Philistines kings are called “Abimelech.” For example, the king of Gerar who took Sarah into his harem is called “Abimelech” in Genesis 20:2. The same name is applied to the king of Gerar during Isaac’s sojourn there (Genesis 26:1). The king of Gath before whom David played the madman is also called “Abimelech” in the title of Psalm 34; however, 1 Samuel 21:11 identifies the king of Gath as Achish. This has led many scholars to believe that, among the Philistines at least, Abimelech was a title given the king, rather than a personal name—much as the Egyptians always called their king “Pharaoh.”

Another possible Abimelech in the Bible was a son of the high priest Abiathar, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 18:16. The NAS, KJV, and NET Bibles put the name as Abimelech. But the NIV, ESV, and HCS Bibles have Ahimelech (or Ahimelek). This Abimelech/Ahimelech was a priest who served in the time of King David.

But probably the most well-known Abimelech in the Bible is the headstrong and murderous son of Gideon in the book of Judges. Please see our article on this particular Abimelech for more information.