Category: Men of the Bible (I thru P)


Naboth’s story in the Bible (1 Kings 21) involves the downfall of the wicked king Ahab of Israel and his infamous wife, Jezebel. Because of their mistreatment of Naboth, Ahab and Jezebel were each promised an untimely and violent demise.

Naboth was a Jezreelite. He had a vineyard in close proximity to Ahab’s palace in Jezreel. Ahab wanted to turn Naboth’s vineyard into a vegetable garden, since it was so near the palace (1 Kings 21:2). So the king offered to pay Naboth for his vineyard or give him a better vineyard someplace else. Naboth, however, was unwilling to give up the land he had inherited from his fathers; it was not for sale at any price (verse 3). Ahab was upset and went home “sullen and angry” because he could not have Naboth’s vineyard. The sulking king refused to eat (1 Kings 21:4).

It may seem strange that Naboth would refuse the king’s offer, but Naboth was doing the right thing. God had commanded that a family’s inheritance not be sold: “The land must not be sold permanently” (Leviticus 25:23); and “No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors” (Numbers 36:7). Naboth was simply following the Law; it was King Ahab who wanted to ignore the Law, and then he pouted when the righteous Naboth would not agree.

In the palace, Queen Jezebel noticed that her husband was unhappy, so she asked him what was wrong. Ahab told her about his encounter with Naboth. Jezebel told him that, since he was the king, he could have anything he wanted. Then she promised to take action herself: “Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (1 Kings 21:7). Jezebel proceeded to make arrangements to have Naboth disposed of. First, she forged letters from the king (verse 8), directing the noblemen and elders of the city to “proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people” (verse 9). Near Naboth were to be placed two “scoundrels” who would falsely accuse Naboth of cursing both God and the king. On these trumped up charges, Naboth was to be taken outside the city and stoned to death (verse 10). The evil plan against Naboth worked. Jezebel had been careful to plant two false witnesses, since a death sentence could not be carried out on the basis of only one witness (Deuteronomy 17:6). So she followed the Law when it suited her; that is, when she could twist it to facilitate her ability to lie, steal, and murder. An especially heinous part of Jezebel’s plan was her proclamation of a day of fasting—using a religious ceremony to cover her murderous intent and ensure Naboth’s presence was depraved in the extreme. When the queen received word that Naboth was dead, she told Ahab that he could now take possession of Naboth’s vineyard, which Ahab was all too happy to do (1 Kings 21:15).

Because of Ahab and Jezebel’s shocking murder of Naboth, God condemned them both. Elijah the prophet came to the king with a message from God. In fact, Elijah met Ahab while the king was touring his ill-gotten vineyard. The prophet said, “Have you not murdered a man and seized his property? . . . This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!” (1 Kings 21:19). Next, Elijah prophesied that the Lord would bring disaster on the house of Ahab, so that every male in Ahab’s household would die and, rather than receive an honorable burial, they would be eaten by wild animals (verse 21 and 24). Then the prophet foretold the queen’s fate: “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (1 Kings 21:23).

After hearing this terrible pronouncement, Ahab repented of his actions toward Naboth; he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and humbled himself before God (1 Kings 21:27). Because of Ahab’s response, the Lord chose not to bring the promised disaster on Ahab during his lifetime but during his son’s days instead (verse 28). Ahab was indeed an evil man. In fact, he “sold himself to do evil” (1 Kings 21:25), and he “did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him” (1 Kings 16:30). One of the things the Lord hates is “hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17), and Ahab and Jezebel were certainly stained with the innocent blood of Naboth. Yet, even in God’s judgment of Ahab, He showed mercy in response to a humbled heart.

The Lord was true to His word. Ahab was killed in battle; his blood was washed out of the chariot in the same place where Naboth had been stoned to death, and the dogs were there, just as Elijah had said (1 Kings 22:34–38). Jezebel was killed, and her body was eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:30–37). And Ahab’s family were all killed (2 Kings 10:1–17). Thus Naboth was avenged.

  King Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of Judah under the divided monarchy, the son of Asa. We are first introduced to him in 1 Kings 15:24 but are told nothing more than that he succeeded Asa. Later, 1 Kings 22:42 tells us that he was 35 years old when he began his reign and that he reigned 25 years (from 873 to 848 BC). First Kings 22 gives a brief account of his reign with 2 Chronicles 17–22 giving a more comprehensive account.

Spiritually, Jehoshaphat began his reign in a positive way. Second Chronicles 17:3–6 gives this commendation: “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him. He did not consult the Baals but sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel. The Lord established the kingdom under his control; and all Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, so that he had great wealth and honor. His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.” In addition, Jehoshaphat sent men throughout the kingdom to teach the people the Law of God (2 Chronicles 17:7–9).

Militarily, Jehoshaphat fortified his defenses, primarily against the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Chronicles 17:1–3). The surrounding nations feared Judah and brought tribute (2 Chronicles 17:10–19).

After making peace with Israel, Jehoshaphat apparently tried to reach out to Ahab, the king of Israel. Ahab was one of the wickedest kings of Israel, and Jehoshaphat could not have been ignorant of his character. First Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 18 relate the following account: Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to help him attack Syria. Jehoshaphat wisely requests that they consult the LORD on the matter. Ahab gathers 400 of his prophets who encourage the attack. Jehoshaphat recognizes that these are not genuine prophets of the LORD, and the exchange that follows between Jehoshaphat and Ahab is almost comical: “But Jehoshaphat asked, ‘Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?’ The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.’”

So, Micaiah is summoned, and the question is posed. Micaiah responds with high irony: “Attack and be victorious, . . . for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.” This answer exasperates King Ahab: “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” Micaiah then tells Ahab the hard truth: “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master’” (1 Kings 22:15–18).

In spite of what seems to be an acknowledgement that Micaiah speaks for the LORD, Jehoshaphat joins Ahab in the attack. Ahab is killed, and Jehoshaphat narrowly escapes. When Jehoshaphat returns home, he is reprimanded by a prophet of the Lord for his collaboration with Ahab: “Jehu the seer, the son of Hanani, went out to meet him and said to the king, ‘Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, the wrath of the Lord is on you. There is, however, some good in you, for you have rid the land of the Asherah poles and have set your heart on seeking God’” (2 Chronicles 19:2–3).

Jehoshaphat continues to make reforms, appointing judges throughout the land to handle disputes and charging them to make righteous judgments and to fear the Lord (2 Chronicles 19:4–11).

In 2 Chronicles 20, an alliance of nations decides to march against Judah. Jehoshaphat seeks the Lord and asks all Judah to fast (verse 3). Through a man named Jahaziel, the Lord tells Jehoshaphat that He will deliver Judah without a fight (verses 14–17). Jehoshaphat goes out to battle with singers leading the way, singing praise to the Lord. The alliance of nations turn against each other and begin to kill each other (verses 22–23). The men of Judah spend three days collecting the spoils of war that were abandoned by their enemies (verse 25).

Although Jehoshaphat started his reign by removing the idolatrous high places, at the end of his reign, there were still high places that had not been taken away (1 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 33). Jehoshaphat started well, but his diligence flagged, and the idol-worship returned. First Kings 22:41–50 and 2 Chronicles 20:35–37 record a joint ship-building venture that Jehoshaphat attempted with the wicked king Ahaziah of Israel. Jehoshaphat, who had already been chastised for an alliance with Ahab, is once again confronted by a prophet with a warning. The fleet of ships got caught in a storm and sank, and Jehoshaphat’s investment with Ahaziah was futile.

Jehoshaphat is still considered a good and godly king, but his reign ended rather badly. He kept trying to build an alliance with Israel, even though the kings of Israel were obviously wicked. Jehoshaphat worshipped the Lord and led his people in seeking the Lord, but the hearts of the people were never fully changed. They reverted to pagan practices. King Jehoshaphat was unable to pass his faith on to his son Jehoram who reigned after him. Jehoram started by killing all of his brothers, and he then made an alliance with Israel by marrying the daughter of Ahab (2 Chronicles 21:4–6).

  Rehoboam and Jeroboam were both kings reigning in Israel’s divided kingdom. Rehoboam was one of Solomon’s sons and king of Judah in the south (1 Kings 11:43). Jeroboam was one of Solomon’s former officials, an Ephraimite, and king of Israel in the north (1 Kings 11:26).

While Solomon was still alive and Jeroboam was working for him, a prophet named Ahijah told Jeroboam that God would take ten of the twelve tribes of Israel away from Solomon’s son Rehoboam and give them to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29–31). This judgment against Solomon’s house came because they had forsaken God and worshiped idols (verse 33). Along with the announcement that Jeroboam would be king, God gave him a conditional promise: “If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you” (verse 38). When Solomon heard that God had chosen Jeroboam to rule, the king tried to kill Jeroboam, who fled to Egypt (verse 40).

After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king, and Jeroboam returned from Egypt (1 Kings 12:1–2). But Rehoboam was a vain and foolish man. Jeroboam, a “mighty man of valor,” warned Rehoboam not to make the same mistake his father had made by taxing them heavily to finance a luxurious lifestyle (verses 3–4). Rehoboam defied the advice to lighten the yoke of oppression: “My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions!” (1 Kings 12:14).

The people responded to Rehoboam’s harshness by rebelling against the new king and making Jeroboam king over Israel (1 Kings 12:16–20). Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin followed Rehoboam, son of Solomon. The other ten tribes sided with Jeroboam. King Rehoboam gathered 180,000 warriors in an attempt to take back the ten tribes, but God prevented it, saying, “This is my doing” (1 Kings 12:24). So King Rehoboam returned to the capital of Jerusalem. Jeroboam reigned from Samaria.

Once established in the northern kingdom, King Jeroboam feared that, if the people traveled to the temple in Jerusalem to worship, they would return to Rehoboam. So he set up centers of worship in Bethel and Dan, building golden calves and telling the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28). Jeroboam made shrines on the high places, installed priests who were not of the tribe of Levi, appointed a festival, and sacrificed at the altars (1 Kings 12:31–33). In spite of God’s offer to establish his dynasty in Israel, Jeroboam chose idolatry, and the prophet Ahijah told Jeroboam that his family would not endure (1 Kings 14).

As Jeroboam was turning people away from God in the northern kingdom, Rehoboam was turning people away from God in the southern kingdom. Rehoboam reigned in Jerusalem for seventeen years, but “he did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:14). After Rehoboam there were good kings and bad kings over Judah. Every other generation or so, a great king stepped forward and turned the people back to the true God. That never happened among the kings of the northern kingdom. They all followed the mold of Jeroboam. Jeroboam reigned over the ten tribes of Israel for twenty-two years and was succeeded by his son Nadab. But then Nadab was murdered after two years on the throne, and the assassin killed all of Jeroboam’s family, fulfilling Ahijah’s prophecy (1 Kings 15:25–30). All subsequent monarchs of the kingdom of Israel followed Jeroboam’s lead. Not one of them was faithful to Israel’s God.

The schism that occurred during the days of Rehoboam and Jeroboam was the end of a united Israel. This division continued during their reigns: “There was continual warfare between Rehoboam and Jeroboam” (2 Chronicles 12:15) and for centuries afterward.

  Jehoiakim (named Eliakim at birth, 2 Chronicles 36:4) was one of the last kings of Judah before the Babylonian Captivity. Jehoiakim was a son of good King Josiah (Jeremiah 26:1) of Judah. His mother’s name was Zebidah (2 Kings 23:36). Jehoiakim’s father, King Josiah, had returned Judah to the Lord by tearing down idol shrines and restoring obedience to God’s Law (2 Kings 23:19–25). After Josiah’s death, his son Jehoahaz was chosen king by the people. But, as often happened in those days, Jehoahaz did not follow in the footsteps of his father but “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 23:32). Jehoahaz only reigned three months before he was taken into captivity by the king of Egypt, who replaced Jehoahaz with his brother Eliakim (2 Kings 23:26; 2 Chronicles 36:5). The Egyptian king renamed the 25-year-old Eliakim “Jehoiakim.”

Jehoiakim also did evil in the Lord’s sight (2 Kings 23:37). Because of the ongoing, unrepentant sin of the nation of Judah, God sent invading armies to capture and enslave them. Jehoiakim was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar, who put him in chains and carted him off to Babylon (2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:6;). It was at this time that Daniel and his three friends were also taken to Babylon (Daniel 1:1–2). Jehoiakim was later returned to Jerusalem, although he had to act as Nebuchadnezzar’s servant for three years and pay tribute to him.

During the time King Jehoiakim reigned as a vassal of Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah preached in Jerusalem. God’s message was that the Babylonian invasion was God’s punishment for Judah’s sin and that the Hebrews should repent. Jehoiakim called for Jeremiah’s scroll to be read in his court. But, as every three or four columns of the scroll were read, “the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire. The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes” (Jeremiah 36:23–24). Rather than heed God’s warning, Jehoiakim hardened his heart and tried to destroy God’s Word (see Jeremiah 25:1–4). Earlier, Jehoiakim had murdered the godly prophet Uriah (Jeremiah 26:20–23).

Jehoiakim reigned eleven years (2 Kings 23:36; 2 Chronicles 36:5). Jeremiah rewrote the scroll that Jehoiakim had burned, and God pronounced judgment on the king: “Therefore this is what the LORD says about Jehoiakim king of Judah: He will have no one to sit on the throne of David; his body will be thrown out and exposed to the heat by day and the frost by night” (Jeremiah 32:30). “He will be buried like a dead donkey—dragged out of Jerusalem and dumped outside the gates!” (Jeremiah 22:19, NLT). This prophecy was fulfilled when, in the eleventh year of Jehoiakim’s reign, he stopped paying tribute to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar responded by besieging Jerusalem. According to Josephus, Jehoiakim was killed during the siege, and his body was thrown over the city wall.

After Jehoiakim’s ignoble death, his son Jehoiachin succeeded him as the new king in Judah. Jehoiachin reigned only three months and ten days (2 Chronicles 36:9) before he, too, was taken to Babylon while the foreign king appointed his successor (2 Chronicles 36:10). This appointment of kings by the people or by invading armies was a far cry from the holy anointing of God’s chosen ones by His prophets in days gone by. The removal of God from Judah’s political process was another indication of just how far the Jewish people had fallen away from their God.

From King Jehoiakim’s life, we can learn that godly parentage does not necessarily guarantee godly children. Many times in Israel’s and Judah’s history, the Bible records that the children of good kings and prophets “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:1–2; 1 Samuel 8:3) and did not follow the paths of their fathers. God holds each individual responsible for his or her obedience to His direction (Deuteronomy 24:16). King Jehoiakim’s willful rejection of God’s Word and his subsequent fate are a perfect illustration of the folly of disobedience. “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).

There have always been those who balk at the idea of God’s salvation being offered freely to those who believe. They reason that such a grand gift as forgiveness from such a holy God must require some kind of payment from us. We thank God for His grace, but we understand that He expects us to somehow earn that grace—in other words, there must be something that we can do to pay off the debt we owe to God.

In the early church, those who taught a combination of God’s grace and human effort were called “Judaizers.” The word Judaizer comes from a Greek verb meaning “to live according to Jewish customs.” The word appears in Galatians 2:14 where Paul describes how he confronted Peter for forcing Gentile Christians to “Judaize.”

A Judaizer taught that, in order for a Christian to truly be right with God, he must conform to the Mosaic Law. Circumcision, especially, was promoted as necessary for salvation. Gentiles had to become Jewish proselytes first, and then they could come to Christ. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a mixture of grace (through Christ) and works (through the keeping of the Law). This false doctrine was dealt with in Acts 15 and strongly condemned in the book of Galatians.

At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, a group of Judaizers opposed Paul and Barnabas. Some men who belonged to the party of the Pharisees insisted that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were first circumcised and obeyed the Law of Moses. Paul made the case that, in Christ, there was no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile, for God had purified the hearts of the Gentiles by faith (Acts 15:8–9). He said it plainly in Galatians 2:16: “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

To add anything to the work that Christ did for salvation is to negate God’s grace. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, not by returning to the Law. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21).

There are many groups today with beliefs/practices very similar to the Judaizers of the New Testament. The two most prominent would be the Hebrew Roots Movement and the Roman Catholic Church. The teachings of the Hebrew Roots Movement are virtually identical to those of the Judaizers whom Paul rebuked in Galatians. A primary focus of the Hebrew Roots Movement is to put followers of Christ back under the bondage of the Old Testament Law.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches a doctrine similar to that of the Judaizers of the New Testament in this way: its doctrine is a mixture of law and grace. At the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the Catholic Church explicitly denied the idea of salvation by faith alone. Catholics have always held that certain sacraments are necessary for salvation. The issues for the 1st-century Judaizers were circumcision and Sabbath-keeping. The issues for modern-day Catholics are baptism, confession, etc. The works considered necessary may have changed, but both Judaizers and Catholics attempt to merit God’s grace through the performance of ritualistic acts.

First Timothy 4:3 says that, in later times, false teachers will “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.” This sounds suspiciously close to some of the teachings of Roman Catholicism, which requires priests to be celibate (“forbidding to marry”) and proclaims some food to be off-limits during Lent (“abstaining from certain foods”).The Judaizers upheld the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation; Catholics uphold man-made tradition as necessary; both view Christ’s death as being insufficient without the active and continued cooperation of the one being saved.

The Bible is clear that the attempt to add human works to God’s grace overlooks the very meaning of grace, which is “undeserved blessing.” As Paul says, “If by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Praise the Lord, “Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

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.

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.