1. Minor Characters With Major Lessons
When Bible scholars refer to the prophetical books, they divide them into two categories: the minor prophets and the major prophets. This does not mean that some prophets are more important than others. The words “major” and “minor” simply refer to the length of the books, so that Isaiah with his sixty-six chapters is considered a “major” prophet, while Jonah with only four chapters is classified as “minor.”
When you read the Bible, however, you are often drawn to little known people that can teach you an important lesson. The Holy Spirit can take a seemingly insignificant character, often one who is nameless, and teach us something important in our Christian walk. So for the next few days, let’s look at some individuals who are “minor” in the amount of Bible text about them, yet “major” in the lessons that we can learn from them.
2. The Maid of Naaman's Wife
"Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife. And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy. And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel." II Kings 5:1-4
Naaman was a man described as being "great", "honourable", and "mighty." However, verse 1 ends with this sad statement: "...but he was a leper." In the Bible leprosy is symbolic of sin. Many people in the world today are "great" and "honourable" and "mighty", but the sad truth is that they are sinners. Indeed, all of us are sinners. Romans 3:23 says "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."
But fortunately for Naaman, his wife's little maid knew about the power of an almighty God. She only utters one statement in the entire Bible, but that one statement leads to a great miracle and a changed life. I love the rest of the story, and the way that Naaman is offended by being asked to wash in the muddy Jordan River seven times. Sinners are often offended at the simplicity of what God asks them to do. Salvation does not come through mighty deeds, but through simple faith in what God has already done. Yes, the rest of the story is amazing, but do not forget that a "little maid" who spoke up at the right time was the reason for a changed life. How often can just a sentence or two point someone to Calvary? How often can one person help another to be rid of their life of sin?
3. Working Behind the Scenes
"I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord." Romans 16:22
Does the verse above surprise you? After all, there is some difference in opinion about whether or not Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, but it is widely accepted that Paul wrote the great book of Romans. So who is Tertius, and why is he making this claim? There is no contradiction here, because the answer is simply that Paul is the author, but he dictated the book for Tertius to copy down.
Many believe that Paul had an eye disease which made writing very difficult. Some even think that this disease is Paul's "thorn in the flesh." In Galatians 6:11, Paul says, "Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand." Apparently Paul had no scribe to whom he could dictate in his letter to Galatia, so he painstakingly wrote that letter with extra large letters.
But with the long letter to the Romans, Paul dictated the great truths of salvation contained in the letter to Tertius, who copied them down. What a help for Paul to have Tertilus with him to make the job easier. What a blessing that there are many people who do so much to help others who are handicapped in some way, with little recognition or acclaim. Tertius is mentioned only one time in the Bible, but he is a reminder that in every ministry, in every job, there are people working behind the scenes that we rarely see or rarely praise. In Kittie Suffield's song "Little Is Much" we see these lines:
"Does the place you're called to labor, Seem so small and little-known. It is great if God is in it, And He'll not forget His own."
God Bless all the people working behind the scenes in God's Kingdom.
4. The Opposite of Faithful
For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world. II Timothy 4:10-11
I want to focus our attention on a man named Demas.
Second Timothy is the last letter that we have from Paul. As Paul is encouraging his young friend Timothy, we hear little discouragement in his words. Paul is awaiting the execution that Nero had commanded, and he will soon be beheaded. Yet what courage and boldness Paul shows as he declares: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (II Timothy 4:6-8) And then Paul says something that seems a bit lonely: "Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry." (II Timothy 4:9-11)
Demas is mentioned only two other times in the Bible. In Colossians 4:14, Paul says, "Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you." Demas is with Paul, and he sends his greetings to the brethren. In verse 24 of Philemon, Paul sends his own greetings to Demas and others, so at that point Demas is not with Paul. But in 2nd Timothy Paul clearly states that "Demas hath forsaken me", and he is very blunt as to why Demas has left. He says that Demas has "loved this present world." It is a blessing that Luke is still with Paul, faithful to the end. But it is realistic that not all friends are so faithful. In the roll call of friends who are sometimes with us, and who are at other times separated from us, we will now and then be faced with a Demas. Our reaction should be like Paul's reaction: face what has happened realistically, but then focus back on the faithful friends that we have, and on our God who is always faithful. Remember that..."there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24)
5. A Picture of Mercy: The Egyptian Guide
"11 And they found an Egyptian in the field, and brought him to David, and gave him bread, and he did eat; and they made him drink water;
12 And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins: and when he had eaten, his spirit came again to him: for he had eaten no bread, nor drunk any water, three days and three nights.
13 And David said unto him, To whom belongest thou? and whence art thou? And he said, I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite; and my master left me, because three days agone I fell sick.
14 We made an invasion upon the south of the Cherethites, and upon the coast which belongeth to Judah, and upon the south of Caleb; and we burned Ziklag with fire.
15 And David said to him, Canst thou bring me down to this company? And he said, Swear unto me by God, that thou wilt neither kill me, nor deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will bring thee down to this company.
16 And when he had brought him down, behold, they were spread abroad upon all the earth, eating and drinking, and dancing, because of all the great spoil that they had taken out of the land of the Philistines, and out of the land of Judah.
17 And David smote them from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day: and there escaped not a man of them, save four hundred young men, which rode upon camels, and fled.
18 And David recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away: and David rescued his two wives.
19 And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor any thing that they had taken to them: David recovered all. I Samuel 30:11-19
This unusual story tells of how King David returns back to a city called Ziklag, which had been burned by the Amalekites. No one was killed, but the women and children were all taken captive. David is determined to catch the Amalekites, rescue the women and children, and get any spoil that they had taken. David and his men come across this Egyptian who had been a slave to the Amalekites. They had left him for dead since he had become sick. Years ago I heard a preacher give this simple outline:
Mercy found him. (vs.11)
Mercy fed him. (vs.11)
Mercy freed him. (vs.15)
What a picture of the mercy of God! My sickness was sin, but mercy found me, fed me, and freed me. Notice in vs. 15 what the unnamed servant said: "...nor deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will bring thee down to this company." He didn't want to go back to his old master. Those of us who have been rescued from sin do not want to go back to the "old master." I say along with the songwriter, "I'm so glad he found me!"
6. Doing the Right Thing The Wrong Way: Uzzah
"And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart." II Samuel 6:3
"And when they came to Nachon's threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God. And David was displeased, because the LORD had made a breach upon Uzzah: and he called the name of the place Perezuzzah to this day." II Samuel 6:6-8
The Ark of the Covenant contained the Ten Commandments and several other cherished objects. After it had been captured by the Philistines, God caused several things to happen that convinced the Philistines that the Ark should be returned. (See I Samuel 5) When David made plans for returning the Ark, he placed it on a new cart that was pulled by oxen. At a crucial moment, it appeared that the Ark would tilt off the cart, so a man named Uzzah put his hand on the Ark to steady it. To the amazement of all, Uzzah was struck dead. You see, God had expressly told how the Ark was to be moved from place to place. All through the years of wandering through the wilderness, the Levites had carried the Ark on their shoulders, using wooden sticks that had been placed through the rings on the Ark.
How many times have we done something our way, when God has expressly stated in His Word the correct way? How many times have we ignored God's Word and waded into a situation with good intentions, only to have things backfire? This is the only mention of Uzzah in the Bible. He must have been a holy man to have been chosen by the king for this crucial task. He must have been truly concerned for God and the things of God. And yet he died, when he did what God had commanded them not do: touch the Ark of the Covenant. It doesn't seem right. It offends our sense of fairness. And it shows clearly how holy a God we serve. Be careful not to do a "right thing" in the "wrong way."
7. Taking A Stand: Shammah
"And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentiles: and the people fled from the Philistines. But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the LORD wrought a great victory."
II Samuel 23:11-12
There appear to be four different men in the Bible with the name Shammah. One was the son of Reuel, found in Genesis 36:13,17. He is also mentioned in I Chronicles 1:37. Another was a son of Jesse, one of the brothers of David that passed by Samuel in the story of David's anointing in I Samuel 16:9. This brother also is said to have served in Saul's army in I Samuel 17:13. Two more men named Shammah are listed among David's mighty men in II Samuel 23. In verse 25 we find Shammah the Harodite, although no details are given about him. But in verses 11 and 12 we have the brief story of Shammah the Hararite. The setting is in the middle of a field of lentiles, or beans. There was a troop of Philistines gathered together, and the children of Israel "fled from the Philistines." But verse 12 says that Shammah "stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it..." It takes a great deal of courage to stand alone, especially if you are greatly outnumbered. I think that is a good description of the Christian in today's modern world. We never know when or where we will be put on the spot for our Christian beliefs. We never know for sure if others will stand with us, or will "flee." I doubt that Shammah expected he would be placed face to face with a group of enemies out in the middle of a beanfield. But the story ends with the phrase, "...and the Lord wrought a great victory." We are not given the details, but I know that Shammah took a stand against numerous enemies, and the Lord worked out a victory. The Lord will provide a great victory for us if we will only have the courage to take a stand.
8. The Roman Centurion
"And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God." Mark 15:39
There are several men in the Bible who are described as centurions. A centurion was a Roman officer in charge of a large group of soldiers, usually at least a hundred. Both Matthew and Luke tell the story of the centurion whose servant was sick and was healed by Jesus. Acts 10 gives the story of a centurion named Cornelius, and how he and his house were saved and became the first gentiles to be given the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts Paul had dealings with several different centurions, both in prison and on board a ship. But the centurion I want to discuss is the one who stood on Calvary and witnessed the crucifixion. It is possible that this Roman officer was put in charge of crucifying Jesus. I imagine he saw many such executions in his military career, but he had never seen anything like what took place in the case of Jesus. I assume it often took many men to hold a criminal still enough to tie or nail him to a cross. But with Jesus, I believe that He simply laid His hands down and allowed the soldiers to put nails through His hands and feet. Isaiah prophesied this, saying, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7) I suspect this Roman officer had seen many men die cursing and hating their executioners. Yet Jesus forgave those who executed Him, and even prayed for them. This centurion was surely baffled when darkness covered Calvary's hill for three hours in the middle of the day. He had to see the sign that was on the cross of Jesus saying, "The King of the Jews." Matthew says, "And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!" (Matthew 27:29) When Jesus finally "gave up the ghost", this experienced and probably hardened military man came to the conclusion that all men will one day come to when "every knee shall bow" and "every tongue shall confess": Truly this man was the Son of God.