The 7 Most Compelling Obscure Bible Characters

Abraham. Moses. David. Peter. Paul. We’re pretty familiar with the major characters in the Bible. We listen to sermons about them on a regular basis. We’ve heard their stories since we were kids, have memorized scripture pertaining to their lives, and can recite their victories and failures.

But the great thing about the Bible is that it’s not all about the big guys. There are dozens and dozens of lesser-known characters who pop into and out of the stories. Some are worthy of their own sermons. Others . . . aren’t. But you still ought to at least be able to identify them, right?

Here are seven of my favorite minor Bible characters:

Key Passage: 1 Kings 1-2

Abishag was a “young virgin” brought in to keep the elderly, shivery King David warm at night. She was said to have been beautiful to look at, though her name sounds a bit like the noises you make when you have a cold. Anyway, you might think the idea of an old man sharing a bed with a beautiful young maiden sounds a little suspicious, but according to 1 Kings 1:4 it was a chaste relationship. When David dies, his son Adonijah wants to marry Abishag, but Solomon sees this move as a grab for the throne and has Adonijah killed. We never hear anything else about poor Abishag.

Key Passage: Judges 3:12-30

The protagonist of one of the grossest stories in the Bible (and that’s really saying something), Ehud was a left-handed Israelite ninja who assassinated Eglon, the super-fat king of Moab. Ehud approaches to “deliver a message” to the king, if by message you mean “an 18-inch long dagger hidden under your cloak.” Ehud sneaks past the king’s guards and offs the king in graphic fashion—we’re told “even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back…and the fat closed in over it.” Blech.

Key Passage: 1 Chronicles 4:9-10

“Wait a second!” you’re thinking. “That guy’s famous! He’s not a minor character!” I disagree. He might be well-known thanks to a certain book, but he shouldn’t be. Before 2000, Jabez was as obscure as someone named in the Bible can get. All we know about him is that he was “more honorable than his brethren” and he had an audacious prayer life. Then Bruce Wilkinson rescued him from two-verses-in-the-whole-Bible obscurity and allowed him to inspire a best-selling book. Weird.

Key Passage: Numbers 16:16-35

Korah was a Levite who got annoyed with God (and, by proxy, Moses) for limiting the priesthood to Aaron’s descendents. Sure, Korah was assigned some trivial Tabernacle duties, but he wanted to do the big stuff, like offer sacrifices. Not fair! In protest, Korah requested a more democratic approach to Tabernacle jobs. He gathered up 250 of his buddies and led them in an uprising against Moses. God didn’t take too kindly to it. In a surprising geological flourish, He made the ground open up and consume Korah, his fellow insurgents, and their families. Presumably the Israelites learned a valuable lesson.

Key Passage: Isaiah 8:3

Proud owner of the longest name in the Bible, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz — we’ll call him MSHB for short — was the son of Isaiah by “the prophetess,” whom we presume to have been Mrs. Isaiah. God tells Isaiah to name the boy MSHB. Why such a weird name? Because, the Lord tells Isaiah, “before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.” See, MSHB means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” It’s a prophetic name! Problem 1: Being given a weird name as an apocalyptic object lesson. Problem 2: It takes less time to define his name than to actually say it.

Key Passage: Deuteronomy 3:1-11

Goliath gets all the “giants of the Bible” headlines, but Og was no small potatoes. The famed king of Bashan and a big-and-tall shopper himself, he presided over sixty gated, well-fortified cities. You would think those would be hard to conquer, but God gave the land over to the Israelites. Among the descriptions of Israel’s impressive plunder of Og’s kingdom, we learn that King Og was the proud owner of an iron bed which measured 13 feet long and six feet wide. Which is an odd detail to insert. We don’t know where Cain’s wifecame from, but we’re told the exact length of Og’s bed.

Key Passage: Judges 3:31

In the same chapter we hear about Ehud’s disgusting assassination, we’re also told of the great and mighty Shamgar, savior of Israel. Samson gets all the credit for striking down a thousand Philistines with a donkey jawbone, but Shamgar’s got some impressive battle chops, too. In his one-verse biblical bio, we learn that Shamgar struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. If you’re not current on ancient Middle Eastern farming implements, an oxgoad was a pointy, seven-foot-long stick for pushing livestock around. That’s right: 600 warriors defeated with a cattle prod. “He too saved Israel,” the author of Judges tells us. Good work, Shamgar.

Israeli ninjas, priestly rebels, and plus-sized kings: These are seven of my favorite obscure Bible characters. What are yours?

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1 Response Dec 10, 2012


The deal-dealing prophet.

Balaam was a prophet of God who loved the sponsorship of King Balak of Moab. When the Hebrews came out of Egypt they encamped near Moab and King Balak wanted them gone so He called on Prophet Balaam to come and curse the Hebrews. Now God intercepted Balaam while he was on his way to the king by placing an Angel in his path. Balaam could not see the Angel but the donkey that Balaam was riding sure did. So the donkey refused to go any further and the poor thing copped a beating by Balaam. God spirit then caused the Donkey to speak and tell Balaam that an Angel was blocking the path and then Balaam saw the Angel and fell to the ground in great fear. To cut a long story short the Angel told Balaam not to curse the Hebrews but only say what God told Him to say.

So off Balaam went to King Balak and when Balak asked him to curse the Hebrews Balaam pronounced a Blessing upon them. As you would guess this kind of frustrated King Balaam and he ordered a great sacrifice to appease the God of Balaam and then asked Balaam to curse the Hebrews again. This time Balaam gave the Hebrews and even more fulsome blessing and that did not go down very well at all, as you would expect. So Balaam being a prophet of God and wanting to have his cushy relationship with King Balak continue then gave Balak the secret to defeat the Hebrews.

Balaam knew that the only way to defeat the Hebrews was to cause them to break their relationship with God by breaking His law. So after Balaam had given King Balak the info. Balak turned from preparing for war against the Hebrews to inviting them to great feasts which included Idol worship. He also told the young woman of his kingdom to be Extra Nice to the men of the Hebrews if you know what i mean.

Soon enough the Hebrews where won over and had feasts eating food sacrificed to idols and where having "close relationships" with the Extra nice Moab woman. Well this had the desired effect because God hit the Hebrews with a fierce plague and within no time at all 10,000 Hebrews had died of this plague. This plague continued until a Hebrew elder saw a Hebrew man and his Moab girl come of a tent after they had finished being close and personal. He grabbed a spear and ran at them and drove it through both the man and the woman and killed them both. So God relented and stopped the plague form wiping out the Hebrews. So King Balak did not get the victory over the Hebrews he wanted. And the rest as we know is history.