creator of the world and an all-powerful being. God calls himself
the only true deity worthy of human worship. As the figurehead of
Israel and the force behind every event, God acts as the unseen
hero of the Old Testament. God reveals his intentions by speaking to
people. Physical manifestations of God are always indirect or symbolic.
God appears in many different forms, including an angel, a wrestler,
a burst of fire, and a quiet whisper.
in-depth analysis of God.
patriarch of the Hebrew people. Abraham is traditionally called
“Father Abraham” because the Israelite people and their religion
descend from him. God establishes his covenant, or promise, with Abraham,
and God develops an ongoing relationship with the Israelites through
Abraham’s descendants. Abraham practices the monotheistic worship
of God, and his resilient faith in God, despite many challenges, sets
the pattern for the Israelite religion’s view
reluctant savior of Israel in its exodus from Egyptian bondage to
the promised land. Moses mediates between God and the people, transforming the
Israelites from an oppressed ethnic group into a nation founded
on religious laws. Moses’s legendary miracles before Pharaoh, along
with his doubts and insecurities, make him the great mortal hero
of the Old Testament. He is the only man ever to know God “face to
face.” Four out of the five books of the Pentateuch are devoted
to Moses and Israel’s activities under
in-depth analysis of Moses.
king of Israel and the founder of Jerusalem, or “Zion.” David’s
reign marks the high point of Israel in the biblical narrative.
Although David’s claim to the throne is threatened by Saul and by
David’s own son, Absalom, David maintains his power by blending shrewd
political maneuvering with a magnanimous and forgiving treatment
of his enemies. David’s decision to bring the Ark of the Covenant—Israel’s symbol
of God—to the capital of Jerusalem signals the long-awaited unification
of the religious and political life of Israel in the promised land.
in-depth analysis of David.
grandson of Abraham, Jacob is the third patriarch of the Israelite
people and the father of the twelve sons who form the tribes of
Israel. Jacob experiences a life fraught with deception, bewilderment,
and change. He steals his brother Esau’s inheritance right and wrestles with
God on the banks of the Jabbok River. Appropriately, the nation
that springs from Jacob’s children derives its name from Jacob’s
God-given name, “Israel.” “Israel” means “struggles with God,” and
Jacob’s struggles are emblematic of the tumultuous story of the
nation of Israel.
son and the head official for the Pharaoh of Egypt. Despite being
sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph rises to power in Egypt
and saves his family from famine. Joseph’s calm and gracious response
to his brothers’ betrayal introduces the pattern of forgiveness
and redemption that characterizes the survival of the Israelite
people throughout the
first king. After God chooses Saul to be king, Saul loses his divine
right to rule Israel by committing two religious errors. Saul acts
as a character foil to David, because his plot to murder David only highlights
David’s mercy to Saul in return. Saul’s inner turmoil over the inscrutability
of God’s exacting standards makes him a sympathetic but tragic figure.
son and the third king of Israel. Solomon builds the opulent Temple
in Jerusalem and ushers in Israel’s greatest period of wealth and
power. God grants Solomon immense powers of knowledge and discernment
in response to Solomon’s humble request for wisdom. Solomon’s earthly
success hinders his moral living, however, and his weakness for
foreign women and their deities leads to Israel’s downfall.
Elijah & Elisha
- The prophets who oppose the worship of the god Baal
in Israel. After the division of Israel into two kingdoms, Elijah
and his successor, Elisha, represent the last great spiritual heroes
before Israel’s exile. Their campaign in northern Israel against
King Ahab and Jezebel helps to lessen Israel’s growing evil but
does not restore Israel’s greatness. Israel’s demise makes Elijah and
Elisha frustrated doomsayers and miracle workers rather than national
leaders or saviors.
Adam & Eve
first man and woman created by God. Adam and Eve introduce human
evil into the world when they eat the fruit of a tree God has forbidden
them to touch.
survivor of God’s great flood. Noah obediently builds the large
ark, or boat, that saves the human race and the animal kingdom from
destruction. Noah is the precursor to Abraham, because Noah represents
the first instance of God’s attempt to form a covenant with humanity
through one person.
son and the second member in the triumvirate of Israel’s patriarchs.
Isaac’s importance consists less in his actions than in the way
he is acted upon by others. God tests Abraham by commanding him
to kill his son Isaac, and Isaac’s blindness and senility allow
his own son Jacob to steal Isaac’s blessing and the inheritance
of God’s covenant.
brother, who assists Moses in leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
God designates Aaron to be the first high priest in Israel. The
quiet Aaron often stands between Moses and the people to soften
Moses’s angry response to their sinful behavior.
successor of Moses as Israel’s leader. Joshua directs the people
in their sweeping military campaign to conquer and settle the Promised
Land. Joshua’s persistent exhortations to Israel to remain obedient
to God imply that he doubts Israel will do so. His exhortations
foreshadow Israel’s future religious struggles.
of Israel’s judges and an epic hero who thwarts the neighboring
Philistines with his superhuman strength. Samson is rash, belligerent,
and driven by lust for foreign women—qualities that contradict Jewish religious
ideals. Samson’s long hair is both the source of his strength and
the symbol of his religious devotion to God as a Nazirite. Samson’s
character demonstrates that in the bible, heroic potential is gauged
not by human excellence but by faith in God.
last of Israel’s judges and the prophet who anoints both Saul and
David as king. Samuel fulfills political and priestly duties for
Israel, but he ushers in Israel’s monarchy mainly as a prophet—one
who pronounces God’s words and decisions. Samuel’s stoic and aloof position
in Israel allows Saul to struggle with God and his fate on his own.
son, who attempts to overthrow his father’s throne. Absalom’s violent
rise to power suggests that the evil that corrupts Israel comes
David’s loyal military commander. Joab serves as a foil to David’s
successful combination of religion and politics. Joab’s reasonable
desire to see justice and retribution delivered to the kingdom’s
traitors emphasizes the unusual quality of David’s kindness to his
Rehoboam & Jeroboam
- The opposing kings who divide Israel into the northern
kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Rehoboam and
Jeroboam introduce rampant worship of idols and false gods into their
kingdoms. Each king acts both as a point of contrast and a double,
or mirror, for the other, allowing the biblical reader to trace
the rapid growth of evil in Israel’s two kingdoms.
Ahab & Jezebel
- The most wicked rulers of Israel. Ahab and Jezebel
spread cult worship of the pagan god Baal throughout the northern
kingdom. Dogs gather to eat their blood at their deaths, fulfilling
timid Jewish girl who becomes the queen of Persia. Esther boldly
and cunningly persuades the king of Persia to remove his edict calling
for the death of the exiled Jews.
subject of God and Satan’s cosmic experiment to measure human faithfulness
to God in the midst of immense pain. Job scorns false contrition
and the advice of his friends, preferring instead to question God’s
role in human suffering. He retains an open and inquisitive mind,
remaining faithful in his refusal to curse God.