Here are some of the main stars, if you will, of the Old Testament, in order of their appearance in that awesome book.
God Created the universe. Quite famous. Is watching you right now. Back in the day, chose to reveal and very much involve himself in the life of the Israelites. Being people — which is to say, being extremely independent and stubborn — they tended to have real mixed feelings about that.
Adam Name is Hebrew word for “man.” It wasn’t Adam’s fault that he ate the famous, labor-inducing apple — Eve made him eat it. Famous quote: “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Apparently a tad weenyish.
Eve Name is Hebrew word meaning “life-giver.” It wasn’t her fault that she and Adam apple-gnoshed — Satan made her do it. Famous quote: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Satan Guilty! Forever! Needs to be executed, ASAP. The first of his two big appearances in the Old Testament is in the Garden of Eden. (Famous quote, from Genesis 3:4, where he’s explaining to Eve why it’s perfectly all right for her to eat the fruit God has forbidden her and Adam: “You surely will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” What a slime bag.) His second big OT appearance happens in the book of Job, when Skankboy makes a bet with God that he can break Job. (His famous quote there is from Job 1:7, where he answers God’s question about from whence he’s come with, “From roaming through the earth, and going back and forth in it.” Back and forth in it. Like the snake he is! Can’t you just feel the ooze dripping of that silver-tongued cretin?)
Cain Adam and Eve’s first born son. Murdered his younger brother, Abel. Famous quote (from when, in Genesis 4:9, God asks him where Abel is): “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Abel Seemed like a nice guy. Certainly deserved a better fate.
Noah Astounding capacity for following direct orders. While busily constructing his ark, was the subject of much derision and merriment. Soon enough became most popular boat captain ever. Famous, pretty-much-wraps-it-up quote from the Bible about him: “And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.”
Abraham Descendant of Noah. Patriarch of the Hebrew race. God established his covenant (that is, made his sacred promise) with Israel by saying to Abraham (in Genesis 17:6-8), “I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” And that’s the beginning of the long process by which the man formerly known as Abram became “Father Abraham.” Famous (and heartbreaking) quote, said to his beloved son Isaac, whom, in obedience to God’s command, he was about to behead, and said in response to Isaac’s question to him about the whereabouts of the lamb that he thought he and his father had been preparing to sacrifice: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Sarah Abraham’s wife. One exceptionally durable trooper. Famous quote (upon overhearing God say that she, an old woman, would become pregnant): “After I am worn out and my husband is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Awesome to think of how exactly she might have said the word “pleasure.”
Isaac Son who asked his dad, “So where’s that lamb we’re supposed to kill?” The only child of Abraham and Sarah; the second member (along with his father Abraham and son Jacob) in the triumvirate of Israel’s patriarchs. His descendants became the Jews. Famous quote about him, said by God to his father Abraham: “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.” So there was no pressure on him, or anything.
Ishmael Son of Abraham and one of Abraham and Sarah’s maidservants, Hagar. (Fear not: the then still barren Sarah said Abraham could sleep with Hagar.) About Ishmael, God said to Abraham,”“I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Ishmael’s descendants became the Arabs. (So remember: Abraham + Sarah –> Isaac –> Jews; Abraham + Hagar –> Ishmael –> Arabs. Hence Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all being Abrahamic religions. And we all know how siblings tend to fight over whom Dad likes best.)
Rebekah The “very beautiful” wife of Isaac. It was through her twelve grandsons by her son Jacob (whose name God changed to Israel) that the original twelve tribes of Israel were established; she is thus the matriarchal head of all of Israel — and a direct ancestor of Jesus Christ. Super-mom, for sure.
Esau Firstborn twin son of Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons. Big, hairy, hunting type. Exchanged his birthright to his (slightly) younger brother Jacob for some soup and bread. Famous quote: “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” Maybe something less than a genius.
Jacob Second born twin son of Isaac and Rebekah. Definitely bright — and, when young, undeniably crafty. Third patriarch of the Israelite people. Father of the twelve sons that go on to found the twelve tribes of Israel. Noted for a dream featuring a heavenly ladder, and for actually wrestling with God. Has name changed by God from Jacob to Israel, which means (unsurprisingly) “struggles with God.” New name points not just to Jacob/Israel’s wrestling prowess, but also to the tumultuous history of the nation of Israel. Famous quote (in response to brother Esau’s quote above): “First sell me your birthright.”
Rachel Jacob’s wife. Inspiringly beautiful. (“When Jacob saw Rachel,” says the Bible, “… he rolled the great stone away from the mouth of the well all by himself.” Men.) Younger sister of Leah, who, due to the conniving trickery of the girls’ father Laban (not to mention culturally accepted polygamy), was also Jacob’s wife. (How’d you like to be the editor who has to turn the Old Testament into children’s stories?)
Joseph Flamboyant dresser. One of Jacob’s twelve sons. The ultimate victim of sibling rivalry: his brothers sold him into slavery. Had “a beautiful body and handsome face,” which (due to lustful wife of powerful master) ended up getting him thrown into prison. Unique ability to interpret dreams ended up landing him job as ruler of Egypt. Famous/dramatic quote, to his brothers, who hadn’t a clue that the emperor to whom they’d been begging was in fact their long-lost brother: “”I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” Apparently not good at keeping secrets.
Moses Arguably the major Old Testament figure. As a Jew living in Egypt he killed an Egyptian; he encountered God via a burning bush; he orchestrated the terrible plagues on Egypt; he led Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the “wilderness” of the Sinai desert; he famously parted the “Sea of Reeds.” On Mount Sinai, it was Moses who received the Ten Commandments from God. Tradition has it that Moses also wrote the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. As much as anything else, it is Moses’ palpable humanity — his fears, doubts, insecurities — that make him such an inspiring, memorable figure. In The Book of Numbers (the fourth book of the Old Testament), he is described as “more humble than any other person on the earth.” Famous quote, pronounced to the Pharaoh of Egypt: “Yahweh, the god of Israel says: ‘Let my people go …’”
Joshua Moses promised the land of Canaan to the the Israelites; as the leader of God’s army, Joshua made sure they got it. A phenomenal military leader: six nations and thirty-one kings (not to mention the fortified city of Jericho) fell to him. Spent forty years as apprentice and then right-hand man to Moses. Prior to the Israelites taking it, Moses sent Joshua and eleven other scouts to reconnoiter Canaan. Ten of those scouts came back saying the situation was hopeless (“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”) But what did Joshua and his buddy Caleb report back? Famously, “Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up.” And boy, did they ever.
Ruth Left alone in the world by the deaths of her husband and sons, an elderly Jewish woman named Naomi decides to return to her home of Bethlehem. Ruth, her Gentile daughter-in-law, refuses to abandon her, accompanying Naomi all the way back to Bethlehem. Though now a stranger in a strange land, Ruth goes alone into the fields of the wealthy Boaz to pick leftover grain, so that she and Naomi won’t starve. Via one of the sweetest romantic episodes in the Bible, she ends up marrying Boaz. She gives birth to Obed, the grandfather of David, from whom Christ is descended. Famous quote (to Naomi): “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” Sniff.
Samson Had rock-star hair. The Hercules of the Bible. Served Israel as Judge (as in leader, as in The Book of Judges in the Old Testament) for twenty years. Tore a lion apart with his bare hands. (It’s possible the lion had leprosy, but not likely.) A brilliant brute. Killed one thousand Philistines (then the rulers of Israel) with the jawbone of a (apparently huge) donkey. Made mistake of falling in love with a Philistine woman, Delilah. She cuts his hair (the source of his strength); the Philistines grab him, blind him, and bring him shackled into their temple so that he might entertain them. Instead, he pushes down the pillars supporting the temple, successfully killing himself and thousands of Philistines. Awesome. Famous quote (said, alas, to Delilah): “If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” Also famously said (to the heavens, as he pushed on the pillars) “Let me die with the Philistines!”
Saul First king of the state of Israel. Exceptional military leader. Eventually grew so jealous of the young, handsome, accomplished, naturally athletic, giant-slaying David (a feeling not exactly attenuated by the women of Israel singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”) that one day, while David was playing the harp for him, he tried to kill David by hurling spears at him. One of the all-time tragic figures of world history. Died, in battle, by suicide. Fairly startling quote, wherein he states the price David would have to pay in exchange for marrying his daughter Michal: “The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins … .” And you thought scalping a man was rough.
David The second king of Israel; the most important figure for ancient Israel besides Moses. United the tribes of Israel into one nation. An unbelievably rich life related more completely than any other in the Old Testament. Highlights include: slingshotting the scary Philistine giant Goliath unto his crashing death; becoming really, really close friends with King Saul’s son, Jonathon; living for awhile as Robin Hood of the desert; twice choosing not to kill the first king of Israel, Saul, even though Saul kept trying to kill him; becoming king of Israel; capturing and making Jerusalem the capital of his new empire; creating a massive harem by claiming as his own wives from conquered groups across his kingdom; impregnating the married Bathsheeba (!), and then sending her husband into war so he’d be killed (!!); being nearly overthrown by his son Absalom (famous quote: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you!”); naming as his successor Solomon, his second son with Bathsheba. So, you know: kept pretty busy. Jesus’ lineage traces back directly to David; he is often called “Jesus, son of David.” Indeed David, the great king-priest-prophet, is traditionally understood as a foreshadowing of Christ. He is credited with writing much of the Bible’s Book of Psalms. Impossible to come up with one particularly famous quote (what with him having written the messianic psalms, and all), but a definite biggy is something he cried as he was lamenting the deaths of Jonathon and Saul: “How the mighty have fallen!”
Solomon Third king of Israel. Oversaw Israel’s greatest period of wealth and power. Famous for being rich (owned, for instance, 12,000 horses and 1,400 chariots: “rich as Solomon” is no hollow epithet), powerful (his kingdom extended from the Euphrates River in the north to Egypt in the south), devout (he built the over-the-top opulent Holy Temple in Jerusalem), and wise (he wrote the Bible’s Song of Songs, Book of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes). Ruled Israel for forty years. His weakness for foreign women and the gods they worshiped, combined with his mind-boggling, tax-sucking extravagances, set the stage for Israel’s downfall under the rule of his son, Rehoboam. (Quick: say “Rehoboam” three times. Or once, even.)
Esther Orphaned Jewish girl living in ancient Persia. So beautiful, charming and smart she ends up queen of Persia. Through sheer strength of character thwarts the plan of the king’s evil prime minister to massacre all Jews in the Persian Empire. Evil prime minister disgraced and hung hanged strung up till dead. Famous quote: “How can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?” She couldn’t; she didn’t. Right on.
Job Becomes hapless subject of wager between Satan (booooooo!) and God (yay!) about human faithfulness to God. As a result his body is covered with painful boils; his children are all killed; his house and fortune are destroyed. Throughout his profound travails he refuses to curse (though certainly not question) God. In the end, having remained loyal to God, God shows his appreciation in a very big way. One of the greatest narratives in world literature. One of Job’s many famous quotes: “Man born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” Sublimely awesome, no?
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