Remember flannelgraphs? They were designed to summarize and simplify a story to make it easily consumable by children. If my memory serves me correctly, this method of storytelling embodied my earliest exposure to almost all of the major characters of the Bible. From Adam and Eve to Paul and Silas, I saw their heroic tales through the colorful medium of paper dolls on flannel.
This was not a bad introduction to the concept of YHVH working in and through the lives of humans. However, just like our modern perception of celebrities, we have a tendency to think of Bible characters as being in a separate, more exalted category from us in our daily mundane existence. They are bigger than life! They had special skills or unique qualifications or a specific anointing for the work YHVH called them to accomplish. They are better than me. That is what we tend to think.
But if you take a careful, text-based look at these characters, you will find the stark humanity in all of them. We know there has only been one truly perfect human, the man Yeshua haMashiach Go’aleinu (Jesus the Messiah, our Redeemer). Yet we still tend to assign superhuman traits to our favorite heroes of the Bible. We do it for other historical figures, too. We have to try really hard to see the ordinariness of people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and hundreds of other historical humans.
We celebrate these special people because of the accomplishments for which they have become known. They DID something that makes them worthy of our attention and our adulation. We value people who DO something; who take action; who achieve some level of greatness, regardless of the specific definition of greatness that applies to them. History applauds them. We take notice, and we wonder what we can do to deserve a place with them in the annals of human history.
Going back to our Bible heroes. They are recorded in scripture because of something they DID; some action(s) they took. They are, in some ways, the original action heroes. Noach, Avraham, Yosef, Miriam (Moshe’s sister), Moshe, Y’hoshua, Sh’muel, David, Gidon, Miriam (Yeshua’s mother), Sha’ul, and many, many more.
All of these people DID something wondrous and amazing. Some of them did several things that were extraordinary. That is why we revere them. For what they did. We want to be like them.
We don’t have space in this blog entry to examine closely every Bible character and their story. But let’s take more than a cursory glance at some of them; more than a flannelgraph fly-by.
For example, let’s look at Noach. Amazing. He built a huge boat, gathered hundreds of animals, took care of them, and saved all of them from disappearing from the earth; not to mention making a way for humans to continue living on the earth. No doubt about it. Noach DID some things worthy of note. Why? Because YHVH told him to. And not just in a casual conversation over coffee, or in a general suggestion. Nothing like YHVH saying, “Say, Noach, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you save humankind and all of the animals from extinction? Make a plan. Do it however you like. It’ll be great.” No. YHVH told Noach exactly what to do and how to do it. Noach’s relationship with YHVH gave him the ability to hear YHVH’s voice and to do what YHVH told him to do.
What about Yosef? He saved most of the known world from starving to death during a prolonged famine. Quite an accomplishment. How did he do that? YHVH gave him certain important skills and charisma, even good looks, apparently. But once again, Yosef’s relationship with YHVH is how he was able to hear YHVH’s voice and step into the assignment he received. He could have chosen to be angry and bitter – a victim mentality – and he probably would have remained in prison; and we would probably never have heard of him. Instead, Yosef listened to YHVH’s instructions, and Egypt (and many others, including his own family) was saved.
Y’hoshua, son of Nun, was responsible for bringing the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Undeniably, an accomplishment of biblical proportions (sorry, couldn’t resist). There are many miraculous stories involving Y’hoshua. Let’s just look at the walls of Yericho (great flannelgraph story!). Y’hoshua led the people of Israel to a great victory. What a terrific, unusual strategy to encircle the city seven times, blow shofar, and shout! Good thinking, Y’hoshua! You DID it! But, look at Y’hoshua chapter 6. YHVH gave Y’hoshua the strategy, specifically. This does not take anything away from Y’hoshua’s great accomplishment. In fact, it makes it even greater! He and the people still had to DO the physical work of walking, blowing, and shouting. Success came because they were following YHVH’s instructions.
OK, let’s look at just one from the B’rit Hadashah (New Testament). Sha’ul (Paul) accomplished stunning deeds. The tales of his life involve mystery, adventure, and miracles. We know about him today because he DID some amazing things. Similar to Yosef, YHVH gave Sha’ul some notable gifts, particularly in the realm of communication. But the stories we read reveal a recurring theme. Sha’ul sought the purposes of YHVH without fail. In prison (Acts 16), he was singing praises to YHVH when an earthquake happened, which opened the doors of the prison and all of the prisoners’ chains fell off. Did Sha’ul orchestrate, plan, devise, script, structure, or otherwise directly cause the earthquake? No. That was YHVH.
“A person may plan his path, but YHVH directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
What is my point? The heroes of the Bible are heroes because their relationship with YHVH gave them the ability to hear YHVH’s voice, and their trust in YHVH led them to take action according to the instructions YHVH gave them. Even Yeshua said, “Yes, indeed!, I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too.” (Yochanan (John) 5:19) This is Yeshua! He is telling us even HE only does what the Father tells him to do.
Press in to YHVH. Spend time with him. Study his Word. Practice two-way prayer; i.e., don’t spend you whole time in prayer talking; listen, too. When you are being pressed to take action, be sure you are hearing from YHVH as to whether what you are being pressed to do is in accordance with HIS instructions to you. No one may ever call you a hero; and you may not ever have your own action figure; but some day you will hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Better than any “participation trophy” EVER!