It is my passion to share the stories behind the biblical people of faith. These biblical players on the stage of life impacted whole communities and nations with their lives. We will grow richer as we pursue intricate details that unfold in the documentation available. Over the last fourteen years I have researched the scriptures, and writings of great commentators, to find the background and relationships between people whose names are often lightly passed over in the reading of the Book of books. When the Holy Spirit leads an inspired writer to record someone’s name in the Bible, there emerges a story of courage and tenacity—or infamy and duplicity—that we can learn from. So, what steps do we take to start this search?
The first place to begin is with the Bible itself. There are many versions of the Bible, most saying the same thing in various ways. If you have a good print version of a Study Bible, such as the Fire Bible (ESV), it contains resources to find names and background information. Each book in this Bible has an introduction, usually with: author, theme, date of writing, background, and purpose. At the back of the Fire Bible you will find Indexes, on Subject Matter, a Theme Finder, Concordance, and some helpful Maps. If there is narrative about the person, you may find helpful background about the city or country the person lived in in the introduction of the book where the biblical character was found.
I like to use the integrated downloadable Bible Study tool found online at https://www.E-Sword.net All Bibles, commentaries, dictionaries—everything is just a click away! It allows you to do powerful word searches and contains an integrated editor to copy and paste notes and information from your research. Be sure to watch the training videos on their site, to learn how to easily use this tool, it is well worth the time to do so.
If you are using a computer, or iPad you can take advantage of the free STEP Bible, from Tyndale House. This is an amazing tool, with the Bible in many languages, and you can search for a name in any part of, or in the entire Bible. Here is a link you can click on to watch a short video on how it works (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLm6UMEOjb4 ). If you wish to use the STEP Bible when not online, you can download it to your computer or tablet for free. This link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SLOXE4jiLA will take you to the page where you tell them what machine you have, Windows, Mac, or iPad, then in just moments you have it resident in your computer. This allows you to work off-line. You can visit the tutorials to learn how you can use this tool in just a visit or two.
Word searches will bring up a name, then look for biblical genealogy lists in the Bible, to learn who is related to the person you are researching. Keep in mind that most of the biblical genealogies list male persons. So if you are searching for connections to a female, you may find a reference to her brother, or father or a son. Those names may bring up the information you need. With one or more of these suggested tools, you will be ready to begin some background research. The introduction to each book of the Bible may also identify geographic locations, and background information with narrative concerning times, relationships, character traits, appearance, and attitudes.
You can find clues to character from a biblical author’s comment about the protagonist, or from dialogue inserted in the narrative. Your first reference should always be found in the biblical content you are reading. Context refers to the subject matter before and after the content you are seeking to understand. Biblical commentators may have their own presuppositions, which must be considered with caution. An example of this is to read commentator’s writing on David arriving to see Goliath taunting the army of Israel.
David is shocked that no Israelite soldier had challenged the Philistine giant in the last forty days. When he mentions this, Eliab his elder brother has a temper tantrum, and belittles David. The true reason for the elder brother’s anger is in the previous chapter of First Samuel. Some months before this battle, the Prophet Samuel had paid a visit to Bethlehem, and privately informed Jesse, Eliab’s father that God had sent him to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as King of Israel. “I have provided me a king among his sons” (1 Samuel 16:1).
Jesse never seems to have even considered David should be present at this ceremony. His oldest son, Eliab, was an officer in King Saul’s army. If God was going to raise up a new king, Eliab was surely the right one for the job. Eliab also expected Samuel to anoint him. His firstborn status caused him believe that. It was not to be. God told Samuel not to look on appearances (1 Samuel 16:7), as he had done at the time of enthroning King Saul.
To Eliab’s dismay the Prophet passed over him, as well as his younger brothers, Abinadab, Shammah, and the others. Eliab was certain the Prophet Samuel, was in his dotage—and had made a wrong call! When Samuel discovered there was yet another son of Jesse, he waited, while a messenger went to call young David from the sheep-pasture. Eliab was incredulous. His kid brother David was a mere teen-ager who spent his time playing his harp and composing songs as he watched his father’s sheep. David was not even of age. Eliab shook his head. ‘King indeed!’
Now, months later, here was Eliab on the battlefield, stressed out by the taunts of a giant calling for a soldier to engage him in singlehanded combat. David arrives with needed food supplies sent from their father, and hears Goliath’s challenge, and begins to publicly question why no one has volunteered to fight this giant who defies “the armies of the living God?” Eliab’s anger explodes as he turns on his youngest brother saying, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28, ESV). Many commentators miss the real background of the David and Goliath story. The narrative context began with 1 Samuel 16 and continued and climaxed in chapter 17. If you read the two chapters in one sitting you will realize the chapter break is artificial, inserted in the 16th. century, but was not in the original writing.
David Guzik suggests Eliab “was angry because he thought David was trying to provoke someone else into fighting Goliath just so that he could see a battle (you have come down to see the battle). Eliab himself was a tall man of good appearance (1 Sam. 16:7), and may have felt David was trying to push him into battle” (Guzik, Enduring Word Commentary, 1 Sam. 17:28). I like Guzik’s work, but here he focused on the moment, and may have missed the real cause of Eliab’s anger, for he and his brothers had expected Samuel to anoint him as the future king of Israel, not his kid brother David! The older commentators sometimes give you more background. I regularly look to see what Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke have to say. There is most always some useful information you can pull up when using the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), by searching for the name of the person you are studying. I like their good standards of scholarship.
Next month we will look at some other useful tools to help you find the background motivation of the people you meet up with in Scripture. We have an exciting journey ahead of us—see you next month!
© 2019 J. Cole-Rous