It is not every day that you find someone who doesn’t hug the limelight; most people embrace it. Even the Bible has its popular characters. You are more likely to listen to a sermon drawn from their lives; they are the ones parents love to name their children after. While not everyone in scripture may be popular with us, their stories have been recorded for our learning and encouragement. After all, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). In this article, we look at some of such ‘Silent Generals’ in scripture and see what inspiration we can draw from their lives.
CALEB: A TESTIMONY OF WHOLEHEARTED DEVOTION TO THE LORD
“Now the men of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, ‘You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.’
‘Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out: I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.’
“Then Joshua blessed Caleb the son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance.’’’ – Josh. 14:6-11,13
On their way to the Promised Land, Moses sent spies from each ancestral tribe among the children of Israel to go and explore the land of Canaan. From Judah, Caleb was chosen, while Joshua (Hoshea) was chosen from the tribe of Ephraim, twelve men in all. They returned from their assignment at the end of forty days. Ten of the spies brought back a bad report about the land and spread it among the Israelites. Caleb spoke up and silenced the people, saying they could go up and take the land. He chose not to follow the crowd. That night, the Israelites, stirred by the negative report of the ten spies, grumbled against the LORD and spoke of returning to Egypt. The assurances of Joshua and Caleb did not calm the situation. When God spoke, he commended Caleb, saying he had a different spirit and followed the LORD wholeheartedly. Joshua, along with Caleb, were promised entry into the Promised Land. The passage above records events forty-five years later. Caleb still spoke of his convictions.
The decades that elapsed didn’t change them. The promise of an inheritance that was made to him many years ago, he still clung to. In the intervening years, we never heard of Caleb, who was Joshua’s contemporary, challenging him for the leadership of Israel; he submitted to Joshua’s authority. When he came to ask for the promise of God to be fulfilled by Joshua, there was no arrogance in his voice; he simply reminded him of the history and the promise. He allowed Joshua to bless him, even when it was clear that the lesser is blessed by the greater. He didn’t battle for equality with Joshua. Forty-five years of waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promise didn’t weaken his faith. His faith secured an inheritance for his people. Faith, steadfastness, humility and wholeheartedness were the marks of this servant of God. What about you? What are, and will be, the defining attributes of your life? What will your stance be, forty-five years from now, if Jesus tarries? Can your ‘tribe’ depend on your faith to secure their inheritance?
RAHAB: FAITH UNFETTERED BY THE PAST
“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” – Heb.11:31
If there is a story that defines the term “Grass to Grace”, it is Rahab’s. Joshua sent spies to Jericho who on arrival, entered the house of Rahab, a renowned prostitute. The king of Jericho got wind of the spies’ presence and sent word to Rahab to hand them over, but she refused; she hid them. What she said to the spies showed that she had a faith stronger than even theirs: “I know that the LORD has given you this land”; “for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Josh. 2:9,11). Her faith even strengthened that of the spies: “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands” (Josh.2:24). Even though she was a sinner and bore her sin as a title, she didn’t cling to it but put her faith in God. When the Israelites came to destroy the city of Jericho, “Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family, and all who belonged to her… – and she lives among the Israelites to this day” (Josh. 6:25). Later when the genealogy of Jesus was written in the New Testament, Rahab was shown to have been part of Christ’s lineage (Matt. 1:5)! She was listed right alongside Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. What a story! From a prostitute to a great-grand-mother of Jesus Christ! Later in the New Testament, when the exemplary faiths of saints gone before were highlighted for our encouragement, the Holy Spirit saw it fit that Rahab was mentioned there (Heb. 11:31). When James was writing about the righteousness that comes by faith, he wrote about Rahab (Jam. 2:25). The writers didn’t drop the tag of a prostitute when they wrote about Rahab, but that shows how her history didn’t affect what God could do with her life. What’s your own story? What sin has so encumbered you that it has become identical with you to the point of being your name? Rahab’s story was written so that sinners like you and I can see what is possible when a life is surrendered by faith to Christ. He can rewrite your story too, if you allow him. Bring your filth to him for there is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; sinners plunge beneath that flood and lose all their guilty stains.
JONATHAN: UNQUESTIONING SUBMISSION TO THE WILL OF GOD
“May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family – not even when the LORD has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” – 1 Sam. 20:13b-15
Saul, the first king of Israel, was anything but a good man. His first son Jonathan, was different from his father. When David returned from the defeat of Goliath and the Philistines, he was brought in for debriefing by Saul. “After David had finished talking to Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt” (1 Sam. 18:1,4). David continued to rise in popularity in the land but this made Saul jealous and he tried to kill David. Where Saul saw a rival, Jonathan saw God’s anointed king. Jonathan’s father even thought his son was foolish for respecting God’s anointing on David’s head: “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of your mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!” (1 Sam. 20:30-31). Do you know what Jonathan’s reply was to his father’s statement? Instead of jealousy and the fear of never being a king taking over his heart, Jonathan replied, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” (1 Sam. 20:32). Foolish right? No, God-fearing, good-hearted, selfless submission to the will of God at grave personal cost. All through the ages, people have killed to become leaders, yet here was Jonathan laying down all that was his right by birth. David was vulnerable to Jonathan; he could have betrayed David to his father and inherited the throne of Israel, but he chose not to. His father responded by hurling a spear at him to kill him, but Jonathan wouldn’t change his stance. David was one of Jesus’ grandfathers; what if Jonathan handed him over and had him killed? What effect would that have had on the plan of salvation? What about you? What personal losses can you bear for the will of God to be done? If any of God’s plans depend on your ambition, what will happen to them? Can you lay down your ambitions so that God’s will in someone else’s life can be fulfilled even if that takes you into oblivion?
JOHN THE BAPTIST: DECREASED THAT CHRIST MIGHT INCREASE
“They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him’
“To this John replied, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. He must become greater; I must become less.’” – Jn. 3:22-27, 30.
John was Jesus’ cousin. He was older than the Lord and the son of a High Priest. He was born to herald the ministry of Christ. When he was pushed by the people of his day, he refused to be even known as a prophet. He simply said, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’” (Jn. 1:23). Even though he lived in the desert, ate locusts and wild honey and was dressed in clothes made of camel’s hair (Matt. 3:4), his ministry was judged to be credible and drew crowds. His credibility contributed to the following Christ had when he was announced by John. Imagine what would have happened if John struggled for the stage with Jesus. What damage would that have done to the message of Christ? When crowds began to follow Jesus, some people became jealous for John and brought the report in the passage above. John’s response to their attempt to stir up envy in him was to make one of the most profound and poignant statements in the whole of scripture: “He must become greater; I must become less.” All his rising to greatness was so that one day he would become less and another become greater. Remember that John was older than Jesus; he was a Levite and the son the High Priest. Concerning the tribe of Judah from which Jesus came, the law said nothing about them being priests. Jesus himself had said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11: 11). Yet John was willing to lay all that down for a carpenter to become greater. What about you? Can you also become less so that Christ would become greater in the hearts and minds of the people of the world? What can you forgo so that his glory will shine forth?