We continue our meditations on the not too popular persons in scripture; those we here refer to as ‘Silent Generals’, to see what inspirations we can draw from their examples. This second instalment shines the light on a few more of such saints of old.
- URIAH THE HITTITE: FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH
“Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will do no such thing!’
“At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.” – 2 Sam. 11:11,13
King David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, while Uriah was on the battle field. When word got to David that she was pregnant, he attempted to cover up his sin. As C-in-C, he sent for Uriah from the field. After speaking with him, David asked Uriah to return home and sent a gift after him. The servants reported to David that Uriah did not go home but slept instead at the entrance to the palace. When David asked him why he didn’t go home, Uriah’s response was incisive: The ark and the soldiers were in the open fields, how could he go home to lie with his wife. As long as the king lived, Uriah would do no such thing. In essence he told the king, “Not on your life!” Even a king’s order couldn’t break his resolve. The next day, David got Uriah drunk, in the hope that what he wouldn’t do while he was sane, he would do when drunk. There are people who when they want to do evil but lack the courage to do so, get themselves drunk with alcohol. That distorted state of mind is the enablement for them to do the wrong they desired while sane. A drunk Uriah still didn’t go home; he slept on a mat among the king’s servants. What he wouldn’t do while in his right frame of mind, getting him drunk couldn’t either. A drunk Uriah still wouldn’t misbehave. What a man!
What about you? What is the straw that can break your resolve to remain faithful? A king’s order? What is required to get you to misbehave? A bottle of alcohol? Even that didn’t succeed with Uriah. Can you also look evil in the face and say “Even if I am mad (drunk), I won’t do this?” At the end of it all, Uriah lost his life because he chose to remain faithful. However, when the names of David’s mighty men were written, Uriah was included (2 Sam. 23:39). God too has his records. We cannot be certain whether it was for Uriah’s sake that God allowed Solomon to be born of Bathsheba. But when the genealogy of Jesus was written, the Holy Spirit caused that something unusual was done. Solomon’s mother was mentioned, and it was clearly stated that she had been Uriah’s wife. His legacy was thus established. Your faithfulness will never be forgotten for “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Heb. 6:10).
- JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA: WEALTHY FOR THE BODY OF CHRIST
“Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.” – Lk. 23:50-53 (Matt. 27:57-60)
The background of the man Joseph, is well laid out. Matthew records that he was a rich man. Here, we are told that he was a member of the Council but of a different species: he was good and upright. He proved that by not consenting to the decision and action of the Council. It is obvious that he was a lone voice. It is also recorded that he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Matthew reports that he was a disciple of Jesus. When Jesus was crucified his body was left to hang on the tree to public ridicule. The apostles had all fled; none had the courage to show some last respect of burial to their master. Oh, even the disciples of John showed him such respect after he was beheaded (Matt 14:12). But Joseph acted; he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. The King James Version says, “he went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus (emphasis added). He didn’t mind that scripture had said “cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). He laid aside the prestige of his wealth and begged for the body of Christ, identifying with a cursed person. Having received permission, he took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock.
There are many things that the word of God has said would happen that depend on the actions of faithful men. Jesus had used the experience of Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days to speak about his own death. What if Joseph wasn’t willing to stand apart from the Council? What if he wasn’t willing to give up his own new tomb? His disciples had run away and Christ himself had nowhere to lay his head, talk more a tomb hewn in a rock. With no one to bury him, would the word of God have failed to come to pass because Jesus could not be three days in the grave? Today, Christ’s body is his Church. What about you? Of what use is your wealth to this body? The influence you hold in ‘Councils’, how have you employed it for the benefit of the Christ? The ‘Pilates’ whose ears you have, what benefit has the body of Christ derived from that access? Many ‘disciples’ have held or been in positions of influence but there has been no evidence that they are “waiting for the kingdom of God.” What about you?
- JOSEPH A.K.A BARNABAS: THE SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT
“Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” – Acts 4:31-32
His entrance into scripture is unconventional but instructive. While his original name is Joseph, the apostles rechristen him according to what they see in him: ‘Son of Encouragement.’ Then we are told he sold a field he owned and placed the money at the apostles’ feet. The CEB says “he placed it in the care and under the authority of the apostles.” Whatever they chose to do with the money and however they chose to utilize it, Barnabas submitted to their authority. The following chapter immediately contrasts the attitude of Barnabas with that of Ananias and Sapphira.
Next, we see Barnabas silently being true to his name. Saul (Paul) encountered Jesus and got saved. He went to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple. The Son of Encouragement stepped in: “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him” (Acts 9:27). Saul was accepted among the brethren because Barnabas put out his neck for him. When the Church in Antioch was formed, it was Barnabas that the brethren in Jerusalem sent to oversee it. “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:25-26). Whatever call Saul had on his life, it was Barnabas who saw it and ensured that the fire was fanned into a flame. In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit set him and Saul apart for the work of frontier missions, which they did together. He was available whenever there was an assignment that required his attention. In Lystra, when they were called gods, he and Saul protested by tearing their clothes. They wouldn’t take the glory of God for themselves (Acts 14:11-15). Later, on the verge of another outing, Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement that led to them going their separate ways. Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, but Paul refused because Mark had deserted them on an earlier outing in Pamphylia. But Barnabas took Mark and sailed with him to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-41). The Son of Encouragement wouldn’t give up on Mark. Later Paul was writing to Timothy and he had this to say about Mark: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). How did Mark become useful to the man who had earlier rejected him? The silent work of the Son of Encouragement. Paul himself, how would his ministry have fared if there was no Barnabas to stand for him before the apostles and carry him along to learn the rudiments of the ministry? Do you notice that his was a behind-the-scenes work of coming alongside people in their difficult moments and encouraging them? The ability to encourage others is a gift of the Spirit (Rom. 12:8). What about you? What is your attitude to your money, are you like Barnabas or Ananias and Sapphira? Are you struggling for the limelight whereas like Barnabas, you have been called and gifted for the off-stage ministry of encouragement? His sticking to his calling raised the likes of Paul and Mark. The next ‘Paul’ and ‘Mark’ are waiting for you, what are you waiting for?
- TERTIUS: THE LETTER-WRITER
“I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.” – Rom. 16:22
His name appears only once in the whole of scripture, so he is obviously a silent one. Because the letters of Paul bear his name, we normally think he personally penned down everything. Here, the Holy Spirit quietly introduces a behind-the-scenes servant of the Lord, by whose hand the letter to the Romans was written. Someone has described Paul’s epistle to the Romans as the greatest letter that has ever been written in the history of the world. This letter was written down by Tertius. Writing a sixteen-chapter letter is hard work. Those were not the days when there were word processors. He wrote them down in the first person; no notice-me attitude on show. His name only appeared in the closing lines where those of others also appeared. But we have such a book in scripture today because there was a Tertius. He accepted his own part in the work of God and did it diligently, not minding the limelight.
What about you? Why have you abandoned the silent labours that God has called you to, to battle for the pulpit? Who told you being a typist is not the work of God? Listen, no one will reward you for work you have not been assigned. The publicity you are seeking by scrambling for certain responsibilities, who assigned you there? You must understand that “we have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Rom. 12:6). Here’s what should be your attitude to your work: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).