Suppose you’re on the TV game show, Jeopardy!. You’re tied with the reigning champion, and there’s one category left: Famous Bible Characters. I’ve got this, you think, making a mental list of the bigger-than-life characters from your fifth-grade Sunday school class: Adam and Eve, Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon. Oh, the Daily Double bells are ringing in your ears.
But just as you’re about to press the buzzer and select Famous Bible Characters for $100, you look again. Oh no, it doesn’t say Famous Bible Characters, it says Not-So-Famous Bible Characters.
Could you still rattle off a list, or would your buzzer stay silent while your opponent walks away with the win? If your knowledge of obscure Bible personalities is a little lacking, or if you’re interested in learning more about real people who stood behind the spotlight instead of in it, check out this short list of amazing yet under-recognized Old Testament characters.
Abigail, the Wife of Nabal
Abigail is truly amazing. We read her story in 1 Samuel 25, where the Bible describes her as “an intelligent and beautiful woman” (v. 3). Unfortunately, she was married to a sorry, good-for-nothing man named Nabal, a homesteader who made his living raising sheep. The Bible describes him as “surly and mean in his dealings.”
Enter King David, before he was king. He and his band of renegades had been hanging out in the wilderness hiding from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. In their wanderings, they encountered Nabal’s flocks and shepherds.
Not all outlaws are bad, and such was the case with David and his men. Since they were an army of fighting men camping out in the wilderness with nothing to do, they decided to keep their skills sharp by guarding Nabal’s sheep from marauders.
“‘These men were very good to us,’ one of the servants told Abigail, ‘They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us’” (v. 15-16).
When shearing time came, David sent a message to Nabal, asking if he’d send over a few legs of lamb in gratitude for their protection. Nabal sent David’s messengers packing, hurling insults at them. The Bible doesn’t record exactly what Nabal said, but when the messengers repeated his words to David, he was enraged.
“It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” (v. 21-22). He mustered his troops and prepared to destroy Nabal and his household.
And this is where Abigail shines on the pages of biblical history:
Quick thinking and resourceful, she piled bread, meat, and raisin cakes onto donkeys and headed out to meet David. When she saw him, she dismounted and bowed her face to the ground.
Falling at his feet, she said, “My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent.”
She affirmed David’s calling as future king, begged forgiveness for her husband’s folly, and pleaded with him to spare her people.
David accepted her eloquent and humble plea and received the food she brought. Ten days later, God struck Nabal dead. When David heard of Nabal’s demise, he wasted no time and promptly asked Abigail to marry him.
I’m not sure what the traditional period of mourning was in those days, but I don’t think Abigail observed it. Scripture tell us, “Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five maids, went with David’s messengers and became his wife” (v. 42).
Abigail’s story contains a Cinderella ending by any century’s standards.
Ittai the Gittite
Fast forward in biblical history a few decades, and you come to the story of Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Samuel 15. David had been king of Israel for many years. Unbeknownst to him, his son Absalom had been turning the hearts of the people away from his father in order to overthrow his reign and steal the throne.
Picture the scene as the aging King David, his family, counselors, and loyal followers fled the palace to escape Absalom’s murderous coup. Heartbroken, eyes downcast, and clothes torn in mourning, David stops in surprise when he sees Ittai the Gittite, a foreigner who had only recently arrived in Jerusalem, along with his family and servants.
“’Why should you come along with us?’ he asked. ‘Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen. May kindness and faithfulness be with you’” (v. 19-20).
And this is where Ittai the Gittite shines on the pages of biblical history:
“But Ittai replied to the king, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.’”
“Then David said to Ittai, ’Go ahead, march on.’ So Ittai the Gittite marched on with all his men and the families that were with him” (v. 21-22).
Faithful Ittai wins the distinction for Most Loyal New Friend, encourages David, and secures a spot in my list of amazing yet under-recognized Old Testament individuals.
Shiphrah and Puah
Now I can almost guarantee these two ladies won’t end up on your short list of easily recognized Bible characters, but the nation of Israel owes them a debt of gratitude. Shiphrah and Puah were two of the midwives assigned to attend Israelite women during childbirth in the years preceding the exodus. Scholars disagree about whether they were Hebrew or Egyptian, but they all agree that these women were courageous.
You may remember that during the time of Joseph, the Israelites enjoyed favor before Pharaoh and his court. After he died, however, another pharaoh took his place. As the Israelites’ population increased, the Egyptians felt increasingly threatened and feared the Israelites would take over the nation. To limit their population growth, the king of Egypt gave the midwives a chilling order:
“When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live” (Ex. 1:16).
But Shiphrah and Puah feared God. They refused to do what the king of Egypt ordered. Deliberately disobeying their leader’s command, they delivered each tiny newborn with all the skill and ability they possessed.
Before long, their disobedience came to the attention of the king, and he summoned them to stand before him.
“‘Why have you done this?’ he asked. ‘Why have you let the boys live?’” (v. 18).
This is where Shiphrah and Puah shine on the pages of biblical history:
Not only were they God-fearing, they were also wise. While they recognized their responsibility to obey their leaders, they also understood that God’s law supersedes man’s law. They knew they could not sin against God by killing the Hebrew babies.
“‘Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women,’ they said to Pharaoh. ‘They are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.’”
Scripture tells us God smiled on their courage and commitment to do what was right. He “was kind to the midwives… and because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own” (v. 20-21).
Shiphrah and Puah are powerful, though obscure, examples of doing what’s right no matter what the cost.
I hope this short list of little-known Bible characters has inspired you to crack open the pages of Scripture and read the rest of their stories. You never know, the Daily Double might just ask you to name Nabal’s quick-thinking wife or King David’s new loyal friend.
Jeopardy! questions aside, it’s important to remember that obscure doesn’t mean insignificant in the kingdom of God. If he can use a quick-thinking housewife, a loyal new friend, and two courageous midwives in his great plan of redemption, imagine what he will do with you.
Article originally appeared on Crosswalk.com. Used with permission.