By Dolores Smyth, Crosswalk.com
There’s nothing more inspiring than sitting with our brothers and sisters in Christ on Sunday morning and listening to the Word of God. Many of us know the same Scriptural accounts by heart either because they’re beloved Bible stories or because they’re the passages we turn to time and again for spiritual nourishment.
But the Bible is a large and intricate book, with major and minor characters, epic and concise stories. No words are wasted in Scripture, and there are lessons that pack a punch in even its lesser-turned-to pages.
Here are three unexpected Bible stories pastors can lean into today that teach invaluable lessons:
1. Anna the Prophetess
The Bible introduces us to Anna only in the Gospel of Luke and only in three verses therein: Luke 2:36-38.. From these three verses, we learn that Anna encountered Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem, where Mary and Joseph had taken Jesus to consecrate Him according to Old Testament law:
“And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up to [Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus] at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem”(Luke 2:36-38).
What can we learn from the story of Anna?
God can exalt even the marginalized and disregarded.
In these three brief lines, we learn that Anna was one of only a handful of women in the Bible bearing the title of “prophetess.” A prophetess, or female prophet, is someone regarded as an inspired teacher and spokesperson for the will of God.
Here we see that God chose to exalt Anna who, as an elderly woman and widow, would normally have been among the lowest-regarded members of societyin Biblical times. Despite this, God inspired Anna with the authority to proclaim His will as a prophetess and gave Anna the special knowledge necessary to recognize Jesus as our Savior while He was still an infant.
God rewards our devotion at any age.
Anna never remarried after becoming widowed but, instead, chose to devote all of her time to worshiping God in the Temple. It was during this long-standing and constant devotion that the elderly Anna encountered Mary and Joseph in the Temple when they arrived to consecrate the infant Jesus. God rewarded Anna for her life of piety by allowing her to be among the first to recognize the baby Jesus as the long-awaited Redeemer.
The story of Anna teaches us that God will reward us for our devotion to Him no matter our circumstances or age.
2. Jabez the Honorable Man
Little is known of the Biblical figure of Jabez. We know from Scripture (1 Chronicles 4:1-10) that Jabez was a descendant of Judah, that he was “more honorable than his brothers,” and that his mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him in pain” (1 Chronicles 4:1-9). Despite his brief appearance in Scripture, Jabez holds the honor of having his prayer to God specifically quoted:
“Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked” (1 Chronicles 4:10).
What can we learn from the story of Jabez?
It’s not about how you start in life; it’s about how you live your life.
We know from Scripture that there must have been something unusually sorrowful or painful about Jabez’s birth because his own mother named him “Jabez,” which in Hebrew means “sorrow” or “he causes pain.”Names bore great significance in Biblical times, tying people to particular tribes or lands, or symbolizing something about a person’s future.
Here, Jabez defies his name’s curse that his future would be steeped in sorrow and pain by living an honorable life and by putting his faith in the Lord to reverse his predicted fate. Repurposing the “sorrow” and “pain” inherent in his name, Jabez prayed for God to keep him from harm and pain. The fact that God granted his request tells us that Jabez was a man of great faith.
The Prayer of Jabez demonstrates the power of prayer.
We know from examining Jabez’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 4:10 that Jabez was a pious man. First, we know that Jabez was a man of strong faith because the Bible tells us that God will search our hearts and reward us according to our deeds (Jeremiah 17:10). Seeing Jabez’s heart and knowing his deeds, the Lord chose to answer Jabez’s prayer.
Also, we know that Jabez was known as a devout man because the details of his life and his word-for-word prayer to God were memorialized in Scripture. In fact, the author of 1 Chronicles 4 abruptly interrupts the long genealogy listed in that chapter to briefly give an account of Jabez before continuing with the genealogy (1 Chronicles 4:1-10).
Last, Jabez’s piety is clearly evident in his plea for God’s constant presence in his life: “[A]nd that your hand might be with me…” (1 Chronicles 4:10).
We see in the example of Jabez that despite what others may predict for us, we can triumph over obstacles by prioritizing prayer and having faith in God’s promise to prosper us and give us a future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11).
3. Bezalel the Craftsman
In Exodus 31:1-11; 35:34; and 37:1-9 we learn that during the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt and into the desert, God commanded the Israelites to build a Tabernacle (or portable dwelling place) in which God could live among His people. Here, we meet Bezalel, a highly-skilled artisan chosen by God to be the chief architect in the building of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings:
“See, I have called by name Bezalel…of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God,…with knowledge and all craftsmanship to devise artistic designs, to work in [precious metals], stones, [and] wood, to work in every craft…[to make] the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony…and all the furnishings of the tent…” (Exodus 31:2-7).
What can we learn from the story of Bezalel?
God will prepare us to do any task He calls us to do.
God enshrouded Bezalel with His spirit to give Bezalel the heightened skills necessary to build the Tabernacle and all the sacred items within it, including the holiest of items: the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 37:1-9).
God also inspired Bezalel to lead and teach the craftsmen under him during the building of the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:34). Even Bezalel’s name, which means “in the shadow (protection) of God,” exhibits the encompassing nature of God’s Spirit upon Bezalel.
God dignifies those who work with their hands to glorify Him.
Bezalel stands out in Scripture as being the person who built God’s first on-earth dwelling. By giving Bezalel the honor of building God’s first sanctuary, God dignifies those who work with their hands to honor Him.
This Biblical account demonstrates that even a craftsman like Bezalel can play a significant role in strengthening people’s bond with the Almighty, despite not being a priest or a prophet.
In Bezalel’s story, we see that God linked worship with art and craftwork. This connection can serve to encourage today’s Christian artists, craftworkers, and carpenters to use their talents to create works that glorify the Lord.
Dolores Smyth is a faith and parenting writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.
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