One of the difficulties I’ve noticed in either studying the Bible or preaching the Bible is to treat the Biblical peoples as either “nearly perfect” or “utterly hopeless”. Some examples:
Elimelech: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything good about Elimelech; the guy is always beaten up over having moved his poor, suffering family out of the land of Israel, and they were “victims” of his bad decision. Yes, as the head of his family, he is responsible for the decisions made, but consider another alternative: Perhaps he didn’t want to leave, but was nagged into it by Naomi (his wife). Consider that after Elimelech died, Naomi did not move back to Israel. Consider that his sons did not marry heathen women until after he died. Perhaps he refused to let them date heathen women, but Naomi decided after her husband’s death that he was “too strict”. As some may rightly point out, the Bible is silent about the relationship between Naomic and Elimelech. Exactly! So why do people always assume that Elimelech was the backslidden, evil man and Naomi the good, silently suffering wife?
Eli: Here’s another guy that is beaten up a lot because of the sins of his sons. Yes, his sons did sin. But God did not hold him accountable for his son’s sin; God judges each person on the basis of his own sin. Eli’s sin was that, knowing his son’s sin, he let them continue in the priesthood, even though they had disqualified themselves (remind anyone of any prominent preachers of our generation?). Remember that Eli was the man chosen by God to bring up Samuel.
Saul: Most of the messages I heard about Saul are about his incomplete obedience regarding the Amalekites and the years he wasted chasing after David. Yes, these are sins. But Saul had a very good record in the days before he want bad; if you read his early acts as king, he was very admirable.
Judas: Judas is, of course, the ultimate in “bad guys”, since he betrayed the Lord Jesus Christ. But consider that when Jesus said that one of those eating at the table would betray Him, the Bible does not say “… and all the disciples looked upon Judas”. They had no idea. They all were asking “Is it I?”. (I’ve always thought that perhaps the disciples thought that one of them would accidentally betray Jesus). Judas went out with the other disciples, preached about the kingdom, had command over evil spirits, etc. Judas is sometimes paired with Simon the Zealot — perhaps Judas was hoping Jesus would restore the Jews to a kingdom and drive out the hated Romans. Perhaps he thought that by turning Jesus over, Jesus would be forced to use His power. Granted, these are just speculations, but the goal it to consider some of these people as real people with both good and bad traits.
And, on the other hand, we sometimes view the likes of Abraham, David, and Paul (probably others, too) as some kind of supermen, halfway between God and ordinary people like us. But they weren’t supermen – they were “ordinary” people who believed in an extraordinary God who chose to do great things through them.