Download_on_the_App_Store   Get it on Google Play

Biblical Personality Profiles


The name Joel means “Yahweh is God.” Little is known about the prophet, who was probably from Judah. It is likely that he ministered during a national calamity sometime after Judah returned from exile in Babylon. The primary theme in the book of Joel is the “day of the Lord”—a time when the presence of the Lord will bring both judgment and deliverance. Joel teaches that, while the day of the Lord will bring destruction on the nations, it will also be a time of salvation for God’s people. Judah will be the means through which God pours out his Spirit on all people (2:28–32), and he will preserve them against all who seek to destroy them. (Joel 2:11–14)


Amos was a shepherd from the Judean town of Tekoa, a “herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs” (7:14). He prophesied primarily to the northern kingdom of Israel during a time of political stability and great wealth. As they often did, the people of Israel saw this prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing. But God used Amos to tell them that this was not the case. Much of the nation’s wealth had been acquired by oppressing the poor, and so their insincere worship was disgusting to God. Israel had rejected its calling to be a place where God’s righteousness and justice was demonstrated to the world. Because of their unfaithfulness, the Israelites would be punished severely. God would remain faithful to his people, however, and would restore what had been destroyed. Peace and blessing would come to Israel—and the world—through the coming of the Messiah. (Amos 5:18–24)


The only thing known about the prophet Obadiah is his name, which means “one who serves Yahweh.” The book of Obadiah is an indictment against the nation of Edom, who took advantage of Judah during the Babylonian crisis. Rather than come to Judah’s aid, the Edomites gloated over the nation’s demise, looted valuables, and sold captives as slaves. Their actions were particularly shameful since the Edomites were descendants of Esau and thus brothers to the people of Judah. Edom is the target of Obadiah’s prophecy of doom because it is a shameful example of hostility toward God’s people. Even though Jerusalem’s fall was a result of the nation’s unfaithfulness—and Edom was one of God’s tools for bringing judgment—the Lord punished those who oppose his people. (Obadiah 10–11)


God called the prophet Jonah to travel to the city of Nineveh and to speak out against it. Nineveh was an Assyrian city, part of an empire known for its cruelty, that had long threatened Israel. The last thing Jonah wanted was for these particular people to experience the mercy and compassion of the God of Israel. Therefore he rejected the Lord’s call and tried to travel as far as he possibly could in the opposite direction from Nineveh! After three days and three nights in the belly of a large fish, however, Jonah repented and went to Nineveh. He delivered a prophetic message against the city, just as the Lord had commanded. Much to Jonah’s surprise, the people of Nineveh repented, and the Lord relented from his plans to destroy them. Jonah learned that God is ready to show mercy to all who will turn their hearts to him. (Jonah 3:6–10)


Rather than being identified by his father or family, Micah is identified by a location: he is called “Micah of Moresheth” (1:1). The town was 22 miles (35 km) southwest of Jerusalem. Micah’s call to prophetic ministry is not recorded, and he is never referred to as “prophet,” but he is said to be speaking according to the “Spirit of the Lord” (3:8). The name “Micah” means “Who is like Yahweh?” Similarly, at the end of the book, Micah asks, “Who is a God like you?” (7:18). Both Micah’s name and his writings emphasize the matchless character and actions of the Lord. Micah announces God’s judgment on Israel for its unfaithfulness, yet he also proclaims God’s promise of great blessing through a Messiah—a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus Christ (5:1–15; Eph. 1:3–14). (Micah 6:8)


All that is known about the prophet Nahum is that he came from Elkosh, probably a town in Judah. Nahum’s name means “comfort.” The message he received from God—that Nineveh would be destroyed—indeed brought comfort to his hearers. Following Jonah’s warning, the cruel Assyrian capital had expressed repentance. That repentance was short-lived, however, and this time God’s judgment was unavoidable. Although God had used the Assyrians to punish the wayward southern kingdom, he would not allow Judah to be annihilated. God’s plan for the Messiah to come from the line of David could not be defeated. When Nineveh was destroyed in 612 b.c., the once powerful kingdom of Assyria came to an end. (Nahum 2:2)


Habakkuk was alarmed by the wickedness of his people, the nation of Judah. He longed for the day when the Lord would bring justice to his nation by punishing sin. He was even more troubled, however, when he learned that the Lord would indeed judge Judah but that he would use the much more wicked nation of Babylon to do so. The book of Habakkuk records the prophet’s conversation with God about this perplexing issue. By the end of the book, Habakkuk is convinced that God is sovereign and that his justice is far beyond comprehension. The prophet will wait for and trust in God. Habakkuk’s faith serves as an example to believers today, who like the prophet are called to trust that the God of justice will indeed accomplish his purposes for the world. (Habakkuk 3:17–19)


The name Zephaniah means “Yahweh has hidden.” This is significant in regards to both the prophet’s background and his message. The name probably shows that Zephaniah’s parents were faithful followers of God. Zephaniah was also the great-great-grandson of the godly king Hezekiah (1:1). Like the prophets Joel and Amos, he prophesied about the coming “day of the Lord” when God would judge his enemies and bless his followers. Zephaniah urged the people of Judah to seek the Lord so that they would be “hidden” from his anger on that day (2:3). Though even God’s own people would be judged, at the same time the Lord would preserve a faithful remnant. The book of Zephaniah ends with the promise that, through this remnant, Israel will be restored and the knowledge of God will be brought to all nations. (Zephaniah 3:9–13)


When the people of God returned from their lengthy exile in Babylon, Jerusalem was in ruins. Within a short time they laid the foundation for a new temple, but they quickly grew discouraged and began focusing instead on their own homes. By Haggai’s time, nearly 20 years later, the temple was still unfinished. God used Haggai to encourage the people to finish rebuilding the temple: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (1:4). Haggai encouraged the disheartened people of Judah with the message that the God of Israel had not abandoned them. His Spirit was still in their midst, and he would fulfill his promise to bless the whole world through them. (Haggai 2:4–9)


Zechariah was both a priest and a prophet. He was a member of a prominent family who returned from Babylon with Zerubbabel. Like Haggai, who ministered during the same time, Zechariah spoke about the need to rebuild the temple. He reassured Judah that if they would heed the words of the prophets and turn to the Lord, God would bless his people for their faithfulness. God would trouble the nations who were enjoying rest and grant rest to his troubled people, making Jerusalem once again the center of the world. Zechariah also prophesied about the coming of the Messiah. Matthew, Mark, John, Ephesians, and Revelation are among the NT books that quote Zechariah, recognizing Jesus as the fulfillment of his prophecies. (Zechariah 8:1–8)


Malachi, whose name means “my messenger,” probably ministered during the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah. He prophesied to Judah about 80 years after Haggai and Zechariah had encouraged the people to rebuild the temple. Though Haggai and Zechariah had assured Judah that God’s blessings would return to his people, bringing peace and prosperity, they had not yet experienced these promised blessings. Instead, they were facing a prolonged period of economic difficulty and hardship. Rather than wait faithfully on the Lord, the people sinned against him with half-hearted worship and imperfect offerings. God used Malachi to reaffirm his love for Israel and to rebuke them for their unfaithfulness to him. Malachi urged Judah to remember the Law of Moses, as well as the promise of Elijah and the coming day of the Lord. (Malachi 4:1–6)


Herod the Great ruled Israel and Judah from 37 to 4 b.c. He was an Idumean (or Edomite), and was appointed king of the Jews under the authority of Rome. Herod ruled firmly and often ruthlessly, murdering any who might challenge his place on the throne. This included his own wife, several sons, and other relatives. It is no surprise, then, that he tried to kill the baby Jesus. Despite his cruelty, Herod was known as “the Great” because Israel and Judah experienced prosperity during his reign. He was a master builder who restored the temple in Jerusalem and built many theaters, cities, palaces, and fortresses. Herod also financed structures—including pagan temples—throughout the Roman Empire. Ravaged by disease, Herod died in his palace at Jericho and was buried at Herodium. (Matthew 2:16–18)


Matthew, also called Levi, was one of the 12 disciples and the author of the first Gospel. When Jesus called him, Matthew was sitting in the tax collector’s booth collecting taxes for Rome. Other Jews probably considered him a traitor, since collecting taxes meant cooperation with the Roman occupiers of Palestine. Because tax collectors were free to take as much personal profit from people as they liked, they were widely regarded as the worst of sinners, often categorized along with prostitutes (see 21:32). In his Gospel account, Matthew pre­sents Jesus as the Davidic King who has come to fulfill the OT, especially its promises of everlasting salvation. (Matthew 9:9)


Peter and his brother Andrew were from the city of Bethsaida. The two fishermen were the first disciples called by Jesus, and they immediately left everything to follow him. Jesus gave Simon the name Cephas, or Peter, which means “rock” (John 1:42). Peter, James, and John became the close inner circle among the 12 disciples. Always listed first among the Twelve, Peter served as their spokesman and leader. He was with Jesus during the key events of his ministry, including the Transfiguration. Peter was one of Jesus’ most outspoken and passionate followers, though at times that enthusiasm was misplaced and needed a word of correction from Jesus (Matt. 19:27–30; 26:31–35, 69–75). Peter preached boldly at Pentecost. He was arrested multiple times, and even imprisoned, for preaching in the name of Jesus, but he remained faithful (Acts 12:1–19). Peter wrote the two NT letters that bear his name. He died a martyr in Rome, under Nero. (Matthew 16:13–20)


Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was Tetrarch of Galilee during the time of Christ. Although married, Herod fell in love with Herodias, the wife of his half brother, Philip. When Herod and Herodias divorced their spouses and married each other, John the Baptist strongly opposed their adultery. This enraged Herodias, prompting Herod to seize John and put him in prison. He was afraid to take John’s life, however, recognizing him as a holy man. Herod finally gave in to Herodias and had John beheaded, but doing so haunted his conscience; later, hearing about the miracles Jesus was performing, Herod feared that it was actually John, resurrected from the dead. Herod participated in the trial of Jesus, mocking him before sending him back to Pilate. (Luke 23:11)


Mary, along with her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus, was a close friend of Jesus. Mary was intensely devoted to Jesus, choosing to sit at his feet and listen to his teaching while Martha struggled to be a good hostess. Martha was annoyed that Mary didn’t help her, but Jesus praised Mary’s decision, saying that it demonstrated her desire for close fellowship with the Lord. On another occasion Mary was scolded by the disciples, who were indignant that she anointed Jesus with costly ointment rather than selling it and giving the money to the poor. Again, Jesus defended Mary’s actions of humility and devotion. (John 12:3)


Judas Iscariot was one of the original 12 apostles. The literal meaning of the name Iscariot is “man of Kerioth”; if Judas was in fact from this town, located near Hebron, then he was the only apostle from Judea. As treasurer for the disciples, Judas regularly helped himself to whatever was in the moneybag. For the price of 30 pieces of silver, Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests, which led to Jesus being crucified. Overcome with regret, Judas later returned the money and then hanged himself. Following his death, he was replaced as an apostle by Matthias. (Mark 14:43-45)


Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea during the ministry of Jesus. This position meant that he was the only person who could either pardon a prisoner or sentence him to death. When Jesus was brought before him for judgment, Pilate recognized that Jesus was innocent and was amazed that Jesus refused to defend himself. Even Pilate’s wife saw that Jesus was innocent, and warned her husband not to get involved in the case. Pilate was also aware that the Jewish leaders had turned Jesus over to him because they felt threatened by his popularity and his authoritative ministry. Despite all of these warning signs, Pilate gave in to the crowds and handed Jesus over to be crucified. (Mark 15:15)


As a young woman in Nazareth, Mary became betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. The angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that she had “found favor with God” (1:30) and would become the mother of the Messiah, whose name would be Jesus. While still a virgin, she would conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit. Though understandably confused by this news, Mary submitted to the Lord’s will for her life, saying, “Let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). As she observed the amazing events unfolding around her, Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19; see also 2:51). This included the warning that a “sword will pierce through your own soul also” (2:35), a prophecy fulfilled as, some 30 years later, she watched with sorrow as her son died on a cross. (Luke 1:26–38)


James and his brother John were fishermen. Together with their father Zebedee, they were mending their nets when Jesus called them to be disciples. Jesus called James and John the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17; see Luke 9:54). James, along with Peter and John, were the disciples closest to Jesus. They were with the Lord during many of the key moments of his ministry. James was with Jesus at the Transfiguration, where Jesus revealed his divine glory. He was also with Jesus when he healed Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37). When Jesus prayed at Gethsemane, he asked James, John, and Peter to share with him the agonizing time of anticipation and sorrow as he faced the cross (Matt. 26:37). James was later executed by Herod, becoming the first apostle to die for his faith (Acts 12:1–3). (Matthew 4:21–22)