Character Study

All those people in robes and sandals have something to say to you.

For many of us, the people in the Bible have all the excitement of a flannel board.

Even those who defeated mighty armies with a handful of men, witnessed miracles on a grand scale, or heard the voice of God Himself can seem distant and remote. It’s hard to relate to someone who traveled by camel when you drive a Corolla or a Lexus.

Yet despite their distance from us in time and culture, these Bible characters were real, everyday humans. Even Elijah, one of the greatest men of all time, is described as “a man just like us” (Jas. 5:17). The people whose stories are recorded in Scripture struggled to follow God against the grain of their culture, lead the unappreciative, fight temptation, deal with loss, and hold on to faith just as we do.

We can learn much by studying the lives of these individuals. As you employ the simple Bible study method that follows, you can begin to see them as they were: flesh-and-blood people whose lives have a crucial message for your life today.

Chapter 7: Character Study

INTRODUCTION

People everywhere, young and old, enjoy stories. Stories entertain us. But also they can teach us. We remember a good story. Jesus knew the value of stories. He used them to illustrate deep spiritual truths.

We can be thankful that God chose to record many of the Bible’s lessons in story form. The characters of these stories are real people who lived long ago on this earth. They faced the same kinds of problems that we face today. People like Moses, David, and Peter made mistakes and learned by their mistakes. Now we can read about what happened and profit by their experiences. Also, we can read of their victories and be strengthened by their faith.

In this lesson you will study…

The Purpose of Character Studies
Approach to a Character Study
The Story of Jacob

This lesson will help you…

  • Explain how character studies are important to your life.
  • Put into practice a biographical study of Jacob as a model for other studies.

THE PURPOSE OF CHARACTER STUDIES

Objective 1. Recognize true statements concerning the importance of character studies.

The Bible mentions over 2,900 different persons in its pages. While many of these are only named, others are described in some detail. These descriptions offer us subject matter for individual studies. In character study we look at a person’s life history. We see who he was, what he did, and what he was like.

This method of study is very effective in teaching children. They listen closely to the stories of baby Moses in a basket, of young David facing the giant Goliath, of Ruth gathering fallen grain, and of baby Jesus in the manger. Children identify easily with their Bible friends. They learn important lessons about God’s will for their lives.

Everyone Likes Bible Stories

Adults, too, identify with Bible characters, especially those who struggled with weaknesses and doubts as people everywhere do. Although some Bible characters appear to be almost perfect, they were not perfect. James 5:17 makes this clear: “Elijah was the same kind of person as we are.” Our prayers will be just as effective as his were if we ask in faith.

David was called a man after God’s own heart. Yet, on occasion he was guilty of lying, adultery and murder. This does not mean that God was pleased with his sin. David was a man after God’s own heart because he repented of his sins. He found God’s forgiveness. He learned from his mistakes to submit to God.

We can learn from David’s life not to make the mistakes he did. His failure is like a flare on a dark night, warning us to pray that we don’t fall into temptation. Thus, the Scripture emphasizes the purpose of studying the lives of Bible characters: “All these things happened to them as examples for others, and they were written down as a warning for us” (I Corinthians 10:11). So, we can also dispose the notion that we will ever live perfect lives or even could.

Our own grandfathers and fathers can give us good advice. They know the problems of life. They know certain truths about the weather, the farm, animals, work, business, and people. Usually, we find it easier to learn from them than to learn rules from books. That is why the Bible is not written as a set of rules. Instead, most of it records the experiences of real people, of how God worked in their lives.

We read and study these personal experiences to gain knowledge and help in Christian living. In our study of Jacob, see how many times you learn a new truth or receive practical help.

APPROACH TO A CHARACTER STUDY

Objective 2. Tell how to study the life of a Bible character.

After you choose the person you want to study, list all the Scriptural references you can find that relate to him or her. This is the same process as for a topical study. Some studies will be quite short, others very long. For example, Queen Esther is described only in the Book of Esther. Moses stands out as a central character in four books and is mentioned in 26 other books.

Do not neglect reading the scattered references to a character. A brief reference may help you to better understand that person. Also, we don’t want to confuse references relating to two or more persons having the same name. To illustrate, there are six women named Mary in the New Testament, four men named John, and three named James.

Second, read the references. Write notes about the person’s life, work, and personal traits. Not everyone’s life story is given in detail. But, find out as much as you can about his background. What does his name mean? What is his ancestry? Where did he spend his early years? What influences were important in his youth? For example, Timothy grew up with the godly influence of his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice. Note who the person’s friends and associates are. How did they influence him? In a study of David, it is helpful to study his friend Jonathan.

Note the places where the Bible character has lived and traveled. For instance, Moses’ life is in three divisions. He spent forty years among royalty in Egypt, forty years as a shepherd in Midian, and forty years leading the Israelites toward the promised land. Likewise, some of Paul’s letters become more meaningful when we realize he wrote them while in prison.

How do Bible characters differ personally from each other? Paul, Peter, and John were strong leaders in the early church. God used all of them with their particular traits and talents to present his truths. Paul is known as the apostle of faith, Peter as the apostle of hope, and John as the apostle of love.

We see their strengths, and we see their weaknesses as well. How did some of their failures affect their futures? How did God deal with the person you have chosen to study?

Note the great events in the person’s life. How did he react in times of trouble and in times of happiness? What changes took place in him? Find out what contributions he made in the time when he lived and to our lives today.

After you observe these things, sum up the main lessons you learn from the story of this person’s life.

MAKE A LIST OF IMPORTANT FACTS

Character’s name
Meaning of name
Place of birth or home
Names of relatives and friends
Place in history
Special traits
Weaknesses
Strengths
Important events
Important acts
Lessons learned from this life

The Journeys of Jacob
The Journeys of Jacob

THE STORY OF JACOB

Objective 3. Express what lessons you learn from Jacob’s life story.

The study of Jacob’s life is particularly helpful as a character study. He was a man with character flaws. He tried to get the best of others if he could. And those faults are recorded in the Bible. Each of us can see something of ourselves in him! Yet God’s grace and power transformed him from a deceiver into a prince, having a special relationship with the Lord. (See Romans 9:10-13.) The Scripture applies Jacob’s experience to all of us: “So then, everything depends, not on what man wants or does, but only on God’s ” (Romans 9:16). Certainly there is hope for us, too, as we allow God to transform us.

The first step in a study of Jacob is to find the references to him. His life story is in Genesis 25-50. There are many other brief references to him including Matthew 1:2; 8:11; Luke 1:32-33; John 4:5-6; Acts 7:8-16, 32; Romans 9:11-13; Hebrews 11:9, 13, 21.

Jacob and Esau Were Twins

Second, read the passages and take notes. Jacob was born after his twin brother Esau, holding on to Esau’s heel. The meaning of Jacob is often translated as deceiver (Genesis 25:26). Jacob’s father and mother were Isaac and Rebecca, and his grandfather Abraham was known as the father of the Hebrew nation. Abraham was a direct descendant of Noah through the line of Shem (11:10-26).

Jacob lived with his parents and his brother Esau. He was a quiet man and his mother’s favorite (25:27-28), but he was deceitful (25:31-34). He stole his brother’s birthright as the elder son. Then he stole Esau’s blessing as well (27:33-36).

Jacob Worked for Laban

After this, Jacob had to flee from his home to escape Esau’s anger. He went to Haran to live with Laban, his uncle (27:42-43). During this time Laban cheated him. Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, but Laban gave him Leah first (29:23). As a result Jacob had to work fourteen long years to get Rachel and then six more years to build up his own flocks (31:41). To make matters worse, Laban changed Jacob’s wages ten times (31:7).

Jacob’s life story unfolds in several places. In Beersheba he was a deceiver (28:10). In Haran he served Laban and was both the deceiver and the one who was deceived (30:25-43). In Hebron he became a saint after his meeting with God at Peniel (37:1). And at the end of his years he became a respected man of wisdom in Egypt (46:3-4).

By nature Jacob was a deceiver. But even though he did wrong, he set his heart on that which God had promised (25:23). He believed in the value of both the birthright, which Esau didn’t care about (25:33-34), and the blessing. He appreciated spiritual values. After his dream about God’s promises to him, he set up a memorial at Bethel where people would worship God. He vowed to pay back to God a tenth of everything God gave him (28:18-22).

Jacob Made a Memorial at Bethel

Jacob at Bethel
Jacob at Bethel

Nevertheless, Jacob suffered for his wrong doing. His daughter Dinah was disgraced. His sons turned into deceivers and murderers (34). Rachel, his beloved wife, died in giving birth (35:16-20). He lost Joseph, his first son by Rachel (37:34-35). He felt the disgrace of Judah, his fourth son (38) and He was separated from Benjamin, his youngest son (43).

Looking back on Jacob’s life we see the crisis came at Peniel where he wrestled with God. It had been twenty years since Jacob had made his vow to God at Bethel. When Jacob’s struggle with God ended in a face-to-face battle, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel which means Prince with God. He gave Jacob a new blessing (32:24-30). Jacob submitted the rest of his life to God, even in the midst of problems and tragedies (47:9). God allowed Jacob to see into the future and grant blessings to Joseph’s sons (48:13-20) and his own sons (49).

Quiz Instructions

Now answer a few questions on what you have read.

1 Check each TRUE reason why biographical studies are important.

a) We can relate better to people with Bible names.

b) All people can learn from each other’s mistakes.

c) We can be proud we never made the same mistakes as those of Bible characters.

d) Life stories appeal to both children and adults, and we can learn from them.

2 Check each correct completion for the following statement: As part of a complete study of a Bible character, you need to pay attention to

a) scattered references to the person.

b) the last part of the person’s life.

c) the person’s growth in character.

d) details concerning people with similar names.

3. Jacob’s life teaches us many lessons. Answer the following questions in your own words, using Jacob’s life for your illustrations. Afterwards compare your answers with the ones we have given. The first question is done for you, to help you begin.

a) God can can change our nature

b) We have to pay for our wrongdoing

c) Prosperity always meas that God approves of what we are doing

d) We will reap what we sow

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