I’ve heard it said that well behaved women seldom make history1, but I think that’s true of men as well. Especially when it comes to religious history.
Our Christian history is full of people that were regarded as oddballs, lunatics, or just plain weirdos by their contemporaries. Joan of Arc heard voices, St. Francis talked with animals, and Desmond Doss refused to carry a gun into war.
It’s the people with single-minded devotion to their cause, and their God, that end up changing the world, and the Bible is full of people that changed the world by shocking their communities into a new understanding of God.
Here are 4 heroes of the faith that used outlandish and illegal tactics to change their world:
1. Isaiah for Public Indecency
Passage: Isaiah 20:1-2
In the year when King Sargon of Assyria sent his commander in chief to capture the Philistine city of Ashdod, the Lord told Isaiah son of Amoz, “Take off the burlap you have been wearing, and remove your sandals.” Isaiah did as he was told and walked around naked and barefoot.
Why did Isaiah strip down?
Isaiah, like most Old Testament prophets, was used by God to demonstrate his demand for justice and righteousness – and what failure looked like.
God forced Hosea into an undeniably odd and mutually shaming marriage. Ezekiel laid on his side for more than a year eating minimalist bread cooked over dung. The prophets of the Old Testament used their words and their circumstances to compel repentance from their Jewish brethren.
Isaiah was naked in public for three years to serve as a reminder that the Jews would be marched naked from their homes into exile if they did not soon repent. His obscene behavior demanded that people take notice of him and listen to his message. Unfortunately, his tactics didn’t work and his countrymen were soon put in chains and marched naked through the streets.
Imagine what we would say today if a famous pastor like Tim Keller or Steven Furtick demanded to preach naked every Sunday until their churches repented. They’d be arrested and probably committed as soon as they walked up on stage in their birthday suit.
But it would definitely make an impression.
2. David for Treason
Passage: 1 Samuel 28:1-2
About that time the Philistines mustered their armies for another war with Israel. King Achish told David, “You and your men will be expected to join me in battle.”
“Very well!” David agreed. “Now you will see for yourself what we can do.”
Then Achish told David, “I will make you my personal bodyguard for life.”
Why did David try to fight for his country’s mortal enemies?
David’s story is one of the most challenging in the Bible. He’s called a man after God’s own heart, yet many of the stories about him involve lust, murder, treachery, debauchery, and revenge. Humanizing him is an unsettling exercise, but it’s very important to understanding the story of the Bible.
If David were born a modern American, this episode in his life would have been like him going to Syria to fight with ISIS. The Israelites and Philistines were mortal enemies with centuries of hatred between them.
Honestly, I’ve never totally understood why David sought to fight for his enemies.
David originally fled from Saul to the Philistines because Saul’s pursuit was endless, but David did not want to kill Saul. Perhaps David’s eagerness to fight beside the Philistines serves as reminder to us how it’s easy to forget our real goals in the midst of trying circumstances?
David originally meant to hide from Saul without injuring him until God could remove Saul and install David as Israel’s king. Apparently, somehow hanging out with Achish allowed David to think he could fight against Israel and still become their king later.
Regardless, God saved David from killing his brothers because the Philistines could not trust him enough to allow him to fight for them. But David tried, and was really insulted when they didn’t let him.
3. Abraham for Workplace Violence and Discrimination
Passage: Genesis 17:23-27
On that very day Abraham took his son, Ishmael, and every male in his household, including those born there and those he had bought. Then he circumcised them, cutting off their foreskins, just as God had told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and Ishmael, his son, was thirteen. Both Abraham and his son, Ishmael, were circumcised on that same day, along with all the other men and boys of the household, whether they were born there or bought as servants. All were circumcised with him.
Let’s be honest: Why did God choose circumcision as the sign of His covenant? No idea. But that’s not the part of this story that is the most surprising to me.
No, the part that most surprises me is that when Abraham comes home from that meeting with God and he tells his workers that he has to circumcise them all there’s no record of them freaking out or asking any questions.
We know all about how big Abraham’s faith was, but let’s give it up for his household believing him when Abraham said God told him to do this.
Imagine if this happened today. You show up for work on a Monday morning and your boss calls for an all staff meeting. He starts telling this story about meeting God and that God told him he had to cut off a part of your body.
What do you do?
Me – I run. But these guys all stuck around it seems. Yes, they were slaves and bound to him, but still that’s some serious faith in your master.
Regardless, Abraham would certainly be asked to take a leave of absence and be evaluated by mental health professionals if it took place in modern America.
4. Samson for Spree Killing and/or Terrorism
Passages: Judges 14:19-20
[Samson] went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he returned to his father’s home. And Samson’s wife was given to one of his companions who had attended him at the feast.
Samson said, “This time I cannot be blamed for everything I am going to do to you Philistines.” Then he went out and caught 300 foxes. He tied their tails together in pairs, and he fastened a torch to each pair of tails. Then he lit the torches and let the foxes run through the grain fields of the Philistines. He burned all their grain to the ground, including the sheaves and the uncut grain. He also destroyed their vineyards and olive groves.
As Samson arrived at Lehi, the Philistines came shouting in triumph. But the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon Samson, and he snapped the ropes on his arms as if they were burnt strands of flax, and they fell from his wrists. Then he found the jawbone of a recently killed donkey. He picked it up and killed 1,000 Philistines with it.
Mass murderer? Sounds like a super hero to me!
Why is Samson so violent?
The book of Judges is one of the most violent in the Bible. It has tent poles going through heads, swords being swallowed by stomachs, and child sacrifice. It would definitely be rated R if it were a movie.
There’s a downward spiral within the book. Each generation of Israelites becomes worse than the one before it. It’s a common to mistake to turn the Judges of Israel into heroes, but it seems the Bible is trying to show us how far Israel had wandered from their calling.
It can be tempting to turn the violence of Samson into a show of God’s strength and justice. We can look at it and think that his actions make complete sense and are justified, but if we put Samson into our world, we realize how difficult that assumption becomes to explain.
If a foreigner came into our country and destroyed our food chain while killing hundreds of Americans. If that guy claimed God’s protection and directive in those actions I’m veeerrryy skeptical that we would accept that. Much more likely is that we would call him a terrorist and then do our best to execute him.
So what’s the point?
Why did I write this article? Two main reasons.
1. To try and humanize some of the more outrageous stories in the Bible.
I grew up reading the Bible and being taught most of these stories as if they were completely normal and totally predictable. But the Bible is not something that is familiar or normal. It’s strange and full of weird stories that are really complicated.
Finding out that one of the most famous prophets of the Old Testament walked around nude for a couple of years should shock us. It should seem strange and odd. It should cause us to stop and think about our circumstances and how quick we are to judge things as being “good” or “right” and dismissing everything else.
2. To remind us that our faith should require some weird actions sometimes.
I struggle with my faith being reduced to just a part of my life instead being the foundation of my life. When I read about the things Isaiah, David, Abraham, Paul, and Peter did I often marvel at their zeal. Stories like these remind me of that quote about Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: