The Bible makes repeated reference to characters who were ‘scoundrels.’ These folk, sometimes also referred to as ‘wicked,’ or ‘worthless men,’ often did not know or serve God. Such were the sons of Eli, who made such a mockery of the things of God that he put them to death (1 Sam 2:12–25, 4:11). Then there were characters who were not explicitly referred to as scoundrels, but were scoundrels, nonetheless. Take Jezebel, for example, the wife of Ahab, who conspired with other reprobates to do dirty deeds against unsuspecting Jezreelite farmers (1 Kings 21). Not surprisingly, she too came to a bit of a sorry end; dogs carried off what was left of her, after being thrown from a window, and trampled by horses (2 Kings 9:10, 30–37). We might be forgiven for looking at some of these characters and feeling a sense of satisfaction at the justice that was metered out against them. However, before we straddle our high horses, what do we make of biblical characters who were God-fearing but still got up to no good, or made embarrassing mistakes? More importantly, what bearing does all of this have for us, when we, as believers, make a mess of things? Let’s consider a few key accounts.
We all know the story of David––a humble shepherd anointed as king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart. And then there is the sin against Bathsheba and Uriah in 2 Samuel 11 (yes, against Bathsheba, not with her––she is not culpable in the biblical text). This muddies the waters a bit. So, what do we do? Some have turned Bathsheba into a sort of Delilah to secure David’s innocence. Others glance over David’s failure and seldom tell it. Others have vilified him as an embarrassment to Israel. The truth is that David was a phenomenal leader and friend to God; David was also guilty of adultery and murder.
It is easy to feel bad for poor Thomas. Known as the one who doubted and who was not present the first time Jesus showed himself as the resurrected messiah (John 20:24–25), Thomas has often gotten quite a bad rap. While Thomas did not display moral failure like David, his insistence upon seeing and feeling before believing marks him as a character who failed to grasp something fundamental. He was, quite literally, the original doubting Thomas. Yet, in John 20, after Thomas feels the wounds of Jesus, he makes this profound statement: “My Lord and my God (v. 28)!” Did you know that Thomas is the only one of the twelve to confess that Jesus is God? We miss this, because this does not fit the characterization of a man who perpetually got it wrong. Thomas was both a doubter and confessor of profound truth.
Ananias and Sapphira:
Acts 5 tells the story of an unfortunate Christian couple, who from our vantage point, seem to have been doing something good, and still got punished for it! They were following the example of other believers, who were selling their possessions and bringing the proceeds to the apostles, so that they could distribute these resources as there was need (Acts 4:32–37). As Peter rightly pointed out, they were under no obligation to sell their property, or to bring all the proceeds for kingdom use (v. 4). Even the donation of a portion of the profit would have been commendable. Yet, even as they set about their noble task, perhaps desiring to emulate the wealthy Barnabas (4:36–37), they were tripped up by a prideful desire for recognition, claiming to have contributed everything, when they had not. This constituted a lie against the very Spirit of God, and the limp, dead bodies of the sad couple were carried out, one after the other, and buried. In this account, Ananias and Sapphira function as both givers and liars.
So, what do we do with David, Thomas, Ananias, Sapphira, and others like them? How do we preach about them and relate to them? How can we say something good about them when their terrible sins or shortcomings are staring us in the face? Firstly, when we preach, we do not proclaim biblical characters––we proclaim Christ: the only one who is truly good. Whenever we use a biblical character in our sermons, we need not be concerned if they are not squeaky clean. The biblical authors certainly were not. These characters serve to reveal something of God and his dealings with humanity. It is also important for us to have a sober evaluation of ourselves. We can associate with David the adulterer and murderer precisely because we are like him––easily derailed by our sinful passions. David’s story tells of a faithful and gracious God. Likewise, we can associate with Thomas because we, too, have demonstrated great misunderstandings of who God is, whilst occasionally understanding God profoundly. We can relate to Ananias and Saphira, because our depraved natures sometimes cause us to shipwreck even our best attempts to please God and serve his church. While some biblical characters are undeniably antagonistic, most are a strong cocktail of grace and flesh––and so are we! Instead of turning them into heroes, or vilifying them, let’s learn from them; but more importantly, let’s learn from God through them.
 Dr Hugh Goosen serves as the Ambassador of SATS. Apart from formally representing and promoting the institution, he also cares for the many like-minded ministries with which SATS has partnered over the years. He has completed all of his theological training with SATS, including a PhD in Systematic Theology in 2022. His area of interest is in Pneumatology. Hugh lives in the West of Johannesburg, with his wife, Bev, and their Frenchie, Janis.
 Dr Cornelia van Deventer obtained her PhD in New Testament from Stellenbosch University in 2018. She serves as the Coordinator of Faculty Research and Publishing at the South African Theological Seminary and the Editor of Conspectus (see here). Her research interests lie in the Gospel of John and its impact on the daily lives of its readers and hearers. Cornelia lives in Worcester with her husband, Johann, and two sons, Ezra and Amo. They also have a late son, Ilan. Cornelia serves alongside her husband, who leads Joshua Generation Church in Worcester.