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Biblical heroes are easy to admire and we should strive to emulate their good example. But there are also important lessons to be learned by studying the mistakes and lack of judgement of some of the ‘villains’ described in the Bible.
Eight of the Ten Commandments define God’s law by listing wrong actions and thinking to avoid. Learning what to steer clear of helps us to live a better life, and lessons from the Bible’s villains can help us to learn how God’s law applies. We can extract good lessons from bad examples.
Rehoboam, the son of Solomon initially ruled over the united kingdom of Israel in the north and Judah in the south (1 Kings 12). But when he came to power the northern 10 tribes of Israel were already restless and on the verge of seceding.
Rehoboam unwisely took the advice of his peers instead of listening to the more experienced older advisors. He raised taxes, and the northern kingdom of Israel split away from the southern kingdom of Judah, resulting in the king losing far more income than all his taxes could have ever gained him. He chose poorly, and everyone suffered because of it.
The lesson to be learned from Rehoboam’s experience is to seek a multitude of counsel (Proverbs 11:14) when making important decisions, and to ask God for discernment.
Queen Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel was the daughter of the king of the Phoenician city-state of Sidon and a priestess of the false god Baal (1 Kings 16:29-33). She influenced Ahab to worship Baal, which often required human sacrifice, rather than the true God.
She also had the true prophets of Israel murdered, and called for the assassination of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:13; 19:2), fighting against the true worship of God whenever she could.
Jezebel was finally killed by being thrown from a window and eaten by dogs after years of corrupting Israel and the king.
The lesson from her example is don’t trust in false gods of your own making—wealth, authority, weapons, position, etc.—in place of God. If we look to anything other than God for strength, it will ultimately fail.
But what about someone who was both villain and hero? There is also a biblical example of a man who was a villain, who became a biblical hero teaching the truth of God for the rest of his life. His name was Saul of Tarsus, also known as the apostle Paul. He was initially a fanatical pharisee who saw the teachings of Jesus as blasphemy and all Christians as heretics. Saul would track them down and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law—resulting in their imprisonment and sometimes death. He even took part in the death of Stephen “And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58), while they threw rocks at Stephen until he was bludgeoned to death.
Eventually God intervened and struck Paul down when he was travelling to Damascus. Blind and helpless, Saul finally realised he was wrong and the futility of fighting against God. After his spiritual conversion, he went on to preach the truth with the same vigor with which he had previously fought against it (Acts 9).
The lesson: When we realise we are wrong, we need to humble ourselves and make the 180 degree turnaround to do what’s right. Saul the persecutor became Paul the faithful.
Good News Magazine