"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4)
While writing to the church about the proper handling of liberties, Paul encouraged his readers to develop a lot of dead friends. What I mean is, he thought the endurance required for the Christian life requires a relationship with the characters of the Old Testament. He saw the pages of his Bible as a limitless source of encouragement for the modern life of faith. It "was written for our instruction," he said, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
Whenever I teach believers about a character from God's word, my hope is for that character to become an everlasting friend to my hearer. I want the congregation to draw upon the people of Scripture, and their faith and failures, for modern life. Here, Paul had precisely the same goal. He wanted, especially in the context of how to treat one another, the believers in Rome to consider the Scriptures, to allow those Old Testament friends to become a rich source of encouragement for the rigors of life today.
Here are some friends of mine...
Noah: Life Of Faith
As a pastor, writer, and father, Noah's life speaks to me on a million levels. For one, he was tasked by God with a job that seemingly never ended. I mean, it did end, but it took a long time to complete the work. People talk of working on the important, rather than the urgent, but Noah walked out that concept. For decades, he built that ark. Rain wasn't even a thing yet. But he trusted in God's word and created something in preparation for a future time. I love his life of faith. He had endurance, an I-gotta-keep-going-ness that I admire. I want this Noahic faith to fill my work as a pastor and writer, but also as a man of God as I build into my wife and children.
Abraham: Trust God
Abraham is the great father of faith, and you don't get a title like that just sitting on your butt your whole life. No, this guy heard wild and massive promises from God and actually believed them! He stood up, packed up, and moved out in faith. His faith was not always a perfect one -- he moved only so far and feared quite often -- but it was a faith God loved. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6). God made a covenant with this man, and his entire network of relationships and all nations were forever altered. When I look at Abraham, a guy who went out "not knowing where he was going," but sure in the God he followed, I become motivated to step out in faith with my Lord.
Moses: Know God
Moses was a thousand things. A Hebrew, but raised as the prince of Egypt, he thought himself, in his younger years, Israel's logical freedom fighter. He needed a time fo humbling, however, and was sent into the wilderness until he was eighty years old. I don't know everything that went on in his heart during those wilderness years, but I'm sure his confidence in God's plan for his life waned. But when the bush burned and didn't, he took off his sandals and heard the voice of the Lord calling him, speaking to his heart. He went on to deliver Israel from captivity, bring them out of Egypt, and receive the law of God for this new nation, but that moment at the burning bush became emblematic of his entire life. He always sought -- and knew -- God. He talked to God as a man speaks to his friend. When I read of Moses' life, I am compelled to press into the great access I have been given to God by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Joshua: Victories With God
Joshua, Moses' eventual replacement, was a man of victory and might. He took Israel where Moses couldn't, into the Promised Land. There, a fight awaited them, so Joshua expressed his faith in God by leading the charge. It was God's judgment on the people of the land, for one, but also a way for his people to demonstrate their faith in God. Would they fight? Or would they, like their ancestors before them, fear? The victories weren't perfect, but, slowly, they conquered the land and secured their future. Whenever I read the book bearing Joshua's name, I am reminded of my inner battle for personal sanctification. I want to grow. There is territory within my heart still under enemy occupation. Jesus, my Joshua, is making all things new, including my inner man. I am a new creation in Christ Jesus, and Joshua helps me fight to experience all the newness I possibly can.
Judges: Lead for Others
The time of the judges was a dark time in Israel's history, 400+ years of a repeated cycle of sin in various regions throughout the nation. Over and over they compromised with the countries around them by adopting their morality and gods, and eventually became enslaved to whatever foreign power they'd partnered with. After years or decades of servitude, they would cry out to God for deliverance, and God would respond by raising up a judge (think "hero"). These deliverers would rise up and lead an army, sometimes a tiny one, into battle. Victory, even if just for a moment, would flow. The judges weren't perfect people, paragons of faith, but God used them, and whenever I read their stories I am reminded there are people all around me in need of help. Overcoming is no easy task, and some must be rescued as though from fire, so the judges are great friends to keep me engaged in the work of helping and warning others in their quest to remain free, unenslaved by sins and philosophies around them.
Ruth: Committed To God
After reading Judges, I always need something encouraging, because in their days "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" (Judges 21:25). The general mood was one of rebellion amongst God's people, but right at that moment, in that climate, there was a bright spot named Ruth. She was a foreign to Israel, a citizen of Moab. She married an Israelite man, and he died, but she stayed in relationship with his God. Heading back to Israel with her mother-in-law, Ruth studied and learned and believed the word of God, and her faith eventually put her in the line of the Messiah-Christ. Her radical devotion and unwillingness to compromise her priority -- God -- has always moved me to a greater commitment to Christ. I love the way she keeps on pressing, even when the odds are completely stacked against her, toward God's best for her life. She would not stop and, resultantly, just kept on receiving God's grace in and on her life. I am proud to have a friend like Ruth.
David: Worship God
Though Saul reigned before him, I always consider David, Ruth's descendant, Israel's first true, great king, for he was, at the end of the day, a man after God's own heart. Though far from perfect, David loved God in his innermost being and demonstrated this by becoming the sweet psalmist of Israel. He singlehandedly gave Israel an extensive collection of heartfelt and inspired songs with which to express themselves to God. I often think of David, alone and on the run, in the wilderness of En-Gedi, singing and praying to his God. When all flesh failed him, David knew God wouldn't, and his entire life was built on that truth. My friend David is one of my besties, for there is so much God's word says about his life. I love this man and all I have learned of God through him.
Prophets: Endure for God
It isn't really fair for me to say the prophets, collectively, are my friends. I mean, they are, but each one of them deserves their own mention. But suffice it to say that the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi, pre and post-exilic, are my guys. They stood for the truth of Yahweh when it wasn't popular. These men were tough, yet they stood for God. I don't mean they were naturally rugged either, for guys like Jeremiah and Daniel seem plenty sensitive, but God gave them a moral and mental and doctrinal fortitude often lacking in believers today. I love Isaiah's long obedience in the same direction, serving God well through decades of rejection. Ezekiel's vision of not only the future New Covenant I'm living in today, but the millennial reign of Christ, move me to endure. Daniel's faithfulness and radical faith in God never cease to speak to my heart of the trustworthiness of God. I love that devotion. I crave it.
Conclusion: Stay in the Word
Time prohibits me from talking about all my Old Testament friends. Nehemiah has taught me much about leadership. Ezra motivates me to be a man who loves Scripture. Esther shows me of sacrificial love for God and the people in my life. Leah teaches me how to find my contentment in Christ alone. Haggai shows me how to spend my life for God's kingdom, not my own. Malachi points me to the hope of God's glorious new creation as found in Christ Jesus. Solomon shows me a life of wisdom, through his writings and through his folly. Hosea screams to me of the radical and unswerving love of God, even in the midst of the unloveliness of his people.
Time and time again, these friends of mine help me endure. They give me the encouragement I need to build my life upon the rock. They point me to Jesus. I can't wait to enter into glory with them, to worship our Lord together, for they have helped me press on. Will you let them help you?