Discovering the Central Character of Scripture
I recently heard the story of a young girl named Trisha who decided to run away.
Her parents recently moved to the big city for a better job and, leaving everything behind, Trisha was forced from her quiet country life, friends, and farm animals (whom she considered her closest friends).
After several months of painful loss and the struggle of not fitting in or making friends, Trisha decided to leave the city and run away. Taking what little cash she could scrounge up, she found her way to the bus station, bought a ticket to the country, and didn’t look back even once at the sprawling cityscape.
That evening, her parents, full of fret and foreboding, called the police and spent hours of frantic searching for their beloved daughter.
But it was to no avail. Trisha had vanished.
Late that night, though exhausted, Trisha’s parents sat on their bed, held hands, and begged God to protect their daughter and give them a clue as to her whereabouts. With a pensive look, Trisha’s father began to think about all the wonderful things his daughter loved — all of which centered upon their small country home some 100 miles from the city. With a gasp of realization, he knew where he had to go.
Knowing Trisha’s love for their old home, Trisha’s dad raced his car down the interstate toward the quiet country town in hopes he would find his daughter.
Arriving a little past three in the morning, he found Trisha sleeping, huddled next to their old front door. How she got there from the bus station was a mystery — but he didn’t care — his daughter was found. Racing to her, he scooped her up, relieved yet emotionally spent from the search.
Hello, my name is…
In Bible study, sometimes it’s important to do what we call a “character study.” Like Trisha’s dad knowing his daughter, the more you get to know a person, the better you understand their attitude, thoughts, and behaviors.
It’s amazing to me that the majority of the Bible is narrative or biographical — stories of the lives of people.
God didn’t give us a rulebook organized by topic or a textbook full of facts and information; rather, God gave us stories. Yes, these stories are all true and they did happen, but stories nonetheless. They contain the actual experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) of people just like you or me — people who had emotions, felt pain and loss, experienced the ups and downs of life, fought temptation, and had to choose to live by faith amid sometimes impossible odds.
So as we engage in character studies in Scripture, we seek to know the real person, to understand their inner qualities, why they lived they way they did (whether positive or negative), and ultimately what we can learn about God. (See Hebrews 11 for some examples.)
More than a character…
Often, and perhaps rightly so, when someone mentions a “character study” we immediately think “person.” But in reality, a character study could be examining the life of a person but also looking at a location or a “thing.”
A person, place, or thing. Yes, we could have called this a “noun study” but it doesn’t have the same finesse.
For example, you want to do a study on the life of Melchizedek (a person), so you read Genesis 14, Psalm 110:4, and Hebrews 5–7. Or let’s say you want to study Mount Hebron and all the amazing things that happened there in Scripture (a location). Or perhaps you want to understand why over 50 chapters of Scripture are about the Tabernacle, its construction, the items within it, and the activities that were to happen there (“things”). In each example, you would be engaging in a type of character study.
The Real Person in Focus
Regardless of who or what you focus on, remember that the real person in focus is Jesus Christ. God is the central character and true “hero” of every story. As we study, we must keep God and His action central — you could say all of Scripture is one story with one main character (God) with a multitude of supporting characters — but He is the focus.
Getting started with a character study
Pray. With any kind of Bible study, we need the spiritual insight of the Author. So ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand the Word as you study. (See John 16:13–14 and 1 Corinthians 2:9–16.)
Here are six “C’s” to get you started in a character study. While I’ll be using the language for the character study of a person, these same questions can also be used for places or things.
1. Define a Character: Who (or what) are you going to study?
2. Discover the Context: What are the key passages in Scripture that you need to read (and potentially study) to understand the character? Try to set aside any assumptions or previous ideas and allow the Bible to speak for itself. Gain a big picture view of what is going on in the life of the character.
3. Discern the Circumstances: What aspects of the character’s life do you need to study to understand the character, the choices they made, and the significance of this character in Scripture? Here are some questions to consider (I encourage you to write down answers and any observations you find):
- In your own words, describe the “story” of the character.
- Where did this character live? Is the geography significant to their understanding? Does the geography change throughout their story? [Looking at maps can be helpful as you consider location, terrain, weather, etc.]
- When did this person live? What was going on in history at the time — is that significant to understand the character?
- Can you discover any cultural beliefs, attitudes, or customs that were significant to the times of the character?
- Does Scripture give any details about the person physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually?
- Do we have any recorded words from this character? If so, what can you learn about the person?
- Who did they interact with? How do they respond to others (and how do others respond to them)?
- What do we learn about the character from their actions and/or choices?
- Did the character face consequences or receive blessings from their actions or choices? If so, why?
- What conflict does the character face? Is it with others, with God, with a certain decision, or _____? How does the character handle the conflict and what can you learn from the choices they make?
- How does Scripture describe this person? If positive, why and what traits does that person have that Scripture says is good? If negative, why and what characteristics or attributes are to be avoided?
4. Determine the Characteristics: What insights, principles, characteristics, and/or attributes do you discover from this person’s life that you should seek to have or avoid?
5. Delight in Christ: All of Scripture is ultimately about the Author and His interaction with His people. What do we discover about God from studying this particular character? Do we see God’s faithfulness, goodness, patience, discipline … or any other attribute, characteristic, or aspect of His nature?
6. Decide Your Course: Don’t just end with a bunch of facts and details about a character. Practically apply principles into your own life. How can you take what you’ve learned in the study and apply it to your life? How can you press more into Christ? What needs to change in your life so that God can further shape you into a godly woman?
Put It Into Practice
In this eight-week Bible study guide, I want us to practice by studying the character Ruth in Scripture. I invite you to dive deep and join me on this exciting journey of saturating in God’s Word to know Him more. Though this guide may appear simple, it has the potential to radically change your life as you seek to grow in intimacy with Christ through His Word. Know I am praying for you and cheering you on into the endless depths of Jesus and His Word.
WEEK ONE: Discover the Context of Ruth
Read the book of Ruth several times (preferably every day this week). Write out a short description of Ruth’s life. Begin to make a list of attributes (both positive and negative) that describe the life of Ruth. Also, look up any other passages in Scripture you can find about Ruth. (For example, in the genealogy of Jesus in the book of Matthew.)
WEEK TWO: Discern the Circumstances
Continue to read the book of Ruth every day this week. What other characteristics or attributes can you add to your list from last week? Use the following questions (and those in the “Discern the Circumstances” section on page 95) to gain greater clarity on the person of Ruth.
What role does Ruth play in the Bible?
Look at the different situations in which Ruth finds herself. What can we find out about Ruth from how she responds, acts, and talks?
How do other people talk or refer to Ruth? What can that tell you about her life?
Ruth’s name seems to have a variety of possible meanings such as companion/friendship, satiated/satisfied (the idea to be refreshed by drinking one’s fill), or beauty/something worth seeing. Names in the Bible are important (often giving insight into an individual’s character). What can Ruth’s name help tell you about her life?
WEEK THREE: Develop the Character
Understanding a particular person and why they behave a certain way needs to be seen in light of the culture, circumstances, and context in which they lived. Use the following suggestions to help gain a picture that informs Ruth’s life, attitude, and behavior. Write down thoughts on how these prompts apply to or affect your understanding of Ruth.
The life of Ruth happens during the time of the Judges (Ruth 1:1). The book and time of the Judges can be summarized by Judges 17:6 and 21:25.
Moab – The land of Moab was on the East side of the Jordan River near the Dead Sea. The Moabites started by the incestuous birth of Lot’s oldest son (see Genesis 19:37) — and later became an enemy of the Israelites. Moab was considered God’s “washpot” (see Psalm 60:8) and can be used symbolically to represent “the flesh.” By extension, God forbid marriage to a Moabite. (See Deuteronomy 23:3 and 7:2–3.)
Famine (Ruth 1:1) – This is one of 13 famines mentioned in the Bible. The famine had to have been serious, lasting several years, extending over the whole land of Israel, otherwise, they would have sojourned to another part of Israel rather than leave the country. It is estimated that ten years passed before Naomi heard that the famine had ended. Ironically, Bethlehem means house of bread.
Kinsman Redeemer – “The Hebrew verb ga’al … is used over 100 times and rendered by such additional terms as ‘redeemer’ or ‘near relative.’ The Hebrew term designates a male relative who delivers or rescues (Gen. 48:16; Ex. 6:6); redeems property (Lev. 27:9–25) or person (Lev. 25:47–55); avenges the murder of a relative as a guiltless executioner (Num. 35:9–34); and receives restitution for wrong done to a relative who has since died (Num. 5:8).”
Note that the return of Naomi and Ruth to Bethlehem is at Passover (the beginning of the barley harvest, see Ruth 1:22) and the story ends at the Feast of Pentecost (the end of the barley harvest when they would thresh the grain).
WEEK FOUR: Determine, Delight, and Decide
What insights, principles, characteristics, and/or attributes do you discover from the life of Ruth that you should seek to have or avoid?
How do you see Christ in this passage? (Hint: study the concept of Kinsman Redeemer for help.) What do you learn about God, His nature, and attributes?
How can you practically apply this study into your own life? What needs to change? What do you need to give up? What do you need to do?
WEEK FIVE + SIX: Dive into a Character Study —
Take what we’ve learned so far and do your own “character study” on a location in Scripture. Make sure you look up the location on a map. What can you learn about its location, geography, weather, etc. that will give you additional insights into what happened there and its significance in Scripture? Here are some suggestions:
- Capernaum (the main city in the northern ministry of Jesus)
- Jordan River
- Valley of Jezreel
- Hebron (mountain)
WEEK SEVEN + EIGHT: Dive into a Character Study —
Take what we’ve learned so far and do your own “character study” on a “thing” in Scripture.
Here are some suggestions:
- Wheat + Tares
- Mustard Seed