Important People

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So who is the most important person in the Bible? Well, besides Him, of course — and his Son and his Spirit.

It’s a curious question really, and maybe there’s not an answer. There are definitely people highlighted more than others, though that’s not necessarily a measure of importance. Saul takes up a good chunk of chapters, but in the long run he seems to be more of an oops than important. David steps in and his branch takes over the whole story.

I don’t really even mean honored. Isaiah, for instance, resonates to our day as being a great prophet. But, in the story he’s more of an observer and color commentator. He’s vital as a narrator, but not as a player.

How about Noah? He’s important. If he didn’t have that faith which builds boats then the story suggests humanity would have been wiped out.

David and Noah are important, for the Old Testament parts. As is Moses. We can’t forget Moses. Or Abraham. Abraham is a rather vital guy for all sorts of reasons. Maybe we could throw in Paul and Peter and John for the New Testament — both because they were major players and because if not for these three we wouldn’t really have much of a New Testament. Thank God for the writers, eh?

These are people we know. So they seem especially important, and for good reasons. But I’m thinking there are others. I’m constantly struck by the character actors in the text. You know, the men and women who show up, say a line or two, and then disappear.

Take this lady, for instance:

Exodus 2:5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

We don’t hear anything about her after this story. Her whole role is covered in this brief paragraph and yet she is eminently important. She defied the law. She had mercy on someone she shouldn’t. Yet, instead of following the law, the law of her own family even, she did what was right by a baby. She raised him up because she had pity on him. Turned out that pitiful, helpless child bloomed into the savior of the Jewish people.

Why did she do it? Was the Spirit working in her, in the whole situation? We can only surmise a yes to that. If she hadn’t found Moses, or if she followed the law, Moses would have been lost to the world. That makes this Pharoah’s daughter rather important for the story.

Another story is one which has bit me for a while–the story of Joseph. Joseph was the favorite son of one the Patriarchs, Jacob. He was a guy who had dreams, and a little too much of a openness about sharing those dreams. His brothers, those who he depended on, sold him into slavery, which was in the moment a bit of kindness given their initial goal of more simply murdering him. Those who he was closest to didn’t understand him and even despised him. They abandoned him to the mercy of those who had personal care for him whatsoever. Joseph’s community abandoned him to strangers. Strangers treated him as well as could be expected.

But, he did his part and apparently even grew in his faith in God. Then he rose up and became quite an important slave, a leader among them, until he spurned his masters wife. She told lies, and Potiphar the ever-deceived, believed them. Joseph was thrown into prison for not betraying the man he depended on for his very life. Joseph was faithful and did what was right. Those he trusted to honor this faithfulness cast him out.

Likely, his sentence wasn’t specified as to a certain length of time. He was thrown into prison and there to rot. No hope. Nothing. But being who he was he did right by his situation. Yet “his feet were afflicted with fetters” and “iron entered his soul” (Ps. 105:18, literal translation). he did his part, but the weight of his crushing imprisonment did a work on him.

Throughout he seems to have maintained his faith. Otherwise he would not have been able to respond when the time came. Two men were thrown into prison with him. Rather than sharing with them his dreams, an action that got him into his first bout of trouble, he listened to their dreams. He knew how to interpret, which was a boon for one of them–the cupbearer.

“You’ll be restored,” Joseph said to him. “Remember me, won’t you?”

“Sure thing, Joe,” the cupbearer replied. “You’re my friend. We look out for each other. We’re brothers now, don’t you know? I love you, bro.”

“Thanks,” Joseph replied. When the baker was butchered and the cup bearer brought back it seemed Joseph’s intuition about the dreams was spot on. Every time the door knob turned he expected a messenger from the newly restored steward inviting him to nice servant’s post in the palace.

The cupbearer, however, found his new position to be a little more consuming, and his words of friendship to be more about the moment than about reality. Joseph was forgotten, left to rot, likely in an even deeper despair a few weeks later when he realized his discernment and insight wasn’t the ticket out of the darkness.

“I have a dream,” Pharoah said a couple years later. “I had two dreams, really. Cows and grain, thick and thin. Who among my wise people can tell me what they mean?”

“Umm,” his wise people replied. Which was more wise than making something up.

“No one?” asked Pharoah. “What good is it to have wise men if they aren’t wise. I need a drink.”

“Here you go,” the restored cupbearer says, handing him a nice frothy cup.

“Thanks,” Pharaoh replied. “At least you’re good for something, unlike the rest of these bums. And to think I almost executed you.”

“Yeah,” the cupbearer replied, suddenly remembering the fellow he met in prison. “You know, Pharaoh…”

“Yes, what is it? Quit stammering.”

“Well, there was this guy I met when I was in prison. I had a dream and he told me it meant I was going to be restored while the baker’s dream meant he was going to be killed.”

“The baker? What happened to him? I haven’t seen him around for a while.”

“He was hanged, O Mighty Pharaoh,” one of the counselor’s leaned over and said.

“Ah, right. Deserved it too,” Pharaoh replied. “When I ask for rye I don’t want pumpernickel. Now then, this fellow you met in prison interpreted your dreams correctly?”

“Yes.”

“What’s his name?”

“Uh, Joseph.”

“You don’t want him,” Potiphar, who was standing nearby, said. “He’s no good. Can’t trust him at all. Not the kind of stand up leader who would help out.”

“What do you know?” Pharaoh replied. “You can’t even run your own household. I’m gonna take advice from you? Send for this Joseph, let’s see if he can help out.”

We know from the rest of the story things worked out nicely. Joseph interpreted the dreams. Pharaoh proclaimed that the Spirit really was in this prisoner and so he should be raised to the highest rank in the land.

No word on the cupbearer after this.

But what if the cupbearer had kept his mouth shut and didn’t mention the guy he knew in prison?

The story would have turned out a good deal different. The family of Jacob likely would have starved to death because there was no food in the land. Sure, this would have meant avoiding the later slavery that sparked the Moses story but it would have also meant missing out on the stories of the Promised Land, David, and Jesus as we know him.

“Until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD kept testing Joseph. The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions, to instruct his officials at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom.” (Ps. 107:19-22)

All because the cupbearer mentioned Joseph. Which makes the cupbearer rather important really. Crucial.

All this to say that I think it interesting to see how the famous people were given a lift by these important people. These weren’t those who were close to them or otherwise would logically be the folks on whom the story depended. But that’s how God worked. Because these people did the right thing in their particular moments they participated in God’s plan of salvation.

Interesting. Even if a little inconvenient.

This is, to me, an encouragement to be a cupbearer and to expect a cupbearer. One never knows what will happen if we fulfill our roles and have others fulfill their roles for us.

One Response to “Important People”

  1. marie Says:

    Yes! Remembering a vow, a person, a friend, a promise, this IS abiding in the love of God!
    I love how you crafted this essay-story! Thank you!