Who are the most significant Old Testament people?
There are hundreds of named men and women in the Old Testament. Merely to list all of their names would fill many pages and be of little profit.
Here are the 100 most significant Old Testament people, based not on what I think or who I like, but on how many chapters are devoted to their lives. You will meet peasants and princes, queens and harlots, shepherds and soldiers.
I have identified each with a short description and a Bible reference. This doesn’t mean the reference cited is the only place this person is mentioned. Keep in mind that these are in alphabetical order, not in either chronological order or in the order in which they appear in the Hebrew Scriptures.
- Aaron Brother of Moses and Israel’s first high priest.
- Abner The general of King Saul‘s army, treacherously killed by David‘s general, Joab.
- Adebnego One of Daniel‘s three friends who were thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship the golden image ofNebuchadnezzar. “Abednego” is the Babylonian name assigned to him by his captors. His Hebrew name is Azariah.
- Abimelech One of the “Judges” of Israel who for a short time ruled as a king.
- Abraham The man whose life of faith and covenant with God established the nation of Israel, his descendants, as the people of God.
- AbsalomThe son of King David whose bitterness at how his father treated him led him to usurp his father’s throne. David’s generalÂ Joabkilled Absalom to end the rebellion.
- Adam The first human being, created out of the dust of the ground. His wife’s name was Eve.
- Adonijah A son of David and half-brother of Solomon who tried to steal the throne during David’s declining years.
- Ahab Powerful king of Israel (though in fact he only ruled over the northern 10 tribes). As a result of marrying Jezebel, Ahab introduced his kingdom to Baal worship.
- Ahasuerus King of the Persian empire and husband to the Jewess Esther.
- Amos Farmer-shepherd whom God call to denounce the northern nation of Israel.
- Athaliah Wicked daughter of Ahab and Jezebel who ruled over Israel until she was executed to make way for the boy-king Joash.
- Baalam Non-Israelite prophet who prophesied blessing for Israel rather than the curses he was being paid to declare. Balaam is also known for beating his donkey, who then spoke to him by God’s power.
- Bathsheba Wife of UriahÂ with whom David committed adultery before murdering her husband. Bathsheba’s second child, and the only to survive more than a few days, was Solomon.
- BelshazzarThe last ruler of the Babylon before it was conquered by the Medes and Persians. Daniel prophesied his destruction–a prediction fulfilled that very night.
- Bildad One of the three friends who visited Job and ended up discouraging him rather than comforting him.
- Boaz A godly man in an ungodly age, Boaz married Ruth of Moab and was great grandfather of King David.
- Caleb A tribal leader who, along withÂ Joshua, counseled Israel to courageously conquer the land they and the 10 unbelieving leaders had spied out.
- Cyrus As the first great leader of the Medo-Persian empire, Cyrus abruptly changed the policy of the Babylonians, allowing exiled peoples to return to their ancestral homelands. In doing this, Cyrus was unwittingly fulfilling Isaiah’s much earlier prophecy that he was actually carrying out God’s will.
- Daniel One of the Israelites taken into Babylonian exile who, because of his faithfulness to God and to the king, rose to great power and influence in both the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires.
- David Second king of Israel and famous as “the man after God’s own heart,” as a singer of psalms, and the slayer of the giant, Goliath. David’s reign and that of his son Solomon, was the time of greatest power and prosperity for the nation in ancient times.
- DariusThe first ruler of Babylon in the Medo-Persian empire, Darius the Mede appointed Daniel to be his advisor. Darius was manipulated into throwing Daniel to the lions, but was greatly relieved when God’s prophet emerged unharmed.
- Deborah As the only woman who served as a “Judge” of Israel, Deborah led the Israelites to a minitary victory over Sisera of Damascus.
- Delilah This Philistine woman deceived Samson into revealing the secret of his great strength so that she could deliver him to his enemies.
- Eli The high priest who took in Samuel when his mother Hannah dedicated him to the Lord. God punished Eli for not restraining the wickedness of his sons.
- Elihu A young man who became angry as he listened to the discourse between Job and his three friends. In contrast to the friends, Elihu believed that God imposed suffering on Job, not to punish him for sins but to prevent him from sinning.
- Elijah One of the greatest of the prophets, Elijah stood for God virtually alone during the time King Ahab and his wife Jezebel were persecuting true believers and promoting the worship of Baal.
- Eliphaz One of the three friends of Job, all of whom were convinced that God was punishing Job for his wickedness.
- Elisha The successor of Elijah as God’s prophet. Elisha sought and apparently received a double dose of Elijah’s miraculous power.
- Esau The elder brother of Jacob, who sold the birthright of firstborn to his brother and later also lost his father’s blessing to his brother. Although at the time of this second incident Esau vowed to kill Jacob, he later on was reconciled to him declaring how much God had blessed him.
- EstherA beautiful Jewess whom the Persian king Ahasuerus married and made his queen. Esther later on saved the Jews from certain destruction by exposing the plots of Haman against her uncle, Mordecai.
- EzekielProphet among the Hebrew exiles in Babylonia who saw visions of why God would destroy Jerusalem and how He would restore it.
- Ezra A righteous priest and one of the exiles who returned under the sponsorship of the Persian government. Ezra helped Nehemiah to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord.
- Eve The first woman, created from the side of the first man, Adam.
- Gideon One of the “Judges” of Israel, convinced to lead the army against the Midianites by two miracles involving a fleece and dew. At God’s prompting, Gideon reduced his large army down to 300 men, and still won the victory.
- Gomer Wife of the prophet Hosea, whom he married despite her prostitution. Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea was symbolic of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.
- Habakkuk A prophet who struggled to understand how God could punish the wicked of his nation by the Babylonians, who were even more wicked. God’s reply, to which Habakkuk complied, was simply to trust him.
- Hagar The slave of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. When Sarah remained childless after many years of trying to conceive, she gave Hagar to her husband–a practice common to the culture of that time. Hagar conceived and bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael.
- Haggai Worked closely with his fellow-prophet Zechariah to inspire the people returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile to finish rebuilding the temple of the Lord.
- HamanAn advisor to King Ahasuerus whose arrogance and pride led him to plot against Mordecai, the righteous uncle of Esther. When Esther uncovered Haman’s plot, the king ordered that he be hung on the gallows he had built to hang Modecai.
- Hannah Mother of Samuel who dedicated him to the Lord as soon as he was weaned.
- Hezekiah Righteous king of Judah who sought and received God’s deliverance from the Assyrian army, reformed the worship of God, and brought about a second golden age similar to that of David and Solomon. Hezekiah benefitted greatly from having the prophet Isaiah for an advisor.
- Hiram King of Tyre who entered into a treaty and a close personal friendship with King Solomon. Hiram supplied the cedars for the building of the temple and Solomon’s palace.
- Hosea Prophet of God who obeyed God’s command to marry the prostitute Gomer, as a living parable of God’s relationship to wayward Israel.
- Isaac Second son of Abraham but regarded as the firstborn, since he alone was son of Abraham’s wife Sarah. Isaac also entered into covenant with the Lord and prospered under His blessing.
- Isaiah Prophet of God who advised King Hezekiah and, along with Micah, inspired the nation of Judah to return to the Lord.
- Ishmael First son of Abraham, by Hagar, the slave-woman of Abraham’s wife Sarah.
- Jacob Also known as “Israel” (Prince of God), Jacob was son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, husband of LeahÂ and Rachel, and father of twelve sons, who became tribal leaders of what would be known as “The Sons of Israel.” Jacob also had a daughter named Dinah.
- Jehu The successor of Ahab as king of the northern nation of Israel. Appointed by the prophet Elijah, Jehu had Ahab’s wife, Jezebel killed, as well as all of Ahab’s sons.
- Jephtha A judge of Israel who delivered the nation from the oppression of the Ammonites (Judges 10 – 11). Jephthah foolishly vowed that if the Lord gave him the victory, he would sacrifice whatever came out to greet him upon his return home. Little did he know that it would be his only daughter (Judges 11:30-40).
- Jeremiah Called by God when very young and serving as a prophet for many years, denouncing Judah for its sin and predicting its fall to the Babylonians and a 70-year exile. Jeremiah lived to see his prediction fulfilled when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
- Jeshua High priest for the Israelites allowed by Cyrus to return to Jerusalem. Along with Zerubbabel, Jeshua led the people to complete the reconstruction of the Lord’s temple, in response to the prophetic ministry of Zechariah.
- Jezebel Princess of Sidon who married Ahab and led the northern nation of Israel into the practice of Baal worship. Jezebel tried to kill off all of the faithful prophets of the Lord, including Elijah. Among her other sins, Jezebel ordered the murder of Naboth in order to sieze his vineyard. She was killed at the order of Jehu.
- Joab The nephew of David who served as the general of David’s army once David became king. Joab was a treacherous and violent man who nevertheless was fiercely loyal to David.
- Joash A righteous king of Judah contemporary with Jehu, king of Israel. Joash became king when he was only six years old, having survived the wrath of Queen Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Among his other righteous deeds, Joash repaired the temple of the Lord. He was assassinated at age 22.
- Job (pronounced “jobe”). A righteous man whose severe trials and enduring faith are the subject of the book that bears his name. The book is a series of dialogues between Job and his friends regarding the cause of his suffering.
- Joel A prophet the Lord sent to the northern nation of Israel, calling them to repentance on the occasion of a locust plague that happened during a drought. Joel describes the spiritual renewal that awaits those who heed his call.
- Jonah A prophet the Lord sent to warn Nineveh that the city was about to suffer destruction. Jonah tried to run from God but eventually delivered the message, prompting the city to respond in fear and repentance. Jonah was angry that the Lord spared the penitent Ninevites and received a rebuke from the Lord in the form of an object lesson.
- Jonathan As son of Saul, Jonathan was prince of Israel and should have been next in line for the throne. But the Lord had chosen David as Saul’s successor, and Jonathan, who was David’s best friend, was willing for David to assume the throne in his place. Jonathan lost his life in a battle against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa.
- Joseph As the favorite son of his father Jacob, Joseph provoked the jealousy of his 10 older brothers, who sold him into slavery. God blessed Joseph, however, so that he eventually rose to become the ruler of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. From this position of authority, Joseph was able to save his entire family from a famine after he had demonstrated to his brothers that he had forgiven them.
- Joshua The assistant of Moses who after the Lawgiver’s death, became his successor and led the Israelites in their conquest of the land of Canaan. The book of Joshua relates the history of his life.
- Josiah A righteous king of Judah who led important religious reforms. Unfortunately, Josiah lost his life in a battle near Megiddo against Pharaoh Neco.
- Judah One of the sons of Jacob whose descendants became one of the most populous tribes of Israel. Judah’s was the tribe of both David and Jesus.
- Laban Brother of Rebekah and father of Leah and Rachel, Laban
- Leah Wife of Jacob, sister of Rachel, and daughter of Laban, Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, during whose childbirth she died. Rachel was her husband’s favorite wife.
- Lot Nephew of Abraham whom Abraham had to rescue from being a prisoner of war. After barely escaping from the destruction of Sodom, Lot fathered a son by each of his two daughters after they got him drunk on two successive nights. The descendants of the two boys became the nations known as the Moabites and the Ammonites.
- Malachi Prophesied during the period after the return from Babylonian exile. Malachi predicted the coming of both John the Baptizer and Jesus.
- Manasseh Succeeded his father, righteous Hezekiah, to the throne of Judah, Manasseh was one of the most wicked, responsible, according to tradition, for stuffing the prophet Isaiah into a hollow log and then sawing the log in half. After being punished by the Lord by going into exile, Manasseh turned back to the Lord at the end of his life.
- Meshach One of the three friends of Daniel who refused to bow to the image of Nebuchadnezzar and were thrown into a fiery furnace. The Lord rescued the three from martyrdom as a testimony to Nebuchadnezzar of His greatness. “Meshach” is the name the Babylonians assigned to him; his Hebrew name was Mishael.
- Micah A prophet of the Lord who prophesied to the nation of Judah. Micah was an older contemporary of the prophet Isaiah.
- Michal Daughter of Saul given in marriage to David. When David fled from the wrath of Saul, Michal’s father gave her in marriage to another, who was forced to return her to David when David became king. Later on in their marriage, Michal came to despise her husband. She died childless.
- Miriam Sister of Moses and Aaron and a prophetess. Miriam led the women in their song of rejoicing after the Lord drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea (Exod. 15:20-21). Miriam was temporarily struck with leprosy as punishment for joining with Aaron in questioning Moses’ unique authority (Num. 12:1-15).
- Mordecai Uncle of Esther who raised her as his own daughter. Mordecai enjoyed a position of favor in the court of Ahasuerus after exposing a plot against the Persian ruler. Esther rescued him from a plot against his life by wicked Haman
- Moses Used by God to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Among the men of the Old Testament Moses was unequaled as a prophet and the lawgiver for the Israelites. His life is recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. He is believed to be the author of Genesis, and Psalm 90 is also ascribed to him.
- Naaman Syrian military leader who sought a healing of his leprosy from the prophet Elisha. The Lord healed his leprosy after he dipped seven times in the Jordan River, as Elisha directed him.
- Naomi The mother-in-law of Ruth, who brought the young widow with her when she returned to Bethlehem from Moab after the death of her husband and both of her sons. It was Naomi who advised Ruth to seek protection from Boaz, resulting in Ruth’s eventual marriage to the rich kinsman.
- Nahum A prophet of the Lord who predicted the fall of Nineveh. His predictions were fulfilled in 612 B.C. when the Babylonians conquered the Assyrian capital.
- Nathan Faithful prophet of the Lord who served as David’s trusted spiritual advisor. Nathan had the honor of announcing to David that his dynasty would last forever (2 Sam. 7), a prophecy ultimately fulfilled in the eternal reign of Jesus Christ. To Nathan also fell the unpleasant task of confronting David with his sin of adultery and murder and announcing that his infant child would die (2 Sam. 12).
- Nebuchadnezzar King of the Neo-Babylonian empire, who deported nobles from Judah, including Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, better known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. A few years later, in 586 B.C., the Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem, captured it, and destroyed it. Nebuchadnezzar recognized the potential of the young Hebrews and promoted them to leadership positions in his kingdom.
- Nehemiah Cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes and appointed by him to be governor of the exiles returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city. Against strong opposition, Nehemiah led his people to rebuild the walls of the city and helped Ezra in turning the people’s hearts toward the Lord.
- Noah A man who found grace from the Lord in a desperately wicked generation and built the ark that rescued from the Great Flood his entire family and representatives of all of the land animals then living upon the earth. Upon leaving the ark, Noah entered into a covenant with the Lord and received from Him gracious promises, including the promise never again to destroy all life by a flood.
- Obadiah A prophet the Lord used to denounced the Edomites for celebrating the fall of the Israelites and even cutting down their refugees. Obadiah’s predictions that Edom would be utterly destroyed were fulfilled.
- Rachel The wife whom the patriarch Jacob loved more than his other wife, her older sister Leah, and who gave birth to Jacob’s two favorite sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Benjamin became the head of one of the tribes of Israel, almost wiped out in a war against the other tribes.
- Rahab A prostitute of the pagan city of Jericho at the time the Israelites were about to invade. Rahab hid the Israelite spies in exchange for their protection in the coming battle. After the spies kept their word and spared her at the fall of the city, she married an Israelite, becoming one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ.
- Rebekah Wife of Isaac chosen by Abraham’s servant because of her willingness to serve him by drawing water for him from a well and watering his camels. Rebekah was the daughter of Nahor and the sister of Laban. When Isaac became blind in his old age, Rebekah conspired with her son Jacob to deceive him into giving Jacob the Father’s Blessing in place of his older twin, Esau, to whom it rightly belonged. When Rebekah heard Esau threaten his revenge, she sent Jacob off to her father’s people and died without ever seeing him again.
- Reuben The firstborn son of Jacob who lost his position over his brothers because of his sin with his father’s concubine. When his brothers wanted to kill their younger brother Joseph, Reuben intervened and persuaded them not to kill him. Reuben’s descendants became one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
- Ruth A woman from Moab who, after the death of her Israelite husband, firmly committed herself to attend her widowed mother-in-law,Naomi, the Israelite. After the two women returned to Bethlehem, Naomi’s home, Ruth married Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman. Their son Obed turned out to be the grandfather of king David.
- Samson An Israelite dedicated to the Lord from before he was born, who nevertheless was vain, selfish, sensual, and violent. God used him despite his sinfulness to bring deliverance to Israel from their Philistine oppressors. Samson was deceived by a Philistine woman Delilah to reveal the secret of his great strength, his long hair, uncut as a sign of his dedication to God. When Delilah cut off Samson’s hair while he slept, Samson lost his great strength and fell victim to his enemies, who put out his eyes and bound him with chains. Samson got his revenge, however, for when his hair grew back, he pulled down a Philistine temple to which he was chained, killing not only Samson, but all of the Philistines who had assembled there to mock him.
- Samuel Another Israelite dedicated to the Lord before he was born and raised as the servant of the high priest Eli. Samuel grew up serving God and after Eli’s death, became the last judge of Israel and also one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. Under the Lord’s guidance, Samuel anointed both Saul and his successor, David as the first two kings of Israel.
- Sarah Wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac. Sarah was very beautiful even as an older woman. The Lord blessed her to conceive her child after she was beyond the age of bearing children, in fact, when she was 90 years old.]
- Saul The first king of Israel and a powerful warrior who led Israel’s armies against the Philistines. Because Saul sinned against the Lord and apparently did not repent, the Lord took his kingdom away from him and gave it to David. Saul compounded his sin by trying to kill David again and again. Saul committed suicide on the battlefield after he realized the Philistines had won the battle and were about to capture him. Saul’s son, Jonathan was killed in the same battle.
- Sennacherib King of Assyria who led an invasion that swept through Syria, Israel, and Judah at the end of the eighth century B.C. Sennacherib destroyed all of the fortified cities of Judah except Jerusalem. He surrounded Jerusalem and would have destroyed it as well, had not Hezekiah prayed and received from the Lord a mighty deliverance–in one night an angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 soldiers of Sennacherib’s army. Sennacherib returned to Assyria in humiliation, where two of his own sons assassinated him. Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh has been excavated, on the walls of which he depicts the taking of Lachish, an Israelite city near Jerusalem. He boasts, “I walled up Hezekiah in his city like a bird in a cage,” but makes not mention of taking Jerusalem or of the decimation of his army.
- Shadrach One of the three friends of Daniel taken into exile by the Babylonians before they destroyed the city of Jerusalem. His Hebrew name was Hananiah. With his two friends, Mishael and Azariah, better known as Meshach and Abednego, Shadrach refused to worship the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar. Although the three of them were thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, God sent someone Nebuchadnezzar described as “someone like a son of man” to rescue them, and they escaped unharmed.
- Solomon King of Israel, succeeding his father David to the throne. At the beginning his reign, the Lord offered to give him whatever he wanted. Although quite young, Solomon asked for wisdom rather than riches or long life. In response, the Lord gave him all three, blessing his reign until he became renowned as the wisest and richest king in history. Tragically, however, his many marriages to foreign women turned his heart away from the Lord. Despite being remembered for building a glorious temple to the Lord in his capital city of Jerusalem, Solomon actually became an idolater.
- Uriah A Hittite warrior among the elite soldiers in the army of King David, whom David treacherously ordered to be exposed to the enemy in battle and killed to hide the king’s adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. The Bible has nothing but praise for this victim of a king’s lust and the subsequent, self-serving cover-up.
- Uzziah King of Judah and father of King Hezekiah. Uzziah was also known as Azariah (not the much later Azariah also called Abednego). He was a righteous king, but at the end of his reign became conceited and wrongly offered incense in the temple of the Lord. The Lord punished him with a leprosy that remained with him until his death.
- Zechariah A prophet of the Lord who, along with Haggai, persuaded the returned exiles to complete the temple they had begun four years earlier and neglected to finish while they built their own houses. Zechariah greatly encouraged the governor, Zerubbabel, that the Lord could care for the nation’s se while he devoted himself to finishing the sanctuary of God. Zechariah also encouraged the high priest, Jeshua, that the Lord Himself purified him for his duties as the spiritual leader of God’s people.
- Zephaniah A prophet of the Lord chosen from among the royal household to urge the people to return to following after the Lord.
- Zerubbabel The Persian-appointed governor of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Supported by the prophetic ministries of Zechariah and Haggai, along with the ministry of the high priest, Jeshua, Zerubbabel was able to motivate the people to complete the rebuilding of the temple of Solomon in 516 B.C.
- Zophar One of the friends of Job, who, in the guise of trying to comfort him in the loss of all of his children, his possessions, and his health, instead sought to accuse him of deserving God’s punishment because of some hidden sin. Eventually the Lord vindicated Job and prompted him to pray for his three friends.
Want to go deeper?
The following are recommended to help you look deeper into the people of the Old Testament.
Recommended for purchase:
Herbert Lockyer. All the Men & All the Women of the Bible (2006) provides short summary of each named person in the Old and New Testaments.
John Phillips. Exploring People of the Old Testament: Vol. 1 (2006) | Vol. 2Â (2006) | Vol. 3 (2007) by the writer of the John Phillips Commentary Series
David Mandel. The Complete Who’s Who in the Bible: From Aaron to Zurishaddat (2004)
Old Testament Character List includes link to more detailed studies for several of the 22 on the list.
Bible Class Study: Characters of the Old Testament 13 lessons on some of most important men of Old Testament in study-it-yourself, question-and-apply format.
Many thanks to brother Steve Singleton, for allowing me to post from his website, deeperstudy.com