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Twelve Unlikely Heroes Study Guide: How God Commissioned Unexpected People in the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You

Twelve Unlikely Heroes Study Guide: How God Commissioned Unexpected People in the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You

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by John MacArthur

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Enoch, who never died . . .

Samson, who killed an army with a donkey's jawbone . . .

James, who grew up as the brother of the Messiah . . .

These are fascinating people whose stories are woven through history and the Bible. They show us God at work in unexpected ways and numerous cultures. They each reveal another little piece of His great plan.

But how do


Enoch, who never died . . .

Samson, who killed an army with a donkey's jawbone . . .

James, who grew up as the brother of the Messiah . . .

These are fascinating people whose stories are woven through history and the Bible. They show us God at work in unexpected ways and numerous cultures. They each reveal another little piece of His great plan.

But how do they affect my life?

If John MacArthur's Twelve Unlikely Heroes presents intimate portraits of these individuals, this study guide is the bridge between those portraits and our daily lives. Commentary and poignant questions bring the points home with unflinching candor, urging us toward a deeper walk with the One who has written all our stories.

  • REWINDlook again at important passages
  • RETHINKcheck all the angles
  • REFLECT—consider how it affects you
  • REACT—change your life

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Twelve Unlikely Heroes

The Study Guide
By John MacArthur

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2012 John MacArthur
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4002-0410-6

Chapter One

Enoch: The Man Who Walked with God

Some heroes are made in a moment. Others are defined by a lifetime. Though at times it appeared as if false teaching had swayed the entire Roman Empire, the fourth-century Christian leader Athanasius would not compromise. Enoch is rightly regarded as a hero for the same reason: he stood strong over a long period of time. The author of Hebrews summed up Enoch's legacy with these profound words, "He pleased God" (Hebrews 11:5). Amazingly, he "pleased God" not just for several decades, but for three hundred years!


In all human history, there have only been two people who never experienced physical death. Both were prophets of God; both warned the wicked of coming judgment; and both lived at a time when following the Lord was utterly unpopular.

The biblical account regarding Enoch consists of just a handful of verses found in Genesis, Hebrews, and Jude (along with mentions of his name in 1 Chronicles 1:3 and Luke 3:37). Nonetheless, there is plenty of information given about him to include his amazing history in a book of heroes. Only eight verses in Scripture provide us with the details, but even with those limits, we encounter an individual whose life was both extraordinary and exemplary. As unique as Enoch was, he still sets a pattern for us of unwavering faith and uncompromising obedience.

What spiritual characteristics come to mind when you hear the phrase "uncompromising obedience"?

If only a few sentences were used to describe your character, what would be said?

In what areas of your life do you most often deal with the temptation to ignore God's ways in favor of your ways?

What do you expect God to show you in this lesson?


Enoch's world looked very different than ours does today. But the culture in which he lived was the same—characterized by comprehensive corruption, moral decay in every way possible, and open rebellion against God. The fact that people lived for so long was both a blessing and a curse. Those who sought to live godly lives in the pre-Flood era had to struggle against sin and endure its impact over many hundreds of years. That is what makes the examples of righteous men like Enoch so compelling: he stood against the corruption of his culture and walked with God for three centuries.

Enoch's faithfulness was an effective influence on his own family. That impact is especially evident in the life of his great-grandson Noah. Though Noah was born sixty-nine years after Enoch went to heaven, Enoch's testimony would have been passed down to him through his father and grandfather.

Based on your present rate and direction of spiritual development, would it be a blessing or a curse to live a long time? Why?

Your spiritual legacy will influence generations to come. What impact do you want to have on future generations?

What steps are you taking right now to develop the kind of character that will outlive you?

Twice in four verses Scripture says Enoch walked with God. In fact, that short phrase is all Genesis 5 tells us about the character of this man. But that's enough. Enoch lived in such a way that, after 365 years in this world, his life could be accurately summarized with repeated, sublime brevity.

What thoughts come to mind when you hear "Enoch walked with God"? Will a similar statement be made about you? Why or why not?

What can we learn practically about walking with God, so that we can follow Enoch's example? Scripture, where this theme is reiterated and expanded, reveals that walking with God includes at least three component parts. It begins with forgiveness from sin, consists of faith in the Lord, and results in fruits of righteousness. Understanding these three aspects opens up the door to the rich spiritual treasure that lies behind the simple words of Genesis 5.


In order for sinful people to commune with a holy God, they must first be reconciled to Him from their alienated sinful condition. Enoch was a man who understood his own unworthiness and the need for a proper sacrifice. Enoch understood he was an undeserving sinner who needed a God-ordained substitute to bear the punishment in his place. Thus, his personal relationship with the Lord began when his sins were forgiven and he was covered by the righteousness of the Savior who would carry Enoch's sins to the cross and pay the penalty for them in full. Like all believers throughout every epoch of history, Enoch's testimony was one of salvation by grace through faith.

Describe your relationship with God. How did it begin?

Because of His infinite love, God is a lavish rewarder of those who put their faith in Him. As Paul told the Ephesians, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). He grants sinners forgiveness, clothes them in His righteousness, and creates in them a new heart. God turns former rebels into His children, giving them His Spirit, His blessings, and the promise of eternal life.

Enoch put his confidence in God's character and trusted God's will for his life. He obeyed God's commands and believed His promises. How does God's Word provide direction for your life?

Are you walking according to God's will? Explain your response.

One of the primary evidences of genuine salvation is a sincere desire, on the part of the converted, to know God intimately and obey Him fully. For this to happen, the believer must be purposeful and focused. This is an intentional and passionate pursuit. Like believers in Bible times, all Christians are called to walk in obedience, truth, and godliness. Of course, everything in society fights that effort. Secular culture is only getting worse; and the church, in many cases, has grown weak and shallow. The temptation to compromise and sin is immense and relentless.

How does your everyday life reflect the reality of your love for God?

What is your daily routine for growing in your knowledge and understanding of God and His Word? Is it producing the desired results? Why or why not?


Though we might not escape death in this life (unless we are alive when the Lord calls the church at the Rapture), we possess the same hope Enoch had. As those who have put our faith in Jesus Christ, walking with Him in full forgiveness and intimate fellowship, we can rest assured that we have received eternal life.

Review Enoch's life. How does your relationship with God compare to his?

What can you do this week to deepen your walk with the Lord?

What priorities need to be rearranged so you can better focus on your daily walk with God?

Enoch's walk with God did not end when he stepped into heaven. It became perfect! So will ours. For eternity, we will enjoy glorious fellowship with our Lord and Savior, as we worship and serve in the infinite wonder of His matchless presence.

Chapter Two

Joseph: Because God Meant It for Good

Joseph's story has been retold many times and in many ways-from dramatic productions of technicolor dreamcoats to cartoon specials featuring talking vegetables. Spiritual lessons about brotherly love, moral purity, good stewardship, and patient perseverance have all been drawn from Joseph's life. Those are helpful lessons to learn, but they are not the reason that Joseph's experiences are recorded for us in the Bible. Until we see the big picture of what God was doing through Joseph, we will inevitably miss the profound and foundational truth the account of this unlikely hero teaches us.


God had some practical life-lessons for Joseph and a plan for His chosen people-one that included sparing them from a severe seven-year famine, then bringing them to Egypt where, over the next four centuries, they would be transformed from a family into a nation to witness His glory. It was all part of God's plan to fulfill His covenant promises of a seed and salvation that would extend to the whole earth.

As New Testament believers looking back on Joseph's example, we can see the principle of Romans 8:28 fleshed out in his life: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." As Joseph himself articulated, God intended the trials of his one life for the good of his people; and though Joseph did not suffer because God was punishing him for sin, he did suffer so that God could ultimately save sinners.

Read Romans 8:28. How have some of the negative things in your life worked together for the glory of God?

Why is it hard to see bad situations as ultimately being beneficial to yourself and others?

What does God want to do through your life to deliver hope to people who do not know Him?

What opportunities do you have because of the lessons you've learned through the struggles you have faced?


The environment in which Joseph grew up was filled with family tension and strife. Conflict ran in the family. His father, Jacob, had tricked his own father, Isaac, in order to cheat his brother Esau out of the family birthright. Joseph's maternal grandfather, Laban, was also upset at Jacob for trying to sneak away from the homestead in Haran. His mother, Rachel, was in a constant jealousy war with her older sister, Leah. In a race to have more children, Leah and Rachel gave Jacob their handmaidens as concubines, which further complicated family relationships. When the family moved to Canaan, two of Joseph's half-brothers, Simeon and Levi, murdered an entire village to seek revenge for their sister, Dinah-causing deep distress for their father and strained relations with their new neighbors. Joseph's oldest brother, Reuben, even had an affair with one of his father's concubines, which Jacob later heard about. Needless to say, Joseph's home life was loaded with bad relations.

Describe your family relationships and three lessons you have learned through them.

How does your past affect your ability to serve and honor God? Does it hinder your service or does it give you a platform from which to encourage others? Explain your response.

Read Genesis 37:6–8. How would you respond to a similar message from a close relative?

Joseph descended from being the favored son to being a kidnapped slave. How did this fit with the dreams God had given him? Without warning, he had become a victim of "human trafficking." At seventeen, Joseph's whole world was flipped on its head. Betrayed by his brothers, he had the joys of home and the security of his father's love violently ripped away from him. Since we know the end of the story, we also know that while the Lord never condones evil, He does overrule it and accomplish His purpose out of it.

How is it possible for you to maintain hope in the midst of circumstances you do not understand?

Joseph was purchased by Potiphar, a member of Pharaoh's court. This opportunity allowed Joseph to be introduced to royalty and the noble customs of Egypt. Such knowledge would later prove essential. Joseph was also given a unique opportunity to develop his leadership qualities. Joseph's placement in Potiphar's house also ensured that, if he were ever found guilty of a crime, he would be sent to the same place where Pharaoh's own prisoners were confined. That, too, was part of God's divine plan.


Joseph eventually was accused of a crime he did not commit. But he was defenseless. It was his word against that of Potiphar's wife. When the master came home, it was Potiphar's slave and not Potiphar's wife who went to prison. Significantly, however, Joseph was not put to death for his alleged crimes. Normally in ancient Egypt, adultery was a capital offense. The fact that he was merely thrown in jail may indicate that even though Potiphar was angry, he knew Joseph's character and was not fully convinced of his wife's credibility. So Joseph was bound and taken captive again.

What steps are you taking to protect your character?

If you were accused of a crime you did not commit, would your character prevent you from suffering the maximum punishment? Why or why not?

Joseph eventually had the opportunity to interpret some dreams. The Genesis account makes it clear that God was the one who gave the men their dreams and Joseph the interpretation. Like Daniel centuries later, Joseph knew that he had no ability to tell the future (Daniel 2:27–30). The Lord revealed the true interpretation, so that His power might be displayed and His purposes fulfilled. The time was coming when Pharaoh would need someone who could interpret dreams. Right on cue, in the unfolding of this divinely ordained drama, the cupbearer would remember his extraordinary prison experience. God's plan for Joseph was coming together exactly as He intended.

At this point in Joseph's life, he was in prison. Yet, God was at work in his circumstances. How have difficult situations and trials that you have experienced played a part in your understanding of God's plan for your life?

If you had been in Joseph's situation, would you have maintained your confidence in God's plan? Why or why not?

Pharoah's dreams depicted a future reality—seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. If the Egyptians were to be ready for the coming catastrophe, they would have to begin storing up resources immediately. Moreover, a man with administrative skill and managerial experience would be needed to organize the collection and storage effort. God had orchestrated Joseph's past experiences and trials for this moment. In a day, Joseph's fortunes had been completely reversed. That morning, he had awakened in his prison cell. By evening, he went to sleep in the palace.

How had Joseph's past experiences prepared him for his future role in the palace? We don't know how God will use our present circumstances to accomplish His purposes. But Joseph's example underscores the reality that we can trust God, no matter our situation. Do you find it easy or difficult to trust the Lord?

What is your daily routine for growing in your knowledge and understanding of God and His Word? Is it producing the desired results? Why or why not?


During the seven years of abundance Joseph was busy organizing the collection and storage of grain in all the cities throughout Egypt. His efforts were so successful that it became impossible to keep an accurate count of all the supply. It was also during this time that Joseph got married and started a family. When the good years ended and the famine began, Joseph's diligent preparations paid off. Not only were the Egyptians themselves spared from mass starvation, but multitudes of people suffering famine in the surrounding nations came to Egypt to buy food. Joseph's foresight and careful planning saved the lives of millions of people throughout the world. In an ironic turn of divine providence, Joseph's brothers came to Egypt in order to avoid death and were rescued by the very person they had sought to kill two decades earlier. Joseph was not interested in petty revenge. His trust in God's providential power outweighed any feelings of personal animosity toward his brothers. He recognized that everything that had happened to him was part of the Lord's perfect plan.

How did Joseph overcome his anger toward his brothers? What made it possible for him to forgive them?

Who in your life do you need to forgive? What keeps you from offering forgiveness?

Though Joseph's circumstances were unique to him, his perspective is one that all believers ought to emulate. The God who superintended the events of Genesis 37-50 still sits on the throne of the universe. He was sovereign over the circumstances of Joseph's life and He is sovereign over our circumstances too. We may not always understand what is happening around us, but, like Joseph, we can rest confident in the fact that the Lord is in complete control.

Chapter Three

Miriam: The Leading Lady of the Exodus

Almost everyone has heard the story of Israel's exodus from Egypt—when God miraculously liberated His people from slavery. We all know about Moses, and even his brother Aaron; and we are familiar with their respective roles in that great deliverance. But how much do you know about their older sister Miriam? The Bible depicts her as the leading lady of the exodus. So, what was her involvement in the most important redemptive event in Old Testament history?


The Israelites lived in Egypt for 350 years before the exodus. After Joseph died, the Hebrew people flourished and multiplied greatly—going from a family of seventy to a small nation numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Over the years, the situation drastically changed. In the centuries that followed Joseph's death, "there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8).

The king's only concern regarding the Israelites was that their growing numbers posed a potential threat to his power. Thus, he told his people, "Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land" (Exodus 1:9-10). The Pharaoh conspired against the descendants of Judah, who suddenly found themselves enslaved in Egypt.


Excerpted from Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur Copyright © 2012 by John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John MacArthur has served as the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, since 1969. His ministry of expository preaching is unparalleled in its breadth and influence; in more than four decades of ministry from the same pulpit, he has preached verse by verse through the entire New Testament (and several key sections of the Old Testament). He is president of the Master’s University and Seminary and can be heard daily on the Grace to You radio broadcast (carried on hundreds of radio stations worldwide). He has authored a number of bestselling books, including The MacArthur Study Bible, The Gospel According to Jesus, Twelve Ordinary Men,and One Perfect Life.

For more details about John MacArthur and his Bible-teaching resources, contact Grace to You at 800-55-GRACE or gty.org.

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Twelve Unlikely Heroes Study Guide: How God Commissioned Unexpected People in the Bible and What He Wants to Do with You 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the usual John Mc Arthur form, this wonderful book is full of interesting facts and sidenotes. In a nutshell this book reminds us how the word of god never gets old and god is a recycler.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
John Macarthur writes yet annother great book!