It's easy to get an idea in your head about what someone is like. Overhear a comment, and your imagination assumes even worse than what was told. Then that assumption spreads to others, and you know how it works... you hate it when it happens to you, but have you ever considered that you might be doing that towards God?
The Word of God is living and active, which means it's deep. It's constantly speaking ancient truths that are also exactly what we need in each current situation. But we miss so much of it because we assume that we already know what it says. But we don't. No matter how much we dig, there's always more, and often God blows us away with deep things that were staring us in the face all along, and we never realized it.
One person in the Bible that I never thought much of, was the disciple Nathaniel. Philip, his friend, was excited that Jesus had called him to follow him. Philip ran up to Nathaniel as he sat under a fig tree and exclaimed that he had found the one that Moses had prophesied about. When Nathaniel found out it was Jesus of Nazareth, he asked, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
So right there, I didn't like the guy very much. He was just sitting around under a fig tree, and when he was called to follow Jesus, he insulted Jesus' hometown, basically stating that no prophet could come from such a worthless place. I pictured him as lazy, and rude, but somehow Jesus was merciful enough to call him to be his disciple. I have also heard it said that he must not have been much of a disciple, because the Bible never mentions him again. But this living and active Word of God has shed some new light on this little known disciple of Jesus, giving me a whole new view of him.
Fig trees were used as shade, often planted in the gardens of Jews of the Bible, for them to have a place to go and meditate on God. Nathaniel was most likely there under that tree, praying and seeking God. He was a good Jew, who earnestly wanted to see the Messiah come to save his people. We know he is a good Jew, because Nathaniel was already walking up to Jesus with Philip at his side, to meet Him for the first time. So even though he questioned Nazareth, he didn't just keep sitting under the fig tree, he got up to see if this could possibly be the Messiah. Nathaniel must have had this thought on the forefront of his mind, otherwise he wouldn't have jumped up and gone with his friend to find Jesus.
When Jesus laid eyes on Nathaniel, he said something that few realize the importance of. "Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit." That's nice, we may think. Jesus is saying that Nathaniel is a good guy, an honest guy. But the Bible doesn't quote Jesus haphazardly. There was a lot more to what He said than that. The Hebrew word for "deceit," (so I am told) is the same word as the name, "Jacob." So Jesus basically said, "Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no Jacob."
If you know the story of Jacob, who started out his life as a liar, a swindler and a deceiver, who ran for his life from his murderous brother, and had to learn the hard way how to trust God, you'll remember that one of the most transformative events in Jacob's life was when he wrestled with God. He fought and demanded a blessing - and pleased God so immensely, that God changed his name from Jacob (deceiver) to Israel (one who fights with God). So a Jacob was one who tried to force his own way to be blessed by the power of his flesh, while an Israelite, was the one who would wrestle with God to obtain God's blessings by faith, straight from His hands.
This changed all those assumptions. He was sitting under a fig tree, meditating, praying, and seeking God. When Jesus saw him approaching, He saw Israel, and not Jacob in him. Nathaniel asked how Jesus knew him, and Jesus told him that he had seen him under the fig tree. What Jesus meant was He had seen how much Nathaniel had been longing and praying for the Messiah, and Jesus was pleased with how he had been wrestling with God for that day to come. Nathaniel knew what Jesus meant, and immediately he responded with all of his heart, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God: you are the king of Israel."
None of the other disciples had seen what Nathaniel saw. No one had proclaimed that right off the bat the way Nathaniel did. He had been seeking, praying and striving in his spirit to finally find his Lord and Master, and there He was in front of him. Nathaniel didn't miss a beat to recognize his Messiah on the spot. Though it's true that you don't hear any more of Nathaniel, church historians wrote about his missionary journeys to the east, and who gave his life for the gospel, a hero of faith.
If I'd never come to learn about these underlying aspects of the story, I'd still think of him as one of the 12 that could have done better, but just didn't cut it, the lazy guy who disrespected Jesus' hometown.
How about those odd people you hear about from a distance, those weird ones that don't do what you would, who say unexpected things that startle you. They may be some of the best people for you to learn from, but more often than not, we prefer to just disregard them as not worth our time. God Himself could be one of those "odd" people who is unexpected and even seems out of line sometimes. He says shocking things and unpleasant commands, but if we don't look deeper and search Him and His words, we will easily just give up on Him and walk away.
I love Nathaniel now, (also called Bartholomew) and would love to see myself be a true Israelite, who wrestles with God. Whether or not his name got mentioned more often than others means nothing to God, who sees everything and everyone. Getting a lot of press can be a good thing, but I'd rather be noticed by Him!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding Proverbs 3:5