Saul has been anointed king. Immediately, a few men follow him, but Saul returns to his farming. Something needs to happen to establish Saul’s reign and pull the people together under it. Nahosh, the Ammonite, obliges and threatens the town of Jabesh Gilead. Nahosh is so confidant of victory that he threatens to gouge out the right eye of every resident of the town. He desires to humiliate the people of the town and make them his slaves.
The people of the town have the wisdom and strength to ask for time. They use the time to send a message to their new king requesting help. Not finding Saul they tell the people of the town Nahosh’s terms and the people respond with loud weeping. Saul returns to town from plowing his fields. Seeing the weeping he asks what has happened. Once again, the Spirit of God comes on him and he burns with anger. His people have been insulted and something must be done.
Saul has not yet gathered an army and he needs to get the word out. He also needs to motivate a people who have become used to cowering in fear. There is nothing neat and tidy about his communication style. Saul’s messengers will carry with them bloody pieces of meat and the threat that the same will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not join Saul.
He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out together as one. (1 Samuel 11:7 NIV)
The fear of the Lord produces great rewards, but it is not this kind of fear that falls on the people. They are not motivated to bow down and worship in reverence and awe. Instead, they anticipate that God’s power will be used to punish them if they do not submit to Saul’s call. Several translations use the word dread instead of terror. The people now have a choice. This is a classic fight or flight situation and they choose to fight. Fear of a common threat pulls them together in a good way and they are victorious.
What about us?
We have become so powerful and wealthy that very few things terrify us. We go to scary movies for fun. Over 4 million people have died so far in the COVID pandemic and people persist in thinking it is no worse than the flu. Instead of pulling us together to protect one another and help one another we have become more bitterly divided as a nation.
I wonder what it would take to pull us together. More importantly, I wonder what it would take to bring us to our knees before God. I think we are very much like Israel in the time of Saul. We need a powerful external force to threaten all of us that our money and technology cannot make go away. Natural disasters are momentary reminders, but they are local and only impact a few of us.
It may be that only Jesus’ return will get everyone’s attention and that will be too late. I pray that fear of the Lord will drive us to our knees before it is too late. Our situation is not hopeless. Being in the United States distorts our perspective. As I read about the church in other parts of the world I’m encouraged by the strength and courage that Christians are demonstrating in the face of persecution.