August 20, 2012 - Undying Gratitude
By Scott Harrup
You’ll always hook me with a good war story. I admit to a military geek’s interest in the Bible’s battle scenes, with perhaps a little more of my personal Bible study directed toward Old Testament fields of conflict than, say, toward the Sermon on the Mount.
(A brief aside. I’m convinced the Bible’s narratives are totally interwoven. So Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” mandate in Matthew 5 in no way negates the responsibility to defeat evil aggression with “extreme prejudice” when necessary.)
Things don’t get any more intense than the last stand of King Saul and his sons against the Philistines. You can check out that narrative in the concluding verses of 1 Samuel. Chapter 31 details the death of Saul and notes that the Philistines took the bodies of Saul and his sons and displayed them in a gore-infused celebration on the wall of one of their cities.
Then, wham, out of the blue a band of men from the city of Jabesh Gilead risk everything to go into Philistine territory. They recover the bodies of their king and princes for a proper burial back home (1 Samuel 31:11-13).
The very first recorded conflict during Saul’s reign tells the rest of the story (1 Samuel 11). Young and untested, Saul did not yet enjoy full support from his people. But when an enemy army besieged the Israelite city of Jabesh Gilead, Saul proved his mettle.
The Ammonite aggressors’ cruel ultimatum to the people of Jabesh Gilead — everyone in the city had to gouge out their right eye if they were to avert annihilation. The people sent word to Saul, and he mustered the men of Israel for a surprise attack that all but annihilated the Ammonites.
Saul ruled some 40 years, yet did so for only two years with any measure of success. Spiritual decline marred the great majority of his reign. He forgot God had anointed him king, not the people. When he turned his back on God, he opened himself and his people to defeat at the hand of their enemies.
His final battle with the Philistines on Mount Gilboa reads like an undiluted tragedy, with one exception. The men of Jabesh Gilead had never forgotten Saul’s heroic rescue from 40 years earlier. Their gratitude, two generations after the fact, was still intense enough to cast aside all self-concern and drive them to preserve the royal family’s last vestige of honor.
These heroes from Jabesh Gilead speak to me of gratitude’s undying strength and of love’s tenacity. Saul, with all his faults, still held their allegiance. His many mistakes never erased what he had done for them.
We can learn much here in regard to our own expressions of gratitude and love. Too often, we allow a misunderstanding in the moment to cloud over memories of a person’s past generosity. We respond aggressively to an argument or an insult and fail to forgive and to cherish.
Whom might you need to re-evaluate in your mind and heart today? What bridges need mending in your life?
Undying gratitude is powerfully transformative. As we take the example of Jabesh Gilead to heart, we too can discover reservoirs of courage and devotion to carry light into our darkest days.
— Scott Harrup is managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Out There (sharrup.agblogger.org).