My Life is Good Enough Without Jesus or the Church

“My life is good enough without Jesus or the church…” I have heard this often. I’ve said it. When we say things like this we make an assumption about Christianity- that it is about living a good life or being satisfied in this life. What if I told you that the message of the Bible is nothing like this at all.

1 Samuel 11:1-15

Now Nahash the Ammonite came up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve you.”

But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “I will make it with you on this condition, that I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you, thus I will make it a reproach on all Israel.”

The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Let us alone for seven days, that we may send messengers throughout the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to deliver us, we will come out to you.”

Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and spoke these words in the hearing of the people, and all the people lifted up their voices and wept. Now behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen, and he said, “What is the matter with the people that they weep?” So they related to him the words of the men of Jabesh.

Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and he became very angry. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.” Then the dread of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out as one man.

He numbered them in Bezek; and the sons of Israel were 300,000, and the men of Judah 30,000. They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’ ” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.

Then the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.”

The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.”

But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished deliverance in Israel.”

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come and let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there.”

So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they also offered sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

The Ammonite threat (v. 1-4)

Now Nahash the Ammonite came up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve you.”
But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “I will make it with you on this condition, that I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you, thus I will make it a reproach on all Israel.”
The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Let us alone for seven days, that we may send messengers throughout the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to deliver us, we will come out to you.”
Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and spoke these words in the hearing of the people, and all the people lifted up their voices and wept.

In the previous passage, we discovered the possibility that the king’s confirmation would be a battle in which he proves himself as king. We remember that there was what seemed to us to be this anticlimactic event. Saul was anointed and appointed king. The people were chanting, “Long live the king!” Then, all of a sudden, the party stoped and everyone simply went home… including Saul. The text seemed to indicate that Saul went back to doing the things that he had always done. He got back into his routine. Well, here’s the conflict brewing. The Ammonites come up to besiege Jabesh-gilead for whatever reason, and Jabesh is not prepared to deal with the conflict.

Nahash, who later maintains a friendship with King David (2 Samuel 10:2), is currently a public enemy of Israel. Jabesh first asks for mercy by imploring Nahash to enter into a covenant with the people. Nahash is only willing if every Jabeshite’s right eye is gouged out. This is a sign of humiliation. We see this in the second half of verse 2. It would be a symbol among one tribe that all of Israel is humiliated.

So, the elders of Jabesh ask the Ammonites to let them send messengers so they can get reinforcements and the Ammonites agree. If reinforcements don’t come, Jabesh surrenders and the Ammonites don’t lose any soldiers. It’s an easy win and Nahash might humiliate all of Israel in a way that is even more disgraceful. Israel is a loose connection of tribes at best. None of the other tribes are prepared either, not after the nation lost at least 34,000 warriors in chapter 4. Israel is still broken and splintered, though enough time has probably passed since chapter 4 that there is a new generation of young men.

These messengers arrive in Saul’s homeland and share this urgent distress call. The people lifted up their voices and wept. The people of Gibeah were also not prepared. They were helpless. The battle was already lost. Even though it would be the Jabeshites who endured the physical pain and subjection under the Ammonites, all of Israel would be in a state of perpetual humiliation. This humiliation would be similar to the loss of God’s ark in chapter 4. In chapter 4, Eli’s sons were corrupt and so God defeated Israel before the Philistines. Here, Samuel’s sons are corrupt (8:3) and it seems as though God is going to defeat Israel before Nahash.

The Holy Spirit empowers Saul (v. 5-11)

Now behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen, and he said, “What is the matter with the people that they weep?” So they related to him the words of the men of Jabesh.

Here, it is confirmed that Saul did, indeed, go back to his routine. In chapter 10, verse 16, Saul kept what God had said and what God had done by the movement of His Holy Spirit a secret. In chapter 10, verse 22, Saul was hiding from God and from all of Israel so that he might not be publicly appointed as king. Here we see that Saul, even though he has been publicly appointed, is not preparing for his new office. In fact, it doesn’t even seem like Saul has a handle on what exactly he should be preparing for as king, though it has ben described for us (cf. 9:16). Instead, he is farming.

Saul arrives from the field and sees everyone weeping. The people relay the message from the Jabeshites.

Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and he became very angry. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.” Then the dread of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out as one man.

This is the second time we see the Holy Spirit come upon Saul and move him, changing him into another man. The first time was at Bethel (10:6, 10) when the Holy Spirit changed Saul into another man causing him to sing with the singing prophets. Now, we see the Holy Spirit supernaturally empowering Saul for action. Saul is not prepared. He does not know what he is doing. He has not been trained for this. Yet, by the effectual work of the Holy Spirit, Saul seems to know exactly what needs to be done. By the Holy Spirit, Saul seems to have this supernatural knowledge. By the Holy Spirit, he is filled with this righteous indignation. By the Holy Spirit, he is, all of a sudden, motivated to take action instead of hide away. Who ever said that the Holy Spirit isn’t really working that much in the Old Testament?

Not only does the Holy Spirit enable the people of God to sing in a way that is Biblical and according to God’s preferences, not their own, but He also empowers the people of God for service according to God’s own will- even moving the people of God to feel the way that God feels. The Holy Spirit moves Saul to righteous indignation against the Ammonites. Saul unexpectedly turns and dashes his own oxen to pieces, sending the pieces out as a warning to the Israelites. If you do not come out to face the Ammonites in battle, your oxen, your livelihood, will be dashed to pieces as well.

The Israelites do not respond by fearing Saul. The dread of Yahweh (God) falls upon them. Saul is not playing around. Things get very serious very quickly. All of Israel comes out as one man united under one king.The text identifies this explicitly and wholly as the work of the Holy Spirit. Saul would not have been able to accomplish this. Such is the case with every revival in every community. So, we submit ourselves to the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, that the fear of God might fall upon the people by the working of the Holy Spirit. Without a healthy fear of God, people will only be concerned about their preferences, hearing what they want to hear and being where they want to be. Two generations after this, Solomon will write, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).

He numbered them in Bezek; and the sons of Israel were 300,000, and the men of Judah 30,000. They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’ ” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.
Then the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.”

The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

The Holy Spirit had amassed a great army under Saul numbering 330,000 (probably a round number). The messengers take this news to the Jabeshites. The Jabeshites insure the Ammonites that they will come out when it is time.

God’s army arrives before the time. Saul leads the nation of Israel in a six-ish hour battle (from the morning watch until the heat of the day) against the Ammonites, and the slaughter against Nahash is so great that no two Ammonites remain together. The Israelites have been delivered. We are reminded of the Holy Spirit’s work throughout Scripture. The Holy Spirit is the member of the Godhead who is always doing the effectual work according to the will of the Father and the revelation of Christ.

The Spirit of God comes on Saul, and the meek man who hid in the previous chapter becomes the voice of power in defense of God’s people. Do you ever wonder why God uses those who are weak? His power is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). When we recognize just how weak, depraved, and unrighteous we are, we are being formed by God to make evident God’s perfect power. That must be the power on display, not any power that I presume to have.

A holy roar (v. 12-15)

Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.”
But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished deliverance in Israel.”

Referring to the wicked men, the sons of Belial from chapter 10 and verse 27, the people of Israel want to punish them by putting them to death. Saul instructs otherwise. His reason is that Yahweh has accomplished deliverance in Israel. Even Saul recognized that this was not his work. It was the effectual working of the Holy Spirit in and through the people of God beginning with the fear of God.

God’s servants will always have enemies. They must, by God’s mercy, maintain a sober mind- seeking even the good of their enemies because that is what God has done for us in Christ. Even the Philistines had about 700 years through their history to repent before God. What a testimony of grace!

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come and let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there.”
So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. 

Samuel instructs the people to come and renew the kingdom. Renewing the kingdom means reuniting the tribes after they were splintered in chapter 4 and doing so under a single king. This kingly office is another picture of Christ in the Old Testament, a living parable or pictorial prophecy. This is the Gospel. God defeats us in our self-righteousness (or unrighteousness) and establishes His people in His everlasting kingdom under King Jesus. That is the purpose of God’s Law, remember? Under the Law we sin. Our sin proves our unrighteousness. We realize that we cannot merit salvation and that we fall short of God’s glory. God breaks us. He defeats us. Then, He delivers his people from sin and shame by His grace and mercy alone, clothes us in the righteousness of Christ alone, and establishes us forever in His everlasting kingdom. It is the effectual working of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes all this.

I know, in my own life, I was so convinced that my life was, or would be, good enough without Jesus and without the church; and I grew up in church. I was a good person. I had friends. I did well in school. I had a few girlfriends. I had a great family for the most part. I was multi-talented. I had fun doing whatever it was that I was doing. I was ignorant of my real need for a savior because I had a good life. I wasn’t aware of anything that I needed to be saved from. Since I thought Christianity was about being a good person and living a good life, I didn’t need it. I was already a good person and living a good life without the complexity of religion. I didn’t need that kind of crutch because I wasn’t struggling or suffering. Much like what we see with Saul, here, the Holy Spirit flipped a switch in my heart and mind. All at once, I recognized who God is. The fear of God fell on me, and I realized that true Christianity was not about trying to be a good person or live a good life. It is about submission to king Jesus by the working of the Holy Spirit to the glory of the Father. Jesus is king.

There they also offered sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

Yahweh (God) is explicitly responsible, again, for delivering Israel. The response of the people, again, is proper praise to God. Like Elkanah and the men going up to the high place at Bethel, the Israelites offer peace offerings before the Lord. In the midst of this praise, Saul and all the men rejoiced greatly. This was a holy roar, a choir of warriors singing to God in the likeness of the prophetic singers we read about in chapter 10. When we are submitted to God by the working of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring of God’s work is a holy, passionate, roar. Here, we see it in this congregation of men.

Why is our praise often characterized by a lack of zeal or passion? Why isn’t there great rejoicing? Why are we afraid to clap and raise our hands? Why don’t we bring our tambourines and rattles? Why don’t we hear a holy, celebratory, roar in most churches? Why are the men so resistant to utter this deep, holy warrior roar? The same Holy Spirit who works out victory in Christ also works out victorious praise in the lives of God’s people. In this text, Saul’s song from chapter 10 becomes the song of Israel before God according to God’s preferences by the working of the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!

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