I couldn’t help rolling my eyes as I slumped in my seat in the church pew.
Another day, another sermon on social justice. I was getting sick of them. They all sounded the same. They all made my stomach hurt. They all filled me with indignance, as if the pastor was putting the blame for all the world’s ills on my head.
Why are you yelling at me about economic inequalities and unjust policing? My mind protested. Yell at the government. Shouldn’t Christians be focused on getting out of this world, not putting wallpaper on its walls to make it a cozier home?
We can’t save the world that way. So why try?
A sudden war
You know who didn’t waste time mulling over those kinds of questions? You’ll never guess.
Last time we saw Saul in 1 Samuel 10, he was being kind of a wimp.
He was hiding from responsibility. He was shrinking back from the task God had given him.
And when we meet Saul again in 1 Samuel 11, he’s kind of doing the same thing. He’s not taking charge. He’s not leading the people.
He’s working in the fields alone.
But someone approaches him with a message and suddenly everything changes.
The message is from a small town called Jabesh-Gilead, a town that is surrounded by a huge army of Ammonites, one of the Israelites’ many enemies.
The Ammonites are kind of like me when I see myself about to win a game of Monopoly by a landslide. It’s not as fun when it’s too easy. I like to pretend to be merciful. Waive rent on one of my monopolies. Gift a property to the other side. Let them think they have a fighting chance.
Only the people of Jabesh-Gilead knew the Ammonite king’s promise of mercy for another week wasn’t really a fighting chance. They were hanging on by a thread. They made a last-ditch effort and reached out to the new king of Israel.
No one could have guessed what Saul did next. He didn’t hide. He didn’t run away. Instead, “the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him” (verse 6).
Saul burst into action. He rallied a large army of Israelites. He gave them orders, his voice ringing with confidence. And then he led them into battle.
Saul “burned with anger” (verse 6). He stepped firmly into his role as king. And together with his army, he “slaughtered the Ammonites…so that no two of them were left together” (verse 11).
A sudden rush of love
How many times have we heard of people in danger of starvation? Threatened by poverty and insufficient education? Dying at the hands of police?
And in response we sadly shake our heads, promise to offer a prayer later, briefly think about donating some money but then assume it’s someone else’s responsibility?
This only applies at this singular specific moment in Saul’s story, but we should be more like Saul.
Saul got up off his laurels and did something because he burned with anger. And he burned with anger because these were his people. These were his brothers and sisters. These were people he loved, people he promised to protect.
And although it can be hard to summon that same kind of affection for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we know we should be the same way. God’s children are our people. We are called to love every being He has created.
And although the love we should have for others won’t lead us into warfare, it will lead us to give, to speak up, to empathize, and to sacrifice for others.
It will lead us to love through more than just words.
“I want you to seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow.”
Trust me, of all people, I am most definitely not there.
And trust me again when I say I know how easy and how detrimental it is to read these kinds of things and start creating checklists: “Okay, as long as I start donating and maybe post a few times on Facebook and call my Senator at least once, then I can feel like I’m doing this Christian thing right. Let’s go!”
No. That’s not how this works.
1 Samuel 11:6 is a key verse: “When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him…” The Spirit of God came powerfully on him. The Spirit of God.
This work, this love, this sacrifice isn’t something we do by sucking it up and gritting our teeth. If it was, maybe we would have a good reason to pat ourselves on the back at the end of it.
No, this is something the Holy Spirit makes possible when we allow Him into our hearts and lives.
If we’re not there, then we should tell God that. We should ask Him to give us His love for others, His ideas, His strength, His will to do for others.
Why would He tell us to do it without giving us every resource we need to do it? He will.
So next time we hear of injustice or suffering or pain, let’s ask God how He wants us to help.
And with God by our side, let’s go blazing in, armed with love.
What do you think? Will the efforts we make for others always be met with success, like Saul’s?