It is precisely out of the darkest of times when someone steps forward to attempt the heroic that the courage of one lifts the hearts of the many. Courage! Every age, including this one, needs men and women of courage who will be sold out to certain convictions that drive them to act, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives, but because it is the right thing to do. That is courage, and in itself, it is victory.
Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 11:11-13
But when the people of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their mighty warriors traveled through the night to Beth-shan and took the bodies of Saul and his sons down from the wall. They brought them to Jabesh, where they burned the bodies. Then they took their bones and buried them beneath the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.
Courage! Nelson Mandela, a man of remarkable courage himself, wrote, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Perhaps Mandela was describing the brave warriors of Jabesh-gilead.
We don’t know their names. We don’t know anything about them really. But the one thing we do know is what will cause them to admired as men for the ages: they were courageous. Risking all that they possessed—their homes, their families, their very lives—to invade the much larger and more powerful Philistine territory, they put their sacred honor on the line to honor God. They mustered the courage to rescue the abused bodies of King Saul and his sons, marching through the night straight into the enemy-occupied city of Beth-shan and through whatever resistance the Philistine guard may have mounted. Once they had retrieved them, they gave King Saul, Jonathan and the other brothers a proper burial. Moreover, they secured a moral victory in an otherwise dark time for the nation of Israel.
There is not much to cheer in 1 Samuel 31, just this courageous act. Israel is at a low ebb, and the prospects for brighter days is exceedingly dim. There has been no coronation of David as Israel’s new king yet—in fact, that is several years off. Furthermore, at this point, as far as anyone might know, David has sided with the Philistines. This is a dark time indeed for God’s people. But that is what makes what the warriors of Jabesh-gilead did so much more spectacular. It is precisely out of the darkest of times when someone steps forward to attempt the heroic that the courage of one lifts the hearts of the many.
Courage! Every age, including this one, needs men and women of courage. I want to be one, how about you? But where does it come from? Like the men of Jabesh-Gilead, it arise from three intertwined sources:
- Principle: They were sold out to certain convictions that drove them to act. N.D. Wilson wrote, “Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.” It was the right thing to do, so they did it.
- Compassion: They cared deeply for what had been done to the people of Israel; they cared out of deep loyalty the royal family, and they cared deeply about the reputation of God. As Lao Tzu said, “From caring comes courage.”
- Anger: They were mad. They were morally offended. Their sense of godly pride had been challenged, and they had to respond. Much of the sacrifice to achieve a worthy cause comes from righteous indignation, and the men of Jabesh-gilead were that, fighting mad. Eric Hoffer rightly observed, “Anger is the prelude to courage.”
Courage! To paraphrase from Cicero, people of faith must be people of courage—unassailable principle, deep concern, and righteous indignation. May that be true of you and me.