We usually think of fear as a reaction to something that causes negative emotions: enclosed spaces, snakes, heights, darkness, or even public speaking. But in the Bible, the term “fear” is often used to communicate the reverence we have for God. This includes a healthy fear of disappointing Him. In today’s passage, the “terror” of the Lord motivated the Israelites to respond to Saul’s first kingly act, a call to arms to deliver the people of Jabesh Gilead from Nahash the Ammonite. Was this the fear of the Lord or something else?
The Ammonites, the descendants of Lot, were the second major power that threatened Israel in Samuel’s day. Their threat to gouge out the right eye of all the men of Jabesh was typical of Ammonite brutality (v. 2). Mutilation of this sort would have been a mark of disgrace for the people of Jabesh and probably would have impeded their ability to fight.
When Saul learned of their plight, the Spirit of God came upon him. He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent them throughout Israel with the message: “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel” (v. 7). The terror that this message produced was more than a fear of the consequences they might suffer if they disobeyed their earthly ruler. It was a fear produced by God Himself.
Their obedience to Saul’s command enabled Israel’s new king to rescue the people of Jabesh Gilead and to consolidate support for his reign. Saul was acclaimed, but he rightly attributed the victory to God (v. 13).
>> Do you have a healthy “fear” or reverence for God? When we have an appropriate reverence for God, we honor Him with our thoughts, our speech, and our behavior. As you go about your day today, consider how this influences your life.
Let’s pray that our lives will be guided by the fear of the Lord the way the Bible teaches it—reverence for God—and not by how the world sees fear. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10).