GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CHRONICLES 10:11-12
11 When all the people who lived in Jabesh Gilead heard about everything the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all their courageous men went and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons and brought them to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones under the great oak at Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days.
Saul’s funeral is told in familiar terms, but some of the details from 1 Samuel 31 are missing, but we will take the text as it stands.
The heroic men of Jabesh Gilead are highlighted. Their village was on the east side of the Jodan, near the Kerith brook where Elijah was later fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6). They went and stole back the bodies of Saul and his sons (which were hanging on the walls of Beth Shan a few miles to the northwest, on the west side of the Jordan). They treated their king’s body with respect, and those of the princes, too. “Give everyone what you owe him… if respect, then respect” (Romans 13:7).
They gave him a burial, under a big tree there in their own city. In Samuel it is called by the old and rare word “tamarisk,” but our author uses another word here that mostly means “great big tree.” Anyone coming to Jabesh would see the big tree just outside of town and know that it served as Saul’s headstone, the warrior-king brought home “with oaken garland” (Coriolanus).
They fasted for seven days. Joseph had also fasted for seven days after his father Jacob died in Egypt (Genesis 50:10). Fasting focuses the attention on the reason for the fast; it is a means of choosing a form of suffering to accompany some other suffering such as grief. But the Lord told Joel, when “you return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning, tear open heart and not just your clothes” (Joel 2:12-13). True fasting is about the attitude of the heart, of repentance and devotion to God.
The men of Jabesh remembered their king. When Nahash the Ammonite laid siege to their city forty years before, it was Saul the brand new king who gave up plowing his field. He cut up the oxen he had been plowing with into pieces and sent them around to the tribes with the message: “This is what will be done to the oxen of any man who does not follow Saul and Samuel” (1 Samuel 11:7). By the time Saul got to Bezek to blow the muster-horn, there were more than three hundred thousand men, armed and ready for battle. They marched through the night and slaughtered the Ammonite army and scattered the survivors “so that no two of them were left together” (1 Samuel 11:11). Now the children of those people of Jabesh were grown men, and they dared to march through the night to collect Saul’s corpse. The king has begun his reign by delivering them, and they delivered his body from the Philistines here at the end.
Paying respect for the dead comes naturally to many people. We grieve and we comfort one another with God’s word. We pray together, prayers of faith as to the security of the soul of the loved one, prayers for comfort on the family and friends; prayers of thanks for the blessings God gave to the deceased, and for the blessings God gave through the deceased.
There is a new fad in the Western hemisphere called a “celebration of life” ceremony. Many Christians are misled into thinking it is a kind of funeral substitute, with no melancholy grieving or somber music. This way of advertising such a ceremony is of course a lie– families usually choose all of the music for a Christian funeral, and the purpose of a funeral is to praise God for his blessings in life and his promises about the resurrection. There is joy in every part of a funeral. When a “celebration of life” ceremony is held, the family has the gospel ripped away from their grief, and they are left to consider the dead person’s life apart from Christ. This is the mad logic of the world, that wants to arrive at blessings or joy apart from God, apart from Christ, without the gospel at all.
“In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge. Let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me” (Psalm 71:1-2). We pray such words because we confess that there is sin in the world, sin in our lives, and sin in our hearts. The only solution to sin is Christ, and so we take refuge in Christ. Anything else amounts to little more than sticking one’s head in the sand. O God, deliver us! O God, save us! “Apart from you, I have no good thing.”
Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – 1 Chronicles 10:11-12 Saul’s funeral