GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CHRONICLES 10:7-10
7 When all the Israelites in the valley saw that the army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and began to occupy them. 8 The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They stripped Saul, took his head and his armor, and sent messengers throughout their land of Philistia to proclaim the good news among their idols and their people. 10 They put his armor in the temple of their gods and they impaled his head in the temple of Dagon.
The brutality of the Philistines was not much different from the brutality of anyone else. Gideon cut off the heads of the Midianite leaders Oreb and Zeeb (Judges 7:25), and in 2 Kings 10:8 we read about the heads of seventy princes in two piles at the gate of Samaria. In this case, however, we are left with a macabre joke at the hands of the Philistines. When Saul had been anointed king, everyone knew that he was a very tall man, a head taller than any other Israelites (1 Samuel 9:1; 10:23). Now, that head was gone, and he was cut down to size. But their action did more than that. They took the head and his armor and brought them to the temple of Dagon, the Philistine fish-god or merman (a male version of a mermaid). The idea was this: Your king’s armor failed, and now it hangs beneath the scales, the armor, of our fish god! His armor could not protect him against our swords, spears, arrows and javelins! And more than that: Your God has failed, and our god has triumphed! This was the message the Philistines spread all around their countryside and in the Philistine temples, “among their idols and their people.”
The Hebrew word translated “proclaimed the good news” is basar. It is exactly the same word and verb form as we see in Isaiah 61:1, “the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” In Greek, this is the word “evangelize” (εὐαγγελίσασθαι) which is to proclaim good news of some kind. What irony that they were preaching good news to their idols! It’s as if the Holy Spirit was looking ahead to all of us who know that “to evangelize” is to proclaim the good news or Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they are merely aping this to their idols to their people, because their “good news” won’t last.
- The Philistine gospel was nothing but a brief human victory over a human foe. The true Gospel is the eternal victory of Christ our King over the devil, the world, our sinful human nature, and every way that sin shows itself. “This is the victory that has overcome the world” (1 John 5:4).
- The Philistine gospel was an attempt to say that their idol had triumphed over God. The true Gospel shows that idols are nothing, and that God alone gives deliverance, victory, and true life. Jeremiah says: “Their idols cannot speak, and they must be carried because they cannot walk. They can do no harm, nor can they do any good. No one is like you, Lord. You are great and your name is powerful” (Jeremiah 10:5-6).
- The Philistine gospel tried to proclaim an end to the war with Israel. But the true Gospel proclaims an end to the war against sin. The coming of Christ was “to end rebellion, to finish sin, to atone for guilt and to bring everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 9:24).
- The Philistine gospel was to proclaim the death of Saul. The name Saul and the word “sheol” (grave) are spelled with the same letters. The true Gospel proclaims victory over the grave and life everlasting. “God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself” (Psalm 49:15).
- The Philistine gospel included hanging the body of the king on the walls of their city of Beth Shan (1 Samuel 31:12). Beth Shan means “House of Rest.” The true Gospel is the message of the crucifixion of the King’s body on the cross of Golgotha outside the city of Jerusalem, where Christ brought true and eternal rest to all who believe in him. The Lord said, “I will come to give rest to Israel” (Jeremiah 31:2), and Jesus proclaimed: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The message of the true Gospel is the message of free forgiveness of sins because of Christ. Our churches believe, teach, and confess that “God forgives us our sins purely by his grace, without any preceding, present, or subsequent work, merit, or worthiness [in us], and reckons to us the righteousness of Christ’s obedience, on account of which righteousness we are accepted by God into grace and are regarded as righteous” (Formula of Concord).
What could be more fallen and more beaten than Saul and his poor sons, all fallen dead on Mount Gilboa, and their dead bodies mocked and toyed with by their enemies? But what could possibly seem more fallen that the body of the preacher of Nazareth crucified, beaten, and bleeding as he died in the darkness on a Friday afternoon? To seem fallen and to have truly fallen are not the same. For Saul fell, it is true, and he even fell from grace, choosing to end his life sooner than it might have as he writhed in agony, pierced by many arrows. But Christ did not fall in that way. He died; that is true. He writhed in pain and agony; that is true, too. But his death means our life and our victory. His pain and blood mean the atonement of our sin and guilt. We have nothing to bring before the Father on judgment day apart from our faith in the risen Christ. But “the righteous will live by faith.” And that is truly the Gospel of our forgiveness.
Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – 1 Chronicles 10:7-10 The Philistine gospel