It was astonishing. How quickly God’s people were willing to move into submission to their enemy. Seeking deliverance, they offered themselves as slaves; a people set free from bondage by the Self-Existing God, now so easily inclined to return to an existence from which they had been delivered.
How sad when God’s people forget… forget Whose they are and Who their God is.
Now Nahash the Ammonite came up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve you,” (11:1).
Though they offered themselves as slaves, servitude was not enough for the Ammonites.
But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “I will make it with you on this condition, that I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you, thus I will make it a reproach on all Israel,” (11:2).
The enemy’s goal was to shame the people of God, and so make a name for themselves in rendering the mighty warriors of Israel, not merely servants, but incapable of any future military prowess.
And with this news, as the Spirit of God came upon him, Saul is moved to righteous anger.
So they related to him the words of the men of Jabesh. 6 Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and he became very angry. 7 He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout the Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.” Then the dread of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out as one man, (11:5-7).
It was the Spirit of God Who stirred up Saul’s reaction, the righteous anger of Holy God.
Whether it was the enemy’s taunting, or His children’s wavering cowardice to so quickly offer themselves as slaves, or both…at any rate it moved God to anger.
And in His anger, the Dread of the LORD fell on the people. This word, dread, is also translated terror, but is not the same word translated fear in the phrase “the fear of the Lord.”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction, (Proverbs 1:7).
Consider the following definitions taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance for the Hebrew words translated fear and dread.
Fear (Proverbs 1:7): 3374. יִרְאָה yirʾāh: A feminine noun meaning fear. The word usually refers to the fear of God and is viewed as a positive quality. This fear acknowledges God’s good intentions. This fear is produced by God’s Word (Ps. 119:38; Prov. 2:5) and makes a person receptive to wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). It is even identified with wisdom (Job 28:28; Prov. 15:33)… his fear restrains people from sin (Gen. 20:11; Ex. 20:20; Neh. 5:9); gives confidence (Job 4:6; Prov. 14:26); helps rulers and causes judges to act justly (2 Sam. 23:3; 2 Chr. 19:9; Neh. 5:15)
Dread (1 Samuel 11:7): 6343. פַּחַד paḥaḏ: A masculine singular noun translated dread, terror. This dread was often caused by the Lord (1 Sam. 11:7; Job 13:11; Isa. 2:10, 19, 21). The dread could cause trembling (Job 13:11; Ps. 119:120).
Whereas the fear of the LORD is a positive quality and restrains man from sin; the Dread of the LORD is terrifying and frightening, and demands a response.
God’s people needed a jolt. Too quick to succumb to the enemy, they were in extreme danger of finding themselves once again trapped and enslaved. And when the Dread of the LORD fell upon them, the people were moved and things changed.
Consider the Dread of the LORD
- The Dread of the LORD moved His people to action.
- Then the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you,” (11:10).
- The Dread of the LORD moved His people to reverent gratitude.
- But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has accomplished deliverance in Israel,” (11:13).
- The Dread of the LORD moved His people to renewal.
- Then Samuel said to the people, “Come and let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there,” (11:14).
- The Dread of the LORD moved His people to worship.
- So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they also offered sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; (11:15).
- The Dread of the LORD moved His people to rejoice greatly
- …and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly, (11:15).
How do we respond to the Dread of the LORD?
In His great mercy, the Dread of the LORD fell upon the nation and His people were moved to action, to reverent gratitude, to renewal, to worship and to rejoice greatly.
And sometimes a healthy dose of terror is exactly what the Good Doctor has ordered, an act of His great mercy moving us to a vital decision or action.
I came to know Christ as my Savior in response to a terrifying encounter with the Dread of the LORD. On a Sunday evening, sitting in a church of about 2,000, I heard Him speak as if I was alone in that large sanctuary. The words He spoke pierced through the crowd and landed squarely in my spirit.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth,” (Revelation 3:15-16).
And I knew… I knew He was speaking to me. Not cold, not hot… lukewarm. And to continue in this lukewarm state would guarantee my ultimate end… being spit out of His mouth. The Greek word translated “spit” literally means to vomit.
And somehow I understood. I understood my lukewarm condition sickened Him and I understood He would spew me out, away from His presence. And in that moment I saw myself flying out of the mouth of Holy God, and I was terrified!
The internal battle waged as I feebly attempted to convince myself I was already a Christian. I believed Jesus was God. I believed He died on the cross and rose on the third day. The problem… I didn’t believe it for myself as my only hope of deliverance. But the next words I heard, were spoken to a heart prepared by the Dread of the LORD.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me,” (Revelation 3:20).
And in His great mercy, the Dread of the LORD fell upon me and moved me to respond to His invitation, to open the door, invite His presence and submit to the Dread of the LORD. And in the next moment the Dread was replaced by a holy reverence and awe, the fear of the Lord, a fear convinced of His very good and very loving intentions for my eternity.
When we place our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as payment for our sins, we no longer have to live in terror. By faith we can submit ourselves to the fear of the LORD and never have to experience His terrifying Dread.
We can trust He will send the Dread of the LORD when we need a jolt, when we are in danger of submitting again to the enemy’s schemes to enslave us.
Today, let us ask Him to move us by His mercy to remember Whose we are and Who our great God is, that we would grow in the fear of the LORD, and in sincere and holy gratitude and thanksgiving.
And His mercy is upon generation after generation
Toward those who fear Him, (Luke 1:50).