One of my favorite Old Testament stories illustrates gratitude very well, and focuses on the men of Jabesh-Gilead.
Just after Saul has been anointed as the first king of Israel, the Ammonites come and besiege the town of Jabesh-Gilead.
The elders of Jabesh know that they can’t withstand the Ammonites, and they also know that they will be treated harshly if they surrender, so they send messengers throughout Israel, hoping that someone will come to their aid.
When Saul hears the news, he becomes angry and promises to deliver the town in 1 Samuel 11.9,11:
“They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.
The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.”
Saul’s rescuing of the town of Jabesh-Gilead serves to cement himself as the King of Israel, but if you were to stop reading there, you would be unaware of the debt of gratitude that the men of Jabesh apparently felt toward him.
In fact, you have to go many years into the future, to the very end of Saul’s reign, before Jabesh-Gilead is mentioned again.
This time, Saul has gone to war against the Philistines, and the fighting has gone very badly for the Israelites: three of Saul’s sons are killed, and Saul takes his own life after being badly wounded by an archer.
When the Philistines come upon the body of Saul, they cut off his head and take his weapons. The weapons end up in a temple to a false god, and Saul’s body is hung as a war trophy to the wall of the town of Beth-Shan.
“Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”
When the men of Jabesh-Gilead hear what has happened to Saul, they remember the debt of gratitude they owe him, walk all night into enemy territory, retrieve his body, and bury it honorably.
This act of gratitude is even more impressive when you realize that this is a debt that they have been waiting to pay for 40 years—the entire length of Saul’s reign. It seems likely that some of the valiant men who made the journey that night weren’t even born yet when Saul had saved their town, and yet they are still willing to risk their lives to protect his honor.
Gratitude compels people to act.
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus sacrificed Himself to cleanse me of sin and to make reconciliation with God possible.
I very much appreciate that sacrifice, but more than that, I am grateful for it—I wish there was something I could do to repay the debt of gratitude that I feel.
But there isn’t. The best I can do is to try to live each day for Jesus, to live as He Himself did.
I fail often, and sometimes I fail miserably, but I am still compelled to try. Gratitude will allow nothing less.