The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Gratitude

Long Gratitude

It frequently works out that I get to preach right around Thanksgiving, which is something that I enjoy. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year, and I like getting to call attention to our collective need to stop, reflect, and give thanks for what we have. Furthermore, I especially like to preach about Thanksgiving using unusual texts that may not be the first that come to mind when we think of thankfulness and gratitude. The following is an edited version of my Thanksgiving sermon for this year.

As I have written before, I believe that the Bible is a literary masterpiece and that we read it better and more faithfully when we pay close attention to the ways that certain stories are told and the techniques that are used. In keeping with that idea, I want to look at three seemingly random stories from the Old Testament, see how they connect with one another, and then see what we can glean about the idea of gratitude.

Judges 19-21

The first story comes from the Book of Judges, and is the narrative surrounding a civil war that happens during this lawless period of time in Israel’s history. For the sake of length, I’m not going to include all of this text, but it is a very graphic story, and to me, this may be the darkest, worst chapters in all of Scripture. 

To quickly summarize, there has been a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and rest of the tribes of Israel. A city in the land of Benjamin had acted very wickedly, their Benjamite cousins refused to punish them, and as a result, the rest of Israel engages in a bloody civil war with them.

The tribe of Benjamin is greatly outnumbered, and they are almost wiped out, down to only 600 men by the end. At this point, the rest of the tribes of Israel, though they have been very angry with Benjamin, suddenly realize that one of the tribes is on the verge of extinction, and this isn’t acceptable to them. 

So they talk, and they realize that when it came time for everyone to gather together to fight against the Benjamites, one town from the tribe of Gad—Jabesh-Gilead—didn’t join in the fight. As a result, they decide to punish Jabesh-Gilead: they attack the town, destroy it, and kill all of the inhabitants except for 400 of the young women, and they forcibly give these women to the remaining Benjamites so they can repopulate the tribe (Remember, I told you that these are awful chapters, and this is a very lawless time).

The author of Judges doesn’t try to argue that this is a good thing or that it is what God intended (just the opposite); he just reports what happens. 

But here is the key idea: the town of Jabesh-Gilead becomes the means of saving the tribe of Benjamin.

1 Samuel 11

We have to fast forward in time a good bit to get to our next story, which is in 1 Samuel 11. The Book of Judges is not strictly chronological, so it is hard to place Judges 19-21 exactly on a timeline, but based on a few clues in the text, I think we are safe in saying that there are at least a couple hundred years between the events of Judges 19-21 and 1 Samuel 11.

In 1 Samuel 11, we are now out of the period of the Judges, and at the beginning of the united kingdom. Saul was anointed and proclaimed king in 1 Samuel 10, and now in 1 Samuel 11, he faces an early test of his leadership.

Let’s take a look at this text:

[1] Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.” [2] But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.” [3] The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.” [4] When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.

So the villain in this story is Nahash the Ammonite, who comes to lay siege to the town of Jabesh-Gilead. Now, remember, it has been a few hundred years, but this is the Jabesh-Gilead that was significantly involved in the salvation of the tribe of Benjamin.

Nahash is too powerful for Jabesh-Gilead, and so they basically sue for peace: “let’s make a treaty together, and we will be your servants.” But Nahash, who kind of seems like a jerk, basically says, “Sure, we can have a treaty, here are my terms: I’m going to gouge out your right eyes and bring shame to the whole country.”

This doesn’t seem like a great offer to the men of Jabesh-Gilead, so they ask for a little time to consider and send urgent requests for help throughout Israel. Some of these messengers come to Saul, the King of Israel, who, by the way, is from the tribe of Benjamin: 

[5] Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, “What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh. [6] And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. [7] He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. [8] When he mustered them at Bezek, the people of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. [9] And they said to the messengers who had come, “Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have salvation.’” When the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, they were glad. [10] Therefore the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.” [11] And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

When Saul hears the news, he becomes very angry and promises to deliver the town. He raises an army and goes and defeats the Ammonites. Saul’s rescuing of the town of Jabesh-Gilead serves to cement himself as the King of Israel, and also provides a clue that there is something special about the relationship between the people of Jabesh-Gilead and the tribe of Benjamin.

So, here is the situation:

  • Earlier, the town of Jabesh-Gilead was the means of saving the tribe of Benjamin;
  • Now, hundreds of years later, Saul, a Benjamite, saves the town of Jabesh-Gilead.

1 Samuel 31

For our final story, we fast forward again, now to the end of Saul’s reign, 40 years later. Saul’s kingship, which had begun with so much promise, has completely unraveled. Because of Saul’s disobedience, God has rejected him as Israel’s king. He is currently waging a war against the Philistines, and it is not going well: three of his sons have been killed in battle (including Jonathan, the friend of David), and Saul takes his own life after being badly wounded by an archer. It’s a devastating defeat for the Israelites, and it gets even worse:

[8] The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. [9] So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. [10] They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.

The Philistines treat the bodies of Saul and his sons dishonorably, cutting off his head, taking his armor off, and using his body as a trophy. The put his armor in a pagan temple, and hang his body on the wall of the city of Beth-shan.

It’s at this point, some 40 years after Saul had rescued them from the Ammonites that the men of Jabesh-Gilead make their appearance in 1 Samuel 31.11-13:

[11] But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, [12] all the valiant men arose and went 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. [13] And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in 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, they walk all night into enemy territory, retrieve his body, and bury it honorably.

To recap the three stories:

  • First, the town of Jabesh-Gilead was the means of saving the tribe of Benjamin;
  • Then, hundreds of years later, Saul, a Benjamite, saves the town of Jabesh-Gilead.
  • Now, Jabesh-Gilead treats Saul and his family with kindness and honor.

Long Gratitude

This connection, between the town of Jabesh-Gilead and the tribe of Benjamin (and Saul in particular), is one that is easy to overlook in Scripture, but once we see it, it’s easy to explain. Arising out of some shady circumstances, Jabesh-Gilead becomes the means of saving the small remnant of the tribe of Benjamin and repopulating it. This is a story that would have been passed on for generations. By the time Saul comes around, even though it had been a couple hundred years, it seems likely that he would have known all about the story of the connection between his tribe and the city of Jabesh-Gilead, and so when the news reaches him that Jabesh-Gilead is in trouble, the debt of gratitude that he owes compels him to act immediately, and he brings deliverance upon the city.

This same connection and the gratitude that is tied up in it explains the actions of the men of Jabesh-Gilead 40 years later. It seems likely that some of the valiant men who made the journey that night to recover Saul’s body weren’t even born yet when Saul had saved their town, but they knew the story, the felt the gratitude, and they were willing to risk their lives to protect Saul’s honor.

In this season of Thanksgiving, as we reflect on these three stories, here is the point that I want to make: gratitude is not a fleeting emotion; it is a practiced habit. It is not a feeling; it is a lifestyle. It is not a sprint; it is a marathon. It is not short; it is long.

Too often, I think we can be guilty of living our lives with a “What have you done for me lately?” attitude toward God, forgetting that God has done everything for us, as the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of all things. We live, move, and have our very being through Him. 

The repeated theme of Scripture is that God, in His grace, has initiated all sorts of good things toward us, and in response, we are to live a lifestyle of gratitude. Not a short, fleeting emotion, but long gratitude: a practiced habit. A way to live. 

A lifestyle of gratitude means that we acknowledge that God first loved us, so in return, we love God and others. God showed grace to us, so we show grace to others. God offers forgiveness to us, so we offer forgiveness to others. God blesses us in so many ways, so we use those blessings to bless others.

Long gratitude is a mindset; it’s not a desperate attempt to pay God back for something that can never be repaid, but it is mindfulness that is constantly aware of what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives, and a desire to show appreciation for those things by the way we live and treat others.

Thanksgiving: Enzo the Baker, the Men of Jabesh-Gilead, and Gratitude

Some previously-published (and slightly edited) thoughts on Thanksgiving:

One of my all-time favorite movie scenes occurs fairly early in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic classic, The Godfather.

Vito Corleone, Don of the Corleone crime family and the “Godfather” of the movie’s title, is in the hospital, having barely survived an attempt on his life. His youngest son, Michael, comes to visit him, but discovers that his father is unguarded and all by himself, and realizes that another attempt is about to be made on his life.

Michael calls his older brother on the phone and tells him to send reinforcements, and then hides his father in another hospital room.

About this time, Enzo the Baker arrives.

Earlier in the movie, the Godfather had used his considerable influence to take care of some immigration issues that Enzo was struggling with, and now the young Sicilian has come to pay his respects to the ailing Don.

Michael tries to warn Enzo of the danger he is in, but Enzo refuses to leave:

“You better get out of here, Enzo, there’s gonna be trouble.”

“If there is trouble, I stay here to help you. For your father. For your father.”

The two men go outside and wait on the front steps, posing as bodyguards. A car of would-be assassins pulls up, but confused by the appearance of guards where they weren’t expecting to find any, they drive on.

Scared to death, Enzo begins to shake and struggles to light a cigarette. He is out of place in the world of organized crime, but a debt of gratitude has compelled an ordinary man to act in an extraordinary fashion, risking his life to save someone else.

We talk a lot about being thankful, or grateful, at this time of year, but I wonder if we don’t often mistake appreciation for gratitude.

Sure, we’re glad that we are able to gather with family, and we appreciate the fact that we have a lot of blessings—we certainly wouldn’t want to try living without those blessings—but often that’s as far as it goes.

But gratitude goes a step further than appreciation. From Wikipedia:

“Gratitude is the substance of a heart ready to show appreciation, or thankfulness; it is not simply an emotion, which involves a pleasant feeling that can occur when we receive a favor or benefit from another person, but rather the combination of a state of being and an emotion; often accompanied by a desire to thank them, or to reciprocate for a favour they have done for you.”

Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation accompanied by a desire to act. It was a deep feeling of gratitude that drove Enzo to disregard his own safety in order to help the man who had helped him.

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 on the wall of the town of Beth-Shan.

It is at this point, many years after Saul had rescued them from the Ammonites that the men of Jabesh-Gilead make their appearance in 1 Samuel 31.11-13:

“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 permit nothing less.

Gratitude: The Men of Jabesh-Gilead

Last time we talked about the difference between the concepts of gratitude and appreciation, and that basically, gratitude combines a feeling of appreciation with a sense of debt and a desire to act.

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.

It is at this point, many years after Saul had rescued them from the Ammonites that the men of Jabesh-Gilead make their appearance in 1 Samuel 31.11-13:

“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.

Gratitude: Enzo The Baker

I’ll be out of town visiting the in-laws next week when Thanksgiving rolls around and probably won’t have time to write anything thoughtful, so I thought I’d get my Thanksgiving thoughts out of the way ahead of time. Here is part one:

One of my all-time favorite movie scenes occurs fairly early in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic classic, The Godfather (for what it’s worth, as good as it is, I think that The Godfather is slightly overrated, but I love this scene).

Vito Corleone, Don of the Corleone crime family and the “Godfather” of the movie’s title, is in the hospital, having barely survived an attempt on his life. His youngest son, Michael, comes to visit him, but discovers that his father is unguarded and all by himself, and realizes that another attempt is about to be made on his life.

Michael calls his older brother on the phone and tells him to send reinforcements, and then hides his father in another hospital room.

About this time, Enzo the Baker arrives.

Earlier in the movie, the Godfather had used his considerable influence to take care of some immigration issues that Enzo was struggling with, and now the young Sicilian has come to pay his respects to the ailing Don.

Michael tries to warn Enzo of the danger he is in, but Enzo refuses to leave:

“You better get out of here, Enzo, there’s gonna be trouble.”

“If there is trouble, I stay here to help you. For your father. For your father.”

The two men go outside and wait on the front steps, posing as bodyguards. A car of would-be assassins pulls up, but confused by the appearance of guards where they weren’t expecting to find any, they drive on.

Scared to death, Enzo begins to shake and struggles to light a cigarette. He is out of place in the world of organized crime, but a debt of gratitude has compelled an ordinary man to act in an extraordinary fashion, risking his life to save someone else.

• • •

We talk a lot about being thankful, or grateful, at this time of year, but I wonder if we don’t often mistake appreciation for gratitude.

Sure, we’re glad that we are able to gather with family, and we appreciate the fact that we have a lot of blessings—we certainly wouldn’t want to try living without those blessings—but often that’s as far as it goes.

But gratitude goes a step further than appreciation. From Wikipedia:

“Gratitude is the substance of a heart ready to show appreciation, or thankfulness; it is not simply an emotion, which involves a pleasant feeling that can occur when we receive a favor or benefit from another person, but rather the combination of a state of being and an emotion; often accompanied by a desire to thank them, or to reciprocate for a favour they have done for you.”

Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation accompanied by a desire to act. It was a deep feeling of gratitude that drove Enzo to disregard his own safety in order to help the man who had helped him.

In the second half of this post, we’ll look at one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament, and then consider the theological implications of gratitude.

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