In the book of 1 Chronicles, there’s an interesting set of verses shortly after the genealogies are given. Here they are:
When all Jabesh-gilead heard all that the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and took away the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons and brought them to Jabesh, and they buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse. – 1 Chronicles 10:11-14, NASB
The reason I point out these verses is whose body was fought for: Saul. Saul had turned his back on God. He had pursued David and missed the real enemy Israel faced in the Philistines. And in a battle without the protection of the Lord our God, Saul and his sons like Jonathan were slain. When the Philistines realized they had the body of Saul and his sons, they desecrated the bodies and set up Saul’s armor and head in the temple to one of their gods (Dagon) as a tribute. Now the verses I’ve quoted here remind us that Saul met his end for a good reason. Yet despite this, these men from Jabesh-gilead still went and took back the bodies of Saul and his sons. The Bible calls them valiant men and they surely had to be to assault the temple complex and bring back those bodies. And once these valiant men had recovered the bodies, they fasted.
The question that comes to mind is, “Why did they do this?” Why did they risk their own lives for one who was leading Israel astray? Why did they willingly risk everything to bring back the body of someone God had rejected? The answer is relatively simple: it was the right thing to do. The reason we know this is because of a passage in Deuteronomy:
“If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 21:23, NASB
Even someone who was accursed by God was to be buried. Now the literal interpretation is if a body is hanging on a tree you are supposed to take it down and bury it, but the intent is to ensure that the bodies of the dead are respected, even those who have sinned against God. And so these men from Jabesh-gilead went and rescued the bodies and ensured the proper burials were conducted. Saul had done much evil, and though we might, in modern society, say, “Why bother?” they risked life and limb to carry out what was right. The provided an honor to his dead body and the dead bodies of Saul’s sons. They repaid Saul’s evil with good. They did what was right in the sight of the Lord. And this brings me back to a command given by Paul:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
– Romans 12:17-21, NIV
We don’t overcome evil with more evil. We do so by doing what is right, what is good, what is holy. The men of Jabesh-gilead understood this principle. So did Paul. Repaying evil with evil only means more evil is done. And that’s not what we’re about. If we want to take on evil in this world, we must do so by countering it with good. We must let our actions be holy and pleasing to God, despite what we see around us or what is being done to us. Paul’s words make it clear that this is a command to be followed at all times. He says “in the eyes of everybody.” That doesn’t leave much room for an exception, does it? We don’t need one. If punishment needs to happen, it is not ours to deliver. That’s the Lord’s job. We’re here to show people the forgiveness, grace, and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, we must warn them that without Christ there is only Hell, but we must also show that following Him and living for Him is truly different than the rest of the world. And it is a difference worth living and, if necessary, dying for.