And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, 'No, but a king shall reign over us,' when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.Septuagint; Hebrew fathers Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king." So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
And all the people said to Samuel, "Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king." And Samuel said to the people, "Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king."
1 Samuel 12:12-25
What does it take to be well? The usual suspects come to mind: a healthy diet, regular exercise, a good education, public safety, a vibrant economy. . . and fear? It may seem bizarre to our modern minds to consider fear as a precondition for well-being, but that is exactly what we encounter in this biblical narrative. “If you will fear the Lord and serve Him . . . and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well” (1 Samuel 12:14). It is the particularity of this fear that produces a paradoxical wellness.
A geopolitical crisis serves as the backdrop of this text, “Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you” (1 Samuel 12:14). This is not the first time Israel had been in a pinch. Israel has a checkered history of slavery and deliverance, wandering and worship, capitulation and conquest, idolatry and obedience, forgetting and remembering. What is new is who they cry out to. Instead of crying out to God for deliverance, they demand from Samuel a king. God gave Israel what they wanted with Saul as king and even used him to deliver them from impending military disaster. Yet God condemns their path to “success” as evil (1 Samuel 12:20). Israel did not fear the Lord.
We live in a culture that is suffering from a severe lack of fear-the-Lord. You can be whatever you want to be. Work hard so that you can live life on your own terms. Be safe. Wealth will not make you happy, but you should try it for yourself anyway. These are the messages, sometimes explicit but mostly subtle, that we’re told by our parents, friends, teachers, and numerous other outlets. Apple is “selling” much more than an iPhone. What if our lack of wellness is actually rooted in a loss of fear—fear-the-Lord?
Fear-the-Lord is the reverent awe that God’s grandeur evokes in relationship. In the paradox of human communion with God, in fearing the Lord one finds oneself not afraid, finally secure in the pleasure of the One we were created to please. “For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for Himself (1 Samuel 12:22). This particular fear and paradoxical wellness are born of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Its source is grace, and its natural response is joyful obedience. The biblical words are serve and follow. This is true on the individual and the communal level, the personal and the public (1 Peter 2:9-10). Our personal fear-the-Lord in Jesus Christ has public consequences for the good of our neighbors. Structuring a business deal, caring for a child, designing a program, investing capital, and “retirement” are all in the mix. “Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24). Jesus Christ is the reigning king for the good of the world. Fear Him unafraid.