“Thus far the Lord has helped us”
1 Samuel 7: 1-12
Today’s text comes from 1 Samuel 7:1-12, and it is a text that is not from the lectionary reading for today, but it was given as I was listening to 1 Samuel in the early part of the week last week; God strongly laid on my heart to preach from this text which is about Israelites having a great revival, repenting of their sins and returning to God. I mentioned a couple of times from last year that God wants us to have a revival, a revival in our hearts to be right with God. I believe it is about time for us to give our hearts back to God to wake people up from their spiritual slumber around us in the city of Oblong and beyond because the Lord’s day is approaching. It is time for us to wake up, not sleeping. It is time for us to prepare our hearts for Jesus who would come soon and very soon, indeed.
As we all know, God had delivered the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt and helped them to conquer the land of Canaan driving out its inhabitants. God told them, “if you obey and keep my commandments, then, I will be your God and you will be my people. You will prosper and be provided for and protected from your enemies.” The Israelites went astray and sank deeper and deeper into gross idolatry, instead. So they were subdued by Philistines and suffered greatly under them. They experienced spiritual bankruptcy due to a great neglect of Jehovah God and His worship. They were politically dominated by Philistines and living in spiritual darkness, in the absence of God’s presence, and they were dying physically and spiritually.
1 Samuel 7 verse 1, “The men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They took it to Abinadab’s house, and made Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord.”
Do we know what is going on here? The ark of God, the symbol of the presence of God, was being locked up in a private person’s house with a keeper for twenty long years. The ark of God, which should be placed in the tabernacle, in the house of God, where people come for worship and for feasts celebrating the Lord, was being locked up in Abinadab’s house with his son guarding it. Before Kiriath Jearim, the ark of the Lord had been placed in Shiloh from the time of Joshua to Eli. Shiloh was the town where the first seat of government of Israelites was after the conquest of the land of Canaan, and at Shiloh, the tent of meeting was set up. In its tabernacle at Shiloh the ark of the Lord had been and worshipped, but after it was captured during the time of Eli by Philistines and was returned to Israelites, the ark of God was no longer at Shiloh but at Abinadab’s, a private house. In other words, the ark of God had been removed from Shiloh, from the center, from the life of people but had been placed out of people’s sight and mind at the margin, at private person’s house. When we think about the meaning of the word Shiloh, which means “the peaceful one”, “he who is to be sent” denoting the Messiah, the significance of removing the ark of God from Shiloh takes on a deeper meaning. It means these Israelites had abandoned God, their savior, but had gone after Baals and Ashtoreths making them as their gods. (The local gods of Baal and Ashtoreth were popular idols among the people of Israel. Baal was attractive because he was thought to be the god of weather, bringing good crops and financial success. Ashtoreth was attractive because she was thought to be the goddess of fertility, thus connected to love and sex.)
Verse 2 says that their estrangement from God went on for twenty long years and Israelites suffered greatly to the point of lamenting of their condition and situation and realized how badly they were in needing of God, the God they had abandoned, the God who had saved, provided and protected, the God who filled their hearts with joy, happiness and contentment of soul to the fullest by giving them victory over their enemies. Think about it, –twenty long years of wandering away from God, abandoning God, not worshipping God, how miserable they must have felt, not to mention the agony and hardship they had to go through under Philistines’ iron fists. They Lamented for their sins, became sensible of their evil doings with tears and beating their chest for backslidings and rebellions against God, and cried and longed after God they deserted.
To these Israelites who longed to return to their Jehovah God, Samuel, who had been going places to places in Israel to teach, preach, proclaiming the message of God and urging them to return to God for twenty long years, advised them, in verse 3, to get rid of all the idols they had been serving. “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then, rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve God only.”
We can note here that when we return, we have to return with all our hearts, not half heartily but with all our hearts, getting rid of all that we have placed before God, be that money, job, family or ambitions or our own selves.
When the Israelites got rid of idols and decided to serve God only, verse 5, Samuel instructed them to “assemble at Mizpah”, and there they drew water and poured it out before the Lord, fasting and confessing of their sins. The drawing water, and pouring it out before the Lord, is a symbolic act of moral purification, and their sincere desire to pour out their hearts in repentance before God. The fasting signifies their genuine humiliation, sorrow, and grief for their sins committed against God. They pour out their hearts in repentance before the Lord, fixing their resolution to cast away from them all their wrongdoings. After years of estrangement, they repented of their sins; they made a public confession. Repentance without fasting was not recognized in the ancient custom. In the bible, always, repentance and fasting go hand in hand. God requires fasting and prayer in Christian discipline as they are true signs of humility and trust in God.
*Again, we have to note here that they were assembled at Mizpah.
Let’s pause here for a minute and think about what all these mean for us. 1) When we live in the world away from God being friends with the things of the world worshipping and devoting ourselves to them, we cannot have a relationship with God; we become enemies of God. We cannot worship both idols and God together. It is either or, never both. It is either idols or God. When we choose God, then we have to choose God with all our hearts, removing all our idols. Then, repentance should follow or happen at the same time as our determination to serve God only. Without sincere repentance, our past sins encroach in our hearts and mind without us even realizing it. Public repentance/confession is practiced in our bible.
2) We note here that Israelites were assembled at “Mizpah”. “Mizpah” means “watchtower”, a place where an outlook could be kept against an advancing enemy, a place where one has to be on guard against the encroachment of one’s enemy. Likewise, we have to assemble at “Mizpah” as the Lord’s army.
When we are friends with the world, we do not need “watch-tower” we are not at war with the world; we are friends with it. Once we renounce our idolatry, things of the world, when we turn to God, we are making enemies with the world we use to live among and breathe in. We have to be on guard against our enemies and ready to defeat them. We have to look out at our watch- tower whether our enemies are coming or not. We have to be sensitive to Holy Spirit’s promptings, the signals so that we can have victorious life always.
Verse 7, when we gather as armies of God at our watch-tower, our enemies, Philistines, also come to attack us gathering up all their forces. But we should not fear because battle belongs to God. When we depend on our strength, we cannot defeat our enemies, but as long as we have the Christ blood covering for us and crying out in the name of Jesus, the battle with our enemies is for us to win. We see that in verse 9, Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering, an atoning sacrifice, to the Lord, and he cried out to the Lord and God answered him. a suckling lamb without blemish is no other than Jesus the Christ who never hurt anyone or who never sinned himself, yet his blood poured out, his body was broken up in our place. When we cry out in the name of Jesus whose blood was offered up to atone our sins, God answers our plea, our cry for help.
Verse 10, The Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and routed them to panic and Israelites defeated them and won the victory.
Verse 12, Then after the victory, Samuel took a stone as a victory marker and named it Ebenezer, meaning “stone of help”, refers to the Christ who is in every individual who will acknowledge Him, a rock of deliverance, a very present help in every time of need.
“Thus far the LORD has helped us.” God helps us thus far at a time and his past work is a pledge of future help, a reminder of our help always.
Thanks be to God!!!