I Samuel 7: I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship
The lyrics to the song are a perfect fit for today’s lesson: coming back to the heart of worship, which the song writer says is all about Jesus. The songwriter goes on to confess saying I’m sorry for the thing I’ve made of it- that is what he had made of his relationship with the Lord.
We did not hear anything about Samuel in chapters 4, 5 &6. Chapter 7 picks up the story 20 years later. The Ark had returned to Israel. The Ark of the Covenant had returned to Israel. But Israel had not yet returned to the Lord. The Lord had to strike many of the Israelites dead as they mistreated the Ark as an idol rather than the presence of God among them. It left the field in which it was originally found and was placed in the home of Abinadab with his son Eleazar as keeper of the Ark.
So this is where the story picks up with Samuel twenty years later. We read: “All the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” (Verse 2) “ Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines. “ (Verse 3)
COMING BACK TO THE LORD
This chapter gives us step-by-step directions for coming back to the Lord. This is about repentance and like the song lyrics tell us- ‘it’s all about your relationship with the Lord.’ The steps for returning to the Lord have not changed over the years. We also see human nature has not changed. We are as prone to wander as the people of Israel were. They had been drifting for years and years. The period of Judges had been a spiritual low, not just a plateau and no growth, but a decline. It is very similar to the period we have seen in American from the 1960’s to today.
The first step in returning to the Lord is always repentance. Verse 2 stated, they all lamented, (mourned) after the Lord. It seems like in the last couple of years, believers in America have been awakened from a period of indifference and compromise to have their eyes opened to what has happened in the Body of Christ, His Church.
The Philistines were a constant thorn in the flesh of the Israelites. As the nation drifted away from its principles and promises of God, God used the Philistines to make life miserable for them. They mourned for the Lord. They were not just sorry that they were under the Philistines, they were sorry most of all that they were apart from God.
True repentance is Step No. 1. It involves godly sorrow for sin and seeking after the Lord. Just as the Lord allowed a famine to come into the land in the story of the Prodigal Son. God had allowed a spiritual famine to enter the land of Israel. They hungered for the Lord. One becomes sorry for their sin, because of how it has affected one’s relationship with the Lord. So true repentance begins with mourning over our sin and seeking to re-establish that relationship with the Lord. Are you there? What about America?
Step No. 2: Put away foreign gods. Put aside anything in your life, in your heart that is a rival to God. For Israel it was the Baals and the Ashtoreths. Baal was the Lord of Rain and Dew, whom the pagans trusted to make their soil fertile. Ashtoreth was the goddess of love, sex and fertility. They were the male and female god and goddess the pagans worshipped. If you are returning with all your hearts, you must put aside all rivals to the Lord.
When as a Christian we drift away from the Lord, we do not drift away to nothing, we are pulled to some thing or someone. You must ask yourself what is keeping me from loving and serving God with all my heart?
Step No. 3: Once you identify those rivals and put them away, your next step is preparing your heart to serve the LORD ONLY. The first commandment is to have no other Lords before Him. Now you are seeing the two sides of repentance. First the turning away from idols, rivals for your whole-hearted affection for the Lord. Turn away from those sins, and turn towards God. I’m going back home, said the Prodigal Son. His sins had depleted him left him in ruin. But it was this emptiness which turned him toward home. He was coming back. He was leaving behind the life which had at first seemed so much fun and exciting which had brought him to a pig sty.
Step No. 4: Prayer. There is no doubt in my mind now as I look back I realize it was the years and years and thousands of prayers of my parents, grandparents and their friends which they enlisted in intercessory prayer for me, their prodigal son. It was those prayers which were an important, integral part of my turning from sin and turning toward home to my Heavenly Father. “There is no greater joy than to hear my children walk in truth.”(3 John 1) Prodigals come in all ages, genders and races. What they all have in common is they left home and are missed! God misses you when you drift away. For parents and grandparents of prodigals, I say to you do not stop praying, I am a prodigal who returned home after 14 years and I know it was intercessory prayer which played an important part. If you weep over your prodigal, imagine how the Lord weeps. I want and even more importantly the Lord wants you to be encouraged because the Lord is all about: RESTORATION WHICH COMES FROM REPENTANCE. Notice in verse 5 what Samuel does: “Gather all Israel to Mizpah (at town outside of Jerusalem) and I will pray to the Lord for you.” Intercessory prayer. Remember the Lord Jesus is our High Priest and ever intercedes for us.
When one walks away from the Lord, they grow weak spiritually. They need help. They need the effective, fervent prayers of righteous believers. It is humbling to admit we are weak and need help. The nation of Israel drew water and poured it out before the Lord. I believe this is corporate confession of a people who realize they have drifted away from the Lord, and rivals have crept into their hearts and their hearts are divided. We must love the Lord with ALL OUR HEART.
When one loves the Lord with all his/her heart, they can then trust the Lord with all their heart. The people of Israel are learning to trust the Lord to fight their battles. Not use Him as they had before for their own glory. Now what happens as they are meeting in Mizpah, the Philistines hear about it and draw near to battle against Israel thinking the Israelites are planning to attack them. Notice in verse 10: The Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day. Remember Baal is their god of rain and dew to make their soil fertile. God uses thunder to confuse them for He controls the thunder and lightning. In their confusion, the Israelites defeat them.
So the consequences of believers walking away from God are obvious as Israel suffered defeat and destruction at the hands of the enemy. So defeated were they when the Ark of the Covenant was stolen, they did not even go after it. But we also see the results of godly repentance and turning away from sin and turning back to the Lord. Victory in Jesus.
Step No. 5: Spiritual Growth. Sometimes spiritual growth comes through a painful process. It takes time. It is not always easy. Sometimes it is very difficult. Listen to what Paul relates: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us with your prayers.”2 Corinthians 1. It is also here in this passage Paul explains God is the Father of Compassion and the God of all Comfort who comforts us in ALL our troubles, so we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” People who have not experienced a wayward child, a prodigal, do not understand your situation. They have not had to pray and weep as you have. But if God has allowed this to happen in your life, God will comfort you in all your troubles and will thus equip you to comfort others, because you have experienced this. AA is made up of people who have experienced the same problems and troubles and having found comfort from their Higher Power, can comfort others who suffer the same. No one who has never had your problems can understand your problems. But God does. And God wants to comfort you and uses other to comfort you and pray for you so that you can do the same for others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
In Step No. 5- when spiritual growth begins you want to mark your progress. I have been blessed to receive some awards in my career for my accomplishments. But the greatest award I ever received, my Ebenezer stone, was a yellow poker chip given to me at my AA group meeting when I had achieved 30 consecutive days of sobriety. Ebenezer actually means “Stone of Help.” This is about marking your progress that God has given you in life. It is a step by step process. But God loves and delights to order our steps. He wants us to remember where we have come from, the progress we are making and keep us encouraged. The Lord is our Number 1 Encourager. God has given me encouragers through my journey. My wife is my chief encourager and after there are many of you who have encouraged me. Its Grace which has brought me this far, and it is Grace which will lead me home. John Newton, (he who wrote Amazing Grace), had lived a wicked life. Here is what he said: “I am not the man I ought to be; I am not the man I wish to be; and I am not the man I hope to be; but by the grace of God, I AM NOT THE MAN I USED TO BE.” Progress. Change which can be seen and marked.
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” Do you see what was happening? Israel was in effect saying, I’m coming back the heart of worship and it’s all about you, LORD! I’m sorry for the thing I’ve made of it.
“The Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Israelites all the days of Samuel.” The Lord not only gave them protection from the Philistines, God gave them peace with the Amorites who lived within in their borders.
When we began to get our relationship with the Lord right, this all important vertical relationship. We will see our life began to get right in other areas of our lives. It is the work of the Holy Spirit as He begins to conform us to the image of the Son of God, who loved us and gave His life for us. Do you get that truth? He GAVE HIS LIFE NOT ONLY FOR US- BUT TO US.
Now let me make sure you understand: there will be lingering consequences for some of our sins. Old things will pass away and continue to pass away and there will new things which continue to happen as we grow spiritually.
It is a step-by-step process. It is a daily routine. All the while as you get one part of your life back in order with the Lord, other parts begin to come together also.
Notice Samuel’s life fell in a routine as we read about the rest of his years in verses 15-17 until the end of his life.
We love mountain top experiences, but mostly we live in the valley. But we can look back and perhaps say like John Newton- I am not all I want to be, hope to be, and should be, but looking back at that young man who 17 years old and left home to live life they way I wanted to live, I can say: I am not the man I used to be.
I can look at my Ebenezer Stone which I have marked and left a record of in my spiritual autobiography which began when I turned toward home on September 16, 1977. Our lives fall into a routine which varies very little. And if we are not careful, we fall into a humdrum life of “ same-old, same-old.” Boredom can come in many forms. Affluence breeds boredom. Boredom is a dangerous weapon the enemy uses very effectively to get us to look for fulfillment outside of the Lord. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. And He delights in his way. Though he falls, he shall not be utterly cast down: For the Lord upholds him with His hand. “
Sometimes a fall is the only way God can get us back on the path He has for us. And sometimes a fall which appears to be horrific is actually an Ebenezer Stone. A stone of help.
Has life seemed to trip you up lately? Take a good look at that which tripped you up- it may very well be your Ebenezer Stone at this time in your life. God placed it there to cause you to fall, that He might uphold you with His Mighty Right Hand!