The last three chapters we have studied from 1 Samuel (4-6) have been disastrous for Israel. God has wrought His judgment upon the nation by military defeat from the hands of the Philistines. The Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the enemy, though God wrought judgment upon the Philistines as a result of their transgression.
In chapter 6, the Philistines return the Ark to Israel. Chapter 7:1 sets the picture for the following events. The Ark rested in the house of Abinadad in Kirjath-jarim.
Between verses 1 and 2, twenty years take place. It is during that 20 years that Samuel’s official public ministry begins. Since the end of chapter 3 He has been absent. Now as he begins his public ministry he comes back to the forefront of the story as he calls the nations back to repentance and covenant faithfulness.
The people, during this twenty years, begin to lament after the LORD. As they did, God softened their hearts. Samuel rose up to confront the people and call them back to their God.
We have here in chapter 7 a recipe for true revival among God’s people.
I) Samuel’s Preaching (3-4)
True revival begins with biblical preaching. That was exactly what Samuel did.
He preached a three-fold message to them:
– Turn to God
– Put away strange gods
– live lives of faithful obedience.
True salvation begins with our submission to God and obedience to His Word. We set Him up as the sole object of our devotion. That is the idea of putting away "foreign gods." It is those gods which replace God as the object of our servitude, something that we are devoted to in spite of God’s faithfulness.
Yet merely "returning to the Lord" and removing foreign gods is not enough. The people were exhorted to live lives of holy obedience to the YHWH alone (4).
II) Public Commitment (5-6)
Samuel calls Israel to Mizpah, a centrally located town about 5-7 miles north of Jerusalem. In a fashion, this was a big tent revival meeting. A convocation of worship, confession, and renewal among all the people of Israel.
They began by pouring out water before the Lord, a demonstration of repentance. They fasted, showing solidarity to God, and then confessed their sin. They recognized their sin was specifically against the Lord.
Samuel "judged" the people, which implies he took the role as national leader and stood before God on their behalf.
III) God’s Salvation (7-11)
The Philistines hear of Israel’s public gathering at Mizpah (which suggests this gathering was for a number of days, not just one afternoon). More than likely, the Philistines are stirred to action against Israel due in part of Samson’s exploits in destroying one of their main temples and killing thousands of people as recorded in Judges 16. Seeing what they considered Israel’s vulnerability, they gather against them to do battle.
The people become terrified, gripped with fear for their lives. But in reality, this is God testing their commitment to Him. If they are going to trust him, they need to prove it to themselves. Thus, rather than taking matters into their own hands, they cried out for Samuel to pray for them.
Samuel responded by making a whole burnt offering to God. All the while the Philistines were gathering themselves – in full view of Israel – to cut them all down. The Lord in turn heard Samuel’s prayer. As the Philistines charged and Samuel was in the process of making his offering, God answered audibly, thundering against them.
One has to wonder if this was the voice of God Himself (John 12:29). Whatever the case, the Philistines knew this was a "real" deity at work, and the panic that ensued so confused the Philistines that Israel overcame them.
IV) God’s Blessing (12-17)
After God drove away the Philistines, Samuel commissioned a monument to be built. A stone is set up and named Ebenezer, which means "Thus far the LORD has helped us." It is the LORD who has brought Israel to this place and it is the LORD who once again demonstrates His power to save by extraordinary means.
As a result,
– The 40 year Philistine tyranny is broken. Though they will be a menace at times, they did not maintain the control over Israel they had previously.
– The hand of God was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
– The cities the Philistines had taken from Israel were returned.
– The Word of God was proclaimed.