Scripture Text – 1 Samuel 7-11
For centuries, the people of Israel had looked to Jehovah as their King, but then they came to a point where they asked the Lord to give them a king just like the other nations. It was a critical time in the history of Israel, and it took the prayers and guidance of Samuel to bring them safely through this dangerous time of transition.
Seeking The Lord
Please read 1 Samuel 7:3-17 to get the background for this section.
After the battle with the Philistines and a temporary loss of the Ark of the Covenant and after its return, the Prophet Samuel discerned that the people were restless and were wanting change, and he knew that times of transition bring out either the best or the worst in people. God called Samuel to build a bridge between the turbulent age of the judges and the new era of the monarchy, for which they had asked and Samuel knew it wasn’t an easy task. There was one thing Samuel knew for certain: king or no king, the nation could never succeed if the people didn’t put the Lord first and trust only in Him. So he called for a meeting at Mizpah, a city in Benjamin (Joshua 18:26), where he challenged God’s covenant people to return to the Lord.
They put away their false gods (1 Samuel 7:3–4). Idolatry had been Israel’s most prevalent sin. Jacob’s family carried false gods with them (Genesis 35:2), and when the Jews were slaves in Egypt, they adopted the gods and goddesses of the Egyptians, and after the Exodus, worshiped some of those same idols during the wilderness journeys (Acts 7:42–43). Moses commanded Israel to destroy every evidence of Canaanite religion, but the people eventually lapsed back into idolatry and worshiped the gods of the defeated enemy. Samuel specifically mentioned the Baals and Ashtoreths (1 Samuel 7:3–4). Baal was the Canaanite storm god to whom the Jews often turned when the land was suffering drought, and Ashtoreth was the goddess of fertility whose worship included unspeakably sensual and sexual activities. At Mount Sinai, the Jews didn’t see a representation of God, but they heard His voice; and they knew that worshiping any image of their God was to practice false worship.
Putting away their false gods was only the beginning of their return to the Lord; the Jews also had to prepare their hearts for the Lord and devote themselves to the Lord alone. This was in keeping with the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3. An idol is a substitute for God—anything that we trust and serve in place of the Lord, therefore it can be anything. The Jews gave themselves to worshipping idols of wood, stone, and metal, but believers today have more subtle and attractive gods: houses and lands, wealth, automobiles, boats, position and recognition, ambition, and even other people. Anything in our lives that takes the place of God as first and foremost in our lives and commands the sacrifice and devotion that belong only to Him, is an idol and must be cast out. Today, idols in the heart are far more dangerous than idols in the temple and in the church.
They confessed their sins (1 Samuel 7:5–6). Samuel planned to lead the people in a time of worship and intercession for deliverance from their enemies, but if they had iniquity in their hearts, he knew the Lord would not hear them (Psalm 66:18). It wasn’t enough to just destroy their idols; the people also had to acknowledge and confess their sins and surrender themselves to the Lord.
The key activity that day was their confession, “We have sinned against the Lord.” God’s covenant promise to Israel was that He would forgive their sins if they sincerely confessed them to Him (Leviticus 26:40–45), for no amount of sacrifices or rituals could wash away their sins. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17. Later in Israel’s history, this promise of forgiveness and blessing was reiterated by Solomon at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 7:14).
They prayed for God’s help (1 Samuel 7:7–11, 13–14). When the Philistines learned about this large gathering of Jews at Mizpah, they became suspicious that Israel was planning to attack, so the five Philistine lords summoned their troops and prepared to invade. Israel had no standing army and no one ruler to organize one, so when they caught wind of the plan, they felt helpless. However, their greatest weapon was their faith in Jehovah God, a faith that was expressed in prayer. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” – Psalm 20:7. As we have seen, Samuel was a man of prayer (Psalm 99:6), and God answered him that day. As he sacrificed the evening burnt offering, the Lord thundered against the Philistine soldiers and so confused them that it was easy for Israel to attack and defeat them. When we remember that Baal was the Canaanite storm god, it makes the power of God’s thunder appear even more significant.
All the days of Samuel, the Lord kept the Philistines at a distance from Israel. Because of this victory, the Jews recovered cities they had lost in battle and even gained the Amorites as allies. Whenever God’s people depend on their own plans and resources, their efforts fail and bring disgrace to God’s name; but when God’s people trust the Lord and pray, He meets the need and receives the glory. A man or woman of prayer is more powerful than a whole army! No wonder King Jehoash called the Prophet Elisha “the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” – 2 Kings 13:14. This was a title Elisha himself had used for his mentor Elijah (2 Kings 2:12 also see 2 Kings 6:17). Can we honestly state that we have such men and women of prayer today?
To Be Continued