Throughout the life of Israel, God allowed distressed and troubled times to try to cause Israel to see that they needed to turn back to the Lord. Prosperity typically keeps people from looking to God. So God would take away that prosperity and would allow his people to be oppressed so that they would turn their eyes upward. God returned to Israel as seen in the ark of the covenant leaving the land of the Philistines and coming back to Israel. God revealed his own glory to Israel and to the Philistines, showing everyone that you do not carry God. God is self-sufficient and does not need anything. However, when the ark of the covenant returned, the people in Beth-shemesh looked into the ark and God struck those people dead. The people then asked a very important question. Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God (6:20)? The people of Kiriath-jearim take the ark of the Lord and keep it in the house of Abinadab for 20 years. For 20 years the presence of the Lord is pictured as tucked away and hidden in Israel. Shiloh has been destroyed and it appears that God is not with his people. 1 Samuel 7 is going to teach what we need to be able to be in a relationship with this holy God.
The Remedy (7:1-3)
The separation from God becomes clear to the people of Israel. As the ark of the covenant has been away from Israel for 20 years, the people of Israel begin to lament for the Lord. The people final realize that God is not with these people and they start longing and lamenting for the Lord. With the people beginning to seek the Lord, Samuel will address the people. Notice in verse 3 that Samuel begins by essentially asking a question. “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart…” The rest of what Samuel says does not matter unless this is the foundation. If you want to seek the Lord and if you want a relationship with him, then you must begin by returning to him with all your heart. People cannot just ask for God’s blessing. People cannot say that they will seek the Lord. Returning to the Lord begins with your heart. You have to want God with your whole being. There is no partial turning to the Lord. If you really desire the Lord, then you will seek him with all that you have. So Samuel says that if you are returning to the Lord, then there is going to be fruit from this decision. Repentance is not just longing for God or saying you want the Lord. There is fruit from repentance. Notice the fruit that will come from turning with one’s heart.
First, Israel will put away the foreign gods among them. This is the same declaration that Joshua made to Israel at the end of his life. If you want to come back to God, then you must renounce your idols in your life. We like to think that we do not have idols because we do not have statues in our closet or established around town. But we have all kinds of idols. From comfort, entertainment, wealth, sex, reputation, power, and the like, there can be all kinds of idols that we give ourselves to doing. An idol quite simply is doing what you want to do and giving into your desires. An idol is putting your hope in something else to help you live besides God. In our time of crisis we are going to have immediately exposed the various idols that we have in our lives.
Second, Israel was to direct their hearts to the Lord. They were to commit their heart to God. This means that the people will now have a tenacious determination to remain faithful and loyal to God. This means you will serve God alone, which is what Samuel says next. Worship belongs to the Lord alone. God requires exclusive devotion.
Finally, look to God to deliver you and no one else. Israel should not look to themselves or others for rescue from the Philistines. Look to God alone. Any repentance that clings to hoping in other gods is not repentance at all. So Samuel gives a very comprehensive picture of what repentance truly looks like.
Turning To God (7:4-6)
Notice what the people do in verse 4. The people of Israel put away the idols and only serve the Lord. Absolutely amazing to see. I want us to think about this. At this point in Israel’s history we would think that repentance would be absolutely impossible. But after 20 years of being separated from God and doing what is right in their own eyes, the people realize they need God. The people repent. Repentance is possible as they give up their idols and seek the Lord.
With the people turning their hearts back to the Lord and serving the Lord, Samuel calls all the people of Israel to Mizpah. Samuel is going to intercede on behalf of the people, praying on their behalf. The people take water and pour it on the ground and fast before the Lord. Now it is hard for us to understand pouring water on the ground because we come by water so easily. But water was a life necessity and it did not come out of your refrigerator or sink. So the people are depriving themselves of the essentials of life to show the seriousness of their turning to God. They are showing that God is more important than life-sustaining food and water. They are showing how important God is to their lives and what they are willing to forfeit to have a relationship with God. Further, they make a public confession before the Lord. They say, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Samuel intercedes on behalf of the people and the people have the right heart and show the earnestness of their repentance by their actions. Therefore, we are told that Samuel judged Israel. Samuel is described as a prophet of the Lord earlier and now he is described as judging Israel.
Tested Repentance (7:7-11)
Now we should not be surprised at what happens next. When the people turn with great devotion and with all their heart to the Lord, that devotion is going to be tested. This is exactly what happens. As the people are turning to God and calling out to the Lord from the heart, the Philistines heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah and mount an attack against Israel there. Their faith is now going to be tested. Their repentance is going to be challenged. This is so true about true repentance. Our repentance is going to be tested. We are going to be tested to see if we have truly turned our hearts to the Lord fully. Are we going to hold to our confession or recant all that we said?
What will Israel do? Will they return to calling on their gods or will they turn to the Lord and trust him to deliver? Notice in verse 7 that the people are afraid. But what will they do with their fear? In verse 8 we see what the people of Israel do. The people turn to Samuel as ask Samuel to not stop crying out to God so that God will deliver them. What a great response! The people do not buckle under their fear or pressure of the Philistines. Their helplessness helps them realize they need to depend on God. They declare that they need the Lord now more than ever in this crisis. So Samuel cries out to the Lord on the behalf of Israel and offers sacrifices on their behalf (7:9).
The Lord heard and answered Samuel. God thundered against the Philistines, threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. Then Israel rushes after them and defeats them all the way back into Philistia. I want us to see that Samuel looks like Moses, interceding on behalf of Israel. Further, God response looks like what God did through Moses (Exodus 14:24) and through Joshua (Joshua 10:10). The Lord gave victory because the people turned to the Lord.
Do Not Forget (7:12-17)
Samuel sets us a stone and called it Ebenezer because the Lord had helped them to this point. Ebenezer means “stone of help.” So Israel was to look at this stone and remember that God had helped them all the way up to this point. Do not forget how the Lord has helped us thus far. Israel had repeatedly failed to remember the Lord and how he had helped. So Samuel sets up this stone to remember that God will help if we trust him. In fact, please notice that God delivered his people and gave them victory without the ark of the covenant. Remember in 1 Samuel 4 the people thought they would win if they had the ark. But the people were catastrophically defeated even though they had the ark. What God is teaching is that he will be with his people and give them victory if they will repent.
This stands as a picture of God’s great reversal. Israel lost to the Philistines at Ebenezer and the ark of God was taken there (4:1; 5:1). Now Ebenezer is a stone that pictures God’s victory for the people. The Philistines are subdued and did not enter Israel during the time of Samuel. Cities that were taken by the Philistines are restored to Israel. Further, peace is established by God (7:14).
So we see a number of pictures of our redemption in this event with Samuel and Israel. In particular, this text pictures what we need to stand before the Lord, the holy God. First, we need an intercessor. We need someone who will make an offering on our behalf and pray on our behalf so that we can stand before God. Samuel pictures this reality. Without an intercessor we cannot stand before God. This is why God gave us his Son to be the intercessor we need, an intercessor who will make an eternal offering on our behalf so that we can always stand before our holy God.
Second, we see the need for true repentance. Repentance is not simply regret. Repentance is not simply sorrow. Being sorry about being caught or experiencing the consequences of our decisions are not repentance. Too many times we can see a “sorry, not sorry” approach to repentance. What I mean by this is that the person is sorry that you do not like what I did, but I will do it again. True repentance is being sorrowful about what we have done to God, how we have defiled the relationship and forsaken him. We need these reminders of repentance. We have to understand what repentance looks like because it is everything for our relationship with God. Without proper repentance, we cannot enjoy God’s favor. This will become very clear in the upcoming chapters of this book. Repentance seeks relationship with God, rejects wrong acts, and renews a commitment to right acts before God. Repentance is a radical turning to God, which means turning away from our sins and our idols.
It is amazing to see how this chapter summarizes what God’s call is to us to stand before him in all his holiness. First, Israel had to hear that they were wrong. They had to listen to the confrontation of sin. Second, they had to own their sins and deflect or blame others. Third, they had to affirm that God is right and accept our wrongdoing. Fourth, they had to verbally acknowledge their sin to God. They confessed that they were wrong. Finally, they turned away from their sins and turn toward God. This is the full picture of repentance.
Samuel set up a stone to remind them about this day when they turned to God, Samuel intercede, and God delivered just like he always does. So God has also set up a stone of remembrance for us. Our primary stone of remembrance is the cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus is a perpetual reminder that the offering for your sins has been made to God. Now you must truly repentance. Repentance is what we need most. Turn to him and God will save you as he has always saved you.