1 Samuel 7:2-17
2 From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. 3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only. 5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the LORD and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. 7 Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. And Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car. 12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 14 The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites. 15 Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16 And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. 17 Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the LORD.
I love reading larger narratives because I get a real sense of the flow of what’s happening. This passage certainly helps us see the changes that are taking place with the people of God.
Remember the attitude of the people before their defeat at the hands of the Philistines - they didn’t care about the Lord. They did whatever they wanted. The leadership and the whole country were morally bankrupt. They were constantly trying to manipulate their relationship with the Lord to get Him to do what they wanted. In short, they were moving in the opposite direction, away from the Lord. Their absolute defeat at the hands of the Philistines was the shock they needed to reignite their relationship with the Lord. We’re told that the people lamented for years, but now they are pursuing their relationship with the Lord once more. Samuel now stands as the last judge and the first prophet and calls the people to repent and return.
One of the interesting things to note is that biblically, returning is intensely personal. It involves acknowledging, confessing, and forsaking sinful behavior. It’s doing a complete 180-degree turn, turning away from old sinful behavior and turning to the Lord. It’s not a mechanical, going through the motions process.
Also, it’s important to note that the term wholehearted is linked with returning. It means a reorientation of one’s heart away from the old sinful things and patterns and then the aligning of one’s heart and mind completely on a relationship with the Lord. It isn’t just something that a person does in part—it requires wholehearted commitment.
We see this in Samuel’s instructions in verse 3: rid yourself of the false gods, fix or establish your heart on the Lord, and serve Him only. It’s not enough to just eliminate old sinful patterns. All that does is create a vacuum. What must follow is the deliberate, intentional, and sustained movement toward the Lord. Otherwise, a person will return to their old habits and practices or fill that void with something that could possibly be worse.
What we learn in the narrative that follows is massive. The Lord hears, forgives, and restores. The people know God’s peace throughout Samuel’s lifetime. The Lord is waiting to forgive and restore those who return to Him with their whole heart. There is nothing so huge or terrible that causes the Lord to hold back His love and forgiveness. God’s love, grace, and forgiveness are unlimited and available to all who will simply and humbly come.
Don’t miss the “Ebenezer” in verse 12. Ebenezer is a lost term to us, but it’s one that occasionally crops up in churches, especially when we sing the song Come Thou Fount.
An Ebenezer is a stone of remembrance. Israel, in her history, frequently used stones to help the people and future generations remember a time when the Lord had done something awesome, (Joshua 4 as an example). In this case, the Ebenezer is a reminder to the people that the Lord helped in a great battle between Israel and the Philistines. But it’s more than a commemorative stone. The emphasis is on acknowledging that the victory isn’t because of Israel’s strength or might, rather the victory belongs to the Lord.
Without those Ebenezers to remind us as a sort of reality check and to keep us on track as we walk with the Lord, we run the real risk of wandering off in our own direction, doing what we think is best, and allowing other things to displace Jesus at the center of our hearts. We’ve already seen where that leads in the first few chapters of 1 Samuel!
I’m wondering, what Ebenezers mark your relationship with Christ? What are those things that help you remember how the Lord has worked and moved in your life, that help you stay focused on His awesome and amazing love, grace, and forgiveness?
God bless you and know that you are constantly in my prayers.