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TEXT: I Samuel 7:2-17
SUBJECT: Life of Samuel #5: Ebenezer!
Today, with God's blessing, we come to Part 5 in The Life of Samuel. The last time we heard from the man, he wasn't a man at all. He was a boy, listening to God in the Tabernacle and just beginning to speak His Word to the nation.
The quiet years in Samuel's life were bad years in the life of his people. They were conquered by the Philistines, their priesthood was lost, the Sanctuary burned down, and for seven months the Ark of the Covenant was in enemy hands. To make matters worse, the nation was in revolt against the Lord, and now worshiping the gods of the land, whose liturgy included bowing down to idols and taking part in orgies.
This is what happens to people when we do not hear the Word. In those days-the Bible says-the Word of the Lord was rare, there was no widespread revelation. Thank God, some still huddled around the Law, but they were few and far between. Then-as now-the absence of God's Word leads only to confusion, apostasy, and ruin.
If the people had been left to themselves, they would have perished, and become nothing more than a name in old books, known only to scholars of the Ancient Near East.
But they were not left to themselves. The Lord was still with His people-though they did not deserve Him. Any more than we do, yet His promise is still being kept-
Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.
Our story begins in v.2, with the Ark of the Covenant in Kiriath Jearim. For many years, it had been in the Tabernacle in Shiloh, the first place God set His Name. But under the corrupt and incompetent leadership of Eli and his sons, the Tabernacle was no more, and after a brief (and unhappy) stay in Bethshemesh, the Ark was now in the house or, more likely, the barn of Abinadab and Eleazar his son.
To us, the Ark's whereabouts means next to nothing. This is because we don't know our Bible maps or history. The men who first heard the story must have been shocked by its location because.Bethshemesh is not a Hebrew city! It is inside Israel (like the Vatican is inside Italy), but it doesn't belong to Israel. It belongs to the Gibeonites.
This means, there is no central place of worship, which results in two great evils:
Social bonds are loosened. The People of God are one people, united to one God, one Law, one history, and one hope. As long as the Tabernacle was at the center of national life, the people felt their oneness. But, with the Ark stuck in a dark corner, the tribes, clans, and families began going their separate ways-and all the wrong way (though not together).
Theology is confused. The Sacred Tent didn't teach everything there was to know about God, but what it taught about Him was true. For example, (1) He is with His people, (2) He is not am image, no less an idol, (3) He is holy, (4) He has to be approached in His way, and that means by way of sacrifice-not an offering to buy His favor, but a substitute, an innocent victim dying in the place of a guilty sinner.
When the Ark was removed from their theology, a lot of bad things rushed in to take its place-and to misrepresent God to His People.
The Ark in Gibeon hints at the need for a fixed place of worship. The need will not be met for some time. Two or three generations pass before the Temple is built in Jerusalem, and God has what the Israelites thought was His Eternal Home on Earth. His resting place, they called it because they hoped He would never be homeless again.
But, of course, He was. Just after 600 B.C. Solomon's mighty Temple was burnt to the ground and, once again, God was a refugee, with His people, weeping by the rivers of Babylon.
While this was regrettable, it wasn't only regrettable. It was also glorious, for it cleared the ground for God's True Home. Never did God fully dwell in the Ark, in the Tabernacle, or in the Temple. His fullness couldn't dwell in these sacred places, because they weren't big enough for Him. If Heaven and Earth cannot hold Him, how can a box or a building do it?
The only place big enough for God to dwell in all His fullness is.our Lord Jesus Christ, Colossians 2:9-
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
In his Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis described a barn that was bigger on the inside that on the outside. The outside was an ordinary shed, but the whole universe-and more-was on the inside. This is a magnificent picture of our Lord Jesus Christ. Physically, He was likely smaller than any man here. And yet, in this short and skinny Man the Infinite and Eternal God dwells in all His fullness.
If this makes you want to shout, what follows will make you cry. The Ark of God had no place in Israel, and when Christ came-
He came to His own,
And His own did not receive Him.
THE PEOPLE SAD
While the Ark was in Kiriath Jearim, Israel, v.2b-
Lamented after the Lord.
To 'lament', of course, means to cry for sorrow. The Book Jeremiah wrote on the ash heap that used to be Jerusalem is called Lamentations, for that's what it is: a Book of Tears. The People, thus were crying, like a baby crying for its mother.
What they were crying for was the Lord, and this sounds humbled and penitent. Until you read the next verse which says all the time they lamented after the Lord they clung to their idols. They were sad, yes they were, but their sorrow was something less than godly. Like a drunk man on Sunday morning, they were hung over. They felt bad, but not bad enough to give up their sins.
It's no wonder that this people would soon choose Saul to be their king. He, too, was a sloppy and sentimental man, crying rivers for his sin, but never repenting of it. His eyes and words were tender, but his heart was hard.
THE PEOPLE PENITENT
After twenty years of their whining, Samuel had had enough! Either in person, or more likely, by his messengers, he got God's Word to the whole nation, v.3-
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 hands of the Philistines.
The people do not deserve God's favor-none of it! The crisis they're in has been of their own making. The reason the Philistines are taking their land is because Israel is polluting it with their idols. If they want God to save them from their enemies, they've got to meet a couple of conditions:
They have to give up idolatry.
They have to seek the Lord wholeheartedly.
The conditions go together. Baal was a 'generous' and 'open-minded' god, a god of 'tolerance'. He didn't care if you worshiped the Lord, as long as you didn't worship Him only. He didn't mind sharing his servants with the Lord or any other god, for that matter.
The Lord, on the other hand, is A Jealous God demanding total and lifelong commitment from His people. Now, to the Israelites back then-and to many people today-this seems very unreasonable. What woman wants a jealous husband?
If by 'jealous' you mean suspicious and quick to accuse, no woman wants that kind of man. But what if jealousy could be shorn of these bad qualities? What would it be? What kind of man wants his wife for himself-and not for any other man?
A loving man. A husband who shrugs or chuckles at his wife's infidelity is a man who doesn't care for her happiness or her salvation (for neither is compatible with adultery).
The same is true of the Lord. Because He loves us He wants what is best for us. And what's best for us is.Him. Not, the Lord on Sundays, the Lord in our souls only, the Lord second to our family, but the Lord above all, always, and in every part of us!
Cut to the quick by God's Word, the people gather at Mizpah to publicly repent of their sins and find favor with the Lord.
The meeting begins with Samuel-
Pouring out water before the Lord.
This was some kind of ceremony related to their repentance and God's forgiveness. What does it mean? I can't say for sure, but my guess is it stands for spiritual cleansing. Just as water washes away dirt, so may God's Spirit wash away our sin.
While the ceremony was not commanded in the Law, it is consistent with the various washings that made unclean people clean, and so fit for God's presence and service. It is also like the cry of David-and every believer-
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
Finally, it points to the Promise of the New Covenant. The Law purged men on the outside; the Gospel will washes us on the inside. Ezekiel saw the promise from afar, 36:25-
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
John the Baptist saw it up close and personal. When asked if he was the Savior, he said he wasn't. All he could do is baptize with water, thus washing the body. The One who followed him would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
This is our Lord Jesus Christ!
After pouring out water before the Lord, the people-
Fasted all day and said there, 'We have sinned against the Lord'.
Fasting is a sign of sorrow, which they truly felt. They confessed their sins to the Lord in public, but they didn't leave it there, with saying, 'I'm sorry'.
And Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah.
The word, judge, can be used in more ways than one. Here, it means to administer justice. In other words, the men who confessed stealing a sheep, let's say, made restitution, repaying four for one. The men who slept with women, did the honorable-and expensive thing-they married them. People who had withheld tithes paid them. They didn't just admit responsibility for their sins; they took responsibility!
Repentance is the gift of God; we offer it to Him, only after He has given it to us. This is what He gave His People at Mizpah: repentance.
Was it saving repentance? Did all these people go to heaven when they died? I don't think so. The Gift saved them from the Philistines that day, and it pointed to a Better Day, when God would exalt a better man than Samuel-Jesus Christ-who would become our-
Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and the remission of sin.
That day has come. Jesus Christ is King, and He wants a loyal people. But where does He find them? On earth they can't be found. And so, instead of 'finding' He makes them. By giving us repentance. Most of God's People under the Old Covenant didn't have this kind of repentance. But we do. Not because we're more worthy than they were, but because God has exalted Jesus.
THE PHILISTINES ATTACK
When the Philistines saw Israel gathered for worship, they assume an army is being mustered, and decide to attack before it is organized.
Seeing the Philistines marching double-time against them, Israel begs Samuel to pray for them-
Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.
This speaks of their sincerity. Twenty years before, they felt invincible because they had the Ark of God with them. Now, it's not the Ark they depend on, but the Lord Himself.
And on His Chosen Servant. The story says nothing about the people praying for themselves (though I'm sure they did). It says they wanted Samuel to pray for them, and to pray without ceasing. Why? Because the Lord would hear him. That's what they hoped for, at least, and they were right.
Samuel was not an ordinary man; he was chosen by God to lead the people. As a priest he represented them to God; as a prophet, he represented God to them; as a judge, he ruled them and made war on their enemies. As long as they trusted God and honored His servant, they would survive.
In this role Samuel points beyond his high calling to a calling even higher. He was Israel's savior, but the salvation he brought them was neither complete nor permanent. He wasn't up to that task. He wasn't meant to be. The final, complete saving work of God can only be done by God Himself, which He did, through His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Israel was saved from the Philistines because Samuel prayed for them-and God answered his prayers.
What he did for them, Christ does for us. If you go to church every week, it won't be long until you hear preachers say, The Finished Work of Christ, by which they mean, either His death or His death and resurrection.
While I'm not looking for a fight with men who say this, I choose not to. For our Lord's Saving work is not finished! There's still much left to do. And He's doing it!
Where is Jesus Christ? He's in heaven, at God's Right Hand. What's He doing up there? He is praying for us. The prophet says-
He makes intercession for the transgressors.
This means, He prays for us. How often does He pray for us? The Evangelist said-
He ever lives to make intercession for us.
In other words, our Savior prays for us without ceasing. Unlike other men, He never forgets to pray, He never falls asleep praying, or becomes too frustrated to pray. Also, unlike other men, God gives Him everything He asks for. Every time. Therefore, since He is always praying for our salvation, we cannot be lost.
What must we do to be saved? We must repent, believe, and persevere. Right now, the Lord is asking God to give us repentance, faith, and perseverance. And He's doing it. Even if we feel nothing.
If the prayers of Samuel saved Israel, how much more will the prayers of Christ save us? This is Paul's argument near the end of Romans 8-
Who is he who condemns?
It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
Who and what can be against us if Christ is praying for us?
When Samuel prays for his people, God answer by thundering against the Philistines. Panic-stricken, the Philistines throw down their arms and run for their lives.
Inspired by what their God is doing for them, Israel drives the enemy back to their cities and takes back the land they had lost twenty years before-
So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come any more into the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
The victory was too great to forget. To make sure his people wouldn't forget what the Lord did for them, he set up monument stone which he named, Ebenezer, which means-
Thus far the Lord has helped us.
Ebenezer was a reminder of what God did for His people. It is sad that they would need one, but they did, for they-like us-lived too much in the present, and forgot the Lord who saved them in the past would do it again, as often as they needed Him to, if only they trusted Him.
For several years they did remember; they trusted the Lord and they prospered.
We need an Ebenezer, a visible, unmistakable reminder of God's faithfulness and love. We're tempted to forget who He is, and to think He used to be this way-maybe back in the Bible days-but not anymore.
If we need an Ebenezer, we will have one. And we do. It's called The Lord's Supper. It points us to God, who He is, what He has done for us in the past, and in doing that, what we can expect of Him in the future.
Every Christian here is tempted to think God doesn't love him. If He loved me-I say-how can He let this happen to me? And not get me out of it when I ask Him to? Every time I think this way, I recall the formula for the Lord's Supper-
This is My body broken for you.
If the Lord went to the cross for me, how can I doubt His love?
Greater love has no man than this: That He lay His life down for His friend.
This is He did for every Christian, laid down His life for His friend.
Thus, we are loved, whether we feel like it or not. And the God who saved His people from the Philistines at the battle of Ebenezer, will save us from all our enemies. If you don't think so, go back to the Lord's Supper, and what it points to-the cross.
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