God Answers Samuel’s Prayer
A. National Repentance
“O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity” (Hosea 14:1).This type of call to national repentance is found repeatedly throughout Scripture. It was a constant message of the Old Testament prophets (ex-ample: “Say unto the house of Israel, … repent,” Ezekiel 14:6). Jonah was sent to Nineveh, a non-Israelite city, to call that city to repentance;
Jesus used that example in His call for a generation to repent (Matthew 12:41). We often view calls for repentance from an individualistic perspective. That is, we assume that a call for repentance is a call to each person to get right with God. While individual repentance is vital, the Bible also issues calls of repentance to communities and nations. God will not bless a society that encourages sin. History is littered with stories of communities and nations that descended into depravity and eventually were blotted out by God. A striking example is the city of Sodom (Genesis 19:24; Isaiah 3:9).
Today’s lesson relates the story of a period of repentance for the nation of Israel. Israel was called by Samuel, God’s prophet and judge, to give up its pagan idolatry and return to God. The resulting repentance brought deliverance from a national threat. It brought a period of revival and spiritual blessing.
We should take encouragement from this story, for such calls to national repentance are not just relics of the biblical world. We need godly voices in modern nations to resist evil and to call for repentance, even in the face of ridicule and disbelief. We cannot predict the success or failure of such appeals, but we can be sure of God’s blessings if such calls are heeded.
B. Lesson Background
Samuel is one of the most multitalented characters in the Bible. His amazing story starts even before his birth. His mother, Hannah, prayed fervently for God to remove her inability to bear a child. She vowed that if a son were given to her, he would be dedicated to the service of the Lord (1 Samuel 1:11). When God answered her prayer, she named her son Samuel, meaning, “his name is God” or perhaps “heard of God.” This name is an acknowledgement of the one true God. Samuel grew up in the tabernacle at Shiloh under the tutelage of Eli the priest. There, as a young boy, Samuel received a message directly from God (1 Samuel 3:1-14). The message concerned God’s displeasure with the household of Eli, but its reception confirmed the extraordinary ministry that awaited Samuel.
Beyond that of child prodigy, consider some of the other roles played by Samuel in the Bible. He was a prophet, meaning that he was God’s spokesman (1 Samuel 3:20). He was a seer, meaning that he received supernatural visions from God (1 Samuel 9:19, 20). He “judged Israel all the days of his life” and was the last of the judges(1 Samuel 7:15; Acts 13:20); that fact makes him a transitional figure to the era of the prophets (Acts 3:24; 13:20). Finally, he was a kingmaker, the one who anointed both Saul (1 Samuel 10:1;15:1) and David (1 Samuel 16:13) as kings of Israel.
Today’s lesson is the aftermath of a horrifying incident in the history of Israel in which the ark of the covenant was used as a tool for war(1 Samuel 4:3, 4). This ill-conceived plan resulted in the defeat of Israel and the capture of the ark by the Philistines (4:10, 11). The Philistines are often seen as the traditional enemy of the people of God in the Old Testament. They occupied the seacoast area of Gaza in southwest Israel, south of Joppa. They had five strong cities in this area: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron.
The Bible and other sources tell us that the Philistines were originally foreign invaders from the land of Caphtor (see Antos 9:7), which some scholars identify as the island of Crete. At the time of the exodus, the Philistines were already well established in their territory (see Exodus13:17). They appear prominently in Judges and1 Samuel and are finally conquered by David. After Solomon, however, the Philistines seem to have a small revival of independence and resume their role as the bane of Israel. Although now gone, they left their name on the region, for Palestine is derived from Philistine. In matters of religion the Philistines are often pictured as polar opposites to the Israelites. There seems to be no more degrading title than to be called an “uncircumcised Philistine” (see 1 Samuel 17:26).The recovery of the precious ark is the occasion for Samuel’s call for national repentance.
I. Call and Repentance(1 Samuel 7:3, 4)
A. Abandoning False Gods (v. 3)
3. And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.
Repentance is described here as a return to God. Sin is when we wander away from God, disregard His will, and become alienated from Him. Samuel was saying in effect, “If you’re serious about getting right with God, here is what you must do.”
Samuel then outlines a four-part process of national repentance for Israel. First, they are to do this wholeheartedly, not holding anything back. Partial repentance is false repentance. Second, they are to stop all worship of other, pagan gods. God does not allow for multiple allegiances in matters of worship. Third, they are to prepare their hearts. Repentance requires determination to change. Fourth, they are to pledge themselves to serve God exclusively. Repentance is more than the passive elimination of sinful practices. It is tinning to active obedience to God and His will.
B. Serving the Lord Only (v. 4)
4. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lotto only. Since entering the land of Canaan, the Israelites had struggled with rejecting pagan gods. These gods am summarized here as the Baulim (Baals, or male deities), and the Ashtaroth (Ashtoreths, or female deities). The chief Philistine god was called Dagon (see 1 Samuel 5:1-5).The author is pleased to tell as that the children of Israel heard Samuel’s message. They abandoned their false gods in order to serve and worship the Lord God exclusively.
WHEN CHANGE Is NEEDED
Maya Angelou is a well-known professor, poet, and actress. She tells a story that helps to explain her success. Her grandmother was a storekeeper in rural Arkansas. When a person wills a reputation for complaining would come into the store, the child Maya would be called in-side to listen to the litany of complaints about weather, work, etc.
As an adult, Angelou remembers her grand-mother’s words to her after the complainer had
left: “Sister, there are people who went to sleep last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. And those dead folks would give anything at all for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of plowing. So you watch yourself about complaining. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like aching is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
The wise old woman’s words summarize Israel’s actions in today’s text. Samuel had told the nation what it should do; the people recognized the change that needed to be made, and they made it! Sometimes the call for change comes from a messenger of God such as Samuel; some-times it comes directly from the Bible; some-times it comes from the circumstances of life. In any of these cases, wise people change their ways. They repent. That’s when they find that God has blessings waiting for them.
II. Crisis and Victory(1 Samuel 7:5-11)
A. Prayer of National Repentance (vv. 5, 6)5, 6. And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mize, and I will pray for you unto the Lone. And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lotto, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the Lou, And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.
Mizpeh (also spelled Mizpah) is a location of special significance in ancient Israel. The city is one of three in central Israel that Samuel uses as locations for his circuit-court judging (the others being Gilgal and Bethel; 1 Samuel 7:16). It was also a site for national assembly (Judges 10:17;20:1; 1 Samuel 10:17).
Samuel leads Israel in a powerful symbolic act before their admission of sin: he has them pour water on the ground. This probably is to represent emptying their hearts, purging them of sin. The accompanying call for fasting, a traditional sign of repentance, reinforces this interpretation. After these acts of preparation, the people con-fess their sin aloud. This is also an important component in the process of repenting.
B. Treachery of the Philistines (v. 7)
7. And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it. they were afraid of the Philistines.
How do the Philistines hear about this gathering of Israel? The Philistine leadership probably maintains a spy network within Israel. At any rate, the Philistines decide to take advantage of peaceful national prayer meeting as an opportunity to massacre their enemies. Not surprisingly, the people of Israel are afraid when they become aware of this Philistine threat.
C. Prayer for Deliverance (vv. 8, 9)
8, 9. And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the LORD our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines. And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the LORD: and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD heard him.
Having repented, the Israelites turn to Samuel for deliverance. This continues the pattern of judges-as-deliverers that we sass repeatedly in the book of Judges. Samuel now agrees and cries out in a great prayer of intercession for the children of Israel.
Doctrinally, we should not understand this as God rewarding Israel’s repentance with deliverance. This mistaken notion is what leads people to “make deals with God” when they are in a desperate situation. “God, get me out of this and I’ll give up drinking.” Or, “Lord, help me survive this terrible mistake and I’ll give money to the church.” But it doesn’t work this way. God al-ways seeks our repentance.
When we are in proper fellowship with God, we have His favor. When we are at odds with Him, He may use adverse circumstances to brings to repentance.
D. Defeat of the Philistines (vv. 10, 11)
10, 11. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Loon thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Bethcar.
God’s choice for Israel’s deliverance is both powerful and dramatic: a supernatural roar of thunder. We should also understand that while this terrifies the Philistines, the men of Israel are not afraid. Because their hearts are right with repentance, they know that God is fighting for them. This allows them to rally quickly and rout the enemy. When we are right with God, we are able to remain calm and confident in the most frightening situations.
III. Proclamation and Ebenezer(1 Samuel 7:12, 13)
A. Lord’s Help (v. 12)
12.Then Samuel took a stone. and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lies helped us.
When the battle is over, Samuel proclaims victory by erecting a memorial. This memorial is in the form of a large stone, which Samuel calls thenezer. In Hebrew this means “stone of help.”What an irony that Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser character its A Christmas Carol, has that name!)Samuel’s actions are significant for three reasons. First, he clearly gives credit for the victory to God, not the men of Israel. Second, he names the stone to emphasize Israel’s dependence upon God. Third, he establishes a tradition of remembering, calling Israel to understand all the events that led to its repentance and subsequent deliverance.
Many monuments erected around the world memorialize wars and their victims. America has monuments dedicated to the soldiers who fought in her wars. Napoleon intended the Arc de Tri-oomph in Paris to memorialize his greatness, but it has since become a French memorial to those who died its World War I. Canada has its National War Memorial in Ottawa.
There are other kinds of memorials. The Statue of Liberty was a birthday gift to America to remind the world of the victory of independence that America had achieved. The Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson Memorials in Washington, DC remind people of the character and contributions of those men. Many people will never visit such memorials, but it is now possible to view ‘virtual” memorials on the Internet.
When Samuel raised his Ebenezer, he was creating a reminder for Israel that God had acted to save them from their enemy. A far simpler—but much more profound—memorial than any we have mentioned is the one we Christians have: the Lord’s Supper. When we partake of its rudimentary elements, we remember the victory of Christ over sin. And we need not go to Ottawa, Paris. or Washington to appreciate it.
B. Lord’s Protection (v. 13)
13.So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no snore into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the Lotus was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
This summary statement reflects Israel’s continued reliance on God and God’s continued protection of Israel. With God as Israel’s shield, the strong rival, the Philistines, no longer trouble them. The text leaves us with a small sense of foreshadowing, however: this situation continued all the days of Samuel. Repentance is not a one-tune thing. It must continue and go beyond generational boundaries through the years. When relationship with God falls into neglect and sin, disaster dooms.
A. Raising Ebenezers
Robert Robinson (1735-1790) was an Englishpreacher. In 1758 he wrote the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount” when he was only 23 years old. Stanza 2 of this famous hymn says, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I’m come.”For Robinson this was a reference to the salvation he had found after a youth of horrible sin. His early years of evil had been so destructive that he nearly lost his life. After conversion, however, Robinson drifted away. He fell back into a life of sin and abandoned the Bible. Many years later, Robinson was riding in a coach. Seated across from him was a woman deeply engrossed in a hymnbook she had just acquired. She was humming one of her favorites, the tune of “Come, Thou Fount.” Having no idea whom she was talking to, she innocently asked Robinson if he knew that hymn.
Robinson burst into tears and replied, “Madam, I am very unhappy with the man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I bade them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” Robinson had accidentally stumbled back upon that Ebenezer of his. Sitting there beside his own hymn, he realized how far he had wandered and how awful was his journey and destination.
In today’s lesson Samuel built a monument to help Israel remember God’s providential deliverance from the Philistines. Building a monument is an attempt to ensure that a person or event will be remembered by succeeding generations. The Bible teaches that “the memory of the just is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7). Monuments can be powerful tools for interpreting and remembering our history. Do you have monuments in your spiritual history? Are there people and places that stand out as turning points for you, where you were rescued from self-destruction or where you made commitments that shaped your future? Take some time to remember.
B. The Ministry of Intercessory Prayer
An acquaintance of mine named Paul shared an amazing story with me in church one Sunday. Paul was an older gentleman and not in very good health (a leukemia survivor). He had a heart for missions and frequently traveled to an Asian country to encourage churches and to transport Bibles and materials for a mission agency. On a recent trip Paul’s health problems caught up with him. He returned with an infection that led to pneumonia and a high fever. He was taken to a hospital directly from the airport in SanFrancisco. After a stay of 11 days, he was finally allowed to go home. But he ended up in the hospital again. The fever would not go away. After a few days Paul was released, but the fever persisted and he got even worse. He was unable to go to work.
On Saturday afternoon he lay down to take a nap, the fever raging. He awoke rather suddenly a few hours later and realized that the fever was completely gone. He was very weak but well. Why is this amazing? Don’t people recover from pneumonia all the lime, every day, in every city? My friend Paul didn’t understand it either until he began to do some time-zone calculations. One of the churches he had visited in the Asian country had a small intercessory prayer group that had met every Sunday for many years. They had learned of his illness that week. When Paul calculated the time differential, he realized his fever had left him at the precise time they were praying for him.
There are many reasons to pray. We pray as an act of worship. We pray as an act of repentance. We pray in times of personal trial to seek God’s help and mercy. But one of the greatest ways to use the marvelous gift of prayer is as an act of intercession: praying for other people.
Any church is stronger if believers know the great needs of fellow believers and take time to petition God on their behalf. That’s what Samuel did. This type of praying allows it to move be-yond self-centered prayers. Too often our prayers are like a Christmas list to Santa Claus, packed with our own wants and needs. When we pray sincerely for the needs and pains of others, we begin to think more like God, who cares for all. My friend Paul’s story (along with many Bible examples) is a witness to the effectiveness and power of intercessory prayer (compare Romans15:30-32; Ephesians 6:19. 20).
If you have never prayed for other people, start today—it is not difficult. Share some real needs among fellow class members; then agree to pray for those people during the week. Begin by committing to doing it once; then do it. Keep sharing and praying; you may be surprised at how rewarding the ministry of intercessory prayer can be.
0 Lord, our help and protector, give us a heart to pray for others. Help us repent of the sins that foul our relationship with You. Please be merciful to us as You were to the people of Israel. Continue to deliver Your people in their times of need. In Jesus’ name, amen.
D. Thought to Remember
Intercessory prayer develops the church into a community of repentance and remembrance.