1 Samuel 7:1
At Kirjath-jearim the people reverently undertook the charge of the ark, and carried out their arrangements so carefully that no further calamity occurred. On its arrival they placed it in the house of Abinadab in the hill. More probably at Gibeah, as it is translated in 2 Samuel 6:3, 2 Samuel 6:4. In Joshua 15:57 a village of this name is mentioned in the tribe of Judah not far from Kirjath-jearim (ibid. Joshua 15:60), and probably Abinadab, who lived there, was a Levite, and so his house was chosen, and his son Eleazar sanctified to keep the ark. The names of both father and son are common in the Levitical genealogies, and none but a member of this tribe would have been selected for so holy a duty. If, however, the translation in the hill be preferred, we may suppose that it was because lofty heights were still considered fit places for Jehovah's worship, or there may even have been a "high place" there, of which Abinadab was the keeper. What exactly were the duties of Eleazar we cannot tell, as the word to keep is very indefinite; but probably, after the fearful ruin at Shiloh, all regular services and sacrifices were in abeyance until the return of happier times. Even here it was the men of the city who sanctified Eleazar, and not a priest.
THE REFORMATION OF ISRAEL (Joshua 15:2-6).
1 Samuel 7:2
While the ark, etc. The literal translation of this verse is, "And it came to pass, from the day that the ark rested at Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years." The words dwell wearily upon the length of this mournful period, during which. Israel was in a state of subjection to the Philistines, with its national life crushed to the ground, and its strength wasted by unjust exactions and misrule. For though the Philistines gave up the ark, there was no restoration of the national worship, nor did they abandon the political fruits of their victory at Eben-ezer. But quietly and calmly Samuel was labouring to put all things right. It was the principle of the theocracy that Jehovah punished his subjects for their sins by withdrawing his protection, and that on their repentance he took again his place at their head as their king, and delivered them. Samuel's whole effort, therefore, was directed to bringing the people to repentance. What means he used we are not told, nor what was his mode of life; but probably it was that of a fugitive, going stealthily from place to place that he might teach and preach, hiding in the caverns in the limestone range of Judaea, emerging thence to visit now one quarter of the country and now another, ever in danger, but gradually awakening, not merely those districts which were contiguous to the Philistines, but all Israel to a sense of the greatness of their sins, and the necessity of renewed trust and love to their God. And so a fresh spiritual life sprang up among the people, and with it came the certainty of the restoration of their national independence. All the house of Israel lamented after Jehovah. The word used here is rare, and the versions all differ in their translation of it. Really it is a happy one, embracing the two ideas of sorrow for sin, and also of re. turning to and gathering themselves round Jehovah. The Syriac alone retains this double meaning, by saying that "they all cast themselves down after Jehovah," i.e. that they sought him with deep humility. Gradually, then, a change of heart came over the people; but the removal of the ark to a more fit place, and the restoration of Divine service with ministering priests and Levites, could take place only after the Philistine yoke had been broken. From 1 Samuel 13:19 - 22 we learn how vigilant and oppressive that tyranny was; and the heart of the writer, in inditing this verse, was full of sorrow at the thought that the repentance of Israel was so slow and unready, and that therefore it had to wait twenty years before deliverance came.
1 Samuel 7:3
If ye do return, etc. At length everything was ripe for a change, and the reformation wrought privately in their hearts was followed by public action. Samuel's secret addresses had no doubt been watched with anger by the Philistines, but he now ventures upon open resistance; for this public summons to Israel to put away its idols by a national act was a summons also to an uprise against foreign domination. We must suppose that the people had often assured Samuel in his wanderings of the reality of their repentance, and of their readiness to stake everything upon the issue of war. As a statesman, he now judges that the time has come, and convenes a national assembly. But everything would depend upon their earnestness. They were virtually unarmed; they would have to deal with an enemy long victorious, and who held the most important posts in their country with garrisons. Terrible suffering would follow upon defeat. Was their faith strong enough, their courage desperate enough, for so fearful a risk? Especially as Samuel is never described to us as a warrior or military hero. He could inspire no confidence as a general. He himself makes everything depend upon theft faith, and all he can promise is, "I will pray for you unto Jehovah" (1 Samuel 7:5).
1 Samuel 7:4
Then the children of Israel did put away [the] Baalim and [the] Ashtaroth. This must have been done by a public act, by which at some time previously arranged the images of their Baals and Astartes were torn from their shrines, thrown down, and broken in pieces. Of course this was an overt act of rebellion, for these deities were especially Phoenician idols, and subsequently it was the Phoenician Jezebel who tried so fanatically to introduce their worship into Israel in Ahab's time. To cast off the Philistine deities was equivalent to a rebellion generally against Philistine supremacy. Baal and Astarte, the husband and the wife, represented the reproductive powers of nature, and under various names were worshipped throughout the East, and usually with lewd and wanton orgies.
1 Samuel 7:5
Gather all Israel to Mizpeh. Mizpah, for so the place should be spelt, means a watch tower (Genesis 31:49), and so is a not uncommon name for spots among the hills commanding an extensive outlook. This was probably the Mizpah in the tribe of Benjamin, distant about five miles from Jerusalem (see Conder, 'Tent Work,' 1 Samuel 1:25); and though Samuel may have partly chosen it as a holy place ( 11:11; 20:1), yet the chief reason was probably its lofty situation, 500 feet above the neighbouring tableau, which itself was 2000 feet above the sea level. It was thus difficult to surprise, and admirably adapted for warlike purposes. The gathering of the people at Mizpah was the necessary result of the public insult offered to the Philistine gods, and virtually a declaration of war, as being an assertion of national independence.
1 Samuel 7:6
They … drew water, and poured it out before Jehovah. While the drawing of water was a joyful act (Isaiah 12:3; John 7:37, John 7:38), as symbolising the winning from the depths below of the source of life and health, the pouring it out before Jehovah expressed sorrow for sin, and so it is explained by the Chaldee Paraphrast: "They poured out their heart in penitence like water before the Lord" (comp. Psalms 22:14). It might here also signify weakness and powerlessness, the being "as water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up again" (2 Samuel 14:14). They further expressed their sorrow by fasting, enjoined "for the afflicting of their souls" upon the great day of atonement (Le 16:29, 31; 1 Samuel 23:27, 32; Numbers 29:7). And to these symbolical acts they joined the confession of the mouth, acknowledging that "they had sinned against Jehovah.
And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh. That is, he now became the acknowledged ruler of Israel in things temporal, both civil and military; as he had previously been in things spiritual by virtue of his office as prophet. This was, of course, the result of the decisive action he had taken in summoning this national convention; but the words strongly suggest that there was some direct appointment, or at the very least a national acknowledgment of Samuel's authority, especially as they precede the history of the defeat of the Philistines. He had summoned the people together as Nabi, prophet, and when he said, "I will pray for you unto Jehovah," there was the implied meaning that he would be with them only in that capacity. But when the time came to appoint a general, who would act under him as Barak had acted under Deborah, the great chiefs, probably, who saw in him the prime mover of all that was being done, urged him also to take the command,and upon his consent he became also Shophet or judge.
ISRAEL'S DELIVERANCE FROM THE TYRANNY OF THE PHILISTINES (1 Samuel 7:7-14).
1 Samuel 7:7, 1 Samuel 7:8.
When the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. This was perfectly natural, and implied no intention on the part of the Israelites not to fight it out. No dominant nation would permit a subject race to hold such a meeting as Samuel's at Mizpah without having recourse to arms; but the Philistines acted with such promptness and vigour as brought home to the assembled Israelites not merely the conviction that they would have to fight, but that they must do it at once, and with the combined forces of the enemy. In spite, nevertheless, of their fears, they determine to await the attack, and that this decision was taken in faith their own words prove. For they say, Cease not to cry unto Jehovah our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines. The words literally are, "Be not silent from crying," etc. Let him mediate for them with God, and they will await the onslaught of the foe.
1 Samuel 7:9
And Samuel took a sucking lamb. Samuel now appears as priest, and makes intercession and atonement for them. The lamb was at least seven days old, for so the law required (Le 22:27), but probably not much older; for the word, a rare one, occurring elsewhere only in Isaiah 65:25, means something small and tender: this then he offered for a burnt offering wholly unto Jehovah. The A.V. translates in this way because chalil, "whole," is masculine, while 'olah, "a burnt offering," is feminine; but chalil had in course of time come to be used as a substantive (Le 6:23; Deuteronomy 13:16; Deuteronomy 33:10), and is really here in opposition to 'olah, and so the two together signify "a whole burnt offering," and clearly indicate that the lamb was entirely consumed by fire. 'Olah means that which ascends, and symbolised devotion and consecration to God. Chalil intensified this signification, and showed that all was God's, and no part whatsoever reserved for the priest or the offerer. And thus then Samuel's burnt offering implied that the people gave themselves unreservedly to Jehovah. And Jehovah heard him. Really, "Jehovah answered him," by the thunder mentioned in Isaiah 65:10. For thunder was regarded as God's voice (1 Samuel 2:10), and in Psalms 29:1-11. we have a poetic description of its majesty and power. Express mention is also made in Psalms 99:6 of Jehovah having thus answered the prayers of Moses (Exodus 19:19), and of Samuel.
1 Samuel 7:10, 1 Samuel 7:11
As Samuel was offering, etc. We have here a detailed and lively description of the whole event. The lamb is still burning upon the altar, and Samuel still kneeling before it, when the Philistine hosts appear upon the lofty plateau just below the hill of Mizpah, and marshal themselves for battle. It seemed as if Israel's case were hopeless, and many a heart, no doubt, was bravely straggling against its fears, and scarcely could keep them down. But as the enemy drew near the electric cloud formed in the heavens, and Jehovah thundered with a great voice (so the Hebrew) on that day upon the Philistines. Alarmed at so unusual a phenomenon, the Philistines hesitate in their advance, and Samuel, seeing their consternation, gives the signal for the charge, and Israel, inspirited by the voice of Jehovah, rushes down the hill upon the foe. Full of enthusiasm, they forget the poorness of their weapons, and the weight of their impetuous rush breaks through the opposing line. And now a panic seizes the Philistines; they attempt no further resistance, but flee in dismay from the pursuing Israelites. Their course would lead them down a huge valley 1000 feet deep, at the bottom of which was a torrent rushing over a rocky bed; nor was their flight stayed until they came under Beth-car. Of this place we know nothing, but probably it was a fastness where the Philistines could protect themselves from further attack.
1 Samuel 7:12
Then Samuel took a stone, and … called the name of it Eben-ezer. We saw on 1 Samuel 4:1-22. I that the place where Israel then suffered defeat, but which now received a more happy name, was an open plain, over which the people now chased their then victorious enemies. Here, then, Samuel set up a memorial, according to Jewish custom, and called its name Help stone. In giving his reason for it, hitherto hath Jehovah helped us, there is a plain indication of the need of further assistance. There was a long struggle before them, and Jehovah, who had aided them so mightily at its beginning, would also help them unto the end. The memorial stood halfway between Mizpeh and Shen, both which names have the article in Hebrew, because one signifies the watchtower, the other the tooth. It was a steep, pointed rock, but is not mentioned elsewhere. Dent, the French for tooth, is a common name for mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees.
1 Samuel 7:13
So the Philistines were subdued. Not completely, for we find that they had garrisons in Israel when Saul was made king; but it was a thorough victory for the time, and was followed up, moreover, by an invasion of Philistia, in which Samuel recovered the towns which had been wrested from Israel upon the western borders of Judah and Benjamin. Moreover, the enemy came no more into the coast of Israel. That is, all invasions ceased. And the hand of Jehovah was against the philistines all the days of Samuel. This, of course, includes the reign of Saul, till within four years of his death; for Samuel continued to he prophet, and to a certain extent shophet, even when Saul was king. The words, moreover, imply a struggle, during which there was a gradual growth in strength on Israel's part, and a gradual enfeeblement on the part of the Philistines, until David completely vanquished them, though they appear again as powerful enemies in the days of King Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16). It is certain, however, that fifteen or twenty years after this battle the Philistines were again in the ascendant (1 Samuel 13:19-23), and it was this which made the Israelites demand a king (1 Samuel 9:16). But it is the method of the Divine historians to include the ultimate results, however distant, in their account of an event (see on 1 Samuel 16:21; 1 Samuel 17:55-58); and Israel's freedom and the final subjugation of the Philistines were both contained in Samuel's victory at Mizpah.
1 Samuel 7:14
From Ekron even unto Gath. Not that Israel captured these two towns, but they mark the limits upon the borders, within which the Philistines had previously seized towns and villages belonging to Israel, and which Samuel now recovered. There was peace between Israel and the Amorites. In Israel's weakness the remains of this once powerful Canaanitish stock had probably made many a marauding expedition into the land, and carried off cattle and other plunder; now they sue for peace, and unite with Israel against the Philistines.
SAMUEL'S CONDUCT AS JUDGE (1 Samuel 7:15-17).
1 Samuel 7:15, 1 Samuel 7:16.
And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. As long as Samuel lived there was no clear]imitation of his powers as shophet compared with those of Saul as king. In putting Agag to death (1 Samuel 15:33) he even claimed a higher authority, and though he voluntarily left as a rule all civil and military matters to the king, yet he never actually resigned the supreme control, and on fitting occasions even exercised it. It was, however, practically within narrow limits that he personally exercised his functions as judge in settling the causes of the people; for Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh were all situated in the tribe of Benjamin. Both Bethel and Mizpah were holy spots, and so also, probably, was Gilgal; and therefore we may conclude that it was the famous sanctuary of that name (see 1 Samuel 11:14), and not the Gilgal mentioned, in 2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 4:38. For this latter, situated to the southwest of Shiloh, near the road to Jerusalem, had no religious importance, and would not, therefore, attract so many people to it as one that was frequented for sacrifice. Probably, too, it was upon the occasion of religious solemnities that Samuel visited these places, and heard the people's suits.
1 Samuel 7:17
His return was to Ramah. We have seen that Elkanah was a large landholder there, and Samuel had now apparently succeeded to his father's place. And there he built an altar unto Jehovah. This old patriarchal custom (Genesis 12:7) long continued, and it was only gradually that local shrines and worship on high places were superseded by attendance upon the temple services at Jerusalem. At this time there was especial need for such altars. The established worship at Shiloh had been swept away, the town destroyed, the priests put to the sword, and the ark, though restored, was resting in a private dwelling. Probably Samuel had saved the sacred vessels, and much even of the tabernacle, but no mention of them is here made. We see, however, both in the erection of this altar and all through Samuel's life, that the Aaronic priesthood was in abeyance, and that he was not only prophet and judge, but also priest. In thus restoring the priesthood in his own person he was justified not merely by his powers as prophet, but by necessity. Gradually, with more prosperous times, matters returned to their regular channel; but even when Ahiah, the grandson of Eli, was with Saul (1 Samuel 14:3), he was employed not for the offering of sacrifice, but for divining with the Urim and Thummim. On a most important occasion the offering of sacrifice is spoken of as undoubtedly Samuel's right, and when he delayed his coming no mention is made of a priest, but Saul is said to have offered the victim himself (1 Samuel 13:9). It is plain, therefore, that we must not tie down the priesthood too tightly to the house of Aaron; for throughout there lies in the background the idea of a higher priesthood, and with this Samuel was invested, as being a type of him who is a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedek.
1 Samuel 7:1, 1 Samuel 7:2
Fitness for service.
The facts are—
1. At the request of the terrified men of Beth-shemesh the men of Kirjath-jearim bring the ark to their high place.
2. Arrangements are made in the house of Abinadab for the due care of the ark.
3. The time of the sojourn Of the ark in this place, up to the date of Samuel's test of repentance, was twenty years.
4. Towards the close of this period the people long for the full restoration of the Divine favour. A new stage was being entered on in the process of restoration to full privileges, and God must have men fitted to the occasion. The ark could not go to Shiloh for evident reasons; so far as the Divine will could be gathered from the controlled action of the kine, Beth-shemesh was the place for it in which to rest. But the profane conduct of the officials proved that the privilege must be forfeited, and the unmitigated terror of the survivors indicated that they possessed not the spiritual qualifications for the respectful, loving guardianship of Israel's glory. For some reason the men of Kirjath-jearim had a reputation which justified the belief that they dared and could safely convey and keep what their neighbours dare not touch. Their actions justified this belief.
I. NEW FORMS OF SERVICE ARE CONSTANTLY ARISING IN THE UNFOLDING OF GOD'S PURPOSES. There was once a need of workmen to build the ark, of men to bear it, of kine to bring it back, and now of men to carry and keep it in all decency and order. Emergencies are inherent in the outworking of the Church's mission. Ages bring their demands. Education, national affairs, assaults on truth, openings for the gospel in foreign lands, and many other things, call for new lines of action or modifications of old. And thus it will be till the world is brought to Christ.
II. THERE ARE ALWAYS IN RESERVE THE MEN FITTED FOR THE WORK GOD HAS TO RE DONE. If Beth-shemesh cannot supply the men who know how to behave properly towards the sacred symbol, there are others elsewhere. The qualities are being acquired parallel with the providential processes that evolve the new demand. God takes care of all sides of his holy cause. Those disqualified must yield the privilege of new and important service to the qualified, and God knows where these are. In every age he has his chosen, secret methods of laying hold of ability, learning, strength of purpose, and whatsoever else may be required to do his will.
III. THE FUNDAMENTAL FITNESS FOR GOD'S SERVICE ON NEW OCCASIONS IS TRUE REVERENCE AND INTEREST. Many minor qualities were requisite to the bringing and caring for the ark, but the primary was that of proper reverence for the ark of God and due interest in its sanctity and use The men of Beth-shemesh lacked this; for they lost true reverence in terror and dread, and they were distrustful of their ability to keep the ark with due honour to it and benefit to themselves. Here we have in incidental contrast a religion characterised by dread, and a religion of true reverence.
1. The religion of dread is a sense of infinite holiness and power unrelieved by a recognition of other Divine attributes. The men of Beth-shemesh had been struck with the awful holiness of Jehovah, and of his mighty power expressing holiness in acts of swift judgment. Thus, generally, when religion consists mainly in this there is a shrinking from God's presence; attention to ordinances under the sheer force of conscience. In so far as Christian men—so called—know only such a religion they approximate towards paganism. The religion of true reverence is a sense of infinite holiness and power toned by a trustful love. The men of Kirjath-jearim were not perfect, but they had as correct views as their neighbours of the holiness and power of Jehovah; and yet it is obvious, from the quiet, interested manner in which they received and provided for the ark, that they in some degree loved and trusted their God. In true reverence the awe created by ineffable holiness and almighty power is mitigated by the remembrance that HE is merciful and gracious, and cares for his people, even in their self-brought sorrows. When this reverence is perfected in Christian life by a due appreciation of the august majesty and love seen in the sacrificial work of Christ, the heart rests in God with all the reverential love of a child. Duty and privilege then are coincident.
1. We should be on the look out for any new work God may have for us to do.
2. Never despair of God finding agents for the various enterprises opened up by his own providence.
3. Cultivate every possible quality, and hold it in readiness for any use which God may make clear.
4. Court the honour and bliss of welcoming to city or home the treasures dear to God, be they ordinances of worship or those commissioned to do his will; for such bring blessings with them—"angels unawares."
The return of the ark was an outward sign of the returning favour of God, and was so understood by the men of Beth-shemesh. But the full service of the tabernacle, with the ark as its centre and glory, was not established. Nor were the Philistines deprived of their hold on Israel. The Divine power was held in reserve. The set time to favour Zion in plenitude had not arrived. The reasons for this are clear. The people were too degraded to enjoy the full benefit of the services and festivals. A degenerate priesthood, steeped in vice, cannot at once pass on to the holy duties of Jehovah's worship. A regenerative process requires time, and twenty years was not too long for the old generation of priests to die off and give way to men brought up under better influences. The general truth here set forth is, that it is in the heart of God to do great things for his people, but that for good reasons he holds himself, so to speak, in reserve—veiling his glory, bestowing his blessing sparsely. Indeed, there is even a wider application of the truth than in relation to the Church. Take a few illustrations.
I. CREATION. The material and spiritual universe is the outcome of the power and wisdom of God. But vast and intricate as it is, no one can suppose that it is coextensive with all that is in his nature.. There are not two infinites. The power and wisdom of God are in excess of what are traceable in the works he has formed. There is a vast reserve, which for aught we know may some time come out in an order of things not now conceived or deemed possible. It is a crude philosophy which teaches that God has done all he intends to do in the way of positive creation. Every new spirit that comes into being is an evidence of the Divine reserve.
II. REVELATION. There is a varied revelation of God, but in each case it may be said that, supposing we have learnt all they teach, we "know only in part." For as there is more in God than in his works and word, there is a reserve of truth which may yet be drawn upon. In the gradual bestowment of revelation we see how God keeps back from one age what he gives to another. Christ had many things to say once which his disciples could not then bear to hear. There must be deep and far reaching principles of the Divine government which underlie the at present revealed facts of the Trinity, atonement, human responsibility, and future punishment; and these are kept out of full view till, perhaps, we become free from the flesh.
III. NATIONAL PROSPERITY. All true national prosperity is of God. If it comes not to men, it is because he withholds the blessings desired. The absence of prosperity has a practical side; it means that God reserves good because conduct and motive are not what he approves. There was nigh at hand all the power and wisdom by which Israel should cease to depend on Philistines for axes and coulters, but it came not forth. Had Israel in earlier or later times been more true to God, he would have "fed them also with the finest of the wheat" (Psalms 81:13-16).
IV. CHURCH PRIVILEGES AND USEFULNESS. "Glorious things" are spoken of Zion. The Church inherits a wondrous destiny. She is to be the envy of the world. Her "feet" are to be "beautiful;" her garments "white;" her influence as the "light" and "salt." And all this not by virtue of what may be in the Church of herself, but because of the power and grace of God within her. If she is "in the dust," we ask the cause; the first answer is, because God stays his hand, keeps the residue of the Spirit, holds himself in reserve. The second answer is, that this Divine reserve is in consequence of the Church having backslidden from her God and disqualified herself from being a vehicle for the full flow of the blessing that is to enrich mankind. the Divine light is to shine from "golden candlesticks."
V. PERSONAL RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. Personal religion is, in one sense, the passing into and dwelling within the soul of the power and love of God—by the Holy Spirit. It is the proper heritage of a believer to enjoy a sense of the Divine favour not known to the unbelieving. A vision of God sweet and blessed comes to the pure in heart. Christ manifests himself as he does not to the world. But the backsliding soul does not share in the full bliss. "Why art thou cast down?" is often asked. The answer is, there is not the spiritual fitness for perfect fellowship. Some "idols" have been cherished. Divine reserve is a discipline to cause the heart to lament after God.
1. There is ample ground for believing that all things shall be subdued unto Christ. His great power is yet to be put forth.
2. Inquiry should be made as to the existence of anything in motive, conduct, or spirit which keeps the Church from enjoying the full exercise of the power of God.
3. We may profitably reflect on what might be ours in private life if by our devotedness to God we secured more of the "residue of the Spirit."
1 Samuel 7:3-12
The facts are—
1. Samuel calls on the people to prove their desire to return to God by putting away idols and preparing their hearts for a blessing.
2. A response to the call is followed by a summons to Mizpah for prayer and humiliation.
3. A rumoured approach of the Philistines excites fear, and an urgent request for Samuel's intercession with God.
4. While Samuel is engaged in worship God discomfits the assailing Philistines by thunder.
5. The victory is commemorated by raising the stone Ebenezer. This paragraph is to be considered in relation to Israel's true goal in life—to fulfil the Messianic purposes of their existence as a chosen people. Associated with this ulterior object, and subservient to it, was the full favour and blessing of God. This, again, was to be indicated by the restoration in developed form of the holy services and festivals connected with the ark and the sanctuary. The turning point in the degeneracy had come in a sense of desolation and misery consequent on the recent defeat and the capture of the ark. The return of the ark gently fanned the flickering flame of hope, but as yet the goal was far distant, and the conditions of attaining to it were very unsatisfactory. The narrative sketc.hes, in the instance of Israel, an outline of true effort towards the goal of life, and the encouragements to persevere in the effort. The Christian Church and the individual soul have each an issue of life to attain to. It is also true of them that they start from a relatively low and unsatisfactory position, and will succeed in their endeavour only as they observe conditions inseparable from their position.
I. The MEANS AND CONDITIONS OF REALISING LIFE'S PURPOSE. Confining attention to those involved in this portion of history, we find them to be—
1. A hearty renunciation of all that is alien to the mind of God. Idols had to be put aside. Man is attached to idols. They may be feelings entertained, passions gratified, favourite motives cherished, customs cultivated, aims kept in view, objects unduly loved. The "covetousness" which clings to forbidden things is "idolatry." In so far as these things absorb our feeling and receive our attention after that God has indicated that they ought not, so far do we set them up as deserving regard and love in preference to himself. The Church and the individual must search and cast aside all that is alien to the mind of God.
2. Confession of sin and humiliation of spirit. No soul can attain to its goal, no Church can do its work and acquire purity and freedom, apart from sincere confession and deep humiliation for what is past. Israel's gathering at Mizpah to acknowledge their guilt and bow before God, as though they were "like water spilt on the ground" (1 Samuel 7:6; cf. 2 Samuel 14:14), was a great step towards recovery of strength and joy. Seasons may arise when special services shall alone give due expression to the sense of shame and sorrow for the past; but daily sin needs to be confessed and the spirit to be chastened before the holy One whom we serve. Power for holy deeds grows out of true penitence.
3. Adaptation of the mind to a better course in the future. The "preparing" of "the heart" unto the Lord implies a self-control, a searching of the seat of feeling, a cleansing process by such spiritual helps as God may give, a fitting one's self internally for a higher mode of life than yet has been known. Internal, carefully sought reformation is a guarantee of improved external acts. Most of us are not in a mood adapted to the grand future which God has in reserve. We are to seek it. Fellowship with God more pure, and close, and constant is not the result of accident, but is the issue of an earnest endeavour.
4. Special prayer for power to live a better life. The cry of Israel's heart was a prayer for more than human aid to help them to perfect the renunciation of false gods and the contrition due for sin. And the aid of the prophet's powerful intercession was to give more effect to their own cry. Life, to be blessed in issue, must be one of prayer—an incessant cry for help to live. And, also, recourse must be had to the true Intercessor, who is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." The Church has not duly appreciated this means of accomplishing its purpose in the world. In so far as the individual Christian is a man of prayer, and looks daily to the Intercessor, wilt he press on till he attains to "the mark and prize of his high calling."
5. A due recognition of the atonement of Christ. Not without reason was the "sucking lamb" offered when Israel sought the Lord. The "way to God" was clearly recognised. And the life of man will be right and will press on to a safe and blessed issue only so far as the Lamb of God is recognised as the "way." The Church can fulfil her mission in the world only by faithfully exhibiting the cross of Christ to the guilty and desponding.
6. Determined conflict with the natural enemies of God and man. Israel had to fight Philistines. Only on condition of supplementary acts of confession and worship, by earnest conflict with the foe, could they secure peace in their borders, and finally answer their Messianic purpose of existence. In like manner the Church and the individual must "war a good warfare." The militant character should be maintained as long as there is an enemy to Christ in the heart as in the world.
II. The ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRESEVERE TO THE END. The raising of the stone "Ebenezer" was an act retrospective and prospective. The hopes inspired in the mind of Samuel when first he undertook the work of reformation were being justified by events, and he desired the people to share in his expectations. In so far as fidelity has been shown by the Christian Church or by the individual in complying with the requirements of life's true issue, so far is there in every instance a ground of confident expectation. For consider—
1. The primary basis of confidence. In Israel's case the return of the ark within their borders was a pledge of mercy for the penitent. They were not lost without remedy. And in the more glorious manifestation of God in Christ we have the pledge that there is mercy for all, and that all energy spent conformably to the object of his presence among men will be crowned with success.
2. The consciousness of being on the side of right. There is in even the fallen a remnant of the original sense of right which furnishes a ground of appeal, and assures of responsibility. The guiltiest man in Israel knew that to forsake Jehovah was wrong. In turning unto the Lord and seeking his favour the people were sustained by the deep conviction of right in hope of attaining the desired good. The moral support of such a consciousness is great to every one. The soul that seeks holiness and eternal life may look on with hope. A voice within declares that, being on the side of eternal right, we must, so far, win. The struggling Church of Christ feels the force of the same conviction which gives the foretaste of victory.
3. The manifest improvement in one's condition proportionate to desire and effort. In so far as Israel's desire and effort were sincere and carried through, to that degree did the personal, domestic, and national life rise above the baneful circumstances resulting from former sins. Every good feeling, every tear of penitence, every casting away of idols, left its mark on the surface of society, and indicated what might be expected if only the reformation be carried through. God gives according to our work. Likewise all Christian desire and effort succeed so far as they are genuine. The acquired results of fidelity to God confirm the truth that everything promised shall in due time be realised. Each step in the ascent heavenwards is to a clearer view of the summit of our ambition.
4. The assured sympathy of the great Intercessor. Perhaps nothing gave downcast Israel so much encouragement of final restoration to God, with its ulterior consequences, as the effort of Samuel, the chosen prophet, to assure them of his full sympathy. He was their friend, and in him they found solace and hope. As a prefigurement of the one true Intercessor, we see here what reason we have for boldness. The pains which Christ has taken to assure every earnest soul personally, and the Church collectively, of his deep sympathy are most extraordinary. By word, deed, tears, sorrow, death, yes, by resumed life and outpouring of the Spirit, he would have us know that we are not alone. The past may be black and full of sadness, but with him as Helper and Friend who may not hope on?
5. The cooperation of Providence. Providence works for men in forms adapted to their mental and spiritual condition. Whether the thunder which discomfited the Philistines was a special exertion of Divine power out of the ordinary course of atmospheric changes, or a coincidence brought about by him who, in the primary settlement of nature, foresees his own relations to his people, and harmonises physical and moral lines, the result abides. God fights for those who fight for righteousness. Providence does not always favour the search after wealth, or pleasure, or ease, but it does always favour the Christian in his conflict with sin. A "besom of destruction" is being formed for use against the forces of evil. Never in the history of the world has a case arisen in which defeat has come on any soul that has sincerely trusted in God and conformed to his requirements. They that "trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved." The battle is not to the strong, but to those who are under the cover of the Almighty hand.
III. The GROUNDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT, WHEN FAIRLY BROUGHT BEFORE THE MIND, OPERATE IN TWO WAYS.
1. Retrospectively. The retrospective survey, which brings the mind in view of facts bearing on the future, also awakens gratitude for what has been already accomplished. It was with no formal thankfulness that Samuel inscribed "Ebenezer;'' and the poor wayward people, whose sins had borne such bitter fruit, caught his spirit as they reflected on the mercy that was proved, by recent events, not to be clean gone forever. Sinful hearts, when penitent, love to look back on even the slightest sign of God's love and care. The development of gratitude itself is the introduction of a new and helpful power in the sore conflict with sin and sorrow. If only men would consider, by careful retrospection, what God has done for them! Men too often dwell on their own deeds and failings, and so nourish despondency. "Be ye thankful" is apostolic exhortation. And, despite all defections, blunders, and disasters of the Church, how tenderly and wisely he has led, chastened, and worked with the people called after his holy name. Powerful reasons still exist for the contending hosts to raise their cheerful, grateful "Ebenezer."
2. Prospectively. "Hitherto" is relative. There is a future term in the thought; and its use, as the result of a survey of grounds of encouragement, means that the heart is bracing itself for new exertions. Samuel would work on, devising in cheerful spirit new means of further raising the people, while they would avail themselves of his assistance to regain lost joys and honours. A higher tone, a more vigorous effort, would mark the coming years.
1. It is very useful in private, domestic, and Church life occasionally to take a solemn review, with appropriate religious exercise, of progress made, and of what God has done for us.
2. We should study more carefully the formative power of a frequent consideration of the mercies of God.
3. When engaged in actual religious work and worship to which God has clearly called us, we may be certain that our general interests will not be allowed to suffer from the hand of enemies, seen or unseen.
4. If we honour God to the extent of our spiritual attainments, power will come for doing him still greater honour.
1 Samuel 7:13-17
First fruits of repentance.
The facts are—
1. Israel enjoy freedom from the oppression of the Philistines and regain lost cities.
2. Their restless ancestral enemy the Amorite is quiet.
3. Samuel quietly and happily attends to his civil functions.
4. Ramah, the home of Samuel, is blessed with an altar to Jehovah. The mention of these suggestive facts immediately after the reference to the call to repentance and its response exhibit the natural results of the efforts of prophet and people. A fruitful theme is given.
I. In RELATION TO ISRAEL THESE FRUITS WERE MOST IMPORTANT; just such as a nation might well prize. An active, powerful foe was held in restraint. Territory and cities were restored to the government and general influence of a true man of God. Their fathers' foe, who disputed the march of Joshua, and ever lay as a savage beast by their side, was controlled by an unseen hand. An orderly and beneficent civil administration, diligently maintained on religious principles, was enjoyed by the various districts, and the residence of the ruler of the people was conspicuously a centre of religious influence. Blessed fruits of national repentance! When will nations learn the clear lessons of this precious book of God?
II. In RELATION TO THE RELIGIOUS LIFE OF CHRISTIANS THESE FACTS ARE FULL OF SIGNIFICANCE. It is not wise to seek out spiritual meanings from every simple historic fact in the Old Testament. Plain history is not given as a religious enigma to be solved by some transcendental insight. Yet there are analogies between national and individual life, and principles of holiness and righteousness work in the same directions in both. As there is a Babylon both spiritual and historical, so there is the Philistine and Amorite of our great warfare. As treasures change hands in Israel's conflict, so there are valuable possessions in man which may be dominated by opposing powers. Thus, then, we may consider some of the firstfruits of repentance in Christian life.
1. The great world power is largely subdued and cast off. The man who in his life has passed through what Israel did in answer to Samuel's call finds that the evil influences of the world around have less hold on him. They are repressed. Their force has been weakened, if not annihilated.
2. Faculties once governed by unhallowed tendencies are restored to the rightful ruler. There are, so to speak, cities—seats of power and resource—in every man's nature. While in a sinful course of life these are dominated largely by principles alien to God, and adverse to true self-interest: true repentance brings every faculty, thought, and desire into a willing subordination to him whose right it is to reign. The soul is a "holy land" in which Christ is King.
3. Deep seated, corrupt passions are quieted. There are ancient, very corrupt passions of a fleshly character embedded in human nature. These Amorites of our experience are unusually powerful during a life of sinful indulgence. They grow fat and flourish. One of the first consequences of the new life is to tone them down. The causes of their extreme activity and restlessness are partially removed. A strong hand holds them down in comparative quietude. Their destiny, like that of Israel's cruel foe, is to be utterly destroyed; but even now, compared with former almost irresistible aggressions, there is peace with them.
4. A considerable degree of prosperity anal order is maintained. The reformed soul has law administered within itself. Every interest, every claim of striving powers and tendencies, is considered and decided in harmony with the law of Christ. The intellect does not absorb the time and energy due to the culture of the emotions, and vice versa. To some degree the inner man is in an orderly, prosperous condition. He is an improved being.
5. The holy, elevating power of devotion is cherished at the centre of influence. Samuel's home was the centre of influence in Israel, and it was made by express arrangement conspicuously devout. There is in our nature a seat of supreme influence. The faculties and tendencies of the soul act in subordination to the commanding affection of life. True repentance issues in the heart becoming the seat of a powerful influence dominating all else. There is an altar there on which the inextinguishable fire burns, filling with its heavenly, glory the entire man. "Old things have passed away; all things are become new." Are these fruits found in all lives called Christian? They ought to be, and are, if "Christian" is more than a name.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Samuel 7:1-12
Steps of return to God.
The whole interest of this passage is moral. No stress is laid on the forms, or even the authorised appurtenances, of religion. The ark, of which we have heard so much, and which had been treated with a singular mixture of superstition and profanity, plays no part in the history. It is left for years in a quiet retreat. Israel had backslidden from the Lord. The steps of their return have a meaning and a moral lesson for all generations.
I. THE FEELING OF A GREAT MORAL AND SPIRITUAL WANT. ("The house of Israel lamented after the Lord." For twenty years the ark had been withdrawn, and under the yoke of the Philistines the spirit of Israel seemed to be quelled and stupefied. Even Samuel appears to have held himself in reserve till a time should arrive more favourable for the moral suasion and admonition of a prophet. And heathen worship crept over the land. But at last conscience began to stir, the soul of the people was weary, and there rose a wistful, sorrowful cry after the God of their fathers. This surely is always the beginning of a backslider's restoration, he wearies, and is ashamed of his own ways; feels his folly and wickedness, and then sighs after a forfeited blessedness—laments after the Lord.
II. REPENTANCE PREACHED AND PRACTISED. When the time came for the people to hear him with an awakened conscience, Samuel addressed all the tribes with a voice of moral authority that recalls the admonitions of Moses and the last words of Joshua (verse 3). And the people obeyed his word, showing their repentance in the most thorough and practical way by "putting away Baalim and Ashtaroth." So must every true prophet or preacher of righteousness summon men to repentance, and testify to them that God will not take their part while their hearts are disloyal to him. It is useless to lament after the Lord and still retain false gods. Our God is not mocked, nor can his favour be gained by mere words and empty sighs.
III. A NEW ORDER BEGUN. At Mizpah, after solemn public confession of sin against Jehovah, "Samuel judged the people of Israel." He seized the opportunity to institute a more authoritative and vigorous administration of public affairs. He knew well the need of establishing order and discipline under the sacred law. And the people consented. So when there is sincere repentance a new order begins. The authority of the law of the Lord over conscience and life is acknowledged, and there is evinced a new obedience.
IV. A FIGHT FOR HOLY LIBERTY. The Philistines had no objection to the Israelite worship of Baal and Astarte; but so soon as they heard of their return to the service of Jehovah and of the increased authority of Samuel, they mustered their forces to attack them. And the faith of the penitent tribes was not yet sufficiently established or assured to prevent their being "afraid of the Philistines." They stood their ground, however, and asked Samuel to pray for them to the Lord. So they got the victory. When a backslider returns to God, endeavouring to regain his self-respect, and to resume his place as a well doer, he finds that evil rises up within him and fights hard for the mastery. As Pharaoh would not let the people go and the Philistines would not let them restore religion or regain national independence without a struggle to keep them down, so does sin strive to retain under its yoke the sinner who is escaping through repentance. But let faith appeal to God along with the burnt offering of entire consecration to him. He gives the victory to the weak.
V. GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF HELP FROM GOD. Samuel knew the value to a nation of inspiriting recollections, and therefore set up a stone or pillar to commemorate the great victory. But he was careful to make it a witness not to Israel's . prowess, but to Jehovah's timely help. It was Ebenezer, the stone of help. It said "Te Deum Landamus." The spiritual life has its Ebenezers,—many of them. Nations are ready enough to raise proud pillars and triumphal arches to celebrate their feats in war. Europe has ever so many columns, streets, squares, and boulevards, and bridges named after battles. Let us remember the battles of principle, the fights with temptation through which we have passed. When we have failed, ours is the shame. When we have overcome, to God be the glory. We recommend not remembrance only, but some stone of remembrance. It is a true and wise impulse which has often led Christians to commemorate a great deliverance or consolation vouchsafed to themselves by building a church, an hospital, or an almshouse, or by founding a mission, or some institution of learning or benevolence. Such a stone of remembrance helps him who rears it to resist the tendency to let religious impressions and memories fade from the mind, and it proclaims to others that some men, at all events, have proved God as the Hearer of prayer and the Helper of the needy.—F.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE