So often when we read passages in the Old Testament we wonder how they really apply to our lives. We read stories of great example, but can these passages really be as life-changing as some of the others we read in God’s Word? I believe they can. Let’s take a look at a passage in I Samuel 7 and work through it together (with a few questions and answers), seeing how it applies to our lives.
Here’s the back story – at this time, the Israelites are in a spiritual mess both, personally and as a nation. The Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the Philistines, and it was now in the city of Kirjathjearim, which was not in the spiritual center of Israel at this time – Shiloh. Samuel, working through the power of the Lord, shows the Israelites that they need to come to repentance and teaches us a great lesson about repentance and the role we all share in each other’s lives.
1 Samuel 7:3 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.
So Samuel spoke to the Israelites and asked them to repent.
(Q) How does he ask them to repent? (A) First with their whole heart, second by putting away their strange gods, and third by serving the Lord.
(Q) What does it mean to put away gods in our day, today? (A) We need to identify the things that we put ahead of the Lord and the things that we place our trust in. This could be money, education, and certain people in our lives. What are some other gods in your life?
(Q) What does this process look like in a new believer, or in one who has rededicated their life to the Lord? (A) When we come to the Lord, we first have to identify ourselves as a sinner and Christ as our only Saviour. Then, we need to follow the path of repentance, where we turn away from the sin in our lives. Lastly, we begin to serve the Lord and we share His love and forgiveness with others.
1 Samuel 7:4-5 Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only. And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the LORD.
So, following their repentance, what happens?
(Q) Did Samuel, the spiritual leader, just let the people go? (A) No, Samuel gathered the people who had recently repented together.
(Q) What was the purpose of Samuel gathering the people together? (A) He gathered them together for corporate worship and for prayer.
1 Samuel 7:6 And they gathered together to Mizpeh, 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 children of Israel in Mizpeh.
So they gather together and worshiped with offerings, fasting, and prayer.
(Q) What else do they do here? (A) In addition to worship through offerings, fasting, and prayer, the Israelites also confess their sins. Even when we are saved, we still need to confess the sins of the day. When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:10), He was washing away the dirt of the day – those sins that occur in a Christian’s life as a result of living in a sinful world.
(Q) How does this scenario translate in the life of a believer, or a church family? (A) The repentance and salvation (or rededication) of a sinner is a joyous event in a church family, but often one that occurs without enough follow up. Samuel models what should happen after someone comes to the Lord. They need to be encouraged, worshipped with, and prayed alongside. As our passage will show us, this is a tenuous time in one’s life.
1 Samuel 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.
(Q) As soon as the Israelites repent, what happens? (A) As soon as the repentance occurs, the enemies plan an attack. 1Peter 5:8 tells us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” As soon as a victory occurs on the Lord’s side, the devil will do all that he can to turn that blessing around.
(Q) Why did the devil provoke the Philistines to come now? (A) The time just following a big decision can be a time of much thought and wondering. New believers are very vulnerable to attack – just as newly repented Israelites were.
1 Samuel 7:8-9 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.
(Q) What is Samuel’s response to the fear and incoming danger? (A) Samuel responds with prayer and worship, but not battle preparations. Samuel understood that the battle belonged to the Lord (I Samuel 17:47) and that God would not have brought them this far to turn His back on them.
1 Samuel 7:10-11 And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the LORD 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.
So, the Lord sent an amazing thunderstorm to confuse the Philistines, making them vulnerable. And the Israelites won the victory, through the power of the Lord.
1 Samuel 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.
(Q) What was Samuel’s response to the victory? (A) Samuel responded by marking the victory with a mark that would last (a stone), making sure that all those that received the victory knew of the work of the Lord in that victory.
As we’ve walked through this passage of scripture, it’s clear that this Old Testament passage applies to our modern lives. Just as Israel repented and was then attacked, when we return to the Lord (whether through salvation or rededication) we are very vulnerable to the attack of the devil. Any victory of the Lord’s people will bring about a response from the devil. Satan doesn’t want the Lord to have any victories and will do all that he can to thwart them. As Christians, we need to remember this. When we have victories in our own lives, we need to stay close to the Lord, knowing that the devil will attack. And when we see victory in the lives of our family and friends, we need to stay close to them and in prayer for them knowing that the devil will want to impede that victory. As a church, we need to stay close to believers, lifting them up in prayer and in encouragement, knowing that we are all susceptible to the wiles of the devil – but that through prayer and worship and bible study, the Lord will be victorious.