In returning to God, Samuel requires that the Israelites back up their words with action, before interceding on their behalf that God may save them from their enemies. God answers Samuel and the Israelites are safe for a time, but this event foreshadows the coming of an even better intercessor.
1 Samuel 7:2b-14
Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. 3 So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.
5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.
7 When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.
10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
13 So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
So far in Samuel we have seen the miraculous birth of Samuel to Hannah and the brokenness of the Israelites contrasted with the glimmer of hope in Samuel as he grows. God shows Israel’s corrupt leaders and their Philistine enemies his wrath, demonstrating his power to act on Israel’s behalf. The captured Ark of the Covenant is returned to Israel, and is guarded in a house on a hill. Twenty years pass.
In this passage, God’s people finally acknowledge that only he can help them as they are once again under threat from the Philistines. The Israelites are afraid, but in their sinful nature must rely on Samuel to intercede for them. Samuel expects them to back up their words by turning away from idols and turning fully to God. It becomes clear that the Israelites have not been honouring God in the 20 years since the Ark was returned to them. So they turn from false gods and Samuel prays that God will rescue them from their attackers, offering a sacrificial lamb as payment for the sins of the Israelites. God hears Samuel and responds, defeating the threat of the Philistines for as long as Samuel lives.
This passage demonstrates the barrier that sin puts between God and his people. Samuel’s intercession for the people and his sacrifice shows that people cannot live in relationship with God while living in sin; the two are incompatible. To erase the sin and re-enter into relationship with God, sacrifice must be made. Samuel acknowledges that through prayer and sacrifice, God has helped his people “thus far”, but not forever. As time wears on and sin continues to block the relationship between God and his people, the need for an eternal intercessor is dire. For an act this great, God’s son would sacrifice his own body, suffering death and rising again so that we could experience God’s blessing for all eternity. Samuel’s intercession bridges the gap between God and his people for a short time, but Jesus’ intercession bridges the gap forever.
Head: Samuel is not convinced that the Israelites have turned back to God until they put away their false gods and show full commitment. What can this teach you about God’s attitude towards words and actions? (See 1 John 3:18)
Heart: How does the parallel between Samuel and Jesus give you comfort and strength in the face of struggle?
Hands: In light of having Jesus as intercessor, are there any idols you need to turn from to allow your life to reflect full commitment to God?
Prayer: Father God, I praise you for you have never failed your people, never given up on us, but have allowed for our sins to be forgiven forever that we might live righteously through the sacrifice and intercession of your perfect son Jesus. Thank you for providing a permanent solution to our brokenness, after the work of those such as your intercessor Samuel proved only temporary. I pray that as Samuel required commitment in action from the Israelites, that I would not be living a life of empty words, but that you would completely transform me in all I do and say. Forgive me for failing you God, and help me not to forget your word and turn away as the Israelites did, but to remember that you are greater than anything in this world and you know what is best for me more than anyone else. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen
A song to listen to: This Life I Live
Stephanie Wiseman- Creek Road Presbyterian Church- Carina