The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And the men of Kirjathjearim came, and fetched up the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD.Solitary Power
SAMUEL is now in full office. Eli died when the messenger told him that the Philistines had taken the ark. Up to this time we have had no express communication from Samuel himself. From pregnant sentences, here and there, we have known that he has all the while been moving in the right direction. The Lord was with Samuel, and did not suffer any of his words to fall unto the ground. "All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord." "And the Lord revealed himself unto Samuel in Shiloh." "And the word of Samuel came unto all Israel." These assurances indicate that Samuel, in his comparative obscurity, has been steadfastly moving onward according to the purpose of God. From this time we shall see more of him. His position in this chapter is most conspicuous, and his deeds are most instructive. Verily, in this case, the child was "father to the man." As prophet of the Lord, Samuel's will was supreme;—all the main features of the history derive their expression from the spirit of Samuel. There is authority in his word, there is inspiration in his encouragement, there is death in his frown. Under these circumstances you see how naturally we are led to meditate upon the profound influence of one life. Such is the subject. We shall develop it, by reviewing the three remarkable attitudes in which we find Samuel in the course of this chapter.
In the first place, look at the sublime attitude which Samuel assumed in relation to the corruption of the faith. Samuel distinctly charged the house of Israel with having gone astray from the living God; solemnly, with the pathos of a godly tone, with the solemnity of a righteous, indignant, yet pitiful heart, he said, "You have been guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours against the God of heaven; you have trampled underfoot your convictions and your traditions. You have bowed yourselves before the altars of forbidden gods." Distinctly, without reservation, without anything that indicated timidity on his part, he laid this terrible indictment against the house of Israel. In doing so he assumed a sublime attitude. He stood before Israel as a representative of the God who had been insulted, dishonoured, abandoned. His was the only voice lifted up in the name of the true God. It is in such cases that men show what stuff they are made of:—when they stand face to face with the crowd, and say, "You are wrong;" when they mount the popular whirlwind, and say, "Your will is moving in the wrong direction,—it is corrupt, debased, utterly foul, and bad!" Is there a grander spectacle anywhere on the earth than to see a lonely man confronting a whole house or an entire nation, and upbraiding the whole community with a common apostasy—with a common determination to go down to darkness and death? Samuel said, "You must put away Baalim,"—a plural word, which stands for no god in particular, but for all the progeny of false gods. "You must put away Ashtaroth,"—a plural word, which signifies no goddess in particular, but the whole company of feminine idols. "That is what you must do." We find sublimity in the attitude, imperial force in the tone. How did Samuel's influence come to be so profound upon this occasion? The instant answer is, Because his influence is moral. Moral influence goes to the heart of things. He who deals with moral questions deals with the life of the world. Any other influence addresses itself to affairs of the moment; all other influences are superficial and transitory. He who repronounces God's commandments, and tells to the heart of the world God's charges, wields a moral, and therefore a profound influence. Sometimes we say that a man's intellectual influence has been profound. There is a sense in which that is perfectly possible, and may be really and gloriously true. But the heart is further in the man than the intellect. He, therefore, who purifies the heart, brings the life up to the right altitude and inspires it with the right purpose, does a work to which there is no end; it is abiding as God's eternity, lustrous in its degree as God's glory!
Herein is the supreme advantage of the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ docs not come to attend to any diseases that are merely cutaneous; the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not engage to settle questions that lie merely on the surface of society; the Gospel of Christ does not undertake our local politics, and things that are little, contracted, and perishing. The Gospel of Christ lays its saving hand upon the human heart and says, "This is the sphere of my mission. I will affect all things that are superficial and local and temporary; but I shall affect them indirectly. By putting the life right, I shall put the extremities right; by making the heart as it ought to be, the whole surface of nature will become healthful and beautiful." This is the supreme advantage of the minister of the Gospel. A true servant of the Lord Jesus Christ has little or nothing to do, directly, with the petty, trifling, fussy controversies of the day. It is not his business to walk into heated committee rooms and to discuss, with all learning and profundity, transient parochial politics. The minister of Jesus Christ addresses man as man, and by moving the heart he moves the will; by enlightening the judgment, he elevates the life. Having done that interior, moral, everlasting work, there comes out of him, in all directions, the happiest influence in relation to things that are local and perishing. We shall fall from the great ministry, if, forgetting the universal, we give our strength to the particular. We need men in society who stand apart from the little fights, petty controversies, and angry contentions which seem to be part and parcel of daily life, and who shall speak great principles, breathe a heavenly influence, and bring to bear upon combatants of all kinds considerations which shall survive all their misunderstandings. Regard Samuel in this light, and you will see the sublimity of his attitude. He stands alone; on the other side of him is the whole house of Israel. It would be a much easier thing for him, viewed merely from the outside and in relation to the passing hour, to say, "We are all brethren; you have gone wrong, I must allow; but I do not think I should be harsh with you. Hail, fellows well met! let bygones be bygones, and from this day let us enjoy ourselves." But no man's will is merely personal when he speaks for God. Samuel would have no right to say, "I am setting up my little personal judgment and will against yours." He was the medium on which the infinite heart broke into language, and through which the infinite purpose caused itself to be heard in all the indignation proper to its outrage, in all the pathos becoming the infinite compassion of God! Herein, again, is the great influence of a moral teacher, a revealer of Christian truth. Whenever we hear a preacher who speaks the right word, we hear God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; through his voice we hear the testimony of the angels unfallen; out of his words there comes the declaration of all that is bright, pure, true, wise, in the universe of God!
Now let us look at the holy attitude which Samuel assumed in relation to the guilt of Israel. Samuel said, "Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord." In the first instance his attitude was sublime; the lonely man speaking the charge of God to an apostate nation. In this instance his attitude is holy. Because having charged the people in the name of God, condemned them in the interests of righteousness, and called them to purity of worship, he says, "If you will gather yourselves together, I will pray for you." This is the secret of great influence: indignation,—calmness,—righteousness incorruptible and inexorable,—devoutness that stoops to pray for the fallen, the foul, the evil-minded, and the debased. Samuel was not borne away by anger and fury; he did not give way even to judicial vengeance. In the first instance he describes the corruptness of the case, points out the right course, exhorts the people to take that course instantly, and then he speaks these healing words: "If ye will do these things, and gather yourselves together to Mizpeh, I will pray unto the Lord for you." See the fulness of the meaning of such words as these, as used by such a man, under circumstances so distinctive and impressive! "I will pray unto the Lord for you." Then the highest man in the Church is but a priest, a prophet, an agent, an instrument. Not, "Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and there I will pronounce the word of absolution for you." Samuel lays no claim to any position, so far as this case is concerned, but that of a suppliant who has influence with God. That is all we can do for one another,—the work of an instrument, the ministry of an agent. That word all has more force in it than the mere monosyllable. Why, what is there more than that? To understand the world's case,—to comprehend the terrible results of the world's apostasy,—to reproach, rebuke, and exhort in the name of God,—and then to gather the world we have branded with God's condemnation and pray for it unto the God of heaven! When a man has done that he has exhausted his resources; he has done more—he has moved Omnipotence towards condescension and redemption!
"I will pray for you unto the Lord." Then the human needs the divine. We never find—taking great breadths of history, ages and centuries—that the human has been able to exist alone, and to grow upward and onward in its atheism. We do find hours in which atheism seems to carry everything its own way. There are occasions in human history when God seems to be utterly deposed, when a whole nation has got up and out-voted God, emptied heaven, brought down the sky to the dust; but never lifted up the dust to the sky! Observe that such periods have been but occasional; they have always been transitory, and in proportion to the length of their duration has there afterwards gone up a cry to God, that he would come back again. If he would but once show his face, the men who repudiated his existence and renounced his name "would dash their idols at his feet, and call them gods no more." What is true in nations is true in individuals. To any man who has not been living for God we may say: You have not been living upward. You have been living; you have not changed your address; people have recognised your physical features; but you have not been going up in the quality of your being,—your pathos has not become tenderer, your charity has not become purer, your nobility has not enhanced itself. This is a plain thing to say to a man's face, but we should say it, yet not we but the whole Triune God and all history,—when a man lives without religion—we will not say irreligiously, as if he were profane and blasphemous, in the ordinary sense of those terms—his life is a diminishing quantity; he goes down in the volume and quality of his being.
Israel was gathered together to Mizpeh. The Philistines, the enemies of the house of Israel, having heard that Israel had gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. Observe, Israel was gathered at a prayer meeting. That is a modern expression, and not much in favour with men who are "advanced." We do not know what they are "advanced" in, and perhaps it is better on the whole not to inquire. The Philistines went up against Israel, congregated for a devotional purpose; and when the children of Israel heard it they were afraid of the Philistines. And the children of Israel said to Samuel, "Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us." What became of the Philistines? The Philistines had won many victories; they had proved their prowess in arms as against the house of Israel; they had taken the ark of God when Israel resorted to the formal rather than to the spiritual. Now that Israel is getting its old heart back again, and its eyes are being turned to the heavens, what becomes of the Philistines? The Lord thundered 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 unto Beth-car" (1Samuel 7:11).
There is a great law here. To some minds this must, of course, be sentimental. To men who have seen prayer under certain aspects and circumstances,—who have known godly persons, hard driven in life, unable to conduct a successful struggle, and yet who have been praying all the time,—this must appear to be little better than mockery. But many others have known precisely the same thing under a different class of circumstances leading to the same gracious and undeniable results. The Philistines came against a praying army. We must consider not what the praying army did in the first instance, but what God did. The Lord thundered, and the Philistines were deafened; the Lord touched the heads of the Philistinian army, and they went crazy; the Lord wielded his hand before the eyes of the Philistinian leaders, and they were blind! It is nothing to him to save whether there be many or few.
In this case it does not appear from the text that God took the rod of his lightning and utterly discomfited the Philistines. He thundered! When God's voice rolls over human life, it is either a benediction of infinite peace or a malediction no human force can turn aside. Observe when it was that Samuel said he would pray for the house of Israel. The great lesson here turns upon a point of time. When Israel returned unto the Lord with all their heart; when Israel put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth; when Israel prepared the heart unto the Lord and was ready to serve him only; when Israel had done this part, then Samuel said, "I will pray for you unto the Lord." Under other circumstances prayer would have been wasted breath. We find a great law here, which applies to the natural and the spiritual. Is there a plague in the city? Purify your sanitary arrangements, cleanse your drains, disinfect your channels, use everything that is at all likely to conduce to a good end,—then pray unto the Lord. After nature has exhausted herself, there may be something for the Lord to do, may there not? Who are we? Where did we obtain our education? Who put us up just one inch above the infinite that we might be able to say to God, "Now the people have done everything, there is nothing for thee to do"? Who are we? A man ought to have a good many certificates, credentials, and testimonials before he is able to establish a status which will justify him in suggesting that when all natural processes have been exhausted, God cannot do anything. What if God should be just one iota wiser than we are? What if after we have exhausted the resources of our skill and the efforts of our strength, God might be able to say, "See, there is one more thing to be done"? It would not be according very much to God, would it? Blessed are they who believe that after they have exhausted themselves, God can do exceeding abundantly above all that they ask or think!
Sometimes worldly people say—"Pray for us." Men have said that to us. What kind of men were they? Sometimes men who have made wrecks of themselves, who have gone as far devilward as they could get, whose hearts were like a den of unclean beasts, men who had no longer any grip of the world—the whole thing was slipping away from them—they have said to the minister whom they had previously characterised as a canting parson, "Pray for us." But one condition must be forthcoming on their part. There must be not only consciousness of loss, and consciousness that they cannot fight against God any longer, and that their next step will be into the jaws of the devil—there must be more than that. There must be self-renunciation, contrition, moral anguish, pain of the soul, repentance towards God. When these conditions are forthcoming, the servant of Christ may say, "I will pray for you unto the Lord."
In the third place, look at the exalted attitude which Samuel assumes in relation to his whole lifetime. We read in the fifteenth verse of this chapter, "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life." Think of being able to account for all the days of a whole human history! Think of being able to write your biography in one sentence! Think of being able to do without parentheses, footnotes, reservations, apologies, and self-vindications! When we attempt to write our lives, there is so much to say that is collateral and modifying in its effect,—so much which is to explain the central line. When we have written our biography, we have seen great blank spaces—we do not know what we did then; we have seen great black patches, and we have known that these indicated service of the devil; we have seen blurred, blotched pages, with erasures and interlineations, and we have said, "This reminds us of the daily and terrible mistakes of our life." So our biographical record becomes anomalous, contradictory, irreconcilable. Here is a man whose lifetime is gathered up in one sentence. "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life." We have seen him in his childhood, we have had glances of him as he was passing up to his mature age. To-day we see him in three impressive and remarkable attitudes. His whole history is in this sentence: He was a judge of God all his days. Think of giving a whole lifetime to God. There are those who cannot do that now. But young men may be able to give twenty, thirty, perhaps fifty years all to Christ. Fifty years in succession; no break, no marring interruption,—half a century given to Christ! Some grey-haired old men may be following this study. Perhaps they are not within the circle that is divine; they may not be numbered amongst the members of the redeemed family, and now all that they can give is just the fag-end of a life. To such we would say: Death cannot be long in meeting you! Perhaps next year only,—perhaps to-morrow. The young may die, the old must. You may only have six weeks left; you had better give them than not give anything at all.
See then the profound influence which may be exerted by one life. We are dealing with Samuel, and with Samuel alone. Samuel's life is not confined to himself; it is a radiating life, streaming out from itself and touching thousands of points in the social and national life of others. Who can tell what may be done by one man? We shall not quote the testimony of a friend on this point, because he might be partial in his judgment. But once an enemy gave explicit testimony upon this point, and we shall accept his words just as he himself gave them. His name was Demetrius; he was an idol-maker; trade was slipping out of his fingers fast; he was not making so many gods as usual; and he spake to the people of the city in these words: "Ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul persuadeth and turneth away much people, saying, that they be no gods, which are made with hands." It was a valuable testimony. It was an enemy writing the report of the Church for the last year. It was the devil, reading a secretarial report of what one man had done. This Paul! Not ten thousand Pauls, not a great army of Pauls, but one little man, with an immeasurably great soul, who was not only working mightily in Ephesus against idolatry, but throughout all Asia! What one life can do. Let no man despise himself; do not say, "My little influence is of no avail." Every man can be intense, though only few men can be extensive in influence. The father upon the house, the head of the business in his own establishment, the friend among his friends, the mother in the nursery,—each life can have a speciality of intensity in these high matters. Whoso would wield profound, eternal influence, let him help the souls of men; get away from things that are superficial, local, and self-contained! Speak the truth of God, and eternity itself cannot exhaust the happy effect of that blessed influence!
Almighty God, thy claim upon our worship is unceasing, for thy mercy, like thy majesty, endureth for ever. Thou dost never withhold thine hand from giving good gifts unto thy children. As thou hast made them in thine own image and likeness, and hast implanted within them desires which the world cannot satisfy, so thou dost especially reveal thyself unto them day by day, appeasing their hunger with bread from heaven, and quenching their thirst with water out of the river of God. Oftentimes have we said concerning thy Son, We will not have this Man to reign over us. But when we have tasted the bitterness of sin, and have been convinced of our own emptiness and helplessness, when heart and flesh have failed, when by the ministry of thy Holy Spirit we have come to understand somewhat of thine own holiness and mercy and love, our hearts' desire has been that Jesus might sit upon the throne of our love, and rule our whole life: that he might be King of kings, and Lord of lords, our Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel. We desire to live unto the glory of God, to understand the meaning of the gift of life with which we have been blessed. Thou hast entrusted us with solemn responsibilities: enable us to understand their meaning, to feel their pressure, and to respond with all our hearts to their demands. Let thy blessing rest upon us. May thy house be unto us as the gate of heaven; may weary souls recover their strength and tone. May desponding hearts be revived and comforted with the consolation of God. May worldly minds be given to feel that there is a world higher than the present: that round about us is the great sea of thine eternity. May we be prepared for all the future, having our hearts cleansed through the blood of Jesus Christ. We depend upon thy Holy Spirit; we will not look unto our own resources, except as they present themselves as the gifts of God. We will rely upon thy power; we will cry mightily unto our God! Thou wilt hear us; thou wilt redeem our souls from all fear; thou wilt inspire us with immortal hope; thou wilt clothe us with adequate power. Cleanse our hearts by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus. Show to us, more and more, the meaning of the mystery of his dear cross. May we find all that is deepest and truest in our own life symbolised in that cross of Jesus. May it be the answer to our sin, the remedy of our diseases, the one hope of our wondering and anxious souls! Amen.
And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the LORD."... there he built an altar unto the Lord."—1Samuel 7:17.
What has Samuel been doing all the time but this very work?—How delightful to think of a whole life being consecrated to altar-building and altar-service! Where did Samuel build this altar?—He built it at "Ramah."—But what made Ramah more conspicuous than other places?—" there was his house" is the answer.—Where his house was his altar was.—Blessed is that house that gathers itself around the altar, making the altar the centre and the principal force in the entire building.—Not only was the house of Samuel at Ramah,—at Ramah Samuel "judged Israel." He did his official work in that city, and where he did official work he built his altar.—The man could not do without the altar; the judge could not do without the altar; the altar is essential to the entire development of life.—Have an altar in your house; have an altar in your business; have an altar in the very centre of your life.—When you return to your Ramah, forget not your religious duties; let them have the first and foremost place in your thought.—Samuel was now a great man—"he went from year to year in circuit to Beth-el, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places."—But though his mind was thus occupied with intricate questions or vexatious details, as certainly as he returned to his house he returned to his altar, and when at the very centre of his administration he ascended the seat of judgment, he passed to that judgment seat from the altar of God.—Blessed is the country whose judges worship the true and living God. Blessed still more is the country whose houses are churches, whose homes are consecrated to the service of the Most High.—Peeps of this kind into the private life of great men enable us to estimate somewhat the secret of their influence.—He who prays well judges well. He who honours God in his house shall be honoured of God, by his house becoming a pavilion, a resting-place, a sanctuary of the divine presence.