When the Philistines heard that the Israelites had gathered at Mizpah, their rulers marched up toward Israel. And when the Israelites learned of this, they feared the Philistines
1 Samuel 7:7-14. (EBENEZER.)
I. THE GATHERING OF THE ENEMY (ver. 7).
1. So long as the yoke of the ungodly is patiently borne they remain quiet, and do not deem it needful to harass the victims of their oppression.
2. The revival of piety and activity seldom fails to call forth the fierce opposition of evil men. The spirit of good and the spirit of evil are contrary the one to the other, and the more intense the former becomes, the more intense also becomes the latter. The "prince of this world" dislikes to be deprived of his captives, and therefore seeks to prevent sinners from coming to the Lord (Luke 9:42), and hinders saints from working for him (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
3. The purpose for which the pious assemble is not always understood by their enemies; their meeting for prayer is sometimes mistaken for an organising of a political or military attack upon them; and their union for any purpose whatever is instinctively felt to bode them no good, and regarded as a sufficient ground for their dispersion. "Now we see here -
(1) How evil sometimes seems to come out of good.
(2) How good is sometimes brought out of that evil. Israel could never be threatened more seasonably than at this time, when they were repenting and praying; nor could the Philistines have acted more impoliticly for themselves than to make war upon Israel at this time, when they were making their peace with God" (Matthew Henry).
II. THE PREPARATION FOR THE CONFLICT (vers. 7, 8, 9).
1. Mistrust of self. "They were afraid of the Philistines." Their experience of defeat and oppression had taught them their own weakness and cured their presumption. The consciousness of human weakness is the condition of receiving Divine strength (2 Corinthians 12:10; Hebrews 11:34).
2. Trust in God. "Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us," etc. (ver. 8). Their need impelled them to look to God, whom they called their God, with reference to his covenant, and from whom they expected deliverance according to the promise previously given to them (ver. 3). "They have found their God again, after whom they had till now sighed and mourned" (Erdmann). Their urgent request of Samuel was an evidence of their reliance on Jehovah and the proper way of seeking his aid, for Samuel was not only a spokesman for God to men, but also a spokesman for men to God, and he proceeded to exercise the priestly function of mediation by offering sacrifice and making intercession.
3. Self-dedication, of which the whole burnt offering was the expression and appointed means, the sign of complete consecration of the whole man, and here of the whole people;" the sucking lamb being a symbol of their new life now freely devoted to God. Samuel acted as priest at Mizpah and elsewhere by Divine commission under peculiar circumstances; the regular priesthood being in abeyance, the ark separated from the tabernacle, Shiloh desolate, and no other place chosen by God "to put his name there;" and as preparatory to the time "when in every place incense shall be offered to my name, and a pure offering" (Malachi 1:11). "A most important part of the prophetic office was to maintain the spiritual character of the Hebrew worship, and to prevent the degeneracy of the people into such ritualism as they had fallen into at the time our Lord appeared" (Kitto). "Let, then, thy oblation be without earthly affection or self-will of any kind. Look neither to earthly nor heavenly blessings, but only to the will and order of God, to which thou shouldst submit and sacrifice thyself wholly as a perpetual burnt offering, and, forgetting all created things, say, 'Behold, my Lord and Creator, each and all of my desires I give into the hand of thy will and thine eternal providence. Do with me as seemeth good to thee in life and death, and after death; as in time, so in eternity'" (Scupoli).
4. Prayer. "And Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel" with a piercing and prolonged cry. And with his prayer their own rose up to heaven. "By prayer (if thou use it well) thou wilt put a sword into the hand of God, that he may fight and conquer for thee." A praying army is irresistible. What victories have been achieved by prayer! "The forty years' domination of the Philistines over Israel (Judges 13:1) could not be overthrown by the supernatural strength of Samson, but was terminated by the prayers of Samuel" (Wordsworth). Samson only began to deliver Israel (Judges 13:5); Samuel completed the work.
III. THE RECEPTION OF HELP (vers. 9, 10).
1. It came in answer to prayer. "And the Lord answered him."
2. It came at the moment of their greatest extremity. "And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel." But man's extremity is God's opportunity (Genesis 22:11-14).
3. It came in an extraordinary manner. "The Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day." It was, as it were, his voice in answer to prayer. The ordinary forces of nature operated in such a manner as to make it plainly appear that they were directed by his hand (1 Samuel 2:10).
IV. THE PURSUIT OF THE FOE (ver. 11).
1. The sense of the presence of God inspires his people with fresh confidence and courage, and without it they can do nothing.
2. The help of God does not render their cooperation unnecessary. It rather calls for the putting forth of their Strength. He gives them strength that it may be employed against the enemy, and in the faithful and zealous use of it he gives them more strength, and crowns their efforts with success.
3. Victory over the enemy should be followed up to the utmost (Judges 8:4). "They smote them until they came to Beth-car." How often from not following up a victory are its advantages lost!
V. THE MEMORIAL OF THE VICTORY (ver. 12).
1. The help which is derived from God should be gratefully ascribed to him.
2. Thanksgiving to God should be expressed in a definite and permanent form.
3. One deliverance is an earnest of another.
4. The memorial of past deliverance should incite to future confidence, and the continued use of the means in connection with which it was achieved. "Hitherto; for all Jehovah's help is only hitherto - from day to day, and from place to place; not unconditionally, not wholly, not once for all, irrespective of our bearing" (Edersheim). More conflicts have to be waged, and it is only in mistrust of self, trust in God, self-dedication, and prayer that they can be waged successfully. "The life of man is nothing else but a continual warfare with temptation. And this is a battle from which, as it ends only with life, there is no escape; and he who fights not in it is of necessity either taken captive or slain. Because of this warfare thou must watch always, and keep a guard upon thy heart, so that it be ever peaceful and quiet" (Scupoli).
VI. THE MAGNITUDE OF THE RESULT (vers. 13, 14). A true revival is always followed by beneficial and lasting effects.
1. The power of the enemy is broken. "The Philistines were subdued, and came no more into the coasts of Israel."
2. A sure defence is afforded against every attempt they may make to regain their dominion. "The hand of the Lord was against them all the days of Samuel."
3. Lost territory is restored (ver. 14). Along the whole line, extending north and south, from Ekron to Gath.
4. Far reaching peace is established. "And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites." "When a man's ways please the Lord he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Proverbs 16:7). The battle of Ebenezer may be considered one of the decisive battles of the world, inasmuch as it introduced a new order of things in Israel. and contributed in an eminent degree to its subsequent prosperity and power. "The revival of religion has ever had a most important bearing on social and moral improvement. The return of man to God restores him to his brother. Restoration to the earnest and hearty performance of religious duties towards God leads to a corresponding reformation in relative and political duties. Those countries in Europe which have had the greatest religious reforms have advanced most in liberty, civilisation, and commerce. They are not trodden by the iron heel of despotism, and they possess the greatest amount of domestic quiet. It was the revival of religion which secured the Protestant succession to England, and many of the liberties which we now enjoy. It was the revival of religion that gave such a martyr roll to the Scottish Covenanters, and led to the revolution settlement of 1688. In Israel every revival of religion was succeeded by national prosperity and political independence" (R. Steel). - D.
The Philistines went up against Israel.
1. It was the most powerful means of aid. "Prayer moves the arm that moves the universe." It can wrestle with the Angel and have power with God end prevail. It is the divinely appointed means of assistance: "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee."
2. It was prayer in which they had all a believing interest. The people are ready to join when Samuel uttered his supplication. Their earnest desire gave intensity to Samuel's words; their faith gave power to his believing intercession. Many hearts united in one exercise.
3. It was prayer to their covenant God. "Cry unto our God for us." They had just renewed their covenant with God, and accepted Him as theirs. He had been their father's God — a prayer hearing, covenant-keeping God. They knew to whom they addressed their cry. It was to no unknown god, nor to an imaginary deity. Rest your soul on Jesus. Then every prayer is offered to a Friend in whom you have confidence, and from whom you may expect a blessing.
4. It was prayer for a definite object. They specified their want. They stated the desire of their hearts. Too many pray in a way so general as to exhibit little interest in what they ask. When public prayer was made a sacrifice was offered. The intercession was dependent on atonement. The efficacy of the petition was in the acceptance of the substitute. Thus it was that Samuel took a lamb in all the purity of its youth and offered it wholly unto the Lord. The atonement made by the Redeemer was infinite, and is sufficient to take away wrath from thee. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" Our prayers must ever rest for all their efficacy on the Lamb of God. Ascending in the name of Jesus they will prevail. This is what is meant when we ask for Christ's sake. Samuel's prayer prevailed, and the answer came ere his worship was performed. They had returned to God; they had secured His help. The Lord listened to their prayer of faith, and that day fought their battles. The artillery of heaven was moved against the Philistines. Israel was victorious without feats of arms. Nor was this the only instance in their history. God had made the waters of the Red Sea His weapons to overcome the Egyptians. In the Valley of Ajalon hailstones did the work of conquerors, and the natural day was prolonged to give Joshua the victory. In after days, too, the hosts of Sennacherib were vanquished by the destroying angel in answer to the prayer of Hezekiah. And in the future yet to be realised the believing supplication of the ransomed Church. will secure the interposition of God on the field of Armageddon to baffle the armies of the world united to destroy his cause. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" is the lesson we may draw from this event in the days of Samuel. The Church of God is threatened in critical times. All over the world events seem preparing to try the faith and energy of professing Christians. But so long as prayer is so blessed a resource the little flock need not fear. God is the glory in the midst of His cause, and the wall of fire around her.
1. Let us apply this view to the matter of prayer. The prayer of Samuel was prayer which God had inspired. What more reasonable than that in the great plan of Providence there should have been included a provision for the fulfilment of Samuel's prayer at the appropriate moment? The thunderstorm, we may be sure, was a natural phenomenon. The only thing miraculous about it was its forming a part of that most marvellous scheme — the scheme of Divine Providence — a part of the scheme that was to be carried into effect after Samuel had prayed. If the term supernatural may be fitly applied to that scheme which is the sum and substance of all the laws of nature, of all the Providence of God, and of all the works and thoughts of man, then it was a miracle; but, if not, it was a natural effect. It is important to bear these truths in mind, because many have the impression that prayer for outward results cannot be answered without a miracle, and that it is unreasonable to suppose that such a multitude of miracles as prayer involves would be wrought every day. We do not deny that prayer may be answered in a supernatural way. But it is most useful that the idea should be entertained that such prayer is usually answered by natural means. By not attending to this men often fail to perceive that prayer has been answered. Let the means be as natural as they may — to those who have eyes to see the finger of God is in them all the same. But to return to the Israelites and the Philistines. The defeat of the Philistines was a very thorough one. The impression thus made on the enemies of Israel corresponds in some degree to the moral influence which God-fearing men sometimes have on an otherwise godless community. In the great awakening at Northampton in Jonathan Edwards' days there was a complete arrest laid on open forms of vice. And whensoever in a community God's presence has been powerfully realised, the taverns have been emptied, the gambling table deserted, under the sense of His august majesty. Would only that the character and life of all God's servants were so truly godlike that their very presence in a community would have a subduing and restraining influence on the wicked!
2. The step taken by Samuel to commemorate this wonderful Divine interposition.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
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