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SPIRITUAL REVIVAL AT MIZPAH

1 Samuel 7:2-8:22
Key Verse: 7:3

So far in our study of 1 Samuel chapters 1-6, we thought about Hannah, a woman of prayer, God’s call Samuel to be a prophet of the LORD, and Israel’s defeat by the Philistines. When the Israelites brought the ark of the LORD into the camp, God’s covenant people were degraded into superstitious people. God’s chosen ones were marked with shame and tragic defeat, God’s glory departing from them at that time. But in today’s passage when they turned to the LORD in true repentance, God fought for them and gave them a great victory. In their turning to the LORD and victory, one man of God, Samuel, played a significant role for them. Historically it is called revival at Mizpah. May we learn clear spiritual lessons in this study.

First, Samuel, leader of Israel (7:2-17). Look at verse 2. “It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD.” Perhaps the people mourned for twenty years. More likely, it took twenty years for them to get serious about their spiritual problem. During this period, Israel was being attacked and oppressed by the Philistines. God allowed enemies to harass his people so that they would seek him. We live in a world where bad things happen. But in God’s world, every bad thing has a good purpose. When bad things are happening, we have powerful incentive to seek the LORD. And even if it takes time, God wants his people to truly seek him. The earlier, the better to seek the LORD, but God does not compromise in this. The Israelites were mourning and seeking the LORD. We can infer that for twenty years, Samuel had been faithfully serving God’s word, which brought this result.

Generally, people who are mourning need empathy and comfort. But how did Samuel help them? Look at verse 3. “And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, ‘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.’” Samuel did not merely sympathize them on a human level. He really had a spiritual eye to see into their hearts and help them in connection with God. He could see that they were returning to God with all their hearts, taking a right step, yet they were in the process, not completion. In their returning to God, Samuel knew what they had to do for their complete returning.

Firstly, he said, “rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths.” And verse 4 says, “So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths.” The people had forgotten the Ten Commandments. The first command is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3); the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex 20:4). The God of Israel is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14 says, “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” But their hearts and lives had been greatly influenced by the foreign gods, specifically, Baal and Ashtoreth.

Baal represented the male, sky god who fertilized the land. Baal was the god of agriculture. He symbolized financial security. People prayed to Baal to make them rich and secure. Ashtoreth represented a female deity who has also been called Isis (Egypt), Ishtar (Babylon), Aphrodite (Greece), and Venus (Rome). She is the goddess of love and sex. She promises physical pleasure and emotional fulfillment. In short, Baal represented security; Ashtoreth, sexual immorality. The sin of the Israelites was not abandoning God. Their sin was syncretism, mixing biblical truth with the false religions of the day. After twenty years of harassment by their enemies, the Israelites were finally turning to the LORD. Then they had to get rid of such idols from their hearts and in their practical lives.

The idols mentioned here are the two all-time favourites. Baal rules the business world and financial markets, and Ashtoreth, sex. Here in North America, we are swimming in a culture of consumerism and pleasure-seeking. Everywhere we look, we see images of Baal and Ashtoreth. We see idolatry which corrupts our minds and hearts. A boy began to be exposed to phonograph at the age of 11 and then was addicted to it. I heard that nowadays kindergarten kids are exposed to such things. They do so secretly when their parents are not at home. To young people, a certain boy or girl becomes an idol in one’s heart. If we truly return to God, we should eradicate such an idol from our hearts and lives. At an emotional level, we may be deeply attached to Baal and Ashtoreth. But we can still put them away by a decision of faith. We are reminded of the words of God in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We should have eyes to see our culture. Jesus’s people are not of the world, though they are in the world. So Jesus prayed for his disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). Honestly, we don’t need Baal. Food and material provisions are a gift from God to those who seek his kingdom and his righteousness first (Mt 6:33). We don’t need Ashtoreth. True love, marriage, and sexual fulfilment are blessings from God to those who love him and serve him. Our God in heaven knows what we need.

And in verse 3, Samuel said, “commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only.” In complete returning to the LORD, heart and life commitment to God is absolutely necessary. Without this one’s repentance cannot be true. There are many Christians who do not recognize the Lordship of Christ Jesus, though they believe Jesus as their Saviour. They are slippery and always vulnerable to the evil one. An uncommitted or half committed hearts is the target of demons’ returning (Lk 11:24-26). Serving the LORD only with a clear commitment to the LORD is a safe and truly blessed and happy life. The purpose of God’s salvation for us is to serve him only. So before Jesus’ birth Zechariah prophesied concerning the meaning of Jesus’ coming in Luke 1:74-75 says, “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

In the history of Israel, after the time of Joshua till this point no one helped the people of Israel with such an uncompromising attitude as Samuel did. This was a classic way of helping people. In Acts the apostles helped the people in the same way. They said, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ” (Acts 3:19-20).

And Samuel promised in verse 3, “He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” One’s repentance with his commitment to God and exclusive service to him there is the solution to any human problem.

Look at verse 5. “Then Samuel said, ‘Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you.’” Here Samuel was helping them at a community level after helping them on a personal level. He called the Israelites to gather at Mizpah for a national prayer meeting. The meeting was to give them spiritual identity and God’s hope for the nation. For this Samuel would have intercessor prayer to the LORD for them. When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. The pouring out of water before the Lord was a sign of repentance. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD.” The people’s confession was not “I have sinned,” but “we have sinned.” This shows that the community spirit newly sprouted in their hearts and their spiritual identity as a nation was being restored.

Then the author commented, “And Sameul was leader of Israel at Mizpah.” Samuel was leader of Israel, because he was not only a prophet of the LORD but also an intercessory prayer servant for his people and the nation. Their assembling at Mizpah under his leadership for the national prayer began one of the most powerful revivals in their national history.

When the Philistines heard that the Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. And when the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. In the past when the Israelites were seized with fear of their enemies in the desert, they wept aloud and grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Num 14:1-4). But the Israelites gathered at Mizpah were different. What did they do? Look at verse 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.’” Their prayer request was beautiful, mentioning, “the LORD our God”, not “your God.” They re-accepted him as the God of their nation. They valued the prayer of Samuel, leader of Israel, through whose prayer God would rescue them from their enemy. They believed that their salvation would come not from military tactics weapons, or the presence of ark, but from LORD, Jehovah, the God of Israel.

Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him. Suckling lamb is milk-fed lamb, 30 to 45 days old. Samuel approached the holy God through the sacrifice of a lamb. The lamb prefigures Jesus Christ, unblemished lamb of God, who was sacrificed for our sins so as to open the way for us to come to God. After offering the suckling lamb as a whole burnt offering, Samuel cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf. As we studied, Hannah was a woman of prayer. In her human misery of barrenness she prayed to God for a son so that she might offer the son to God. She prayed pouring out her soul to God out of anguish and grief. Now Samuel’s prayer was crying out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf as an intercessory prayer servant. He prayed as he had said, “I will intercede with the LORD for you” (5). He also prayed as the people had requested, “Do not stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” He cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf and the LORD answered him. We remember Jesus who cried out to God in his prayer. Hebrews 5:7 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Definitely, his crying out prayer was related to the salvation of mankind. Often our prayer is too quiet and gentle. We need to learn crying out prayer. We may cry out to God for the revival of each person and for revival in among us while we study 1 Samuel, and cry out to God for the saving of perishing souls in U of T.

When God answered Samuel as he cried out to the LORD, what happened? Look at verse 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.” When a man of God prayed on behalf of his people, God fought for them with thunder from heaven. In Hannah’s song of prayer is written, “those who oppose the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven” (2:10). God launched ballistic thunderbolts into the Philistine camp, and the Philistines were so panicked that they lost all the strength to fight and were routed before the Israelites. In such a situation all their weapons and human equipment were useless. Then the men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car. When the people repented and Samuel prayed, the problem was solved by divine intervention.

Second, the God of Ebenezer (7:12-8:22). At this time of the stunning victory at Mizpah, what did Samuel do? Did he celebrate it with a big feast? No. Samuel used this occasion to erect a monument—not in honour of the troops, but in honour of the LORD who helped them. Verse 12 says, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the LORD helped us.’” It was to help his people to remember God’s grace upon them. It was visible history education. When the Israelites crossed Jordan, Joshua told 12 priests, each priest representing each of the 12 tribes to take 12 stones from the middle of Jordan River and set them up in Gilgal as a memorial to the people of Israel to teach their future children the history. The Israelites were to tell their descendants future that the flow of Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, when they asked, “What these stones mean?” (Jos 4:6-7). Here Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.” They had to remember the LORD who had led them thus far from the time of God having brought them out of Egypt and enabled them to live into the promised land. The LORD led them even through the time of adversity. Particularly, they were to remember how God had helped them for the past 20 years. He humbled them through a humiliating defeat. He helped them to repent of their idol worship. He raised a spiritual leader to pray for them. He attacked the Philistines with thunderbolts and emboldened the Israelites to fight. Samuel wanted to preserve the spiritual meaning of the victory at Mizpah and help his people to acknowledge what God has done and be always thankful to him. So it was the monument of remembrance of God’s grace and thanksgiving to him. This is to be the foundation of the life of each of God’s people.

Postmodernists say that history is irrelevant. But disregarding history is foolish and unbiblical. We learned that without vision, people perish (Pro 29:28 in KJV). We can also say that without a sense of history people cannot have vision; they are senseless and directionless and are to soon face spiritual crisis. Having a sense of God’s history is essential in one’s life. Each of his people should remember time and again who God has led him or her thus far and how he has led his community until now. Thank God that God has led Ian and Jemmies, each one’s life, thus far and has led God’s community as well until now that he is going to establish a house church between them in this community of God.

After the Israel’s victory at Mizpah, the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines. The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to her, and Israel delivered he neighbouring territory from the power of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

The national revival and victory at Mizpah were the defining moments that established Samuel as the spiritual father for Israel. He served for many more years after that. His national service is summarized in verses 15-17. Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also judged Israel. And he built an altar there to the LORD. He also built an altar at Ramah to maintain his personal worship of God. His circuit riding ministry bore lasting fruit. He established and trained schools of prophets at Bethel (2 Ki 2:3) and Gilgal (2 Ki 4:38) that persisted for the next two hundred years. He protected people from idols and complacency.

In chapter 8, when Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges as Israel. But they did not walk in his ways. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” Samuel did not expect such a request. This pleased Samuel. At this he prayed to the LORD. This prayer of Samuel was also a beautiful part of his life. He wanted a clear answer from God. Then God answered him that their asking for a king was not rejecting him but rejecting God as their king. And God told Samuel to listen to them, but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who would reign over them would do. They needed a lot of sacrifice to have the king. Samuel delivered God’s message that the day would come, when they would cry out for relief from the king they had chosen, and the LORD would not answer them in that day. What a tragic thing it would be that God would not answer them although they would cry out to God for relief! However, the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” Their sin was that they did not ask what God wanted for them; they asked God for what they wanted. What they wanted was nothing but inviting disaster upon themselves. God gave what they wanted, and they would have the human king. Yet, their sin could not be justified. This would be a transition period in the history of Israel. Here we see that their real motive in asking for a king was to imitate the culture of other nations. They did not want to be different from the people and nations of the world. Their desire to be assimilated and live like the people of the world, following the trend of the world is tenacious. They did not want to keep their identity as holy people of God. Yet, the constant message of the Bible for his people is, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” “You are a holy nation.”

Thank God that he is the God of Ebenezer. Thank God for making us his holy people. May we keep our spiritual identity as his holy people, ridding ourselves of idols and committing ourselves to him and serving him only. In our service to the LORD may we cry out to God for revival as intercessory prayer servants.

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