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The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
1 Samuel 7
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ 1-samuel-7.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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1 Samuel 7:2
The time was long, for it was twenty years.
An absent God
Well might it be said, “The time was long.” Twenty hours, without Thy presence, are long indeed, and cloud the brightest day, and veil the loveliest scenes. How should you like to be twenty years away from your beloved father or mother? Would not the time seem very long? And have you ever mourned an absent God? Have you been like Job, when he looked on every side and found Him not? (Job 23:8-9); or, like Mary Magdalene, whose tears were her meat, day and night, until she found Him whom her soul loved? See how she stands beside the empty gravel Peter may leave--John may leave--they may go to their house, or to their nets. The place where the body of Jesus had lain was sweeter and dearer to Mary than all the sweets of earth: and though her tearful eyes had too plainly told her His precious body was not there, yet again she stoops, again she looks in, as though she hoped her ardent wishes might bring Him back again. Yes, blessed woman, and they have power with thy God, and prevail. Quickly was He at her side whom she sought sorrowing: and quickly, at His presence, are tears exchanged for joy unspeakable, Happy art thou, O Israel, when thou canst mourn an absent God! We have a beautiful description given us of real, godly sorrow, in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11. If one of you were to ask a gentleman or lady to come and see you, would you sit with the cottage all in litter and confusion? would you not be tidying it, cleaning out every corner, dusting every piece of furniture, and getting it as nice as you could? Oh! when you truly cry to the Lord to return unto you, how diligent you will be preparing your hearts unto the Lord! (2 Chronicles 30:19.) What carefulness, lest there should be anything left undone! What clearing of idols and rubbish! what indignation against the things which have usurped His place in your heart, and robbed you of all your joy! what vehement desire to see Him again filling the whole, and bringing every thought into captivity! what zeal to make up for lost time! what revenge against ungrateful, treacherous self! Would you wish to know the first step a soul takes in departing from God? You may find it in your secret chamber--beside the little bed or chair, where you once used to hold sweet communion with Him. “Thou hast restrained prayer,” is the print of the first footstep in the downward road. Would you know the first step of the returning soul? Go again, and look in the secret chamber: now that distressed soul seeks Him early; and soon its youth is renewed like the eagle’s--it walks, it runs, it flies (Isa 11:81). (Helen Plumptre.)
1 Samuel 7:3-11
And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts.
Samuel the Judge
For more than twenty years the Philistines had held undisputed sway over the greater part of the territory of Israel. Shechem and Shiloh, the ancient sanctuaries of worship, were both in the possession of the Philistines. Even the sacred ark of the covenant had been surrendered ingloriously into the hands of the uncircumcised. Restored by miracle, it still remained in the Hivite town of Kirjath-jearim upon the border. Israel was without a sanctuary as well as without a ruler. The power of the oppressor was to be broken. Deliverance was to come in the only way in which it could come, through the interposition of Divine aid. This help of God bringing deliverance is the great theme brought to our consideration.
I. The help of God which brings deliverance comes through the agency of a personal deliverer. This is the first great historical lesson of those dark days in which the judges ruled. Each of the hero-judges was officially a type of the great Deliverer. In each succeeding one the personal analogies to the great Antitype become more and more apparent, until in Samuel, the last and noblest of the line, we reach one of the most illustrious types of Christ to be found in Old Testament history.
II. The help which brings deliverance comes only upon condition of sincere repentance for sin and whole-hearted return to the Lord. Samson adventured all upon personal prowess. Conscious of extraordinary powers, he sought to annoy and intimidate the Philistines into submission. Wasting his strength in brilliant but vain exploits, a romantic life was crowned with a glorious death, yet he passed away, leaving the Philistines still in possession of the land. Samuel, tracing the miseries of the people to their true source in the chastisement of God for their sins, realising that the first step towards disenthrallment must be taken in repentance and reformation, sets himself quietly but steadfastly to work to rekindle in the hearts of his countrymen the smouldering fires of religion. At the basis of all true freedom from the Philistines that rule the heart, from the bondage of corruption, from the fetters of guilt, from the “lusts that war against the Soul,” is this bitter work of repentance, this putting away the idols of the soul, this turning with the whole heart to the service of the Lord.
III. The help which brings deliverance comes through a covenant sealed with blood. As deliverance from Philistine bondage came only through the provision of the covenant with Abraham, as that covenant was ratified and rested in by the oppressed and suffering people, so deliverance from the bondage of Satan comes only through the provisions of the covenant of grace, as that covenant is sealed with the blood of Christ and joyfully accepted and rested in by the sin-oppressed soul.
IV. The help which brings deliverance comes in answer to prayer. The Church of God has never yet tasted to its lull extent the power of prayer. It is Samuel’s memorial that he is (Psalms 99:6) “among them that call upon God’s name,” who “called upon the Lord, and he answered them.” Luther, Knox, Whitefield, Wesley, the men who carried forth great movements and accomplished glorious works for God, have been men preeminent in prayer.
V. The help which brings deliverance comes in the use of appointed means. Not when the first alarm was sounded, and the people, started by the unexpected assault, “were afraid of the Philistines,” did the Lord appear, but when Samuel, going calmly forward with the sacrifice in the face of the advancing enemy, had shown the sincerity of his trust in God--when the hosts of Israel, drawing inspiration from the faith of their dauntless leader, had set the battle in array and were making use of all available means of defence. In all our convicts with Satan, the world and sin, help comes from God, but only as direct effort is put forth by us. It comes to give efficiency and success to our efforts. We may not sit idle and wait for some marvellous interposition of God’s power. We may not first do our part in our own strength and then wait for God to do His. It is in and through our working that Divine power is put forth and Divine help given. We work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure,
VI. The help which brings victory in the first conflict is the pledge, to be gratefully recognised, of complete and final deliverance.
VII. The help which brings deliverance engages to the lifelong service of Him who so graciously interposes for our relief. Each mercy received should be a silken cord binding more closely to the service of God. Instead of presuming upon gracious interpositions in the past as occasions for indulgence or inaction in the present, we should find in these both incentive and encouragement to steady progress and patient labour in the Christian life. (T. D. Witherspoon, D. D.)
An ideal statesman
The words “twenty years” should be connected with the following sentence, “and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” Thus twenty years had elapsed before they began to revive from their sad state of religious decline. “And Samuel spake.” Now Samuel appears upon the scene. He has been absent since the third chapter. But now he is seen with all the energy of spiritual fortitude, consequent upon deep devotion, trying to excite in other hearts the aspiration of his own. Such an occasion is worthy of his presence, and in the sequel we have at once presented the power and praise of a devoted life. We have here before us a pattern statesman.
I. He was a man of spiritual disposition. It generally happens that the leading spirits of a nation are those famous for philosophical thought, scientific discovery, or political revolution. The problem may be atheistic, the analysis anti-Christian, and the social change debasing, yet, because the man has by some marvellous display of genius flashed his name into the bewildered eyes of an astonished world, he is called to eminence. Thus national prominence is attained by the sheer force of mind power, irrespective of character, and while life is so commercial in its tendency and so secular in its habit we must expect such to continue, This was nee the case under the old Jewish theocracy. Samuel, the central figure of these times, was raised to authority, not by mere thought power, but by the Intense spirituality of his character. The spirituality of Samuel’s disposition is manifested--
1. By his expostulation with the people (1 Samuel 7:3). This expostulation contains
(1) A supposition. “If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts,” In this crisis Samuel does not suggest a series of civil enactments, or a great military stratagem, as calculated to obtain freedom, but penetrating to the deepest source of defeat, urges a return to God. The civilised statesmen of today may laugh at this primitive mode of government, and write, with sarcastic dash, “superstition” on its wish, but might they not learn a lesson from its success that political woes are often to be remedied by moral reform, not by the mock contrition of place-seeking miscreants, but by the devout penitence of guilt-stricken spirits.
(2) Instruction. “Put away the strange gods.” Samuel thus places a recognition of Jehovah at the basis of all national reform. Idolatry has proved the overthrow of many kingdoms. Are not wealth, pleasure, fame our Penates? If so, let us heed the voice of Samuel. “Put away,” etc.
(3) An assurance. “And He will deliver you” (ver 3).
(4) It was timely. “Then all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.”
(5) It was successful (1 Samuel 7:4).
2. By his supplication to the Apostate nation.
(1) Convention. “Gather all Israel to Mizpeh” (ver 5). A universal humiliation was requisite. It was celebrated:--
(1) By prayer. “I will pray for you.” How calm and dignified was this language.
(2) By fasting (1 Samuel 7:6).
(3) By penitent joy. “And drew water and poured it out before the Lord.” Some have thought this a ceremony belonging to legal purification, or an expression of deep humiliation or of expiation, but it is possible that they poured out this water in token of joy, as they were accustomed to do at the Feast of Tabernacles
(4) By sacrifice (1 Samuel 7:9).
3. By his strict recognition of God This is observable:--
(1) In the ordinary life of the nation. He tells them to put away the strange gods.
(2) In important national crises. “The Lord hath helped us.” The victory led to:--
(1) Retrospection. “Hitherto.” And what a long string of events does that represent--what contingencies--what sorrows--what joys? The whole of their past lives was crowded into one word!
(2) Perpetuation. “Took a stone.”
(3) Ministration. “Hath helped us.” Here we behold the strength of Samuel’s character. He was one against a nation. He had force of will to resist the tide of wrong, and to bid it recede.
II. Such character may hopefully anticipate the cooperation of heaven. “But the Lord thundered” (1 Samuel 7:10). Samuel, the holy legislator, was the connecting link between God and help. How dependent is human life upon leading powers!
1. A religious assembly mistaken for a national army (1 Samuel 7:7). Now the Philistines draw near for battle. This is a typical incident; the effort of moral improvement necessarily excites opposition, either the sneer of forsaken friendship, the persecution of sects, or the enmity of Satan.
2. The surprised worshippers.
(1) They were timorous. “Afraid” (1 Samuel 7:7). Causes of their fear. They were without means of defence. They were conscious that past sin had enfeebled their national prowess. The discipline of extremity developed their reformed character.
(2) They were victorious. We have here illustrated the inherent power which is to be found in an assembly convened for religious exercises: such an association of contrite souls possesses some mysterious influence which almost naturally draws God into its life, and such allegiance is potent for any conflict.
The issues of victory.
(1) Subjugation of enemies (1 Samuel 7:13).
(2) Restoration of territory (1 Samuel 7:14).
3. In the elevation of spiritual character, we have a guarantee for the execution of justice. “And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 7:15).
4. Home the sanctuary of public life.
(1) Samuel’s return (1 Samuel 7:17).
(2) Samuel’s devotion. “He built an altar unto the Lord.” If a man is to be influential abroad, he must be devotional at home. True public life catches its inspiration from the domestic altar Lessons:--
(1) The practical influence of one holy life upon a nation.
(2) National humiliations are acceptable to God.
(3) God’s mercy illustrated in the victories of life.
(4) That public life should have its altar of devotion. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Samuel the Judge
The interval between the time of the Judges and the time of David is filled by the history of Samuel. His influence it was that safely led the nation through two revolutions--the one in religion, the other in government. A priest, yet Samuel was the first of a new spiritual order that was henceforth to be greater than the priesthood, far more directly the mouthpiece of God, more authoritative, the true leader of the people, if steadfast and unflinching service to the people, if fearlessness and faithfulness, if unfailing goodness and wise guidance can entitle any here in Israel to stand beside Moses and Elijah, that man surely is Samuel. Yet in addition to these two offices, priest and prophet--the greatest that any man can fill--he is also Judge of Israel, that is, king in all but name, and in all but the outward trappings and personal advantages. “Samuel was one of those great men of manifold gifts and functions whom God raises up In great crises and for great services. He was not like Moses, the founder of the economy, nor like Elijah, its restorer. But he was its preserver through a revolution that had become inevitable; which be opposed as long as he could, which he reluctantly accepted when he Could oppose it no longer, and which by shear force of character he regulated and moulded so as to prevent national disorganisation. Like Luther, he built the new foundations on the old. As far as circumstances permitted he reformed his age, and by his genius, his piety, and his wisdom he powerfully controlled the turbulent elements of the national life.” It is interesting to trace the analogy between John the Baptist and Samuel. There is a striking similarity in the circumstances of their birth, in their early separation to the service of God, in the rumour that spreads concerning them throughout the land, awakening the expectation of a great religious revival. Each of them marks a transition period in the history of Israel. Samuel is the last of the judges and the first of the prophets, as John the Baptist is the last of the prophets and the first of Christian preachers, standing and crying, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Each of them commences his work by summoning the people to a great national act of repentance before God, and in each case the symbol of their repentance has a singular similarity. We must remember that it was no light and easy work which was thus demanded of them. Idolatry was not a mere perverse fancy; nor was it only a selfish indulgence. It was the severance from all the association with those about them, the setting of themselves up to be the peculiar people of God--a thing that always costs as much effort and courage as most things a man has to do. The national repentance is followed by a great national assembly. Samuel bade the head men and representatives come together for a holy convocation in Mizpeh. By contact with himself and by communion with one another he would lead the people further in this work of reformation. As long afterwards the repentance of Israel found its expression in coming to John for baptism in the Jordan, so here they gathered together solemnly to confess their sins and to declare their purpose of amendment. Samuel bowed before the Lord in prayer for the people, whilst they “drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and said, We have sinned against the Lord.” Like the symbol of baptism, it was the token of their death and burial unto sin, that they might rise into the new life of God. It is thus that the wise woman of Tekoa spake to the king, “For we must needs die, and are as Water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.” Standing beside the altar high up on Mizpeh, the watchtower, Samuel stretched up his arms to Heaven pleading for the people. Swiftly the black clouds gathered, as if the great artillery of God came forth to the fight. Whatever the manifestation may have been, whether or not attended by an earthquake, as Josephus asserts, it is certain that the Philistines never lost the dread memory of that praying figure on the lonely heights, with hands uplifted to the God of Heaven. That one man was mightier than all their hosts. It seemed as if he were able to open the windows of heaven, and summon all its force against the foes of Israel. “They came no more into the coasts of Israel.” (M. G. Pearse.)
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.
I. 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. 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. 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. Herein is the supreme advantage of the Gospel. 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.” We need men in society who stand apart frees 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. 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!
II. Now let us look at the holy attitude which Samuel assumed in relation to the guilt of Israel. 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.” That is all we can do for one another--the work of an instrument, the ministry of an agent. “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, What became of the Philistines? 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. The Philistines came against a praying army. We must consider not what the praying army did in the first instance, but what God did. 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 Duly; 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 mot? 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 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.”
III. 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. 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. Today 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. 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 dons by one man? Speak the truth of God, and eternity itself cannot exhaust the happy effect of that blessed influence! (J. Parker, D. D.)
Samuel the Judge
This scene at Mizpeh, and the results following, suggest several lessons. We learn that:
I. One, to have power over men, must have power with God. Why are the people, though late in their repentance, now so willing to listen to the prophet’s words and obey them? Samuel influenced the people, because God influenced him. The secret of his power over men was his power with God. In a preeminent degree, this prophet and judge of Israel was a man to whom unseen realities were brought near. Thus, God fitted Samuel to do a work in Israel in the transition period between the theocracy and monarchy, making him an eminent judge, the first in the regular succession of prophets, the founder of the prophetic schools, the anointer of Israel’s first and second king, and the man whom the people--even when debauched by idolatry--reverenced, and whose voice was to them like the voice of God. He was all this, because he held close intercourse with Heaven. The hand that is outstretched to save, must clasp the throne. Ministers are weak in the pulpit whenever they are weak in the closet.
II. The necessity and value of religious ordinances, rightly used. It was not enough that Samuel assemble Israel at Mizpeh. Gathered there, the people must be so influenced that the impressions made would be permanent, and they fixed in their new attitude of loyalty to God. Samuel must instruct them in the proper use of religious rites, and show them how God can be so approached as to win His favour. Thus, far back at Mizpeh, were taught the truths of Calvary. God is approached reverently, with confession, with sacrifice, and with supplication. These two ways of approaching God--Samuel’s with sacrifice and supplication, and Israel’s of bearing aloft the ark with heedless shoutings--teach us lessons respecting the methods by which, now, God is, and is not, appropriately worshipped. Not by magnifying the outward, by giving prominence to the seen and the tangible, while the unseen and spiritual are lightly esteemed. The value of religious ordinances consists not in what man’s eye sees or his ear hears, but in what his heart feels, and in what the eye of God perceives within the breast. No wonder that Israel, thus addressing the Throne of Grace, were prevalent over their toes. God heard their cry, and the arm of Omnipotence was their defence. What though the Philistines, or Israel, or the prophet himself, could not answer the question how God at that moment put a voice into the arching heavens, or kindled up the clouds with electric fires? What though, then as well as now, and now as well as then, the philosophy of prayer baffles finite skill? Is it, therefore, any the less true that the prayer of penitence and faith prevails with God? One other element now is needed to make the worship complete--that is, an expression of thanksgiving. It was a fitting sequel, therefore, when 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.” We learn, therefore, that expressed gratitude to God should find a prominent place in all our worship. Israel not only felt grateful, they gave it utterance; they clothed with form the sentiments their hearts felt. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Repentance and Victory
I. Preparation for victory in repentance and return. At the time of the first fight at Ebenezer, Israel was full of idolatry and immorality. Then their preparation for battle was the mere bringing the ark into the camp, as if it were a fetish or magic charm. That was pure heathenism, and they were idolaters in such worship of Jehovah, just as much as if they had been bowing to Baal. Not the name of the deity, but the spirit of the worshipper, makes the “idolater.” How different the second preparation! If we are to have His strength infused for victory, we must cast away our idols, and come back to Him with all our hearts. The hands that would clasp Him, and be upheld by the clasp, must be emptied of trifles. To yield ourselves wholly to God is the secret of strength. Confession breaks the entail of sin, and substitutes for the dreary expectation of its continuance the glad conviction of forgiveness and cleansing. It does not make a stiff fight unnecessary; for assured freedom from sin is not the easy prize of confession, but the hard-won issue of sturdy effort in God’s strength. But it is like blowing the trumpet of revolt--it gives the signal for and itself begins the conflict. The night before the battle should be spent, not in feasting, but in prayer and lowly shriving of our souls before the great Confessor. Our enemy is strong, and no fault is more fatal than an underestimate of his power. If we go into battle singing, we shall probably come out of it weeping, or never come out at all. We should think much of our foes and little of ourselves. Such a temper will lead to caution, watchfulness, wise suspicion, vigorous strain of all our little power, and, above all, it will send us to our knees to plead with our great Captain and Advocate.
II. Victory on the field of former defeat. The battle is joined on the old field. Strategic considerations probably determined the choice of the ground, as they did the many battles on the plain of Esdraelon, for instance, or on the fields of the Netherlands. At all events, there they were, face to face once more on the old spot. On both sides might be men who had been in the former engagement. Depressing remembrances or burning eagerness to wipe out the shame would stir, in those on the one side; contemptuous remembrances of the ease with which the last victory had been won would animate the other. God himself helped them by the thunder storm, the solemn roll of which was “the voice of the Lord” answering Samuel’s prayer. “They were smitten before,” not by, the victors. The true victor was God. The story gives boundless hope of victory, even on the fields of our former defeats. We can master rooted faults of character, and overcome temptations which have often conquered us. So, though the whole field may be strewed with relics, eloquent of former disgrace, we may renew the struggle with confidence that the future will not always copy the past. We are saved by hope; by hope we are made strong. It is the very helmet on our heads. The warfare with our own evils should be waged in the assurance that every field of our defeat shall one day see set up on It the trophy of, not our victory, but God’s in us.
III. Grateful commemoration of victory. Where that gray stone stands no man knows today, but its name lives foreverse This trophy bore no vaunts of leader’s skill or soldier’s bravery; One name only is associated with it. It is “the stone of help,” and its message to succeeding generations is: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” That “hitherto” is the word of a mighty faith. It includes as parts of one whole the disaster no less than the victory. The Lord was helping Israel no less by sorrow and oppression than by joy and deliverance. The defeat which guided them back to Him was tender kindness and precious help. Such remembrance has in it a half-uttered prayer and hope for the future. Memory passes into hope, and the radiance in the sky behind throws light on to our forward path. God’s “hitherto” carries “henceforward” wrapped up in it. The devout man’s “gratitude” is, and ought to be, “a lively sense of favours to come.” The best use of memory is to mark more plainly than it could be seen at the moment the Divine help which has filled our lives. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Repentance and revival
There are two great services for God and for Israel in which we find Samuel engaged in the first nine verses of this chapter.
1. In exhorting and directing them with a view to bring them into a right state before God.
2. This being accomplished, in praying for them in their time of trouble, and obtaining Divine help when the Philistines drew near in battle.
1. In the course of time the people appear to have come to feel how sad and desolate their national life was without any tokens of God’s presence and grace “All the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” These symptoms of repentance, however, had not shown themselves in a very definite or practical form. Now the putting away of the strange gods and Ashtaroth was a harder condition than we at first should suppose. Some are inclined to fancy that it was a mere senseless and ridiculous obstinacy that drew the Israelites so much to the worship of the idolatrous gods of their neighbours. In reality the temptation wan of a much more subtle kind. Their religious worship as prescribed by Moses had little to attract the natural feelings of the human heart. It was simple, it was severe, it was self-denying. The worship of the pagan nations was more lively and attractive. Fashionable entertainments and free-and-easy revelries were superadded to please the carnal mind. To put away Baalim and Ashtaroth was to abjure what was fashionable and agreeable, and fall back on what was unattractive and sombre. Was it not, too, an illiberal demand? No. If the people were in earnest now, they must show it by putting away every image and every object and ornament that was connected with the worship of other gods. But the people were in earnest; and this first demand of Samuel was complied with. Then the first steps towards revival and communion must be the forsaking of these sins, and of ways of life that prepare the way for them. It is not enough that in church, or at some meeting, or in our closet, we experience a painful conviction how much we have offended God, and a desire not to offend Him in like manner any more. We must “prepare our hearts” for this end. We must remember that in the world with which we mingle we are exposed to many influences that remove God from our thoughts, that stimulate our infirmities, that give force to temptation, that lessen our power of resistance, that tend to draw us back into our old sine. Having found the people so far obedient to his requirements, Samuel’s next step was to call an assembly of all Israel to Mizpeh. It is important to mark the stress which is laid here on the public assembly of the people. When Samuel convened the people to a public assembly, he evidently did it on the principle on which in the New Testament we are required not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. It is in order that the presence of people like-minded, and with the same earnest feelings and purposes, may have a rousing and warming influence upon us. The next scene in the panorama of the text is--the Philistines invading Israel. Here Samuel’s service is that of an intercessor, praying for his people, and obtaining God’s blessing. The Israelites knew where their help was to be found, and recognising Samuel as their mediator, they said to him, “Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.” With this request Samuel most readily complies. But first he offers a sucking lamb as a whole burnt offering to the Lord, and only after this are we told that “Samuel cried unto the Lord, and the Lord heard him.” The lesson is supremely important. When sinners approach God to entreat His favour, it must be by the new and living way, sprinkled with atoning blood. All other ways of access will fail. Luther humbles himself in the dust and implores God’s favour, and struggles with might and main to reform his heart; but Luther cannot find peace until he sees how it is in the righteousness of another he is to draw nigh and find the blessing--in the righteousness of the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
An Old Testament revival
I. In the beginning a sermon was preached. A crisis had been reached; and in his searching and solemn discourse Samuel seems to have sought to make these four points, which certainly are worthy of employment always:
1. Those people must admit the necessity of a new departure in their conduct and life immediately; they must “return unto the Lord with all their hearts.”
2. They must put away every sign and vestige of a bad past; “strange gods” would have to be entirely relinquished.
3. They must instantly enter upon a fresh spiritual consecration: they would have to “prepare their hearts unto the Lord and serve Him only.”
4. Then they must trust wholly, to the ancient promises God had made to their fathers and to them; for He had covenanted to “deliver them out of the hands of” their foes.
II. Then followed an exemplary response from the nation: “Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only.” This sudden and thorough cleansing of themselves from forms of idolatry reminds us of what in Britain used to be called “a reformation of manners.”
III. Next their leader summoned a great assemblage for a religious service of prayer.
IV. Now comes what might be called a protracted meeting. There is always a point at which human mediation in behalf of sinners must cease; then the sinners must take up the duty of supplication for themselves, or be lost. This was true of even such a prophet-priest as Samuel (Jeremiah 15:1): “Then said the Lord unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be towards this people: cast them out of my sight and let them go forth.” In this case the people were intelligent enough to undertake at least these four duties which are mentioned.
1. They came to a direct posture of humiliation; they “fasted on that day.”
2. Then these people made confessions of sin: they “said there, We have sinned against the Lord.”
3. Next, these repenting people soberly renewed their covenant: “They drew water, and poured it out before the Lord.” One of the Targums renders the clause thus: “And they poured out their hearts in penitence as waters before the Lord.” Gill says: “This signified that they thoroughly renounced idolatry, that nothing of it should remain, as when water is poured out of a cask there remains no smell, as there does when other liquors are poured out.”
4. They put themselves into condition for fresh activity in devotion. The best explanation of that statement, “Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh,” seems to be that he reorganised the people afresh, for military service and for civil order and for religious worship.
V. Thus there came the descent of blessing in fulfilment of the Lord’s covenant.
1. Real consecration of Christians generally evokes new opposition from foes.
2. Importunate prayer is the condition of all success.
3. The full consecration of one’s soul must recognise the sacrifice for sins. This lamb was the suggestion of atonement made by a Redeemer.
4. God is faithful to the instant in His interposition.
VI. There remained now nothing more than to erect a memorial of the transaction.
1. All glory and honour of the achievement should be distinctly ascribed to God: “The Lord hath helped us.”
2. We should make our acknowledgment as permanent as possible. Samuel chose stone; so did Jacob (Genesis 28:18).
3. We should take pains to group our memorials so that one shall strengthen the other. Samuel set up his pillar between Mizpeh, where this deliverance was vouchsafed, and Shen, where another had been vouchsafed in the victory gained over the Philistines twenty years before. Thus he linked the histories together, like pearls in a necklace.
4. Each successive deliverance by a gracious God should deepen our trust and quicken our expectation.
The careful investigation of such an incident as this has given us certain conclusions which might well be stated at the close of our study now.
1. A revival of religion is located in the church, and assumes a previous state of sad and guilty backsliding.
2. The conversion of sinners is not a revival; it is the gracious result that follows one which is genuine.
3. Any “measures” are allowable, provided they are decent and orderly, that will lead believers to penitence and duty.
4. Blessed is the congregation whose spirituality is lifted and whose life is saved by a day of God’s visitation.
5. More blessed still is that church which never had a revival in all its history, and never needed one. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A city changed by a revival
When that worst of the Popes, Alexander VI, occupied the Papal chair, about the end of the fifteenth century, the preaching of Savonarola at Florence might well cause such alarm among Pope and Cardinals at headquarters as to ensure the silencing and martyrdom of the preacher. What was the effect of his preaching in Florence in 1495? The aspect of the city was completely changed. The women threw aside their jewels and finery, dressed plainly, and bore themselves demurely; licentious young Florentines were transformed as by magic into sober, religious men; hymns took the place of Lorenzo’s carnival songs. All prayed frequently, flocked to the churches, and gave largely to the poor. Most wonderful of all, bankers and tradesmen were impelled by scruples of conscience to restore ill-gotten gains, amounting to many thousand florins. All men were wonderstruck by this singular and almost miraculous change; and, notwithstanding the shattered state of his health, Savonarola must have been deeply rejoiced to see his people converted to so Christian a mode of life.
Disaster aids repentance
When men have suffered sorely as a consequence of their misdoing, or of their lack, they are very likely to strive with earnestness to guard against a recurrence of such disaster. There is no time when it is safer to travel over a great railway line, then just after a collision through the carelessness of a switchman or a train starter. And while the whole country is shocked at the loss of life and property through the giving way of an imperfectly constructed dam, there will be reasonable care in the inspection and in the building of dams. It is perfectly natural, therefore, that the people of Israel, who had suffered defeat because of the misuse of the ark of the Lord by those who were set to guard it, should be ready to bring it again to a fitting place, end to set apart a fitting person to guard it sacredly. It is better to try to do well after a great disaster than not to try at all; but how much better than all it is to do well from the beginning. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Returning to lost experiences
A man upon the way, having accidentally lost his purse, is questioned by his fellow traveller where he had it last. “Oh!” says he, “I am confident that I drew it out of my pocket when I was in such a town, at such an inn.” “Why, then!” says the other, “there is no better way to have it again than by going back to the place where you last had it.” This is the case of many a man in these loose, unsettled times; they have lost their love to Christ, and His truth, since their corn and wine and oil have increased; since outward things are in abundance added unto them they have slighted the light of God’s countenance. When they were poor and naked of all worldly comfort, then they sought God’s face both early and late, and nothing was more dear and precious unto them than the truth of Christ. What, then, is to be done to recover this lost love to Christ? Back again, back again directly where you last had it! Back to the sign of the broken and contrite heart! There it was that you drew it out into good words and better works; and though it be since lost in the crowd of worldly employments, there and nowhere else, you shall be sure to find it again. (J. Spencer.)
Three decisive steps
I. First, then, these people were in a very hopeful condition. “All the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” What does it mean?
1. It means that they were greatly oppressed. Their goods ware taken from them. They were beaten. They saw their children slain. They were the slaves of the Philistines.
2. I think that, by the house of Israel lamenting after the Lord, is meant, next, that they began to be inwardly convinced that nobody could help them but the Lord.
3. It seems to me that, while they desired Him, they were afraid that He would not deliver them. They prayed after a fashion, but there was a dash of doubt about it.
4. Moreover, these people had very little hope, but they had very much desire.
5. If you read the third verse, you will see that, all this while, they had not parted with their idols. They lamented after the Lord, but they did not get the Lord, because they wanted to have the Lord and to have their idols, too. John Bunyan tells us that, when he was playing at the game of “cat” one Sunday, on Elstow Green, as he was going to strike the cat with his stick, he thought he heard a voice crying, “Wilt thou keep thy sins, and go to hell; or wilt thou give up thy sins, and go to heaven?” That question, without an angel’s voice, you may hear at this moment. I put it now to some of you who would like to keep your sins, and yet go to heaven. You lament after the Lord. You would be a saint; but then you want to be a sinner, too. It is useless lamenting after the Lord, if it does not lead you to give up your idols.
6. It meant that they could never rest till God returned. Some of you have tried many ways to get rest. Some years ago you got harpooned at a meeting; and though, like a big whale, you have dragged out miles of line, and gone to the bottom of the sea of sin, the harpoon sticks in you still. I know what you have been doing to get rest. You have tried the world, and now there is nothing there that pleases you. I wonder what you will try next. Will you try dissipation? Will you try drunkenness? Will you try the use of drugs? Well; if God means to save you, you will never rest till you are anchored in the port of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. I sometimes hear of persons getting very angry after a gospel sermon, and I say to myself, “I am not sorry for it.” Sometimes when we are fishing, the fish gets the hook into his mouth. He pulls hard at the line: if he were dead, he would not; but he is a live fish, worth the getting; and though he runs away for a while, with the hook in his jaws, he cannot escape. His very wriggling and his anger show that he has got the hook, and the hook has got him. Have the landing net ready; we shall land him by-and-by. Give him more line; let him spend his strength, and then we will land him, and he shall belong to Christ forever.
II. These people were called upon to take three very decided steps.
1. The first thing that they were to do was to “put away the strange gods.” Every man seems to have a different idol. One has pride: he is so wonderfully good, so self-righteous; he has never done anything wrong. He is quite as good as a Christian, and rather’ better. Another man’s god is his self-confidence. Hear him talk. He understands everything; he does not need to be taught anything; and if there is anything in the Bible that he does not understand, why; then he does not believe it.
2. Now, notice the next step of decision: “Put away the strange gods, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord.” The mere outward reformation was not enough. They might have torn down every idol in the land, and have been no nearer God for that. See, in France today, how the people who have for so long bent the knee in superstition and idolatry, have, many of them, flung away their vain worship, only to sink into infidelity. What better are they, when they exalt the “Goddess of Reason” where before stood the altars of the Papacy, when the heart is untouched, and God is not in all their thoughts? Still, there are many in that land, as I trust, there are many here, who are lamenting after God, and only await the preparation of the heart, which comes from Him, to how in allegiance before His throne. What, then, is the way to prepare the heart? The first thing is, confession of sin. Then resolve in your soul that you will quit these sins. Then there must be much prayer; for so it was with these people. Cry mightily unto God: “Lord, save me!” Remember, too, that there must be trust, or else the heart is not rightly prepared. Then, break away from the world.
3. That is the next step, the service of God: “Serve him only,” said Samuel. “Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only.”
III. They were helped to do all this by having faith. It was faith in Samuel, as we have already noticed. You can be much more helped, yea, graciously enabled, if you have faith in Christ.
1. They believed Samuel’s word.
2. These people believed chiefly in Samuel’s prayers.
3. The people had faith in Samuel’s sacrifice.
4. Israel also accepted Samuel’s rule.
The Lord help you to believe in God incarnate, in God making sacrifice for sin, in Jesus dead, buried, risen, ascended, sitting at the right hand of God, and soon to come in glory! Let him enter your life, and dwelling in your heart, judge your every action, and rule over your entire life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Revivals of religion have been the blessed experience of the Church in every era of its living history. At Bochim, in the early age of the Judges, a great revival took place. In the days of Samuel the Church of God was gladdened by another. Hezekiah’s reign was greatly signalized by the general revival of religion; so was Josiah’s. The nation of Judah was preserved from idolatry by means of these great awakenings. In the time of the building of the second temple there was a revival of religion which wrought most influentially. Pentecost stands prominent in the history of revivals. Ordinances and means of grace may have been performed in dull routine, but they were “Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null.” But when times of refreshing came, the power of the Spirit was felt. Two features have generally marked these periods of spiritual awakening--the power of prayer, and the power of preaching. Prayer then recovers its unction, its wrestling, and its efficacy. It may be that a few only are found seeking one thing--the renewing of God’s work; but these are in earnest--they pray in faith, in the Holy Ghost, and in expectation of the blessing. Ere Pentecost occurred, the company of the believing were much in prayer. It was so in a remarkable degree in the eighteenth century. In such seasons preaching has been with power. The preachers were awakened, and spake their word with boldness and freedom, and in expectation of success. We need only to name Baxter and Doolittle, Alleine and Flavel, of the Puritan age, whose ministry was largely blessed; Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Shephard, and Tennant, of America, who scarcely ever preached without success; Wesley and Whitefield, and their coadjutors in England; William Burns, and Robert M’Cheyne, and Asahel Nettleton, of our own time. These all were men radiant with godliness, burning with earnestness, untiring in labour, and singularly clear and pointed in their enunciation of the gospel. They were instruments of reviving. The revival under Samuel was brought about by prayer and preaching. To this man it was instrumentally to be traced. He wrestled in secret and exhorted in public; waited for the blessing, and, under God, led the blessed revival. When the ark of God was taken, and Ichabod became the fittest name of Israel, the cause of godliness was deplorably low. Form, which had for a time supplanted faith, at length departed with the ark. God in great mercy taught them that form was unavailing without living piety. Had the victory remained with the Hebrews at Ebenezer, the ark of God would have been made an idol, and the ordinances of a divine religion been corrupted into heathenism. But its capture was permitted, even though that disgraced the religion of the people, rather than this danger should be incurred. When the ark was restored to Israel the chosen people were not prepared to convey it again to Shiloh. The men of Bethshemesh, after their first enthusiasm and sacrifice were over, felt no more interest than an idle curiosity, and presumed to inspect that which had been commanded to be covered from all but the high priest’s eyes. And, though so many perished by the hand of God for their sacrilege, no spirit of repentance and reformation moved the people. The Bethshemites are not without their parallels. Unfeeling souls may be met with everywhere. Mercy and judgment move them not. Grace and law melt them not. They can hear the pleadings of incarnate Love suffering to save, and never wish a personal interest in His benign salvation. The Bethshemites besought the inhabitants of Kirjath-jearim to take away the ark of God; but when this was done there does not seem to have been a single priest in attendance to welcome the holy symbol or to deposit it within the tabernacle. During twenty years the children of Israel forgot their God and Redeemer, and they were perverted by their foul idolatries. Apostasy from God never improves the soul. False worship cannot elevate. Israel did not recover their independence or their happiness until they were as a people brought back to God. This was the great object of the reformation under Samuel.
1. Samuel preached repentance. This has ever been the subject of earnest exhortation in times of attempted revival. It rang through Germany by Luther’s lips of music, and echoed among the Alpine valleys from Zuingle’s patriotic soul. It was the subject of Latimer’s blunt home thrusts at the practical heart of England, and it thundered throughout Scotland from the stern and fearless Knox. The doctrine of repentance is the appendix to every republication of the Ten Commandments, and the preface to every offer of the Gospel. So, when Samuel taught, this was his awakening theme. The law of God was his great argument, and the acquiescing consciences of the people his responses to the truth; therefore, with authority and with boldness did he convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The people began to awake. A deep impression fell upon them all from Dan to Beersheba. They saw their sin in the light of God’s law. Twenty years of unpardoned sin was a heart-breaking retrospect. And therefore did they lament. It was well to be awakened from the long spiritual sleep. It was well to be sorry for their sin.
2. Samuel sought fruits meet for repentance. The people were anxious, for sin oppressed their souls; but Samuel did not rest satisfied with the expressed emotion. He demanded instant proof of professed sincerity. To give up evil ways is one of the earliest signs of a penitent soul. It is indispensable to separate from whatever contaminates the soul. To put away idolatry was, therefore, the first requirement which Samuel made of the awakened people. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, when the people were awakened, they cleared the churches and also their houses of all images used for worship. When Christianity was successfully introduced among the South Sea Islanders, She burning of the idols was the proof of their sincere awakening.
3. Samuel urged a believing return to the Lord. Repentance does not constitute reformation. It is only the outer court. By faith we enter into the holy place. Faith lays hold of a covenant God, of His pardoning mercy and justifying righteousness. Faith is the reunion of the soul to the Lord. The heart must have an object. No person is without a god, to whom all his efforts are devoted, and on whom his affections are placed. It may be the world, or the creature, or self, or some superstition, or else the true God. The tendency of the heart is to the false and the worldly. But the awakened conscience finds no satisfaction in anything less than God. When the work of reformation was being wrought among the people Samuel felt anxious that all the nation should realise the benefit. He therefore summoned all Israel together. “They drew water and poured it out before the Lord.” This was not a Divine institution; but it was a practice frequently observed to give confirmation to solemn pledges. It perhaps implied that as “water is spilled upon the ground and cannot be gathered up again,” so their vow was never to be recalled, but to be preserved in all its obligation and obedience. It is like that testimony which Scotland, as a nation, once gave to the Covenant in a time of spiritual revival. “At request of their devoted leaders in the Reformation, the people crowded to Edinburgh from all parts of the country, and assembled in the Greyfriars’ Churchyard to the number of sixty thousand! Alexander Henderson stood forth in their midst, and, in a prayer of wondrous power and pathos, confessed the nation’s sins, and their desire to return to the Lord and to the purity of worship commanded in His word. It was then proposed to join themselves in a covenant engagement to maintain the Lord’s cause. The deed was read and explained.” Those that had doubts were conferred with ere the deed was subscribed. “Again,” says the historian, “a deep and solemn pause ensued; not the pause of irresolution, but of modest diffidence, each thinking every other more worthy than himself to place the first name upon this sacred bond. An aged nobleman, the venerable Earl of Sutherland, at length stepped slowly and reverentially forward, and with throbbing heart and trembling hand subscribed Scotland’s covenant with God. All hesitation in a moment disappeared. Name followed name in swift succession, till all within the church had given their signatures. It was then removed into the churchyard and spread out on a level gravestone to obtain the subscription of the assembled multitude. As the space became filled they wrote their names in a contracted form, limiting them at last to the initial letters, till not a spot remained on which another letter could be inscribed. There was another pause. The nation had framed a covenant in former days and had violated its engagements, hence the calamities in which it had been and was involved. If they too should break this sacred bond how deep would be their guilt! Such seem to have been their thoughts during this period of silent communing with their own hearts; for, as moved by one spirit, they lifted up their right hands to heaven, avowing by this solemn appeal that they had now joined themselves to the Lord by an everlasting covenant that shall not be forgotten. In Israel, Samuel stood forth and led the services of worship. Nor could that day be soon forgotten by the people. It witnessed the renewal of their covenant with the Lord. It recorded their marvellous mercy, when the crimson stains of twenty years were forever wiped out by God. It celebrated the recovery of a nation’s backsliding, when sins which as a thick cloud had darkened their moral firmament were blotted out;. Backslider, Mizpeh speaks to thee! That spectacle of a nation’s penitence, and the healing of a long backsliding, tells thee that there is mercy with God, and illustrates His words of love, “Return unto me, ye backsliding children; I will heal your backslidings.” Unconverted sinner, Mizpeh speaks to thee! That scene of repentance after twenty years of sins, reveals many who then first found the Lord. Backsliders were restored, the impenitent might be saved. (R. Steel.)
Gather all Israel to Mizpeh.
The brotherhood of worship
In the establishment of one of our great goldsmiths is a vast iron safe with many locks, containing immense treasure, but no one can open that chest; the keys are in the hands of many trustees, and only by their concurrence can the hidden wealth be made manifest. Thus it is in the natural and in the spiritual world, the wealth of the Divine blessing can be reached only through the brotherhood of man, the brotherhood of saints. “Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.” (W. L. Watkinson.)
1 Samuel 7:7-11
The Philistines went up against Israel.
The holy war
The revival of religion has ever had a most important bearing as social and political improvement. The return of man to God restores him to his brother. Restoration to the earnest and hearty performance of spiritual duties towards God leads to a corresponding reformation in relative and political duties. It was the revival of religion that gave such liberty to the Protestant nations in the sixteenth century. It was the revival of religion which secured the Protestant succession in 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. It is to the religious revivals that America owes much of the political happiness which, amidst the most discordant elements, it has possessed. In the reformation under Samuel patriotism was revived, the independence of the nation was recovered, and in such a way as showed the gracious interposition of a covenant God. Many revivals have had trying ordeals at the outset and a baptism of fire. Pentecost was immediately succeeded by a Moody persecution. The planting of the Church among the heathen was in the midst of enmity and opposition. Ten fierce persecutions were the experience of the religion of Christ, while it was advancing successfully through the Roman Empire. Few reformations were accomplished in the sixteenth century without martyr fires. So we find in the days of Samuel that the renewed Church of Israel was a child of storm and conflict. It was not strange that, when the preaching of Samuel had been instrumental in awakening the Hebrews, and when they were seeking to reform their worship and renew their covenant with God, their oppressors should attempt to restrain their incipient patriotism, and to inflict a chastisement. Persecution is the first object of tyrannical powers when a subject people are revived to freedom of thought and devotion to God. When the cause of God receives any new spiritual impulse there are not wanting those who seek to arrest it by persecution, by controversy, or by secular temptations. When the fagot cannot pervert, dissension may weaken; when threats fail, bribery may corrupt. The first prevailed in Spain, when the dreadful Inquisition destroyed the rising Protestantism. The second nullified the influence of the Reformation in some of the German States. The third prevailed where a tempting Erastianism reduced the Church to worldliness. The time of revival is therefore a season of imminent danger. The Philistines are then upon you. Are you awakened to spiritual concern? Satan is also aroused to effect his intended ruin of your soul. Are you about to take up the cross and to make a Christian profession? He is active to bring about your fall. The Philistines are then upon you. On a former occasion, when they were in similar danger, they reposed their trust in the ark of the Lord; but now their confidence is in the God of the ark. They confided in the form, now in the reality. Before they were apostate and impenitent; now, they are awakened, reconciled, and devoted to the service of God. In their extremity, therefore, they urge prayer. They seek Samuel’s intercession.
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. (R. Steel.)
The great thunder with which God thundered on the Philistines carried down from God the answer and the needed help. There is no need for supposing that the thunder was supernatural. It was an instance of what is so common, a natural force adapted to the purpose of an answer to prayer. Natural, but not casual. Though natural, it was God’s answer to Samuel’s prayer. But how could this have been? If it was a natural storm, if it was the result of natural law, of atmospheric conditions, the operation of which was fixed and certain, it must have taken place whether Samuel prayed or not. Undoubtedly. The uniformity of natural law enables the Almighty, who sees and plans the end from the beginning, to frame a comprehensive scheme of Providence that shall not only work out the final result in His time and way, but that shall also work out every intermediate result precisely as He designs and desires. Surely, if there is a general Providence, there must be a special Providence. If God guides the whole He must also guide the parts.
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.)
1 Samuel 7:8
And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us.
The cry for mediation
I. Mediation sought. The Israelites, unarmed, undefended, are in great dismay. They turn to Samuel and implore his continued intercession.
1. Times of humiliation for sin and of reformation from sin are times in which the foe is very busy--doing what he can to binder.
2. Times of humiliation and awakening produce a sense of need of an intercessor from personal unworthiness, from the gravity and danger of the occasion, from the difficulty of relation to the unseen. We want someone to act for us. The principle of mediation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ does fit in with our nature and condition.
II. Mediation exercised. Samuel prays and sacrifices.
1. Takes a young lamb.
2. Prays. The mediation of Jesus Christ is so divinely suitable and sufficient, as He is both priest and sacrifice. His offering and intercession may give us “boldness and access with confidence.”
III. Mediation accepted. “The Lord heard him.”
1. Interposition by means of the elements of the natural world.
2. The foe is completely routed. (H. Gammage.)
1 Samuel 7:12
And Samuel took a stone.
The everlasting memorial
How few of Egypt’s modern inhabitants know who built those works of wonder that still draw crowds of travellers! It might be said, in the words of one who longed for posthumous fame, and had done much to merit it, but who knew what had been the experience of departed greatness--it might be said with Solomon: “There is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool forever: seeing that which now is, in the days to come shall all be forgotten.” (Ecclesiastes 2:16.) But there is a memorial which shall never be erased--a monument that shall never crumble into dust, and persons who shall never be forgotten. The events connected with the life everlasting have all their stones of remembrance, and the righteous shall ever shine as the sun in the kingdom of the Father. The providences which ministered to the children of God are all recorded in the heart, and will ever be recalled with thanksgiving to the God of grace who ordered them. In the history of His Church God has commemorated the interpositions and providences of His hand. Many a monumental stone stands in the chronicles of Israel. Ararat is ever associated with Noah’s thank offering after the Deluge. Mount Moriah has been embalmed in believing hearts since Abraham built there his altar and called it Jehovah-jireh--“The Lord will provide.” Since Jacob set up the stone which had been his pillow on that memorable night when he saw the ladder, Bethel has been fondly cherished by all who love the House of God. When Jordan was crossed by the pilgrim Church twelve stones marked out the spot where the priests’ feet had stood; and Bochim became associated with the record of a nation’s tears. So when Samuel and the children of Israel received such a token of the Lord’s love and help in their victory at Mizpeh in answer to prayer they erected a stone and called it Ebenezer, to perpetuate their gratitude. Thus has the Church of God advanced. Constituted a pilgrim through this wilderness to the land of promise, every step of progress marks her gratitude. Commissioned to war against sin, every conquest becomes a spiritual march in music. Sent to evangelise, every convert is a trophy and “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” is the chorus of every stanza in her progressive song. Thus David set to music the history of Divine mercy to His people, and recalled the past in their daily praises, while the experience of his own soul became the “Hitherto” of the common chorus. The perils to which the children of Israel were exposed were beyond their own strength to overcome. They were weakened by oppression. They were faint by backsliding. They needed help from the hand of God. They had met together at Mizpeh, and, amidst general weeping, had confessed their sins, and renewed their covenant with God. But as they were paying their vows, and joining in a religious service, they were wantonly attacked. Their newborn zeal was put to an early test; but as their penitence was sincere, their vow hearty, their prayer believing, so was the faithfulness of God availing in their need. How many hearts were that day restored to God, confirmed in faith, and revived to prayer! Temporal deliverance and spiritual restoration went hand in hand, and a common Ebenezer marked the rare experience. The Church was blessed with a revival, and the State with liberty; souls were awakened, and citizens restored to patriotism. The spiritual man became the truest patriot, the best subject of the laws, and the most courageous defender of the State. Thus they had reason for this stone of remembrance and this eucharistic inscription. But they teach us a lesson--both in temporal and spiritual things to recognise the answer to our prayer, and to give thanks. Have you experienced the providential mercies of God? They demand recognition--a stone of memorial, and an Ebenezer--a psalm of thanksgiving. Have you been brought onward in life to this day, finding daily bread and watchful care? But there are other blessings of greater importance to the soul, and which call for special notice and unceasing gratitude--the helps vouchsafed in grace. The deliverance of the soul from sin is a Divine interposition of the grandest kind. The recovery of the soul from backsliding is an appropriate occasion for an Ebenezer. It was this especially which was Israel’s national blessing. Their deliverance from the Philistines followed their restoration from the backsliding of twenty years. It was a touching token of the Lord’s acceptance of their tears and of their prayers. It was a manifest pledge of His unchanging love. After a season of carelessness, spiritual sloth, and coldness in prayer, have you been revived? Has your first love returned? Then, have you returned to give God thanks, and in a more consistent devotedness inscribed the Ebenezer of your soul? These Ebenezers are useful to the believerse They remind him of dependence, and recall his confidence in the strength of God. They encourage him by the past, to trust and not be afraid in all future trials. (R. Steel.)
It is certainly a very delightful thing to mark the hand of God in the lives of ancient saints. But would it not be even more interesting and profitable for us to remark the hand of God in our own lives? Ought we not to look upon our own history as being at least as full of God, as full of His goodness and of His truth, as much a proof of His faithfulness and veracity as the lives of any of the saints who have gone before? Have you had no deliverances? Have you passed through no rivers, supported by the Divine presence? Have you walked through no fires unharmed? Have you had no manifestations? Again, it is a very delightful exercise to remember the various ways in which the grateful saints recorded their thankfulness. Who can look without pleasure upon the altar which Noah reared after his preservation from the universal deluge? Would it not be quite as pleasant, and more profitable for us to record the mighty acts of the Lord as we have seen them? Should not we set up the altar unto His name, or weave His mercies into a song?
I. The spot where the stone of ebenezer was set up.
1. Twenty years before on that field Israel was routed. Twenty years before, Hophni and Phineas, the priests of the Lord, were slain upon that ground, and the ark of the Lord was taken, and the Philistines triumphed. It was well that they should remember the defeat they had sustained and that amidst the joyous victory they should recollect that the battle had been turned into a defeat unless the Lord had been upon their side. Let us remember our defeats.
2. The field between Mizpeh and Shen would also refresh their memories concerning their sins, for it was sin that conquered them. Had not their hearts been captured by sin, their land had never been captured by Philistia. Had they not turned their hacks’ upon their God, they would not have turned their backs in the day of conflict. Let us recollect our sins; they will serve as a black foil on which the mercy of God shall glisten the more brightly.
3. Again, that spot would remind them of their sorrows. What a mournful chapter in Israel’s history is that which follows their defeat by the Philistines.
4. While dwelling upon the peculiarity of the locality, we must remark that, as it had been the spot of their defeat, their sin, their sorrow, so now before the victory, it was the place of their repentance. You see, they came together to repent, to confess their sins, to put away their false gods, to cast Ashtaroth from their houses and from their hearts. It was there that they saw God’s band and were led to say, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” When you and I are most diligent in hunting sin, then God will be most valiant in routing out foes.
5. You must remember, too, that Ebenezer was the place of lamentation after the Lord. They came together to pray God to return to them. We shall surely see God when we long after Him.
6. On that day, too, Mizpeh was the place of renewed covenant, and its name signifies the watchtower, These people, I say, came together to renew their covenant with God, and wait for Him as upon a watchtower. Whenever God’s people look back upon the past they should renew their covenant with God. Put your hand into the hand of Christ anew, thou saint of the Most High, and give thyself to Him again.
II. The occasion of the erection of this memorial. The tribes had assembled unarmed to worship. The Philistines, hearing of their gathering, suspected a revolt. A rising was not at that time contemplated, though no doubt there was lurking in the hearts of the people a hope that they would somehow or other be delivered. The Philistines being as a nation far inferior in numbers to the children of Israel, they had the natural suspiciousness of weak oppressors. If we must have tyrants let them be strong ones, for they are never so jealous or cruel as those little despots who are always afraid of rebellion.
1. The victory obtained was by the lamb. As soon as the lamb was slaughtered, and the smoke went up to heaves, the blessing began to descend upon the Israelites, and the curse upon the foes. “They smote them”--note the words--they “smote them until they came under Bethcar,” which, being interpreted, signifies “the house of the Lamb.” At the offering of the lamb the Israelites began to fight the Philistines, and slew them even to the house of the lamb. If we have done anything for Christ, bear witness that it has been all through the Lamb.
2. As in this occurrence the sacrifice was exalted, so also was the power of prayer acknowledged. The Philistines were not routed except by prayer. Samuel prayed unto the Lord. They said, “Cease not to cry unto the Lord for us.” Let us bear our witness that if aught of good has been accomplished it has been the result of prayer.
3. Again, as there was prayer and sacrifice, you must remember that in answer to the sweet savour of the lamb and the sweet perfume of Samuel’s intercession, Jehovah came forth to rout his foes.
III. The inscription upon the memorial. “Ebenezer, hitherto the Lord hath helped us.” The inscription may be read in three ways. You must read first of all its central word, the word on which all the sense depends, where the fulness of it gathers. “Hitherto the Lord hath helped us.” Note that they did not stand still and refuse to use their weapons, but while God was thundering they were fighting, and while the lightnings were flashing in the iceman’s eyes they were making them feel the potency of their steel. So that while we glorify God we are not to deny or to discard human agency. We must fight because God fighteth for us. I said this text might be read three ways. We have read it ones by laying stress upon the centre word. Now it ought to be read looking backward. The word “hitherto” seems like a hand pointing in that direction. Look back, look back. Then the text may be read a third way--looking forward. For when a man gets up to a certain mark and writes “hitherto,” he looks back upon much that is past, but “hitherto “is not the end, there: is yet a distance to be traversed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A New Year’s Sermon
That battle was won before a single blow was struck. That victory was achieved at the Throne of Grace, where many a glorious triumph has been gained which never could have been secured elsewhere. Prayer was the mighty weapon which Israel wielded to the utter discomfiture of the Philistine hosts. The power of prayer lies in the power which prayer commands: the power of God.
I. The principles of the text, as they enter deeply into religious experience. We are taught:
1. That we all need help from God. Christians need assistance from a power superior to their own as certainly as did Israel at this crisis. Sin, which has robbed man of his original rectitude, has also deprived him of strength. Unrescued by Divine grace, he is utterly powerless. Nor does the most matured Christian possess the least spiritual energy but as he receives it from on high. There is no equality between the power of the Christian’s enemies and his own unaided efforts. There are times when the Christian becomes so painfully conscious of this that he is almost ready to quit the field, but this, instead of driving us to despair, should operate powerfully in leading us to God for help, so as to feel with the Apostle: “When I am weak, then am I strong.”
2. The help of God is bestowed in connection with the use of the means appointed by God, and it is only in their employment that we can reasonably expect Divine aid. Neither the fact of our weakness nor the promise of Divine assistance has been revealed to lead to the exclusion of human exertion. The text implies that it is “help” that is promised, not the performance of the work for us, but assistance by which we shall be enabled to do our duty.
3. The actual bestowment of this help. The text records a fact: “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” It was not help promised or provided merely, but help actually bestrewed. Help implies just that amount of assistance which the case requires, and by which the Christian shall be sustained under every trial, and delivered out of the last.
II. The character of the help which God supplies.
1. Suitable and efficient. Without adaptation in the remedy the case must remain unrelieved. The source of the Christian’s help stamps its character. It is Divine.
2. Divine help is certain. Human aid, feeble as it is, is very uncertain in its bestowment. By a sad perversity of human nature, there is a disposition to confer favours with a liberal hand on those who are already affluent, while the indigent are sometimes allowed to drag out a miserable existence and pine away in penury. If a man once opulent should be ruined by misfortunes, persons who proudly recognised him when on the height of prosperity pass him by as if the man’s calamities had so altered every feature of his countenance that they cannot recognise him. Should an individual fall a prey to his own folly, pride and extravagance, he must struggle with his self-caused miseries alone. And not infrequently a cold, inactive, good-for-nothing sympathy is all that is manifested toward the most deserving. But the causes which render human aid so uncertain cannot affect God. The relation which He sustains to His Church renders it impossible for Him to regard the interests of any of its members with indifference: “God is in the midst of her; . . . God shall help her and that right early.”
3. This help is seasonable, it comes at the right time to a moment. It may not be given just when it is expected, nor when to human eyes it would seem most desirable. But are the Divine plans and arrangements to be precipitated and thrown into confusion just to meet human fretfulness and patience? The God by Whom help is bestowed knows the most opportune season for its bestowment. God is attentive to “times end seasons;” and the Divine slowness has never been opposed to the Divine punctuality.
4. The help of God is constant and unfailing. “Hitherto,” wrote Samuel, “the Lord hath helped us.” This was at a protracted period in the history of God’s people, and up to that time there had nothing failed of all that the Lord had spoken. Whenever they were defeated it was not the result of failure in the Source of their supplies, but of their own unfaithfulness and sins. The promise of Divine help is conditional; and only let the conditions of the promise be fulfilled, and the help shall be continued. The last soldier on the field of Christian warfare; the last labourer in the vineyard of the Lord; the last pilgrim in the toilsome way to heaven, will need help from God as we do at this moment; and all shall have it.
III. This conduct to which this help should lead on our part.
1. Grateful acknowledgment of past favours. The expression of gratitude was public and monumental. There is a way of making the expression of our gratitude monumental and lasting by making it practical. Seize every opportunity of testifying to the goodness and faithfulness of God. Let the world know what a wise and almighty Helper ours is. Strive to spread the truth of God; and labour to perpetuate the institutions and auxiliaries of the Christian Church.
2. Past help should lead to confidence in God at the present moment. The words of Samuel were retrospective; but this recognition of past help was designed to teach the practical lesson: “Have faith in God” now. When friends meet who have a past to look back upon they soon talk over the difficulties and trials with which they have had to struggle, memory generally recalls them first. At a deeply afflictive crisis in David’s life, when our harps would have been unstrung and mute, the Psalmist swept his and pealed forth: “I will sing of mercy and judgment.” He saw that the two were blended, and he would sing of both; but as “mercy” greatly predominated, he placed that first in his song.
3. Inspire hope as to the future. (Samuel Wesley.)
God must be acknowledged in all our mercies, and it is delightful to be able to see in them the answer of believing and fervent supplication. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory.”
I. Let us consider what we have to record.
II. Let us now consider with what views and feelings our stone of memorial should be set up, and this expressive word, Ebenezer, inscribed upon it.
1. With sincere piety. To ascribe the honour and power of a work of grace to ministers instead of God the Spirit, is about as irrational as it would be to give praise and glory to the pen with which Milton wrote his immortal poem, instead of giving it to the sublime genius of the bard himself. O let me be forgotten as far as possible, and Christ only thought of.
2. This expression, Ebenezer, must be uttered by us, as it was by Samuel and the Jews, with adoring wonder.
3. Can joy be absent or unsuitable on this occasion? Impossible!
4. A sense of unworthiness should make our gratitude the more intensely fervent. (J. A. James.)
Monuments generally have two objects They are intended to ornament a country or town, and to celebrate the glories of the hero to whose memory they are raised. A monument is erected after a successful battle, in order to glorify the leader under whose auspices the battle was fought and the victory won. The cathedral of St. Paul’s is, by the inscription above the doorway, a perpetual proof how even a great man may be thinking rather too prominently about himself when he is rearing a temple to the Most High God. But Samuel, though he has been instrumental in achieving very much more than a triumph in battle--for he has effected a great moral revolution and revival--never thinks about himself. Two thoughts and purposes vividly occupy and fill his mind. One is to magnify Jehovah, to exalt His name, to keep Him before the people; and the other is to be useful to the people. He wants to assist them to be trustful and brave, because relying on God.
I. Ebenezer is the landmark of work accomplished. There are some people, as you know, or perhaps I ought to say that it is a peculiarity which characterises all people more or less, that they have a very keen sense of evils and disadvantages which belong to the present, and a very dull perception of the privileges secured and the progress which has been made. Of this we have a familiar illustration in the Israelites themselves. Men are constantly looking with affectionate regret upon the past--
“That past which always wins a glory from its being far,
And orbs into the perfect star we saw not when we moved therein.”
Whatever millennium there may be is there in the “good old times.” Hence, the world is always standing still or going back. Now against such tendencies as these Ebenezer is a needed and useful protest. There may be other hills to climb, and they may be hills which will try our strength to the very utmost; but let not this prevent our acknowledging with joy and thankfulness that one hill has, at least, been climbed. The Church is a long, long way from perfection, I know. The grey dawn is not breaking at this very moment into the golden tints of the millennial morning; nay, the clouds may be as thick as they were in Israel under Ahab and Jezebel. Nevertheless, let Elijah remember that that glorious scene did take place on Carmel, the fire did come down from heaven, and the king of darkness did receive a staggering blow. Say what you will, the Lord did thunder in the heavens with a great thunder, and the Philistines were discomfited by it, therefore set up a stone and call it Ebenezer. The world is bad enough, God knows, but thank God it is not without its Ebenezers. In those good old times to which you are looking back there were not so many cases of drunkenness recorded; but neither were there so many people to get drunk nor so many newspapers to bring the sin to light. In those good old times the English artisan and the English yeoman were little better than serfs; and though the day of emancipation is bringing out a generation as demoralised (or so they say) as that which followed Moses out of Egypt, and is marked by excesses as wild as those which raged at Meribah and Massah and under the mount, still the day of emancipation has dawned, and my firm expectation is that the womb of the future is bearing within it a race of Israelites indeed, who will enter into the promised land. In those good old times the traffic in human souls, which degrades man to the level of goods and chattels, was not only tolerated, but defended on Christian principles. In the good old times war was an expedient to which any tyrant who felt himself strong enough would resort without compunction, and without exciting any deep indignation. Now a moral sense in regard to war has grown up, which can compel even the most powerful of tyrants to pause ere he wantonly draws the sword. Yes; the Philistines may not be driven out of the country; they may not be utterly annihilated; but their grip, which was at our throat for more than twenty years, has been shaken off. They have been heavily smitten; they are at least quiet. Raise then a stone, and call it “Ebenezer,” for hitherto hath the Lord helped us.
II. This stone is a monumental memorial of the secret of success. Come near to it and read what is written thereon, and you will find--not some inflated bombast extolling the valour of the Israelites, but--a very simple sentence, giving glory to Jehovah of Hosts. And see how the future which is briefly epitomised in the next verse confirms this “hitherto.” “The hand of the Lord was against them all the days of Samuel.” And what was Samuel?--a mighty man of valour? a Moltke among generals? a Bismarck among statesmen? Nay; but a judge who built up a kingdom of righteousness, and preeminently a man who could pray. Praying, as his very name implies, was his forte. It was as one who called upon the Lord that he was distinguished. And it was under the regime of prayer that the Philistines were held in such complete subjugation. The truth which is thus condensed in the word Ebenezer is of the utmost practical importance. There is a Divine Ruler who providentially governs and personally superintends the lives of individuals and the histories of nations. We are not living under a reign of abstract law or inexorable fate; we are not moved round by a mechanism of wheels, revolving in predestined cycles, and grinding out an unalterable sequence of causes and effects. Let devout faith set up then a stone and write upon it, Ebenezer, and with what awful and yet rapturous solemnities life becomes invested. I have often stood with a feeling of almost reverence upon me, high up on some mountainside, looking at vast mysterious boulders, once deposited there by forces which it is hardly possible to conceive, but to the existence of which these mighty masses of rock are the indisputable testimony. But when I come upon Ebenezer, I come upon a stone which says to me, “The mighty God, even Jehovah Himself, has been here. Here the sword of the Lord has been flashing unsheathed, and here the banner of the Lord has been waving unfurled.” Let devout faith set up a stone and write upon it Ebenezer and with what calm, persistent, uncompromising steadiness we are inspired to advance, just living and working out the everlasting will of righteousness, and simply do that which is just and true and acceptable to God. The only peril you have really to fear is the extinction of Samuel as a reigning influence; for then you will be on the same footing as the other nations of the earth, and the question will be: Can you send as many battalions as they can into the field? So long as Samuel, the man of righteousness and the man of prayer, is influential, you will come safe out of every crisis, under the banner of the God of battles. Remember Ebenezer, and let that keep you from meddling, hasty tactics, as well as from despondency or dismay; and let the believer come and rest his soul upon this stone. (R. H. Roberts, M. A.)
God’s past mercies the encouragement to future trust
In forming our opinion of certain actions, and in pronouncing them to be either good or bad, useful or injurious, their character must be ascertained from the principle on which they are wrought A splendid deed, which mankind would applaud, may, in the sight of God, be almost as strong an indication of a corrupt heart, as a foul transaction, which all would unite in condemning. The fact is, man regards the outward appearance only, the Lord looks on the heart. A simple stone set up in the name of the Lord may as effectually denote the overflowings of gratitude, as a costly magnificent temple, dedicated with all the pomp and solemnity of modern architecture. Such was the case in the instance recorded in the text. The prophet Samuel, though dead still speaks to us; he seems to afford a practical illustration of Solomon’s admonition, “In all thy ways acknowledge God, and He shall direct thy path.” This is the duty inculcated, which we would earnestly desire to see transcribed in your lives If, then, we add our wonderful preservation from seen and unseen dangers; the way in which the Lord hath helped us over our mountains of difficulty, or out of the depths of tribulation, smoothing our path when it was rugged to our step, or straightening it when it was crooked; if we have experienced that a blessing hath rested on the operation of our hands, or on the meditation of our hearts; if, in the domestic relations of life, we have been favoured with any special tokens of God’s superintending providence and fostering protection (and who has not had them?), what gratitude ought to be ours; what abundant occasion have we to adopt--what demons of darkness should we be if we did not adopt--the sentiment of Samuel, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” But this may be a mere empty expression of the lips, or, at least, a mere transitory ebullition of feeling, evaporating with the event which has called forth the sentiment. We would wish that the impression should be permanent, such as would only terminate with our lives; we would wish to see erected some standing memorial of the loving kindness of the Lord, which should declare his goodness, and bespeak our gratitude. How is this to be effected in the present day, since such a rude memorial of Divine mercy would be inconsistent with the notions of modern refinement? It may be accomplished in two ways. Those who have omitted to do so, may lay the foundation stone of a domestic altar, and rear a structure in their houses, on which may be placed the morning and evening sacrifice of prayer and praise. But the conduct of Samuel may be imitated in another point of view, by the reception of Christ Jesus in our hearts; thus to erect a spiritual edifies in our souls, and to make our bodies the temple of the Holy Ghost. Christ is indeed that living stone, which we would see the tenant of every bosom testifying in a lively way of providential and redeeming mercies: a “stone disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious;” a “tried stone,” a “sure foundation;” but to “some a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence:” a stone, which the builders, in their impiety and folly, rejected, which is now become the head of the corner; yes, it is indeed this Rock of Ages, which we desire to see set up in all our hearts, at all times, and upon all occasions, as the stable basis on which to erect; a structure of temporal or eternal blessedness; as the sure refuge and hiding place from the storm of adversity, or the gale of prosperity. Here, then, we have the line of conduct we earnestly recommend for your adoption, strongly enforced by the patriarch of old: receive Him into your hearts, whom we preach unto you as the author and finisher of your salvation. Let the idol altar be thrown down, and the name of Jesus Christ be inscribed thereon; may that natural, dead, indurated heart yield its place to the living stone, which will impart new life and vigour to all its energies and emotions, and gratefully record the achievements of Divine grace to the glory of God the Father. (H. S. Plumptre, M. A.)
Memorials of Divine Mercy
There is a distinct recognition, here, of the hand of God in providence; and there is a marking of the event of God’s interference in their behalf by some visible outward sign which would serve to bring it back to them. For no man, after the battle and the victory, returning that way, and beholding this stone, would forget it. They would cherish it in their memory, and tell their children of it. And if their occasions or needs ever took any of them again through the region of their old captivity, their old fear, the old battle and the old victory, that outside memorial would stand to remind them, not merely of each external event but also of the interior moral truth that it was of the Lord’s mercies that they were preserved, and that it was of God’s interposing providence that they were victorious. Now, we are in many respects like the Israelites. There are, in the history of every man, certain remarkable events that are worthy to be remembered. The gracious and providential interference of God in our behalf deserves to be noted. The memory of all His mercies ought to be perpetuated. Every critical period, as the turning of the year; every point of success in any enterprise of life; every point where we gain a higher joy, whether it be secular, or social, or spiritual; every new relation which promises great; blessedness to us; every business achievement which seems to lift us out of darkness and out of difficulties; every great mischief that impended as a threatening sky, but; that is rolled away--every such event or experience ought to have a distinct recognition. We should think of them in their individuality, and in their sequences; and it would be well for us if we could set up some memorial, and be able to say to one and another, “Hitherto the Lord hath helped me.” It is the Lord--not my skill, not my wisdom, not my prowess--that hath helped me hitherto. “Our true” life is the inward life. It deserves, therefore, to be specially watched and recorded. No other thing deserves such celebrations as a man’s inward victory--his inward deliverance. A blessing that comes from God should be recognised by us, though it comes in no visible form. No one who has a constant succession of good fortune, keeps any ideal in his mind of the number of Divine mercies of which he is the recipient. If God were to recount what He has done for us, it would seem as though our life were a golden chain, in which one golden link clasped another, every hour being a link, and every day lengthening the chain. I sometimes think, of a night, that it is a sin to go into the house and leave God’s glory flashing abroad in the Northern Lights, or in the stellar exhibitions in all the broad expanse above, without a witness--certainly without my witnessing them. I feel as though it were a stupidity to retire to sleep with all this amazing display going on. For, what are men’s inventions and ingenuities compared with those astonishing developments which every summer’s day shows us in the clouds, in the storms, and in frescoes of light and beauty? Every single day there is enough in the silence of nature, and in the might of nature, enough to fill the soul with joy and gratitude. But, while day tells it to day, and night repeats it to night, man sees but little of it. There may he kept a calendar of dates. It is astonishing how much one can preserve in this way with very little trouble. When travelling in Europe, I was so full of excitement end enjoyment that I had not time to keep a journal; so I just put down under each date one single word--the name of the city; or the name of the picture; or the name of the mountain; or the name of the pass; or the name of some person whom I had met; and now I can go back ever a month’s travels, and, though there are but these single words, that whole history starts up when I look at them. If you regularly take a memorandum book, at night, and think back through the day, and bring up before you what God has done for you, what He has shown you, what significant thing has happened, and put down the caption of it under the proper date, you will be surprised to find what a calendar your book will become at the end of every year. In some of the German houses there is a charming habit of this sort. Instead of papering their rooms, or frescoing them in the ordinary way, they employ the ablest artists of their times to paint their walls with the most exquisite landscapes, which are to stand there for ages. And in these landscapes are representations of their own family here and there. Here, for instance, are the grandparents; there are the children; and here are the friends and neighbours. And so, one has in his house, a kind of memorial of his social relationships, and of everything significant in his family history. It is a most charming idea if it, be executed fitly. But I would not recommend to you any such custom as this, which is very expensive, and unfitted to our habits and manners And yet, it is quite possible for one to have objects on his wall, which shall answer very much the same purpose: A leaf here, an anchor there, or a little flower, plucked, dried, and hung in its proper place, may mark some significant passage in one’s history This may be seen in castles. The man of the castle says, “Do you see those antlers? Do you see that frontal? I will give you a history of that hunting expedition.” They are memorials which he has preserved of various experiences in hunting. Why should not every dawning mercy have a star blazing from the wall, and saying to every one that looks upon it, “Hitherto the Lord hath helped me?” Why should our houses be so barren of our own history? Why should we leave our eyes so entirely without the aid of interpreting symbols? I know not why a person’s house should not become a kind of memorial of personal history. Or, a journal might be made of the Bible. If you keep a kind of register, so that the text refers to and is associated with the event, your Bible becomes a memorial. You are setting up all the way through it stones of remembrance, as it were. You are providing a record for your old age. And by and by, when you take down your Bible, and put on your glasses, and look back upon your past life, not only will it be the word of God, but you will find bow the word of God fed you in the wilderness, strengthened you in sickness, and comforted you in circumstances of discouragement. How many things a man can record on the fly leaves of his Bible which will afford him pleasure and profit in after life! And how precious that Bible will become to him when he has woven it into his experience as a kind of epitomising of his life. Or, one might, if blessed with means, take the occasions of God’s hopefulness to him, and make them also occasions of charity. There are what are called “memorial windows” in churches Such windows are put in often, by affection, to be the memorial of a wife, or sister, or parent, or child, or friend. In the old country there are a great many of them. One of the most affecting things I ever saw in my life was in the church of the “Succouring” Virgin--that is, of Mary, the Succourer. It was, I believe, in one of the French cities. The whole church was filled with tablets. Here was one of an officer, for three days’ deliverance, on such, and such and such dates. It was a little marble slab let into the wall, inscribed with letters of gold. On inquiring and comparing dates, I found it was during the battle of Inkerman, at a time when the French army were in great danger. The man had been preserved; and when he came back, he put up in this church this tablet, recalling the mercy of God in sparing his life. Another inscription was, “My babe was sick; I called to the Virgin; she heard me; and my child lives.” There was the tablet that celebrated that event. And I could not read these inscriptions without having tears fall from my eyes like drops from a spice bush when shaken in a dewy morning, blow, everybody ought to have a church somewhere for himself--not a literal church; but someplace where he can celebrate God’s special goodness to him. (H. W. Beecher.)
The place of memorials in the Christian life
I. What the memorial commemorated. It was erected on a battle field where they had been twice defeated. Thus it reminded them of their own
1. Helplessness. But it was also erected on a spot where they had witnessed a great victory, won by God’s help. It therefore also reminded them
2. God was their Helper. The stone also commemorated--
3. The extent of their victory. “Hitherto hath the Lord helped them,” as far as this place. It was a kind of border stone marking their advance on a former position.
II. How it helped them. They called it “Help Stone.” In commemorating past help it proved a present help.
1. By keeping them from self-trust.
2. By stimulating their activity. The sight of this stone aroused their patriotism and religious fervour. It was like the flag which stirs the soldier’s martial spirit.
3. It deepened their sense of obligation. To retreat from the position marked by this memorial would have been as disgraceful as for an army to lose its standard.
III. The place of memorial is a Christian life. A written pledge or a spoken vow is for us what “Help Stone” was for Israel. By that act we warn the enemy that he has no more claim upon the territory of our hearts. And each subsequent communion is a gazing afresh upon the memorial of victory won by Christ. (R. C. Ford, M. A.)
1. Observe, the language here of the writer is retrospective. It takes in the wide sweep of the Jewish history.
2. Thus it becomes the language of gratitude.
3. Then, too, consider how the inscription on the stone set up by Samuel, lays a good foundation for hope and trust. And it is upon this help we ground too our faith. The true Christian must always feel deeply humbled at the remembrance of his transgressions, but in the effort of a true repentance he is conscious of God’s merciful aid and compassion. The text furnishes a motive for future perseverance.
5. The text indicates that those who are Divinely assisted in their undertaking, will find in the end that their life of labour and of uprightness, as regards both character and conduct, has not been in vain. No. In some matters of an outward kind, at first sight, it may seem that even the most exemplary career has ended in disappointment, in perfect uselessness.
6. Hence arises the duty of cooperation with the help of the Almighty. The builder when furnished with proper materials must use them. It would be downright folly for him to fold his hands, to make no exertion, and only to call aloud for help. The Christian too must take his place in the Church, as in a city, and although he knows that without God’s help his watchfulness will be of no use, still he must not sleep at his post. (W. G. Horwood.)
The Lord’s Helping His people
It is the duty of the Lord’s people to keep the memorial of the experience which they have of the Lord’s helping them. I shall discuss this point under two general heads.
I. The Lord’s helping His people.
1. How doth the Lord help His people?
(1) Sometimes the Lord helps His people, by working all for them, they themselves contributing nothing to their deliverance. Moses said unto the people, “Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show you today; for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more foreverse The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
(2) Sometimes the Lord assists His people in working. They endeavour their own deliverance in God’s way, and He fits them to act, and blesseth their exertions, crowning them with success.
(3) Sometimes God helps His people by appointing means. Thus in the case of Hezekiah, Isaiah said, “Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaster upon the boil, and he shall recover.” If He intends having His people brought out of Babylon, He raiseth up Cyrus for that purpose. If Elijah must be fed in his hiding place, the ravens shall be employed rather than he suffer want.
(4) Sometimes without means. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
(5) Sometimes by contrary means, as our Lord cured the blind man by laying clay upon his eyes.
2. Let us inquire why the Lord helpeth His people.
(1) Because they are in covenant with Him.
(2) Because of their special relation to Him. Christ is the believer’s head. Hence if the foot be hurt, the Head in heaven cries out (Acts 9:4).
(3) Because they look to Him and trust in Him for their help. The 91st psalm has in it a great many blessed promises, but see to whom they belong.
(4) Because the Lord brings His people into straits for this very end, that He may have the glory of helping them; and that they may get the greater experience of His kindness.
II. To speak of the keeping up of the memorial of the experiences which they have had of the Lord’s helping them.
1. What it is to keep up the memorial of the Lord’s helping us.
(1) It implies an observing of the dispensations we meet with, for our help in the course of our life. If the thing itself be not observed, we cannot keep up the memorial of it.
(2) A discerning of the Lord’s hand in the help we receive.
(3) Laying up these experiences add recording them, if not in a book yet in a faithful memory. “And all they that heard them (the things said of John the Baptist at his birth) laid them up in their hearts, saying, what manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.” Many instead of laying such things up, lay them down in the grave of forgetfulness, and instead of setting up a stone, lay a stone upon them, burying them out of sight.
2. Inquire what of these experiences of the Lord’s helping should be recorded and kept in memory.
(1) We should record the timing or seasonableness of them. There is often a weight lies on this very circumstance, that the help came at such a time and not another is worthy to be remembered.
(2) The effects of them on our spirits How we are affected with them when they come. “Then,” says the Church, “was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with singing.” Many times the Lord helps His people in such a manner that the experience of His goodness fills them with shame, looks their doubts and fears ova of countenance, proves their unbelief to be a false prophet, and makes them resolve never to distrust God again and fills them with thankfulness. (Isaiah 38:10; Isaiah 38:12, Psalms 73:22-23; Psalms 116:11-12.) O how useful would this he afterwards to the Christian.
(3) Their harmony and agreement with the promise
(4) Their agreement with their prayers. (Genesis 24:45.) What are the Christian’s experiences but returns of prayers. Such was that in the text. This seems to be the ground of that conclusion; “By this I know that thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.” Even the very place of our experiences should be recorded. “I will remember thee,” says David, “from the land of Jordan and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.” (Genesis 28:11-19.) And the Lord loves to have His people remember these blessed places, (Genesis 31:13; Genesis 35:1). Let us now,
3. Inquire why we should keep up the memorial of these things
(1) We owe this to God: In point, of obedience, when we meet with experiences of His goodness He calls us to set up our Ebenezer. O monstrous ingratitude to forget experiences. We owe it to Him also, in point of compliance with His design in giving experience of His help to His people God intends His people more comfort by a mercy, than the mercy itself singly considered He intends it as a ground to hope for more He gives the valley of Achor for a door of hope.
(2) We owe this to ourselves in point of interest. If we would consult our own advantage, we would not let them slip For former experiences of the Lord’s help are very supporting to the soul in a dark night These experiences are pledges of further mercies. Some promises have their day of payment here, others after this life. The performing of the former, is an earnest given to faith to look for the other. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The Lord our Help
From this passage we are forcibly taught, in the first place:--
I. that it is our especial duty, under the apprehension of any impending calamity, to seek unto God for deliverance by fervent believing prayer.
II. We are taught by this portion of sacred history, that God will hear the relieving prayers of His servants. We are far from affirming that prayers, offered up in faith, and “for things agreeable to God’s will,” will always be granted in the season or in the manner that the supplicants might either desire, or in their fallible judgment might deem most proper No! This would be to usurp God’s prerogative, and to substitute our own erring judgments in the place of His wise and all disposing sovereignty. All that God permits us to do, is to approach Him in importunate, believing prayer, leaving the result to His own unerring disposal.
III. It is our duty to recognise the hand of God in every deliverance.
IV. A public acknowledgment of gratitude is due to almighty God for mercies received and for deliverance from impending evils. In perusing the history of the heathen world, we are particularly struck with the practice of perpetuating the memory of great events to future generations. When nations were delivered from impending calamities or favoured with unlooked for blessings, they raised the song of gratitude to those whom they esteemed their preserverses The praises of their deliverers were sung by the poet, and extolled by the historian; their statues adorned the cities which gave them birth; and other striking memorials were instituted to convey to future generations an abiding sense of the value of their services. If, from the heathen, we turn to the enlightened world, we shall find that the memorials which, in the one, were erected to the statesman or the conqueror, were, in the other, expressly instituted in token of gratitude to God--the great and only Deliverer.
V. Let your recollection of God’s past mercies inspire you with the feelings of future, unreserved confidence.
VI. Let me call upon you to testify your sense of the Divine mercies, by an increasing devotedness to the service of your God. (Robert Cook.)
Retrospection and Gratitude
The character of Christian gratitude, etc. “Hitherto the Lord hath helped us.”
1. Christian gratitude is retrospective.
2. Christian gratitude is devout. It connects the thought of God with the travelled past. There may have been second causes: gracious interpositions and friendly agencies; but above and beyond all, the good man recognises the hand of God, and in real devotion says, “Hitherto the Lord hath helped me.”
3. Christian gratitude is joyful. Every event in the providence of God has a message of mercy in it to the good man. Day unto day is saying to him, “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous, and shout aloud for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.”
4. Christian gratitude is ever trustful. It speaks thankfully of the past, and looks forward hopefully to the future; hitherto sounds the keynote of hereafter. (W. G. Barrett.)
1 Samuel 7:15-17
And Samuel judged Israel all the darts of his life.
The prophet judge
In the hopeful emergency of Israel’s lamenting after Jehovah, “Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel;” and the clear, bright word, and the wise act of that and subsequent days, show him to us as worthy to be a prophet of the Lord, and a judge or ruler of a great people. Great soldiers have been admired for the way in which they have seized the black and bloody opportunity of a crisis in a battle in order to plunge into more successful carnage; but what better is that than the shark’s swift and well-timed whirl and dash at its almost escaping prey? How much loftier and demanding what higher gifts and power is the act of him who sees and grasps the opportunity of raising a nation from its almost ruin, and even before the delivering time has come sees the flower of hope blooming among the ruins? Such was Samuel’s act in this passage; and such in our own day the hope and deed of Cavour and Victor Emmanuel, who foresaw and made possible the growth of united Italy, at a time when the priests and soldiers had brought the Italy of history to a degradation that only soldiers and priests know the way unto. It is of the greatest importance that we should understand Samuel’s arrangements for the national recovery, and apply the principles involved as piously and intelligently as we can
1. Notice, then, that Samuel’s first great act in his character of prophet-judge was to call the people to a thorough religious and moral cleansing: religious in that they were required to disown the idolatry that was in their lives and opposed to the worship of Jehovah; and moral in that the worship of Baal and Astarte was licentious, degrading; vicious in society as well as profane before their God. Samuel required this of them as well as “lamenting after the Lord.” Israel needed the true worship of the pure God. Purity of heart, temperance of spirit, chastity of body, righteousness to one another; these things, aimed at for the love of God, are His true worship; these were the true ways of putting from them the false and foul idols that God abhorred. So we have to learn. Mourn after God; be penitent and contrite; but aim after Godlikeness as well. Mourn over your sins, but show the true contrition that seeks to be like God; that says, “I will arise and go to my father.” Remember that the invader was in the land; the polluters of the sanctuary still in the sacred places. A soldier “patriot” might have earned renown by military expeditions and dashing raids into the conquered territory; but the dark day of soldier-judges was gone. There was now a man leading who preferred his country’s purity to her prosperity, and would have rather seen his nation die than have her prosper with the work and wages of iniquity. Therefore he called them to a national purifying. But the call of Samuel is intended to be to us. For it is not the only duty of a nation to summon its armed bands and squadrons in times of national peril, or international anxiety. Nor is it less than profanity to send armies forth invoking the “God of battles,” forgetting that before the barbarity of man shed human blood in war, God was a God of purity, and is to be remembered in war and strife, and before conflict and carnage, as the God of righteousness, who will require unjustly or heedlessly shed blood at the hands of those who have poured it out to cry unto Him from the ground.
2. Samuel’s next great act as a prophet-judge was to summon the people to a great prayer assembly. So distinctly did he put the duty of consecration to God before all things that, instead of military deliberations, instead of holding a great council of war, he said to them, “Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord.” But this mighty act of penitence and prayer was rudely disturbed. Like the royal and prelatic dragoons, that rushed down the mountain side against the meetings of the Scottish Covenanters, to stain the heather with their blood, the Philistines marched swiftly to Mizpeh against their defenceless tributaries. Evidently the Israelites had made no military preparation; and all seemed to threaten that the meeting for prayer and purification would end in a horrible massacre, like many similar meetings in Christian times. The only brave heart there was Samuel’s. The best man was the most courageous. Penitence led to prayer, prayer to victory, and victory to praise. Such is our soul’s sure way. The prominent feature of the day in connection with Samuel is one that repeatedly shows itself in his life, and that is his character of intercessor. He prayed hopefully when all was gloomy and foreboding, and he did so not because or when he could do nothing else. He did not act as we so often do; he did not make prayer a last resource, but first and foremost he cried unto the Lord. It was for prayer that he assembled the people, and it was while he was uttering his peculiar cry of earnest intercession that the voice of the Lord’s thunder was heard. Nor, in thinking of Samuel’s prayers and the people’s penitence and their efficacy, must we forget the instructive contrast there is between this day of unexpected triumph and the day of battle at the same place; when, notwithstanding the presence of the ark and all the Divinely ordained accompaniments of its mystery when it led the armies of Israel, there was nothing but disaster, disgrace, and death. Under Samuel, without the ark, or priest, or any symbol of the presence of God, Israel’s enemies were destroyed and the penitent people delivered. The difference was in the penitence; in the setting of their hearts towards the Lord in contrition and prayer. Ichabod was the word that ended the day of trusting in the ark; but Ebenezer crowned the day of penitence and prayer.
3. Samuel’s next great act as a prophet-judge was to consolidate the reformation and prosperity by systematic righteous judgment. “He went from year to year in circuit to Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.” He was too wise not to know, and too devout not to remember, that a land left with only a military success, and rejoicing chiefly over the damage done to its political rivals, would ever be a temptation to itself, and would expose itself more and more to the perils of raillery ambition and adventure. History is full of instances of this. Ambition will govern the military nation, and avarice the commercial, with little regard to the God of justice in either. But by judging for God, witnessing regularly to the presence of God’s law as he went through the various districts, Samuel prevented the people’s penitence being only fugitive, “as the morning cloud and as early dew,” and guarded against the perils of their enormous deliverance from foreign oppression. Concentrate the truth of this on the smaller range of your own private lives and personal development. For it is possible that penitence, if only fleeting, and the great kindnesses of God may be made the occasions of greater condemnation. And this grace of knowing the Lord and the revelations of Himself to His earnest souls are not spasmodic, interjectional, and unreliable; for “His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall came unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.” Consolidate your penitence into piety, your thankfulness for deliverance into earnest devotion and regular good doing. Go, round your nature, and set everything and every power to the acquirement of “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (G. B. Ryley.)
Samuel the Judge
Samuel is a splendid model of sanctified authority. Even as Mount Gideon towers in rugged, regal grandeur above that broad tableland on which the fortunes of the Jewish monarchy were afterwards unrolled, so his strong pure character towers in magnificent sublimity above the fickle, selfish age in which he lived. He was the highest type of a ruler. There are two kinds of authority, that which is sustained by force of arms, and that which is held by force of character. Samuel had the latter; the former is hard to get and hard to keep. It is the possession of tyrants. We have had in these later days a striking illustration of these two kinds of power in the Czar of Russia and the late ex-Emperor of Brazil. A certain writer in commenting on the life of the former says: “No one in the world is so grand a monarch, and yet no one in the world today is more wretched. He knows that the spirit of Nihilism is abroad throughout his vast domains, he fears to see in every face the look of an assassin. Turn now to the other picture, Dom Pedro, for many years the loved and trusted emperor of the Brazilian people, the friend of the oppressed, the emancipator of the slave, the patron of the arts and sciences, who was willing when his people had become, through his own generous influence and training, ripe for a republican form of government, to abdicate his throne and to go uncomplainingly into exile. His was an authority resulting from character. He held a throne within a throne which could not be touched or overthrown by the vicissitudes of a progressing civilisation. The influence of the last of the Brazilian emperors, like the influence of the last of Israel’s judges, will be felt throughout successive, generations. The authoritative power of a strong, continuous character is a fact familiar to us all. Samuel ruled by virtue of what he was in himself, and he was what he was because of his early training and continuous growth in character. I would like to say a few words about this continuity of righteousness. As a rule the men and women who have the strongest influence in the world today are those whose moral characters have been built up from their youth time. I do not wish to say anything that shall discourage those who have emerged from the wild excessses of youth into a manhood comparatively strong and influential. I think of men like Augustine, and John Bunyan, and John Newton, and John Gough, who, having emerged from the fiery furnace of dissipation, went about among their fellow men and, despite the awful scars upon their characters and the smell of fire upon their garments, wielded a mighty influence for good and exercised a moral authority in the world which might have been impossible had they, like Timothy and St. Anthony and Edward the Sixth of England, led lives of unbroken righteousness. And yet these men may be regarded as exceptions to the general law of influence. The wild oats theory is all wrong, the assertion that you must be a profligate and a prodigal before you can be a prince among men is devil’s gospel. I have no doubt that the devil over-reaches himself and cheats himself, but in any transaction between you and him he is longer-headed than you are. If you give him a mortgage on your life in the early days, he will be pretty sure to get out of you double the face of your note before he gets through with you. Many a reformed man, many a converted man, is obliged to lament today, as Job did, because “the iniquities of his youth” possess him. The sin is forgiven, but the disabled body, the weakened will, the impaired influence, the thought of those who have been led astray by his example, must abide with him. Chaucer, “the bright herald of English song,” a man of surpassing abilities, failed to be the power that he might have been because of his early sins. He cried out repeatedly On his deathbed: “Woe is me that I cannot recall and annul these things; but, alas! they are continued from man to man and I cannot do what I desire.” I had a letter from one of these unfortunates only a few days ago. He has for many years been yielding to temptation. Again and again he has striven to break away from the thraldom of his past life, but as yet in vain. He says: “I have been on a disastrous downhill slide for the past few weeks; nothing wrong other than dissipation, which ought to be a criminal offence, particularly for me. Sinning and trying to repent seems to be my lot. Why cannot I be saved?” The difference between a character that has grown up into a matured strength from early goodness and purity and that which results from some sudden and violent conversion after years of weakening excesses is like the difference between the stalactite and the icicle: they look much alike, they are formed by the same forces of nature; but the one is many years forming, and the other grows in a night-time. Keep the icicle under right conditions of temperature and it remains, like the stalactite, solid and beautiful; but change those conditions, put the two together under the burning heat of the sun, and the creation of a night time will molt away, while the deposit of many years will be strong and solid still. The prince among men who is the greatest moral power in the world today, the man who can do the most in moderating and guiding the passions of his fellow men, who is best able to help the weak and encourage the faint, and who impresses his character upon the age in which he lives, is the man who, like Samuel, can look back through middle age and youth and childhood upon a life which has been clean and true. (C. A. Dickinson.)
Samuel the Ruler
Other books--the works of great men and possessed of great merit--have been written for the use of princes in training for a throne; but in preference to all such, were we a prince’s tutor, we should select the Bible; and for a pattern for rulers him whose name stands at the head of this chapter. America boasts her Washington; England her Hampden; Scotland her Wallace; Greece and Rome their patriots or patriot-kings; but among the few illustrious men whose deeds shine in the annals and whose names are embalmed in the heart of nations, where, in all history, sacred or profane, is there one so eminently fitted to rule as Samuel--who presents such a remarkable combination of mental power, the purest patriotism, and the highest piety?
1. He was a patriotic ruler.
(1) His object was not the possession of power--that for which so many kings and statesmen have had recourse to the meanest devices. How basely did Henry IV desert the sacred cause for which, his white plume dancing in the thick of the fight, he had often led his followers to battle! And from him who embraced Popery to win Paris, and, with its gay capital, the kingdom and crown of France, to such as by bribery have purchased meaner offices, what sacrifices of conscience, and virtue, and truth, have been offered at the shrine of power! The crimes which some have committed to gain it have been without a parallel, unless those which others have committed to retain it. Unlike that grand old Roman who threw up the helm of the state and retired to plough his paternal acres, how many has the world seen clinging to power as a drowning man to a plank; and to retain possession of it, resorting to the most dishonourable and vilest means! For this purpose, once and again the sword of Joab was plunged into the heart of a rival; to prop up his throne, Charles I, in Stratford, gave the neck of a devoted friend to the headsman’s axe; to secure their places and appease an angry crowd, a British ministry cast an admiral of the fleet to the mob, and hanged him up before the sun; and Richelieu, a cardinal of the Church, and chief minister of France, arranged that her armies should suffer an ignominious defeat--scrupling not, rather than that he should lose his place, that thousands of his gallant countrymen should lose their lives, and cement with their blood the tottering fabric of his power. In the crooked policy they have pursued to gain or to retain place and power, what base things have great men done, and what bad things good men! A finer contrast to the general character of the princes and statesmen, and, whether they occupied a high or a low place, of the rulers of this world, we cannot imagine than that which Samuel presents. Place, honour, and power sought him, not he them. He became the judge of Israel, or its ruler, at the call of God; and when, without respect to his grey hairs and long years of honourable, successful service, an ungrateful country called him to resign his office, like the sun which looks largest at its setting, he never seems so great, so grand, as in the last scenes of his public life.
2. His object was not his own personal aggrandisement. “L’etat, c’est moi” (“The State, it is I”), said Louis XIV to one who happened to speak in his presence of the interests of the State. A striking picture that of one who, though called “the great,” was an incarnation of the worst passions of human nature--of selfishness, pride, heartless cruelty, insatiable ambition, and abominable lust!--a truer picture, though drawn by his own hand, than any left by Bossuet, or Massillon, or the other flatterers of a bloody tyrant and ruthless persecutor of God’s heritage. We meet with no such scenes under the rule of Samuel. Unlike those that had preceded, or were to follow, the sword slept in its scabbard all the days of Samuel--that great battle excepted which inaugurated his reign, and was won by his prayers. Under his government--Samuel himself the highest example of it--piety flourished; the stream of justice ran pure; the rights of all classes were respected; private property was safe; and the public burdens, pressing lightly, were easily borne by a prosperous people. I can fancy, when old men described the happy and quiet life they led in the good days of Samuel, how many felt that when their fathers clamoured for a king, on that occasion, as old Bishop Latimer said of another, the vox populi was rather the vox diaboli than the vox Dei--the voice of the devil than the voice of God.
2. Samuel was a pious, as well as patriotic, ruler. It would appear that in the rudest times of old an altar always rose near the throne; and that an indispensable part of every palace was the chapel, where he to whom others knelt, knelt to God; and learned to remember that there was One above him whose throne overshadowed his; at whose mercy seat kings had to seek for mercy; whose laws were to form the rule, and his glory the chief end of their government. Simply the vicegerent of God, and no king, Samuel had no place in Israel; the palace, if such it could be called, was the tabernacle, where God dwelt within the curtains of the holy place, No armed guards protected the person, nor gorgeous retinue attended the steps of Samuel. No pomp of royalty disturbed the simple manner of his life, or distinguished him from other men; yet there rose by his house in Ramah that which proclaimed to all the land the personal character of its ruler, and the principles on which he was to conduct his government In a way not to be mistaken, Samuel associated the throne with the altar; earthly power with piety; the good of the country with the glory of God. “He judged Israel,” it is said, “all the days of his life, and went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgah, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all these places; and his return was to Ramah, for there was his house, and there he judged Israel, and there,” it is added, “he built an altar unto the Lord.” That altar had a voice no man could mistake. In a manner more expressive than proclamation made by the voice of royal heralds with painted tabards and sounding trumpets, it proclaimed to the tribes of Israel that piety was to be the character, and the will of God the rule, of his government. What an example Samuel presents to our magistrates, our judges, our members of parliament--to all entrusted with authority, and how should all who love their God and country pray that every post of honour and of public trust may be filled with a man of the type of Samuel! Religion is the root of honour; piety the only true foundation of patriotism; and the best defence of a country, a people nursed up in godliness--of such virtue, energy, and high morale, that, animated with a courage which raises them above the fear of death, they may be exterminated, but cannot be subdued. It, is not, as some allege, our blood, with its happy mixture of Celtic, Saxon, and Scandinavian elements, but the religion of our island--our Bibles, our schools, our Sabbaths, our churches, and our Christian homes--which, more than any and than all things else, has formed the character of its inhabitants; and to that more than to the genius of its statesmen, or to its fleets and armies, Britain owes her unexampled prosperity, and the peace that has brooded for a hundred years unbroken on her sea-girt shores. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The judge in circuit; or, religion in business
In every State much depends on the proper administration of justice, and it is of the first consequence to sustain it incorrupt. It is with the body politic as with the individual. Regard must be had to those secondary laws which influence health and contribute to our fitness for discharging ordinary duties. If we pay no respect to the laws of diet, exercise, and ventilation, by which health is conserved, we become unable to perform our business, the internal economy is deranged, and all the members of the body suffer. In society there are principles that regulate order and prosperity, which cannot with impunity be set aside. If the administration of justice be neglected or perverted, liberty and religion must seriously suffer. But when religion is revived, it is of vast moment to bring all civil affairs under its purifying influence. Without this, religious ceremonies would serve as cloaks for sin, and liberty excuse licentiousness. It was, therefore, the great business of Samuel, when by God’s blessing he had godliness recovered and national order re-established, to free the judgment seat from corruption, and to make it a respect and a dread through all the land. The civil government of Israel was peculiar. It had its origin from God, and was as much a Divine institution as the Church itself. Jehovah was their lawgiver and king, both in Church and State. Church and State being co-extensive in Israel, the Levites acquired a large share in the administration of justice. In the days of David, we read that six thousand of the Levites were officers and judges (1 Chronicles 23:4), in addition to the number employed in the tabernacle service. Members of the State were subject to the law of the Church, and the members of the Church were citizens. Religious error was criminal in civil law. Idolatry was treason, for God was their king. Offences against society were subject to ecclesiastical censure, and cut off the guilty from the congregation of the Lord. The two forms of government were mutually helpful and interdependent. The revival of piety purified the State, and spiritual officers led rulers to reform. Samuel was a Levite, and was devoted to the sanctuary by the circumstances of his birth. But he also discharged high civil offices on account of the position into which he was providentially raised. He officiated as a priest, and he ruled as a judge. Samuel was an upright and godly judge. There is a danger of separating the official from the personal character, and whenever this is done the individual is seriously injured. There have been good men who have been bad judges, and bad men who have made respectable judges. There is another danger to which a judge is exposed, when he is tempted to indulge personal feelings while seated where impartial judgment should be given. It is recorded of Aristides, one of the brightest names in ancient Greece, and a man to whom his contemporaries awarded the title of “the Just,” that when he was a judge between two private persons, “one of them declared that his adversary had greatly injured Aristides.” He thus hoped to awaken the personal feelings of the judge against his opponent and secure a verdict favourable to himself. But the just judge replied, “Relate rather what wrong he hath done to thee, for it is thy cause, not mine, that I now sit judge of.” Private feelings may, however, sometimes be tried severely. When Brutus had to occupy the seat of justice and his two sons were placed at the bar charged with treason against the State, it was trying for the patriot to set aside the parent, and for duty to act against affection. But the majesty of law prevailed over the emotions of kindred, and the spectators are said to have gazed more at the judge than on the culprits on that august occasion, and to have regarded the scene as a most illustrious exhibition of moral heroism. Party feeling is another danger to which judges are exposed. When Richard Baxter had to bear the coarse ribaldry and unjust judgment of Jeffreys, it was evident that party feeling ruled the decision of that wicked man. A judge should be upright, and Samuel brought to the judicial seat a character fitted for the high office he had to discharge. The altar was beside his bench and his home. The profession of his faith was beside his robe of office. The believer was in the judge. He connected the official with the personal so intimately that he could not be a godly man without also being at the same time an upright judge. Nor has he stood alone in the lives of judges. Sir Matthew Hale was a man after Samuel’s pattern. Under the power of godliness and familiar with the word of God, he sought to evidence the principles of religion in the practice of his profession. When he was an advocate, he would not plead a cause, if he were convinced of its injustice; and when he rose to the bench and was Chief Baron of the Exchequer he was noted for the impartiality of his decisions. A peer of the realm who had a case in court once called upon him to give him private information, that he might have fuller understanding of it when it was brought up for judgment. Sir Matthew is reported to have said that “he did not deal fairly to come to his chamber about such affairs, for he never received any information of causes but in open court, where both parties were to be heard alike.” The duke complained to the king; but his majesty observed, that “he believed he would have used himself no better, if he had gone to solicit him in any of his causes.” Sir Matthew feared God and regarded man, but his integrity of righteous action was not to be sacrificed. Samuel did not forget whose law it was which he dispensed, whose worship he observed, whose altar was at his house. After the fatigue of official duty, the exercise of devotion at the family altar was sweet refreshment. Before entering upon the anxieties of judgment or the vexation of litigation, domestic worship was his best preparation. Amidst the difficulties of the conflicting cases before him he would remember the altar, and seek wisdom requisite for the occasion from the Lord most high. Secular engagements did not pervert his godliness, or lead him to neglect family worship. He could come from the strife of tongues to the peace-speaking blood, and approach with humble faith the altar of his God. That is not a complete house which is without an altar. It may have a hearth to warm, and accommodation to suit the body, but it has not that which likens it, as it links it to heaven. You may have a respectable business, and conduct it well, and yet want what blesses it--a domestic altar. A house without an altar lacks its brightest ornament, its clearest light, its best principle, and its sure consecration. But where the altar is in the house it has a safety lamp. Numerous have been the testimonies to the value of the domestic altar. (B. Steel.)