Here I Raise My Ebenezer (I Samuel 7:2-17)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 7:2–7:17
Crying for a King
I. On This Site
I don’t know about you, but I love historical markers. You know, those little or not so little plaques that you find on the side of a building or on the side of the road, the ones that tell you about what happened on that site 50 or 100 or 200 years earlier.
I remember driving several years ago on state route 79 which is a back road that goes from Apache Junction to Florence and then down to NE Tucson. In the middle of nowhere, on the side of the road, I spotted an historical marker and so we stopped to see why it was there.
On that very spot, the silent film cowboy star Tom Mix, who made 336 films between 1910 and 1935, on that spot Tom Mix crashed his car in 1940 and was killed instantly. Now, many people would not find that fact very interesting, since a good number of people have never even heard of Tom Mix. But, enough people felt it was a significant enough event to have a marker built, in the middle of the Arizona desert, at the place where he died.
And it made me think about how markers like that get approved and constructed. Is there a committee somewhere that has to decide if an event and/or person and/or building is historically significant enough to be worthy of an historical marker? And if there is, what criteria do they use?
If you were on that committee, what would cause you to want to raise up an official reminder?
Turn with me this morning to I Samuel 7. Once again, God has given us an opportunity to learn the incredible lessons He has for us in this book called Samuel.
II. The Passage: "But the Lord Thundered" (6:1-7:2)
And in fact, this morning, we are reconnecting with Samuel himself. If you recall, we have not heard anything about Samuel since chapter 3. In that chapter, we read about how the boy Samuel first heard the voice of God and how God called him to be a prophet to the people of Israel.
This was such an incredibly important event because the people were in desperate need of leadership. Ever since the people had arrived in the Promised Land, they were guilty of consistently forsaking God and going after the false gods of the neighboring nations. As they suffered under the consequences of their foolish choices, God regularly raised up leaders called “judges”, who helped deliver the people from their enemies.
But up to this point in the book of Samuel, the only judge we've encountered is Eli the priest. And if you remember, chapters 2 and 4 revealed not only Eli's corruption, but also his condemnation and death.
So, as usual, the people of Israel were still suffering at the hands of their enemies, this time, the Philistines, and they were still making foolish decisions, like trying to turn the Ark of the Covenant into some sort of military super weapon. But in the end the Ark was captured and everything, though it didn't seem possible, everything got even worse.
But chapter 7, verse 1 reminds us that God, after proving to the Philistines that He could defeat them without any human army, 7:1 reminds us that God graciously brought the Ark back to Israel. It was now in a home in Kiriath-jearim, about 8 miles west of Jerusalem.
A. Israel’s Repentance (7:2-6)
So look with me at 7:2 and let's see how the condition of the people has changed in light of all these events:
From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. 3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.
Now notice the time indicator there. Twenty years had passed since the Ark returned to Israel. And of course, this means Samuel is no longer a boy, is he? He is a man. He is God's man. He is God’s prophet as we see here.
After twenty years of suffering, we read in verse 2 that the people are finally suffering after the Lord. They are not simply upset by their broken circumstances. They are upset because of their broken relationship with God.
Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever been miserable because you finally connected the dots and realized that your biggest problem, the Problem (capital “P”) behind all your other problems is that you are not right with God? That the trajectory of your life is completely out of whack? That's the wonderful place that Israel found herself in chapter 7.
And what's does God's prophet do with such fertile heart soil? He sows the seeds of repentance. Look at verse 3. To “return to the Lord with all your heart” is what repentance is all about.
Wayne Grudem, a professor over at Phoenix Seminary, define repentance in this way: repentance is “a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience”.
Samuel knows their grief and suffering and sorrow about God is not enough. Samuel knows here what the Apostle Paul would express over a thousand years later to the church at Corinth:
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal... (II Corinthians 7:9-11)
True repentance is not the act of changing our lives, but true repentance always leads to change. If the people of Israel were truly wanting to return to the Lord, if they were truly repenting, than they needed to demonstrate their sincerity by getting rid of all the false idols they had once trusted in.
Verses 5 and 6 simply describe some kind of a ceremony that will formalize their return to Yahweh their God. The water being poured out in verse 6, in connection with the fasting mentioned here, was probably a way of symbolizing their desire to be completely dependent on God and God alone.
And did you notice the last phrase of verse 6? And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. God has raised up a new judge to deliver his people. God has raised up Samuel!
So for the first time in this book, for the first time in a long time, God's people were looking humbly and fully to God as their only hope.
“...a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience”. Do you know that kind of repentance? Are you living out that kind of repentance?
B. God’s Deliverance (7:7-11)
Look at what happens next in verses 7-11:
Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.
So when the Philistines, in verse 7, hear about this gathering at Mizpah, they must think there is some kind of revolt starting to materialize. So the Philistines armies rush out to squash whatever is happening at Mizpah.
But even though the Philistines were coming, and even though the people were not positioned for any kind of military action, they stood their ground and they look to God.
Verse 8 tells us they cried out to Samuel as their intercessor, as their judge. But Samuel responds to God's people, and responds to the imminent Philistine attack, in a completely different way than the judges who came before him. He doesn't lead a military attack. He prepares an offering to God.
I love verse 10! The Philistine must think this is too good to be true. Here are their Israelite enemies, standing around watching a man slaughter a lamb, when they themselves are just seconds away from being slaughtered like sitting ducks. The Philistines can't pass up the opportunity.
But as they attack, and as Samuel makes the offering to God, God responds with His deliverance; He responds with some kind of supernatural thunder that sends the Philistines scurrying like roaches when the kitchen light comes on.
The people have turned back to God, and God has delivered His people from the hand of their enemies. For the first time in the book of Samuel, things are looking hopeful.
C. Samuel’s Guidance (7:13-17)
So we've heard about Israel's repentance, and we've heard about God's deliverance. Look at what verses 13-17 tell us about Samuel's guidance:
So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 14 The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites. 15 Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16 And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. 17 Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the Lord.
So not only did Samuel's leadership bring about peace with and protection from from the Philistines, but also from and with all of Israel's neighbors, all the “Amorites” as they are called in verse 14.
As a prophet, and in some ways as a priest, and as a national leader, God used Samuel to guide His people onto the path of salvation and obedience. The child that the childless Hannah so desperately desired became the man God's people so desperately needed.
III. Perspective: The Reality and Sufficiency of God’s Help (7:12)
But as we think about how this chapter should change our perspective as God's people, I want you to notice something about the structure of this chapter.
Look at how verses 2-6, and verses 15-17 emphasize the ministry and leadership of Samuel. These passages are like bookends, aren't they? But also notice, as you move in, that verses 7-11 and verses 13-14 emphasize the threat from and the defeat of the Philistines. It's like another set of bookends, another bracket.
But if we have here two sets of brackets, what are they bracketing. Well, they are bracketing the verse we skipped, verse 12:
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
Now, why would this verse be in the very center of this whole section? Why is this verse so important? So Samuel sets up a marker to commemorate the battle site. Big deal. Maybe he also has plans for a visitor's center and a self-guided audio tour. So what.
The incredible significance of verse 12 is connected to the uniqueness of Samuel as a judge. Samuel was not a military leader, was he? He was not going to deliver the people like Gideon or Samson. His weapons were worship and obedience.
And that is exactly why he sets up this large stone as a pillar and calls it Eben-ha-ezer, “the stone of help”. Why that name? ...for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
“Till now” or we might translate that “up until this point” or “up to this time”. “Up to this time...the LORD has helped us.” Samuel wasn't Israel's deliverer, just like Gideon wasn't Israel deliver, or even Samson. God had delivered the people. God was always their Savior. He was the only leader they needed. Hadn't He proved that time and time again?
And now God had proven that beyond the shadow of a doubt. The victory at Mizpah could never be attributed to some kind of military advantage or superior strategy. God himself had thundered from heaven, and Samuel wanted the people to never, ever, ever forget that God was their helper; he never wanted them to forget that their whole existence of God's people was marked by the reality and sufficiency of God's help.
Have you been helped by God? Even though we often sing a different version of this song, listen to the original second stanza of the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:
This morning, if you belong to Jesus Christ through faith, then “up to this time” in your life, throughout your entire life, “the Lord has helped [you]”.
Not only has God helped you by bringing you, like Israel, to that place of repentance, that place of returning to Him, not only has you helped you by delivering you from the power and penalty of sin, but He has and continues to help you through the guidance of the ultimate prophet, priest, and leader: Jesus Christ.
Through the testimony of God's living word, through the power of His Spirit, this morning Samuel is standing by that stone and he is calling us to never, ever, ever forget. He is calling us to remember, the same call given to Israel throughout the Old Testament:
“Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place.” (Exodus 13:3)... “you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness” (Deuteronomy 8:2)... “Remember his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations” (I Chronicles 16:15)... “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14)...Remember the wondrous works that he has done (Psalm 105:5)...Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me (Isaiah 46:8, 9).
We can know the reality and sufficiency of God's help through Jesus Christ. No matter your need this morning, your Need of needs is always and only your need to be right with God. And through Jesus, and only Jesus, do we find God's help. This is why Paul expressed it simply, but powerfully to Timothy in II Timothy 2:8: Remember Jesus Christ...
IV. Practice: Living as Stone-Raisers
And when our perspective changes, when we begin to see and believe and rejoice in the fact that, the whole time, God’s help has been the light to our path, that God’s help has been the water for our thirst, that God’s help has been the strength to go on…when we see believe that, we need to do what Samuel did here. We need to be stone-raisers.
Now, some of us here know what it means to be a hell-raiser. But what does it mean to be a stone-raiser?
A stone-raiser is a man or woman who marks for their memory the place and time and circumstances when God’s help was so powerfully demonstrated.
It’s like being on that historical marker committee. Your job, my job, should be to recognize and formalize all of those significant events that should not be forgotten.
Followers of Jesus do this in all sorts of ways. Some keep a journal that preserves all of the ways God has demonstrated His powerful help. Others might keep a significant item in plain sight as a reminder of God’s help. For others, it might be a certificate of baptism or something to hang on the wall.
No matter what form it takes, like the Ebenezer at Mizpah, it is simply a reminder that God answered my prayer, or healed my body, or saved my marriage, or protected me, or revealed himself to me a new way. It is a reminder of God’s powerful help.
But when it comes to outward reminders, the New Testament gives us one Ebenezer that all of us can raise up:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-25)
What I really want to communicate to you this morning in terms of living as a stone-raiser is not ultimately that you should be journaling or hanging things on your walls or even eating of the Lord’s Supper. What is most important is that you are raising Ebenezers in your heart.
Stop for a minute and think about the entirety of our life “until now”, “up to this point”. Let it flash before your eyes. Can you see, do you recognize all of the places where a stone should be raised? Do you see three or four or five or six key places on the path of your life that you know, without a doubt, God helped you, powerfully, as only He could?
When God brought provision for your need; when God brought a messenger to speak to you; when God brought a hand to hold yours; when God opened a door that you thought was a dead end; when God humbled you as you were puffed up with pride; when God brought pain at that point when you were numb to everything, especially to Him…
When God brought life into your death; when God brought freedom into your bondage; when God brought His love into your heart, a heart that was petrified, hardened by the love of “me”.
When we talk about God’s help, we are not simply talking about God’s assistance, that God ‘lent a hand’, as if in this passage God gave the Israelites some important military intelligence, or some really good weaponry. No, the reality and sufficiency of God’s help always means that God, and God alone, has won the battle.
And just like we see here in I Samuel 7, God’s victory coincided with an offering, a sacrifice for the sins of His people. The marker in your memory that should tower above every other stone should be that marker commemorating the time and place and circumstances through which God opened your eyes to the cross of Jesus Christ; when He showed you the price that was paid by His Son; when he made you His son or daughter.
The Lord’s Table means nothing if you have not already tasted of the spiritual food the bread and wine represent. They simply point us to His sacrifice.
Here I raise my Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I'm come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, Interposed His precious blood.
This week, pray that God would help you to raise up those stones, to mark off for your memory all of those displays of God’s powerful help in your life. And whenever you see and revisit those Ebenezers, praise Him, thank Him, and know that He will continue to be your help, up to that point when your “until now” will dissolve into eternity. Let’s pray.