February 26, 2023

Don't Stop Crying Out to God (I Samuel 7:5-10)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023) Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation, Prayer Scripture: 1 Samuel 7:5–10

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Children's Lesson (click here) 

I. Encouragement and Hope

Those who heard last week's message should remember this verse from the Apostle Paul... “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction... [ah, but there's more to that verse], that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) Turn if you would to 1 Samuel 7:5-10 and let's see how God wants to again instruct us and encourage us toward hope through what was “written in former days”.


II. The Passage: “Do Not Cease to Cry Out” (2:1-5)

Okay. Let me set the scene. Chapters 4-6 describe how a people called the Philistines (who lived along the Mediterranean coast) had defeated the people of Israel and even captured the Ark of the Covenant during that battle (which was probably being used as some kind of magical prop by the Israelites). Now the Ark had since been returned, but as was the case during the judgeship of Samson in Judges 13-16, Israel was still under the thumb of the Philistine armies. Moreover, as was so often the pattern in Judges when the people were oppressed, the nation had rightly been moved to repentance. We see this in verses 3–4 of chapter 7. Take a look...

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.

So this repentance and faith sets the stage for the scene that unfolds in 5-10. Listen as I read...

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. [7] 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 defeated before Israel.

So as we think about the significance of this text, think with me about why the writer of the book we call Samuel was concerned about including this story. To understand why the original author wrote about this event, let's do our best to understand some of the parts that contribute to the whole of 1 Samuel 7:5-10. Let me highlight four of those parts.

The first idea I'd like to highlight is the obvious repentance of the people here. In verse 4 we heard about the people putting away their false idols, and here we read about them fasting and performing some kind of water pouring ceremony. In fact, I think those two things went together as helpful rituals or practices designed to express absolute dependence on God. So its probably enough to say that God's people were now in a much better place spiritually than they had been in a long time.

A second idea to highlight from this story is how their spiritual movement forward was (as we saw in verse 7) being challenged by earthly pressures from the Philistine army. The Philistine generals were probably ecstatic when they heard about so many Israelites gathered in one place. They had hit the strategic jackpot... or so they thought. But think about how this builds on the first point about repentance; about the people's spiritual condition. Israel's positive spiritual momentum was not occurring at some retreat center, or during an era of peace and prosperity. No. Most likely, they were regularly threatened by the Philistines (as verse 3 indicates).

A third idea we find here, one that's definitely worth noting, could be expressed using Paul's words from 2 Corinthians 10:4, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh...”. Did you see how Israel, even after learning about the approaching Philistine army, didn't prepare to fight or run? They were “afraid” (as we heard in verse 7), but they and Samuel chose sacrifice and prayer as their weapons. Why? Because they were seeking the deliverance only God could provide. If you are seeking that kind of rescue, only sacrifice and prayer will do.

And the fourth idea to highlight simply confirms that truth. When Samuel turned to Yahweh, armed only with sacrifice and prayer, verse 9 tells us that “Yahweh answered him”. And the divine intervention that followed is indisputable. If you think the Air Force jets that fly over the Southwest Valley are loud, I'm guessing the “mighty sound' of verse 10, that God “thundered” over the Philistine army, was way louder and far more intense. In fact, it was so jarring that it threw the entire, enemy army (v. 10) “into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel.”

Now clearly the purpose, the significance of this passage for every generation of Hebrews was no different from story after story in the Old Testament: in the words of Psalm 115:9, “O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” Or in the words of Psalm 146:5, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.” Maybe God wants to remind you this morning of that simple truth. Maybe he knows you need to be reminded of and encouraged by that simple truth: he is our help and shield. Maybe he's calling you to put away false hopes and worldly helps, as you embrace that simple truth: he is your help and shield.

But let's build on that truth using another really beautiful element from this passage. Think about the importance... of prayer in this story. Verse 5: Samuel reassures the nation... “I will pray to Yahweh for you.” Verse 8: the nation looks to Samuel's intercession... “Do not cease to cry out to Yahweh our God for us...” Verse 9: “And Samuel cried out to Yahweh for Israel...”.

Undoubtedly, a story like this would have encouraged generations of Israelites to cry out to God, a God who can and has answered with thunder. But think about how it should encourage us.


III. The Message of Mizpah

Let me offer this to you as a takeaway: The gathering at Mizpah reminds us that we, in a posture of repentance, should not stop crying out to God, even when difficulties are pressing in.

Again, meditate on verse 8 for a moment. “Do not cease to cry out to Yahweh our God for us...”.

Do not cease. Do not stop. Keep crying out. This is not simply an Old Testament concern. If you are listening this morning with the ears of a disciple of Jesus, that is, you are a genuine, born-again, new creation in Christ, then please remember that our Master was also concerned about this issue. Listen to how the Gospel writer introduces one of Jesus' parables. This is Luke 18:1...

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

As a recent Super Bowl commercial expressed it, “He gets us.” Jesus understands us. Our hearts. Our struggles. He understands the temptation to “lose heart”, and then... to stop praying. Why do we pray in the first place? I see four reasons right here in this passage:

  • Number one, like Israel, we look to prayer for our own spiritual needs from a posture of repentance. 

  • Number two, like Samuel, we pray for the spiritual needs of others from a posture or position of intercession (we talked about that very thing at the beginning of this year when studying Moses). 

  • Number three, we pray when pressed from the outside; when people and situations are (or at least seem to be) positioned against us. 

  • Number four, in all things, we pray for God's victorious intervention.

David exemplified this very thing. He wrote in Psalm 86, verse 3, “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.” But again, we are often tempted to “lose heart” and stop praying.

Think about the reasons you stop praying. What tempts you to cease and desist? Is it because we don't see God answering our prayer according to our when and how? Is it because we've opted for human invention instead of divine intervention; that is, because we've turned away from prayer in favor of a worldly solution? Or maybe God's tired of us. Or maybe when praying for others, our own needs seem to become far more urgent than the needs of that other person.

Whatever the reason, God has a word for you here. I believe He is speaking to you and me this morning through the cry of the Israelites: “Do not cease to cry out to Yahweh...” Don't stop. Maybe he is bringing a person, a need, a hurt to mind right now. “Do not cease to cry out...”. Did you know Paul's letters in the New Testament regularly encourage us in exactly this way...

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12). He called his readers in Ephesians 6:18 to be “praying at all times in the Spirit”. To the Colossians he wrote, “Continue steadfastly in prayer...” (Colossians 4:2), and to the Thessalonians, “...pray without ceasing...” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

If the Israelites turned to the power of God through the power of prayer in their moment of alarm, when vicious enemies were pressing in, don't we have far more assurance to come... and keeping coming to God in this way? Please don't miss how Samuel is pointing us here to Jesus. His intercession, and the nation's plea to keep praying, should remind us the astounding reality revealed in a verse like Hebrews 7:25... “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ will never cease to cry out to God for us. He “always lives to make intercession”, to stand in the gap, to represent us, to be our advocate, to be our mediator, and thus deliver us when the difficulties are pressing in; from our ultimate enemies.

And just as Samuel demonstrates in this passage, Jesus also does this through sacrifice. Why do we find both of those elements (i.e., sacrifice and prayer) in our main text? Because we are sinners crying out to a holy God. If the encouragement is to not stop crying out, how can we be sure that a God like that will listen to people like us? Should a king grant the requests of his enemies? Should a judge honor the petitions of the convicted criminal? And are we praying enough, in the right way, with pure enough motives? And if we aren't, what can we do with those failings? With all our failings?

You see, that's why we need sacrifice. And sacrifice is exactly what Jesus has provided. Someone far greater than Samuel has come to us, calling us to repentance. And as the world and the darkness and the whatever presses in, he invites us to trust in a sacrifice only he could offer up: the sacrifice of himself. At the cross where Jesus died God “thundered” the loudest with divine intervention. Amen? That victory is powerfully described in Colossians 2:13–15...

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, [14] by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. [15] He dis-armed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

The person of Christ (fully God and fully man), his perfect work on the cross (dying for our sins), and his powerful resurrection from the dead all stand behind this incredibly reassuring word in Hebrews 4:16...

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So if you have been made right with God, if you have peace with God through Jesus, then don't stop crying out to God, brothers and sisters... no matter which enemy is pressing in. Don't stop. Even when the world seems loudest, God's thunder is louder still. And if you've never truly cried out to God from that posture of repentance we talked about this morning, then please know that God stands ready to hear your prayer. Cry out in light of Jesus. Cry out in light of your need. He will answer. He will divinely intervene. And when he does, friends, whatever that looks like. Let's give thanks, and let's aim to never forget what God has done.

This is exactly what Samuel does in verse 12. We read there...

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the LORD has helped us." (1 Samuel 7:12 NASB)


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