All quotations are from the Revised Version
The ministry of Samuel, in fulfilment of his office as prophet and judge in Israel, was largely one of intercession. In times of national crisis, he not only issued a call to repentance but cried to the Lord on behalf of the people. More than once, on occasions of fear and distress, he sought to encourage them with such words as ‘Gather all Israel to Mispah, and I will pray for you unto the Lord’, 1 Sam. 7. 5.
The people themselves recognized the potency of his prayers, for they said unto him, ‘Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines’, v. 8. Samuel responded to their request, for he ‘cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord answered him’, v. 9. What a contrast to the experience of Saul, of whom we read the ominous words ‘the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets’, 1 Sam. 28. 6.
Only a crisis brings to light qualities developed in normal times. Samuel’s intercession was no occasional exercise, kindled by a sudden emergency. For when the people came to him and said, ‘Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God’, he could assure them with the words, ‘God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you’, 1 Sam. 12. 19, 23. His prayers were rooted in his fellowship with God. He said in effect, ‘This is a matter between me and God: you may be assured of my constant prayers’. His ministry of intercession was regular and continuous. Happy the nation with such men! Happy, too, the company of believers who have intercessors like Samuel!
The stone Eben-ezer bore witness to divine help up to the present time, but also held promise for the time to come. For in addition to the record that ‘the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more within the border of Israel’, we have the words added, remarkable in their assurance, ‘and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel’, 1 Sam. 7. 13. True, David became, even in Samuel’s lifetime, the instrument in God’s hand to this end, but the divine aid is attributed to the living presence of Samuel, and to his intercession.
How significant, therefore, are the opening words of 1 Samuel 25. 1, ‘And Samuel died’. The fateful consequences of his death are found in 1 Samuel 28. 3, 4 - ‘Now Samuel was dead, … And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem’. Israel now lay exposed to the rage of their enemies. Was it that there was no man, no intercessor? Yet later, in the person of David, God intervened to save His people for His own Name’s sake.
Other instances, too, in the Old Testament show the sad results that often flow from the removal by death of a true servant of the Lord from among His people. Joshua was a divinely appointed leader and led Israel into possession of the land. During his lifetime, Israel prospered: ‘And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua’, Jud. 2. 7. But the time came of which we read: ‘And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died’, and after his death ‘the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim’, Jud. 2. 8, 11. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
How quickly the words of Hebrews 7. 25 come to mind! One there is whose intercession will never be terminated by death: He ‘is able to save to the uttermost … seeing he ever liveth to make intercession’.
When Moses prayed on behalf of Israel his hands became heavy, so that Aaron and Hur had to stay them up. But our Intercessor, Jesus, the Son of God, needs no such support. He appears in the presence of God for us in all the plenitude of His divine strength. Without intermission, without weariness, without ceasing, He pleads our cause, His hands lifted up in holy intercession on our behalf. He ministers there for us -a greater than Samuel, a greater than Joshua, a greater than Moses. Through Him we are preserved from the malice and rage of all our enemies, and may draw near to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. If the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel, how much more is His hand with Him who is alive now for evermore, and who sits enthroned on high, to whom God has said, ‘Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool’.
Since we have such a Leader and Intercessor, let us take courage. Hitherto the Lord has helped us. He will not fail us in the future, since ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever’.