In our last article we sought to trace, in the early chapters of 1 Samuel, the development of the conditions of evil, for which cause the Hand of God was upon His people in discipline. “God forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men; and delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy’s hand” (Psa 78. 59-66). “And the Philistines took the Ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod” (1 Sam. 5. I). “Ichabod” The glory is departed” described the result.
We have seen that the Ark of God was symbolic of the Rule of God amongst His people , and answers to the principle of the Lordship of Christ in the assembly.
The Philistines were children of Mizraim – Egypt (Gen. 10: 13, 14) – though dwelling on the borders of the inheritance of God’s people and, therefore, speak of natural men who make profession of heavenly things. The name “Philistine” signifies “wallower in the dust,” reminding us of the description of present day Philistines in Philip. 3. 18, 19. Their way to, and from, Egypt was an easy one, with no Red Sea barrier. When God brought His redeemed out of Egypt, though “the way of the Philistines” was near (Ex. 13. 17), He led them by another way, involving the passage through the Red Sea; a three day’s journey that speaks of death, burial and resurrection. There was nothing of this in “the way of the Philistines,” and therefore nothing to hinder them from constant intercourse with Egypt and the enjoyment of such fellowship as was forbidden to the redeemed of God (Deut. 17. 16). The Philistines, denying a principle exemplified in every part of the Word of God, the necessity for which lies deep in the nature of God, that” Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9. 22), offered to God a lifeless, bloodless offering for their trespass. In striking contrast with their attitude, are the actions of the men of Bethshemesh and the Levites (ch. 6), as they welcomed into their midst again the symbol of God’s Presence and Rule. God’s people stand before God in the value of the Burnt Offering, in intelligence of what is due to His Glory, while their service reveals a clear understanding of the ways of God and the Divine order.
The Ark of God among the Philistines.
It is clear, then, that the Philistines speak of the world of Christless religion and ritualistic, superstition. Such human systems loudly broadcast their claim to be the House of God, but that which is truly the House of God is the sphere of the Rule of God, and by willing-hearted submission to His will, must their claim to be the House of God he substantiated. Apply the principle of the Rule of God to the conditions that obtain in Christendom; test constitutions and practices by the Word of God; and many a Dagon will be overthrown and left smashed and broken.
The Ark of God in its own Land.
The. story told us in 1 Sam. 6. 12-21 is still one of sore discipline and severe chastisement. Back among the people, of God, the symbol of God’s Presence is in the midst of sin, presumption, irreverence and carnality; and as a consequence, 70 men of Bethshemesh and 50,000 of the nation were smitten, so that the men of the city said. “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? and to whom shall He go up from us?” (It is clear that there were two smitings, in the second of which the nation was involved – ch. 6. 19.) Chapter 4 had exposed a sad condition, and sin cannot be tolerated where God dwells. The saints in Corinth, because they were carnal, not only permitted, but gloried in, conditions of evil that God could not allow. Just because they were, the Temple of God and the Presence of God was among His people, His Hand was laid upon them in judgment (1 Cor. 11. 30). Let us learn and profit by the solemn lesson that this would teach us. “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, for ever” (Psa. 93. 5).
The Ark of God in Kirjath-Jearim.
At last, the Ark of God found a resting place in the midst of conditions of which God could approve as being in accord with His mind and will. “The men of Kirjath-Jearim came and fetched up the Ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son” (ch. 7. 1).
Abinadab means Father of Liberality. Here is a saint who has acquired spiritual wealth out of the abundance of which he can give to God. Priestly features are developed in him. Deeply appreciative of the fulness of the Grace of God, he responds with worship of such character as finds practical expression in an unreserved surrender to God, of all he is, and has. To his home the Ark of God was gladly welcomed, where it stayed for over 90 years, until at last David spread a tent in Zion, and the people of God were unified under the authority of the Throne of God established in their midst. To give expression to these lovely features developed in Abinadab, we have need of the working in us of the power of God. Of such provision to meet our need, we are assured by Eleazar, whose name means God my Helper.
Days of Revival and Recovery.
We come now to the record (ch. 7) of brighter and better days for the people of God. “All the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” And immediately Samuel, of whom we last read in ch. 4. 1, appears again (ch. 7. 3). More than 20 years lie between ch. 4. 2 and ch. 7. 2, and there is little doubt that these were years of patient and faithful ministry on Samuel’s part, seeking to impress upon the people the demands of the Will of God, with but little practical result. How slow we are to hear the Voice of God, and to respond in obedience! Too frequently eve learn only in the school of discipline. If we fail to “Hear the Word,” we must be made to “Hear the Rod” (Micah 6. 9), for there cannot be the adjustment of conditions to accord with the Will of God, until the Voice of God is truly heard and heeded. At last, however, Samuel’s ministry bore fruit, and the people were led, first of all to a humbling of themselves in confession and self-judgment, and then to a dethronement of every other sovereignty, and a surrender of themselves to the Rule of God.
The steps of their return to God are numbered for us; God lingered over the account of the restoration of His people, as if the remembrance of it filled His Heart with delight The passage includes Lessons both solemn and searching, pointing out the only way of revival blessing, for our instruction.
(1) Mizpah – Watch Tower. Mizpah would speak of the spiritual discernment that knows how to distinguish between what is, and what is not, of God. Everything must be brought out into the light of the Presence of God, to be confessed honestly and repudiated finally.
(2) Baalim (Lords) Put Away. True confession will be accompanied by the breaking of every fetter – the dethronement of every rival sovereignty.
(3) Water Drawn and Outpoured. The act was significant of their conscious weakness and confessed impotence.
(4) Samuel Judged. Every condition was adjusted positively according to the Will of God.
The Philistines chose that moment to draw near to battle. But it quickly became manifest that they had opposed themselves to a renewed people. “The children of Israel said to Samuel, ‘Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that He will save us.’” In ch. 4 their cry had been, “That it may save us.” But now, in their weakness and absolute dependence, they cling to God, and find in Him power for victory over every enemy. Perhaps Samuel had in mind their attitude of heart to God, when he took a sucking lamb and offered it for a burnt offering. It most certainly speaks of Christ in the infinite value of His sacrifice; in the acceptibility of which His people are before God; and because of which, God is for His people. But the sucking lamb, so dependent upon another, surely expressed the people’s attitude of clinging weakness; while the burnt offering suitably expressed their complete surrender to God. The result was a foregone conclusion. The people were with God, and out of weakness were made strong, so that the very scene of their shameful defeat (ch. 4) became the scene of a glorious triumph (ch. 7) The Lord thundered against the enemy, and the memorial stone was raised upon the field of battle, and called “Ebenezer,” for the people said, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,”
Thus restored in heart to communion with God, and wholly surrendered to the government of His Throne, the people moved forward to the recovery of their inheritance that had been lost to them.
We cannot refrain from reminding our readers of such a work of God in the hearts of His people a century ago, setting many of them free from the bondage of the religious world, and bringing them under the authority of His Word, into practical experience of His ways. Then also (Bethcar means House of Pasture – ch. 7. 11) many rich pastures of Divine Truth were recovered and made available to the people of God, and in these rich pastures the sheep of His Flock have fed ever since.
May the Lord give us to appreciate liberty so dearly won, and to hold fast, in communion with God, the precious heritage of truth committed to our trust.
It only remains now to notice briefly, the summary of Samuel’s life-long ministry as the agent of the Divine Sovereignty (ch. 7. 15-17). “To judge” the people of God, means to bring to bear upon their lives the demands of the Will of God; so leading to exercise of conscience, and adjustment of life according to it.
In circuit the judge visited:-
Bethel – The House of God. The principle of the Rule of God, submission to which characterises a life of holiness.
Gilgal – Rolling. The principle of separation that is essential to a life of holiness.
Mizpah – Watch Tower. The holy discernment that knows how to discriminate between what is, and what is not, of God.
Ramah – Heights. The enjoyment of fellowship with God, providing power for practical holiness.
In such “Heights” Samuel lived; there he faithfully served the people of God in a ministry of intercession and of teaching; and there he worshipped.