COMMIT YOURSELVES TO THE LORD
1 Samuel 7:1-17, Key verse: 3
“And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, ‘If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’”
Happy New Year! Thank God who blessed us to see the beautiful image of ‘Heavenly Worship’ through Revelation study last week! When I was a teenager, I would never have imagined the huge influence of computers and cell phones. We did not even have color television. But now we have it all in God’s grace. So at this point I want to imagine what kind of more and more amazing things will show up in the future. Our future will be full of wonders, joys, and especially many changes. Let’s welcome our future lives!
However there is one thing that can never be changed. It is God our Creator. Because God is the only source of human delight and energy from the beginning, we will never fail but be victorious whatever we do. Today, we learn from Samuel how we can defeat our enemies and earn the true victory and success in God’s grace and power. May God open our hearts and help us listen to Samuel’s teaching! May God grant our DuPage UBF very clear New Year’s Direction through today’s passage!
Part I: Commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only (1-6)
Today’s story takes place about 1,100 B.C. Israel had been settled in Canaan for 300 years after their Exodus from Egypt by now. God raised judges during those years to lead the Israelites. Samuel was the last judge in Israel’s history. At that time, the main issue was how to move the ark to the proper place. Look at verse 2. “It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD.” In those days, the ark of the LORD meant the LORD himself to the Israelites. But the Israelites could not find the proper place for the ark after receiving it back from the Philistines. They also feared to move the ark because they knew how God had punished people when they tried to move it their own way.
So the ark had remained in the Levite Abinadab’s house for 20 years because the men of Kiriath Jearim had placed it there. Then, what happened in the Israel people’s minds? As we see in verse 2b, they ‘mourned and sought after the LORD.’ What does this mean? This means that all the people of Israel realized that dishonoring the ark of God was wrong and really wanted to repent of their carelessness and began to feel spiritual hunger and thirst. They wanted to receive God’s mercy and love. They wanted to place the ark of the LORD in their own hearts and in their own people, not in a house in Kiriath Jearim. So they mourned and sought for the ark of the LORD.
The Israelites became settled in Canaan and comfortable but they were seeking God because they had no true happiness in their hearts. Here we can see that some material things in the world cannot fully satisfy us. In this world, we can become rich and successful without God, but they have nothing to do with our spiritual satisfaction. Why? It is because without God, there is no home for our souls. The Israelites mourned and sought after the Lord because of their spiritual hunger. In this world, we need God’s love and grace whatever we do or wherever we are. In the New Year, 2011, we are very hopeful because we start with our own New Year’s Key Verses and we have God in our hearts. May God bless your studies, jobs, and relationships in His Words!
Then, how could the Israelites come to God and find spiritual peace? Read verse 3. “And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, ‘If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’” In order to come to God and find spiritual peace, the Israelites had to get rid of all the foreign gods. It means cleaning up their hearts and their spiritual environments. In fact, they had been spiritually contaminated by the foreign gods in the Promised Land. Especially they were very familiar with the Ashtoreths; female fertility sex gods.
They were just like today’s young people, who do not physically bow down to idols, but are still contaminated by pornographies and materialism. Judge Samuel said to them, “Rid yourselves of all the foreign gods and commit yourselves to the LORD!” I know of one student who at one time had a problem with Ashtoreths. He had a large collection of inappropriate movies and cartoons. He could not rid himself of these things, but he asked his shepherd to help him. They gathered up his collection of movies and carried it to the shepherd’s house and placed all the items in a big metal drum in the garage. Next they doused the pile and they lit the whole thing on fire.
If we want to have God in our hearts, first we must rid ourselves of all the foreign gods and then commit ourselves to God. What does ‘commit’ mean? ‘Commit’ means ‘absolute devotion’. When we are committed to sinful pleasure, we only think about how to enjoy more pleasures. When we are committed to money, we only think about how to make more money. But when we are committed to God, we only think about how to serve God throughout our lives. Then why must we commit ourselves to the LORD only? It is because only He is the creator God. He is the only real God. Only God is the Redeemer and Eternal King. This is a very important point. Serving God only is not a problem of choice, but a problem of truth. We have no choice about serving our real Creator God because God is the only truth. Only God can satisfy our spiritual thirst and hunger. Only God is worthy of our worship.
So what was the response of the Israelites to Samuel’s spiritual advice? Read verse 4. “So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.” The Israelites put away not only their Ashtoreths, female sex gods, but also their Baals, male sex gods and served the LORD only. It means that their young people repented of not only watching pornographies and materialism but also enjoying homosexual and idol worshipping sins. It means that they really repented of their sins from the bottom of their hearts. They were just like our young disciples who repented all of their sins with tears after listening to our sincere YDC messages and life testimonies. It means that they really wanted to return to God for their spiritual restoration. They obeyed and got ready to follow Samuel’s message. They committed themselves to the LORD.
Then what did Samuel do for them? Look at verse 5. “Then Samuel said, ‘Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you.’” When they were committed to the LORD, Samuel asked all of them to stand before God at Mizpah. Mizpah was a small eastern city between the Lake of Galilee and the Dead Sea. What did the Israelites do there? Look at verse 6. “When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, ‘We have sinned against the LORD.’ Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.” After the cleansing ceremony, they fasted and prayed before God. They abstained from food for the purpose of focusing on God. I believe the power of fasting as it relates to prayer is the spiritual atomic bomb that our Lord has given us to destroy the strongholds of evil and usher in a great spiritual revival.
The Israelites confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD!” “We have sinned against the LORD!” They really admitted their sins before God from their hearts and confessed all kinds of their past sins, especially idol worshiping sins before the Lord. Why is ‘idol worship’ such a serious sin to God? Idol worship is one of the most disgusting sins to God because God hates ‘idol worship’ and a person who worships idols faces the greatest displeasure of God. The punishment is wrath and God says he will punish the children to the third and fourth generation (Ex 20:5). Nations like North Korea have suffered poverty, war, and famine because generation after generation continues in idolatry. The Israelites knew the consequence of their idolatry, so they repented of their sins before God. God accepted their confession of sins and repentance. Then, God had mercy on them and forgave their sins. God blessed them to restore their spiritual joy.
Verse 6c says, “And Samuel was leader of Israel at Mizpah.” This tells us that Samuel, the leader, also repented of his sins together with his people and through leading this repentant movement, God blessed him to stand firm as a real spiritual leader among his people. What can you learn from this great spiritual revival movement? When you feel any spiritual pain, hunger, thirst, or any doubt, instead of trying to change others or environments, please consider Samuel’s spiritual advice, ‘Rid yourselves of foreign gods and commit yourselves to the LORD!’ You should focus on changing your inner heart first through getting rid of foreign gods. Then ‘Commit yourselves to the LORD!’ This is the only way of restoring your spirituality and love relationship with God.
Other gods, Ashtoreths, or Baals cannot do that. Philosophies, psychology, or technology cannot do that. Your friends or your uncle cannot do that. Why? It is because the LORD is the only God who created this world and people; he is able to restore our spirituality and love relationship with him. Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead while we were still sinners. Whoever believes in him restores his love relationship with God once and for all by his grace. When we stand before God, we find our sins. This is normal because He is the perfect God and we cannot hide our sins before the Holy God. But don’t worry about confessing your sins before God. He already knows you and will forgive your sins and heal you and restore you completely in Jesus Christ. Amen!
Part II: He named it Ebenezer (7-17)
In part I, we learned how Samuel helped the Israelites to commit to the LORD. When they followed Samuel’s spiritual advice, they became the people of God once again. But as you know well, this world is very tough. The enemies of God never stop attacking the people of God. Look at verse 7. ”When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. And when the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines.” Here we can see that even though we might have spiritual restoration and inner happiness, that doesn’t mean we are excused from our enemies or our practical duties.
Who were the Philistines? They were a people who occupied the southern coast of Canaan, above all as Israel’s worst enemies. Their presence in the days of the last judges was a serious threat to the southernmost Israelite tribes in particular. Now they were very worried and upset by the Israelites’ national gathering at Mizpah. In a word, they were jerks. As the Israelites gathered to pray and repent, the Philistines gathered to attack and destroy them. A few years ago while there was a severe drought in Georgia, the governor and other state officials gathered to repent and pray for rain. Instead of joining in the prayer meeting or just ignoring it, the Georgia atheist’s society showed up to protest and disrupt the event. My friends! Do not forget this; ‘Enemy is enemy, again and again!’ The Philistines had been Israel’s enemy before and after.
In the past, the Israelites ran away or hid themselves in caves or in the mountains as soon as they heard the news about their enemy’s attacks. But this time, after returning to God, the Israelites began to respond differently than before. How? Look at verse 8. “They said to Samuel, ‘Do not stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.’” They asked for God’s help through God’s servant, Samuel’s intercessory prayer. This time they believed that God is Almighty. They firmly believed that God would protect his people. They believed in the power of intercessory prayer of God’s servant. Samuel was so happy that he wanted to pray for his people’s salvation from their worst enemies.
Then what did Samuel do first in this national crisis? Did he train his people with the weapons? No! Look at verse 9. “Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him.” Samuel first took a baby lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. Then he cried out to the LORD for his people. “Lord, please have mercy on my people! Save them from their enemies!” In verse 10, when Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines, “Boom! Boom!” and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.
In verse 11, the men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car. Here we can see that after returning to God, the Israelites became very courageous and powerful. They became spiritually strong again and physically much strengthened. They became like mighty conquerors as God’s army. This was because the Almighty God was with them. God is the source of our power, victory, and success; ‘If God is with us, who can be against us?’ Some people think raising disciples of Jesus is almost impossible in this postmodern, compromising, and secularized generation. Some people think that raising disciples of Jesus from suburban colleges is almost impossible. But it is not true. If we get rid of our idols, God will be with us. If God is with us, he will choose his people through us and raise 120 disciples.
Look at verse 12. “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the LORD helped us.’” In fact, this victory was so big and great that the Philistines and other neighbor countries could not invade Israel in Samuel’s lifetime (13-14). Samuel was very powerful and spiritual when he set up a stone and named it Ebenezer. He helped all Israel to remember their ‘commitment to God’ and their ‘great spiritual awakening’ at Mizpah forever. He praised God who blessed their spiritual restoration. Verse 16 tells us that Samuel was not complacent after this great victory. He did not calculate about his future retirement plan. He went on a circuit, a periodical journey, from place to place, to perform certain duties, to hold courts, especially to teach the words of God for his people (15-17).
*Conclusion: We are now standing at the starting point of a brand new year and a new decade. You must have many plans and dreams for yourself this whole year or for your next 10 years. Today I want to tell you only one thing according to today’s word from God, ‘Commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only.’ I say to you like this because only God can help you spiritually and practically. Only God will defeat your enemies in his great power and wisdom. I realized most of my worries and insecurities of life come from holding back my time and love for God. But God loves me and committed to me, giving me love and eternal life and salvation through Jesus. I repent for not committing my life to him fully when God gave everything to me. May God help me to commit myself to God this year!
Let me suggest to you 2 prayer topics for our ministry; one is our beautiful co-working in Jesus. The other is raising 12 excellent bible teachers. I personally have 2 prayer topics this year; my message preparation, and raising 3 disciples of Jesus by having 12 one-to-ones each week. Dear my friends! Let us follow the example of the Israelites who committed themselves to the LORD, and serve God only. Then we will be safe and very fruitful and successful whatever we do. May God make America a kingdom of priests and a holy nation through our DuPage UBF!