1 And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord and brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill. And they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the ark of the Lord. 2 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. 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. 11 And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car. 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.” 13 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.
(1 Samuel 7:1-17)
After God took the ark of the covenant out of the public eye, the people began to lament after Him. They were under constant harassment from the Philistines at this time in history and with no good-luck charm to rely upon and nowhere else to turn, they turned back to God.
So Samuel confronts all of Israel in today’s passage. They were sorrowful. But Samuel challenges them to determine if they were returning to the Lord with all their heart – whether they simply wished for things to be better or if they were willing to repent – change their thoughts and actions. Doing so would be an admission that they were the cause of their own problems.
Specifically, Samuel commanded them to put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among them and to direct their heart to the Lord and serve him only. If they were willing to do this, then God would deliver them out of the hand of the Philistines.
Ashtaroth was a pagan female deity. She was worshipped by the nations surrounding Israel (Ashtaroth was known as Ishtar by the Assyrians). Worship of Ashtaroth was highly sexual and very pornographic. Ashtaroth poles were common in cities in Israel and her neighbors. These poles were essentially giant phallic symbols.
The worship of these false gods had started in the land before Israel arrived and subsequently was adopted by the Jews. Sadly, this is the exact opposite of what God wanted.
When God gave Israel the land they were now occupying, it was with the intent that they would walk closely with Him, obeying all His commands. As a result, they would be blessed and the nations around Israel would see this and would give up their false gods and submit to the one true God [Deuteronomy 30:11-20]. But this did not happen.
Instead of other nations being influenced by Israel in a positive way, Israel was influenced by the nations around them in a negative way. Israel adopted their neighbor’s false religious practices.
Man-made religions often seem more appealing than the worship of the true God of the Bible because these religions tend to deny sin and instead espouse pleasure in sin. Many churches, for example, refuse to categorize homosexuality as a sin, despite what God says. Or they recognize and perform same-sex marriages. Other religions turn man into the god by professing that man can control God through his actions. We recently studied an example of this earlier in our study of 1 Samuel.
But Samuel told Israel they must direct their hearts to the Lord and serve him only for it is only then that He would deliver them – the gods they were worshiping were non-existent. Likewise, deliverance cannot and will not happen through Islam, Hinduism, or even Catholicism or Mormonism.
Any religion or faith that does not recognize the God of the Bible and does not teach that man is sinful and in need of forgiveness is a false religion. Any religion or faith that does not recognize that such forgiveness is only available through Jesus Christ, who is God on earth, is a false religion. Any religion that puts man in control of his destiny through certain rites or sacraments is a false religion.
It’s very interesting that Israel wanted to turn back to God. This very fact proved that their other gods did not exist. For if they did, they would have been able to help Israel and Israel would have no need to lament after God.
The people of Israel had very likely been praying to these other gods. But to no avail. After a while, they realized that these gods were powerless and did not exist.
Sadly – and dangerously – the world espouses that all religions lead to the same God. They claim that to believe in only one path to God is closed-minded. They claim that everyone can worship God in their own way. This is a very appealing theology as it puts ourselves in control. But it is not true.
Such teaching only accomplishes one thing. It sends anyone who believes in these man-made (and therefore non-existent) gods and religious practices to hell.
This is why Samuel commanded Israel to get rid of the gods they had adopted from foreign lands. Those gods were appealing (especially considering their emphasis on sex) but did not exist.
Belief in these false gods would not only not save Israel, it would destroy them. Man-made gods don’t lead people to God. They keep people from Him.
There is no Allah. There is no Vishnu, Shiva, or Brahma. Haile Selassie is not going to return to earth. There is no Igaluk.
There is only one God. That God is the God of the Bible. And He is the only one who should be worshiped. Anything short of that is a dangerous endeavor that will result in an eternity in hell, as other gods do not exist and therefore have no power to forgive sin.
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