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)
In yesterday’s passage we saw Samuel challenge Israel to turn away from their false gods and serve the one true God only. In today’s passage we read that they did just that. The people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.
Baal was the male fertility god of the nations surrounding Israel. He was the counterpart to the female Ashtaroth. Since both were associated with fertility, worship of them was very sexual in nature.
Over the years, the Israelites had turned from the true God who had led them into the Promised Land and instead had begun to worship the gods of their enemies. They didn’t entirely reject God, however, as we saw when they took God into battle with them, as symbolized by the ark of the covenant.
Yet neither these gods nor the Israelites’ superstitious attitude towards God could help them. The Israelites continued to suffer defeat at the hands of the Philistines and to be controlled by them for many years [Judges 13:1; 1 Samuel 4:10].
Eventually, Israel realized that they had been wrong. They were sorrowful [1 Samuel 7:2]. This was good, but sorrow alone was not enough. Sorrow without change is meaningless.
The test of whether our regret is real isn’t whether we verbally express that regret. It is whether we also change our attitudes and behavior. This is why Samuel challenged them to prove their repentance was for real [1 Samuel 7:3].
If we only state our regret then we are only sorry because we got caught or because we experience negative consequences as a result of our actions. But if we also change our behavior, then were are demonstrating that we are aware of our character flaws which invoked our actions.
When we turn from sin we are admitting that God is right and we are wrong. We are admitting that all the things that we’ve turned to hoping they will provide fulfillment only lead to emptiness.
It is only when we change our minds so they are in agreement with God and turn back to Him that He can wipe out our sins and refresh our lives [2 Chronicles 7:14; Jonah 3:10; Acts 3:19].
Repentance means to change our minds so that they are in agreement with God. It means agreeing with God that what He calls sin is in fact sin. It also therefore means agreeing with God that one has been, and is, a sinner. No excuses. No euphemisms.
The only way to gain the Lord’s protection and blessing is to surrender your whole life to Him, trust in the promises of His word, and trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. This is the same thing that we see the Israelites doing in these verses.
As we’ll see as we continue to study this passage, repentance and turning back to God are the first two steps. But they are not the final steps in surrendering to God.
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