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 Samuel challenged the Israelites to turn away from their false gods (which they did) [1 Samuel 7:2-3], Samuel then commands them to gather at Mizpah where he would pray to the Lord for them.
Mizpah means “watchtower or look-out”. It was apparently a place on a hill, symbolically representing closeness with God. The exact location of this town has not been positively identified but the evidence is strong that it is Tell en-Nasbeh which is 8 miles north of Jerusalem, at 2,570 feet above sea level [map].
Samuel called for an assembly of all Israel to gather there. Of course, all of Israel could not have met in this one place so it was likely the leaders from each of the twelve tribes who assembled there as representatives of all the people of the nation.
In the Old Testament God often gathered His people together [Deuteronomy 31:12; Numbers 20:8; Joshua 8:35 et. al]. God’s purpose in gathering the people all in one place was twofold.
Obviously it was a means of disseminating information to the entire nation at a time when there was no email or other mass communication methods. But it also helped to unite the people.
When we are in the presence of like-minded people, who have a similar history to ourselves or who share the same desires and goals as we do, we become more resolute; our own spiritual ambition is increased. We realize that we are in this together and we derive support from knowing that there are others just like us.
The people of Israel had drifted away from God. More than that, they had turned to other gods and had engaged in very sinful behavior in worship of those gods. They knew they had made mistakes. And human beings don’t like to admit our mistakes to each other. We instead try to hide them.
But this does no good. In fact, it only drives us deeper into our secret sin. Being open and honest with each other about our struggles is the way to conquer those struggles.
This is what makes support groups such as Celebrate Recovery so successful. All the attendees are in the same boat. They’ve all been through the same things in life and are all working towards going to the same place. As such, they derive support from each other.
In the New Testament (the times under which we are currently living) gathering together is still part of God’s design for our lives. We are commanded not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together [Hebrews 10:24-25].
This means we should not forsake going to church at least weekly where we can sing together to the Lord and can be taught together by the Holy Spirit. Being a part of a small group with a more focused agenda is also a good idea.
When believers are gathered in one place they become united. We gain spiritual strength because the Holy Spirit will be there too [Matthew 18:20].
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.