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 Israel gathered at Mizpah they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. This seems to have been a ritual performed to symbolically demonstrate that they were emptying themselves of themselves and had no intention of going back to their old ways just like water spilt on the ground cannot be gathered up again [2 Samuel 14:14].
The people also fasted on that day, refraining from satisfying their natural appetites as a way of symbolically reminding themselves that they needed God more than anything else, including food.
These rituals had no merit in themselves; they didn’t accomplish anything. They were simply outward expressions by the people that they repented of their sins and desired to have God in their lives more than anything else.
The people of Israel were tired of their false gods. They were tired of their sin. They had been relying on these things for many years, with no satisfactory results. They had finally gotten to the point where they were ready to give up self and their false ideas of religion and to turn back to God. This is where each of us must come to as well.
In order to receive God’s love and mercy in our lives we must be emptied of our self. We must humble ourselves before God, emptying our lives of any dependence on anything but Him. Instead we must trust solely in His promises and commands.
The only way to get right with God is to surrender your whole life to Him, trusting Him and Him alone. We must not trust in our own good works. They will count for nothing. We must not trust in any earthly entity, like money or power or friends. They can do nothing eternal for us.
We must also confess our sins as the Israelites do in today’s passage. While they were gathered together they declared to each other that they had sinned against the Lord.
Israel had been suffering at the hands of the Philistines for many years. The only way they were going to ever have victory over their enemy was to confess their own sin. That victory would come from God, as we’ll see. But God’s blessing is only available through true repentance and confession [Proverbs 28:13].
In today’s passage the people publicly confess that they have sinned to each other. God wants us to do this because it brings healing [Acts 19:18; James 5:16]. Admitting our sins frees us from the pretense of righteousness we all are apt to portray. It liberates our relationships. Instead of living a lie – which takes effort and is emotionally draining – we can live the truth.
That truth, in fact, is already known. But we are very good at convincing ourselves that no one else knows what we are really like. But God knows [Romans 3:23]. And that is why we must also confess our sins to Him.
It is pointless to live a lie with our fellow human beings. But it is impossible to live a lie before God.
When we confess our sins to God He will hear us and He will forgive us [Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:9]. And there is no greater freedom in life than knowing that your mistakes – both the unintentional as well as the premeditated intentional – will not be held against you.
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