By J.R. Miller
1 Samuel 7
Samuel grew up from very young childhood in the House of the Lord. The atmosphere was good in a way, although we cannot think of Eli as really a very good man to bring up a boy. The priest who could speak to a praying woman as Eli spoke to Hannah when she was pleading with God, we cannot think of as having a sweet and beautiful spirit. He certainly was lacking in gentleness and in all the elements of graciousness. Dr. Whyte thinks Eli never forgave himself for his hasty words to Hannah, and that the memory of his insulting language gave him lasting bitterness. Possibly, however, this made him all the gentler to the boy Samuel in the effort to atone for his unpardonable roughness and rudeness to the boy's mother.
Then Eli was not successful as a father in his own family. His sons did not turn out well. Indeed, they were wicked men. One hears a good many unkindly things said of ministers' sons--but the truth is, the majority of them grow up into worthy and useful men. Now and then, however, a minister's family or members of it, are not what they should be. Eli's sons certainly did dishonor to their father's name. They were brought up amid the holy influences of the House of God--but "knew not the Lord." Writers, trying to account for this, say it was because their father was away from home so much, attending to his duties as judge, that he had no time to look after his own home affairs. It is bad when any father is so busy looking after other people's matters--that he neglects his children! Eli was a failure as a father, and the result was most pitiful.
We might say that Samuel did not have a good chance for a godly upbringing, in such a home as Eli's. But there were other influences that counteracted what was wrong in Eli. Samuel's mother visited her son at least once every year, and no doubt instructed him. A good mother's influence over her boy, is well near omnipotent. Then we know that very early Samuel was called by the Lord to begin his ministry as a prophet. So God Himself became Samuel's teacher. He trained him to be a prophet and established him in his place. He was a noble patriot, a wise ruler, a faithful friend, a true-hearted man.
When Eli was very old, his people went to war against the Philistines, who had long been their enemies. This battle was most disastrous for Eli and the Israelites. When they were in danger of defeat the leaders sent for the ark, hoping it might turn the tide. But it availed not. Israel was beaten, the people fled, there was a great slaughter, the ark was taken, the sons of Eli were slain. When the news was carried to Eli, the old man sat waiting. The messenger told the story of the disaster item by item--the defeat, the flight of the soldiers, the great slaughter, the death of Eli's two sons--but when he said: "the ark of God has been captured," the aged priest fell backward, broke his neck and died.
When Eli was dead, Samuel became the judge. He comes before us in a time of great trouble. The ark has been returned. Samuel calls upon the people to return to God. Samuel was a noble patriot, a wise ruler, and a true-hearted man. In the incidents of his life given in the history, Samuel appears often in the attitude of intercessor. He did much of his work as judge on his knees. It is a great thing to have a friend on close and intimate terms with God, to pray for us when we are in trouble or when we have sinned. We do not know what blessings come to us--through human intercessors. Nor should we forget that we have another intercessor, our great High Priest, who in heaven makes continual intercession for us.
When Samuel called the people to return to God, they began right--they said: "We have sinned against the Lord!" The first step in returning to God--is to make confession of our sins. Until we have done this, we cannot be forgiven, and until we are forgiven, there can be no restoration to the Divine favor.
If we have sinned, there is no gift we can bring to God that is half so precious in His sight--as a penitential tear. It will open heaven's gates to us when all the gold in the world or all the good works of a hundred lifetimes would not cause it to move on its hinges!
No wonder the Israelites were frightened when they knew the Philistines were coming against them. They had suffered terribly in the past at the hands of these enemies. Their faith was yet weak in its new beginnings. But in their alarm they did the right thing--they turned to Samuel and begged him to cry to God for them. They knew that they could not save themselves from their fierce and cruel enemy, and that help must come from God. That man is a fool--who is not afraid of sin! Especially if one has been long under the power of some sin and is trying to get away from its clutches--he is a fool if he has no dread of it and thinks himself able to meet it in his own strength. We have no power of our own to break sin's power and to deliver ourselves!
Recently the papers told of a man who in some way stumbled into a swampy bog beside the sea, when the tide was flowing out, and sank almost to his neck in the salt mire. It was night, and there he lay, his head merely above the surface, unable to extricate himself. For a time the waters continued to flow away--but by-and-by they turned and began to flow towards him. Weak, faint, and bewildered, he lay there through the darkness. Morning dawned and the tide was still rising. In a few minutes more it would sweep over his head and bury him forever in the fatal swamp. A workingman hurrying on his way to some early duty, walking on the railroad trestle, saw a man's head in the bog, with the water up to his chin. He hastened to his rescue, and with difficulty extricated him from his perilous position. Had not help come that hour--the poor man must have perished in the swamp. He had no power to fight the mighty oncoming tides, with all the great sea behind them. Just as helpless is a human life in the grip of sin and temptation, with only its own strength to meet the enemy. The only hope is in God.
Samuel began with an offering. He took a lamb and offered it to God, and then prayed. The way to God--is by the blood of the Lamb. Sacrifice comes before intercession, and prepares the way for it. After he had offered the lamb, Samuel was ready to pray for help from God. When we seek help from the Lord in our dangers, we do not need to bring a lamb to offer, for the one great offering has already been made. Christ, the Lamb of God, has been slain, and His blood has been sprinkled on the mercy seat. Now we need only to come in His name. Yet we must not forget that there is no other way of acceptance, and that if we do not plead the blood of the Lamb we cannot receive any help.
The Philistines had no thought of being afraid of the Israelites, knowing how weak they were. They did not realize that a reinforcement had come to them; that God Himself was fighting their battle that day. No earthly enemy can stand before God. The Israelites in their weak and broken condition, could not have beaten the Philistines--but it was nothing to the Lord to defeat them. He heard the prayer of Samuel for them and sent help. He is the same God today, and is just as able to give deliverance now--as He was that day. We need never be afraid of any enemy--if we are abiding in Christ.
The victory was complete, and Samuel set up a stone, calling it Ebenezer, "Hitherto has the Lord helped us." This was not only to mark the place--but to honor God, who had wrought the deliverance. It is well to set up memorials on the spot where God has done some great thing for us. Where was it that you first met Christ and formed with Him the covenant of life and peace? Where was it that you were delivered from the power of some great temptation? Should not all these places be remembered? It will keep alive the gratitude in your heart.
The conquest over the Philistines was complete and final. This troublesome enemy was conquered, the captured cities were retaken, peace was made with other nations, also, because of the favor of the Lord that rested upon Israel.
When one has truly repented and returned to God, as Israel did here, God gives blessing and favor. Old enemies, have no more the power over them they once had. Temptations once mastered through the Divine help, have no more the same terrible strength as before. Then, as he enters upon his new life, the victorious Christian gets back again the lost powers that sin had taken away from him in the days of his wandering. When God has taken an erring one back into His favor and fought the battle with sin for him and got the victory for him--it is easier for the man to live afterwards. He lives then on a new plane. He is no longer a weary, struggling, broken man--but a victor, strong, hopeful, courageous, with the power of God resting upon him, and the grace of God in his heart. It makes a vast difference in living whether we are the poor slaves of the Evil One--or have him under our feet.
Samuel was the greatest of all the judges of Israel. His character was spotless. Dedicated to the Lord in infancy, he never departed from the Lord. Samuel was strong in his moral character. His left hand did not tear down what his right hand had built up. He was a manly man, courageous and firm, as well as godly. His influence was not gained by the sword--but by the power of truth. He was a prophet and teacher, and taught the people the Word of God. He delivered them not by victories in war--but by leading them back from their wanderings to new allegiance to the Lord. Instead of weakly allowing idolatry to spread through the land, he made himself felt as a force against all idolatry, cleansing the land of its false worship and restoring the worship of the true God. Eli saw the results of his long life all swept away at one terrible blow. Samuel had the joy of seeing his work stand and the nation rise into noble power and influence under his rule.