When the Israelites carried the Ark of the Covenant with them into battle, believing the mere presence of such a religious icon would bring them victory, they were defeated soundly. Once again facing the Philistines in battle, this time at Mizpah, the armies of Israel placed their trust in the person of Jehovah God and prevailed. It is the presence of God and obedience to his principles that provides his children the victory they seek.
Dedicate yourself to God (1 Samuel 7:2-6)
The armies of Israel always marched under the banner of God. They were, after all, God’s children. Simply possessing a heritage of faith was insufficient to grant them the victories they sought. After being soundly defeated by the Philistines, God’s children watched the Ark of the Covenant, their most sacred religious shrine, fall into the hands of their enemy to be defiled. It was a low water mark in Israel’s history. Yet, it was through such defeat that they were able to condition themselves for victory.
Prior to the battle at Mizpah, three significant, history changing spiritual events occurred. First, Samuel the prophet delivered a strong word regarding the need to return to right relationship with God. In his message to the people, Samuel encouraged them to “return to the Lord with all your heart,” to remove their foreign gods” and to “direct your hearts to the Lord and serve him alone” (v. 3). In obedience to God and in response to Samuel’s encouragement, the Israelites “removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the Lord alone” making them open to the two spiritual acts of service to follow (v. 4).
The second spiritual event was a prayer meeting Samuel called at Mizpah (v. 5). While there is no indication the masses understood the significance of seeking God through prayer, Samuel knew victory would not come without first seeking God in intimate conversation.
Finally, there was repentance for the sins of the past. Gathered together, the army of God’s people confessed their past, saying, “We have sinned against the Lord” (v. 6). They did apparently understand a right relationship with God was essential to victory.
Whether the enemy be the pesky Philistines or the modern day armies of mediocrity that seek to destroy God’s people, the path to victory remains consistent. To succeed, God’s people must be in right relationship with him, they must seek him in prayer, they must remove all false gods and they must repent of past sins that have separated them from God.
Overcome your fears (1 Samuel 7:7-11)
Even when spiritually prepared, the armies of Israel were fearful as the battle with the Philistines drew near once again (v. 7). Why shouldn’t they have been afraid? Their experience was checkered with victories and defeats.
There seems to be a desire to over-spiritualize the people whose stories are told in the Bible. The truth be known, they were no different than the believers of today. They too faced the temptation to want to walk by sight and not by faith. While their faith was strong, their confidence, based on their past experience, was very weak.
The prophet Samuel was seeking God as the battle approached (vv. 9-10). The man of God always seeks God’s favor for his people. Here is additional evidence of the righteousness of this good man—while he still was praying and offering sacrifice, the Lord answered his prayers. In the midst of the battle, the Lord “thundered with a great thunder which, “confused them (the Philistines)” until Israel, “routed them before Israel” (v. 10).
In the final analysis, the armies of Israel did very little to defeat the Philistines at Mizpah. It was God who fought their battle and gave them victory. God desires to fight battles for the victory of his children, but only when they are obedient to him and they are willing to recognize their own weaknesses and God’s great strength.
Commemorate God’s help (1 Samuel 7:12-17)
Following the victory at Mizpah, Samuel made a marker to commemorate what God had done for his people there (v. 12). This practice of placing “historical markers” was not unusual. As far back as Jacob, the practice of placing a stone for remembrance’s sake had taken place. Because of the necessity of oral tradition, these markers provided teachable moments for generations to come. This particular marker was named Ebenezer because it marked the place where, “God helped us” (v. 12).
It was fitting to raise “an Ebenezer” to remind God’s people of God’s actions. For generations, the people would pass by there, and the story would be told of how the thunder of God defeated the Philistines. Such historical action has modern implications. God’s people should never forget God’s actions on their behalf. To fail to do so is to rob a generation of the knowledge of the blessing that comes with such memories.
God’s people always should seek victory, even when it seems to be so elusive. Yet an Ebenezer has been raised. The modern believer needs to remember that when God’s people turned to him with acts of prayer, confession and repentance and when they recognized victory would only come when they were positioned to allow God to fight on their behalf, then they victory they so desperately sought would be provided. May the story always be told that God is the same yesterday, today and forever.