We all a story of redemption, someone who hits rock bottom and then manages to climb back to the top or find a new purpose. The Peter Jones Story from Dragons Den: a multimillionaire goes bankrupt and then works his way back to the top and becomes even richer! We like those stories because we see ourselves in them: we relate to the failure, and we love the hope that they offer – that no matter how bad things get, they can always improve.
They are little incarnations of the American Dream, that notion that if we work hard enough, put enough effort in, then we can better ourselves and find the happiness we have always been looking for! It is perhaps the greatest idol of our culture, and sadly we often find ourselves believing that what we are looking for is inside of us or in the things of this world.
Tim Keller Captures it perfectly when he writes: “If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.”1 If we live looking to ourselves, then we live lost; we will be forever wandering down the wrong roads because we cannot find direction and purpose in things created.
If we were not made for ourselves, then What were we made for? Genesis makes that clear – we were made for God. Our existence, our purpose comes from knowing God and making Him known; that is what it is to live a joyful life – to discover that truth and live it out. In our Old Testament passage, we are back with Samuel, a few years have passed since his time under Eli, and he is now the faithful voice of God among faithless, idolaters, and sinful people.
A Wofeul State
Israel, where the nation rescued by God and called to be his Ambassadors in the world. To live distinctly from the wider world and shine forth the Light of God to the world. They were chosen not because they were great, but because they were not: They were the least,; thus through them, God would display most greatly his power, Glory and Grace. What did this relationship require of Israel? Not much; All they had to do was Trust God, Worship Him, Live for Him and above all, Enjoy Him! The problem was they were not very good at it – because they were human – and our reading today is set in one of the worst moments, things are pretty woeful, and Israel as a nation is pretty much at Rock Bottom.
The Ark of the Covenant, the visible representation of the presence of God with his people, has been taken by the Philistines (their enemies), and worst that than the people of God are busy worshipping other gods, they have given themselves over to idols. Eli has passed, so the nation has lost its Spiritual Leader, and his despot sons have suffered the consequences of their choices. It is the picture of rock bottom, poor choice after poor choice has left God’s people in a pitiful state, one they would not be able to get out of by any effort or schemes of themselves.
Verse one in Chapter seven record’s the return of the Ark of the Covenant to the people of God. A beautiful moment, and even more beautiful when we remember how the Ark came back. Was it by some great military operation from Israel? No! Was it thought some great political negotiations? No! Perhaps Israel sent an elite team of soldiers to sneak into the enemy camp and take the ark back? No! It was nothing to do with Gods people and all to do with God: God himself acted to return his presence to his people. A great reminder for us that God is always at work in the world and for his people even when his people are stumbling over their own sin.
There is Sufficient Grace at Rock Bottom (7:2-7)
There is a choice at the bottom; you can either keep digging or try something else. The nation of Israel has been at rock bottom for some twenty years; they have given themselves over to idols and lost their way. Yet, something seems to click at the beginning of our passage as they turn back to the LORD. They have been feeding elsewhere and finally admitted that they had forsaken the Glorious for the Gory, and now they seem to be ready to admit their sin and mistake and return back to the Father. Like the Prodigal son wallowing the stock of pigs, they have seen the light! Samuel challenges them to prove it by how they choose to live.
We can never out sin God’s grace; it is always there – even at rock bottom, all we have to do is seek Him. Tim Keller captures the reality of it when he writes: “If you want God’s grace, all you need is need, all you need is nothing. But that kind of spiritual humility is hard to muster. We come to God saying, “Look at all I’ve done,” or maybe “Look at all I’ve suffered.” God, however, wants us to look to Him.”2 Thus, Samuel challenges the people of God to prove their desire and return to God by acting on it. They are to live out their repentance and turning. How? by dealing with the idols in their midst. When we find the sufficiency of God’s Grace, we gladly make changes to sustain our living in it. Israel must get rid of the idols to better worship God: we must eliminate the idols and distractions in our lives to better Known, worship, and live for God.
The beautiful thing was this was that at this moment, that is what they did – they removed the idols from their midst and committed themselves to the service of God (v4). Furthermore, they admitted their sins before God and their need for him (v6). The Challenge is how long are we going to keep wallowing in our sin, keep looking for purpose, happiness and the reason for living within? Without God, we are already at Rock bottom, so are we going to keep digging or wake up like the Prodigal Son and see the beauty of the Father? The wonderful thing is that our sins might be many, but his mercy is more. There is always Grace; we just have to be willing to look to him.
God is Faithful and Good (8-17)
They might have turned back to God, yet, this is a people who have forgotten something about the reality of God – he is in control. The LORD is God and sovereign over all things; there is nothing that can stand against Him. This was the same God who brought the greatest known nation in the world to its knees when he rescued the Israelites, and This is the God who, through the faithful ministry of Jesus Christ, deals with our greatest enemy – sin. Yet, here in Mizpah, this generation of Israel have forgotten just who the LORD is, and when news of the march of the Philistine reaches them, they are terrified, begging Samuel to cry out to God for them, so ‘that he will save us from the Philistines.’ (8).
They knew that they could not save themselves; they knew they needed God and Samuel, his faithful servant, to intercede for them. Samuel did what the people asked of him, crying out to the Lord on their behalf. God did what he always does; he responds in Mercy to the Faithful cries because He is faithful even when we are not. The Lord literally drove the philistines to confusion, allowing the men of Israel to overrun them and defeat the threat. Furthermore, during the life of his faithful servant Samuel the Lord subdued the threat of the Philistines and blessed the nation of Israel with the return of Lost territories and peace with Amorites. God blesses the people with peace and prosperity because that is what he loves to God; he is a Good God who is good to his people. Not because they have earned it, not because they deserve it, but because through those acts of Mercy and Grace, God seeks to make himself known to the world.
We are told about the ministry and leadership of Samuel, how he was faithful to God’s Call on his life, and faithful to God through his whole life. Furthermore, he served the people faithfully; even when they chose sin over God, he interceded and pleaded for them to return to God. In this image of Samuel, I find it a challenge to see the eternally faithful one Jesus who forever is interceding for his People to God, and who, because of Love, Grace and Mercy became the lamb that was sacrificed to deal without the greatest eternal enemy – sin. Samuel offered one lamb on behalf of the people at that moment, and God responded to their faith (7:9-10). Jesus became the Lamb that born the weight of our rebellion and cried out to God so that we could know God. He is the eternal faithful one, and when we look to Him, trust in him and live for Him, we will know the blessing of God in every situation.
From Rock Bottom to Standing on the Rock
“God’s salvation does not come in response to a changed life. A changed life comes in response to the salvation, offered as a free gift.” – Tim Keller
We might not think we are at rock bottom, yet, if we do not know God through the faithfulness of Christ, then that is where we are. Today, we have been challenged by this passage in Samuel to wake up like the prodigal son and admit our Sin and need for saving. To get off rock bottom and stand on the rock – Jesus.
What does that look like? It means turning from our own ways and turning to God. The Christian world is repentance, it’s what we see in the first few verses of this passage as the Israelites Long for God, and they prove the sincerity of their desire by acting on it – they got rid of the idols and distractions and committed themselves to God and his ways. What are the things in our lives that are keeping us from trusting God and knowing Him more? Form deepening our dependence on him? Let’s be clinical like the Israelites here and deal with those things keeping us from the Lord and living for Him. Let us chose to stand on the rock that is Jesus, trusting God and living for him Not to earn but because we have received.
The Israelites were immediately faced with a challenge that would either prove or disprove their ‘repentance.’ That challenge was the threat posed by the Philistines that offered them a choice, they could either come up with their own schemes to the threat they faced or they could trust God and admit their need of saving. Thankfully they turned to God, and in response to their faithfulness and the faithful intercessions of Samuel, he saved them and Blessed them. We have the ever-faithful one interceding for us. Today let us Chose to depend on Jesus over the things of the world; let us live out the Kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit, delighting in our dependence on God, to show the world a better way to live. Then as we depend on Him, let us live for Him not to earn from Him but to display His goodness to the world as the Holy Spirit works in us to make us more like him. This is our delight and duty, and when we find what we were made for – God we delight in making God known to the world. God saves us and blesses us because he is Good and to make himself known, so let us get on with the business of knowing him and making him known.
“If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.” – John Piper