Saturday, March 16, 2013

1 Samuel 7:12 : 30th Building Anniversary of the Walvis Bay Baptist Church

                “Ebenezer- until now the LORD has helped us “ – 1 Samuel  7:12

                                               Reading  : 1 Samuel 7:2-17

Dear Brothers  and sisters  in the Lord Jesus  Christ,

What a joy to be united with you on this occasion! And what a privilege to speak  for God  in the presence of  my spiritual fathers   and brothers and mothers and sisters. Days such as this are far too rare  among us.
I have selected for us, I trust,   a  text  relevant to this occasion :  1 Samuel  7:12
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between  Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer[1],  for he said, ‘ Till now the  LORD has helped us.’

I have  chosen this text  since  today  is a landmark event. Today  as we celebrate  God’s faithfulness  to this congregation we do want to  raise our Ebenezer[2]. Well, since a text without a context is a pretext , I want to be careful to  help you to see  what  the Holy Spirit , the Inspirer of Scripture had in mind  when He caused  this  to be written down, and then  apply  this  to  our own life and times.

This chapter relates how, after a period of national backsliding, Samuel called Israel  to return to the LORD with all their heart. Israel backslid when they substituted foreign gods for their  living LORD. At this time  the ark of the LORD had also fallen into the hands of the Philistines, who thought that they had thereby  captured Israel’s God , only to find that this symbol  of His presence  had become a curse to them (5:11). Ch. 6 records how the ark of  the LORD is returned  to Israel , but this fact did not  bring spiritual revival to the Israel. There is no   merit in possessing sacred furniture. Possessing  God is everything!   In  7:2 we read: “ 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.

Now as  the prophet- priest  Samuel directs their hearts back to the LORD , the  nation discovers  afresh the wonder of  relying on the LORD of their fathers. Instead of relying on pagan and magical views of the ark’s power,  they rediscovered the joy of depending upon the  Lord who gave them a great victory over the Philistines.  

In Ch. 8 we  read of  Israel’s desire   for a king. Sadly,  the  people think that  they cannot compete with the nations without a king. They see  that  all of the other nations are being ruled by kings, and they desire that! This is tragic,  since Ch. 7 proves  that  Israel could handle her enemies  without a king, so long as she trusted in the Lord.
This then  is  the general  context  in which we find  this text .

V. 3  So then, the return of the ark to Israel did not mark the end of Israel’s  conflict  with the  Philistines. It took at least another 20 years  to settle the Philistine threat.  Sin produces  very deep grooves  and complex patterns of thinking  that are hard to escape . So when the people  began to cry out for spiritual  renewal  and revival , Samuel had every reason to suspect  the  genuineness of the people’s repentance and to  put it to the test. The real problem, he told them, is not the Philistines  who had been harassing  them, but the false gods that the Israelites had been worshipping. Were they willing to part with those?
V. 4 records that  they  put away the Baal’s and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only.”
V. 5  Samuel then gathered  all  Israel at  Mizpah  (13 km’s  north of Jerusalem). Mizpah was an important  gathering  point   for Israel in the period of the Judges.
V. 6  At Mizpah  Samuel led the people in prayers of repentance and fasting . The pouring out of water  before the LORD  was probably a symbolic   demonstration of their repentance ( e.g. "pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord"- Lamentations 2:19). “Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah” . This  statement  is important in the larger context ( the demand for a king).  At this stage  Samuel is Israel’s  prophet, priest, and judge .
V.7 The Philistines  became visibly nervous when they heard that Israel was assembling  at Mizpah in great numbers, and  they decided  to do something about it.  This instilled renewed fear in the Israelites.
V.8 When your back is against the wall, prayer is not the least you can do. It is the best  you can do. Previously, in 4:3   the Israelites  had   relied on  the ark of the Lord which they thought was their  lucky charm against the Philistines, but now  they implore 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.”
V.9  Samuel   responds in two ways : He offers a sacrificial lamb  as a sin offering,  and  he prays for  deliverance in the present crisis.
Vv. 10 & 11  The  deliverance  was  immediate: “The LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines…”.  All that was left  for Israel to do was  to finish off their enemy.   This  was the Lord’s, and not Israel’s victory.
V. 12  In remembrance of this great deliverance  Samuel took a stone  and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer” . It was the same place  where  more than 20 years ago they  had lost the ark  to the Philistines, because they had trusted in the ark and not in God   (5:1). So now  the LORD  had made it very clear  that  He had answered the prayer  of those who had trusted in HIM!    
Vv.  13-17 . This  brought about the end of  Israel’s conflict with the Philistines  in the days of Samuel. Samuel  was the last of the judges  in Israel – if not the most godly, faithful  and effective judge.

So, what is the  Holy Spirit saying to us through   this  Word ?  Following the logic of the text  we can make  4 points – all around that unifying  name   Ebenezer  - Our Rock of Help

1.      The Preparation  for God’s Help  (7:2-6)
2.      The Experience of God’s Help (7:7-10)
3.      The Remembrance of God’s Help  (7:11-14)
4.      The Outcome  of God’s Help  (7:15-17)

I.                    The Preparation  for God’s Help  (7:2-6)
Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity![3]  We have seen that Israel had  found themselves in a sorry state. The Philistines were  keeping them in physical bondage, while the false and foreign  gods  Baal (male) and Ashtoreth (female) kept them in spiritual bondage. Things seemed hopeless. But, by the grace of God  something began to stir in the nation:  all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” (7:2).  But true repentance isn’t cheap. Tears and talk don’t  save. It  will cost you your dearest idols (whatever that idol may be), and that is precisely what  Samuel  demanded from them, ”… put away the foreign gods!” God  has revealed Himself  as  a   jealous God, and in the  10 commandments  He makes it very clear that He shall not tolerate any  other gods, nor other loves besides Him (Ex 20:3-6). The first 2 commandments make this very clear!  So, genuine repentance is the proper  preparation for God’s mercy . Don’t get this wrong. It is not as  if we can make repentance a good work by which we can please God, but surely there can be  no saving help without such repentance. 
What is happening here  is that God  is stirring  the nation, and gradually  the desire  after the LORD becomes greater  than  the love affair with the foreign gods.  Brothers and sisters, this is an ongoing need in the church.  The church lives by the grace of God , and when she backslides pray that she  will remain sensitive to the  still small voice of God which says, “it’s time to come home! You have been long enough in this desert! ” This leads us to the next  point .

II.                   The Experience of God’s Help (7:7-10)

D.R. Davies has this to say[4]: “At the heart  of Israel’s experience of mercy stands her own helplessness and utter lack of resources ; prayer is her only recourse… once we see this,  we will no longer regard prayer as a pious cop-out, but as our only rational activity.
Davies  continues: “I think it proper to add that in Samuel’s intercession on Israel’s behalf we see a picture  of the office of Christ as our High Priest. Here is the true secret of our steadfastness: we rely on the prayer of Another whose prayers are always effectual. Nothing is quite so moving as knowing that I am a subject of Jesus’ intercessory prayer.”
And so we see  that genuine repentance brings quick healing. The  offering lamb (7:9)   is sacrificed (this all points to Jesus!)  and  God sweeps away their sins as if they had never been committed and grants them a victory over their enemies  which is  so complete that it  changes  the political situation for years to come! “And the hand  of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel” (7:13). This is a wonderful illustration of the nature   of God’s free Grace!   God treats  them in  exactly the opposite way from what  their  sins deserve. Here  is a new beginning for a people who deserved to  be forsaken. But here is  the illustration of the power  of the gospel of Jesus Christ  which  brings forgiveness and blessing for undeserving sinners.  

III.                The Remembrance of God’s Help  (7:11-14)

At this point  Samuel sets up as  monument, and calls it “Ebenezer” – stone  of help”, and explains its significance: “Till now the LORD has helped us.” I believe that it would be true to say that Samuel has had  so much  more in mind than just   the remembrance of recent events. The entire history of Israel from  Abraham until now- a long chain of God’s faithful mercy and help is  being remembered here! The same is true  for the Walvis Bay Baptist Church. This weekend  and this Lord’s day  morning we have been setting up a memorial stone  in remembrance and gratitude  of God’s  mercy and help, recognizing that, through many years, (this is  the  oldest Baptist Church in Namibia!)   we have come to this place  not by our own might and power. We are  all  too aware that  our own  sins and failures have been many! We know  that  the presence  of the Philistines in Walvis Bay  has been  ever threatening to overpower us. Satan  has  desired to close down this church ever since  the Word of the LORD has been proclaimed here- ever  since prayer  has begun to be offered  to God in this place of worship.  So, we  are gathered here this morning as debtors to God’s sovereign  mercy ! 

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit, Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit, Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer; Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, Safely to arrive at home.

O to grace how great a debtor ,Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above. 

(Robert Robinson 1758)

This memory  keeps our gratitude fresh, and this gratitude keeps our faith faithful!

IV.               The Outcome  of God’s Help  ( 7:15-17)

Here is the  encouragement that  under faithful, humble  and godly leadership   a  people  may be kept  from harm’s way   for a long time, though there is no telling what may happen thereafter. This presents us with an encouragement  but also with a warning. Godly Samuel’s today are all too often by  followed  by ungodly Saul’s tomorrow. Each generation will have to discover  what it means to follow  in the fear of the Lord, and to resist  idolatry whatever that means in each new generation. Israel  was kept from the Philistines under the  spiritual rule and  sound judgment  of her Samuel. Brothers and sisters, let us learn  never to take God’s  faithful Samuel-like servants for granted. They may often be an irritation  to the man in the pew and in the town. Samuel, you remember became  a source of irritation to king Saul. He resisted the people  of Israel  when they became ungodly in their thoughts regarding God’s kingly rule in Israel, but everyone (including Saul)  misses Samuel when he is dead! This morning we have a veritable  company of pastors and their wives in your midst , who though being painfully aware of their own inadequacies, have served you and the cause of  our Lord Jesus in this  town. These are the men and women , who  with the help of God and by the grace of God have  led you to this point  at which we can say :  Ebenezer- until now the LORD has helped us!”

[1] Ebenezer means  “ stone of help”
[2]Come Thou Fount  of Every Blessing” :  Hymn by Robert Robinson 1758
[3] This quote is attributed to John Flavel
[4] D.R. Davies : 1 Samuel, p,60

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