So had the Lord driven the kine by which the Ark was being drawn in the way to the way of Bethshemesh. But when the Bethshemeshites saw the Ark, they rejoiced to see it. But, as we stated, they had reason to hide themselves in the dens and the rocks of their mountains; for the Lord was again amongst them—the Lord, who is a consuming fire—and they had not put away the strange gods from among them and prepared their hearts to serve the Lord. In a word, the nation had not repented. The people of Israel at this time, definitely the Bethshemeshites were carnal. And in their carnality they again imagined that the Lord was for them in their sins. And so these sinful and impenitent men, vainly imagining that they could stand in their sins before the face of God and live, rushed into the presence of His throne—the Ark—and made merry. As was said, their behavior was an insult to God. So the Lord smote “many of their number with a great slaughter.” 50,070 of their number—men of Bethshemesh—were overthrown. They said, “who is able to stand before this holy Lord God and to whom shall he go up before us?” And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjathjearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the Ark of the Lord; come ye down and fetch it up to you. As was stated, the men of Kirjathjearim came and carried the Ark into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep watch over the Ark, the purpose being to render it inaccessible to the multitude in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the catastrophe that had struck in Bethshemesh in connection with the Ark.
It is plain that at this time the people of Israel were deathly afraid of the Ark, afraid of God. If only the Lord had remained in the country of the Philistines. But now that He had come back to them, they knew not what to do with Him. They would rid themselves of God, if only they knew how. Doubtless they would have conveyed the Ark to some desert place far beyond the borders of Canaan, had they dared. But they dared not. To do that would be to invite a disaster even worse than that which had struck in Bethshemesh. So they imprisoned the Ark in Kirjathjearim. This is the meaning of their conveying the Ark into the house of Abinadab and sanctifying Eleazar his son to keep watch and guard over this symbol. Eleazar must see to it that no company of men come near the Ark to touch and to look at this symbol or to carry it into the tabernacle in Shiloh. For who was able to stand before this holy God? He who walketh uprightly and worketh righteousness, he shall abide in God’s tabernacle and dwell in His holy hill, Ps. 16. But instead of working righteousness, rather than put away their idols—Baalim and Ashtaroth—in order that they might stand before this Holy God and live, they sought to preserve their lives in the way of imprisoning the Ark in the house of Abinadab. They were not better than the Philistines. For the Philistines, too, as terrorized by the plagues of God that had rioted among them, had sent away the Ark to its place but without repenting. There was not one who wanted God. All were afraid of him and with reason. Their works were evil and they willed not to repent; and God sheweth himself merciful with the merciful; upright, with the upright; and pure with the pure; but with the froward, he will shew Himself froward, Ps. 18:25, 26.
But if the people of Israel imagined that they had freed themselves of God by imprisoning His Ark in the house of Abinadab, they were soon made to perceive that they were mistaken. The revelation of His wrath over their unrighteousness—their idolatry and lawlessness—continued through the oppression of the Philistine domination that continued uninterrupted. For though the Philistines had brought back the Ark, they had not ceased to persecute God’s people, the people of Israel. But the Philistines were the rod of
God’s anger smiting the nation on account of its apostasies, and driving home to its heart that the only way out of its troubles was the way of return to the Lord.
The strokes of God, as blessed to the hearts of His believing people, was the cause of much sighing and lamenting among the faithful in Israel. “All the house of Israel lamented after the Lord,” humbled itself under His mighty hand that was heavy upon His people through the agency of the oppressing Philistines. Seeing their tears and hearing their groanings, Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, if ye are returning unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you and prepare your hearts unto the Lord and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.” The children of Israel did just that. Gathering them at Mizpeh, Samuel prayed for them unto the Lord. And they “drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the Lord.” As was said, this public confession of sin by the whole nation took place some twenty years after the resting of the Ark in the house of Abinadab. During all these years the hand of God was heavy upon the nation through the oppression of the Philistine dominion.
Apparently the people of Israel were inviting certain disaster, when they gathered together in Mizpah. For hearing of it and concluding that the assembly was seditious as to its character, the Philistines deemed it expedient to inflict terrible punishment. And the people of Israel, being in an unarmed condition, were unable to defend themselves. But they had assembled to prostrate themselves before the Lord in true contrition of heart and therefore the Lord would not fail to come to their rescue according to His premise. The Philistines bestirred themselves. They went up against Israel. Seemingly the vast and defenseless assembly of Israelites in Mizpah was doomed. Only a miracle could save them, a sudden divine interposition. The people of Israel were afraid, for though they believed, their faith was not perfect. There being not a weapon among them, their only hope was God. And knowing that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and knowing Samuel to be such a man, they pressed him not to cease to cry unto the Lord for them, that He would save them out of the hand of Lie Philistines. But as there could be no deliverance from oppression without forgiveness of sin, and no forgiveness without shedding of blood—the blood of Christ—and without the expression, on the part of those for whom the forgiveness was merited, of true contrition of heart and the resolution to forsake sin and to be wholly consecrated unto the Lord, Samuel took a suckling lamb, and offered a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord, as he cried to the Lord for Israel. While he prayed and offered, the Philistines drew nearer and near to battle. Then the Lord answered and sent salvation. He thundered with a great thunder upon the Philistines and thereby spoke to them, telling them in their hearts that He was angry with them, the persecutors of His people, and that now their hour had struck. Such was the speech that rose from the blinding flashes of lightning and the terrific peals of thunder that followed one after another. And this speech was in their hearts, as put there by the Lord. Confused and confounded, the Philistines were smitten before Israel. Beholding the salvation of their God, and in consequence thereof confirmed in their trust in God, the men of Israel advanced from Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines to a plain named Bethcar.
The victory over the Philistines was gained without arms; it was the immediate gift of the wonder-working power of God’s grace; it was the answer to the repentance of His people, their putting away their idols and their returning to Him by the power of His grace as operative in them; and thus it was indeed the answer to the effectual fervent prayer of righteous men in Israel, of the righteous Samuel. And as long as he lived, he ceased not to pray for Israel, effectually and fervently, thus pray that the nation keep covenant fidelity and be wholly consecrated unto the Lord their God, putting away from them the not-gods of the heathen, and that the Lord in the way of this godly conversation, and in the way of this conversation only—so pray the righteous—bless His people and be their sun and shield against the adversaries, according to His standing promise. And the Lord heard and answered. Having been subdued, the Philistines “came no more into the coasts of Israel: for the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel,” he being a righteous man, who prayed the prayer of the righteous. “And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath. These two cities were not restored, but are mentioned to indicate on the Philistine side the direction and limit of the scope in which the people of Israel regained their lost cities and territories. The meaning is, “Israel recovered their cities which lay on the Philistine borders, reckoning these borders from Ekron to Gath.” Finally, there was also peace “between Israel and the Amorites.” The name “Amorite” is employed in the Scriptures as the designation of the heathen inhabitants on both sides of the Jordan. The implication of the statement last quoted is that they had been making war on Israel before Samuel. According to Judges 1:84, it was the Amorites who had driven the Danites back out of the plain into the mountains.
The Philistines having been discomfited, “Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer—meaning, the stone of help—saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” We will see that this was a remarkable statement for Samuel to make, when we view it in the light of the dreadful history of those twenty years. The Lord had helped His people hitherto, that is, not only recently when discomfiting the Philistines by His thunderings, but through all the years of that dreadful night. When the Philistines put to the rout Israel’s army and slew many thousands of its footmen, when they captured the Ark of God, and during all the time of Israel’s groaning under the pressure of their dominion, God was at work helping not certainly the Philistines but His people. The Lord had blessed those strokes unto the hearts of His people. Courage revived. The idols in Israel were destroyed. And the people of Israel again served the Lord only. That was essential. It was the thing that was primary with Samuel and not the lifting of the Philistine yoke and the physical wellbeing of the nation. If Israel wanted the not-gods of the heathen instead of Jehovah, wanted to serve those gods and lay Jehovah’s gifts before their shrines, let the Philistine oppression continue by all means. That was Samuel’s attitude in his prayers and sermons to the people. This is clear from his saying to them, “If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you and prepare your hearts unto the Lord and serve him only; and he will deliver you out of the hands of the Philistines.” Israel did repent. Then the Philistine yoke was lifted. The Lord had helped. The people of God had been blessed in their affliction and reverses and the Philistines cursed in their triumphs and success of arms. Rightly considered, their military achievements were catastrophic defeats, for the Lord was against them; and the reverses of God’s people were glorious triumphs, for the Lord was for them. We should mark this by all means. That a man succeeds in any field of endeavor, is prosperous and eats his bread to the full is no certain indication that he is the object of God’s favor. The Lord may be prospering him in His wrath as He prospered the Philistines in His wrath, when He made them to triumph over Israel. On the other hand, that a man is poor and afflicted and underfoot, is no certain indication that the Lord is against him. The only certain indication that a man is loved of God is that he fears the Lord, thus that Christ is his portion. That man is always blessed, thus blessed in affliction as well as in prosperity. All things work together for his good. And thus the only certain indication that a man is hated of God is that the man is ungodly, does not repent and perishes in his sins, because God hates him from everlasting. That man is always cursed, thus cursed in his prosperity as well as in his adversity. All things are against him, the reason being that God is against him. Verily, this is the doctrine contained in that confession of Samuel, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,” thus helped us through all the ages of the past and thus will help us through all the ages to come. This certainly is the thrust of the statement. For God is faithful. His love of His people is unchangeable. For with Him there is no shadow of turning. He is for His people now and everlastingly.
By his fervent and effectual prayers and thus not by force of arms, Samuel had overcome the world as encountered by the faithful in the godless sons of Eli, who had corrupted the sacrifices; in the apostate church; in the not-gods of the heathen, before whose shrines those apostates were prostrated; in the Philistines, who reviled God and persecuted His people. Eli’s wicked sons had been destroyed, the gods of the heathen had been put away, the Philistines had been discomfited, and Israel delivered in the way of repentance and return to the Lord. Thus great things had been accomplished through Samuel, his prayers and prophesyings and all his labors. The Lord had helped and this in answer to his prayers, in fulfillment of His prophecies—for he spake the word that the Lord had put into his heart—and in recognition of his labors. Thus Samuel had overcome indeed. And his victory was his faith, which is but another way of saying that his victory was solely God—the God and Father of Christ—the help of this God, and thus a help merited by Christ and bestowed as a free gift. Having thus overcome, Samuel, so we read, judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places. And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the Lord, chap. 7:15-17.