Gathering Stones

As we read through the book of 1 Samuel we are reminded that
life comes with both victories and defeats. 
One of the stubborn enemies the Israelites faced was a nation called
Philistines.   In chapter four, we
discover they attacked and killed 4,000 Israelites.  They were defeated.

 As the elders retreated
to their tents, they asked themselves, why were we defeated? It seems they
really didn’t give themselves time to explore that answer, before someone said,
let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of
God into the camp’
.  I’m sure they
thought having the Ark of God with them would guarantee victory.  Hophni and Phinehas, Eli, the priest’s two
sons, were there and apparently gave permission to take it from Shiloh out to
the battlefield.  When saw the Ark
coming, they were so excited and their shout of joy was so loud it made the
ground shake. (vs5).  Their trust was in
the Ark of God, not the God of the Ark. 
However, the visual sighting of the Ark frightened the Philistines, in
verse 10 “so the Philistines fought desperately,
and Israel was defeated again.  The slaughter
was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day.  The survivors turned and fled to their tents.  The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and
Phinehas, the two sons of Eli were killed. 
This was not a good day in Israel. 
But neither did it end up being too good of a season for the
Philistines. 

They took the Ark into their temple and placed it beside
their idol Dagon.  In the morning they
got up and their god had fallen face down in front of the Ark of God.  This happened a few times and his head and
hands fell off!  Then their people got
struck with a plague and they begged their leaders to get rid of this Ark.  The Ark lived with the Philistines for seven
month…they moved it several times, each time with dire results.   They decided to send it back home.

Shortening the story, it came back to Israel.  It remained in a place named Kiriath-jearim
for about twenty years.  During that time all Israel mourned because
it seemed the Lord had abandoned them. (1 Samuel 7:2)
I am sure the
families of the 30,000 soldiers were grieving. 
The people were in shock.  They
would never imagine that God would let the Ark of God be taken.  It was a symbol of the Presence of the
Lord.   It
was then that Samuel, now the appointed judge/priest said to all the people of
Israel, “if you want to return to the
Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods.  Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him
alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.
The people obeyed Samuels’s
words. So they gathered at Mizpah and in
a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the
Lord.  They also went without food all
day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord. (vs6)

When the Philistines
rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and
advanced.  The Israelites were badly frightened
when they learned that the Philistines were approaching.  Don’t stop pleading with the Lord our God to
save us from the Philistines, they begged Samuel.  So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to
the Lord as a whole burnt offering.  He pleaded
with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him.

Just as Samuel was
sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel.  But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of
Thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such
confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 
The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah.

Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah
and Jeshanah.  He named it Ebenezer
(which means ‘the stone of help’), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has
helped us!”, so the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for
some time.
This was a time of victory,

So why am I sharing this story?  When I read through these passages I
recognized that we also encounter some of the same enemies over and over
again.  At the end of the first defeat
they asked themselves, why did this happen? 
But they did not take the time to examine the reason.  If we find ourselves struggling over and over
again with the same enemy: whether it is financial, emotional, spiritual etc.
we need to stop and look for some patterns. 
The Israelite wanted God’s promised blessing, but they had polluted
their land with other gods.  In a very
amazing way, the God of the Universe wants us to let Him be Lord of our
life.  We may not have created idols like
Dagon, but are their other things that draw our attention away from His perfect
way for us.  This is very personal and
only the Holy Spirit can reveal the truth to our hearts.  The Israelites thought if they could bring
the symbol of the Lord (the Ark of God) into the camp, then it would act like a
talisman or good luck charm, and they would be safe.  It obviously didn’t work that way.  We can’t tack on a prayer in Jesus Name to
our lives, or church attendance without a genuine relationship with Him and
expect His protection and grace to be granted. 
He is merciful and gracious, to be sure. 
But there are consequences to our actions.  They took the time to fast, pray and
genuinely repent.  When they did, things
changed.

While the Israelites were examining themselves, God was at
work in the Philistine land.  We need to
know that He is working to bring defeat to those who oppose us.  We do our part by walking softly and
attentively before Him, trusting He is setting things in motion for our
victory.  If you have humbled yourself
like the Israelites did here, then you can rest and trust that He is
moving.  I don’t believe any of them
expected God to thunder from heaven that day, but He did.  Many times in our natural mind we cannot see
how God can bring us through our situations. 
That is when we must look to Him, release our faith and keep on walking.  It is not our job to figure out His part, it
is His.

  Samuel, as judge and
priest stood in the gap for them.  They
trusted his character and position.  We
need to place our own Ebenezer stones whenever we see God’s helping hand in our
lives.  Maybe it wasn’t with a voice of
Thunder that routed your enemies, but He has shown up, I am sure.  Ask Him to show you even the smallest events
that are part of His handiwork in your life. 
You will be amazed.  He desires to
be our God of help.  Start with admitting
your need, humbling yourself and asking Him for His guidance and
direction.  Gather and place Ebenezer
stones for yourself and others.