My youngest daughter looked at the floor and collapsed in tears. Clutching one of my shirts for comfort, her thumb sought her mouth. She inhaled slowly and deeply the scent that lingered in the blouse, and I watched her eyes glass over. As I have watched so many times before, she retreated deep inside her soul to escape the inevitable task before her.
Breakfast smells were wafting up the stairs, and the sound of kids stirring about the house getting ready for the school day reached us.
In front of her lay the contents of her entire dresser, dirty laundry, and toy chest. The bookshelves also had had their contents strewn about the floor. Since the first task of the day in our home is to tidy our rooms before heading down to breakfast, she knew that there was no getting out of the project. And yet it overwhelmed her.
Sitting down with her, I let her lean against me for a few moments, burying her face and escaping reality for a little longer.
In the land of Israel during the time of the Judges, the people faced a similar dilemma, but with much more serious implications. They had just been defeated before their enemies the Philistines. Contrary to wisdom, they had brought the Ark of God into the battle, and what they thought would be His forced Presence and victory. But since they had been refusing to change their actions in repentance, God would not hear them.
Instead, the Philistines routed the Israelites, captured the Ark, and jubilantly carried it away. In chapter 6, we see that because of the Philistines' own sin and idolatry, maintaining the Ark in their land only brought judgment, so they sent it back to the land of Israel on an ox-led cart.
When the Israelite men of Beth Shemesh found it, they were so curious that they wanted to look inside it, totally disregarding the Law (Numbers 4:15). When they did so, God struck down 50,070 people. They responded:
“Who is “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? And to whom shall it go up from us?” So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjath Jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the Lord; come down and take it up with you.” Then the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord. So it was that the ark remained in Kirjath Jearim a long time; it was there twenty years. And all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.1 Samuel 6:20-7:2
They knew God was powerful. They knew what he required. But rather than getting rid of the things that caused His righteous judgment so that they could have His Presence and help, they became afraid of a God who had that much power. They went from disrespect for His holiness to terror, deprivation and separation.
Sin leads us to oppression, terror, and despair, and separation.
Over twenty years' time, though, God was still working on their hearts. Oppressed by their enemies, depressed by their constant defeat and captivity, their hearts began to long for the saving Presence of the only One would had the power to change any of it.
In Hebrew, the word, “lament,” means to wail and groan. They were finally coming to a sincere acknowledgment of their sin and need for the Lord to have their full hearts. They were now recognizing their need to be “heard by God.”
In 1 Samuel 1, we find that God had already started the process of redemption when he gave Hannah a little boy who she named Samuel, which means, “God has heard.” God always anticipates repentance with a calling. He knows how to bring repentance about, and He anticipates that by calling those who will be ready to show the way back to Him when we are ready. Samuel, who had walked in obedience to God from boyhood, was ready to call them to the freedom, blessing and Presence that he had experienced throughout his life:
Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, there put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only. 1 Samuel 7:3-4
What is interesting to me here, is that the very idols they were serving and trusting in were the idols of their enemies that they were being oppressed by, the Philistines. In those times, and I think this is true today, they felt that if there was dominating military or economic power, it was due to their gods giving them success. So in fear or in desire for prosperity, they would try to mimic the worship of the idols of whatever nations were prospering, especially if if was an enemy of whom they were afraid.
When we come to Jesus Christ to ask for salvation from our enemy, sin, death and the devil, we can't be heard by God until we put away our worship of those very things. For us, idolatrous worship of our enemies looks like serving our lusts and appetites so that we can be successful in possessions, secure in finances, reputation or job positions. It looks like reacting out of fear of death or suffering or rejection by choosing sin to gain this security and relationship. Lies, treachery, divorce, slander, theft, drug use, adultery, fighting, these are ways that we dishonor God and prevent Him from hearing us and giving us victory over the very things we fear and are enslaved to. The result is that we lose will not hear us: “If I regard sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” Psalm 66:18
In 1 John 1:9, though, we find the promise that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Because of Jesus' death on the cross for our sins and resurrection from the dead for our new life in Him, “through death He [destroyed] him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release[ed] those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:15
What beautiful gospel news! We can choose to despise and disrespect God, and live without Him in captivity to sin and death; we can choose to fear God and judgment, and remain in our sin and terror; or we can choose to turn away from useless idols that cannot save or hear to the living God who wants to both hear us and save us from our bondage and fear!
The good news of repentance through Jesus
frees us to dwell in relationship with a God who hears and saves.
But the good news is not the end, there is still some “house cleaning” that God wants to get done before we are ready to face our enemies on the battlefield. God doesn't just want to bring us into relationship with Him, He wants to restore us to abundant and victorious living!
After a few moments of sitting with my little girl in her messy room, we got up together and I stayed with her. I had never expected her to clean the entire mess on her own. At her age level, I knew she needed my constant help to not give up and to know how to sort it all out. We worked together to put the toys away. The books got sorted and put on the shelves, ready to be enjoyed again.
Since she enjoys smelling things so much, I gave her the job of smelling and examining the clothing to see where it would belong—the dresser or the dirty laundry pile. We took the load of laundry down, washed it, folded it, and put it back into the dresser.
Why did we do all of that work? Why not just leave the dirty clothes on the floor? As parents the answer is easy, but our kids still need to learn it: When it is washed and folded and put away properly, it is ready to be used.
Samuel knew this too. Even though the people had put away their idols, there was still so much that had not been resolved in relationship with one another that needed to be sorted out, disciplined, and reset for living together in righteousness and healing.
And Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the Lord. And they fasted that day, and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah. 1 Samuel 7:5-6
During the time of the judges in Israel, there was no king or standing army to enforce the judgment that Samuel was doing. In addition, with his judgments, he would be giving out consequences for wrong behavior and requiring those who were guilty to restore to their victims what had been ruined. The people were voluntarily submitting themselves to the Lord's correction and discipline.
When we come to know Jesus as our Savior, He also must become our Lord and Judge. This process or submitting our whole lives under His scrutiny is sanctification. When we finally let Him be in charge, He sorts through our lives gradually, allowing us to “smell our dirty clothes,” and to get them ready to be used for good again, the way He originally intended us to be: “for by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews 10:14
Our submission to Jesus' Lordship and sanctifying work
gets us ready to be used!
When we come to God, His goal is not just to get rid of what is bad, but to restore to His original intention for us in His creation! He wants to bless us, and to cause us to be a blessing (Gen. 12:2):
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10
You may have been living in defeat and despair in areas of your life. Maybe it was a relationship that you kept failing in. Or perhaps in your thought life that you faced continuous defeat. Sometimes they are addictions that make us feel hopeless. It could be a pattern of destructive criticism that you can't seem to break out of on your own.
While we live in submission to sin, appetites and fear, the enemy is not afraid of us. It is when we place our lives under the Lordship of Christ that the enemy gets terrified and feels he has to stop us:
When the Philistines heard that the children of Israel had gathered together at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard of it,they were afraid of the Philistines. So the children of Israel said to 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.” And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. Then Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him. Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and drove them back as far as below Beth Car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. Then the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered its territory from the hands of the Philistines. Also there was peace between Israel and the Amorites. Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. 1Samuel 7:7-16
When their enemy had heard of their repentance, the Philistines knew the God of Israel would hear His repentant people and start giving them victory. This battle was a last ditch effort to make the people of Israel afraid of obeying God. The Philistines thought that if they came en masse and showed a big, scary front, the people of Israel would do what they had always done before: cower, submit, and go back to captivity. But this time, the people of God's repentance and faith were complete.
Under Jesus' Lordship,
we should expect opposition, victory and complete restoration.
Because of Israel's determination to trust God and rely on Him to help them defeat their enemies, God gave them a complete victory in the very place where they had previously taken their debilitating defeat. As Ebenezer was the place of their defeat, so Ebenezer became their place of victory. Their Stone of Help.
Over the course of Samuel's lifetime, God gradually restored everything to His people that had been previously taken, restored peace to their land, and restored justice and righteousness in their country.
In our lives we have seen God restore broken relationships, addictions, families, churches and finances. We have seen Him heal hearts, bring freedom, joy and peace, and save us both in our problems as well as out of our problems. When we have cried out to Him from a place of submission, we have seen His hand work to deliver us again and again. We record these times as our "Stone of Help," memorials to show our children of the faithfulness of God to save.
I pray that you will trust in Christ to be both your Savior and your Lord. I pray that you submit yourself to His authority and judgment. And I pray that as you do so He will give you complete victory and restoration in all of your territory.
I look forward with joy to seeing your "Stone of Help," and to hearing your story!
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,
but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Halley Faville lives with her husband and children in their mountain home in Oregon.