Sermon for Sunday, November 19th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Jos 24:14-15 ESV] 14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
New Testament reading:
[2Co 1:3-11 ESV] 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
[Jhn 14:15-17 ESV] 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
[1Sa 7:1-17 ESV] 1 And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD and brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill. And they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the ark of the LORD. 2 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. 3 And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only. 5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the LORD and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah. 7 Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 And the people 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.” 9 So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. And Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him. 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car. 12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 14 The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites. 15 Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16 And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. 17 Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the LORD.
Water, Thunder, and Stone.
Our text from 1 Samuel chapter 7 is summarized today under those three natural items. Water, Thunder, and Stone.
These are three symbols in the text. Water, Thunder, and Stone.
They are representative of repentance, of the Power of God, and of the Help of God.
I. WATER (Repentance and Revival) (v. 1-10a)
Last year I read and compared 4 books on the subject of repentance. I should have just read 1 Samuel chapter 7. Here we have a great outline of four element of repentance.
We find the people of Israel (1) Lamenting, (2) getting rid of idols, (3) praying with confession, and (4) obeying the Lord.
A. Lamenting. (v. 1-2)
The first step we see is lamenting. Crying with sorrow.
The Ark of God has returned from the Philistines. After a brief (and deadly) stop at Beth-shemesh it is now moved to Kiriath-jearim. And the people of Kiriath Jearim are the first in a long while to SAFELY house the ark. They don’t look into it. And they chose Eleazar to be priest. They are doing things the right way.
Shiloh had been the place where the Ark resided though since Joshua brought it there. Why not take the ark back there? Why does the ark come to Kiriath-jearim? Well, it isn’t known. But there is merit to the idea that Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines. So that is why the Ark cannot go back there. It is nothing but rubble.
So the people of Kiriath-jearim are doing things right. They don’t look into the ark. They appoint a priest. And then, with all of Israel, they lament. For twenty years they lament.
Why the sorrow? Why the crying?
Maybe there is an element of happy-crying in that the Ark has returned. But this is apparently SAD crying. Why? Because the nation had fallen away from God.
We should cry over this as well. Our nation has fallen away from God! WE SHOULD lament over the situation we are in.
But it is not just national sins that are issue. It is personal sins as well. The people of Israel lament that THEY EACH have failed to follow God as they should.
So they lament. This often occurs in repentance.
But there are two things we must watch out for here.
First, lamenting IS NOT repentance. It is not enough to lament, to cry. True Repentance is MORE than lamenting.
True repentance is a turning away from evil and false ideas and turning to God and all His truth with a wholehearted endeavoring to obey the Lord. [REPEAT] That is my definition based on the study I did on the subject.
Lamenting is not repentance. Think of that scene on the war movie, Saving Private Ryan, if you remember it. A German soldier is taken captive and suddenly he cries out saying everything he knows in English, saying “I love America.” Eventually the Americans let him going, sending him away without any weapons and telling him to turn himself in to another group. What does he do? The crying ends, and he rejoins the German army. Lamenting is not repentance.
Then, also to note about lamenting. It is not a necessary element of repentance. That might sound a little strange, so let me explain. Lamenting often leads to repentance and repentance often starts with lamenting, but it is technically possible that a person can repent with lamenting. Some people are not as emotional as others, but desiring God they yet turn to Him through the work of the Holy Spirit.
So there is lamenting of Israel.
Then, lets look at the next stage. We see Samuel back in the picture and he is give directives to Israel in his role as judge and prophet. And I don’t know why he couldn’t have been chosen priest rather than Eleazar. But note that even though Eleazar was in charge of the Ark, it is Samuel who makes a burnt offering. So he is working as priest. In fact, we see Samuel as prophet, priest, and judge which is almost king. Samuel here is a type of Chris who is prophet, priest, and king.
B. Samuel’s first directive: Get rid of idols! (v. 3-4)
So Samuel begins his work. And we see there True Repentance taking form.
Step one of repentance is “get rid of idols!” Turn away from idols.
Samuel says “If you are returning [and see here it seems the people have already started to come back to the Lord] if you are returning to the Lord will all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.”
Coming to the Lord in faith requires getting rid of the competitors.
The old must be put off so that the new can be put on.
This is the command of God from the beginning. You shall have no other gods before me.
This is such a clear and EASY (right?) command, that maybe we shake our heads at Israel. How could you? How could you worship idols? But we know how easily we are deceived as well, and how we so frequently need this reminder: worship the Lord ALONE.
Get rid of Idols.
C. Samuel’s second directive: Pray. (v. 5-6)
Then, we see in Samuel’s second directive another element of repentance. That is prayerful confession. Part of prayer is confession our sins to God.
Samuel said “Gather all Israel at Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you.” Here again he functions as priest.
But though Samuel said “I will pray to the Lord for you,” we find also that the people prayed. They said “WE have sinned against the Lord.”
This is an important part of repentance.
Here’s an illustration. A child is caught stealing candy from the store. His mom or dad catches him and tell him to bring it back. And he cries and cries. Is that repentance? NO. Why is he crying? BECAUSE HE DOESN” T GET THE CANDY! But what if the children cries and then says “I am sorry, I sinned, I know I shouldn’t take what is mine.” Then his crying is connected to the confession and repentance.
We must not only be sad that we’ve been caught, we must confess that we know what we’ve done is wrong! This is required for repentance.
The people of Israel are turning back to the Lord. They’ve lamented and now they are confessing sin. If they didn’t confess their sin, do you think God would welcome them back? Of course not, sin must be confessed.
Now here, finally, we come to the WATER. I’ve titled this sermon WATER, THUNDER, and STONE.
The water here is representative of repentance.
As they are pouring out their hearts to God (and tears from their eyes) so they pour out water. That is how I think of the passage.
But, there are some other ideas on the water as well. Some [Berger, for example] say “pouring out the water was denying themselves liquids which along with a fast (from food) was a symbol that the Lord’s favor was more important than eating and drinking.” And another (Ligionier) says pouring out the water was a symbol of the washing away of sin. But that would make sense only if they poured the water on themselves, which they don’t do.
The water, whatever the particularities of explanation, is related to the repentance. The people are turning back to God. Lamenting, throwing out idols, praying, and confessing sin.
Now there is another directive of Samuel. Obedience.
D. Samuel’s third directive: Obedience. (v. 6b-10a)
The people have obeyed Samuel in putting away the idols, the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they obeyed Samuel in gathering for prayer. And they are obeying him (as Judge) when he asks for them to cry out to the Lord for protection from the Philistines.
This obedience then comes from their repentance. Obedience is a fruit of repentance, a result of repentance.
In repentance we turn away from evil and turn to God and we endeavor to obey. With the Spirit of God working in those who have repentance, obedience is the fruit. We are not perfect. We are not sinless, but by the grace of God, His people obey him.
And this is REVIVAL. A revival is NOT having 1000 people in a church or in a tent (though it may have 1000 people). A revival is not an emotional outpouring (though it may include that). Revival is repentance. Usually, linguistically, a revival is collective repentance. A nation (like Nineveh in Jonah’s time coming to the Lord) or a whole town (like during the Great Awakening) coming to the Lord. But I am comfortable saying that if even ONE PERSON repents and comes to the Lord, that is revival.
Revival is a wonderful thing. This is a positive chapter in Samuel.
But things wouldn’t go very well without the Lord. The people have repented. That is good. But the Philistines are on the horizon. And what happened last time they fought the Philistines? IT DID NOT GO VERY WELL! The people of Israel must know they are in trouble. They NEED the help of the Lord.
So we move on from Water (repentance) the THUNDER (the power of God)
II. THUNDER (The Lord wins the battle) (v. 10-11)
God sure is creative in how he wins battles in the Old Testament. There is the waters of the Red Sea that conquered the Egyptian army. There was the moon standing still for Joshua to have more time to win the battle. There was giant hailstones that God sent upon the Amorites at the Ascent of Beth-Horon.
Now God uses Thunder.
He’ll do this once more. In 2 Samuel.
[2Sa 22:14-15 ESV] 14 The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered his voice. 15 And he sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning, and routed them.
But in our text there are no arrows. The Lord thundered a mighty sound. That was enough. It threw the Philistines into confusion and Israel won the battle.
There is no lightning mentioned either. Thunder but no lighting. Donner but no blitzen. Just the sound alone is enough to win the battle.
Why did Israel win? Was it because of their strength? Or their cunning? No, it was because of the strength of God. The Lord wins battles.
So if the Water reminds us of repentance, let the Thunder remind us of the power of the Lord.
But there is one other in our text. A reminder that has been even more emphasized in church history. The STONE of help. Ebenezer.
III. STONE (Ebenezer, the Lord has helped us) (v. 12-17)
After the battle was won, Samuel set up a stone for the people of Israel to see. And he called it Ebenezer for he said “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
Eben is the Hebrew word for stone.
And ezer is the Hebrew word for help.
So the name Ebenezer means “stone of help.” But if you were to list the characteristics of most famous Ebenezer— Ebenezer Scrooge—you wouldn’t include “helpfulness” on that list. Ebenezer Scrooge was FOR HIMSELF at all cost, never lending a helping hand.
But God was helpful and so the stone, Ebenezer, is a reminder that the Lord has helped them.
The Philistines were not only defeated in battle, but the Lord kept Israel in peace all the days of Samuel both with the Philistines and with the Amorites.
These were good years. Samuel’s years were good years. The nation had a godly priest, prophet, and judge and they followed the Lord, having repented of their former ways.
So who gets the praise? Israel for repenting? No, all the glory goes to God. The stone is to remember God’s help.
Clearly in the account the “help of God” comes in the victory over the Philistines. But there is another victory here. It is the victory of the repentance of the people. And how was THAT victory won? Only with the help of the Lord. The Lord turned their hearts to Him.
So where do we look? How we repent and obey the Lord? Should we just “try harder?” Should we just pull ourselves up by the bootstraps? Let us look to God as our Stone of Help.
Our flesh is fleshy, mushy, and we are so easily pliable and fall away from God. But Jesus Christ is the Rock of our salvation. We look to him for help. As the Israelites looked to the Stone of Help we look to Christ, our Rock and Redeemer.
We need His help. I know that is true for myself, and I know that is true for all others. We need the help of the Lord! We must look to Christ.
But that is not end. I do not end this sermon with an appeal to look to Christ, but with the declaration that Christ has already won the battle. And so we look to Christ not longingly as if we don’t have him, but with joy remembering the victory he has already won.
The old song, Come Though Fount of Every Blessing says “Here I raise my Ebenezer.”
What is our Ebenezer? It is Jesus Christ.
Samuel’s stone reminding the people that the Lord had delivered them from the Philistines so that they might live at peace and live for God. So we look to Christ, our rock, reminding us that the Lord has delivered us from evil so that we might live at peace with God and enjoy Him forever. If you are in a time of trouble, look to the rock. Look for help to Jesus. Amen.