Hitherto Hath the Lord Helped Us

"Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto has the Lord helped us" (1 Samuel 7:12).

A Christian who had had fifty years' experience of the goodness of God said that if she had raised a stone of remembrance every time the Lord had helped her, she would have built a solid wall fifty years in length. She had found the Lord ever by her side, a very present help, renewing His mercies every morning, and never failing in His compassions. And many can say, and we among them, There has not failed one good word that He has spoken, and if in our wall of Ebenezers there are gaps, they mark the times when in self-sufficiency and pride we thought we could manage our own affairs without reference to God; then we had to learn sore lessons as to our folly, and own that independence of the Lord meant disaster for us. But even then He was not far from us, and as when He arose from the dead He appeared to defeated Simon (Luke 24) so has He often proved to us that His grace is greater than our failure. And because of all this we can say as we look back on the past, "Hitherto has the Lord helped us." We have been kept by the power of God, and with confidence we can look on to the future when He will present us "faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." To Him be thanksgiving and praise both now and for ever!

But our purpose is not to dwell upon the individual help that we have received from the Lord, though that would be an encouraging and happy theme, but to speak of the sad condition of things in Christendom today; and a disheartening subject it would be if we could not show the way of deliverance. There is a striking analogy between the condition into which Israel had fallen in the days of Samuel and the present spiritual condition of Christendom in which, of course, all the people of God on earth have part. In order that this may be clear to us all, WE ASK THAT THIS SEVENTH CHAPTER OF SAMUEL BE READ; we shall find it most interesting and instructive. Israel were a backslidden people; they had turned from the Lord and His truth to false gods; they were sorely oppressed by the Philistines, "AND THE TIME WAS LONG … and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord" (v. 2). "Thou hast left thy first love" was the charge that the Lord brought against the Church very early in its history. Thou art "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" is the present condition of Christendom, as the Lord sees it (see Rev. 2:3).

Who were the Philistines?

Who were these Philistines that held Israel in such bondage and brought them into such misery and poverty? And what do they represent? They sprang from Egypt (Gen. 10:13-14), but though they had left Egypt behind and got into the land which God had promised to His people, they had not taken His way into it; their way had been an easy and short cut by which they escaped the Red Sea and River Jordan. These things that prefigured deliverance and blessing by the death and resurrection of Christ had no place in their history. They were in the land of God's people, but they had not travelled into it by the God-ordained way (Ex. 13:17). Really they had no right in the land at all, for God had apportioned it to Israel (Deut. 32:8-9). They are figurative of what we might call secularized Christianity, religion made acceptable to unregenerate men. Ritualism and Modernism are some of the Philistines of our day, they are really pagan superstitions and philosophies that have invaded the sphere of faith and made it like a great house of mixed vessels (2 Tim. 2), and they are sorely oppressing the true Israel of God; they draw near to God with the lips, but are scornful of that heart exercise and spiritual life that have marked the revivals of former days. They have the form of godliness, but deny the power.

One remarkable feature in the history of these Philistines was their anxiety to obtain and spoil the most sacred and precious possessions of God's people. I pass over the fact that both Abraham and Isaac were in danger of being robbed of their wives by them (Gen. 20:26), for these incidents arose from their own cowardice and want of faith in God; but chapter 21 tells us that they violently took away one of Abraham's wells, and chapter 26 tells us that they filled up with earth the wells of water that Abraham digged. They did it because they envied Isaac, it was spiteful and wanton work. Then when Isaac digged other wells they claimed them and strove for them. These wells were essential to the life of the patriarchs and their households, and John 4 and 7 give us the right to interpret them as figuring the Holy Spirit which is given to us, and who is indispensable to the life of God's people now. But what place is there in the carnal religion of our day for the Holy Spirit? Where the superstitions of the ritualists, and the blasphemous criticism and scientific doubt of the modernists prevail, He is a grieved and a quenched Spirit, the wells are filled with earth, nor has the Spirit any place in dead formality, which while boasting in the correctness of its creed has neither faith nor fervour. They seized also the Ark of the Covenant (1 Sam. 5:2) and were in the land of promise as though it was their own, and Joel 3:5 says of them, "Ye have taken my silver, and gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly and pleasant things." The counterpart of this is seen in our day in the fact that men who have not entered the kingdom of God by being born again, but are in it by profession only, are now accepted leaders and teachers in it, and have tacked on to their own philosophical fables the name of Christ, and taken the goodly and pleasant things of our holy faith and attached them to man as he is in his fallen nature, as though there was no necessity for regeneration and redemption, and a new creation in Christ Jesus.

The Philistines were ruled by five lords (Josh. 13:3; Jud. 3:3), and this modern religion is ruled by five lords also, for it is governed by the five senses. Its devotees are controlled by what is natural, and all outside the range of the senses is more or less denied. It is nothing to them that the Scriptures says, "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). The natural man is all they are concerned about, for they know no other, and they fulfil this very, word by rejecting all that is miraculous in the Word. The Incarnation, sacrificial death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are denied and ridiculed, and His miracles are explained away. Everything that would offend a world that has crucified the Lord of glory, or that the natural man cannot understand or see or feel, is rejected.

It is a remarkable thing that though these people only possessed a very small strip of the land of Canaan, it has taken its name from them, for Palestine means the land of the Philistines, but this name is only given to it in Scripture when the judgment of it is foretold (Ex. 15:14; Isa. 14:29, 31; Joel 3:4). They come into prominence first in Genesis 21 where they violently robbed Abraham of a well of water, and they were Israel's most persistent foes throughout their history in the land, there is more about them in the Old Testament than any other nation but Israel, and the last mention of them in Scripture is, "I will cut off the pride of the Philistines" (Zech. 9:6). Of the condition of things that is the antitype of them in our day, the Lord has said, "I will spue thee out of My mouth." In the Laodicean Church we see the Philistines in full force.

What Can Be Done?

Rationalism and Ritualism both make their appeal to the natural man who is glad to have his mind inflated and his feelings moved, and they both obscure Christ, indeed He has no place in either, and many a true-hearted disciple entangled in these things, and seeing no door of deliverance from them, must be crying out like Mary by the empty sepulchre, "They have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid Him." What can be done?

He has an insensitive heart that does not feel these things, and he who feels them will be humbled before God about them, for those who have named the name of the Lord cannot claim to have no responsibility in these matters. The churches of God on earth have failed to maintain the testimony of the Lord, and we all have our part in the church's failure. There may be those who have separated themselves as far as they can from these evils, yet they cannot be indifferent to them as though they did not concern them; a spirit of that sort would be the spirit of the Pharisee, and as obnoxious to the Lord as the evils they condemn. If Paul the Apostle wept about those who were enemies of the cross of Christ and who were exercising their malign influence among the people of God even in his day, we also may well weep as we consider Christendom leavened and corrupted as it is. And those who feel these things the most deeply in company with the great Shepherd of the flock of God will be the most likely ones to be vessels of deliverance to those who are longing for deliverance.

What Israel Did

Let us see what Israel did in their extremity, and how they travelled from degradation and defeat to victory, for therein may be help for us.
1. They were weary of their bondage — the time was long — and they lamented after the Lord.
2. They put away their false gods and separated themselves from iniquity.
3. They gathered to Samuel at Mizpeh.
4. They poured out water upon the ground.
5. They confessed their sins to the Lord.

They longed after the Lord. These false things that they had permitted to grow up in their midst had not satisfied them, they had enslaved and impoverished them. The Lord satisfies, and He delivers and enriches, and He stands at the door and knocks ready to bless those whom He loves, but they must turn away from the evil things. The Word of God is plain. "Let him that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity," and leave the consequences in the hands of the Lord, the Deliverer.

They gathered together to Samuel at Mizpeh They were united in their misery, but also in their search after the Lord; they did not come blaming one another as the cause of the trouble, for that would have set them to fighting each other, but they owned in unity their common shame and sin, which was all the more heinous by the fact that they were the people of God. It was to Samuel they gathered; he was the great intercessor of that day, and is a figure of our Lord Jesus Christ, who ever lives to take up His people's cause; and Mizpeh was the place of their gathering. Now Mizpeh means the watch tower, and this reminds us of the prophet Habakkuk, who at another crisis in Israel's history said, "I will stand upon my watch, and sit in upon my tower, and see what He will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved" (chap. 2:1). So with Israel, there would be deep heart-searchings among them as they listened to God's Word through the lips of Samuel, for he not only interceded on their behalf, but he judged them there, he exposed their condition and ways in the presence of the Lord, and set before them the word of the Lord.

They poured out water upon the ground before the Lord. Thus they owned, in dramatic fashion, their helplessness and nothingness, their sin had brought them to their wits's end, they had no hope except in God.

It is this humble and contrite spirit, that waits only upon the Lord and gives heed to His word, that is needed among the people of God today. The meek will He guide in judgment, and He will show Himself strong on behalf of those who have no might. But the exposure and confession of helplessness and sin is not enough, it is necessary, but it is negative, how and from whence can come the oil of joy instead of the mourning? The question arises, Upon what righteous ground can God intervene on behalf of a sinful and demoralized people, so that His grace shall more abound where their sin has abounded? The answer is the burnt offering. AND SAMUEL TOOK A SUCKING LAMB AND OFFERED IT FOR A BURNT OFFERING WHOLLY UNTO THE LORD, AND SAMUEL CRIED UNTO THE LORD FOR ISRAEL AND THE LORD HEARD HIM (v. 9). The eyes of all Israel were turned to the burnt offering of course, it speaks of Christ, and to Him our eyes must also turn And how great is the relief, when we do turn from our failure to His faithfulness. God rests in Christ, and we must rest in Him also if we are to find any rest at all He is the holy One of God, He was the spotless Lamb for a burnt offering — the Lamb of God. He offered Himself without spot to God, and only on the ground of that perfect offering could God have received us at first, and it is only because that offering has lost none of its efficacy that He can go on with His people now, and continue to bless them in spite of all their failure. The burnt offering was wholly to the Lord, it spoke in figure of the complete devotion of Christ in death to the will of God, but it was FOR US, for "Christ also has loved us, and has given Himself FOR US, an offering and a sacrifice TO GOD, for a sweet smelling savour" (Eph. 5:2). What a wonderful and abiding link this is between us and God! And what good thing could God withhold from those who plead this before Him?

And victory over every foe, even over Satan himself, is gained through the blood of the Lamb; as it will be in the day of which Revelation 12 speaks so it may be now: "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb"; for that blood has not only made complete atonement for the sins of those who believe, and so has silenced the accuser's voice for ever, but it is the proof and measure of God's great love, and this love being shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit becomes the word of testimony in the mouth, and makes those who know it forget themselves, and ready to sacrifice themselves for the will of God, for "they loved not their lives to the death" (Rev. 12:11). We desire to show the way of victory. What attraction could the fictions of Rome and the "vain babblings and opposition of science falsely so-called" have for those whose faith has grasped the meaning of the blood of the Lamb, and who have seen God revealed in Jesus? And what place could dead forms and all the ceremonies that please the flesh have in their approach to God? These Philistines must lose their power over all who rejoice in the blood of the Lamb.

When Israel gathered together confessing their sin and helplessness, and offering to God, not their own merits, but that which spoke of the excellence of Christ, it aroused the Philistines against them, and they drew near to fight against them. They did not know that the Lord was with those contrite people; but He was, as He ever will be with the upright in heart, and He showed Himself strong on their behalf, for He thundered against their foes and set Israel free. It does not please the devil when the people of God gather together before God in their weakness, he would rather see them making great demonstrations of their fancied strength, but the lowly place is the place of power. "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up." "God resisteth the proud, but gives grace to the humble." "Submit yourselves therefore to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you" (Jas. 4). God fights for the humble, and He approves of those who, in their weakness, gather together to look only to Him.

The story has been written for our learning, and we call attention to it in the earnest hope that the Lord will give to those who love Him an understanding of the lessons it has to teach us. He has a way for the feet of His saints as He ever had, and this way is a way of liberty and not of bondage; in it they may follow righteousness, faith, love and peace with a pure heart, instead of fables and superstitions and traditions and pride. "If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine," and even if he has to stand alone as far as his brethren are concerned, he will be able to raise his Ebenezer as Paul did and say: "Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me." Yes, so shall it be with every man who turns wholly to God and is not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.