The Word of God - Intercession - Ebenezer.

1 Samuel 7.

Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887, p. 113.

"And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord." (1 Sam. 3:21.) Thus grace acts when the established order in Israel was broken up through the wickedness of the priesthood, and Ichabod was written on the nation. "Samuel was established [a word which carries with it the thought of God's faithfulness, see margin] to be a prophet of the Lord," who thus renews His communications with His people. It was a time of testimony until another order, that of the kingdom already announced in Hannah's prophetic song, should be set up. Then, "He shall give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed." (1 Sam. 2:10.) Till that time Samuel ministers the testimony of God to the people. The faithfulness of God is thus seen in giving His word to sustain faith during a time of disorder, as well as to act upon the conscience and conduct of those addressed by it. Never will be such a moment of distress as the time when the remnant of Israel will have to say, "We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long." (Ps. 74:9.) Then even the faith of the elect will all but give way, according to our Lord's own word, "When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8.)

Besides being the channel of divine communication, Samuel occupies another place equally important and blessed, connected also with the patient grace of God  - that of intercession. This position of Samuel is very definite, and is developed in the chapter before us. We may also learn from Jeremiah 15:1 what a very blessed place of intercession both Moses and Samuel had occupied in the history of Israel, how they both took up the failure of the people, and had special access to the Lord with regard to it. No such place of nearness was accorded to Saul when the kingdom was set up in him. He was not a vessel unto honour. Hence he is dependent on Samuel's word to be shown what he must do - direct communication and approach to God. he has not. It is in this point that his breakdown begins; having no apprehension of the divine mind himself, he cannot wait to receive it by the hand of Samuel. The mind of the flesh is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be, and this makes it so serious if the flesh takes a place in the things of God. It can neither trust Him nor wait for Him, nor does it enter into His thoughts about His people. The end is awful when he who outwardly had been the instrument of the power of the Spirit of Jehovah, because of his position, becomes subjected to an evil spirit from the Lord. Such was the result of the setting up of Saul's kingdom, which was in itself the rejection of Jehovah's authority, and of Samuel's testimony and place of intercession.

But to return to that which is our immediate subject. First, let us note the circumstances in which the people of God are found at the moment we are considering. For twenty years Israel had been content that the ark of God, displaced from the tabernacle at Shiloh, should be in a private house in Kirjath-jearim. Not that they had any title to find another abode for it; sovereign grace alone could accomplish that, and afterwards establish it in Sion. During the time of its being at Kirjath-jearim, Israel had been serving Baalim and Ashtaroth. "The time was long," and vanities cannot satisfy. Hence desire of heart is awakened, so that "all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord." The moment of felt need is the moment when the testimony of God has its effect upon the conscience, and it becomes divine direction to the exercised soul. Moreover the state of the people, hitherto unnoticed, is discovered by the word of Samuel - "If ye do return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods." How much is discovered by the action of the word of God when its testimony is received! That which had hindered the Lord being with them is now made manifest, and the heart is challenged as to the place which He holds there. He who has written, "My son, give me thine heart," cannot be satisfied with less. He had not been unmindful of Israel's departure from Himself, therefore the word of Samuel is, "Prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." There is a great contrast between such an admonition and the blindness which had said, "Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies." (1 Sam. 4:3.) This was but the form of godliness without the power. What God has given relied upon, instead of the God that gave it being feared and trusted. The word of Samuel produces a twofold effect - there is separation front evil, and separation to God. "Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only." Philistines are not external foes, but those within, allowed by the Lord to remain within the inheritance "to prove Israel by them." (Judges 3:1, 3.) When the time of testing by them arose, we are instructed fully as to the power by which they could be met. The Nazarite (the separated one) is God's way of deliverance. (Judges 13:5.) Such was Samson to be, and such was Samuel (1 Sam. 1:11), and such, beloved brethren, must we be if the Lord's supremacy in the midst of His saints is to be maintained. Samuel's word is indeed necessary: "Prepare your hearts unto the Lord."

The question of supremacy is very definitely put by the giant of Gath in 1 Samuel 17:8-9: "Am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul?" (not servants of Jehovah, or, as David calls the hosts of Israel, the armies of the living God) "choose you a man for you … If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us." It is he that has been anointed king who lays the champion low; but practical Nazariteship is that which brings in God's deliverance in the time of testing, and sets the Lord's people in the place of overcomers.

But return to the Lord is not the same thing as the early days of power and blessing, when the reproach of Egypt was rolled away from circumcised Israel, and they had the presence of the Captain of the host of the Lord under the walls of Jericho; therefore, in taking the place of intercession, Samuel does not gather all Israel to Gilgal (though he judged Israel there, and there Saul was directed to await him), but to Mizpeh (the watchtower). It is not the day of the man with the drawn sword, but of the intercessor for a failed people. Surrounded by the foe, where could Israel gather but to the watchtower? and there take the place of weakness and confession. "They fasted and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and said there, We have sinned against the Lord." Such is the place that befits those who are conscious of the want of heart which first neglected to make the Lord and His interests supreme, and then was powerless to resist the inroads of the enemy from without, and the supremacy of the foe within. "And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh." It had been a time when every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25.) Now there is the judging of ways and doings by him who ministers the word of God. There is not only the confession of weakness and sin, but they are subject to the judgments of the Lord, which are true and righteous altogether.

"The word of God is quick and powerful," and "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." He it is also who says, "I know thy works." Like the word of Samuel, which was to all Israel (1 Sam. 4:1), this addresses itself to the public body; but if any are led to bow under the word and eye of One altogether beyond Samuel, do we not know that He has laid the ground for intercession righteously, in that He is the propitiation for our sins, and that He has borne them in His own body on the tree? He is able thus to save for evermore all that come to God by Him. What holy affections are called forth as we realize, though we may cry out of weakness and the sense of failure, that He has been beforehand with us, and that the very cry produced in us results from the blessed fact that He has not been ashamed to confess in His own place of intercession our names before His God and Father, though He may have to judge us in Mizpeh? If He has to judge our ways, yet never will He cease to confess His deepest interests in us. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." He counts upon there being an car to hear, while His word is to "all Israel."

But let us note further, in connection with the place of intercession which Samuel takes in the hour of the people's need, that "he took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt-offering wholly unto the Lord." Here, in the sucking lamb, there would appear to be the same sense of weakness as in the pouring out of water previously; their own condition had been then confessed, while Samuel owns in his offering the feebleness of their apprehension of the only ground on which their relationship with Jehovah could be based - the ground on which Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; but whatever the feebleness of their apprehension, the sacrifice itself was wholly unto the Lord - that is, the worth of the burnt-offering. Hence the answer of the Lord to Samuel's intercession is according to His estimate of the whole burnt-offering, though the low condition of the people was fully recognized in it. The power of the Lord is now manifested as He thundered upon the Philistines. (Compare 1 Sam. 2:9-10.) The sufferings of Him who was crucified in weakness, but liveth by the power of God, are the key to every interposition of God on behalf of His people. We may have to draw the contrast between the picture given to us in Leviticus 11:22, when Aaron lifted up his hand and blessed the people from the altar of burnt-offering (compare Luke 24:50), and, now that Shiloh had been forsaken, the sucking lamb of Samuel; but the power of God towards a failed people is manifested. "So the Philistines were subdued, and came no more into the coast of Israel." They are free to enjoy the inheritance of the Lord, and cities and coasts are delivered out of the hands of the enemy.

And now, whose is the victory? And what the record of deliverance? Gideon made an ephod and put in his city, and it became a snare, instead of a memorial of the Lord's deliverance. The moment of victory becomes in such case the moment of danger. "Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." It records the Lord's help, and not Israel's strength or faithfulness. There is no such memorial here as was written in the book of Jasher in the day of Joshua (Joshua 10:13), for Ebenezer has to tell of the Lord's intervention in other circumstances - of a stone of help for a sinful, and yet through grace, repentant people. And what is our Ebenezer? What name do we own as bringing in for us the help of the Lord? Lord Jesus, Thou art our Stone of help - our Ebenezer. If truths have been recovered, if coasts have been delivered out of the hand of the enemy, it is because Thou, who hast suffered for sins once when by the Eternal Spirit Thou didst offer Thyself without spot to God, art in the place of intercession above. Our Stone of help, our Ebenezer, art Thou!

We do well to remember, as we meditate on the intercession of Christ, that it is founded on the fact of His having settled every question between us and God by having suffered for us on the cross. As the Holy Sufferer "who offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears to Him that was able to save Him out of death," we have One whose heart has been the vessel of every human woe, and yet felt it all and confessed it all according to God. Hence help can flow to us in answer to the perfect expression of the desires of His heart about us, as He makes intercession for us on high. In the beautiful psalm (2 Sam. 22) which describes the Messiah entering the dark path of the sorrows of His beloved people to take them up on His own person - He who well knew their meaning - He who is able to save for evermore all that come to God by Him - calls His God "the horn of my salvation" (v. 3); that is, the power of it. Further, He says, "Thou hast given me the shield of Thy salvation." Salvation is there thrown round Him, and us in Him. (v. 36.) In verse 47 He exalts "the rock of my salvation," and in verse 51 "He is the tower of salvation for His king." T. H. Reynolds.

* * *

If in the meditative reading of every passage of Scripture the imaginative tendency of some minds is to be watched, so likewise is the literal or exact method of others. It was an error of too much exactness of interpretation to say, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" because Jesus had been speaking of eating His flesh and drinking His blood; and it was an error of too much liberty in interpretation to say, "That disciple should not die," because Jesus had said, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" J. G. Bellett.