Can you imagine hosting the ark of the covenant for 20 years?! That’s what the family of Abinadab does! His son Eleazar is consecrated to guard the ark of the Lord (v. 1). As a result of the ark remaining at Kiriath Jearim, “all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord” (v. 2)! There was revival in Israel!
Samuel addresses the people and commands them to get rid of their idols IF they were indeed returning to the Lord with all their hearts (v. 3). Samuel promises that if they do that and commit themselves to the Lord only, “he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” The people obey! We read “they served the Lord only.” (v. 4).
Samuel intercedes for the gathered nation at Mizpah as they fasted and confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord” (v. 6). The Philistines prepare to attack Israel. Out of fear the people ask Samuel not to stop crying out to the Lord for them! Samuel offers a whole burnt offering to the Lord and the Lord answers Samuel’s prayer (v. 9).
While he is sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistine army is drawing near to attack. We read that the Lord thundered with loud thunder and threw the Philistines into a panic. The men of Israel pursue the Philistines and conquer their soldiers.
Samuel then sets up a remembrance stone and names it Ebenezer which means “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (v. 12). We sometimes sing —
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
By: Robert Robinson, 1735-90
Come, Thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
While the hope of endless glory
Fills my heart with joy and love,
Teach me ever to adore Thee;
May I still Thy goodness prove.
Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
[Some have tried to “modernize” the line “Here I raise my Ebenezer.” Examples include: “Here I find my greatest treasure,” (Psalter Hymnal); “Hitherto thy love has blest me,” “Here by grace your love has brought me,” and “Here I raise to thee an altar.” Gary A. Parrett wrote an article entitled “Raising Ebenezer” for Christianity Today back in 2006, arguing we are misguided when we try to modernize hymn texts.]
We read that for Samuel’s lifetime the Philistines were subdued for “the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines” (v. 13). The captured lands are returned to Israel and Israel even delivers the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines, eventuating in peace between Israel and the Amorites.
Samuel continued as Israel’s leader the rest of his days, circuit riding in his duties in judging Israel. But Ramah was his home and he built an altar there to the Lord (v. 17).
We learn in this chapter that God can use a physical object (the ark) to draw His people back to Himself.
We also see that God desires repentance from His people, that they abandon their idols, and that they serve and worship Him only. God blesses his repentant people by providing them deliverance from their enemies.
I certainly don’t want “the hand of the Lord” against me, do you? Then let’s serve Him only, raising our Ebenezers in honor of the great acts of help He has given us!