Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 19, May 7 to May 13, 2006

Hope Renewed

1 Samuel 7:2-17

Rev. Russell B. Smith

Pastor of Covenant-First Presbyterian Church
Cincinnati, OH

In the prior lessons in this series, we saw how God orchestrated his renewal of the hope of the Israelite people. We saw him preparing to raise up a godly leader, working to remove and punish wicked leaders, and magnifying his glory. In this lesson, we will see how God culminates the renewal of the hope of his people.

God Takes his Time in Renewing our Hearts

For twenty years after the terrible defeat at the hands of the Philistines, the Israelites suffered under Philistine oppression. And during that time, they mourned greatly.

Here is a truth: God takes his time growing and developing the character of his people. So often, we want the instant results: weight loss in 4 weeks or less; "You can earn a million dollars in 6 months or less." We tend to want everything quicker and faster. However, God intentionally takes a long slow process. Very few things that are worthwhile happen instantly.

Those of you who are gardeners understand this. First, you have to work the soil to get the proper balance of nutrients, then you have to wait for the plants to grow, and finally you have to pull weeds and pinch back unwanted growth. Only then comes a time when the plant blooms or produces a crop.

The same is true with God. We may long for God to give us answers. We may pray every day for relief from our affliction. We may beg for a way out of some problem or we may bemoan our current situation, but God at times asks us to be still and know that He is God.

You may know the story of Joseph from Genesis 40. Joseph was thrown into prison in Egypt and left there to rot. He spent years there. But Scripture tells us that even there in prison, God was with him.

Several years ago, the children's film Prince of Dreams depicted Joseph's story. I love what they did with the prison scene. Joseph found a struggling plant, and nursed it to health. Moving stones and dirt to create an artistic planter, he caught rainwater coming through the cracks in the ceiling and used it to water the plant. When the time came for him to be released, he had nurtured a beautiful tree. God takes his time to shape us and mold us. We can allow him to shape us during these times, or we can keep fighting against God.

God Challenges us during these Prolonged Times

Basically, God calls his people to eliminate gross and habitual sin from their lives. In 1 Samuel 7:3-4, Samuel challenges Israel to put away all foreign gods that they were worshipping. These were the pagan fertility gods. The worship of Ashtaroth involved having ritual sex with the priestesses. God is calling his people to trust in him alone, and at the same time challenging them to turn their backs on the rampant and destructive sexuality in their culture.

If you strip away the religious aspect of Baal and Ashtaroth worship, you get to the basics of power and lust — the desire to dominate and the desire to consume. Anyone with eyes and ears can perceive that these two sins run rampant in our culture. Need proof? Do the words "wardrobe malfunction" mean anything to you?

God calls us away from lust for power. God calls us away from selfish indulgence. Cheap and easy sexuality reduces other people to objects, to a meal that is to be consumed to satisfy an ever increasing appetite. But God's vision of faithfulness and fidelity envisions sexuality as a means for deeper oneness within the covenant of marriage. And here God in one stroke calls first and foremost for dependence upon him alone, but secondly calls for a return to sexual integrity and fidelity.

God uses a long period of time to season his people, and he calls them to increasing faithfulness to him. See the results: mercy is granted! Samuel gathers the Israelites, and the Philistines show up with a huge force. However, through the prayers of the people, God supernaturally reveals himself.

Notice how Samuel intercedes for his people: the people beg Samuel, and he intercedes. The idea is that we are not holy enough. We need someone more holy to go before our God. We cannot bear it. This is what happened when Moses went before God for the people. We need a human intermediary between us and God. And this is what points us to Jesus. Hebrews 7:24-25 says,

Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them.

Romans 8:34 expresses the same idea:

Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Even now, Jesus is interceding for us. We don't need a Holy Man to pray for us. We don't need to pray to angels or other heavenly beings. We can pray to Jesus Christ or in the name of Jesus Christ and have direct access.

That is part of Jesus' ongoing work in heaven. In your time of greatest need, you struggle with deepest despair. But even in your most confused moments, you have direct access. And you do not have to use some special prayer language; you simply talk to God.

One of the legendary things about Sam Walton, the late founder of the Wal-Mart chain, was that any employee could get an appointment to see him within a day. It didn't matter who you were. You could be the lowest clerk in the organization and you could see the main man with whatever was on your mind. That was one of the reasons his employees from the early days loved him. It is the same for us through Christ. There is none in the kingdom so lowly that he won't hear us.

God Provides Continued Hope

The first way God set up a provision for continued hope was through the memorial named "Ebenezer" that Samuel established. Memory is one of the great things about the Jewish faith and about the faith we have inherited. However, it is not an enshrining of the glory days of the past. Memory does not serve the purpose of a bunch of people sitting around on a porch saying, "Back in the day..." Rather, memory is a testimony that God has been faithful in the past, so that we can bank on his faithfulness in the future.

The other way that God provided for continued hope was by establishing godly leadership. In 1 Samuel 1—7, we've seen how God prepared Samuel, and here we see that he put Samuel in the position of leadership over Israel.

The last time I was in London, I went by myself to visit Westminster Abbey. It's a magnificent structure dedicated to the glory of God, but it is also quite a testament to the nobility of the English people. Imagine the huge cavernous ceilings stretching higher than you ever thought possible, and then all along the outside of the abbey, as far as you can see, monuments and chapels. You enter the side and tour through the monuments to the kings and knights of the realm, and as you curve around, you end up in poet's corner, with monuments to all the great literary figures of England. The whole place is crammed full of statues, effigies, plaques, monuments, and tombstones all pointing England to remember their heritage.

On this particular trip, I paid a visit to the crypt. This cost an extra few pounds. I had never splurged on this before. I spent a goodly portion of my time talking to the ticket taker, who had served in London during the Bombings of World War 2. At that time when England was alone against the Nazi juggernaut, when the Luftwaffe terrorized the skies over England, there was little hope. But the stalwart English people were given hope by the leaders God raised up. Churchill thundered hope into the hearts of the people and of the royal family, who at risk and peril would walk every day among the common folks of London, offering encouragement. Even when the children of London were being shipped to the countryside for safety, young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret joined their parents in encouraging the people of England, and they became beloved for it.

And so it is with the people of God. In my own church's building, we have Ebenezers in the form of memorial windows and memorial plaques. These don't point us back to an ideal past. Rather, they remind us that throughout history God has been faithful to raise up great saints in his church — saints who pursued his call, come what may. And they challenge us to have faith that God is raising us up to be great saints to be about his business today.