The men of Kirjath-jearim answered the summons of the men of Bethshemesh, and came down to fetch the Ark of the Covenant. They took it to the house of Abinadab, where his son Eleazar cared for it. The Ark remained there in Kirjath-jearim for the next 20 years (1121-1101 BC). The Lord will find a resting-place for His presence to be among people; if some thrust it away from them, He shall incline the hearts of others to receive it. And it is no new thing for the Lord to make His presence known in a private home. Christ and His Apostles preached from house to house when they could not have public places.
The Philistines continued to hold Israel under their tyranny during the 20 years that the Ark remained at Kirjath-jearim. Throughout that time, however, Samson judged Israel. His death in 1101 BC resulted in a great loss for the Philistines, when he pushed down the pillars of the house where the Philistine lords were partying and holding a celebration in honor of their idol Dagon. Samson’s job, according to Judges 13:5, was to “begin” to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines who were oppressing them. Of course, when Samson brought that house crashing down upon thousands of the Philistines, they would naturally seek for a way to execute vengeance on their Israelite slaves. And the Israelites didn’t have to wait long to feel the blow of revenge. The third verse of this chapter in 1 Samuel chronologically picks up immediately where Judges 16 leaves off, right after the death of Samson. The Philistines attacked the Israelites when they were gathered together at Mizpeh; but Samuel prayed to the Lord, Who worked in such a way that the enemy became an easy prey for His people. Samuel finished what Samson started; for in this great victory that Israel enjoyed in 1101 BC, the 40 years of Philistine dominion that Samson began to break were effectually brought to an end under Samuel’s Judgeship. This victory is what is detailed here in this chapter.
Upon the death of Samson, Samuel immediately undertook to lead his people in the much-needed work of reformation. And the result was one of the most effectual revivals which ever took place in Israel. At the command of Samuel, all the “strange gods” were “put away”; and Israel served Jehovah as they had done in the days of Joshua. Subsequently, a general assembly was convened at Mizpeh, just north of Jerusalem. Here, all the people confessed their past sins with fasting and humiliation, and they renewed their vows to Jehovah. We also have sinned against the Lord; but if we thus confess our sins, we shall find Him faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9).
The assembled people soon found that they very much needed the protection which repentance had so often ensured, for an army of their dreaded oppressors was advancing from the western plain! No longer, however, did the people rely on their own valor, nor on the mystic might of the Ark of God. Their hope was now in the intercessions of Samuel, their Prophet-Judge, who – amidst the smoke of burnt-offerings – cried out to the Lord on behalf of His chosen people. When sinners begin to repent and reform, they must expect that Satan will muster all his forces against them; he will set his instruments to work hard to oppose and discourage them. But what a comfort it is to all believers that our great Intercessor in heaven never ceases to plead on our behalf in the presence of our God!
Lightning and thunder, bursting from the mountain heights upon the faces of the foe, was the Lord’s terrible but gracious answer to Samuel’s prayer. It was natural that the Philistines would still have serious misgivings as to the power of the God of Israel, which they had experienced while the Ark of the Covenant had been in their land. And therefore, in this state of mind, they would regard any terrible phenomenon in nature as Jehovah’s interposition; and naturally, they would be terrified. The Israelite warriors took courage and rushed down upon the broken ranks of the Philistines; and upon the fatal field of Ebenezer, they gained a complete victory over them!
In memory of this great deliverance, Samuel set up a monument-stone and named it Ebenezer – meaning “the stone of help.” Ebenezer is one of those few Hebrew words – like Messiah and Hallelujah – which have become thoroughly incorporated with the language and experience of the people of God. Through successive generations, the Church of Jesus has had many reasons to set up Ebenezers for renewed deliverances; for neither outward persecutions nor inward corruptions have prevailed against her, because “hitherto hath the Lord helped” her! And He will continue to help her – even to the end of the world.
The concluding verses of this chapter inform us that certain border-cities, which the Philistines had captured, were restored to the Hebrews. We also learn that Samuel judged Israel, traveling in circuit to certain cities, all the days of his honored life.
O Lord, we pray for grace to remember the Ebenezers of the past, where You have met with us and enabled us to realize Your changeless love in Jesus Christ! Let these memories revive us and enable us – as we revisit, in our minds, the scenes of former mercies – to add a new stone to the altar of our gratitude. May these blessed experiences aid our spiritual progress until we stand on the shore of Emmanuel’s land, where we will add our stone of remembrance to the Ebenezer of the ransomed Church; and where we will join together in singing, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us!” Amen.
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