By Dane Neufeld

A Reading from 1 Samuel 7:2-17

2 From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.

3 Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.

5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” 6 So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

7 When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt-offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. 11 And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. 14 The towns that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites.

15 Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16 He went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah; and he judged Israel in all these places. 17 Then he would come back to Ramah, for his home was there; he administered justice there to Israel, and built there an altar to the Lord.

Meditation

After the ark was returned to Israel, it says the people “lamented after the Lord” for 20 years. Samuel allows this to go on, and eventually says to them: “If you are returning to the Lord, then put away the foreign gods… direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only” (7:3). Samuel gathers all the people together to solemnize this pledge. But as the people congregate, their enemies plan to make war on them because of their vulnerability.

The people cry out to the Lord and he delivers them from the Philistines. We might be thinking that if the Lord had not delivered them in this moment, the people’s faith would have been shattered. It does seem that at the moment of repentance, that little glimmer of resolve, our enemies often swarm against us. Much of our lives hinge on these moments, and they make us vulnerable to attack because we are trying to move against the current and we often lack the resolve to persist.

The Lord heard the cry of the people and he gave them rest from their enemies on all sides. This rest would last only until the next temptation would sweep through Israel and distract them from their course. Our lives are a constant struggle in this way. I do believe the Lord protects us in these moments of turning to him, and though we constantly fail to persist as we ought, the halls of repentance are always open to us. Because Jesus has gone before us in all things, the enemy is powerless to close the passage that leads to eternal life.

The Rev. Dane Neufeld currently serves as the incumbent of St. James, Calgary, after serving seven years in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Christchurch (Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia)
Christ Church Georgetown, Washington, D.C.