In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation that the nation would set apart Thursday, April 30, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. If you read this proclamation, you will see how there was a need for repentance and restoration for our nation as Lincoln proclaimed that we had forgotten God. The proclamation includes these profound words, “that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country”.
In similar fashion, Samuel called on the people of Israel to repent and turn back to God – to put down their idols and serve God alone.
“ And 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 Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’ So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.” I Samuel 7:3-4
If we want to see God move, the first thing we must do is repent. Repent as individuals, as churches, and as a nation. We must put down our idols and turn back to God. Notice Samuel did not first say put down your idols – the first word he said was “if”. If you are returning to God with ALL your heart, then you do all the other stuff. So, putting away the idols was first contingent upon their heart. Putting down their idols in a superficial way was not going to work, they must first return to God.
Then, Samuel gave the people a promise, if they will serve God alone, then He will deliver them. So what happens – verse 4 tells us that the people listened, put away the idols, and served the Lord only. As we read on, we see what happens because the people listened and obeyed.
“So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, ‘We have sinned against the Lord,’ And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.” I Samuel 7:6
The first thing that must always happen when people turn back to God is repentance. If you read in Revelation 2-3 where it addresses the churches, you will notice a recurring theme. It is one of repentance. God is calling his churches out and telling them to repent. Henry Blackaby writes in his book on the life of Samuel, “Everything with God rested upon repentance”.
A rather strange aspect of verse 6 is that the people drew water and poured it out before the Lord. What does that mean? While many people may theorize on the meaning, it seems to be the only time that is recorded where people poured out water before the Lord. Whatever the case, it could represent the people’s repentance, a symbol of them pouring out themselves to God. Adam Clarke admits that it is not easy to know what is meant by this pouring out of water, but writes that it could represent “deep penitential sorrow”. And Clarke references Lamentations 2:19, “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!”. The point is the people cried out to God in repentance. And this is what matters most to God. It invites him to act – he responds to repentance in great and mighty ways.
“As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.” I Samuel 7:10-11
So let’s take a brief recap: Samuel calls the people to repentance; they repent and turn back to God, crying out to him wholeheartedly. Then, when the Philistines come to attack, BAM! Does God softly whisper in the ear of the enemy? No, HE THUNDERS! God made such a loud racket that it threw the Philistines into confusion. How did Israel defeat the enemy – by God’s thunder! This should show us how God’s responds to repentance. But wait, there is more.
“So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites.” I Samuel 7:13-14
What was that? The Philistines did not enter again into Israel and God’s hand was against them all the days of Samuel. Ok, Samuel preaches to the people, they obey and repent, then God THUNDERS, and that is it, it is over. The Philistines are done. The do not enter again (would they really want to after that?) and God’s hand is against them. Do not mess with God’s repentant people. But look, there is still even more. The Philistines had taken land from Israel in the past, and guess what, it was restored. All the cities that had been taken were restored. So what does this story tell us? It shows us how God will respond to a repentant people.
Once God’s people respond and repent – putting down their idols and serving God alone, this is what happens according to the book of Samuel.
1) God thunders against your enemies. We should not diminish this point in the least. This is a total supernatural deliverance from our enemies. When God’s shows up in this way, everyone knows it. And God fully intends that – He is showing himself to his people and their enemies.
2) Based on the previous point, the enemy does not enter your land again (why would they). Once God does something, it is final. When God delivers in such a powerful way, our enemy scatters and is not heard from again.
3) Restoration – this is so important to know. Not only does God deliver us, he restores what has been taken. How wonderful our God is. Do you ever think that so much has been taken that is can never be restored? Have faith, God’s mighty hand can restore you.
What should we think about as a nation when it comes to repentance? Lincoln proclaimed prayer and fasting. What should we do? If we do not like what our nation has become, we must repent. We must pour out our heart to God and watch what He does. God is not slow. He responds to His people. Always maintain a repentant heart and watch God’s thunderous restoration before your eyes.