A long twenty years, Pt1
This passage records how 20 difficult years come to an end in an experience of God’s power and a great deliverance of His people from their enemies. The anniversary of defeat and loss became a time of restoration and victory.
They have been difficult years from a number of perspectives:
Captivity. God’s people have undergone 20 years when they have lived under the heel of the Philistines. This is part of one of the ‘captivity’ periods of the time of the Judges—the second half of a 40 year period. Cp Judges 13:1, 4:9-11.
Ark. The visible cause of God has languished with the ark of the covenant forgotten and unwanted in Kirjath-Jearim. The house of God stands in Shiloh, abandoned of its glory under the ‘Icabod’ written over it at Eli’s death. Cp 4:21-22, Jer 7:12. The ark would in fact remain here for another 47 years throughout the entire reign of Saul and until David came to the throne of the united kingdom of Israel. Cp 1Chron 13:1-6. Truly, the words of Ps 74:9-11 could have been applied to these days.
Samuel. These had been difficult years for Samuel too. As a Judge and prophet, his ministry for God is conducted in obscurity and, it appears, with little immediate impact. Cp 3:19-4:1
Various shades of this difficulty come through in the expressive words: the time was long, v2. The days of difficulty seemed to be multiplied, the people weary with the way things were. Yet they ended with this wonderful anniversary! The twenty year mark proved to be the beginning of a time of fresh blessing, power, victory and the experience of God again among them. May it be so for us.
I GETTING RIGHT WITH GOD.
Cp v1-6. This anniversary marked a much-needed spiritual reviving of God’s people. The days of decline and departure stretched all the way back through Eli’s time and Samson’s ministry. Cp Judges 13:1.
Lament. A spirit of lament developed until it affected all the house of Israel, v2. This was not a spirit of complaint in hardship, but a yearning for God. There was a growing sense of the absence of the Lord, a recognition of the need to return to Him. The primary idea in lamented is of wailing, then of gathering together as if in response to a cry. The word brings two vital ideas together: the kind of sorrow seen here led them to rally to seek God. Cp Ex 2:23-25, Deut 26:7, Hos 7:14.
Walking the talk, v3. If...then… Talk of returning to the Lord had to be backed with action. This anniversary was marked by this emphasis! Several actions are underscored:
Dealing with their idols, v3. A great variety is evident here. One pagan goddess is referenced by name, as well as Baal, v4. These deities were part of the common fertility cult of the heathen. They represented the appetites of the flesh, worldliness, sensuality, material prosperity etc. These things had been elevated to occupy the position that was rightly the Lord’s! There can be no reversal of the decline until these things are put away.
Preparation of heart, v3. There was a preparation (> ‘upright’ Heb) work required. Its aim was for them to be exclusively the Lord’s servants. These were only the first steps and not an end in themselves. A heart work was needed. Cp Joel 2:12-13
A national convention, v5-6. This was convened at Mizpeh, which was one of Samuel’s regular circuit stops, v16. What happened here was critical to the victory, power and presence of God that followed.
Prayer, v5. Samuel tells them what needs to be done! They gather with the understanding that the event will primarily involve a calling upon God.
Consecration, v6. There is striking symbolic action here. Drawing water was ordinarily for drinking—satisfying a physical appetite/need—yet they deny that in a remarkable way. They illustrate a new determination to give to the Lord what they had previously indulged themselves with. At the expense of self they will seek the Lord.
Confession, v6. They acknowledge sin. Without excuse or mitigation they confess.
Judged, v6. His ministry as one applying the law of God to their lives and hearts is seen. They evidently submit to his instruction and rebuke. This is how things are put right.
These steps are ever the way to restored blessing, 2Chron 7:14, James 4:8-10.