When we were studying 1 Samuel 4 and 1 Samuel 5 and 1 Samuel 6 over the past three weeks, you might have wondered to yourself: What has happened to Samuel? Chapters 1 to 3 were all about Samuel, weren’t they? In chapter 1, we read how Hannah prayed for a son; and the Lord heard and answered her prayer by enabling her to conceive and to give birth to Samuel. And in chapter 2, Samuel was compared and contrasted to Eli’s two worthless sons. Whereas Eli’s two worthless sons were wicked men — stealing from the people; stealing from the Lord; and defiling the Lord’s sanctuary by their immorality — while they were wicked men, Samuel grew in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men. And then in chapter 3, God called Samuel in the night and revealed to him that he was going to do everything he said he would do to Eli and his sons. And chapter 3 ended by telling us that the Lord was with Samuel and the Lord let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground; and all Israel recognised that Samuel was a prophet of the Lord; and the Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. Chapters 1 to 3 were all about Samuel. But apart from verse 1 of chapter 4, Samuel’s name does not appear in the rest of chapter 4 or in chapter 5 or in chapter 6.
But that’s about to change, because in verse 3 of chapter 7, Samuel re-appears. The time has come for his work to begin in earnest. And in the course of this chapter, Samuel appears as a prophet, summoning the people to repent and to return to the Lord. And in the course of this chapter, Samuel also serves as a kind of priest. Samuel wasn’t really a priest, but he did the work of a priest. And in this chapter, we see him interceding for the people and offering a sacrifice for the people. And in the course of this chapter, Samuel acts as the leader of the people. He is their judge. We think of a judge as someone who sits in a court, hearing evidence and giving his verdict. But, at this point in Old Testament history, the judge was the leader. The judge was a kind of king before they had kings. And so, in the course of this chapter, we see Samuel serving as Israel’s prophet, and priest, and their leader. And so, he points us — doesn’t he? — to our Great Prophet, Priest and King, who is Jesus Christ our Saviour, who calls on sinners to repent; and who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin, and who lives forever to intercede for us; and who rules over us from his throne in heaven.
So, let’s turn to this chapter to see what it tells us about Samuel and what it tells us about Christ our Saviour.
You might recall from the previous chapters, that the Philistines returned the ark of the Lord to the Israelites. But when some of the men of Beth-Shemesh looked at the ark, the Lord struck them down and they died, because the Lord had said that anyone who looks at the ark will die. And the people of Beth-Shemesh were afraid. They cried out: Who is able to stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? And, being afraid, they arranged for the men of Kiriath-Jearim to come and take the ark away. And we read in verse 1 of chapter 7, that they took it to the house of Abinadab; and they consecrated his son to guard the ark of the Lord. And according to verse 3, twenty years passed.
So, for twenty years, the ark of the Lord remained in the home of Abinadab. Meanwhile, if you glance down to the end of verse 4, you’ll see there a reference to the Philistines. So, during those twenty years, the Philistines continued to oppress the Israelites and they made their lives miserable. And therefore, the people of Israel began to mourn and to seek the Lord. The word translated ‘mourn’ can also be translated ‘lament’. Lots of the psalms are psalms of lament. And in the psalms of lament, the psalmist cries out to the Lord because of the trouble he’s in. So, we can imagine the Israelites, crying out to the Lord because of all the sorrow and suffering which they were experiencing because of the Philistines. It reminds us as well of the time of the Exodus, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. And the Egyptians were oppressing them and were making their lives miserable. And the Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out. And their cry for help went up to God. Well, in the days of the Exodus, the Lord sent Moses to deliver his people. And in these days, which we’re reading about here in 1 Samuel, the Lord sent them Samuel.
And Samuel the prophet spoke to the people and he said to them: If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only. And he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. So, he’s calling on them to repent: to turn from their sins and to turn to the Lord. And by his words, Samuel tells us something about the Israelites which hasn’t been mentioned before. We were told before about Eli’s worthless sons who stole from the people and who stole from the Lord and who defiled the Lord’s sanctuary by their immorality. In other words, Eli’s sons had no regard for the Lord. But now we’re told that the rest of the people had also turned from the Lord and were worshipping idols. Presumably they still worshipped the Lord, but instead of worshipping the Lord exclusively, instead of worshipping the Lord alone, they were worshipping these other gods as well.
And, you see, our relationship to the Lord is meant to be like the relationship between a husband and wife. Whenever a man and woman are married, I ask them in turn whether they will love one another, and comfort one another, and honour and protect one another, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, will they be faithful to one another as long as they both shall live. The man is to forsake all other women and be faithful to this one woman. The woman is to forsake all other men and be faithful to this one man. That’s the way it’s supposed to be in marriage. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be in our relationship with the Lord. We’re to forsake all other gods and be faithful to him only.
But instead of forsaking all others, the Israelites kept turning to other gods. It had happened years before, after the Lord rescued them from Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai. Do you remember? When Moses was on the mountain, speaking to the Lord, the people down below made for themselves that golden calf which they bowed down to. And here they are again, doing the same thing. Instead of forsaking all others gods and being faithful to the Lord only, they bowed down to these false gods and idols and worshipped them.
And this is always the temptation we face, because God’s people in every generation — even our own — are tempted to put other things before the Lord. Instead of loving the Lord above all other things, we love other things more than him. Instead of trusting the Lord above all other things, we doubt his loving-kindness and we rely on others to help us. Instead of obeying the Lord above all other things, we disregard his laws and we pay attention to what others say. The temptation we face is to put other things before the Lord.
Well, on this occasion, the Lord sent Samuel the prophet to the people. And Samuel called on the people to rid themselves of their foreign gods and to commit themselves once again to the Lord and to serve him only. He was saying to them: Will you do that? For a long time, your commitment to the Lord has been divided and you’ve loved and trusted and obeyed these other gods. But now, will you get rid of those other gods and commit yourself to the Lord? Will you do that? Samuel was their prophet, declaring to them the will of the Lord and calling on the people to turn from their sin and to turn to the Lord. And the Lord Jesus is our Great Prophet, because when he began his public ministry, his message was the same as Samuel’s message. His first public words — as recorded in Mark’s gospel — were: ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.’ That was his message when he was here on earth. And from his throne in heaven, the Lord continues to proclaim the same message to us through the reading and preaching of his word. His message to sinners is always the same. It’s: ‘Repent and believe the good news of salvation.’
‘What is repentance leading to life?’ our Shorter Catechism asks. And the answer it gives is this: ‘Repentance leading to life is a saving grace by which a sinner, having truly realised his sin and grasped the mercy of God in Christ, turns from his sin with grief and hatred and turns to God with full resolve and effort after new obedience.’ So, repentance begins by realising our sin: that we’re sinners who sin against the Lord continually in thought and word and deed and who deserve nothing but condemnation. And repentance begins as well by realising that God is merciful and is willing and able to pardon our sin because of Christ who gave up his life to set sinners free from condemnation. But repentance is more than realising these things. Lots of people realise these things. But repentance isn’t repentance until we turn from our sin with grief because we’re sorry we have sinned and with hatred because we now hate our sin and we want nothing more to do with it. And not only do we turn from our sin, because lots of people are sick and tired of their bad habits and they will try to break them. But that’s not repentance. Repentance isn’t repentance unless we turn to God and resolve from now on to obey the Lord and to do his will here on earth.
And the Lord Jesus, our Great Prophet, calls on you to do that. Not just once, when you become a Christian, but every day, because every day you sin against the Lord; and so, every day you must turn from your sin and turn to God for forgiveness and resolve all over again to obey him more and more. And the good news is that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins; and the blood of the Lord Jesus is able to cover over every single one of your sins, so that no matter what you have done wrong, God is willing and able to pardon you. So, do not stay away from him. Do not try to hide your sins from him. But go to him, confess your sins, and he will pardon you.
We read in verse 4 that the Israelites put away their false gods and they served the Lord only. They listened to Samuel the prophet and did what he said they must do; and they repented.
And then, Samuel gathered the people at this place called Mizpah so that he could intercede for them. In other words, he was going to pray for them. And we read in verse 6 that when they assembled together, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord; and they also fasted before the Lord and confessed their sin. No one today is entirely sure what the significance is of pouring out water. Some think it’s connected with the fasting. So, as well as not eating, they refused to drink anything. Others think it’s connected with the prayers. So, pouring out water was a sign of how they were pouring out their hearts to God in prayer. As I say, no one today is really sure what the significance was. But we do know they were fasting before the Lord and confessing their sins.
But look what happened next. When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled there, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. And when the Israelites heard about it, they were afraid. The Philistines had oppressed them and made their lives miserable for the past twenty years. And here they come again to attack and kill the Israelites. So, the Israelites were afraid. And they turned to Samuel and said to him: ‘Don’t stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.’ So, will you pray for us?
And we read in verse 9 that Samuel took a suckling lamb — that is, a young lamb — and he offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And he cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf. In other words, although he wasn’t a priest, he acted like a priest, offering a sacrifice on behalf of the people; and praying to the Lord on behalf of the people.
Well, Leviticus 1 tells us all about burnt offerings, when a bull or a male lamb or a bird without defect was slaughtered before the Lord; and all of it was burnt on the altar to make atonement for the people. The phrase ‘make atonement’ can refer to two things: it can mean ‘to wipe clean’; or it can mean ‘to pay a ransom’. And, when it came to the burnt offering, the second meaning applied. The worshipper offered up the burnt offering as the ransom price to pay for his sins. And the Lord — who is merciful and who does not treat us as our sins deserve — was willing to accept the death of the animal in place of the death of the worshipper. The worshipper deserved to die for his sins, but God accepted the animal in his place.
The Israelites — all of them — deserved to die, because they had sinned against the Lord and had broken his commandments, including the first commandment not to have any other gods before him. But Samuel offered a burnt offering to the Lord as the ransom price to pay for their sins, so that they were spared. And he prayed for them, asking the Lord to spare them. And so, when the Philistines attacked them, they did not die, which is what they deserved, but they were spared. They were saved.
And I’m sure you know what I’m going to say, because I’ve said it often. Those Old Testament sacrifices were designed to fill in and to make do until the time came when Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, offered to God the perfect sacrifice for sins. And the perfect sacrifice for sins was the Lord Jesus himself, who gave up his life as the ransom price to set his people free from the condemnation we deserve for all that we have done wrong. You deserve to be condemned for your many sins, which you commit every day of your life. You deserve to be condemned and sent away from the presence of God forever. But the Lord Jesus was condemned in your place, so that all who believe in him are pardoned by God and receive the free gift of eternal life.
So, he is our Great High Priest, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. And after he died, he was raised from the dead and he ascended to heaven, where he stands before the Father to intercede for his people. Day after day, he stands before the Father to pray for us and to ensure that his people will receive everything they need for salvation.
And so, the Lord Jesus is our Great Priest. And you ought to give thanks to God for him; and every day you should go to God in prayer, to confess your sins and to ask him to pardon you for the sake of Christ who gave up his life for sinners.
Samuel offered this burnt offering to the Lord and he prayed to the Lord on behalf of the people. And the Lord answered him. That’s what we read at the end of verse 9. And God’s answer to Samuel’s prayer is recorded for us in verses 10 to 11. While Samuel was sacrificing, the Philistines drew near. But the Lord thundered against them and threw them into such a great panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them on the way. And so, the Lord answered Samuel’s prayer by enabling the Israelites to defeat the Philistines in battle.
And after the battle, Samuel set up this stone — called Ebenezer or ‘Stone of Help’ — as a kind of memorial so that future generations would see the stone and know that the Lord had helped them thus far. Because the Lord helped them, they were able to subdue the Philistines and take back the towns and the neighbouring territory which the Philistines had taken from the Israelites. And there was also peace between the Israelites and the Amorites, who were one of the tribes of Canaan who lived in the land before the Israelites lived in it.
So, with the Lord’s help, the people were able to live in peace and safety. And according to verse 15, Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. That is, he was their leader. He was their king before they had kings. From year to year, he travelled around the country, judging the people, ruling over them and deciding disputes. And in Ramah, where his home was, he judged Israel and built an altar to the Lord.
Samuel was their king before they had kings. And therefore, he foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ who is our great King, who was raised from the dead and who was exalted to the highest place, above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in this age, but in the age to come. He is our Everlasting King who rules and reigns in heaven above. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him and he is building his kingdom on the earth by calling men and women and boys and girls through the preaching of his word.
The way into his kingdom is through repentance and faith. And so, whoever turns from their sin in repentance and trusts in his death for sinners is added to his kingdom. And in his kingdom, there is peace and joy and forgiveness and the hope of eternal life. And he promises to keep his people in his kingdom and to defend them at all times and to help them at all times. And his kingdom will never end, because it is an everlasting kingdom. Other kingdoms come and go. Other rulers come and go. But his kingdom is without end. And whoever belongs to his kingdom will live with him and will reign with him for ever and for ever.
Samuel is depicted in this chapter as Israel’s prophet, calling the people to turn from their sins and to turn to God. And the Lord Jesus is your Great Prophet and he calls on you to turn from your sins every day and to turn to God who is willing and able to forgive you for all that you have done wrong.
Samuel is depicted in this chapter as a kind of priest, who offered a sacrifice on behalf of the people and who interceded for them. And the Lord Jesus is your Great High Priest, who offered himself to God as the perfect sacrifice for sins; and who lives to intercede for you.
And Samuel is depicted in his chapter as a kind of king, who ruled over the people of Israel. And the Lord Jesus is your Great King. Therefore, you must yield your life to him. Whoever does not yield to him will one day by crushed by him when he comes in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead. But whoever yields their life to him will be declared ‘not guilty’ when he comes to judge the world. And you will live with him and you will reign with him in the new heaven and earth.