Book of 1 Samuel · Sunday Morning Book Club

Balaam Couldn’t Curse Israel But God Could

Read 1 Samuel 7:1-17

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The ark of the covenant of God has been passed around from city to city for months now and finally, it’s going to live in a more permanent home in the land of Kiriath Jearim.  The ark was carried to the property of Abinadab.  This location was most likely chosen because it sits at the top of a hill allowing the temple where the ark will be housed to be seen from every angle throughout the land.  They would easily be able to face the location of the temple during times of prayer.  Given the catastrophe at Beth Shemesh, this time the Israelites gave a great deal of thought in keeping the laws and giving the ark its due honor.  

Abinadab and Eleazar his son were not Levites, they were not ordained to be priests.  Eleazor was “sanctified” or “consecrated”, he was set apart to take care of the ark.  His job was to guard and maintain the environment around it. 

The ark of God remained in this city for a total of twenty years.  But those twenty years were not joyful or peaceful.  Verse 2 uses the phrase lamented after the Lord.  Verse 3 gives us some of the reasons the Israelites lamented.  You see, the Israelites did not give to their Lord all of their heart.  Their hearts were torn between serving the Lord and living like the rest of the world.  They continued dabbling with “strange gods” and with Ashtoreth which represents goddesses.  

Just because the Philistines returned the ark did not mean they loosened their hold on the previously conquered people.  The hand of the Philistines pressed heavily on the Israelites, they continued with the oppression.  The Israelites were destroyed in battle, the holy ark was captured, Eli’s death was sudden and tragic.  The final blow was the total destruction of Shiloh, leaving the once vital city of worship desolate.

Yes, the Hebrew people lamented, they expressed their sorrows in profound ways for twenty years.  Twenty years!  Then all the people turned back to the Lord.  But what happened during the twenty years?  It wasn’t easy peasy, vs. 3 brings Samuel onto the scene.  During this time Samuel was laboring to make things right with the Lord.

Various commentaries depict Samuel during this time as living as though he were a fugitive of sorts.  We know he traveled from city to city teaching and preaching the word of the Lord.  We also know that not all those cities wanted to live according to God’s laws.  Samuel received a great deal of pushback from his own people.  Nevertheless, he kept the course and gradually began to stir his people to understand just how great their sins are in the eyes of God.  He was striving to renew their trust and to return their hearts to their first love.  As he traveled, Samuel began to see different degrees of this happening throughout the land and it gave him hope for a future restoration.  

Samuel understood something that most people do not.  He understood that God punishes his people for their sins by withdrawing his protection.  The Philistines were putting pressure on because the Lord lifted His protection on the Israelites.  God will put bad leaders in charge of nations if need be, to get the attention of His people.  Samuel worked tirelessly to establish the word and will of God, believing they would repent.  Their repentance would restore Jehovah as their king and He would deliver them from their enemies. 

Samuel’s preaching is relevant today.  “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, and rid yourselves of the sin of the world, commit yourselves to serve Him only, he will deliver you out of the hand of the enemies.”  The idols and Ashtoreths are the specific sins of this time period.  To us, they represent all sin.  In the days of Samuel, the Baalim and Ashtoreth represented two pagan deities.   As long as the Jews held onto these idols it gave the Philistines a foothold to oppress them.  The idols represented a compromising heart, a divided heart is their sin. 

The Baalim was formerly a prophet who was hired by Balaak, the king of the Moabites to curse Israel.  After seven attempts and the Lord literally controlling his mouth to only speak blessings, he gave up.  God would not allow any curses to be spoken over his people, only blessings were established.  The plan of attack changed.  Balaam created a new plan to seduce the weaker Israelite men.  He sent in beautiful Moabite women to seduce the Jewish men (Num 25:1-3) with sex.  Ultimately the women invited the men to join them on dates to an idol sacrifice causing the men to eat a sacrificial meal, they then bowed down before their gods.  Israel was now yoked to Baal.  Balaam knew that if the men were seduced into idol worship then God himself would curse them (Num. 31:16).  Balaam couldn’t curse Israel but God could.  

It appears that something similar may have infiltrated their society yet again.  Balaam was a prophet who became idolized for his sneaky plan.  Today we see evidence of his sexual tempting spirit in various ways, from workplace flirtation to porn and even rape.  It is all designed to pull your heart away from full dedication to the Lord.  Any amount of division of your loyalty is still division and God will not allow it.

Samuel urged the Hebrew people to give all their hearts to the Lord and to serve Him only.  That is exactly what they began to do, as their hearts were convicted they began to cast down their idols.  They stopped traveling to the Philistine cities to worship in the idol sex temples.  They tore down all idols they built inside Israel.  The Philistines saw this as an overt act of rebellion and a huge insult.  Another way the God of heaven overruled their fake gods.  Their anger was stirred up and they began to plot their next attack.

Samuel, hearing the talk of war, calls the Israelites to assemble at Mizpah.  Mizpah means watchtower, it is a type of place where they would gather together to watch out for the advancing enemy.  Mizpah seems to be Samuel’s commencement to judgeship over both civil and military affairs.  Since his birth Samuel was trained to be the next judge and high priest over Israel, this is his breakthrough moment.  After twenty years of living in what seemed like obscurity, he is now in a position to lead both the military and the spiritual affairs of his people and he begins to do just that.  

God works in the order he established, his moves can be beautifully predictable when you understand his ways.  The first thing God wants for each and everyone of us is to repent, to turn our hearts to him for either the very first time or the twentieth.  That being said, it is not by coincidence that there is revival taking place here in chapter 7.  This story took place during the season of Teshuva.  This is exciting not only for Samuel and the Isrealites but for us today because we are literally in that season right now.  Teshuva is the days of return and repentance.  How awesome is our God of heaven that he planned for us to study this particular story at this exact time in our lives?  I believe we are in fact participating in the prophecies of people in the last days returning back to God.  

Samuel called together the people of Israel to physically meet in one location, he called them to do a corporate fast, then he interceded for them.  He stood in the gap between the people and the Lord decreeing the word of God over them.  Vs. 4 The Israelites, “served the Lord only”, vs. 6 says, “on that day they fasted and there they confessed.”  I can almost hear the moaning and travailing of each Israelite while Samuel prayed to God of heaven.  How cleansing this must have been for this great nation.  

While the house cleaning took place inside the hearts of the Jews the Philistines, the enemy, began to close in (vs. 7).  They caught wind that all of Israel was assembled at Mizpah and they engaged in their plan of attack.  They were sitting ducks, as good as dead, begging Samuel “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.”  Vs. 9 “He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.”   

As the sweet aroma of their sacrifices rose to the Lord, the Philistines drew near to engage in battle, but that day the “Lord thundered” literally with a loud thunder causing the Philistines to go into major panic mode.  The Israelites rushed out of Mizpah pursuing the enemy, slaughtering them along the way.  The Lord led them to victory because they cleaned up their mess, removed their sin, they returned their hearts back to the Lord and he returned his glory to his people.  His hand remained against the Philistines, they were subdued all throughout Samuel’s life.  

Not only did the Lord restore all of Israel’s cities, He delivered the neighboring nations from their hands as well.  And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.  Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life traveling from city to city judging, but he always returned home to Ramah where he built an altar to the Lord.

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