In 1 Samuel 7 we read about the prophet Samuel, who was the last judge in Israel’s history, and how he exhorted and worked with the children of Israel. In this chapter we learn that the ark of the covenant remained in one place for twenty years (7:2), that “Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life” (7:15), and a place was named “Ebenezer” because there the Lord helped the Israelites (7:12). We also read that as the Israelites struggled to overcome the Philistines, Samuel spoke these serious words to them:
If you return to the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines. [1 Samuel 7:3; emphasis mine, rdc]
We understand that we are no longer battling with the Philistines. We also recognize that in the church we do not have judges who serve as deliverers and leaders in the fashion that Samuel did. Yet, it is still true that the events and messages of the Old Testament era “were written for our admonition” (1 Corinthians 10:11). So, there are timeless principles for us to learn, even from the above-quoted words of 1 Samuel 7:3. What can we learn from Samuel’s exhortation about returning to God?
“If” you return to the Lord – There was no guarantee that the Israelites would do so. They needed to. God wanted them to; so did Samuel. But, would they? That would be their own personal decision to make. No one could force them and no mere human could know for certain if they would make such a choice.
Return to the Lord – For those that have forsaken Him, there is only one path of spiritual safety. What is that? Return to Him! He alone is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). It is a horrible thing for God’s people to leave Him. Jehovah says that He forsakes those that forsake Him (2 Chronicles 15:2). When a child of God or group of His people choose to stay away from Him, that is simply adding folly to folly. God’s passionate plea to His erring children has always been, “Return to me” (Jeremiah 4:1).
A fallen brother in the Lord once told me and others that were visiting him that, if God would take him back, then he would come back. We snatched the opportunity and told him that the God of heaven is exactly that kind of God – He is willing to take back His erring children who will humble themselves and come back to Him on His conditions. Just as the rebellious, lost son was welcomed home by his father in the Master’s stirring “Prodigal Son” parable (Luke 15:20-32), so our heavenly Father is ready to accept again those who truly return to Him (James 5:19,20).
Return to the Lord with a prepared heart – What kind of prepared heart? Many who have separated themselves from God by their sins (Isaiah 59:1,2) prepare their hearts to receive an education, to get married, to make money, to go on holidays-vacations, or to retire. Sadly, some never prepare their hearts in the manner that exceeds all others in importance. What did Samuel tell God’s people about preparing their hearts? If you are coming back to God, then “ . . . prepare your hearts for the LORD.” No one truly returns to God without first making the proper preparation in the mind. What will such preparation cause a person to do? Read on.
Return to the Lord with all the heart – That should not have come to a surprise to any who heard Samuel’s words. The Lord has always wanted people to love Him and serve Him with the whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:4,5). Trying to return to God as “a double-minded man” (James 1:8) will not please Him. Being a lukewarm follower of the Lord is repulsive to Him (Revelation 3:15,16). If a part of me loves the world and wants to remain its friend, then let me not think that somehow trying to be God’s half-hearted friend will make Him happy (James 4:4).
Return to the Lord and put away false practices – Samuel’s specific message was for Israel to put away the false gods that it had worshipped. In principle, it was a charge to stop doing whatever violated God’s law. That means to repent of all wrongs done. Put them away, gladly put them away, and let them remain put away! We must cease our love of sin and then stop the actual sinning if we want the Lord to accept us back into His favor. Brother Simon was told to repent of his sins and ask for God’s forgiveness (Acts 8:21,22).
Return to the Lord and serve Him only – No one can serve two or more masters (Matthew 6:24). For those who have left their first love, they must stop living to please themselves, stop trying to please others, and forsake any idol that has somehow taken over first place in their hearts. “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10). The Lord alone must be our Master!
What was Israel’s response to the words of Samuel that we have examined? (1 Samuel 7:3). They put away their false gods “and served the LORD only” (7:4), confessing, “We have sinned against the LORD” (7:6). Great! Dear brother or sister, if you have left our glorious God, will you not humble yourself and return to Him with all your heart? If so, He graciously will forgive you and His caring children will rejoice with you!
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ (http://klangchurchofchrist.org/) in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.