Samuel’s Solid Leadership
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Samuel’s Solid Leadership

1 Samuel 7:1–11  (ID: 3367)

Although the Israelites had rebelled against God’s rule, the Lord mercifully provided a leader for His people in Samuel. As a spiritual leader, Samuel reminded Israel that their fall into idolatry was not an external problem but an issue of the heart. Alistair Begg notes that a pastor’s priority must similarly be to faithfully proclaim God’s Word, for when the Word is present and active, it leads to repentance, right relationship with God, as well as transformed hearts.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 1

The Life of Samuel 1 Samuel 1:1–7:17 Series ID: 109011

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to turn with me to 1 Samuel and to chapter 7 and to follow along as I read from this chapter. First Samuel 7:1:

“And the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord and brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill. And they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the ark of the Lord. From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.

“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.

“Then Samuel said, ‘Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.’ 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. Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. And the people of Israel said to Samuel, ‘Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.’ So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. 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 defeated before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us.’ 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.

“Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the Lord.”


O Gracious God, we turn to your Word, and we thank you for it. And we thank you for the promise of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the voice of a mere man, we may hear your voice and, in hearing, respond in repentance and in faith and in a genuine desire that the words of the song we have just sung may be the true longing of our hearts. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, we don’t have to be students of the media or politics to realize that in the United Kingdom at the moment, there is presently a leadership crisis. Parliament is in disarray, and confidence in the elected leadership there is arguably at an all-time low. The reverberations reach far beyond London; they go all the way from Brussels and all the way out to Budapest and beyond. And just when we might be feeling rather smug about ourselves—I hope not—but on this side of the ocean, there is widespread cynicism that is expressed, particularly in the media, towards those in leadership. Leadership is a vulnerable position, whether you are the conductor of an orchestra, whether you are the captain of Liverpool yesterday in the final of the European championship against Tottenham Hotspur. Whatever your role might be, if you serve in any capacity at all, you know what a challenge it is. Therefore, it is no surprise for us to turn to the Bible and to be considering the story here that is recorded for us in 1 Samuel to recognize that the need for stable and godly leadership was absolutely crucial in the period of time that we are considering.

Leadership is a vulnerable position. Whatever your role might be, if you serve in any capacity at all, you know what a challenge it is.

We have seen that under Eli’s leadership—if you have your Bible before you, let me just remind you of a couple of places—but at the beginning of chapter 3, where it says that “Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli,” and then we immediately read, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days.”[1] And the calling of Samuel, which is then for us in chapter 3, is part one, if you like, of God’s answer to the leadership crisis in Israel. Part two will be Saul. Part three will be David. Of course, the ultimate leadership is to be found in the one to whom all of this points—namely, the Lord Jesus.

And Samuel has grown up under this tutelage. In chapter 3, again, he “grew, and the Lord was with him,” and noticeably, “let none of his words fall to the ground.”[2] Of all the things that you might say about somebody—“And the Lord was with him, and he grew strong,” or “The Lord was with him, and he was very influential,” whatever might have finished that sentence—but no, the significant thing, as we’re about to see, is that as the prophet of God, it was the word of God that was doing the work of God.

Now, chapter 6—just in case you’re worried we’re going to rehearse all the way from chapter 3—chapter 6 ends with the men of Beth-shemesh reeling from the deathly blow that has been struck. In verse 19, “he struck”—that is, God struck—“seventy men of them, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow.” So the chapter ends with them recoiling from this impact and asking a fundamental question: “Who, then, is able to stand before a holy God? If this is what happens, whether you’re a Philistine or an Israelite, who is able to stand?” And the correlative question, which you would see there in your text, is “Who can we get to take the ark of the Lord off our hands? Because this ark is not actually proving to be the kind of blessing that we thought.”[3] And so “the men of Kiriath-jearim,” 7:1, “the men of Kiriath-jearim” oblige, coming to take the ark of the Lord into “the house of Abinadab,” noticeably, “on the hill.” Clearly, the people would have said, “Oh yes, Abinadab, he lived up on the hill.” It means absolutely nothing to us at all, does it? Because we don’t even know the hill. But nevertheless, the detail there is of significance. Eleazar was given charge of the ark of the Lord.

And quite remarkably, verse 2 tells us that the ark is now parked in the house of Abinadab for some twenty years. For some twenty years. It’s very important that when we read our Bibles, we read them carefully, because this is significant. The last time we saw Samuel, he was a growing youth. The first time we saw him, he was in utero, so to speak. And now all this time has elapsed, and so we’re dealing with somebody of a significant age—what exact age, we don’t know. And it raises the almost inevitable question “Well, what was happening during those twenty years?” You’ve got twenty years just covered in half of a sentence, and then the story goes on with the reemergence of Samuel.

Well, one answer to that is if God had wanted us to know what was going on in the twenty years, there would be another chapter, and it would have contained all of that information. The silences are as purposeful as the sounds. And so we can assume that what was going on was what goes on: business, family life, people getting married, old people dying, the visit of foreigners. And in the midst of all of that, with the ark out of sight up in Abinadab’s house on the hill, the people were seduced by the attractiveness of the foreign gods. They realized, in much the same way as happened way back when Moses was taken up to the mountain, that a lot of what they had going for them as well seemed rather tame in comparison to what was offered around them. And so, almost inevitably, the people would have said, “Well, we don’t really have very much in our department. But if you pay attention to what is there, then you can get into some very interesting things.”

Now, presumably, in those twenty years as well, Samuel wasn’t just sitting on a rock—that Samuel was engaged in the task that God had given him, and that he was presumably moving amongst these communities, exercising the ministry that God had given him, and waiting, if you like, for the opportune moment to step forward and do what he’d been called to do.

Now, you will notice that if these things unfolded as I’m suggesting to you, the occasion caused them to reflect but not to change. So Samuel may have come to one of the towns and said, “You know, it is wrong for you to be engaged in this way.” And they said, “Well, you know, we’ll give some thought to that. But we’re not going to change.” It was sufficient for them to lament the effects of their sin, but not enough to turn from their sin. Dear ones, there’s such a difference between feeling sorry about the impact that our sins have caused and actually repenting of our sins. “I feel sorry about what happened. I wanted to mention it.” Yes, but have you repented of it? Have you turned to God and acknowledged it, you see?

They were willing to tolerate certain things—presumably, the death of the seventy, over time, was now a dim recollection for them. They had been able now to ignore it, perhaps even in some cases even to forget it. Just think, for example, about what it means to have been born after the falling of the Berlin Wall. There’s a whole generation grows up, they knew nothing about a Berlin Wall, unless somebody tells them that there was a great division that was there, and it was put there to keep people in. They could not get out in freedom. A whole group of people said, “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.” In the same way, there would have been children that grew up, and they said, “You know, on one day, God struck down seventy of our men. There were seventy funerals here one afternoon.” “Really? Why?” “Well, let me tell you.”

Samuel Preaches to the People

Now, it is in that kind of framework that verse 3 comes: “And Samuel said to all the house of Israel…” It doesn’t say he appeared, but he clearly appeared; otherwise, he couldn’t have said. But it is from his lips that the message comes.

Now, quite straightforwardly, I want you to notice Samuel here preaching. He’s preaching. The lamenting of verse 2—“lament[ing] after the Lord,” or before the Lord, or beginning to seek the Lord—is then addressed by Samuel’s preaching. And so, within the space of relatively few verses, we discover that the people are moving from despondency there in verse 2 to victory—that they’re moving from corruption, if you like, to consecration.

And the ministry of Samuel, we should notice, the ministry of Samuel was in some ways just peculiarly boring. All right? You say, “Well, you’re not allowed to say that about Samuel.” Well, I just did. What I mean by that is we’re not introduced to Samuel at any point in the proceedings as something of a man of great military might, or a person who is able to exercise political muscle, or someone whose personality just sets the heather on fire, or somebody whose creativity and his fund of ideas and expectations and consuming plans just stirs all of the people. None of that. None of that. No, only the fact that God Almighty did not let the words of Samuel fall to the ground, because the words of the prophet are the words of God. The words that Samuel spoke were the words that God gave him to speak. That is true of Jesus. Remember, he said, “The words that I speak to you are not my own. They are the words that my Father gave me to speak to you.”[4]

This is the role that is assigned to the prophet. And this, my friends, is the prophetic word in terms of contemporary life—not some notion that I or somebody else pops out of nowhere, but the prophetic word is surely to bring the very Word of God to bear upon the people of God in the context of contemporary life and to say, “This is what this means, and this is why this matters.” God’s word doing God’s work, eleven centuries BC. Same thing.

Mark Ashton, who exercised a wonderful ministry for a good number of years in Cambridge, addressing this, says,

Many church leaders agonize over how they can move a congregation from one condition to a better state. The answer is by preaching. Not by springing ideas, however biblical they may be, on the elders, but by feeding the flock with the Word of God, regularly, so that God’s Word pastors, leads, directs, and changes both individuals and the whole body.

Let me say that to you again: “So that God’s Word”—“God’s Word”—“pastors, directs, leads, … changes both individuals and the [entire] body.” That is God’s pattern.

You can’t account, for example, for the impact of Spurgeon in Victorian England, beginning with such a handful of people and eventually filling the Crystal Palace with folks—everybody there to listen. And listen to Spurgeon to his congregation:

I charge you before the Most High, never depend upon my ministry. What am I? What is there in me? I speak, and when God speaks through me I speak with a power unknown to men in whom the Spirit dwells not; but if He leave me, I am not only as weak as other men, but less than they, for I have no wisdom of years, I have no human learning, I have taken no degree in the university, [I] wear no titles of learned honour. If God speak by me, he must have all the glory; if he saves souls by such a frail being, he must have all the glory. Give unto the Lord glory and strength; lay every particle of the honour at his feet. But do continue to pray; do plead with God for me that his power may still be seen, his arm still put mightily to … work. Prayer honoured must be recollected when we set up the Ebenezer and say, “[Thus far] the Lord [has] helped [me].”[5]

So, you see, when a congregation understands the place of preaching, properly understood, it actually minimizes the preacher and glorifies God. Improperly embraced, it glorifies the preacher and minimizes God. Pathway one: blessing. Pathway two: bondage, chaos, and eventual dissolution. Read your Bible. You’ll find that it is the case.

So, all this to remind us that Samuel came preaching. And he preached very straightforwardly, didn’t he? It was a not very long sermon, at least here as it’s recorded for us. He says, “I want you to know that if you are genuine—I’ve heard a lot of lamenting; there’s been quite a bit of wailing that I’ve heard as I’ve been moving around—if you’re really serious about this, then prove it.” Isn’t that what he says? “If you’re returning to the Lord with all your heart, then prove it! Don’t just sit around here and cry in your coffee. Do it.” You see, what they were doing was they were tolerating these things; they were incorporating these things—the things of the Philistines. They’d begun to say to themselves, “Well, there’s really no harm in this at all. It’s perfectly fine. We don’t have to worry about this.” But yes they did, and so do we.

When a congregation properly understands the place of preaching, it actually minimizes the preacher and glorifies God. Improperly embraced, it glorifies the preacher and minimizes God.

Now, I’m not gonna take time this morning to unpack the sordid, horrible details of the Baals and the Ashtaroths. You can do that with a dictionary. You can do that with a concordance. You can do that on your own time. I don’t want to use up the time. Suffice it to say that the appeal of these foreign gods was straightforward and actually repeated again and again throughout history, and that is: these foreign gods offer the chance to combine sexual indulgence with religious devotion. That’s it in a phrase. You go read it for yourselves, and you’ll find out that at the very heart of it is perversion and corruption at the level of human sexuality. Is it any surprise that here we are at the twenty-first century, and at the very knife-edge of the future of evangelicalism in the United States of America is this very question: “Is it okay to do this? Is it all right to absorb that? Is it fair enough to tolerate this?” and so on. It’s the same question. Years have gone by. We’re far away. But no.

You see, the activities in which they were being seduced to engage in were entirely incompatible with the law of God. Okay? Exodus 20:3: “You will have no other gods before me.” “Which part of that,” the Lord might say, “are you having difficulty in understanding?” Okay? So it’s not an issue of understanding. It is a moral issue. It’s not an intellectual issue. It is a moral decision. It is an immoral decision. “No, no, it’s okay for us. We can have the ark, it’s up on the hill somewhere. We’re not worried about the ark right now. No, no, we’ve got far more exciting things going on here.” “We’ve got the church over here. It’s kind of boring. All they ever do in there is preach. But over here there’s, oh, there’s so much stuff over here. It’s very exciting.”

Well, as I was sitting thinking about this, I said, “You know, this is a Kris Kristofferson song.” You say, “Well, it can’t possibly be.” But only in this sense: because he has a song on one of his albums, the early 1970s, and I’ve never forgotten the refrain, because I found it so challenging. It said that

He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

That’s the refrain. Second verse:

He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars,
And he’s traded in tomorrow for today.
Running from his devils, Lord, and reaching for the stars,
And losing all he’s loved along the way. …
He’s a walking contradiction.[6]

And I preach consistently to my own heart and to the contradictions that are represented in my own heart; therefore, I can only but assume that this intersects with one or two—the danger of saying, “Well, no, that was then, and this is now. I’ve matured from that simple Christian stuff. I’ve moved on from there. I’ve been able to amalgamate and tolerate” and so on. And you find yourself, in the silence of your own home, saying with the psalmist,

Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his Word?[7]

Well, the answer is, it’s gone! Why is it gone? Because it’s filled up with other stuff—the very stuff that sucks the life out of genuine Christian conviction.

Samuel is clear on these things. He’s like John the Baptist later on. He says to the folks, he says, “You know, you just think because of your religious heritage you’re in the clear.” He said, “Bear fruit that befits repentance.”[8] All that Samuel is doing is what Jacob had done before him, when he had said to the people, “Put away those gods.”[9] He’s giving them the same choice that is described in Joshua, where Joshua, in Joshua 24, says to the people, “You better make up your minds. You can either serve the gods over there or you can serve the true and living God.”[10] But to quote Bob Dylan,

You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
[And] it may be the devil, [and] it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.[11]

And Samuel now steps back into the fore. Twenty years, the ark up in the hill house of Abinadab, and here he preaches to them—preaches repentance to them, preaches in a way that people don’t like to be preached to. “Turn from these things,” he says. “Direct your heart to the Lord.” There’s the line, isn’t it? “Direct your heart to the Lord.” You see, the alliance with that which is so appealing to our sinful hearts, the allure of those things, is a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of the heart.

If you’ve been around church life any length of time, you will know that it is very possible for a congregation to draw up certain lists and rules that are all at the back of the handbook. They’re usually good rules. But they tend to this. They tend to the idea of external conformity that has got nothing to do at all with the human heart. And so, then the congregation begins to believe that as long as it has succeeded in saying no to these things and saying yes to these things, that it actually may be just in a splendid position—well, usually in a splendid position with one another, because we’re able to check on those things. But the problem is my heart. The problem is your heart. Spiritual transformation is inside out, not outside in.

Ultimately, your behavior and my behavior, and the behavior of the people here 1050 BC, was a reflection on what was going on in their hearts. The God of Israel did not fill their hearts, their minds, their emotions, their wills. If it did, there was no reason to go. Oh, but the appeal! Think of it in terms of a marriage. That’s the way in which it is used: the bride. That’s the picture in Proverbs, arguing from the lesser to the greater. What is it that will lead somebody into adultery? It is the fact of the heart. The heart!

And so he says, “Direct your heart[s] to the Lord.” Oh, come down! “Come down, O Love divine, seek thou this soul of mine, and visit it.”[12] That’s our great need. That was the great need of the people there. That’s the great need here in Parkside.

Samuel Prays for the People

So verse 5, Samuel says, “Let’s get everybody together at Mizpah, and I’m going to pray to the Lord for you.”

Well, here’s the second piece of it, isn’t it? You remember when the early church is off and going, and the little dispute emerges with Meals on Wheels there in the early chapters? And then the apostles say, “Well, we’re not going to get involved in this. We need good people involved in this. It wouldn’t be right for us to leave the apostolic ministry to serve at these tables,” not because of the menial nature of the calling but because of the significance of what they’d been called to do. What it they said they would do? “We will give ourselves to prayer and to the preaching of the Word.”[13]

Samuel comes out of the shadows, as it were, and the word’s out of his mouth as a preacher. And then he assembles the congregation, he says, “And what we’re going to do is now we’re going to pray.” You see what I mean about how fundamentally boring this is? You say, “Well, what do you have at your church?” “Well, we preach and we pray.” “Yes, but don’t you have a circus or anything? I mean, isn’t there something a little better than that? I’m trying to invite my friends in.” Well, do you believe that God speaks through his Word? Do you believe that God answers prayer? What was the great need, coming out of the immorality of Eli’s household? Eli was a nice man, but he was useless. His sons were corrupt and immoral. So he said, “We’re going to get together, and we’re going to pray.”

Incidentally, and so that I don’t miss this, Ralph Davis has a wonderful little reminder to us when he says, “Repentance is not the cause but is only the condition of Yahweh’s deliverance.” It’s important. “Repentance is not the cause”; it is “the condition” in which God intervenes. There’s no merit, you see, in repentance. No merit in repentance. But there is no saving help without that repentance.

So, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” That’s verse 5. Go down to—where are we? Verse 8: “And the people of Israel said to Samuel, ‘Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us.’” And verse 9: “So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering.” We’ll come back to this later. “And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him.”

Now, you see the way in which this happens. In verse 6, as they gather, they confess their sins. They poured out with this water before the Lord. They “fasted on that day”—presumably an expression of their repentance and their contrition—and they said, “Here’s the deal: we have sinned against the Lord. We have sinned against the Lord. If you want to know what’s been going on for the past twenty years,” they said, “I’ll tell you: we’ve actually sinned.”

There’s no merit in repentance. But there is no saving help without that repentance.

Now, when it says that “Samuel judged the people” in this way, you ought not to think about East 9th Street and the courts down there. No. You ought to think in terms of what he’s doing. How did he judge them? Well, he was setting things right in Israel by his words to the people from God and by his words to God for the people. Okay? So his exercise of judgment or of leadership was directly related to the fact that he spoke the words from God to the people, and here he exercises, if you like, the role of the intercessor as he speaks on behalf of the people to God.

Those of you who are still alert are immediately saying, “I can see Jesus already. He is the great intercessor.” Yes, he is! He is the one who preaches the word to us, and he is the one who enters into the Father’s throne room on our behalf and in our defense, that we have an advocate with the Father.[14] It’s amazing! And these dear people, under the tutelage of this amazing character, gathered in this way, moving from despondency as a result of the clarity of the preaching…

And then confronting in verse 7 the hostility of the Philistines. When the Philistines heard that the folks had gathered, they presumed they must be mustering for another fight. And we would have thought that it says, “[And] when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah,” incidentally, you’ll notice “the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel.” The last time we saw the lords of the Philistines was where? Walking behind the milk cows.[15] Remember? Well, they’ve had time to think about it as well—presumably a few changes of leadership. But here they are again.

So the response to the news that the Philistines were coming—“Here they come, here they come, here they come”: “And the people of Israel said to Samuel, ‘Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he [might] save us.” You see, they were afraid. They were afraid. You say, “Well, I don’t understand why they’d be afraid. After all, they’ve got everything sorted out, don’t they?” In chapter 4, they should have been afraid, and they weren’t afraid. And in chapter 7, they don’t need to be afraid, and they are afraid. What in the world’s going on? Chapter 4 is presumption. The ark was a magic box then. Remember? “We don’t need to worry about the Philistines. We’ll take the ark up. The ark’ll be fine. Lucky charm time.” Now the ark has been twenty years up in the hill house. Now the Philistines are coming again. “We better pray. Pastor Samuel, will you pray to the Lord for us? Pastor Samuel, will you pray that God’s protection will rule over us; that we will not then be unsettled and undone by these things; that as the hordes of enemies come against us, that we might manage to prevail?” And that’s exactly what happened.

And the victory was secured in prayer. In prayer! There was no battle, just thunder. Thunder! Yeah, but so what? The same thunder that gave confidence to the Israelites brought confusion to the Philistines. But you see, the Israelites, they could have remembered that Hannah when she prayed, prayed, “The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in [the heavens].”[16] That was her prayer. She didn’t know all that she prayed. And the thunder comes in the heavens, and the victory is enjoyed. And Samuel says, “Let’s put a stone here,” or “a pile of stones here.”

Yeah. Well, we have to stop here, don’t we? It’s just at the good point, with the stones. Some of you are not big on monuments, I know, not big on memorials. Life goes by quickly here. But last weekend we had occasion to think about it, and now here we have this stone. Those of you who’ve sung “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and have sung it and said, “I don’t know what this Ebenezer is,” we’ll come back to it this evening, and we’ll make it clear. Because ultimately our Ebenezer is the cross of Jesus Christ. This is where we take our stand.

Let me give you one final quote, because our time is gone. Let me just give you this quote that I brought with me, again from Spurgeon. So he’s picturing the setting up of the stone, and he says, “Have we forgotten…” Because—and here’s the context. Sorry. The last time we read of Ebenezer, it’s failure. Right? The armies are routed.[17] So to set up this Ebenezer stone is immediately to go, “Well, do you know what this makes me think about?”

Have we forgotten our pitiful failures in preaching and prayer when we [didn’t wait on] God for strength? [Of] those times of groaning, when [no one has] believed our report because the Lord’s arm was not revealed. I call to remembrance all my failures as I stand on this hill of joy. I doubt not, that on the field of Ebenezer there were the graves of thousands who[’d] been slain in fight. Let the graves of our past proud notions, the graves of our self-confidence, the graves of our creature-strength and boasting, stir us up to praise the Lord who ha[s] [thus far] helped us. … Look to your former defeats. Do you return victorious? You would have returned with your garments trailed in the [mud], and your shield [broken], if God had not been upon your side. Oh, [you] that have proven your weakness, perhaps by some terrible fall, or in some sad disappointment, let the recollection of the spot where you were vanquished constrain you the more to praise the Lord who ha[s] helped you even to this day to triumph over your adversaries.[18]

What an amazing thing it is that God is the God who is able to turn our failures into triumph. The very things that we thought meant the end of our usefulness, the conclusion of our pilgrimage—upon reflection, that has been the very seedbed, out of weakness and failure and disappointment, that God has chosen to make you the individual that you are, to make a church the way he wants it to be.

[1] 1 Samuel 3:1 (ESV).

[2] 1 Samuel 3:19 (ESV).

[3] 1 Samuel 6:20 (paraphrased).

[4] See John 7:16; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10.

[5] C. H. Spurgeon, “Ebenezer!,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 9, no. 500, 164.

[6] Kris Kristofferson, “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” (1971).

[7] William Cowper, “O for a Closer Walk with God” (1772).

[8] Matthew 3:8–9; Luke 3:8 (paraphrased).

[9] Genesis 35:2 (paraphrased).

[10] See Joshua 24:14–15.

[11] Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1979).

[12] Bianco of Siena, trans. Richard F. Littledale, “Come Down, O Love Divine” (c. 15th cent./1867).

[13] See Acts 6:1–4.

[14] See 1 John 2:1.

[15] See 1 Samuel 6:12.

[16] 1 Samuel 2:10 (ESV).

[17] See 1 Samuel 5:1.

[18] Spurgeon, “Ebenezer!,” 159–60.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.