The Importance of Godly Leadership

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Religious symbols can be powerful testimonies to the authenticity of someone’s faith, yet they can also be abused and misunderstood. The Israelites did not understand the purpose of “the ark of the Lord,” which was simply to function as the symbol of God’s presence with His people (Exod 25:22). God, who is not bound by time, chose to bind Himself to the time-bound experience of His people. However, the people had no assurance that God would be present with them by simply moving the ark wherever they pleased, nor could they use it to manipulate God.

Foolishly believing they could manipulate God’s power and presence, Israel lost the great symbol of God’s presence (1 Sam 4:11). Whenever someone presumes upon the presence of God by seeking to control His power, the risk of losing the focus of worship is an ever-threatening reality. The death of Israel’s leadership—the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas—was not only the fulfillment of a prophecy (2:31), but also demonstrates what occurs when leaders believe they can maneuver and manipulate God. Through an agonizing ordeal, Israel learned to have appropriate reverence for the sacredness of the ark.

Ever since the Philistines “took the ark of God” (1 Sam 5:1), they experienced nothing but difficulty as its custodians. The disasters were intense, and therefore, the Philistines returned the ark (7:1). First Samuel 7 demonstrates a change in the events of the previous chapters. Samuel exhorted the people to “remove the foreign gods” from among them, and to direct their hearts in repentance to the Lord God. The people responded as a nation by confessing their sins at Mizpah, and God delivered them from the Philistines. Samuel took a stone and named it Ebenezer (“stone of help”), as a memorial of God’s blessing in response to the national confession and repentance.

(1 Sam 6:13—7:1) The people of Beth-shemesh “raised their eyes” while they were harvesting their wheat, and rejoiced to see the return of the ark. Beth-shemesh was a priestly (Levitical) city (cf. Josh 21:16; 1 Chron 6:59) and was designated for the Kohathites, whose responsibility was to bear the ark (Numb 4:15; 7:9). Beth-shemesh was also home for some of Aaron’s descendants (Josh 21:13-16). The city was near a powerful Philistine population, and because of the Kohathites, it was an appropriate location for returning the ark of the Lord.

Upon a large stone, the people “split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD” (1 Sam 6:14). Unfortunately, these Levites acted in disobedience, or (at least) with incompetence. The burnt offering was certainly appropriate as thanks for the return of the ark. However, all burnt offerings were to be male, not heifers (Lev 1:3). The act will certainly result in divine judgment, because the people did not reverence God’s holiness.

The people offered more burnt offerings and sacrifices to the Lord (1 Sam 6:15), and “the five lords of the Philistines saw it” (6:16). When the lords returned to Ekron, they would certainly have to communicate that the plague of tumors was the hand of God that struck them (6:9). Perhaps there is a spiritual lesson for God’s people here.1 The Philistines could not deny the Lord’s guidance, because the cows “did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (6:12). Would it not also be evidence of God’s guidance and power for His people, not to deviate from the apparent teachings of Scripture?

The Israelites erected a silent monument and witness of the ark’s return (6:17-18). However, the rejoicing of the Israelites would soon end. While the ark and the articles of gold were displayed on the large stone, “some of the men of Beth-shemesh...looked into [or gazed at2] the ark” (6:19). According to Numbers 4:5-6, the ark should have been covered by Aaron’s sons, and the Kohathites who carried it were never to touch or look upon the ark (Exod 25:13-15; 37:5; Numb 4:17-20). The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) adds, “The sons of Jeconiah did not rejoice with the rest of the men of Beth-shemesh when they welcomed the ark of the Lord....” Jeconiah’s sons were indifferent toward the ark, and even despised its significance as a symbol of God’s presence. God punished the indifference and irreverence by striking the men (1 Sam 6:19).3

The men of Beth-shemesh responded with two questions (6:20). The first was appropriate: “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God?” Leaders must be humble, which involves being patient for God to fulfill His purposes. God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7) by allowing His power and presence to be manipulated. Any leader who attempts to maneuver God for his or her own purposes will encounter dire consequences. Rather than humbling themselves before God, the second question reveals the desire to remove the ark and the power of God from them (6:21—7:1; cf. Mark 5:1-20). The danger for modern readers is to repeat the same error of the Israelites. We must reverence God’s holiness, and know and live His Word so that we do not repeat the same error of conforming the holy God to our expectations.

Preparing for God’s Mercy

(1 Sam 7:2-6) The people of Kiriath-jearim were custodians of the ark for twenty years (and would remain so until David brought the ark to Jerusalem; 2 Sam 6:2-3, 12). They did not mourn any longer, “because the LORD had struck the people” (6:19); rather, “all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD” (7:2). If God was to help the nation, they must repent before Him (cf. Gen 35:2-4; Josh 24:14-15).

At this time, Israel had been defeated numerous times in battle and was discouraged. Their repentance would be difficult because the “foreign gods” had influenced their lives (cf. Judg 2:13). Truly, there is no other means to regain God’s favor than holy and humble repentance. Israel performed a water libation “before the LORD” (7:6) to signify their present distress. The libation may also suggest Israel’s confession that God’s favor was more important than life-sustaining water, or could signify the cleansing of their guilt. There certainly is application here to nations today. The lost battles do not need to be physical to bring discouragement, but can be judicial, legislative, and moral. The foreign influence to the history of nations is also present. Only by committing one’s heart to the Lord and serving Him alone can a people experience true revival.

Experiencing God’s Mercy
(1 Sam 7:7-11) The Philistines “heard that the sons of Israel had gathered to Mizpah” and decided to attack. The Israelites were not prepared. The sincerity of their repentance is evident in verse 8, because now they relied entirely upon the Lord. Genuine repentance is not only being sorrowful over sin, but also making a confession of sins, renouncing all that displeases God, and trusting in the will of the Lord alone.

Samuel interceded on behalf of Israel (7:9), and the Lord answered the prayer of repentant Israel. God “thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel” (7:10). The confusion was so great that the Philistines were routed “as far as below Beth-car” (7:11). Based on the expression “below Beth-car,” the location would seem to indicate a height with a road at its base. The idea is an extensive retreat of the Philistines, and mighty victory for Israel (without the ark!).

Remembering God’s Mercy
(1 Sam 7:12-14) Samuel erected a stone memorial, and named it “Ebenezer” (“Thus far the LORD has helped us”). The victory over the Philistines was not complete, but indicated that God was with His people. Therefore, Israel needed to remember this deliverance. In chapter 6, the Philistines had their distress removed, but it seems they were only relieved that the ordeal had ended. They were not any wiser or humbler as a consequence of their difficulties. God’s people will remember the past and express thanksgiving for the Lord’s help; it is entirely appropriate to remember God’s past deliverance, because this will encourage hope for the future. By God’s “good pleasure,” those who belong to Him will “safely arrive at home.” Throughout Samuel’s life, the Philistines were subdued, the cities taken from Israel were restored, and there was peace (7:13-14). Good and godly leadership makes all the difference!

Living in God’s Mercy
(1 Sam 7:15-17) Samuel traveled an annual circuit in Benjaminite territory, “[judging] Israel all the days of his life.” The threefold usage of the verb shāphat (translated “to judge”) for Samuel’s ministry indicates more than merely administering justice. The prior usage of this verb in 7:6 indicates a spiritual dimension to his judging. The context in verse 6 is the national lament, confession, and repentance. The judging was a responsibility involving the legislative and spiritual direction of the nation. Samuel not only judged legislative issues, but also provided reproof, correction, and instruction. He prioritized worship of God for the purpose of his own family and for the benefit of the nation (7:17). The spiritual person uses his or her abilities, influence, and wealth for living under God’s lordship.

1 William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995) 301.
2 Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1906; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005) 908.
3 According to the traditional Hebrew (Masoretic) text and the Septuagint, the number of men stricken was 50,070. The population of Beth-shemesh was not so large; therefore, a copyist error must have occurred and the number should be “seventy men” (which is deemed accurate by the Jewish historian Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, 6.1.4).

Midnight Call - 11/2017

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