Returning To God - I Samuel 7
Those who know anything about Israel's biblical history know that they were notorious for wafting back and forth in their devotion to God. They would serve Him for a while, then fall away for a while. During their times of disloyalty they were heavily influenced by the nations around them. The Israelites adopted the pagan ways of worship and gave their allegiance to false gods. I Samuel 4 records such a time in Israel's history.
When the Israelites chose idolatry over the One True and Living God, He would stir up heathen nations against them. For many years the Philistines were used by God to bring judgment upon Israel for their faithlessness to the Lord. In one of their defeats to the Philistines, the enemy had conquered Israel and stolen the Ark of the Covenant (I Samuel 4:11). The Ark represented the Presence of God. It was a devastating turn of events for Israel for the Ark to be taken from them. This was certainly a shock that shook them to the core. They never expected that something like this would ever take place. To add to their misery, the Ark was not soon returned. It was 20 years before they saw the Ark again.
I believe one of the reasons the Lord allowed the Ark to be taken was to bring a shocking awareness to Israel. They had begun to take the Presence of the Lord and His blessings for granted. Their situation and attitude seems similar to the USA. In many ways this country has disregarded and disrespected godly values. We have been so blessed and enjoyed such overflowing grace from the Lord. But just like Israel, as a country, we have taken His goodness and His protection for granted.
Israel thought they could get back into right relationship with God on their own terms. Just like the USA, they wanted to keep making their own idolatrous decisions and continue their sinful lifestyles and at the same time expected the Lord to bless and protect them. The last part of I Samuel 7:2 says...all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord. Up to this point they were sorry about their bondage and oppression by the Philistines but not enough to take it upon themselves to make any significant changes in how they were living and worshipping.
It wasn't until the prophet Samuel came and gave them the nitty gritty about what needed to happen that they made changes. Israel could not maintain their irreverence toward God and still expect Him to deliver them from the onslaught of the enemy. I Samuel 7:3 records Samuel's instructions to Israel.
And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only
Everything Samuel instructed required total commitment to God. Israel could not have one foot on both sides of the fence. The first part of the four-fold instruction concerned the heart or the seat of affection. Matthew 6:24 shares this truth: No one can serve two masters... No one can be equally loyal to two. If a person works two jobs, one will have priorty. If a person tries to have two romantic associations, one will come up short. More than once the bible lets us know that the Lord our God is a jealous God. We are not to put anything or anyone above Him. He requires singleness of heart in those who profess to love and serve Him.
The second part of the instruction seems like it would not need to be said. It would seem that the Israelites would not have to be told to break up with the false gods. But sadly, they did. Just like the bigamist or polygamist, Israel evidently wanted to hang onto their evil ways and just add God to the mix. They had to be told, specifically, that the great God of Glory will not share the throne of your hearts with anyone or anything. He wants to be King of your life or have no relationship at all. He won't accept being a side person where He is only engaged when you need Him or when your other options have fizzled out. As Bishop Lee says, God wants to rule and reign in your heart with no competition.
The third portion of the instruction was to...prepare your hearts unto the Lord. In other words don't just toss Him anything, any ol' kind of way. Just as you would take time to prepare for an important encounter with a human being, take time to prepare your hearts unto the Lord. How is that done? Turn your heart and your thoughts toward Him. Cleanse your heart and your mind. Seek His face and His will. Spend time meditating on Him and listening for His voice. Shut down and shut out everything that dilutes or taints your relationship with Him. Engage in thoughts and activities that please Him. Turn your heart toward the Lord and keep it there.
The fourth part of the instructions delivered by Samuel were again focused on totality. Serve Him only. Jesus spoke about this fact as recorded in Matthew 12:22-28. Jesus stated that a divided kingdom will be brought to desolation. And neither a city nor a house divided will be able to stand. The same principle is true of a divided heart. A heart that is split in its devotion can never release all that it is designed to give. A heart that seeks to have more than one love is guarded. It can never love to full capacity. There is always a reservation, a hesitation, always holding something back. Deuteronomy 5:7 Thou shalt have none other gods before Me.
The Lord is serious about His instructions and His commandments. Israel did not get away with being disloyal to the Lord and neither will the United States. We have the opportunity to repent, to turn from the wickedness that is rampant in the streets. What will you do?