7 When the Philistines heard that Israel was meeting at Mizpah, the Philistine leaders went on the offensive. Israel got the report and became frightened—Philistines on the move again! 8 They pleaded with Samuel, "Pray with all your might! And don't let up! Pray to God, our God, that he'll save us from the boot of the Philistines." 9 Samuel took a young lamb not yet weaned and offered it whole as a Whole-Burnt-Offering to God. He prayed fervently to God, interceding for Israel. And God answered. 10-12 While Samuel was offering the sacrifice, the Philistines came within range to fight Israel. Just then Godthundered, a huge thunderclap exploding among the Philistines. They panicked—mass confusion!—and ran helter-skelter from Israel. Israel poured out of Mizpah and gave chase, killing Philistines right and left, to a point just beyond Beth Car. Samuel took a single rock and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it "Ebenezer" (Rock of Help), saying, "This marks the place where God helped us."
(I Samuel 7:7-12)
This passage comes at the end of about three chapters recounting the battle of Israel with the Philistines. The first attack against the Philistine armies did not go well - four thousand of Israel's men left dead in the fields, with the remainder of the army returned to base camp in utter defeat. Israel's elders come before the prophet Samuel and ask him for insight into what went wrong - what could be done differently in the next battle against those Philistines. Before he could answer them, they come to the conclusion that they need to bring the Ark of the Covenant (the presence of God) into the midst of the battle.
The Ark is brought from Shiloh to the place of the battle. As it arrives, the troops gathered there begin to hoop and holler - a huge celebration of its arrival. They plan to march out, certain that this time the battle will be theirs. Instead, the Philistines hear all the commotion, realize that the God of the Hebrews was in their midst and begin to attack with all their might. The men of Israel are again left in the fields dead and dying - this time, thirty thousand. To top it off, the Ark of God's Covenant is taken from the hands of the priests and carted off into Philistine territory. To the leaders of Israel and the entire nation, this was a loss beyond all other losses.
The story does not end there. The Philistines cannot escape the results of the presence of the Holy God of Israel being in their midst - they are struck with tumors, their false idols fall to the ground and are broken into pieces, the people of the land of Philistine are in utter panic because wherever the presence of the God of Israel goes, there is certain judgment! They want to be rid of the Ark of the Covenant rather than having it in their presence. So, they craft a plan to return it to Israel - with what they consider to be compensation for their removal of the Ark (five gold tumors and five gold rats). It is sent back on a cart - no one would even carry it for fear of death!
As the Ark returns to Israel, a celebration ensues. A group of Philistine leaders hung back on the outskirts, watching to see that the Ark made it back to Israel and that their "offering of compensation" was accepted. In other words, they wanted to know if they had appeased the God of Israel! Here's what happened next - something that we almost miss when reading through this account of the power of the presence of God: From the time that the Chest came to rest in Kiriath Jearim, a long time passed—twenty years it was—and throughout Israel there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God. (I Sam. 7:2) This may not seem like much to us, but look at what the return of God's presence did for the nation of Israel - there was revival!
For twenty years - the people began to move back toward God. That implies that they had first moved away from God. In fact, if we read a little further, we see that they had embraced the gods of the land - making idols, involving themselves in worship of other gods instead of the One True God. They forsake all their false worship and embrace God once again. It says they gave their "exclusive attention and service to God". Wow! Look at what the presence of God has the potential of doing!
The passage above gives us the accounting of what happened next - utter panic amongst the Philistines. They thought nothing would be different after they had been encountered by the presence of the Holy God of Israel, but they were wrong. They continue in their worship of false gods, Israel returns the worship of the One True God, and victory for Israel ensues.
The invitation today is really a question: What will you do with the presence of God? Will you seek to avoid the move of his spirit in your heart? Or will you embrace it, moving toward God? We are invited to make steady, consistent movement toward him. If we do, we are ensured a revival of our spirit like none other!