To get a handle on our passage today, let me give you just a little background. Israel had allowed the unthinkable to happen - they had compromised their stand with God by taking on the worship of idols and the practices of the lands around them. This was something God had warned them not to do. As a result, they lost something of great value to them - the help of God in the midst of their battles - to them this was the Ark of the Covenant. Now, they are surrounded by some pretty fierce attackers - the Philistines. The armies of the Philistines were known for their superior weaponry, often causing great fear or panic in all those they faced in battle. The Israelites are facing this huge army of Philistines - not having done so well without God's presence, they hope the return of the ark might have "changed their fortunes". Samuel is addressing them in this chapter - seeking to see if the Israelite's jubilation over the return of the ark was just surface deep, or if there was some root of repentance which went deeper. He hears the solemn plea of the leaders - we want to return to our first love - God! Nothing rings clearer in the ears of God's ears than a plea to return! So, Samuel instructs them to "clean house" - to get rid of all their foreign gods, their false idols, and to ground themselves firmly in God.
While Samuel was offering the sacrifice, the Philistines came within range to fight Israel. Just then God thundered, 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 7:10-12 MSG)
I think most of us can associate with the people of Israel at one point or another. We also have our own "false gods" which attract so much of our attention and seem to make oblivious to the fact God is no longer central in our lives. We may not be worshiping some carved pole with images of the false gods on them, but we do worship something other than God. Hear the cry of God's heart, dear ones - he is calling us to get rid of whatever takes our attention away from God and to ground ourselves firmly in him! Do you know the rest of the story here? It goes on to tell us of Israel's commitment to get rid of their idols - to "clean house" and the resulting fear this determination put into the hearts of the Philistines. Imagine that! The centering of the hearts of God's people on him and him alone put more fear into the hearts of the Philistines than the mighty weapons of Israel's greatest enemy put in theirs!
I don't know about you, but whenever I have my focus on the enemy and not squarely on God, I have a tendency to fear whatever it is the enemy is wielding in my path! When I squarely center my focus on God and God alone, my perception changes! The enemy is still there - the Philistines didn't go away. In fact, they watched from the periphery as Israel went through the process of "cleaning house"! Don't ever think for one moment that your enemy doesn't see your change in focus - he knows when your eyes are firmly fixed on the one true God. Silly thing is - he doesn't know when he should turn tail and run. The next thing we realize in our passage is the turning of the tide - Israel begins to pursue the Philistines instead of them pursuing Israel!
What our enemy fails to recognize is the potential and power of a people who have God central in their lives. It might enrage him a little to see us make a move toward "cleaning house" and getting our lives "centered" again, so be on the lookout for the attack. Israel may not have seen it coming - but God did! When the Philistines see the change in Israel, they get enraged and go on the offensive. They are ready to come down hard on Israel - but... - God is prepared to come down harder on the Philistines! Guess what invoked fear into the Philistines? It wasn't mighty weaponry wielded by the Israelites, or massive forces beyond number. It was thunder! Thunder-claps from heaven sent them running!
Here's something I want us to see - when God sets the enemy in motion running AWAY from us, it is time to give chase! We may want to just stand there and relish the moment of relief having the enemy finally out of our face for a while, but God's plan is quite different - he expects us to give chase! To pursue so as to overcome and "take no prisoners"! This is exactly the opposite of what most of us do - we choose rather to accept the thunder-claps of God as our "intervention" and our "deliverance", but we fail to make an end to the enemy's attack by pursuing him when he is on the run. Silly us! What better time to overcome him than when he is confused by the power of our God?
Now, before we close today, I want to give us a little challenge here. As Israel pursued the Philistines, striking them down in massive numbers, Samuel does something interesting. He took one single rock and set it up. Not a pile of rocks, not a pillar of massive proportion, but one single rock. One rock - maybe it speaks of what Israel was called to remember - there is but one rock upon which we stand - Christ and Christ alone! Maybe it was a symbol of what Israel had done - getting grounded in God again. I am not quite sure what symbolism it has for you, but these two thoughts come to mind for me this morning. I don't know what your "Ebenezer" stone will be, but I do know this: God's not content to have us stand on anything other than his grace. It is the firmest foundation upon which we can face our enemy. Just sayin!