Milestone moments and unexpected crises are the perfect opportunities for heartfelt repentance. Then we note God’s deliverance.
Samuel C. Degner
Milestones have a way of making us stop and think. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, retirements—all are natural times to pause and reflect on the path we’ve traveled so far and the future that lies before us. Other occasions have the same effect: a health scare, an unexpected move, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job.
The people of Israel were at one of these soul-searching moments. Idols were everywhere. The tabernacle had been destroyed, and the ark of God sat in storage. The people knew something was wrong. “Then the whole house of Israel longed for the LORD” (1 Samuel 7:2 Christian Standard Bible [CSB]).
The prophet Samuel knew the people were turning in the right direction. He encouraged them to show their repentance by getting rid of their idols. They did just that; then they gathered together as a nation at Mizpah to confess their sins to the Lord. As we look back at our past, it’s good to confess the sins committed there. It’s always a good time to turn to the Lord.
While Israel was gathered together at Mizpah, the Philistines decided it was a good time to attack. When Israel heard of their attack, they turned to the right place. They said to Samuel, “Don’t stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, so that he will save us from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8 CSB). Samuel offered a lamb on behalf of the people. The Lord heard their cry. He sent thunder so loud that the Philistines were thrown into a panic and were routed by the Israelites.
God never leaves his people helpless. When we turn to him in repentance, we trust that we have a perfect Prophet, Jesus Christ, mediating for us. He offered himself, the spotless Lamb, on our behalf. He never stops crying out to the Lord our God for us: “Father, remember the sacrifice I made. Forgive their sins. Help them in their trouble!” The Father always hears his cries and helps us in just the right way and at just the right time, just as he helped the Israelites.
Stones of help
After the battle, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer (“stone of help”), saying, “The LORD has helped us to this point” (1 Samuel 7:12 CSB). It was a monument to God’s help that day—and all the days before it. More than that, it was an encouragement for the future. If the Lord had helped them to that point, surely he would help them the rest of the way.
As you look back at your life, consider how the Lord brought you through each crisis. See how he moved you to repentance and forgave your sins. Marvel at how he blessed you at each stage. Those big moments in life weren’t milestones after all; they were Ebenezers. Look back on the road you’ve traveled and see stone after stone, each one set a little farther than the next, each one reminding you that the Lord helped you that far.
Then look toward the horizon of your future with confidence. The Lord will be there to help you until the next stone is set in place, and the next one and the next—until the last one is set on heavenly ground.
Contributing editor Samuel Degner is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin.
This is the final article in a nine-part series on Old Testament monuments and what they mean to us today.
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Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 105, Number 01
Issue: January 2018
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