God will take care of you
by Jack Wald | November 4th, 2007

I Samuel 7

Ten months ago, on December 25, Annie and I were walking with a friend from our house to the church for the Christmas morning service. We were walking on a path that parallels John Kennedy and is used by many people, when we were attacked by two men in their twenties with the long knives used to butcher sheep.

This was just a week before the Aid al-Kabir, the big feast that comes two months after the end of Ramadan when virtually every household in Morocco kills a sheep. The police told me that there is a big increase in crime in the weeks leading up to this feast because there is so much pressure on families to find money to buy their sheep.

Fortunately, we were not injured and some young men jogging along John Kennedy came running to help us and captured one of the two robbers. The one bag they took was recovered.

It has been a long time since I have walked on that path again. I did so this week for the second time in ten months and double and triple checked to make sure there were others around me who would help if I were attacked. And I kept looking behind all the bushes along the way.

What would you do if you needed to walk along this path each day on the way to work? I know what I would do, I would begin carrying a big stick. I would make sure others walked with me who also had some protection.

I have thought of this robbery many times this year and in my fantasies, I have imagined that I carried a gun and when they came with a knife, I could have pulled out a gun.

Imagine that you are a store owner and your store has been repeatedly robbed. What would you do? I would begin to arm myself to protect myself and my property.

What does a sports team do when they are repeatedly beaten? There is an important game tonight for American football. The team I support, the New England Patriots, are playing against the Indianapolis Colts. These are the two best teams this year, both undefeated with half of the season already played. The Patriots have been defeated by the Colts three straight times and some analysts say that the Patriots recruited players this year just so they could defeat the Colts. We will see tonight if the new players New England recruited will make the difference.

When trouble comes, individuals pick up what is necessary to protect themselves. Sports teams pick up players they need to defeat their adversaries and countries do the same. When a country is threatened by another country, money is poured into developing newer and more powerful weapons. Money is spent recruiting and training soldiers.

Israel at the time of Samuel, lived among neighboring countries that persistently tried to expand their borders. Israel did the same. The history of Israel in the Bible is a history of wars between Israel and its neighbors with Israel sometimes being the winner and sometimes being the loser. If you want to do an interesting study, do a study of what Israel did to protect itself from attacks. See what worked and what did not work.

It has been three weeks since I preached from I Samuel, so let me give a brief summary of what has been happening.

The particular thorn in the side of Israel in this period of time was the Philistines. These were sea people who occupied what is today the Gaza Strip. There were periodic skirmishes between these two countries. Samson from the book of Judges fought against the Philistines and died when he pulled down the pillars of one of their temples to Dagon, their chief god. Kings Saul and David fought many battles against the Philistines.

When Samuel was just a young boy, perhaps 10 or 12, Israel fought a battle against the Philistines and lost. In this battle the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant which Moses had constructed in the wilderness and which contained the staff of Aaron, the first priest of Israel, the stone tablets on which God inscribed the ten commandments and a gold jar of manna with which God miraculously fed Israel when they wandered for forty years in the desert.

This was a devastating loss for Israel and the Philistines were delighted. In celebrating, they took the ark to their temple for Dagon but two days in a row, when they came to the temple in the morning, they discovered Dagon lying on the floor in front of the ark. The second morning they found Dagon with his head and hands broken off.

This was not the worst of it. A plague broke out and the people in the city where the ark was kept broke out with tumors and began to die. The ark was moved but that brought the plague to that city. So eventually none of the five Philistine cities were willing to keep the ark and it was sent back to Israel.

The story this morning picks up twenty years after the ark was deposited at the home of Abinadab whose son, Eleazar, guarded the ark.

The story begins with this sentence.
It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD.

It is not clear why the people of Israel mourned and sought after the Lord. The text does not say. The assumption is that Israel was being pestered by the Philistines but again, it is not clear. The point is that something was happening that brought Israel to this state of mourning and seeking.

In the history of Christian revivals, God seems to use political, sociological, economic and natural events to draw a culture’s attention to himself. Whatever happened, Israel was brought to a state of mourning and sought God’s help.

Samuel was now about 30 or 32 years old and ready to assume leadership as God’s prophet for Israel. So Samuel took advantage of this favorable religious climate and called the people of Israel together at Mizpah, one of the cities on a high hill of Israel.

And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”  4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.

Baal and Ashtoreth were the male and female gods that dominated the land of Canaan into which Israel came. Throughout the history of Israel, the prophets of God battled against worship of these two gods that demanded the sacrifice of infants and cultic prostitution.

In passing, notice that it was not just that Israel turned to the Lord. When we turn to the Lord we always have to turn away from something else. We have to turn away, to turn towards.

The word for repent in Hebrew means to turn. When the Holy Spirit in some way convicts you of sin and you turn to God, remember that part of that turning has to involve turning away from the sinful behavior that led to your conviction.

Israel’s turning to God was not just a mater of words, they put away their idols of Baal and Ashtoreth.

I’m tempted to dwell on this more but there is another message I have felt led to emphasize so we will move on.

When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them.

Why did the Philistines attack? In the ancient near east, rituals generally preceded military actions. So when the Philistines heard of Samuel’s call for Israel to gather, spies observed the preparations and it was clear to the leaders of the Philistines that a military action was in the works and they decided to attack before they were attacked.

As Israel gathered at Mizpah and Samuel led them in a worship of God and a ritual of repentance, the Philistines gathered their men, made plans for attack and set off for Mizpah. When the Israelites gathered at Mizpah heard the Philistines were on the way, they were afraid. Apparently the Philistines had been having success in their skirmishes with Israel and this may be why they were ready to repent and turn to God. Israel was clearly intimidated by the Philistines.

I wonder if the Philistines remembered what had happened twenty years earlier when Yahweh had punished them for capturing the ark? Or had their success over the years since then given them more confidence?

At any rate, when word came that the Philistines were approaching, the people cried out to Samuel to intercede with God for them.
Do not stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.

The Philistines are approaching, trouble is coming. There you are with the soldiers of Israel gathered around you. What would you do if you were in charge? Israelite spies come with the news. The people are afraid. As leader, if you don’t do something panic may set in and there will be chaos. What would you do?

If I were in charge I would organize the men into the best defense possible and prepare for a battle. I would prepare defensive positions and plan strategies taking advantage of the hill on which we were standing. I would send out spies to inform me of how many Philistines were coming and how they were armed and how close they were. I would take action.

What did Samuel do?
Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him.

I would prepare for action. Samuel prayed.

There was loud thunder and in some way God used this to terrify the Philistines and they panicked. They ran for their lives and the Israelites were emboldened to chase after them and the Philistines were defeated.

So, if I walk along the path where we were robbed last Christmas, should I not bother carrying a big stick and making sure there are others walking the path with me and instead pray?

If my store is being robbed, should I not bother arming myself to protect myself and my store and instead pray?

Should the United States and Europe who are threatened by terrorism stop spending so much money and time defending themselves and instead repent and pray?

If in WWII, Poland, Holland and France had repented and prayed for help, would God have prevented their occupation by the German army?

Over the 36 years of my Christian life, I have thought many times about this. I have wavered one way and the other but have concluded that I am not a pacifist. And I do not believe this is what God calls us to. I know there are those who disagree with me about this. This is one of many issues Christians can disagree about and still have fellowship and unity.

My idealism pulls me in the direction of pacifism but my sense of reality doesn’t allow me to go there. I am curious and would like to know if pacifism works, but I don’t have enough faith to put it to the test. If someone comes to attack me, I take action.

However, I don’t think in any event, that we need to make a choice between action and praying.

In this story, the victory of Israel over the Philistines did not happen without Israel’s help.
But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.  11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car.

God sent the thunder and threw the army of the Philistines into a panic and then the men of Israel rushed down from the hill where they were with Samuel and slaughtered the Philistines as they ran.

This is the model for us – not that we slaughter anyone – but that we pray in dependence on God and work as hard as we can ourselves.

I love quoting Augustine since he was a North African Berber. He wrote: Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.

I am instinctively good at the second, but have to work at the first. When we were attacked last Christmas, my instinctive response was to let my backpack slip off my shoulder on to my left arm to act as a shield and step toward the two attackers. Even my second response, to command them to Stop, in the name of Jesus! was not much of a prayer of dependence. It was sort of an offensive calling on the power of Jesus, a bit like James and John wanting to call down fire on the Samaritan town that rejected Jesus.

When trouble comes my way, I immediately start thinking about what I can do, what resources I have available, who I can call to take care of the problem.

I have observed others whose first instinct is to pray. The couple I lived with my first six months in Morocco before Annie came were Ruth and Habib and we just had the pleasure of visiting them in California when we were in the US this past month. I remember driving with Ruth in the car here in Rabat one time when there was a near accident. Ruth’s immediate response was to call out Jesus! This was not a curse but a prayer. It expressed her deep, instinctive response to trouble.

This summer our daughter Elizabeth was visiting us in France where my other daughter, her husband and I were taking a course in French. We were eating at a restaurant with a beautiful view of Mt. Blanc when the infant car seat my grandson, Sam, was sitting in slipped off the chair and fell to the cement floor. My first response was to move toward him. Elizabeth cried out, just like Ruth, Jesus! as a prayer. Her immediate instinct was to pray.

Maybe this is a function of personality, how we are made up. Some are geared for action and some are geared for prayer.

But the instinct to pray can be developed. We had a man from India who was a part of our congregation for several years, Anthony Paul. He worked for the Sheik of Abu Dhabi and was permitted to return to India to be with his family just once per year.

One day he received news that his wife and child were being threatened. There was an effort to take his house away from his family and he wanted to go back home to deal with the problem. His boss would not allow him to return and so all Anthony could do was to pray. He prayed and prayed and we prayed with him and the trouble was resolved without his going to India. His family was fine.

I realized that one of the reasons Anthony had so much faith is that he had to rely on it more often than I do. I would have jumped on a plane and gone home to deal with the problem. Because this was not an option, Anthony had to rely on God and he prayed.

Anthony was and is a man of prayer who has deep trust in God. I would like to become more like him, to grow in my faith and to instinctively pray when trouble shows up. I would like to become more like Ruth and Elizabeth.

I am good at working as though everything depends on me. I need to grow to become one who prays as though everything depends on God.

We need to live in the balance between working as though everything depends on us and praying as though everything depends on God. Few of us are able to live in the proper balance but I find myself on the wrong side of the balance. I would prefer to be a more instinctive man of prayer.

The reason I would like to be on the praying side of the balance is that it does all depend on God and that is good news. That is good news because God takes care of us. When I read I Samuel 7, this is the thought that came to me most strongly. God takes care of us. That is why we sang this morning songs relating to God care of us. This is why we will sing after the sermon, The Battle Belongs to the Lord.

This is evident in the whole history of God’s interactions with us. He takes good care of us. From Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all the way through Moses and the prophets and into the history of Jesus and the early church, God has demonstrated that he desires to take care of us and he has demonstrated that he can and will take good care of us.

When Moses was passing on his leadership to Joshua, he told him (Deuteronomy 31:8)
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Later on, God affirmed this directly to Joshua (Joshua 1:5)
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

God spoke through his prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 43)
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

When Jesus spoke to his disciples just before he ascended to heaven he assured them: (Matthew 28:20)
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

The all-powerful God loves us and has promised to take care of us. This is why we need to develop an instinct to pray and put our trust in him.

What trouble are you facing? Hopefully no one is trying to invade your home. I know that some of you live in places where the prospect of being robbed is a very real concern.

Are your family and friends in your home country facing difficulties and you don’t have the resources to go back to be with them and help take care of the problem they face?

Are you facing financial pressures and don’t know what to do?

Are you facing physical illness that seems beyond your control?

Living in a country that is not your own is difficult. Living apart from your family and friends is difficult. Living in an area that is not safe is difficult.

But here is the blessing amidst all this difficulty. When your difficulties push you to develop instinctive trust in God, that is only good. When you lack the resources to go home when someone in your family is sick or dies, it hurts. It is very painful. But the good that comes along with all the pain is that God can use this to help you more instinctively to put your trust and confidence in him.

Whatever problem you face, when your limitations force you to put your trust in God, that is the good that comes with the problems.

Jesus taught in Luke 6:20
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

The world is not a safe place. Everyone (with a very few Biblical exceptions) who is born into this life dies. Many of us suffer along the way, some more than others.

May God bless us by helping us to instinctively trust him and rely on him when we face difficulties that come our way.