Summary: Steps to Renewal
Returning to the Lord
When God brought the Israelites into the land of Canaan, one of the things He told them to do was to drive out all the heathen nations from the land. They were to leave none of them behind as they took over the land. After they crossed the Jordan, they began to do just that. However, as these heathen nations began to leave and Israel began enjoying victory, their zeal for completing the task started to wane. After all, there was a need for economic development, and they were enjoying peace, even with many of the Canaanites still around. Their actions and their unwillingness to follow through would cause them much grief for generations to come. There is something to be said for obeying God completely.
In our text, many events have transpired that need to be understood. The Philistines were a mighty force that had to be dealt with, and Israel had no national leader they were looking to. By now their dependence upon God’s leader, the priest had begun to falter. They did not want to follow some religious leader, but they wanted a leader like the other nations round about them. In 1 Samuel 4, Israel went into war against the Philistines, and out of desperation and self-sufficiency they decided to take the ark of God into battle. Notice that they were worshipping and trusting the object rather than the One it represented. This was a great irreverence for the Lord in misusing the ark, though the people couldn’t see it. They tried to confine God to a box, rather than recognizing His presence all around them, and rather than ensuring Israel’s victory, they were sealing their own fate by carrying the ark into battle. They moved from a relationship of dependence on God to one of using Him when they were in over their heads.
Even though they fought valiantly, the Philistines were victorious, and the ark was captured. For seven months, the ark remained captured, but the Philistines kept suffering plagues and deaths while it was in their presence, so they decided to send it back to Israel on a cart, hooked to two cows. By now Israel was at a low point: they had moved beyond the favor of God and needed renewal.
As we consider the actions of the people of Israel today, let’s examine our own lives and see if we have not also taken the things of God lightly. Ask yourself right now, "Are the things of God as important to me as they are to God?" "Do I contain God’s work in my life to the church property, or only when I have a Bible in my hand?" "Have I been guilty of using God when I face trouble?" The Israelites readily received the ark back into their presence, but what were they told by God’s prophet? What was it that would bring renewal to them? Because if we can discover God’s plan for their renewal, we can also see His plan for our lives as well.
There must be a decision of the will.
Read verse 3 with me.
“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: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”
Probably one of the most important words in the entire Bible is that little word "if." If I counted correctly there are 1522 uses of this word in the KJV. God is a God of choices, and you must make yours. No one else can make your decisions for you. No one else can tell you what to do. The decision is yours. We have said before that life is like a coin, it’s yours to spend, but you can only spend it once.
Think about how the Scriptures speak about personal choice…
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me."
"If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you…"
"If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it."
"If ye love me, keep my commandments."
"If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
"If you have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, then put off the ways of the old man and be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."