By Dr. Howard Eyrich
I Samuel 7
Israel had become addicted to idolatry–foreign gods. Though “the word of Samuel came to all Israel” (4:1), (ESV*) they persisted in idolatry for the first twenty years of his prophetic ministry. It cost them dearly, as we saw in chapters 4-6. There was one bright spot. It was at the house of Abinadab where the Ark of the Covenant resided (7:1-2). Matthew Henry, the old English prolific commentator, gives us insight regarding the phrase, “all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” (1 Samul 7:2, ESV)
“Twenty years of this time had passed before the house of Israel was sensible of the want of the ark. The Septuagint read it somewhat more clearly than we do; and it was twenty years, and (that is, when) the whole house of Israel looked up again after the Lord. So long the ark remained in obscurity, and the Israelites were not sensible of the inconvenience, nor ever made any enquiry after it, what has become of it; though, while it was absent from the tabernacle, the token of God’s special presence was wanting, nor could they keep the day of atonement as it should be kept. They were content with the altars without the ark; so easily can formal professors rest satisfied in a round of external performances, without any tokens of God’s presence or acceptance. But at length they bethought themselves, and began to lament after the lord, stirred up to it, it is probable, by the preaching of Samuel, with which an extraordinary working of the Spirit of God set in. A general disposition to repentance and reformation now appears throughout all Israel, and they begin to look unto him whom they had slighted, and to mourn.”
-Matthew Henry’s Commentary, 1 Samuel 7:1-2 (Accessed via biblegateway.org)
With this helpful comment and assistance of the Septuagint, let’s consider God’s remedy for their addiction. It began with Israel wearying of their misery and a stirring of God that brought them to the place where they “lamented after the LORD” (verse 2). In chapter five, we observe the stupidity of idolatry, where the silly Philistines find Dagon fallen before the Ark one morning and set him up. Then the next day, they find him with his hands and head cut off. Each time they pick up their god and set him up. Such is the foolishness of addiction to idols—alcohol, drugs, sex, body image, cars, you name it.
Samuel’s Plan: Summarized (Verse 3)
The first step is to return to the Lord with all your heart. This is parallel to Ephesians 4:17-23 and Romans 6:11.
The second step is to repent by removing the foreign gods– the “Put off” of Ephesians 4:22. For example, for the alcoholic, it eliminates people, places, and things (bottles) from one’s life that facilitate practicing idolatry.
The third step is refocusing your heart on the Lord, “direct your hearts to the Lord to serve Him alone.” (NASB®)**. This is the equivalent of the “renewing the mind” of Ephesians 4:23.
The fourth step is passive. Watch the LORD retrieve your life by delivering you from your addiction.
Samuel’s Plan: Procedure (Verses 4-17)
Remove the idols (verse 4)
This is what he told them they must do. They listened and did so.
Revive the heart (Verses 5-6)
Prayer was the task of Samuel, but no doubt was a model of how they should be praying. It is good to have others pray for us and a counselor to teach us how to pray.
Worship: They were not at the tabernacle, so the worship was truncated consisting of fasting for the day and making a semblance of a drink offering.
Counsel: the word judged here, is best understood as counseled. Samuel counsels them with the Word of God, emphasizing how God would have them live.
Recognize Satan’s Counterattack (Verse 7)
When a person is addicted to an idol and removes it from their life, Satan will counterattack. For the alcoholic, boredom, self-doubt, or discomfort with losing the idol may be the “Philistine” that Satan uses. It is wise to anticipate this counterattack and be prepared to repel it.
Remain Dependent upon God (Verses 8-11)
Remember to seek help from those around you. The Israelites “were afraid …(and came to Samuel saying,) “Do not cease cry to the LORD our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” (verses 7-8)
Retain an attitude of worship with the expectation of God’s acting on your behalf (verse 10)
Pursue: Dispersing the idol from your life (verse 11). When the “Philistines” showed up to battle you, what were you thinking? Self-pity, rejection, loneliness? Name it, reject it, and affirm God’s love for you and His good intentions toward you. Write out a prayer of thanksgiving, read I Samuel 7, and engage in worship, prayer, fellowship, even playing a round of golf and praise the LORD for His strength and good hand upon you as you play.
Reminder Markers are Useful and Biblical (Verse 12)
Samuel set up a marker stone for Israel as their reminder. When Joshua led the people through the Jordan river, he had men bring stones, and he set up a marker to remind them that the LORD divided the river, just like He had the Red Sea under Moses to bring them into the Promised Land. Remembering–and markers to help people remember– is a theme that runs through the Scriptures.
So, what kind of marker can the alcoholic set up? Or what type of marker can you set up to remind you not to return to your idol and to stay on the course of worshiping only the LORD God Almighty? This can be as simple as a 4X6 card on the visor of your car that reads, “This card is your stone to remind you to worship only the LORD God.” You may make more than one card to put in places that would be strategic for you.
Retain Freedom If You Walk With the LORD (Verse 13)
For the Israelites, this meant they would be free of the dominance of hostile nations, who were hostages to idol worship and the Satan behind the idols.
For the Christian, Jesus put it this way, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15). And when we do, He appends to this His blessing (16-31). The Apostle John tells us, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin,” (I John 1:7).
Rebuild Life (Verses 14-17)
Here we do well to pop over to the book of Joel, where we read about another spiritual principle that brings hope to the reform idolater. Simply stated, it is this. The repentant sinner will find his spiritual life rewarding. For Israel, repentance and worship yielded fellowship with God and prosperity in the land.
Joel declares, “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust [that is] my great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And My people shall never be put to shame. 27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.”
For the Christian, the principle applies. Vertically, repentance and worship yield fellowship with God and one another (review I John 1:7). As a rule, the idol worshiper’s horizontal life becomes richer and fuller.
Idolatry– addiction — is not new. Adam and Eve became idolaters in the original sin. They incorporated the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in that sin. Each became an idol because each overrode God. They worshiped the idol in place of God. Throughout the Old Testament and ancient history, idolatry flourished. The moral law of Exodus 20 codified the prohibition of idolatry—“you shall have no other gods before me,” and this was reinforced with, “You shall not make for yourself an idol…You shall not worship them or serve them…”
Our hearts can easily become idol factories turning many good things into gods. In our world today, the three idols that yield incredibly negative consequences are alcohol, drugs, and body dysphoria–with the fallout of abuse of drugs and the advances of medicine to facilitate this idolatry.
Alcohol and drugs, even when severely abused, respond to the Samuel model when put into practice. Body dysphoria may yield unalterable consequences, but praise God; repentance will facilitate the reformation of thinking, affecting revival and establishing walking in the light as He is in the light.
Dr. Eyrich holds the MA, ThM, and DMin Degrees and a post-doctoral certificate in Gerontology. His experience includes church planter, Sr. Pastor, seminary professor and president, 45 years as Biblical Counselor, and author of eight books plus pamphlets and journal articles. Currently serving as Counselor-
at-Large with The Owen Center, presenter of various seminars on marriage and family as well as gerontological issues like preparing for retirement and caring for parents, Dr. Eyrich’s latest books are Life Lessons from Ancient Prophets and After an Affair: Rebuilding Your Trust, Rebuilding Your Marriage. He is a FELLOW in ACBC and Mentor with IABC regularly supervising new counselors. He is married to Pamela Jayne Eyrich for 58 years. They have two children, eight grandchildren and two great grandsons. Find him at howardeyrich.com and his resources on Amazon.
*Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.
**Scripture quotations marked NASB® are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org