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“Shalom!” came a voice from behind us.
I turned to see Samuel coming toward us. “Shalom, my friend. So you heard about the Ark’s coming here to Kirjeath-jearim.”
“Yes,” Samuel answered. “This is a good sign, especially as we have reached the end of the forty-year captivity. I have never lived in a free nation, as you know, for I was born as this captivity began.”
“I remember,” I replied. “Has it really been 35 years since we redeemed you as a child from Philistine captivity and returned you to your mother and father?” 143
“It has been a long time for me, though apparently not for you,” he answered. “But no matter. My present concern is to reverse the cause of this captivity, so that we can be truly free. It is time for Israel to put away their idols and to turn back to the laws of Yahweh.”
“Now that Samson is gone,” I said, “your time has come. You must finish what he started. There is a spiritual vacuum now that must be filled. Eli and his sons are dead, and Shiloh has been burned to the ground. It is a wonder that Ahijah has survived, yet he is young and has not had time to earn the respect of the people. You are the one that the people will follow, for you are widely acknowledged as a prophet.”
“Yes, I know that it is now time for me to enter my calling,” Samuel replied, nodding his head. “I have called for a public meeting for those who are now gathered here. 144 If the people hear the word of Yahweh, they will agree to put away their idols and send runners throughout Israel to do the same everywhere. This must be done quickly.”
“This new town now represents the heart of Israel,” I reminded him. “The people’s decision today will reflect the heart of the entire nation. I believe that they will take heed to your words, for the time is ripe for God to open their eyes.”
The remainder of the day was spent preparing for the evening meeting. All of the people knew what Samuel was about to say, and they discussed it among themselves while waiting for it to be officially announced.
When the time finally came, Samuel stood on a platform and addressed the people. He read the portion of the law which told how God would bring Israel into captivity to foreign nations if they put away His law. Then he read them the blessings of obedience that God promised upon Israel if they repented of their sin.
“O Israelites,” Samuel said in a loud voice, 145 “to whom the Philistines are still grievous enemies, but to whom God now begins to be gracious, it is good that you desire to be free, but you must also adopt the proper methods to obtain it. Nor are you to be content with an inclination to be free of your lords and masters while you still retain the idols which brought about your captivity forty years ago. Do what is right, then, and cast aside your wickedness.”
“If you obey His voice,” Samuel continued, “you will prosper and be blessed by Yahweh. You will be set free from slavery, and you will get the victory over your enemies. This victory is not possible by weapons of war, or by strength of arms, or by a multitude of warriors. If you return to Yahweh with your whole heart, and if you remove the foreign gods from among you and direct your hearts to serve Yahweh alone, He will deliver you from the heavy hand of the Philistines.”
Samuel then reminded them of the previous captivities and how God had delivered them. The people shouted their approval. Those among them who had refrained from idolatry wept and bowed their faces to the ground. They were overcome by emotion, seeing their fellow Israelites repent. Long had they prayed for such a day.
“Then let us gather in ten days’ time at the Watchtower,” 146 Samuel continued. “Gather on Yom Kippur, and humble yourselves, and keep the fast of Yahweh. 147 Send runners throughout Israel. Tell the people to dispose of their idols and for the men to gather together to hear the word of Yahweh.”
And so it was that the people gathered at Mizpeh, the Watchtower, amid much excitement, as the word spread throughout the land. But such excitement could not be hidden from the Philistines, whose giant rulers mobilized the army to crush the rebellion.
At Mizpeh Samuel again encouraged the people, offered sacrifices, and taught them from the law, so that the people would remember the commandments, statutes, and judgments of Yahweh, defining His nature, which He intended to be the righteous law of the land.
The people then kept the fast on Yom Kippur, while Samuel encouraged them and prophesied the end of their captivity. The next day, however, when the people looked out from the high mountain of Mizpeh overlooking the Aijalon Valley, they saw the Philistine army in the distance.
“They have interpreted our gathering as a revolt,” Samuel said. “But do not fear, for God has stirred them up and has caused them to threaten us, so that He might defeat them and end their rule over Israel.”
“But they have not purified themselves with the ashes of the red heifer,” I observed. “They have come by another route and have ignored the lawful requirement to enter this land. The Power of the Flame cannot let them pass in peace.”
Many of the men were afraid, saying, “We have no weapons and no armor. How can we defeat their well-equipped armor? How can we overcome their iron swords? We are no match for them, for we are totally unprepared for battle.”
But Samuel said, “This battle is not yours, for it cannot be won by human strength. God alone will fight for you, as He did in the days of Joshua, when the sun stood still. Remember how God defeated the five kings of the Philistines in that same place! God will do so again! Now gather together and go out to meet the Philistines. But you will not need to fight this battle. You are to go so that you may see the work of God as He fights for Israel!”
“Should we not carry the Ark into battle?” another asked.
“The Ark is not to be treated like a good-luck charm,” Samuel said. “Do you not remember what happened the last time men tried to do that? Besides, God’s presence is with us and in us. Have faith in God, and you will be His Ark.”
“Then please do not cease to cry out to God to save us from the hand of the Philistines,” someone shouted from the crowd. 148
“Have no fear!” a man in the crowd shouted. “God is with us!” I recognized his voice, for it was Nathan. He was accompanied by his friend, Obed. Both had heeded the call to gather at Mizpeh. Although they had arrived late, they had slowly made their way through the crowd to join Samuel at the altar.
A lamb was brought, and Samuel hastily offered it as a burnt offering upon the altar of sacrifice in Mizpeh on behalf of Israel, crying out to God for His mercy. By the time the offering was completed, the Philistine army had drawn close enough to hear the sound of marching feet in the distance. 149
Then Obed stepped forward and shouted, “The God of Israel is with us today! Be strong and of good courage! Come, let us celebrate our victory! Follow me!”
I was surprised to see that Obed was carrying Nathan’s harp, for I had never heard him sing, nor had I seen him play any harp at all. But it appeared that Nathan had finally given Obed his harp, and the man of Judah began to sing in a clear, loud voice:
The resting place that God has sought,
Was a holy hill—most people thought;
But then he found a place in me.
A house of faith where He was free
To be Himself and me as well;
Now love has found a place to dwell.
The flame of fire seen in His eyes
Was love and passion from the skies;
His purifying flame sent here
Is not content until all fear
Has been replaced by faith and love
And God alone rules from above.
Here comes the all-consuming fire,
Relentless passion on the pyre,
To save from every enemy
That torments them by slavery.
The fiery sword in the Cherub’s hand
Will cleanse all sin and heal our land.
Suddenly, dark clouds rolled in, seemingly out of nowhere. The wind picked up dust and cast it into the faces of the Philistines. Soon a great thunderstorm was pelting the Philistines, not only with rain, but also with great hailstones. Streams of water flowed down from the hillsides, turning their path into a river of mud. 150
Then a great earthquake struck, shaking the ground and making it impossible for the Philistines to stand on their feet on the slippery mud. Chasms opened up in the ground, and many Philistines fell into the abyss. The Israelites heard their cries, watching the scene from the higher elevation, where the sun continued to shine brightly, and where they felt no effects from the earthquake.
After an hour, the clouds began to dissipate, the lightning stopped, and the rain ended. The sun revealed the extent of destruction that had afflicted the entire Philistine army. The survivors could be seen fleeing back toward their own land.
“Come!” Samuel shouted. “Go after them! Pick up their swords and chase them back to their border.”
“Here!” I said to Samuel. “Ride Pleiades at the head of the Israelite army! I will go with you on Pegasus!” Sipporah was more than happy to loan her horse to Samuel, for she had no desire or inclination to ride into battle.
With a great shout, the Israelites followed the horses and their riders, running swiftly toward the battleground. Picking up the iron swords that had been cast aside, they pursued the fleeing remnant of the Philistine army to the border of Israel at Beth-horon. 151 There Samuel called a halt, ending the battle.
“They will not soon forget this day,” Samuel said. “God has fought again for Israel, as in the days of Joshua. 152 We must memorialize this place and set up a stone boundary marker between Israel and the Philistines.”
A large stone was found on the ascent of the hill, and the men dislodged it. It rolled down the hill and came to rest at the foot of Beth-horon. There Samuel anointed it and consecrated it, establishing the boundary marker.
“This stone will be called Ebenezer, the Stone of Help,” he proclaimed, “for indeed, God has helped us this day to secure victory over the Philistines.” 153
“This stone bears witness of another Helper who is yet to come,” I mused. “He will deliver us from the flesh and from all evil.”