In the history of God dealing with his people, we have evidence of God’s people being willing to suffer because they fail to respond to his pleas and direction. The revival that takes place under Samuel is such a time. In a time of national defeat, spiritual decline, and communal wandering, the children of Israel finally came to a place of brokenness before God. But, it didn’t come easy.
According to the testimony of Scripture, it took the children of Israel some twenty years to get their hearts in sync with the Spirit of God. Even after the Philistines returned the ark to Israel in Kirjath-jearim, it took the people of God twenty years to acknowledge their need for God and his grace. Twenty years. That is a long time to be in a holding pattern, to be in a point of indecision, to be unclear about one’s allegiances. Yet it is plain it took the children of Israel this period of time before they began to thaw from their spiritual deep freeze.
When they did, they admitted the whole truth about themselves. Before their national repentance, even the capture of the ark didn’t bring them out of their spiritual slumber; there is no evidence in the text that they were affected by it either way–it didn’t seem to matter for a long time whether they lost the ark or recovered it from the Philistines.
Yet, after the twenty years, the texts tells us that all the house of Israel “lamented after the Lord”—they were finally in a position to admit their wrong, to mourn their indifference, to seek God’s authority, and resubmit to his will. Through the powerful prophetic and judging influence of Samuel, they finally were brought to a place of being willing to admit their sin, renounce their adultery with foreign gods, and recommit themselves to the true worship of Yahweh. The text reveals the heart of the matter:
1 Sam. 7.3-6 – And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”  So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.  Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.”  So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.
Samuel clearly lays out the condition for spiritual renewal and community victory. Return to the Lord with all your heart, put away the foreign gods among you, and direct your heart to the Lord for worship and service to him alone. If this is done, God will manifest his victory in the midst of his people.
Here we have the definition of revival in its clearest, cleanest, and most concise form. All forms of revival are nothing more than the rediscovery of God as the Center and Circumference of our entire lives, both as individuals and as communities of faith. God is merciful, faithful, compassionate, and will never break his covenant promise. He is poised, ready and willing, to act on the sureties of his promise if his people merely acknowledge him as their source and stronghold. When they do, even if they have failed to know of his leading for decades, he will faithfully resume his plan and bring victory and definition of revival: they were then brought, doubtless by the influence of Samuel’s exhortations, to renounce idolatry, and to return to the national worship of the true God.
Through the brokenness and humility of God’s people and the wise judgeship of Samuel, God brought about a time of dramatic spiritual renewal and national transformation. They renounced their idols, humbly admitted their transgression, and opened themselves up to the Lord’s cleansing power. They reestablished faith in Yahweh in a sacred convocation at Mizpeh, and symbolically testified to their confession of sin. They allowed God’s chosen representative, Samuel, to judge them–that is, to lead them in the ways of the Lord, and he demonstrated his merciful kindness to them by giving them his victory, and establishing peace in their midst. In a wonderfully ironic twist, their repentance and crying to the Lord resulted in his giving them his brilliant victory which provided them with a secure peace for twenty years, as well as them being restored with the territory that the Philistines had taken beforehand.
As a visible sign of their drawing water, and pouring it out before the Lord (i.e., a sign of their pouring out their hearts in repentance before God) Samuel erected on an open spot a pillar which would testify of God’s help and his intervening victory. The name given to the pillar was “Eben-ezer,” a title that scholars believe was written on its face. Its meaning is clear, and can give us direction as we intercede on behalf of the cities of the world:
1 Sam. 7.12 – Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
“Till now the Lord has helped us.” What a clear statement of the past, an affirmation of the present, and an anticipation of the future. As we seek to advance the Kingdom of God among the poorest of the poor in the cities around the world, we can count on with our whole hearts the kindness and help of the Lord. He knows our frame, our weakness, and our need. He will
not abandon nor forsake us. We can trust his word, for it can never be broken, never go unfulfilled, and cannot be ignored. Our God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is God, and will always come to the aid of those who in humility and brokenness admit their need, cry out to him, and place themselves in a position to be used again for his high purpose.
Let’s not take twenty years to get it. Till now the Lord has helped us, and by faith, we can count on him helping us again, if we humble ourselves before his mighty power. Thank God, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13.8). He will never forsake us if we only cry out to him in faith.
Let us readily and earnestly plead the mercies of the one who stands ready to help us if we renounce our idols, admit our sin, and pour out our cries to him. He will help us if we cry out to him alone.
Example of Crying Out to the Lord in Openness and Humility: Our Lord Jesus
Heb. 5.7-9 – In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.
Principle: Revival occurs when God’s people readily admit their neediness before him, when they renounce all false gods, confess their sin, and yield themselves afresh to his Spirit and to his leaders under his authority. Revival is simply the recognition that only through the help of God can his work be done and his kingdom advanced.