In 1 Samuel chapter 4-5, I read of the Philistines’ victory over Israel and how they captured the Ark of the Covenant. God brought the Philistines’ god down and inflicted them with a disease. The rest of the story is in 1 Samuel 6.
And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us with what we shall send it to its place.” They said… “Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way and watch. 1 Samuel 6: 2-3a, 7-9a ESV
The Philistines’ priests and diviners tell them to deliver the Ark to the Israelites in a cart drawn by milk cows. The fact that the cows pulled the cart to Beth-shemesh and the Israelites proved that God cared about the Ark. Milk cows’ first instinct would be to stay with their calves, so they should have gone to their stables to be with them. Not to mention that fact that these cows have never wore a yoke or pulled a cart, so they didn’t know how to work together and pull something. God used this event to show that He was in control of the events and was fighting for Israel.
Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a burnt offering to the LORD. And Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him…the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. 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.” 1 Samuel 7: 7a, 9, 10b, 12 ESV
The Philistines tried to conquer Israel again, but this time Samuel offered up burnt offerings and call on the LORD for help. The LORD helped Israel and subdued the Philistines before them. After calling on God to help the Israel defeat their enemies, Samuel becomes a judge of Israel.
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 you heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 1 Samuel 7:3 ESV
Samuel tells the Israelites that they must follow the One True God, not the gods of the people around them, if they want His protection. Israel had a long-running problem with idolatry. Early disciple, Stephen, pointed this out in his speech to the high priest in Acts. Stephen was brought before the elders, and the elders, and the scribes for alleged blasphemy. Stephen defends his faith in Jesus and tells of how Israel repeatedly resisted God and disobeyed him to that day.
“And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands. But God turned away and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: Did you bring to me slain beasts and sacrifices during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You took up the tent of Moloch and the star of you god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; and I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.” Acts 7: 41-43 ESV
Stephen tells at the first time Israel disobeyed God as a group, the creation of the golden calf. That was sadly not the last time they turned against the LORD. The book of Judges is full of examples of God rescuing His people, only for them to turn back to worshipping the false gods of the nations around them. However, through Jesus, God rescued His people once and for all. After Stephen delivers his speech, he is attacked by mob that is enraged by his words. However, before he is killed, he sees Jesus.
But he (Stephen), full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7: 55-56 ESV
Stephen became the very first martyr, dying at the hands of the council. However, because of his faith in Jesus, God saved him from his sins and he went to heaven, a place he got a foretaste of just minutes before he died.
Dear God, that you for rescuing me once and for all. Please give me the strength to follow you and to stand strong in the face of opposition and persecution. Please help me obey your words and to seek you. Amen.