From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.
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. Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines.
8And the people of Israel said to Samuel, "Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines." 9So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.
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." So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
1 Samuel 7:2-13
The word is not usually used in polite company. In fact, the word is not usually used. Even in the daily tsunami of entertainment and news, of blogs and tweets, of posts and press releases, the word is avoided or not even known. Oh, there are close substitutes to be sure. We hear of “taking full responsibility,” of, “admitting to some of the allegations,” of, “cooperating fully with the investigation.” We even occasionally get to hear a genuine, heartfelt public apology. But no one ever seems to say, “I repent of my wrongdoing.” And, what would that really mean if someone did have the courage to say it? It might break the internet!
God’s word, however, is filled with calls to repent, to return to God and the things of God. And that’s the starting point. You see, repentance has at its core an understanding of God’s transcendence and His holiness. True repentance begins by admitting that there is a standard beyond ourselves, a truth that is true absolutely, a God who determines right and wrong based on His own character and not on public opinion polls. Repentance begins when we see again that God is God and we are not.
The people of Israel had to learn that lesson over and over, just like we do. They had assimilated into the culture of Canaan, including embracing the culture’s false gods and lifeless idols. Just like we do. God’s rebuke of His wayward people was to chastise them through the Philistines. To some, that may seem harsh or capricious. But God is clear. He will brook no rivals. His people will be about the business of reflecting His character, not replacing God’s glory with imitations. God Himself will tear down the idols.
And just like the Israelites, for us the most pernicious idol of all is found when we look in the mirror. In large ways and small ways, we all are prone to try to elbow God out of the way so we ourselves can be center stage in God’s world. But He’ll have none of it. We must confess and beg God to tear down whatever we worship in place of Him.
Then, empowered by God the Holy Spirit, and clinging to Jesus our Lord, we walk and work in a new way. Our purpose aligns with His when He makes us new. And until the Lord comes or calls, our lives are about His glory and not our own.
So whatever they may be, and however hidden they are, “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.”