Life is a journey. It is also a struggle. It has its bumps, twists, and turns; opportunities and challenges; successes and failures; and good times and bad times. Through it all, God helps us in ways beyond our human understanding or imagination.
The Israelites were struggling during the time of the Prophet Samuel. They were struggling with their loyalty and faithfulness to the Almighty God, and threats from their archenemies, the Philistines. The Philistines had defeated the Israelites and even captured the Ark of the Lord from them. After the Lord inflicted punishments on the Philistines, they returned the Ark to Israel, but continued to terrorize Israel. Samuel urged the Israelites to rid themselves of the foreign gods they were worshipping, which had displeased the Lord, and return to the Lord and the Lord would deliver them from the Philistines. The Israelites repented, Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord helped them to defeat the Philistines (see 1 Samuel Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7).
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not invade Israelite territory again.” (1 Samuel 7:12-13 NIV).
It is wonderful to know what true repentance, prayers, unflinching loyalty and faithfulness to the Almighty God, and God-inspired leadership can do for a nation and her people.
Let’s review how far God had helped and brought the Israelites, keeping in mind that it was the period before Israel ever had a king. There is no easy way to begin the story of the Israelites and some may rightly go all the way to Abraham and even earlier. However, for purposes of this article, let’s start from where God Himself started in the Preamble to the Ten Commandments. “And God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2 NIV).
About six hundred thousand Israelite men, besides women and children, left Egypt, along with many other people (Exodus 12:37-38). Out of slavery in Egypt, God led the Israelites on a 40-year journey through the wilderness. They crossed the Red Sea on dry land; they were fed by God with manna and quail from heaven and water from rocks; they were protected from, and achieved victories over, their enemies; and they reached the land that God had promised to Abraham and his offspring.
On the Promised Land, they faced enemies like the Philistines; disobeyed God on many occasions by worshipping foreign gods and incurred God’s punishments; and offered sacrifices with burnt offering of lambs and other animals for atonement of their sins. They were also rewarded for their obedience to God. Compared to our current situation, their standard of living was low with very few amenities. They were basically an agrarian community who subsisted on what they could grow, rear or hunt. Their ability to produce on a large scale was limited as there were no machines to undertake mechanized farming. Despite all those limitations, the Israelites were grateful and recognized how far God had helped and brought them to the Promised Land.
Fast-forward to today and compare how far God has helped and brought us, and why we need to recognize and thank Him. We have a better opportunity in Jesus Christ to establish a personal relationship with God. The precious blood of Jesus has atoned for our sins once and for all. All people worldwide, not just Israelites, can now relate to the Almighty God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We have the Holy Spirit in us with which we can call God, Abba, Father (see Romans 8:15). We also have easier access to the Bible that enables us to know the Word of God, unlike the ancient Israelites who depended largely on the prophets, priests, scribes, and religious leaders for the Word of God. Today, the pew is sometimes as knowledgeable as the pulpit.
Our standard of living is higher. Generally, we live in peace with our neighboring countries. Here are a few material things we enjoy today that the ancient Israelites did not have: electricity, light bulb, radio, television, printing press, automobile, train, airplane, ship, camera, computer, Internet, e-mail, telephone, smartphone, GPS, air conditioner, washing machine, refrigerator, stove, microwave oven, and machines for various activities, including mechanized farming.
These are human inventions inspired by the Almighty God to make our lives easier and draw us closer together as a world community. We have become so much accustomed to them that we forget that the people of ancient Israel, like the rest of the world at that time, never saw or experienced them. Yet, they were thankful for thus far God had helped and brought them. Imagine how much more thankful they would have been if they had been flown by airplanes from Egypt to the Promised Land and housed in secured, air-conditioned homes surrounded by many of our modern amenities that many take for granted!
How far has the Lord helped and brought us today? Very, very far. In the hustle and bustle of life, it is easy to forget or take for granted God’s grace and mercy towards us. Occasionally, we should take time to pause, look back, and give recognition to the Almighty God for helping us through whatever stage on the journey He has brought us. No, not occasionally, but frequently, we should do so. Count your blessings, big or small, little or much. Count your blessings until you have too many to count; then, it would not matter much what you may not have.
For example, the Year 2019 started as a year of new beginnings for all of us. And here we are, still hanging on by the grace of God with almost a few days to the end of the year. If we cast our minds back and reflect on what has happened in our lives, we may realize that God has been gracious and merciful to us. It does not mean things have been easy for all of us. Nevertheless, by December 31, 2019, all of us would have at least two things in common: we would have added one year to our lives during 2019, and would be alive and kicking. These are universal milestones worthy of recognition and celebration. They are also worth praising and thanking the Lord for thus far He has helped and brought all of us.
However, as we count our blessings, we should not forget the “Philistines” lurking around us. Who or what are the nagging, chronic problems and challenges that would not go away and leave us in peace? Who or what are our oppressors and tormentors keeping us awake all night and stealing our joy? They will be subdued and not invade our territory any longer in Jesus name. Following the example of the Israelites, we can also chase the “Philistines” away by repenting of sin, worshipping the one and only true God through faith in Jesus Christ, and praying constantly.
Today, we have more and better reasons to thank God and say Ebenezer, thus far has the Lord helped us. The Lord who has helped and brought us thus far, will help us henceforth to go even farther. Think about it as we celebrate Christmas in a few days.
Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Dr. Daniel Gyebi, Attorney-at-Law, Texas, U.S.A., and Founder, PrayerHouse Ministry, Kumasi, Ghana.
PrayerHouse Ministry is dedicated to providing a quiet facility for Christians to pray individually by themselves without any intermediary priest, pastor or any other person. This is a free service. No money is demanded or accepted. One facility is located at Kyerekrom / Fumesua, near Building and Road Research Institute Offices, one mile off the Kumasi-Accra Road and next to a house called Grace Castle. If you are interested, please contact Agnes at 054-7498653. Another is located at Kantinkyiren, at the junction of Kantinkyiren and Konkori, off the Kumasi-Obuasi Road, branching left at Trede junction. Contact Kwadwo at 020-8768461 / 0246-989413.