Here I Raise My Ebenezer

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

1 Samuel 7:3-17 | July 18 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
July 18
Here I Raise My Ebenezer | 1 Samuel 7:3-17
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

I encourage you to turn in your Bibles to 1 Samuel, chapter 7. 1 Samuel, chapter 7. In chapter 4 we saw the Philistines defeat the Israelites and so the Israelites bring the ark into battle, but they presume upon the Lord and they are defeated again, and the ark is captured.

In chapter 5 the ark, far from being vanquished, in fact as it’s placed in the temple of Dagon, their false god is smashed to pieces before the ark, and then in chapter 6 as great disaster befalls the Philistines, they seek a way to get rid of the ark and it returns by way of some bovine help to Israel. But once there, some of the Israelites are killed as they look upon the ark.

So we come to chapter 7 and we see if the Israelites finally have learned a lesson, and what Samuel will do as he judges Israel. Follow along as I read verse 3 through the end of the chapter.

“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. And 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.” So 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 defeated 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. The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites.”

“Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places. Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the LORD.”

There’s no doubt that compared to almost any other place at almost any other time in history, we live lives on the whole that are healthier, more comfortable, much more prosperous. By many measures life is easier than it used to be. However, it’s also more complicated.

Sometimes if you look back and you hear of the Reformers or these great heroes of the faith and you see how much they wrote, fills up bookshelves, and they wrote more than most people will ever read, and you think how did they do that? They didn’t have typewriters and they didn’t have electric lights, they had candles, and how did they do so much and accomplish so much? Well, truly that was extraordinary and the Lord’s grace. But they also didn’t have insurance forms to figure out, and they didn’t have to get emissions for their car, and they didn’t have to fill out all the forms for their taxes and paperwork and regulations. There are so many specialists and no person, no matter how talented or genius are, can know how to fix everything mechanical, electrical, digital, and so we need specialists to help us. Anytime there’s paperwork and bureaucracy and red tape and regulations, it’s a lot. It takes a lot just to live your life. It’s very complicated.

When I moved far away from home for the first time, so I went to college and it was just about a half hour away and still within striking distance for laundry and getting my parents to help with things parents, I mean mom, to help with things, and finally when I went out to seminary in Boston, 15 hours away, what stressed me out was not actually the coursework, I had planned everything out, this is how many pages I read each day and here’s how I stay on top of all my classes, and I had mapped out by the minute how I was going to spend my days, until I realized that I actually didn’t have every waking minute of the day to do what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t even married and didn’t even have kids. But I quickly realized that I didn’t have time in my schedule to figure out how to apply for financial aid, or how to set up a phone service. Yes, we had phones, not digital phones, phones in our room. How to do my laundry, how to get my car fixed when the transmission broke, how to make sure I was covered by my insurance, how to get my credit card statement sent to a new place, how to get checks and how to sign up for a bank somewhere.

All of these things, just life details, and I was only 20-something, and they just get more and more complicated. It takes a lot of energy and effort just to live a “normal” life.

The Christian life can also seem more and more complicated. There’s more and more activities to be a part of, groups to be a part of. It can seem as if you need to have this expertise and people expect of you not only that you try to pray and make it through your day and not make shipwreck of your faith, but that you would play a key role in the transformation of society and the changing of the world and it can feel as if, if you are going to be a truly successful Christian, it would help if you’re an off-the-charts extrovert and you’re highly disciplined and you’re amazing at time management, and if you could find 35 hours in your day.

Thankfully, the biblical approach to the Christian life is much simpler, and quite a bit more simpler than many of us realize. Now, I did not say easier. Actually, part of being simpler is that it’s harder on a heart level but more manageable on your time. It is really rather simple: Repent. Believe. Obey.

Repent. Believe. Obey.

And to the degree that we understand that sequence, it seems to me that in the church and in our lives, most of us put 80% of that emphasis on believe, and 18% on obey, and about 2% on repentance. It’s the part of Christian discipleship that we ignore. And maybe that’s one of the reasons that our Christian lives seem so complicated, because we’re actually trying to manufacture a certain kind of life, and it’s not really growing out of the humble soil of a repentant heart.

Think about it. When is the last time you repented specifically of a sin? Before the Lord and before someone else. When’s the last time? And if it has been a long time, it’s not because you haven’t sinned against someone else, or I haven’t sinned against someone else, let alone against the Lord.

We cannot get anywhere that we really need to go in our Christian life unless we start with repentance.

And this episode in the life of Israel in 1 Samuel chapter 7 shows us the beauty and indeed the simplicity of repentance. That’s the next thing. In fact, that’s the first thing that they must do if they are to find the Lord’s favor again and walk in His ways. If you’ve been here throughout the summer, and most people have been in and out, but the story of Samuel is the story of things not going very well for Israel.

Now things have gone fairly well for Samuel, and he’s going to judge Israel, but for Israel as a whole, we had Eli, Hophni, Phinehas, things didn’t go well for them. They lose to the Philistines twice. They lose the ark. And then when the ark comes back, no thanks to them, it comes back, some men look at it, and they’re killed. Almost nothing seems to be going right for the nation of Israel.

But now finally in chapter 7 something goes massively right, and what went right? They repented.

Again, it’s amazing how simple the biblical pattern of renewal is. You think what would it take in our church, city, country, to experience great renewal? Times of refreshing from the Lord? Well, certainly there are many different ways; it will use people writing books and people doing church ministries and people in their own sphere of influence. The Lord will use all of that, but at its heart it’s very simple. ‘

What did it mean in John the Baptist’s day when people came to him and they said, “Okay, John, we’re listening to you. Tell us what do we do?”


That was Jesus’ message. Repent.

It was the message at Pentecost. Repent.

Now sometimes it’s repent and believe, sometimes it’s believe, because actually those things are two sides of the same coin. It’s turning from sin and it’s turning to Christ. Repent and believe.

We see this pattern throughout the Bible. So often there’s a period of great strength in the nation of Israel, and then with this strength, you think of some of the kings and he was marvelously helped until he became strong. And when they were strong, it led to stagnation and then apathy and then disobedience and then downfall and then finally desperation and sometimes even exile.

And what was the path back up? It began with repentance, and then God’s rescue and salvation and then He made His people strong once again.

That’s the pattern throughout the Bible. It’s the general pattern in Church history. Moments of great triumph and the strength occur when there is a humility of heart to cast ourselves upon the Lord and to seek salvation for our sins, and then as the Church does that, there’s different periods where they grow strong.

So the Church is fledgling and weak and they seek the Lord, and then, you know, Constantine and his famous conversion, and then Christianity goes from a persecuted minority to the official religion of the Empire, and over time then as the Church accrues wealth and prosperity and influence, you have the proliferation of various monastic movements that say the Church has grown corrupt and worldly. Then those very monastic movements would get great wealth and influence and power, and so another monastic movement would come and say these guys have gotten too strong and they’re no longer humble.

The Reformation comes along, a reformation of doctrine but also a reformation of the heart, to see this Church has become worldly. Time and again we see this pattern in revivals, in awakenings.

It’s no coincidence here that it coincides with the establishment of Samuel’s leadership over Israel. Look at the passage, look at the bookends. It begins in the first two verses, Samuel said to all the house of Israel, he exercises leadership, he tells them what to do, if you are truly returning to the Lord you need to get serious about this and turn away from your idols, and then the last three verses of the chapter, Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life, and it speaks of his ministry and the peace that they had during Samuel’s judgeship.

Often in Church history, almost always, in times of renewal there’s strong preaching, strong leadership. We see it here with Samuel as he leads the people in repentance.

So what did this repentance look like for Israel? What might it look like for you? Me? Individually, maybe in your family, maybe for us corporately. I want you to notice in this passage the anatomy of repentance in four steps.

Now, there’s nothing rigid here that you always have these four steps or it happens in this order, but you see here a good biblical picture of repentance in four parts: Contrition, confession, turning, and trusting. Those four. Anatomy of repentance.

Look first at their contrition.

Now we see this up in verse 2: “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.”

That’s the wrap up of the episode from last week where they looked upon the ark and some of the men perished. Well, it says a “long time.” It took twenty years, that’s the biblical number for a generation. It took a generation in Israel to finally come to their spiritual senses and say, “You know what? We need to lament for our sins.” The Hebrew word “nahah.” This particular word used only three times in the Old Testament. Here and Ezekiel 32 and Micah chapter 2. Notice it says they “lamented after the LORD.” There’s a direction. They’re not just wailing for their failures, they’re lamenting after the Lord.

There’s a difference, an eternal difference, between regret and repentance. You don’t need the work of the Spirit to feel regret. We all feel regret when we have bad consequences for our bad decisions, and you regret and you think, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that, I shouldn’t have cheated on the test, now I’m getting kicked out of school,” “I shouldn’t have gossiped about that person ’cause now our relationship’s in a bad way,” “I shouldn’t have started drinking again ’cause now my life’s a mess,” and we feel regret for bad things and bad consequences.

This is not simply regret. It is lamenting after the Lord. It’s a strong word. In Ezekiel, it’s translated “wail.” In Micah, it’s translated “moan.” This is not a begrudging sort of repentance, “All right, all right, I admit it. I made a mistake. I could have done better there.” Like when you try to lead your children, “Now I want you to go to your brother or sister, I want you to say sorry.” “Sorry.” “I want you guys to just hug it out.” [laughter]

This is a genuine moaning and wailing. There’s a certain desperation about it. It’s the heart that cries out before God, “I’m ruined. I’m a goner. I’m a wreck. Lord, we have been sinking down for 20+ years. This cannot go on like this any longer.” There’s a genuine contrition. Their hearts are pulverized.

Have you ever seen with people, and maybe in your own life, people get to the precipice of repentance and they almost jump but they pull back. Their lives are a mess and they can see they’re running into the same dead end again and again, and they’ve got the same bad habits that are leading to a disaster in their marriage and family, and they get to that point, to the very edge, and they’re about ready to with great heart contrition confess that they can’t do it anymore and admit their sin before the Lord and before others, and that’s what they ought to do. That’s one precipice they ought to jump off of. But what do they do? They pull back. I’ve seen it time and again. I’ve seen it even in my own life.

Your life is so uncomfortable and you’ve made a mess of something and you’re just about ready to dive all the way into repentance and then you have a day that feels a little better, and so you think, “I think I can manage this. I think I can figure this out. I think I can really get my life back on track without actually having to change fundamentally at a heart level. I think if I just get some things in better order, I can figure this out again.” And then they pull back and it’s not genuine repentance.

Repentance begins with contrition, a lament, a moan, a wail, a hatred for our sin.

You see the next step: Confession. We’ll go down to verse 5 and 6, Samuel exercising leadership, said gather Israel at Mizpah, “I will pray to the LORD for you.” So often there’s power in praying for people when it comes to their sins. Sometimes we need to hear others praying for us. This isn’t all just done privately, go figure it out. Sometimes we need someone, “I will pray for you.” We need others to confirm forgiveness for us.

Samuel gathers them, he prays for them. Notice they draw water, they pour it out, and they fast on that day. Fasting indicates many things in the Bible, but at its heart, fasting is an expression, “O God, I want You, I want Your mercy, I want Your forgiveness, more than I want food on this day,” or this season, or whatever you might be fasting from. It’s an indication that they are broken, that they’re lamenting, and as an expression of that desire and that confession, they fast.

And notice they plainly admit their fault. End of verse 6: “We have sinned against the LORD.” Plain, simple language. We would do well to use this plain, simple language. There’s a reason why people don’t like the word “sin.” They don’t like to be thought of or called “sinners” because it still carries a sting and a weight. No one has a problem admitting “I could have done better, I could be a better person, there are things I can improve on.” Or to put in a generic passive sense, “mistakes were made, I regret the decision, I apologize for any offense you may have taken. As I read this statement which my lawyers have no doubt written for me, I regret that I have hurt others and let down many people.”

Now those may be appropriate statements at different times and different ways, but by themselves they do not confess sin. Notice they don’t just admit regret, they don’t just indicate bad circumstances. It is not just a statement of horizontal consequences: Here’s what’s gone wrong in my life. It is a statement of vertical offense: We have sinned against who? The LORD. It’s not just a mistake, it’s not just a growth edge, it’s not just a learning curve, it’s not just an area for improvement, it’s not just one thing that could have been better in my life. It is a sin, a transgression, an iniquity, against the God of the universe.

The Westminster Confession has very good statements about repentance. Let me read two of them to you.

Chapter 15, article 5: “Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent,” and here’s a famous phrase because it is so odd-sounding, “to repent of his particular sins particularly.”

Now, the Confession is not expecting that every day you have to do a minute recollection of all your sins. We are never going to get through all of our sins. You have to mark them down. That would be a morbid kind of introspection. But the Confession is certainly wise to call us not to just a blanket, “Lord, I done messed up and I could’ve done better. Sorry.”

Well, that’s a start, but to repent of particular sins particularly, not just, “Lord, this past week I could’ve been better, and I’m sorry; Lord, I was angry with my children, that was a sin; Lord, my eyes wandered where they shouldn’t have gone, that was a sin; Lord, I spoke ill and gossiped about my friend, that was wrong; Lord, I’ve had bitterness, I’ve been dreaming about revenge, Lord, that was a sin, forgive me.”

Particular sins confessed particularly.

And then here’s the next paragraph: ” As every man is bound to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for the pardon thereof; upon which, and the forsaking of them, he shall find mercy; so he that scandalizes his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended; who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.”

There is a time both for private and for public confession. Of course, we must be wise about this. The general rule of thumb is public repentance as wide as those who have been sinned against.

Back in my college days, there were these earnest sort of, maybe they were even some level of revival kind of happening, and there was one night a, this was the year before I was there, there was into the wee hours of the night, students were coming forward and confessing sins. Powerful. One student came up and confessed that he has slept with his girlfriend, who was there and that was not the way to confess your sin. Not that sin in front of everybody. That was really wrong and probably would count as a “me, too” moment. That was really inappropriate.

That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about all of our private sins confessed in front of everybody. But when we sin against others, we must make known not just our sin before God, but when especially they are of a notorious character or they are known publicly, the rule of thumb, let our repentance be as well-known be as well-known as our sin.

So often we think that it’s only between us and God, and that’s true in many occasions and there are many things you don’t need to go track people down sometimes for minor offenses. But the Confession rightly tells us that confession is both public and private.

Here in Israel it is very much public because corporately as a nation they have sinned against the Lord and they state as much.

Contrition, confession, turning.

Go back up to verse 3 and 4. Samuel says 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 hearts to the Lord and serve Him only.

Talk is cheap. To borrow a phrase from the theologians in the rock band Boston, repentance must be more than a feeling. It takes the work of God in our hearts to truly c change us. Repentance may start with that but true repentance is more than feeling terrible about your sin.

So here Samuel says, “If you are returning, if you’re serious about this, if this is more than just talk and oh, we feel so terrible, oh, Samuel, we’ve really blown it. We’ve lamented after the Lord, oh, this is, what a rotten mess we’ve made of things.” Samuel says, “Ok, that’s good. Now if you’re really returning to the Lord, here’s what you do. You’re going to put away the false gods and you’re going to turn with all your heart to the true god.”

Notice, this repentance is not easy, but it’s not complicated. Simple. Put off those gods, go to the one true God.

Turning means you don’t just stop at a loud lamentation and wailing. God is not interested that we just lie around and cry about it and we don’t actually change. Repentance would not have been real repentance if they had not actually put away their foreign gods. God is not interested, listen very carefully because a lot of church people misunderstand this, God is not interested in having you mope around every day. Sometimes even as Reformed Christians we feel like that: “I’m really walking with the Lord if I’m moping, and if I’m constantly just feeling really, really bad and not feeling too happy about things because that would probably mean I’m doing something wrong.”

God did not want them moping around. He wanted them to turn, to change.

There’s the perfect illustration of this in Joshua chapter 7. Israel goes out to fight against the city of Ai after they had had their great victory at Jericho, but the people of Israel, Joshua 7 tells us, broke faith in regard to the devoted things. So Achan among them had stolen some of the things, they didn’t realize it at first, and so they lost to little Ai after this great victory at Jericho.

And then we read Joshua tore his clothes, fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. They put dust on their heads and Joshua said, “Alas, O LORD God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O LORD, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us… And what will you do for Your great name?”

It’s a loud lamentation. That’s good. Contrition for sin. Joshua and all the elders say, “What has happened? This is terrible. We’ve made a mess of it.”

But here’s what we read next in verse 10 of Joshua 7: “The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed My covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things… Therefore Israel cannot stand… Get up! Consecrate the people… Consecrate yourselves… There are devoted things in your midst. ””

In other words, God says, “Enough already. I’m not interested in you moping around.” God doesn’t want us just in a perpetual state of groaning. Sometimes He says, “Okay, get up. You know what? There are devoted things. Make it right. Take care of this sin. Turn from it. Turn to me and then you will find favor again.”

Talk is cheap. God doesn’t want a perpetual state of moaning for our sins. He says, “All right, you felt the blow, now deal with it and get up.”

There’s this scene in the movie Gettysburg where Robert E. Lee is upset, furious, that J.E.B. Stuart has been missing, and without him he doesn’t know where the Union army is, and in this scene he calls in and finally J.E.B. Stuart is there and he calls in J.E.B. Stuart and I could try to do the southern accent because Martin Sheen’s southern accent is really bad [laughter], but J.E.B. Stuart comes in and he gets a dressing down from the general: “General Stuart, you are the eyes and the ears of this army.” I told you it was bad. [laughter] And then as he gets dressed down and rebukes General Stuart, you could see that J.E.B. Stuart takes off his sword and he begins to hand it in to his superior, General Lee. And then one of the great scenes in that movie, he barks back, “There is no time for this. No time.” And he tells him, “Put your sword back on” and he says “you’re one of the best officers in this army, and I don’t have time for this,” and he says, “You need to take it like a man does.”

In other words, yes, you messed up; yes, I rebuked you, and don’t turn in your sword, I don’t want you moping around, we don’t have time for this, you need to get back into the battle.

And I admit, I’ve used that line even with my children at times, “You need to take this like a man. All right? Yep, yep. Doesn’t have to feel good, but I’m not looking for a flood of tears about this, okay? You’re gonna take it. I love you, and I want you to get back.”

We need to hear that because so often we think, “Yes, repentance, it’s terrible, I’m nothing, I’m horrible, I can’t do anything good.” [sound effect] Stop it. Get up, Joshua. I don’t want you to turn in your sword. I want you to get back into the battle. I want you to make this right. I want you to turn from your sin.

We can be paralyzed in a kind of lament which seems very holy but is actually self-absorbed, and we never change from moaning to moving, we never get up, we never stop wallowing. We never make things right.

Contrition, confession, turning, and finally trusting.

We see when the Philistines, here in verse 7, that the people of Israel have gathered at Mizpah, they summon their men for battle. It’s quite possible that the Philistines had prohibited any sacred assemblies. They’ve gathered together for religious purpose, but the Philistines probably said, “We don’t want you to do that and if we know you’re gathering for whatever purpose, this could be the martialing of troops.”

So the Philistines react and they assemble for battle. Notice this time there’s no presumption on the part of God’s people. They don’t say, “Ah, okay, we know what to do. Bring in the ark.” This time, out of a spirit of fear, proper fear, and humility, the people of Israel, verse 8, said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD for us. Would you pray for us? I don’t even know if He’ll listen to us, but He’ll listen to you, Samuel. Would you pray for us, that He would save us?” There’s no presumption this time. They’re afraid of the Philistines, and more than that, they fear the Lord and they offer a burnt sacrifice and the Lord responds. He sends a mighty sound, thunders with a mighty sound. Was it literally thunder? Was it an earthquake? Something frightens the Philistines and the Lord rescues the Israelites as they fight.

And we have the raising of another Ebenezer, verse 12. This line, which we’ll sing in a few moments, perhaps you’ve not realized that “Come thou fount,” this line comes directly from the Bible, hither to the Lord has helped us. Verse 12.

Presumption, apathy, disobedience lead to Ichabod, the glory has departed.

Repentance, action, and obedience lead to Ebenezer.

And as they trust in the Lord and call out upon Him for their salvation, notice the Philistines are subdued, the cities are restored, and there is, verse 14, a peace between Israel and some of the other Canaanite people, the Amorites.

And don’t miss this subtle message here in the text. Do you remember, if you were here over these weeks, where did they first lose the ark? Well, you go back to chapter 4, verse 1, “Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer.”

Chapter 5, verse 1: “When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer.”

So there was an original city already called Ebenezer, Eben Haezer, stone of help. The ark had been captured. They lost the ark at Ebenezer.

And where do the Israelites finally defeat the Philistines? Chapter 7, verse 12. Well, at a new place with an old name, another Ebenezer.

And I think we are meant to hold in contrast, what’s the difference between the loss at one Ebenezer and the great victory at the next Ebenezer? Because it’s the same name. It’s the same spiritual word. And I think God wants us to see that the difference is not found in ultimately the rituals that they will perform, in the spiritual words that they may say, but in repentance, the difference between the first Ebenezer and the second Ebenezer was repentance.

That doesn’t mean God gives us whatever we want when we say we’re sorry for our sins, but it does mean that there are many blessings we will only experience on the other side of contrition and confession. On the far side of turning and trusting. The name was the same, but the heart was different. God is interested in more than our nice-sounding words and phrases. He wants more than ritual observance. He wants a heart that acknowledges sin and looks to Him as our only savior.

Could it be that in your own life you’re saying, “Well, I was in the church, I was in church, I was putting in an offering, putting in an offering, I was going to my small group, I was going…” What’s the difference? What’s missing? Same ritual observance, same sort of words. What’s missing, perhaps, is a heart of true repentance.

Samuel will be judge and very quickly the people will ask for a king, and Saul will be chosen king, and Saul is not the right king. But Saul’s kingdom will then give way to David. And David was the great king of the Old Testament, the one who would make a way for the Messiah.

Of course, David famously it says, in the book of Acts, was a man after God’s own heart. Have you ever thought what made David so great? Why did all of God’s people look back and think so much of King David when there was so much, why wasn’t he marked out finally as, “oh, that King David, you know, the one who committed adultery, the one who committed murder, the one who lied and covered it up, the one who had a messed up family.” Why wasn’t that finally the reputation for David? But instead the great King David, a man after God’s own heart. What made David great?

Here’s what I think it was. He was great because he was willing to overlook the sins of others and unwilling to look over his own sins.

Have you ever seen this? How often David was extraordinarily generous to those who sinned against him, eager to give his enemies a second chance. Twice while his friends advised him to strike down their enemy, David spared Saul’s life. Saul opposed him, but David did not rejoice at his death. He wept for the king. David welcomed Abner when he defected from the phony king Ishbosheth. He mourned for him when Joab struck him down. David was unnecessarily kind to Mephibosheth. He was patient when this rabble-rouser Shimei cursed him. Later David would pardon those who rebelled against him when his son Absalom led an insurrection.

Time after time, David showed himself, unlike the sons of Zeruiah who were eager to settle scores, seek revenge, hold grudges. David knew how to forgive. Perhaps more than anyone before Jesus, David loved his enemies. He was willing to welcome rebels back into the fold.

But amazingly, David’s kindhearted attitude toward his enemies did not mean a soft attitude toward his own sin, because that’s usually how it works. The people who are really soft with other people’s sins are soft to their own sins. That’s just their personality. And the people that maybe are really, really hard on their own sins are really hard and nasty with other people’s sins, because that’s just their personality.

But this was David’s greatness. As much as he sinned, he was never unwilling to own up to his sin. I cannot find a single instance where David was rightly rebuked for his failings where he did not own up to and welcome that rebuke.

Nathan confronted David for his adultery and murder. David says, “I’ve sinned against the Lord.”

Joab sent the woman of Tekoa to change David’s mind about Absalom and he listened to this woman in disguise. Joab rebuked David because David was more loving to his treacherous son than he was to all of his loyal servants and David did what Joab told him to do.

After his census, David’s heart was struck and he confessed, “I’ve sinned greatly in what I have done.”

David, in other words, knew how to forgive and how to repent. He never blamed others for his mistakes. He did not make excuses, with his family history, or peer pressure, or the demands of leadership, or “I was having a bad day and what was she doing bathing out there.” He didn’t use passive language. He didn’t refer to his sin in euphemistic terms. He simply confessed: “Against You only have I sinned.”

And even when people who were beneath him in their station and in their office showed to David his sin, he candidly and clearly took responsibility for it. He dealt more kindly with the sins of his enemies than he did with his own sins.

Something for each of us to consider: What are you more gracious toward? What are you more likely to overlook? The sins of others against you or your own sins before the Lord?

David was a man after God’s own heart because he was quick to forgive the sins of others, and he was willing to see sin in himself.

What better example of God could there be except God, of course, doesn’t have sin in Himself, but God’s Son, David’s greater son, actually became sin, the One who knew no sin. God doesn’t just welcome His enemies in, He died for His enemies. Always eager to show mercy, always willing to give traitors a second chance, and yet God is never soft on sin. That’s not what the cross is about. He exposes it, He calls us to exterminate it, to put it to death. God showed His condescension not because He needed to be rebuked, no, He never sinned, but by humbling Himself to take on human flesh and die, even the shameful death on a cross.

David was great, but not nearly as great as his greater son.

Friends, there is mercy for your sin, but you must embrace God’s mercy in showing you your sin. Surely there are some here, God is shining a light right now, or He will do it by His Spirit this week, shine a light. May He do it in my heart for any blind spots. May He do it in yours. To shine a light, to say you have been missing it, you’ve been duplicitous, you’ve been ignorant, you’ve been blind, you’re basically obedient but you have a high place, or you’ve been fooling yourself because you have the name Ebenezer and you have the spiritual trappings, but you’re not truly sorry for your sin, or if you think you’re sorry, you haven’t actually turned from your sin.

Confess your sin. Turn from your sin. Turn to Christ. Repent, believe, obey. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we are prone to wander, Lord, we feel it, prone to leave the One we love. So bind us to Yourself. Be our stone of help. Give us grace to repent, repentance is itself a miracle, and grace to believe and then grace to obey. In Jesus we pray. Amen.