The Israelites did not return the ark to the tabernacle at Shiloh. Instead, they placed it in a house and appointed someone to guard it. This may have seemed to be a mistake, but it did not keep them from repenting. Repentance means to turn around, to change direction, or to change your mind. The Israelites had wandered away from God and their disastrous encounter with the Philistines woke them up to their need for God. Their wandering involved the worship of many gods in addition to their worship of Jehovah.
Samuel instructs the people to get rid of all the foreign gods. They put away the Baals and Ashtoreths and begin again to serve God only. Samuel directs the people to gather at Mizpah where he will pray for them.
When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah. (1 Samuel 7:6 NIV)
Drawing water required effort. It would have to be drawn from a well or cistern, or carried from a river. Whatever the source, water was precious. It was not to be wasted. I remember visiting Kenya and attending a Sunday morning service with a group on a short-term mission trip. The community wanted to thank the organization that sponsored us for building their church building and school. So, they prepared a lunch for us following the service. The meal consisted of roasted goat and goat soup.
My son, who was one of our hosts, anticipated that neither of these items would be easy for us to eat. He strongly directed us to eat some of each anyway as great effort had gone into the preparation. Several women walked a long distance to gather the water to make the soup. It was far too valuable to pour out on the ground.
Yet, that is exactly what the Israelites do. They gather precious water and pour it out on the ground.
i. The Chaldean translation of this passage gives this sense well: “They poured out their hearts like water in penance before the Lord.” “They seemed to say in effect, We could wish to shed as many tears for our sins as there are drops of water in this bucket; but because we cannot do this, behold, we do what we can.” (Trapp)Enduring Word Bible Commentary 1 Samuel Chapter 7
Pouring out water as a sign of remorse is good, but would be incomplete without the confession from the people that they had sinned. Since their repentance was genuine Samuel prays for them and God delivers them.
What about us?
I do not think I have ever seen group repentance and confession. Maybe this is why churches get stuck and never find deliverance from the corporate sin that handicaps them. In recent years we have seen multiple opportunities for churches, whether individual congregations or entire denominations, to confess and repent. The issues have varied from sexual abuse to racism to materialism to idolatry. Our response as a church has more often been rationalization or blame shifting than open acknowledgement of the sin and the sorrow that comes with genuine repentance.
This example from 1 Samuel is rare in the history of the children of Israel. Yet the results are so positive why do we find it so difficult to follow this example?