We have now put four things in place: God has a people, God has certain expectations of his people, God’s people have every reason to live up to his expectations, and God’s people often fail to live up to his expectations.
If we had to leave it there, we would be enveloped with gloom. But, happily, we can go on to add another truth: God has been known to revive his people when they have fallen into a pattern of failure.
We have no trouble finding this truth in the Bible. There are plenty of examples of God reviving individual saints: Abraham, Jacob, David, Elijah, Jonah and Simon Peter. There are also examples of God supplying corporate revival. Richard Owen Roberts includes the following in a list of such revivals in the Old Testament:
- under Moses (Exod. chs. 32ff.).
- under Samuel (1 Sam. 7)
- under David (2 Sam. 6–7)
- under Hezekiah (2 Chr. 29–32)
- under Zerubbabel (Ezra 1–6)
- under Joel (Joel 2:12–27).1
In his book Revival! A People Saturated with God, Brian H. Edwards lists fifty-seven revivals from 1150 to 1973.2 Jonathan Edwards declared,
… it may be observed that from the fall of man to our day, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable outpourings of the Spirit of God. Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances, yet the way in which the greatest things have been done in carrying on this work always has been remarkable pourings out of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy.3
In this chapter, we will look at two of the Old Testament revivals mentioned above. We do so merely to remind ourselves that we are not on a fool’s errand when we seek revival. God does revive his people! We will look at the revivals that took place in Israel under Moses and Samuel so we can be reminded that there is always hope for revival; that God’s people, no matter how far they have strayed and how grievously they have sinned, are not beyond the reach of God’s reviving grace.
The revival under Moses (Exod. 33:7–11)
The centrepiece of this revival was the tent of meeting that Moses erected outside the camp of Israel. We must not confuse this tent with the tabernacle, which had not yet been constructed (Exod. 35–40).
This tent of meeting was Moses’ response to a shocking lapse of the people into idolatry. While he had been receiving the Law of God on Mount Sinai, the people had worshipped a golden calf (32:1–5)!
Although Moses had dealt very sternly with the idolatry (32:19–29), its cloud was still hanging heavy over Israel. The Lord was so grieved over the sin of the people that he told Moses that he, the Lord, would not go to the promised land in their midst but would only send his Angel before them (33:1–3). These words were ‘bad news’ (33:4).
Moses set up the tent of meeting for the purpose of seeking the presence of the Lord. He knew that it was not enough for the people to turn away from their idols; they must also wholeheartedly turn back to God.
This tells us that God’s people can expect revival when they so feel the burden of the times that they are willing to take special measures to seek God’s face.
There was an encouraging sign along these lines even before Moses set up the tent. Exodus 33:4 says, ‘And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.’ These people, realizing the gravity of their situation, were unwilling to go about their lives as usual. They felt such inward grief over the loss of God’s presence that they expressed it outwardly.
In doing so, they put themselves far ahead of today’s church. How few grieve over the loss of God’s presence! As long as the church machinery grinds on—churning out more and more programmes and producing good numbers—church leaders are willing to overlook the absence of any real spiritual power. And as long as their lives are comfortable, individual Christians are willing to do the same.
A ‘business as usual’ attitude will never bring revival. Many of the people of Israel understood this. Do we? Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, ‘… generally the very first thing that happens, and which eventually leads to a great revival, is that one man, or a group of men, suddenly begin to feel this burden, and they feel the burden so much that they are led to do something about it.’4 Erroll Hulse observes, ‘When the Holy Spirit moves to create a deep desire for revival in the churches and awakening in society he does that from within, by stirring up a burden in the hearts of his people and prompting them to prayer.’5
Moses’ tent of meeting achieved its purpose. This passage tells us that the pillar of cloud, which symbolized God’s presence, ‘stood at the door of the tabernacle’ (v. 9).
That cloud had been withdrawn while the people were occupied with their calf. But now, as a result of Moses and many of the people seeking God, it came back. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’ (v. 14).
Moses’ tent of meeting brings us to this encouraging conclusion: If we will seek the Lord, we can rest assured that he will be found. We can be confident of this because of the promise he has given: ‘… if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land’ (2 Chr. 7:14).
The revival under Samuel (1 Sam. 7:2–14)
We now hit the Fast Forward button on the history of the nation of Israel to arrive at the time of Samuel. Israel had now been in the land of Canaan for many years. (God had indeed gone with them and blessed them!) But it was a dark and brooding time—all because the people had been playing fast and loose with the commandments of God! People and priests were equally guilty.
To bring his people to their senses, God raised up the Philistines to oppress them. The oppression reached its height, or depth, when the Israelites carried the ark of God into battle and the Philistines made off with it (1 Sam. 4:1–11)! The ark should never have been there. It was to be kept in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle, but Hophni and Phinehas, two vile specimens and sorry excuses for priests, were so spiritually obtuse that they thought they could gain victory by carrying the ark to the battlefield. Although they spent most of their time thumbing their noses at God, they thought they could still secure his presence by toting around his ark!
The Philistines soon learned that they could not live with the ark, and, through a series of fascinating events, it was returned to Israel (1 Sam. 5:1–6:16). But true religious vitality did not accompany it. For twenty long years, the ark sat in the house of Abinadab (1 Sam. 7:1), and Israel languished in spiritual apathy.
Suddenly, a bright ray of hope pierced the gloom: ‘And all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD’ (1 Sam. 7:2).
How are we to explain this lamenting? The next phrase gives us the answer: ‘Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel …’ (v. 3).
We may be sure that Samuel was quietly and doggedly working to spread the Word of God throughout Israel during the twenty years of spiritual declension. Now that quiet ministry began to bear fruit. Gordon Keddie writes, ‘… trouble concentrated their minds and, bit by bit, they came to see that God was their only hope. The ministry of Samuel during these years would have had its leavening effect in bringing this national spiritual crisis to the boil.’6
The people of Israel finally came to see their desperate condition. They recognized at long last that their problems were all due to the fact that they had driven the Lord away because of their sins, and they began to yearn for him again. It should go without saying that it is impossible to yearn for God without yearning for his Word. This is where Samuel came in.
Samuel emphasized that there could be no true revival as long as the people continued to hold on to idols. The Ashtoreths mentioned in this passage (v. 3) were particularly lewd representations of Canaanite goddesses.
The people demonstrated their seriousness and sincerity about revival by doing as Samuel demanded (v. 4).
The work of revival in verses 1 through 4 was probably done on a village-by-village level as Samuel travelled the length and breadth of the nation. But when the work progressed to a certain point, Samuel realized that it was time to call the whole nation together for a solemn assembly (vv. 5–6). This he did at Mizpah.
When the people came together for the assembly, Samuel drew water and ‘poured it out before the LORD’ (v. 6). This was a visible and open display of what was going on in their hearts; Samuel was picturing the pouring out of their hearts in true repentance before God.
Another indication of their repentance was fasting (v. 6). Food lost its appeal to them because they were lost in the larger concern of getting right with God.
The pouring out of their hearts before God in true repentance led to a pouring out of public confession as the people cried out, ‘We have sinned against the LORD’ (v. 6).
The experience of Israel under Samuel provides an agenda for all who long to see God revive his people. We must admit that revival is always the prerogative of a sovereign God. We cannot wire it or produce it. But we can and should give ourselves to coming together with other believers to seek the Lord, to put away our idols and to pour out our hearts in true repentance. Serious and devoted attention to these matters will in and of itself be evidence that the sovereign God has already been pleased to begin his work of revival within us.
As we noted at the outset, several revivals occurred during the Old Testament era, but the revivals under Moses and Samuel tell us all that we need to know. God does revive his people! Let us, then, heed the words of Samuel: ‘If you return to the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods … from among you, and prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only …’ (1 Sam. 7:3). — Ellsworth, Roger. 2009. When God Makes Streams in the Desert: Revival Blessings in the Bible. First Edition. Reflections. Leominster: Day One.