Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen, Show Me That Our God Is In The Camp

 Show Me That Our God Is In The Camp

And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.
  (1 Samuel 4:7)

The Prince of Preachers had a sermon with a similar name: "Is God In The Camp?" Charles Haden Spurgeon was a preacher without Peers.  Iam fond of his preaching, not because I have the gift, but because I can relate to his battle with depression. Depression has suceeded in stopping me from doing anything for the Kingdom except to write these sermons and Bible Commentires. Oh, I have prayed that others would be blessed by them, but, to be honest, it blesses me more than anything else in my life. I wish I could say I did it forJesus Christ, or for this one or that one; but, the reality is, I write because I must. Now; let's see if it is possible that God has come to your camp

Israel had become disconnected from God.  The people had forgotten God and were worshipping Baal instead. They had abandoned the things of God; consequently they were given up to their enemies.  When God had brought them out of Egypt, He had instructed them on how they were to live in the land, and He warned them that if they ignored Him they would be punished.  His words were very clear: “If ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.”  In carrying out His threat, the Philistines had been divinely allowed to conquer the idolatrous Israelites, and to keep them in cruel slavery.

The only way for them to get out of their trouble was to return to God; to repent and renew their faith and covenant with God.  If they would have done that, then everything would have been alright.  But this is the last thing that men will do, for our fallen nature does not love spiritual things.  We may perform rites and rituals, but our natural man will resist loving God and coming back to Him in faith.

Instead of attempting to get right with God, these Israelites began to devise superstitious ways of gaining the victory over their enemies.  Most people, at one time or another, have acted the same way.  We invent a thousand ways to escape our problems; but we neglect the one thing we need the most.  Even at this moment, some of you may be passing through difficult trials, and you may think that they have come upon you because you have forgotten some little thing in connection with how you express your religion.  But no outward religious act means anything, unless you have faith, without which it is impossible to please God.  We sometimes forget the main issue, which is to worship God, and to do His will by faith in Jesus Christ.  The answer to all of life’s problems is this: get right with God; confess your sin; believe in Jesus Christ, be reconciled to God by the death of His Son; then everything will be alright between you and God.

Today, I will attempt to show you how often, and in how many ways men try to find a cure for what ails them, rather than take the only treatment that will work, to take the case to God.  They manage to help themselves only slightly, because they look for a remedy in a thousand deceitful plans, rather than take he only remedy provided by the Great Physician for sin-sick souls.  Instead of becoming right with God, these Israelites thought that, if they could get the Ark of the Covenant, which had been the symbol of Jehovah’s presence, and bring it into their camp, that they would then be certain to have victory over the Philistines.  So they sent for the Ark, and when it came into the camp, they were as enthusiastic as if they had already won the victory.  They shouted so loudly, that the earth rang with their shouts.  The Philistines heard all the shouting, and when they found out the reason for it, they were terrified.  With trembling lips, thinking that they were certainly beaten, they turned to one another and said, “God has come into the camp.  Woe unto us!  For there has not been such a thing heretofore.”

Look at the great mistake that both the Israelites and Philistines made.  The Israelites, instead of appealing to God himself, went to fetch the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was the sacred place where God revealed himself in the days when His people truly served Him; but there was no power there, without His presence.  The Israelites were mistaken, because they celebrated long before they were out of the woods.  The sight of the Ark made them boastful and confident, before they had won the victory.  The Philistines made a different kind of mistake, because they were frightened, without a real cause.  They said, “God has come into the camp;” but God had not come at all.  It was only the Ark.  God was not there.

The mistake they made was this; they mistook the visible for the invisible.  God has given us some visible symbols-water, and bread, and wine.  They are so simple, that I don’t understand how some men can make them objects of worship.  They were given with the intention that they would be windows for beholding the Savior, and so that we could draw near to him.  It is sad, when the symbol takes the place of the Savior.  However, men, by nature want to worship something that they can see, but a God that can be seen is no God.  This Ark of the Covenant, which was only a wooden chest covered with gold, and with angelic carvings on the lid, was simply a token of the presence of God with his people, and these Israelites transformed it into a sacred object, to be worshipped and to be trusted in.  The elders said, “Let us fetch the Arc of the Covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.”  They credited to the Ark, what could be done only by God.  This is a tendency that we share with them.  We desire the things that we can see and touch.  And therefore we trust in ourselves and in others, even though God has said, “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.”  In spite of that, we want something that we can see and touch, a symbol or a token, and if it is something artistic; so much the better.  This is the great mistake that men still make today; they think that God has come into the camp merely because some outward religious rite or ceremony has been observed, or because some sacred shrine has been set up among them.

These Israelites fell into another mistake, which is also a common mistake today: they preferred the office to character.  Instead of calling upon God, they sent for their priests, Hophni and Phinehas, because they had come to hold the priest’s office in such sacred reverence that they thought that it was everything.  But these young men were sinners; they were not even moral men, much less spiritual men.  They made the house of God a place to be despised, and they dishonored the Lord before all Israel.  But because they held the office of priest, they were put in the place of God.  There are many today who have the same type of feeling; that they will be saved if their priest has been properly ordained and if the worship is properly conducted.  But that is not how God’s word teaches us to recognize His disciples; we are to observe the holiness of his life, the quality of his character, the faithfulness of his preaching, his power in prayer, the blessings that come to his ministry in the saving of sinners.  Those are the credentials that men who are mislead think are unnecessary.  Hophni and Phinehas were two of the grossest sinners in all the land of Israel, but because they were in the line of Aaron, they were trusted, and put in the place of God.  But God must be with any man that preaches the Gospel, or what he says makes no difference. 

Then these people who faced the Philistines made another error; they mistook enthusiasm for faith.  When they saw the ark they shouted so that the earth rang.  You may say, “those are the kind of people I like; people that can shout.”  Those Israelites shouted, but there was nothing in their noise.  Anyone who passed near the camp of Israel, that day, might have said that they had the type of service that people like, you know, nothing dull about it.  They shouted, but they had very little to shout about, because in a short time their corpses littered the fields.  The Philistines put an end to their shouting.  Now, brothers and sisters, when you are worshipping God, shout if you are filled with holy gladness.  If your heart is so full, you should not hold back.  God forbid that we should judge any man’s worship!  But do not be so foolish as to believe that because there is loud noise that there is faith.  Faith is a still water, which flows deep.  True faith in God may express itself in leaping and shouting, and that is a happy thing; but it may also set still before the Lord, and that perhaps is an even happier thing.  Praise can set silent on the lips, but be heard in heaven.  Sometimes our mouths are not big enough to express the deep feelings that are in our hearts.  Do not make the mistake of confusing enthusiasm for faith in judging the external things of faith.  The person who worships God may shout until the earth is shaken, and God may accept him, but the person who sets in silence before the Most High God may worship just as truly, even though he doesn’t say a word.  It is the spirit of our worship that is most acceptable to God, not those external things that we do.  It is the heart that has fellowship with the Lord; and it does not need any assistance in expressing itself.  And God has not tied us down to this way or that way when we worship.  Worship may find its own way, so long as it is truly moved by the Holy Spirit.

There was a mistake made on the battle field, which nowadays is often imitated.  We commit this error when we confuse ritual with spirituality.  Now, every form of religion has its ritual.  The Quaker, who sits still, and doesn’t say a word, has a ritual; and those who have a thousand rites and ceremonies have even more ritual.  But if I go through the general routine of worship of my church, and think that I have done something acceptable to God, while my heart has not expressed to Him humble repentance, or faith, or love, or joy, or consecration, I have made a great mistake.  Worship amounts for nothing unless the soul has fellowship with God.  Godliness is a spiritual thing; for “God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”  Our form of worship is good only if it helps us reach this spiritual communication.  I pray that all of us might feel our soul lifting up to God in worship, and that our ritual, whether great or small, will be our guide to God, and not a chain that holds us back from God.

We have observed the great mistake these people made, but there is also a great truth of which their mistake is an illustration.  Although what the Philistines said, and what the Israelites thought, on this occasion, was false, it is often true.  We have seen that God does not always come to the camp of His people, but we seek His presence because His presence is the great power of his church.  My friends, what joy comes to us when we have His presence with us!  Let’s look briefly at the scene that takes place when God comes into the camp. 

When God comes into the camp, the truth of the Gospel becomes vital.  Christ becomes truth to us, but He is also the Way and the Life.  The Word of God becomes both a hammer and fire, smiting and melting those whom His power comes to rest on.  Whoever preaches the Gospel, when God has come into the camp, speaks with power.  He may lack eloquence and learning, but if God is with him, he will speak with power, and people will say, “Surely, God is in this place.”

When God comes into the camp, new life is put into prayer.  Instead of the repetition of holy phrases in a cold, feeble and lifeless fashion, the soul empties itself out before the Lord.  It is the Holy Spirit that leads the prayer, for He knows best how you should worship, and what you need. 

The presence of God in the camp brings fresh energy to service; He shakes men up and awakens their spiritual muscle.  When the Lord comes to us with power, He makes us alive all over; every part of the man is speeded up with a divine energy; then men really work for Jesus and work successfully, too.

When God comes into camp, His presence has an effect on unbelievers.  Sinners turn to the Lord, in so marvelous a way that we may be astonished.  The last persons in the world that we expected to be saved come to our service and they find Christ.  Many have heard the Gospel for years and their hearts appear harder than steel, but they are melted by the Word.  When God comes into the camp, the Holy Spirit convinces men of their sin, and many turn to Christ in faith and love, and are saved.

When God is in the camp, His presence infuses daring faith.  Weak men begin to grow strong, young men dream dreams and old men see visions.  Many begin something for Jesus, which they would not have thought to do in their timid days.  Other men reach a greater height of dedication.  Adventurers for God are raised up; missionaries to the poor and shameful sinners that are not the popular objects for Christian workers.  Because God is in the camp, many take up the work which at first only the truly brave believers dared to try.

When God is in the camp, His presence cannot be hidden, since in a delightful way it transforms joy into worship.  People do not think that sermons are dull, when God is in the camp, and prayer-meetings are not thought to be “a waste of time.”  God’s people enjoy fellowship and when Christians meet, and God is in the camp, they speak cheerfully about the Master.  I hope that you have enjoyed many such pleasant occasions.  We should be like those people mentioned by Malachi:  “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon His name.”  They had such a heavenly conversation that God Himself turned eaves-dropper to listen to what they had to say; and He liked it so much that He had it recorded; and He thought so much of it that He said He would preserve it; and a book of remembrance was made for them that feared the Lord, and that thought about Him often.  The question is, would God think so much of our conversation that He would make a book of remembrance, in our day?

I cannot tell you of the infinite blessings that come to the camp of the Christian when God is there.  I hope that we know a little bit of that right now, and that we will in the future know a great deal more of it.  It is hard work to preach or to teach Sunday School, when God is not in the camp.  Perhaps we should pray before every duty, “If thy presence is not with me, do not take me from this place.”  But if the Lord is with us, we will rise up as if we have eagle’s wings.  Everything is done gladly, happily, thankfully, believingly, “When God is in the camp.” 

Let’s finish today by trying to learn the great lessons which this incident teaches.

The first lesson is that God’s presence is a necessity.  I know that you know this.  All of you know that we need the Holy Spirit to accomplish anything.  But I think that many have put Him on the shelf where He lies unheard.  But it can’t be that way with you and me, because we must pray in the Holy Spirit, or we do not pray at all.  Only the Holy Spirit can make anything we do effective, therefore never begin any work without the Holy Spirit.  The amen of our prayer must be spoken with the power of the Holy Spirit just as much as the first word of the preacher’s sermon.  Let all of your service to God be in the Spirit, or else your time is not well spent.

Next, we must learn that we need to do all that we can to obtain the presence of God in the camp.  However, if you are one who is without Christ, don’t think that there is anything that you need to do before receiving Christ.  The song says that He has done it all:

“Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.”

But I believe that I am speaking to God’s people, so let me give you a few suggestions about what you should do to get God’s presence in our midst. 

We must confess our helplessness without God, and be honest about it.  We need a clear understanding that by ourselves we can do nothing.  Jesus told His disciples, “Without me ye can do nothing.”  The sooner that we realize this, the better.  When we cease from self, we make way for God.

Next, the desire for God’s presence with us must be from the complete body of Christ.  I mean by that, that every Christian man and woman must deeply desire His presence and pray to the Lord, “Come, Lord, and come quickly.”

Then there must be obedience to God’s word, and a commitment to Christ as our Lord.  He will only bless us, if we are obedient to His word.  We must therefore be careful to avoid those who do not live according to God’s word.  “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the lord Almighty.”

If we desire to have the sense of God’s continual presence, we must have unity.  The Spirit of God does not love fighting, and He will not come to where there is constant strife.  We must love one another.  In Acts it says that it was when the disciples were “with one accord in one place”, that the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost.  It is still that way today.

Above all else, there must be a healthy reliance upon God, and a childlike confidence in Him.  I would recommend that you either believe in God up to the hilt, or else don’t believe at all.  Believe the Holy Book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it.  Be satisfied with nothing less than total faith and total commitment to Him.  Believe in God, and that he is everything. 

These are the conditions for receiving God’s blessings and abiding presence.  If we have these things in us, we will be able to shout, without making any mistakes, “God has come into the camp.”

When God does come to us we should work to keep His presence.  So, how do we do that?

First, by humbly walking with God.  If we become proud, because His presence is with us, thinking that there is something in us that attracts God to us, and to cause His face to shine on us, it won’t take long for Him to leave our presence.  Always try to be humble in His presence.

Next, we should give Him grateful praise from our hearts.  If God is saving sinners, let’s give him the glory for it.  If He is at work among us, let’s not talk about what we have been doing, but let’s declare to men what He has done.  Let‘s never lay claim to what God has done.

We must always be on the alert, because if God is with us He may give us a great victory, and if we are disobedient, we may be defeated.  Unless we are sober and vigilant we may have to morn because the Lord has withdrawn His presence from us.  The Bible tells us that there is a fierce light around His throne.  “Our God is a consuming fire.”  Can any of us live in the presence of a devouring fire?  The scriptural answer is, “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly.”  Let’s pray that God will make us men and woman who can stand the heat!

And now I have come to the last point.  Each of us must have an individual fellowship with God.  It is hard work for the whole church to walk with God, every day and all the time; but if each of us will see to it that our personal walk is pleasing to God, then the whole church will have nothing to fear, and when we go forth to battle, the Philistines will know for sure that “God has come into the camp.”  I hope that God will lift each of us up to this great level of personal consecration.  Let’s pray that each of us will go on serving the Lord, and that He will abide with us in power every day of our lives.






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