August 2, Thursday

Samuel offers God a sacrifice and erects a large stone at the battle site as the Israelites slaughter the Philistines in the background, as depicted in an 18th-century stained-glass window (Pena PalacePortugal).

All the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, 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 Samuel 7:2.3.

Lamenting after the LORD indicates that people no longer feel God’s nearness and experience joy in Him. The people of Israel were in this regrettable condition at the time. They were God’s people and had every reason to be grateful and happy. But joy was lacking in their hearts. What was the cause? There were hindrances for God’s blessing that they had covered up.

For a long time they had hardly troubled about the ark of the covenant, that symbol of God’s presence in their midst. Additionally, idolatry had crept in: they no longer served the one true God alone. Now God will not share the honour due to Him with idols. And mere laments were insufficient. Therefore Samuel ordered the entire nation to return to God with all their hearts and serve Him alone. The message was clear enough. They had not deceived God. He knew of their divided hearts. And if they had no joy, He knew the real reason.

If we lack this joy, we need to examine our relationship with God. The Bible is God’s yardstick by which we can assess ourselves. Then it depends on our obeying God. Returning with our hearts means recognizing our wrong deeds, words and thoughts and confessing them before God. Concealing them is useless; God knows us through and through. Neither going to confession nor religious tradition will lead to true joy. A personal return to God is what is urgently needed.

Image: By Unknown author – GASPAR, Nuno Miguel (2011). Os vitrais do Palácio da Pena e a colecçao de D. Fernando II: contributos para o seu estudo. Tese de mestrado, Arte, Património e Teoria do Restauro, Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Letras, Public Domain,