7:1 Then the people of Kiriath Jearim came and took the ark of the LORD; they brought it to the house of Abinadab located on the hill. They consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD.
Further Conflict with the Philistines, 2-17
To a large extent the present section records a rebuilding of what had fallen apart in the days of Eli.
7:2 It was quite a long time—some twenty years in all—that the ark stayed at Kiriath Jearim. All the people of Israel longed for the LORD. 7:3 Samuel said to all the people of Israel, “If you are really turning to the LORD with all your hearts, remove from among you the foreign gods and the images of Ashtoreth. Give your hearts to the LORD and serve only him. Then he will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” 7:4 So the Israelites removed the Baals and images of Ashtoreth. They served only the LORD.
As in Judges, ‘God’s method had always been to punish sinful Israel by means of foreign invasion and attack, and to rescue repentant Israel through the leadership of ‘judges’. Ch. 7 presents exactly the same sequence of sin, repentance and salvation.’ (NBC)
Some twenty years – Suggesting, perhaps, half a generation (EBC).
All the people longed for the Lord – ‘lamented’ (ESV, NRSV); ‘turned back to the Lord’ (NIV).
Samuel said to all the people of Israel – This is the first mention of Samuel since the beginning of chapter 4. Davis suggests that this may be a condensed way of saying that Samuel preached in this way in different places and over a period of time, until he saw the fruits of repentance recorded in v5.
“Remove from among you the foreign gods and the images of Ashtoreth” – See also Gen 35:2-4; Judg 24:14f.
“Give your hearts to the LORD and serve only him” – cf. Deut 6:13, quoted by Jesus in Mt 4:10/Lk 4:8.
Note the two sides, negative and positive, of repentance: ‘remove your idols’ and ‘give your hearts to the Lord’.
Davis remarks, in a footnote, that ‘only Yahweh lays this either-or, all-or-nothing demand on his people. The other gods and goddesses of the ancient Near East were not so picky and intolerant. A pagan devotee was welcome to address multiple gods and goddesses in prayer simultaneously. It is only in Israel that we meet this jealous God (which means he loves his people too much to tolerate their cuddling up with rivals).’
Mt 10:37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Davis, quoting the above words of Jesus, asks: ‘What are we to make of a Man who goes around demanding the devotion required by the first commandment for himself?’
The Israelites removed the Baals and images of Ashtoreth – They were the chief male and female Canaanite gods at the time. They are referred to in the plural because they spawned many ‘local manifestations’ in the form of idols (EBC).
‘The association of Baal, Asherah, and Ashtoreth with fertility, particularly as expressed in depraved sexual ritual at Canaanite shrines, made them especially abominable in the Lord’s eyes.’ (EBC)
‘Canaanite religion exerted a powerful appeal with the sexual rites that were part of its worship. Most fun-loving Canaanites doubtless found the combination of liturgy and orgy highly congenial, not to speak of the convenience of having chapel and brothel at one location.’ (Davis)
Repentance has both emotional (v2) and practical (v4) aspects.
Not a super-ficial, but a super-natural, repentance is required. (Davis)
7:5 Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD on your behalf.” 7:6 After they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. They fasted on that day, and they confessed there, “We have sinned against the LORD.” So Samuel led the people of Israel at Mizpah.
“Gather all Israel” – Not to be understood as indicating every person, but at least representative from all the tribes.
They assembled at Mizpah, probably because Shiloh lay in ruins, following attack by the Philistines.
The site of Mizpah is uncertain. Two alternative locations have been posited, one 8 miles north of Jerusalem, and the other 5 miles northwest of Jerusalem.
They drew water and poured it out before the Lord – The significance of this is uncertain.
‘It is proper to express repentance in public rites and ceremonies (v. 6), so long as such rites represent realities and are not mere religious charades.’ (Davis)
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul can rejoice that they had ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’
7:7 When the Philistines heard that the Israelites had gathered at Mizpah, the leaders of the Philistines went up against Israel. When the Israelites heard about this, they were afraid of the Philistines. 7:8 The Israelites said to Samuel, “Keep crying out to the LORD our God so that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines!” 7:9 So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. Samuel cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him.
‘In all likelihood the Philistines had forbidden the Israelites to hold public assemblies since such meetings could easily be used to mobilize the tribes for war.’ (Bergen)
‘I think Israel’s plight more than touches that of the church and of individual believers. The church (denomination or individual congregation) can often be blind to her true state. At least in the west the church is so used to developing new strategies, originating effective gimmicks, or promoting proven programs that she can dupe herself into thinking that she lives by her own evangelical cleverness. Yet there is a form of spiritual warfare that is not really touched by more and better administration or by brighter and more creative ideas. But we may not see this except in those times when God takes our props away and forces us to rely only on his naked hand for support. This can frequently occur in the believer’s personal life as well. Sometimes the Father may box us in, place us in a situation in which, one by one, all our secondary helps and supports are taken from us, in order that, defenseless, we may lean on his mercy alone. More and more God’s people must walk the way of desperation—prayer. Once we see this, we will no longer regard prayer as a pious cop-out but as our only rational activity.’ (Davis)
‘Samuel’s intercession on Israel’s behalf (vv. 8–9; see also 1 Samuel 12:23, Jeremiah 15:1) we see a picture of the office of Christ as our high priest (see Luke 22:31–32; Romans 8:34). Here is the true secret of our steadfastness: we rely on the prayers of Another whose prayers are always effectual. Nothing is quite so moving as knowing that I am a subject of Jesus’ intercessory prayer.’ (Davis)
7:10 As Samuel was offering burnt offerings, the Philistines approached to do battle with Israel. But on that day the LORD thundered loudly against the Philistines. He caused them to panic, and they were defeated by Israel. 7:11 Then the men of Israel left Mizpah and chased the Philistines, striking them down all the way to an area below Beth Car.
The Lord thundered loudly against the Philistines – ‘Ancient peoples believed that thunder and lightning were signs of divine anger, so the Philistine panic is easily understood.’ (NBC)
7:12 Samuel took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Up to here the LORD has helped us.” 7:13 So the Philistines were defeated; they did not invade Israel again. The hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
Davis notes the clear parallel with chapter 4, which serves to underline the contrasts:
‘Here in chapter 7 Israel is not dabbling in religious magic (chap. 4) but walking by sheer faith. They dangle by the mere mercy of Yahweh. They see no recourse, but, taking their cue from Samuel (v. 3c), they share his position (“Let him [Yahweh] save us from the hand of the Philistines,” v. 8). Their only weapon is prayer, their only hope that Samuel might place his hand upon the throne of the Lord for them. And even Samuel is reduced to a cry of distress on their behalf (v. 9). Desperation, however, is never in trouble when it rests on omnipotence. Yahweh blasted the Philistines with his thunder and threw them into confusion (v. 10b). It’s only what he had promised to do (Lev. 26:8; Deut. 28:7). Hannah had known it years ago (1 Sam. 2:10a).’ (Davis)
“Up to here the Lord has helped us” – As Davis notes, ‘there is a whole chain of mercies remembered. Samuel’s statement goes back into the past and gathers its gratitude (perhaps he remembers the provision for Abraham & Co., the liberation from Egypt, the preservation in the wilderness, the subjugation during the conquest; see, e.g., Psalm 105). At the same time he looks to the future and marshals its hope, for his “up to this point” implies that what Yahweh has been for his people he also will be.’
‘Twas grace that led us safe thus far
and grace with lead us home.’
But where was the Lord in the setbacks of ch. 4? Davis quotes Blaikie:
‘Even amid the desolations of Shiloh the Lord was helping them. He was helping them to know themselves, helping them to know their sins, and helping them to know the bitter fruit and wo[e]ful punishment of sin.… The links of the long chain denoted by Samuel’s “hitherto” were not all of one kind. Some were in the form of mercies, many were in the form of chastenings.’
What memorials do we raise that speak of God’s past faithfulness?
7:14 The cities that the Philistines had captured from Israel were returned to Israel, from Ekron to Gath. Israel also delivered their territory from the control of the Philistines. There was also peace between Israel and the Amorites. 7:15 So Samuel led Israel all the days of his life. 7:16 Year after year he used to travel the circuit of Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah; he used to judge Israel in all of these places. 7:17 Then he would return to Ramah, because his home was there. He also judged Israel there and built an altar to the LORD there.
Samuel has first been an apprentice priest, and then a prophet. Now, he has becomes a political leader, a ‘judge’.
These verses summarise the later career of Samuel, and prepare us for our next meeting with him, as an old man (8:1).
The success which Israel enjoyed under Samuel’s leadership makes their clamour for a king (see esp. 1 Sam 8:20) yet more unwarranted.