New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

1Sa 7:1 The men of Kiriath Jearim came and fetched up the ark of Yahweh and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of Yahweh-
We assume they were Levites, and Abinadab and Eleazar are common Levitical names. "On the hill" is rendered "Gibeah" in 2 Sam. 6:3,4. Josh. 15:57,60 mention Gibeah as a village not far from Kirjath-jearim.

1Sa 7:2 The ark stayed for a long time in Kiriath Jearim, twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after Yahweh-
This lamenting after Yahweh may have been the result of 20 years of work by Samuel, at a time when they were oppressed by the Philistines (1 Sam. 13:19-22). The "twenty years" period doesn't bring us to any significant event; it doesn't bring us to the time of David or his bringing of the ark to Zion in 2 Sam. 6. It may therefore mean that it took 20 years for Israel to come to the repentance of :3,4, and that is the significant end of this 20 year period.

1Sa 7:3 Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, If you do return to Yahweh with all your heart-
Returning to Yahweh with all the heart was the appeal also made to the exiles. The same word for "return" is used about both repentance and also their literal return to the land. This is the phrase used of how an Israel who had broken covenant were to return to Yahweh with all their heart (Dt. 30:1,2,10).

Then put away the foreign gods and Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to Yahweh, and serve Him only, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines-
This worship of other gods would explain their attitude in 1 Sam. 6:20 "Who is able to stand before Yahweh, this holy God?".  They considered Yahweh one of many gods, and at that point, they wanted no more to do with Him because He seemed to them an unreasonable God. 

1Sa 7:4 Then the people of Israel removed the Baals and Ashtaroth and served Yahweh only-
Yahweh is "one", and this simple reality requires that He is served "only". This is an outcome of believing in one God. At baptism, we changed masters, from 'sin' to 'obedience'. It may seem that we flick back and forth between them. In a sense, we do, but from God's perspective (and Rom. 6:16-20 describes how God sees our baptism), we don't. The recurring weakness of natural Israel was to serve Yahweh and the idols (1 Sam. 7:4; 2 Kings 17:41; Zeph. 1:5). For the new Israel in the first century, the temptation was to break bread with both the Lord Jesus and the idols (1 Cor. 10:21,22). But there is no lack of evidence that this was actually counted as total idol worship in God's eyes; thus the prophets consistently taught the need for wholehearted devotion to Yahweh, and nothing else. In essence, we have the same temptation; to serve God and mammon, to have a little of both, to be passive Christians; to flunk the challenge of the logic of devotion.

Baal and Ashtaroth referred to here are not simply two separate gods. "Baals" is masculine plural, and "Ashtaroth" is feminine plural. The idea is, all the gods of whatever gender.

1Sa 7:5 Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray for you to Yahweh-
"Mizpah", 'watchtower', was an appropriate place for Samuel the prophet to have a base. The gathering was intended for repentance, but also as a strategic beginning of a campaign against the Philistines. See on :6.

1Sa 7:6 They gathered together to Mizpah and drew water, poured it out before Yahweh and fasted on that day. They said there, We have sinned against Yahweh-

Samuel's language and teaching was absorbed by David, who spoke of pouring himself out like water in repentance (Ps. 22:14; 62:8); and the same figure is used by the exiles in Lam. 2:19, perceiving the relevance of this history for themselves, as intended. But Samuel had in turn picked up this image from his mother Hannah (1 Sam. 1:15). We see here the passage of thought and imagery through the generations of spiritual people. And that passage can continue to us in our hearts. For who has not repented to the point of feeling poured out like water.

Samuel judged the people of Israel in Mizpah-
This could be a general statement, for Mizpah means "watchtower" and would have been an appropriate place for a prophet to issue his judgments from. But this information may specifically refer just to Samuel at that time, judging the people in the sense of warning them of their condemnation, which elicited their repentance.

1Sa 7:7 When the Philistines heard that the Israelites had gathered together at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. When the Israelites heard it, they were afraid because of the Philistines-
Repentance meant that God was with them. But they feared whether He really was with them enough to defeat the Philistines, because there was that nagging doubt as to whether they had really been forgiven. This is so typical of God's people of all times.

1Sa 7:8 The Israelites said to Samuel, Don’t cease to cry to Yahweh our God for us, that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines!-
Their desperate plea to Samuel reflects their recognition that prayer was the critical factor. This desperate request for Samuel's continued prayer in fact reflects a level of genuine faith and spirituality, even though as noted on :7, their faith was not total.

1Sa 7:9 Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to Yahweh, and Samuel cried to Yahweh for Israel, and Yahweh answered him-
The desperate crying of the suckling lamb was to reflect the crying of Samuel to Yahweh. They were to be living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), offered "whole", every part of the offering was to be given to Yahweh, none went to the priests, the entire animal was consumed.

1Sa 7:10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to fight against Israel, but on that day Yahweh thundered with a great thunder upon the Philistines, and confused them; and they were struck down before Israel-
The pathetic bleating of the lamb elicited the mighty thunder of God's voice in response, so awful that the Philistines were paralyzed with fear because of it. This was an abiding illustration of the power of prayer, just as incense [prayer] in the book of Revelation elicits the pouring forth of bowls from Heaven upon the earth. But the Divine response had to be followed up on the ground- Israel had to go forth and strike down the paralyzed Philistines. 

1Sa 7:11 The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and killed them, all the way to Beth Kar-
David's victory over Goliath led to the same kind of victory over the Philistines. Israel chasing their enemies was a blessing for obedience to the covenant. But until recently they had been disobedient. Their sincere prayer and repentance was counted as obedience to the covenant, and these blessings flowed from it.

1Sa 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called it Ebenezer, saying, Yahweh helped us until now-
The ark had been taken into captivity from Ebenezer (1 Sam. 5:1), the rock of help, for God was no longer their rock. But the revival of the name Ebenezer was therefore showing that God was eager to restore relationship with His people and undo what had gone so wrong between them; just as was the case at the restoration.

1Sa 7:13 So the Philistines were subdued and they came no more within the border of Israel-
This may not be literally the case, but the sense may be that they didn't come and permanently settle within the borders as they had before.

The hand of Yahweh was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel-
This doesn't mean that they didn't invade Israel, but rather that Yahweh's hand was against them. That potential wasn't always made use of during Samuel's life.

1Sa 7:14 The cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel recovered its border out of the hand of the Philistines. There was peace between Israel and the Amorites-
And yet Gath seems to have remained in Philistine control. For Goliath was from there, and David took refuge in Philistine controlled Gath. So the idea may be that the border was restored up until Gath and Ekron.

1Sa 7:15 Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life-
Seeing Samuel lived into the reign of Saul, we can assume that his judging in the sense of teaching and saving the people [the idea of 'judging' in Hebrew] continued into Saul's reign.

1Sa 7:16 He went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah; and he judged Israel in all those places-
There were later schools of the prophets in Bethel and Gilgal and we wonder whether Samuel founded them. This work covered at least 28 years of his life, a great example of "keeping on keeping on". This circuit was fairly localized, forming a circle with a circumference of about 35 miles.

1Sa 7:17 He always returned to Ramah where his home was, and there he judged Israel. He built there an altar to Yahweh
Although from Ephraim, Samuel clearly acted as a priest, making offerings at various points in his life, as well as doing the priestly duties "before Yahweh" from a child. He was potentially set up to be prophet, priest and anointed, Messianic king (1 Sam. 2:10), but it seems he failed to live up to the potential. Instead, he anointed David to be prophet, priest and anointed king. And he too failed, as did Solomon, and so the potential came to ultimate term in the Lord Jesus. We note that Samuel also judged or taught Israel at Ramah, his home. This was about four miles from "Gibeah of Saul". For Saul to have not recognized nor known Samuel speaks much of how Saul was totally not a religious, spiritual person.

According to Dt. 12:11-14, the people were to worship at the sanctuary and not build such high places for sacrifice. But Samuel had built an altar at Ramah (1 Sam. 7:17) and I suggest on 1 Sam. 9:6 that Saul met Samuel in Ramah on a day when Samuel was sacrificing at this "high place". This may possibly be another point [in addition to making his corrupt sons judges] where Samuel fails. Or it could be that he figured that seeing the people weren't switched on enough to go the sanctuary to worship, it was better to build an altar locally for them to at least make some dedication to Yahweh rather than none at all. One often faces such pastoral decisions.