1 Samuel 7 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

1 Samuel 7
Pulpit Commentary
And the men of Kirjathjearim came, and fetched up the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD.
Verse 1. - At Kirjath-jearim the people reverently undertook the charge of the ark, and carried out their arrangements so carefully that no further calamity occurred. On its arrival they placed it in the house of Abinadab in the hill. More probably at Gibeah, as it is translated in 2 Samuel 6:3, 4. In Joshua 15:57 a village of this name is mentioned in the tribe of Judah not far from Kirjath-jearim (ibid. ver. 60), and probably Abinadab, who lived there, was a Levite, and so his house was chosen, and his son Eleazar sanctified to keep the ark. The names of both father and son are common in the Levitical genealogies, and none but a member of this tribe would have been selected for so holy a duty. If, however, the translation in the hill be preferred, we may suppose that it was because lofty heights were still considered fit places for Jehovah's worship, or there may even have been a "high place" there, of which Abinadab was the keeper. What exactly were the duties of Eleazar we cannot tell, as the word to keep is very indefinite; but probably, after the fearful ruin at Shiloh, all regular services and sacrifices were in abeyance until the return of happier times. Even here it was the men of the city who sanctified Eleazar, and not a priest. THE REFORMATION OF ISRAEL (vers. 2-6).
And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.
Verse 2. - While the ark, etc. The literal translation of this verse is, "And it came to pass, from the day that the ark rested at Kirjath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years." The words dwell wearily upon the length of this mournful period, during which. Israel was in a state of subjection to the Philistines, with its national life crushed to the ground, and its strength wasted by unjust exactions and misrule. For though the Philistines gave up the ark, there was no restoration of the national worship, nor did they abandon the political fruits of their victory at Eben-ezer. But quietly and calmly Samuel was labouring to put all things right. It was the principle of the theocracy that Jehovah punished his subjects for their sins by withdrawing his protection, and that on their repentance he took again his place at their head as their king, and delivered them. Samuel's whole effort, therefore, was directed to bringing the people to repentance. What means he used we are not told, nor what was his mode of life; but probably it was that of a fugitive, going stealthily from place to place that he might teach and preach, hiding in the caverns in the limestone range of Judaea, emerging thence to visit now one quarter of the country and now another, ever in danger, but gradually awakening, not merely those districts which were contiguous to the Philistines, but all Israel to a sense of the greatness of their sins, and the necessity of renewed trust and love to their God. And so a fresh spiritual life sprang up among the people, and with it came the certainty of the restoration of their national independence. All the house of Israel lamented after Jehovah. The word used here is rare, and the versions all differ in their translation of it. Really it is a happy one, embracing the two ideas of sorrow for sin, and also of re. turning to and gathering themselves round Jehovah. The Syriac alone retains this double meaning, by saying that "they all cast themselves down after Jehovah," i.e. that they sought him with deep humility. Gradually, then, a change of heart came over the people; but the removal of the ark to a more fit place, and the restoration of Divine service with ministering priests and Levites, could take place only after the Philistine yoke had been broken. From 1 Samuel 13:19 22 we learn how vigilant and oppressive that tyranny was; and the heart of the writer, in inditing this verse, was full of sorrow at the thought that the repentance of Israel was so slow and unready, and that therefore it had to wait twenty years before deliverance came.
And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.
Verse 3. - If ye do return, etc. At length everything was ripe for a change, and the reformation wrought privately in their hearts was followed by public action. Samuel's secret addresses had no doubt been watched with anger by the Philistines, but he now ventures upon open resistance; for this public summons to Israel to put away its idols by a national act was a summons also to an uprise against foreign domination. We must suppose that the people had often assured Samuel in his wanderings of the reality of their repentance, and of their readiness to stake everything upon the issue of war. As a statesman, he now judges that the time has come, and convenes a national assembly. But everything would depend upon their earnestness. They were virtually unarmed; they would have to deal with an enemy long victorious, and who held the most important posts in their country with garrisons. Terrible suffering would follow upon defeat. Was their faith strong enough, their courage desperate enough, for so fearful a risk? Especially as Samuel is never described to us as a warrior or military hero. He could inspire no confidence as a general. He himself makes everything depend upon theft faith, and all he can promise is, "I will pray for you unto Jehovah" (ver. 5).
Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only.
Verse 4. - Then the children of Israel did put away [the] Baalim and [the] Ashtaroth. This must have been done by a public act, by which at some time previously arranged the images of their Baals and Astartes were torn from their shrines, thrown down, and broken in pieces. Of course this was an overt act of rebellion, for these deities were especially Phoenician idols, and subsequently it was the Phoenician Jezebel who tried so fanatically to introduce their worship into Israel in Ahab's time. To cast off the Philistine deities was equivalent to a rebellion generally against Philistine supremacy. Baal and Astarte, the husband and the wife, represented the reproductive powers of nature, and under various names were worshipped throughout the East, and usually with lewd and wanton orgies.
And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the LORD.
Verse 5. - Gather all Israel to Mizpeh. Mizpah, for so the place should be spelt, means a watch tower (Genesis 31:49), and so is a not uncommon name for spots among the hills commanding an extensive outlook. This was probably the Mizpah in the tribe of Benjamin, distant about five miles from Jerusalem (see Conder, 'Tent Work,' 1:25); and though Samuel may have partly chosen it as a holy place (Judges 11:11; Judges 20:1), yet the chief reason was probably its lofty situation, 500 feet above the neighbouring tableau, which itself was 2000 feet above the sea level. It was thus difficult to surprise, and admirably adapted for warlike purposes. The gathering of the people at Mizpah was the necessary result of the public insult offered to the Philistine gods, and virtually a declaration of war, as being an assertion of national independence.
And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the LORD. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.
Verse 6. - They... drew water, and poured it out before Jehovah. While the drawing of water was a joyful act (Isaiah 12:3; John 7:37, 38), as symbolising the winning from the depths below of the source of life and health, the pouring it out before Jehovah expressed sorrow for sin, and so it is explained by the Chaldee Paraphrast: "They poured out their heart in penitence like water before the Lord" (comp. Psalm 22:14). It might here also signify weakness and powerlessness, the being "as water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up again" (2 Samuel 14:14). They further expressed their sorrow by fasting, enjoined "for the afflicting of their souls" upon the great day of atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31; Leviticus 23:27, 32; Numbers 29:7). And to these symbolical acts they joined the confession of the mouth, acknowledging that "they had sinned against Jehovah. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh. That is, he now became the acknowledged ruler of Israel in things temporal, both civil and military., as he had previously been in things spiritual by virtue of his office as prophet. This was, of course, the result of the decisive action he had taken in summoning this national convention; but the words strongly suggest that there was some direct appointment, or at the very least a national acknowledgment of Samuel's authority, especially as they precede the history of the defeat of the Philistines. He had summoned the people together as Nabi, prophet, and when he said, "I will pray for you unto Jehovah," there was the implied meaning that he would be with them only in that capacity. But when the time came to appoint a general, who would act under him as Barak had acted under Deborah, the great chiefs, probably, who saw in him the prime mover of all that was being done, urged him also to take the command,and upon his consent he became also Shophet or judge. ISRAEL'S DELIVERANCE FROM THE TYRANNY OF THE PHILISTINES (vers. 7-14).
And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.
Verses 7, 8. - When the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. This was perfectly natural, and implied no intention on the part of the Israelites not to fight it out. No dominant nation would permit a subject race to hold such a meeting as Samuel's at Mizpah without having recourse to arms; but the Philistines acted with such promptness and vigour as brought home to the assembled Israelites not merely the conviction that they would have to fight, but that they must do it at once, and with the combined forces of the enemy. In spite, nevertheless, of their fears, they determine to await the attack, and that this decision was taken in faith their own words prove. For they say, Cease not to cry unto Jehovah our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines. The words literally are, "Be not silent from crying," etc. Let him mediate for them with God, and they will await the onslaught of the foe.
And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the LORD our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.
And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the LORD: and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD heard him.
Verse 9. - And Samuel took a sucking lamb. Samuel now appears as priest, and makes intercession and atonement for them. The lamb was at least seven days old, for so the law required (Leviticus 22:27), but probably not much older; for the word, a rare one, occurring elsewhere only in Isaiah 65:25, means something small and tender: this then he offered for a burnt offering wholly unto Jehovah. The A.V. translates in this way because chalil, "whole," is masculine, while olah, "a burnt offering," is feminine; but chalil had in course of time come to be used as a substantive (Leviticus 6:23; Deuteronomy 13:16; Deuteronomy 33:10), and is really here in opposition to olah, and so the two together signify "a whole burnt offering," and clearly indicate that the lamb was entirely consumed by fire. Olah means that which ascends, and symbolised devotion and consecration to God. Chalil intensified this signification, and showed that all was God's, and no part whatsoever reserved for the priest or the offerer. And thus then Samuel's burnt offering implied that the people gave themselves unreservedly to Jehovah. And Jehovah heard him. Really, "Jehovah answered him," by the thunder mentioned in ver. 10. For thunder was regarded as God's voice (1 Samuel 2:10), and in Psalm 29. we have a poetic description of its majesty and power. Express mention is also made in Psalm 99:6 of Jehovah having thus answered the prayers of Moses (Exodus 19:19), and of Samuel.
And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.
Verses 10, 11. - As Samuel was offering, etc. We have here a detailed and lively description of the whole event. The lamb is still burning upon the altar, and Samuel still kneeling before it, when the Philistine hosts appear upon the lofty plateau just below the hill of Mizpah, and marshal themselves for battle. It seemed as if Israel's case were hopeless, and many a heart, no doubt, was bravely straggling against its fears, and scarcely could keep them down. But as the enemy drew near the electric cloud formed in the heavens, and Jehovah thundered with a great voice (so the Hebrew) on that day upon the Philistines. Alarmed at so unusual a phenomenon, the Philistines hesitate in their advance, and Samuel, seeing their consternation, gives the signal for the charge, and Israel, inspirited by the voice of Jehovah, rushes down the hill upon the foe. Full of enthusiasm, they forget the poorness of their weapons, and the weight of their impetuous rush breaks through the opposing line. And now a panic seizes the Philistines; they attempt no further resistance, but flee in dismay from the pursuing Israelites. Their course would lead them down a huge valley 1000 feet deep, at the bottom of which was a torrent rushing over a rocky bed; nor was their flight stayed until they came under Beth-car. Of this place we know nothing, but probably it was a fastness where the Philistines could protect themselves from further attack.
And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Bethcar.
Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.
Verse 12. - Then Samuel took a stone, and... called the name of it Eben-ezer. We saw on ch. 4. I that the place where Israel then suffered defeat, but which now received a more happy name, was an open plain, over which the people now chased their then victorious enemies. Here, then, Samuel set up a memorial, according to Jewish custom, and called its name Help stone. In giving his reason for it, hitherto hath Jehovah helped us, there is a plain indication of the need of further assistance. There was a long struggle before them, and Jehovah, who had aided them so mightily at its beginning, would also help them unto the end. The memorial stood halfway between Mizpeh and Shen, both which names have the article in Hebrew, because one signifies the watchtower, the other the tooth. It was a steep, pointed rock, but is not mentioned elsewhere. Dent, the French for tooth, is a common name for mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees.
So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
Verse 13. - So the Philistines were subdued. Not completely, for we find that they had garrisons in Israel when Saul was made king; but it was a thorough victory for the time, and was followed up, moreover, by an invasion of Philistia, in which Samuel recovered the towns which had been wrested from Israel upon the western borders of Judah and Benjamin. Moreover, the enemy came no more into the coast of Israel. That is, all invasions ceased. And the hand of Jehovah was against the philistines all the days of Samuel. This, of course, includes the reign of Saul, till within four years of his death; for Samuel continued to he prophet, and to a certain extent shophet, even when Saul was king. The words, moreover, imply a struggle, during which there was a gradual growth in strength on Israel's part, and a gradual enfeeblement on the part of the Philistines, until David completely vanquished them, though they appear again as powerful enemies in the days of King Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16). It is certain, however, that fifteen or twenty years after this battle the Philistines were again in the ascendant (1 Samuel 13:19-23), and it was this which made the Israelites demand a king (1 Samuel 9:16). But it is the method of the Divine historians to include the ultimate results, however distant, in their account of an event (see on 1 Samuel 16:21; 17:55-58); and Israel's freedom and the final subjugation of the Philistines were both contained in Samuel's victory at Mizpah.
And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the coasts thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
Verse 14. - From Ekron even unto Gath. Not that Israel captured these two towns, but they mark the limits upon the borders, within which the Philistines had previously seized towns and villages belonging to Israel, and which Samuel now recovered. There was peace between Israel and the Amorites. In Israel's weakness the remains of this once powerful Canaanitish stock had probably made many a marauding expedition into the land, and carried off cattle and other plunder; now they sue for peace, and unite with Israel against the Philistines. SAMUEL'S CONDUCT AS JUDGE (vers. 15-17).
And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
Verses 15, 16. - And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. As long as Samuel lived there was no clear]imitation of his powers as shophet compared with those of Saul as king. In putting Agag to death (1 Samuel 15:33) he even claimed a higher authority, and though he voluntarily left as a rule all civil and military matters to the king, yet he never actually resigned the supreme control, and on fitting occasions even exercised it. It was, however, practically within narrow limits that he personally exercised his functions as judge in settling the causes of the people; for Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh were all situated in the tribe of Benjamin. Both Bethel and Mizpah were holy spots, and so also, probably, was Gilgal; and therefore we may conclude that it was the famous sanctuary of that name (see 1 Samuel 11:14), and not the Gilgal mentioned, in 2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 4:38. For this latter, situated to the southwest of Shiloh, near the road to Jerusalem, had no religious importance, and would not, therefore, attract so many people to it as one that was frequented for sacrifice. Probably, too, it was upon the occasion of religious solemnities that Samuel visited these places, and heard the people's suits.
And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.
And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the LORD.
Verse 17. - His return was to Ramah. We have seen that Elkanah was a large landholder there, and Samuel had now apparently succeeded to his father's place. And there he built an altar unto Jehovah. This old patriarchal custom (Genesis 12:7) long continued, and it was only gradually that local shrines and worship on high places were superseded by attendance upon the temple services at Jerusalem. At this time there was especial need for such altars. The established worship at Shiloh had been swept away, the town destroyed, the priests put to the sword, and the ark, though restored, was resting in a private dwelling. Probably Samuel had saved the sacred vessels, and much even of the tabernacle, but no mention of them is here made. We see, however, both in the erection of this altar and all through Samuel's life, that the Aaronic priesthood was in abeyance, and that he was not only prophet and judge, but also priest. In thus restoring the priesthood in his own person he was justified not merely by his powers as prophet, but by necessity. Gradually, with more prosperous times, matters returned to their regular channel; but even when Ahiah, the grandson of Eli, was with Saul (1 Samuel 14:3), he was employed not for the offering of sacrifice, but for divining with the Urim and Thummim. On a most important occasion the offering of sacrifice is spoken of as undoubtedly Samuel's right, and when he delayed his coming no mention is made of a priest, but Saul is said to have offered the victim himself (1 Samuel 13:9). It is plain, therefore, that we must not tie down the priesthood too tightly to the house of Aaron; for throughout there lies in the background the idea of a higher priesthood, and with this Samuel was invested, as being a type of him who is a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedek (comp. 1 Samuel 2:35).

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