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Men from Kirjath-jearim respond to the call to bring the ark there. It is not said how it was transported, nor whether it was Levites who attended it. We are not even told whether Abinadab, to whose house the ark was taken, was a Levite, though it would seem he must have been, since he sanctified his son to keep the ark. Whatever the case, however, it appears evident that there was a proper respect given the ark, for it remained there for twenty years with no mark of God's displeasure. Not until David was reigning was its location changed (2 Samuel 6:1-11).
However, during this time, when God was virtually confined to a private location, Israel was in a lax, unprofitable state, allowing an admixture of idolatry along with a slight recognition of God. No doubt it was the working of the grace of God that awakened them to lament after the Lord, that is, to feel the fact of their having largely left the Lord out and allowed idols in. Samuel, the man of God, is ready for this occasion, though still a young man whose ministry was only half appreciated by Israel.
He tells Israel that if there is reality in their returning to the Lord, then let them put away the idols they had adopted and serve only the Lord. This had some real effect, for they did put away their strange gods, Baalim and Ashtaroth, and gave their allegiance to the Lord alone. At least, this was the public action they took and it gave occasion to Samuel to seek to deepen some work in the souls of the people. He calls for a gathering of the people at Mizpah, meaning "watchtower," for in the past they had not watched, and found themselves under Philistine domination. Their gathering is in order that Samuel may appeal to the Lord publicly on their behalf.
They drew water and poured it out before the Lord. The significance of this is seen in2 Samuel 14:14; 2 Samuel 14:14: "We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again." This was a confession before the Lord that their condition was such that they were helpless to recover themselves. Their fasting further speaks of their self-judgment, that is, refraining from satisfying their natural appetites. When there is reality in such exercise as this, God will work in pure grace on behalf of His people. It is not that these things have merit in themselves, but are rather a genuine confession of our deserving nothing from God. Then He works on behalf of those who have no power.
The Philistines, hearing of this gathering of Israel, are alarmed and militant. Satan always hates the thought of believers unitedly seeking the mercy of God, and will quickly raise opposition. Of course Israel had before suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Philistines (ch.4:10), and are frightened at the show of Philistine strength. It is now therefore with no bold self-confidence that they go to battle, but with the entreaty that Samuel will not cease to pray to God for them. This spirit of humiliation and of dependence on God will not fail to bring God's intervention. However, Samuel does not only pray, but offers a young lamb as a whole burnt offering to God. Of course this typifies the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, which is the only basis on which we are given any title to blessing from God.
Under law it was not the work of Levites to offer sacrifice, but of the priests. But the priesthood having badly failed, God in this unusual way both exposed the shame of the priests and provided for Israel's needed help. Later Saul forced himself and offered a burnt offering because Samuel had not come to him as quickly as he wanted (ch.13:9-14), but this was an act of fleshly impatience, not God's leading, and Samuel told him that for this reason his kingdom would not continue.
The Philistines came to the attack as Samuel was offering the lamb. If the enemy attacks us at a time when we are consciously dependent on the precious sacrifice of Christ, there will be no doubt of his defeat. It was not Israel's strength that gained the victory that day, but God's intervention by thundering with a great thunder upon the Philistines. One can imagine how sudden, tremendous peals of thunder, very close at hand, would send chills of fear into the hearts of brave men. This of course frustrated them and spread confusion in their ranks, so that Israel had no difficulty in gaining a decisive victory.
After God's victory over the Philistines on behalf of Israel, Samuel was careful to keep Israel from gloating over such a victory, for when all is done he set up a memorial stone, calling it Eben-ezer, "the stone of help," that they might not forget that the triumph was gained only through the help of the Lord. While their attitude was thankful, it was also subdued in the recognition "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." As to the future, they must remember that they could expect His help only as they honestly recognized His authority and depended on His mercy.
The Philistines, having been repulsed, are not so anxious again to take the offensive against Israel, and God's hand was manifestly for Israel against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. How much power there is in one man's genuine intercession! "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). This is a precious type of the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. They were able also to reclaim those areas that the Philistines had taken from them before, from Ekron to Gath. Both of these were border cities, which made them an object of contention, but they were really Israel's. Philistines continued to live in them, though tributary to Israel, much as is the case with the Gaza strip now in 1990. Also mentioned is the fact of peace between Israel and the Amorites. These were highland dwellers in Israel who had been put under tribute, not being expelled from the land. Samuel's intercession was evidently effective in this case also, to preserve peace.
All his life from youth he remained the judge of Israel. For his consistent, plodding faith and faithfulness he stands out among all the characters of scripture. He had adopted a general plan of travel that holds helpful spiritual significance for us. Each year he went in a circuit, first to Beth-el, meaning "the house of God." God's house that is, God's interests in connection with His people, we should rightly expect to be given the first place. Today God's house is composed of all believers, and care for them and fellowship with them is vitally important if we are to prosper spiritually.
Gilgal was his next stop. This is a negative complement of the positive truth of the house of God. Gilgal means "rolling away," significant of God's rolling away Israel's reproach in their coming out of Egypt into Canaan, by means of circumcision, the cutting off of the flesh (Joshua 5:2-8). This therefore involves serious self-judgment, the self-discipline that is always necessary if we are to preserve godly unity among saints in the assembly of God.
Mizpah followed this. We have seen that its meaning is "watchtower." Though we may have learned self-discipline in some good degree, yet the enemy is cunning enough to attack if we are not on guard: watching against his wiles is a vital element of true Christian life (See 1 Corinthians 16:13).
Finally, his return was to Ramah, meaning "height," where was his proper dwelling, as it should be for us too, for it speaks of our position "in Christ" far above the level of earth, as seated "in the heavenlies" (Ephesians 2:6), our true sphere of life and blessing. Typically, Samuel was making true practically for himself the reality of what was true doctrinally. May we be more like him in this regard. There he built an altar to the Lord, the symbol of a vital relationship to God based on the value of Christ's sacrifice.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 7". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29