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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 7:1. “The house of Abinadab,” etc. “Why the ark was not carried back to Shiloh is uncertain. The reason may be that the Philistines had conquered Shiloh, and now held it, as Ewald supposes; or it may be that, without a special revelation of the Divine will, they were unwilling to carry the ark back to the place whence it had been removed by a judgment of God, in consequence of the profanation of the Sanctuary by the sons of Eli (Keil); or simply that the purpose was first and provisionally to carry it safely to a large city as far off as possible, inasmuch as, in view of the sentence which had been passed on Shiloh, they did not dare to select on their own authority a new place for the Sanctuary” (Erdmann). “It is probable that Abinadab and his sons were of the house of Levi.
1. For the catastrophe at Bethshemesh must inevitably have made the Israelites very careful to pay due honour to the ark in accordance with the law.
2. The fact of there being a high place at Kirjath-jearim makes it highly probable that there were priests there.
3. The names Eleazar, Uzzah, and Ahio are all names in Levitical families, and Abinadab is nearly allied to Nadab and Amminadab, both Levitical names.
4. It is inconceivable that the breaches of the law in looking into the ark, and in Uzzah laying hold of it, should have been so severely punished, but the neglect to employ the sons of Levi according to the law should not be even adverted to.” (Biblical Commentary.) “To keep the ark.” “Not to minister before it; but only to defend it from such profane intrusions as had caused so much suffering to the Bethshemites.” (Wordsworth.)
1 Samuel 7:2. “Twenty years,” i.e., twenty years before the events occurred which are recorded in this chapter. It was a much longer time before David brought the ark again to the tabernacle (2 Samuel 6:1-17), although it is not certain whether it remained in Kirjath-jearim until that time. During these twenty years it is obvious (from 1 Samuel 7:3) that the Philistine domination continued. “All the house of Israel lamented,” etc. “The image is that of a child that goes weeping after its father or mother, that it may be relieved of what hurts it.…, As, beside the constant pressure of the Philistine rule, no special calamity is mentioned, we must suppose a gradual preparation for this penitential temper of the people, which now, after the lapse of twenty years from the return of the ark, was become universal. The preparation came from within. By what means? By the prophetic labours of Samuel, from the summary description of which, according to their intensive power, their extensive manifestation, and their results in the whole nation (1 Samuel 3:19-21), we may clearly see that Samuel, without ceasing, proclaimed to the people the Word of God. And as in 1 Samuel 3:19 it is said that “none of his words fell to the ground,” we shall have occasion to recognise this penitential temper, and this following after God with sighing and lamentation, as the fruit of Samuel’s prophetic labours, which were directed to the relation of the innermost life of the people to their God.” (Erdmann.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 7:1-2
CARE FOR THE ARK OF GOD
I. The judgments of God for contempt of His ordinances often make men more careful in the treatment of them. If the subject of a well-ordered state sets at nought its ordinances he finds himself visited with a penalty which generally leads him to be more careful of his future conduct. He must render honour where honour is due, whether it be to a person or to a law, or he will be visited with punishment which, if he do not profit by himself, will prove a salutary lesson to others. When a child has played with the fire until he has been burnt, he is not only more careful for the rest of his life how he trifles with it, but others learn a lesson from his sufferings and his scars. And when God punishes men for lightly esteeming that which He has commanded them to reverence, it is that those who suffer, and those who see them suffer, may fear to fall into the same sin. A fear which brings reverence is a motive power in the dispensation of the Gospel, as well as in that which preceded it. In the New Testament cases of judgment are recorded which were as swift and terrible as any found in Old Testament history. Men have needed, even in Gospel times, to be taught reverence for holy beings and holy ordinances by punishment which has worked fear. Ananias and Sapphira thought it a light matter to “lie to the Holy Ghost,” and their sudden death wrought “great fear upon all the Church” (Acts 5:11) which led to an increased reverence for the spirit of God. Elymas poured contempt upon the message of salvation as preached by Paul, and was struck with blindness by the man whose heart’s desire and prayer to God for all his countrymen was that they should be saved. But the judgment which fell upon the Jew led to the salvation of the Gentile, and taught all who beheld it that God will not hold them guiltless who scoff at the name of His Son (Acts 13:6-12). In the case of the “seven sons of Sceva” (Acts 19:13-17) men learnt that they must not lightly use the name of the Lord Jesus, and the effect of the punishment of those who did so was that when it “was known to all the Jews and Greeks dwelling at Ephesus that fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. Men of every age have needed to be taught not only that “God is love,” but that He is “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), that it is indeed His love which leads Him to visit men with judgment for contempt of His holy name and ordinances, in order that others may see it and fear, as the visitation upon the men of Bethshemesh led those of Kirjath-jearim to be more reverent in their treatment of the ark of God. In all the after history of Israel we never hear of their being guilty of a similar act. The death of the Bethshemites was an effectual preventive of any more attempts of this kind.
II. Those who minister in holy things are especially bound to live holy lives. The men of Kirjath-jearim set apart a man for the special service of the ark. “They sanctifieth Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord.” For every service in the world some qualification is needed, and men are not made custodians of men’s lives, or even of their property, unless they are believed to possess the qualifications indispensable to the fulfilment of the duties of the office. The setting apart of men in the Old Testament dispensation to the service of the tabernacle sets forth the truth that those who minister in holy things under the Gospel dispensation are especially bound to “come out from the world and be separate,” in a spiritual sense, that whatever else they lack, a high moral character is indispensable. It also suggests the need that such men should remember the apostolic exhortation, and give themselves “wholly” to the special work, and not “entangle themselves with the affairs of this life” (1 Timothy 4:15; 2 Timothy 2:4).
III. Men learn the value of Divine ordinances when they are deprived of them. When men have abundance of bread and water they have very little sense of the value of these necessaries of life. But if they are wholly or even partially deprived of them they realise how precious they really are. Want makes us sensible of the blessing of abundance. Sickness teaches us to appreciate the blessing of health, and days of gloom make us sensible how good a gift of God is sunshine. And we never know the true value of religious ordinances until we are deprived of them. Those whom sickness has long kept from the house of God, or those who have sojourned in a land where there were no stated. Divine ordinances, testify to the truth of this. When the soul of a godly man is shut away from God’s house, and has no opportunity of meeting Him in His sanctuary, then the sigh goes up to Heaven “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the Living God.… Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house: they will be still praising Thee.… For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalms 84:1-10). This was David’s experience, and thousands since he penned these words have used them to express their own feelings. Israel had for many years before this time had special religious privileges—compared with the rest of the nations they had had a plentiful supply of spiritual bread. But they had treated it as they had treated the manna in the wilderness—familiarity had bred contempt, and they had despised the means of grace, because they had been always in their midst. But the absence of the ark from Shiloh had suspended all the usual tabernacle-service, and the long famine of Divine ordinances caused them to “lament after the Lord.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 7:1. Shiloh was wont to be the place which was honoured with the presence of the ark. Ever since the wickedness of Eli’s sons, that was forlorn and desolate, and now Kirjath-jearim succeeds to this privilege. It did not stand with the royal liberty of God, no, not under the law, to tie himself unto places and persons. Unworthiness was ever a sufficient cause of exchange. It was not yet His time to stir from the Jews, yet He removed from one province to another. Less reason have we to think that so God will reside among us, that none of our provocations can drive Him from us.—Bp. Hall.
1 Samuel 7:2. The time was long ere Samuel could bring them to this solemn conversion related in the verses following: so tough is the old Adam, and so difficult a thing it is to work upon such as are habituated and hardened in sinful practices. Samuel’s song had been, as was afterwards Jeremiah’s (Jeremiah 13:27), “Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! wilt thou not be made clean? When shall it once be? They refused to return until God stopped them with the cross, suffered the Philistines grievously to oppress them, and then “all the house of Israel lamented after the law.”—Trapp.
There is no mention of their lamenting after the Lord while He was gone, but when He was returned and settled in Kirjath-jearim. The mercies of God draw more tears from His children than his judgments do from His enemies. There is no better sign of good nature or grace than to be won to repentance with kindness; not to think of God except we be beaten into it, is servile. Because God was come again to Israel, therefore Israel is returned to God; if God had not come first they had never come; if He, that came to them, had not made them come to Him, they had been ever parted; they were cloyed with God, while He was perpetually resident with them; now that His absence had made Him dainty, they cleave to Him fervently and penitently in His return. This was it that God meant in His departure, a better welcome at His coming back.—Bp. Hall.
I. The persons lamenting. God’s peculiar people. These only love, and mind God’s presence; when the lords and cities of the Philistines are weary of Him, and send Him away, yea, and the inhabitants of Bethshemesh, though a city of Levites belonging to the Church of God, through their ill management of matters send to get a release, yet God’s Israel will look after their God.
II. The object they lament after—not peace, plenty, or victory over their enemies, but after the Lord. Jehovah is the object of their affections; it is He whom they love, and with whom they long for communion.
III. The universality of the number.—all Israel. The whole house of Israel come; they that had woefully degenerated and had gone after their idols; what a wonderful act of God’s power and sovereignty was this upon their spirits. By this He manifests that He is the true God, and that Samuel was His servant … Christians should lament after the God of ordinances, or God in ordinances.—I. Because God is infinitely more worth than all ordinances; His presence is prizable for itself. This is the marrow of heaven, the want of this is hell, and this the child of God knows. II. God purposely withdraws that men may lament after Him. As when a mother steps out of a child’s sight, and when she seems to be gone, the child raises a cry after her (Hosea 5:15). “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early.” III. Bécause sincere lamenting after the Lord may occasion His return. He purposely hovers, waits, and expects, that His people may call Him back by their prayers, entreaties, humiliation; not as though God were moved, or changed by men’s mournful complaints and outcries, but that such an earnest lamenting qualifies the subject, capacitates for mercy, and puts souls into the condition of the promise (Jeremiah 29:12).—Oliver Heywood.
The blessing of national mourning in a time of universal distress.
(1) Penitent recognition of the national sin which has occasioned it.
(2) Painful experience of the mighty hand which has inflicted it.
(3) Sorrowful, penitent seeking after the Lord’s consolation and help, which ends in finding.—Lange’s Commentary.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 7:3. “If ye do return,” etc. “These words prove that a profession of repentance on the part of Israel had preceded them.… The profession, therefore, must be looked for in the preceding words, All the house of Israel lamented,” etc.—(Biblical Commentary).
1 Samuel 7:4. “Baalim and Ashtaroth.” The plurals of Baal and Ashtoreth. “Baal was the supreme male divinity of the Phœnician and Canaanitish nations, as Ashtoreth was their supreme female divinity. Both names have the peculiarity of being used in the plural, and it seems certain that these plurals designate not statues of the divinities, but different modifications of the divinities themselves.… There can be no doubt of the very high antiquity of the worship of Baal.… We need not hesitate to regard the Babylonian Bel (Isaiah 46:1), or Belus (Herod 1:181), as essentially identical with Baal, though perhaps under some modified form.… The great number of adjuncts with which the name is found is a sufficient proof of the diversity of characters in which he was regarded, and there must no doubt have existed a corresponding diversity in the worship.… If we separate the name Baal from idolatry, we seem, according to its meaning, to obtain simply the notion of Lord and Proprietor of all.… The worship of Ashtaroth or Astarte was also very ancient and widely spread. There is no doubt that the Assyrian goddess Ishtar is the Ashtaroth of the Old Testament and the Astarte of the Greeks and Romans … It is certain that the worship of Astarte became identical with that of Venus.… If now we seek to ascertain the character of this goddess, we find ourselves involved in perplexity. There can be no doubt that the general notion symbolised is that of productive power, as Baal symbolises that of generative power, and it would be natural to conclude that as the sun is the great symbol of the latter, and therefore to be identified with Baal, so the moon is the symbol of the former, and must be identified with Astarte” (Smith’s Biblical Dictionary).
“Mizpeh, or Mizpah. The word signifies a watch-tower, and was given to more than one place in the land of Israel. The place here mentioned has been generally identified with the present Neby-Samwil, an elevation near Ramah and Geba (see 1 Kings 15:22; 2 Chronicles 16:6), and 2480 feet above the level of the sea, and five miles from Jerusalem. Dean Stanley and Mr. Grove (Smith’s Bib. Dictionary) consider that Neby-Samwil is too far from Jerusalem to answer to the description given of its position in 1Ma. 3:46, and identify it with the Scopus mentioned by Josephus (B. I. 2, 19, 4), as on the north quarter of the city, seven stadia therefrom, and now generally held to be the “broad ridge which forms the continuation of the Mount of Olives to the north and east, from which the traveller gains his first view of the holy city” (Grove). “I will pray for you.” That deliverance from the hand of the Philistines was not at least immediately the object of the intercession is clear, not only from the phrase “for you,” since otherwise Samuel must have used an expression to include himself, but also from the following words.”—(Erdmann).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 7:3-4
I. Repentance is the lessening of a moral distance between God and man by a moral turning of man to God. “If ye do return unto the Lord,” etc. When a man turns and walks in an opposite direction he changes his course, and lessens the distance between himself and the point to which his back has been hitherto turned, and from which he has been every moment getting farther away. His face is now directed to an entirely opposite goal, and the distance between him and that goal grows less at every step. Repentance is not a bodily act—it is a turning of the heart. “If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts.” Directly the heart turns to God in penitence and trust the moral distance between that heart and God is lessened. That turning is the beginning of a new course of life, which daily decreases the distance between the man and his former way of life, and brings him nearer to God in his sympathies, and in his character. And this goes on until there is entire conformity of the character of God,—until the just man becomes the perfect man, and all the moral distance which once separated him from God is annihilated. Locally, God is as near to the sinner as He is to the saint. He was locally as near to the Israelites in general as He was to Samuel in particular. “God is not far from every one of us,” said Paul to the Athenians (Acts 17:27). Yet God was morally much nearer to Paul than He was to any other man on Mars Hill, because Paul was much more like God in character than they were. And there was also a great gulf of moral difference between Samuel and his hearers, because there was a wide gulf between them and Jehovah in character and disposition. Paul had once been far from the God whom He now served, and the Saviour for whom he was now ready to die, but he had diminished that distance by repentance—by an entire change in his feelings concerning Jesus of Nazareth, and by a corresponding change of life. The people whom Samuel here exhorts were at such a moral distance from God that they had become partakers of the debasing idolatry of the Canaanites, and the worship of Baal had increased the natural badness of the national character. As the road of iniquity is downhill, every step in the road had not only brought them farther from God, but had increased the speed at which they had departed farther and farther from Him. Samuel here teaches that a turning of heart to God would be the beginning of a moral transformation—it would at once begin to lessen the moral distance between them and Jehovah, and begin to make a separation between them and the sinful habits in which they had been living. He tells them in effect, what another prophet afterwards told their descendants, that “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save: neither is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
II. Repentance is born of a sense of need. A local change of place is often brought about by a sense of need. The man feels dissatisfied with what he meets with in the road in which he is travelling, and his dissatisfaction leads him to turn round and take another course. And so it is in a change of souldirection. The prodigal’s sense of need led him to set his face towards his father’s house, and Israel had now begun to feel that they wanted something as a nation which Baal and Ashtaroth could not give them. They “lamented after the Lord.” Such a feeling of want is a sign of a re-awakening conscience—it is like the outcry of the man who was thought to be dead before the surgeon’s knife touched him—it is a sign of returning consciousness. The very fact that he can feel leads to the hope that he may recover. He who feels a sense of spiritual need is not morally dead—his conscience may have been lying dormant for a long time, but its outcry is a sure sign that it is not dead, and is often the first step to a true repentance.
III. Human exhortation is often helpful to repentance. If a man is awakening to a sense of the moral separation which sin has made between him and God, the words of a godly man will often deepen the feeling and determine him to turn to God. The words of Peter on the day of Pentecost helped his hearers to repentance. His words first pricked their hearts and then helped them to accept Him whom they had crucified. Samuel’s words of exhortation meeting the feeling of need in the hearts of Israel, encouraged and stimulated their desire to return to God.
IV. Repentance is the result of a preparation of heart, and shows its reality in the life. Samuel here speaks of two things as necessary to a turning unto God. “Prepare your hearts,” and “put away Balaam and Ashtaroth.” No thoughtful man makes any great change in his life without first making it the subject of consideration, without counting the cost of what he is about to do. He who thinks about leaving his native land, never to return, does not set out upon his journey without well weighing the consequences of such a step. Changes in our modes and habits of life, if made without thought, are not likely to be either satisfactory or beneficial. And when a man begins to think of returning to God by repentance it is especially necessary that he should ponder deeply what repentance is—what is involved in forsaking sin and becoming a servant of God—in turning his back upon his old life, and beginning an entirely opposite course. It was when the prodigal “came to himself” that he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” That expression implies that there had been much thinking on his part about his past, his present, and his future. Such thinking deepens and strengthens moral resolution, and leads to prayer, and no change of feeling is likely to end in that lasting change of heart and life in which true repentance consists, unless it has its birth in such a preparation. Samuel here insists on such a thoughtfulness and prayerfulness on the part of Israel as indispensable to a true and lasting return to God. And repentance of heart must be proved by a change of life. Israel could not return to God and continue to worship the gods of the Philistines. “No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24), and he who professes to desire the favour of God must show the reality of his profession by putting off the service of Satan and the “works of darkness” (Romans 13:12), by putting away everything in his life that is contrary to the mind and will of God.
V. After repentance comes liberty. “If ye do return,” etc., … “the Lord will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” Every unrepentant man is a slave to sin. “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34)—he is tied and bound by evil habits and passions. But the formation of new and holy desires and habits frees him from the dominion of the old ones, as the formation of the new leaf-buds on the tree pushes off the old and withering leaves. In proportion as the former increase in size and strength, the latter lose their hold; and in proportion as new habits, springing from a new soul-relation, gain strength, the old habits lose their power, and give the man true liberty. The political freedom which Israel gained by turning from Baal to God is a type of the moral freedom which comes to every man who truly repents.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Samuel doth not presently cheer them up, but presseth them to a thorough reformation: and giveth them to know that their sorrow must bear some proportion to their sin. See the like done by Peter in Acts 2:37-38.—Trapp.
Revivals of religion have been the blessed experience of the Church in every era of its living history. Whether we trace its course in the Old or New Testament, or in subsequent times, evidences of occasional awakenings, with all their happy results, abound.… At Bochim, in the early days of the Judges, a great revival took place. In the days of Samuel the Church of God was gladdened by another. Hezekiah’s reign was greatly signalised by the general revival of religion; so was Josiah’s. The nation of Judah was preserved from idolatry by means of these great awakenings. In the time of the building of the second Temple there was a revival of religion, which wrought most influentially. Pentecost stands prominent in the history of revivals, and throughout the last eighteen centuries revivals have been occasional, and form the most interesting portions of the Church’s history.… Two features have generally marked these periods of spiritual awakening,—the power of prayer, and the power of preaching.… The revival under Samuel was brought about by prayer and preaching. To this man it is instrumentally to be traced. He wrestled in secret and exhorted in public.…
I. Samuel preached repentance. This has ever been the theme in times of attempted revival. It was the theme of Noah’s alarm-cry to the gigantic sinners of the old world. It was the burden of Elijah’s prophetic message. It was the voice in the wilderness from the lips of John the Baptist. It was the summons which the apostles served in the name of Christ upon a godless world. It rang through Germany by Luther’s lips of music, and echoed among the Alpine valleys from Luther’s patriotic soul. It was the subject of Latimer’s blunt home-thrusts at the practical heart of England, and it thundered throughout Scotland from the stern and fearless Knox. The doctrine of repentance is the appendix to every re-publication of the ten commandments, and the preface to every offer of the Gospel. So when Samuel taught, this was his awakening theme.…
II. Samuel sought fruits for repentance. He did not rest satisfied with the expressed emotion. He demanded instant reproof of expressed sincerity. To give up evil ways is one of the earliest signs of a penitent soul.… This is the trial of conviction. You may profess anxiety to be saved, and mourn over your sins; but so long as you do not give up what comes between your soul and God, you have not sincerely repented.…
III. Samuel urged a believing return to the Lord.… Repentance does not constitute reformation. It is only the outer court. By faith we enter into the holy place.… Faith is the reunion of the soul to the Lord. So when the Israelites gave up the false, they returned to the true God. They forsook the many and returned to the One.… The heart must have an object. No person is without a god, to whom all his efforts are devoted, and on whom his affections are placed. It may be the world, or the creature, or self, or some superstition, or else the true God.… But the awakened conscience finds no satisfaction in anything less than the Lord.—Steel.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 7:6. “Drew water, and poured it out before the Lord,” etc. “It is remarkable that two rites are brought together here which belong respectively to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Day of Atonement. The first is not, indeed, prescribed by the law, but it was the custom for the High Priest to fill a golden vessel with water drawn from the fountain of Siloam, and to pour it over the sacrifices on the Feast of Tabernacles. Allusions to this, which was a joyful act, are supposed to be made in Isaiah 12:3, and John 7:37-38.… The only fast enjoined by the law of Moses was on the Day of Atonement, upon the 10th Tisri.… It is likely, as in Ezra 3:4; Ezra 3:6, and in Nehemiah 7:73; Nehemiah 8:1-17, that Samuel also chose the Feast of Tabernacles, and the fast which preceded it, as the occasion for assembling the people. The drawing water being mentioned before the fasting is, it is true, rather against this view, though not conclusively, as the mention of the fasting may be supplemental; the real order being that they first fasted and confessed their sins on the Day of Atonement, and then joyfully kept the Feast of Tabernacles. If the fast here mentioned is not that of the 10th Tisri, it may be compared with that of Ezra 10:6, and those alluded to in Zechariah 7:5, and perhaps the pouring out of water (which is variously explained), may be taken in connection with the fasting (as Ezra did eat no bread, and drink no water).… Other explanations of the act are (with the Targum), “they poured out their hearts in penitence as it were water,” or that it was a symbolical act of expressing their ruin and helplessness, according to the saying in 2 Samuel 14:14, or that the water typified their desire that their sins might be forgotten “as waters that pass away” (Job 11:16).—(Biblical Commentary.)
“And Samuel Judged Israel.” “With respect to the position of the judges, it is generally estimated falsely when they are looked upon as proper judicial personages in our sense.… This error has been occasioned by the assumption that the Hebrew word is perfectly synonymous with our judging, while in reality it has a much wider signification. In the Book of Judges it generally denotes the exercise of authority and superiority.… Only of Deborah do we read, in Judges 4:5, that the Israelites went up to her for judgment. But she cannot be placed upon a level with the judges throughout. She pronounced judgment as a prophetess in matters where no confidence was placed in the ordinary judicial jurisdiction, and a judgment of God in the proper sense was desired, just as, according to Exodus 18:0, the nation leaving their natural judges, thronged to Moses, to draw justice immediately from its source. Samuel’s position was exactly similar to that of Deborah, he was judge in another sense than the judges of the Book of Judges.—(Hengstenberg.)
(See also on 1 Samuel 7:15).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 7:5-6; 1 Samuel 7:15-17
THE GATHERING AT MIZPEH
I. If a nation is to have strength and liberty it must have unity. “Gather all Israel to Mizpeh.” If a human body is to be strong, and consequently free to act, there must be a united action of all its members. Every limb and organ must work harmoniously together. So with the human soul. All its powers must gather themselves together—there must be a concentration of all its forces—if there is to be any result of worth. Hence the Psalmist’s prayer—“Unite my heart to fear Thy name” (Psalms 86:11), and the Apostle’s declaration, “This one thing I do” (Philippians 3:13). And the same thing is true of any corporate body, whether it be large or small. It will not have power unless its action is united, and if a nation is not strong by unity it will not long be free. Samuel here aims at the united action of the whole nation. This unity—
1. Is often brought about by a common calamity. Common afflictions and dangers have a wonderful power to bring men together. If the reputation of a family is attacked from without, all its members will forget little differences, and unite to attack a common foe. The Church of God needs nothing but a return of the days of persecution to bring all its members into such a unity of spirit as would astonish all her foes. It would then be seen how strong is the unseen bond which unites them all to a common head. When a nation arrives at a great crisis in its history—especially when it is threatened by a common foe—all minor differences of opinion are forgotten for the time—all party distinctions are laid aside and the nation acts as one man. It was the Philistine oppression which brought the Israelites at this time to such unanimous action. They felt that this was not the time for “Ephraim to envy Judah, nor Judah to vex Ephraim” (Isaiah 11:13).
2. Such unity can only be real and lasting by being founded on right relations to God. The fear of God is the only solid ground of national unity. When each man is governed by a desire to serve God, a oneness of aim and purpose in the nation must be the result, and in proportion as such feelings sway a people, in such proportion will there be concord in their assemblies, and unanimity in their actions. The unity of Israel at this time was based upon a common conviction of transgression against God, and a desire to return to Him; and in proportion as these feelings were deep and heartfelt, there was ground upon which to build a real and permanent union of the people.
3. It is good for such a national unity to find expression in a national assembly. Such a gathering increases the feeling of unity, and encourages the spirit of the nation by giving it an opportunity of feeling its strength. It likewise intimidates its foes. The national gathering at Mizpeh was helpful to the Israelites themselves, and was a just ground of apprehension to their oppressors.
II. It is a great blessing to a nation to have a head who is both intellectually and morally great. Men must have leaders, and it matters little by what name a national leader is called—whether king, president, or prime minister, provided he exercises his power with intellectual ability and for moral ends. Such a man should, like Samuel, combine in himself something of the prophet, the judge, and the priest. He teaches by his life, and by his words, he is a judge inasmuch as he is a stern reprover of all wrong, and fails not to enforce penalty for transgression of national law, and he is also a priest, for such a man will not fail to bear on his heart before God in prayer those who look up to him for guidance. Such a man is a true king of his nation, whether he wears a crown or not. Samuel was such an uncrowned king—a true father of Israel, a true shepherd of his people. As a prophet, he made known to them the will of Jehovah; as judge, he kept pure the fountains of justice; and as at Mizpeh he “cried unto the Lord for Israel” (1 Samuel 7:9), we may be sure that upon the altar at Ramah he offered sacrifices, not only for his own sins, but also for those of the people.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 7:5. Intercession to the Lord for the salvation of others. l. Its exercise unlimited, the individual as well as the whole people being its subject (comp. 1 Timothy 2:1-2).
2. Its answer conditioned by the need of salvation, and the capacity for salvation of those for whom it is made.
1 Samuel 7:6. The penitent confession—“We have sinned against the Lord.”
1. Who has to make it, the individual, family, congregation, church, the whole people.
2. How is it to be made, with attestation of its truth and uprightness by deeds of repentance.
3. What are its consequences, forgiveness of sin, deliverance from the power of the wicked one, salvation.—Lange’s Commentary.
1 Samuel 7:16-17. Simply the vice-regent of God, and no king, Samuel had no palace in Israel. No armed guards protected the person, nor gorgeous retinue attended the steps of Samuel. No pomp of royalty disturbed the simple manner of his life, or distinguished him from other men; yet there rose by his house in Ramah that which proclaimed to all the land the personal character of its ruler, and the principles upon which he was to conduct his government. In a way not to be mistaken, Samuel associated the throne with the altar, earthly power with piety, the good of the country with the glory of God. That altar had a voice no man could mistake. In a manner more expressive than proclamation made by royal heralds with painted tabards and sounding trumpets, it proclaimed to the tribes of Israel that piety was to be the character, and the will of God the rule, of his government.—Guthrie.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 7:7. “When the Philistines heard,” etc. “Apprehending that such a gathering under one so well known as Samuel boded no good to their dominions, and might be intended to organise the assertion of the nation’s own independence.”—(Kitto.)
1 Samuel 7:9. “Samuel, though only a Levite, offered a burnt offering to the Lord at Mizpeh, because the regular ministries of the tabernacle which was separated from the ark were in abeyance, and God had not yet chosen any fixed place to set His name there, after the destruction of Shiloh; and Samuel was raised up with a special commission from God to supply the deficiency of the transitory and provisional state of things.”—(Wordsworth.) (See also comments of this verse.)
1 Samuel 7:12. “Shen,” literally a tooth, doubtless a rocky eminence in the neighbourhood. It has not been identified. “Ebenezer,” or Eben-ha-ezer, i.e., stone of help.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 7:7-12
THE DEFEAT OF THE PHILISTINES
I. Opposition to the covenant-people of God furnishes occasion for the fulfilment of the Divine promises. God had promised Abraham that He would bring out His descendants from the land of their captivity with “great substance,” and “judge the nation whom they should serve” (Genesis 15:14), and the opposition of Pharaoh furnished an occasion for the fulfilment of that promise. The Lord had answered Samuel’s prayer for Israel’s freedom, and even “while he was offering the burnt offering” the Philistines furnished an occasion for the fulfilment of the promise by “drawing near to battle against Israel.” In the history of a man’s individual life the opposition from Satanic and human enemies often furnishes occasion to show that “He is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23).
II. The covenant-promises of God are fulfilled also in answer to prayer. When the time drew near for the redemption of Israel from Egypt, “their cry went up to God by reason of the bondage” (Exodus 2:23), and the prayer and faith of Moses came in to help forward the fulfilment of the promise of deliverance. When the seventy years’ captivity was nearly accomplished, the supplication of Daniel was one instrument of bringing the fulfilment of God’s purpose of mercy (Daniel 9:0). When Our Lord was about to leave the world He promised to His disciples the gift of the Holy Ghost, but they understood well that they must “continue in prayer and supplication” for that Divine gift (Acts 1:4; Acts 1:14). And the promises given to the individual Christian are all fulfilled in answer to prayer. He is to “be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication to let his requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). The promise had been made to Israel that if they put away their strange gods and returned unto the Lord, He would deliver them out of the hand of the Philistines; but they were right in interpreting this promise as to be fulfilled in answer to prayer, and, therefore, in beseeching Samuel to cease not to cry unto the Lord for them.
III. Character has a mighty influence in bringing answers to prayer. Why did Israel say to Samuel, “Cry unto the Lord our God for us?” It was because they felt that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Much of the availing power of prayer is in the character that is linked to it. The cry of Moses for his people was often more effectual than the cry of the thousands of Israel. So mighty was his power with the Eternal that, in answer to his intercession, “the Lord repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people” (Exodus 32:14). If this be so in relation to sinful men, how mighty must be the efficacy of the intercession of the sinless Son of God on behalf of His disciples! If the prayers of men of like passions with ourselves have an influence with God, how mighty must be the prayers of the sinless and Divine man!
IV. Answers to prayer in the present should bring thanksgiving for like blessings in the past. An act of kindness from a friend who has befriended us many times before, brings back to our remembrance all his kind deeds in the past, all the benefits that he has conferred in days that are gone pass again before us every time we are recipients of his bounty. This is, or ought to be, especially the case with gifts received from the hand of God, and especially with good things given in answer to prayer. Thankfulness for the mercy of to-day ought to be deepened by recalling the mercies of past days. When Samuel looked back at the past history of his people, he recalled many instances of God’s loving kindness to a people who had, notwithstanding, often rebelled against Him. And the thought of the many Divine interpositions in the past deepened his gratitude for the present deliverance. His “hitherto,” speaks his thanksgiving for all the help of God to Israel from the day in which they left Egypt until the day which had just passed, and when any man bows before God in gratitude for a present answer to prayer, he should connect it by a hitherto with all that have gone before.
V. It is good for our gratitude to God to show itself in an external form. We like to express our gratitude to a human friend in some practical form as we thereby give a body, as it were, to that which is itself unseen. And it is good to testify our thankfulness to God by some external manifestation, as we thereby perpetuate a remembrance of His goodness and make it known to others. Samuel desired that God’s deliverance at this time should live in the memory of the present generation, and be handed down to their descendants, therefore he embodies his feeling in a pillar of remembrance—“he took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it ‘Ebenezer.’ ”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 7:7. The Philistines come up, and the Israelites fear, they that had not the wit to fear, whilst they were not friends to God, have not now the grace of fearlessness, when they were reconciled to God. Boldness and fear are commonly misplaced in the best hearts; when we should tremble, we are confident; and when we should be assured, we tremble. Why should Israel have feared, since they had made their peace with the Lord of Hosts? Nothing should affright those which are upright with God: the peace which Israel had made with God was true, but tender.—Bishop Hall.
1. How evil sometimes seems to come out of good. The religious meeting of the Israelites brought trouble upon them from the Philistines.
2. How good is at length brought out of that evil. Israel could never be threatened more seasonably than at this time, when they were repenting and praying.… Bad policy for the Philistines to make war upon Israel when they were making their peace with God.—Henry.
1 Samuel 7:8. An evidence of Samuel’s habitual resort to God in prayer for help. (See 1 Samuel 12:19-23.) In Psalms 99:6, Samuel is specially mentioned as given to prayer, and as prevailing by prayer. “Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among them that call upon His name: these called upon the Lord, and He heard them;” and in Jeremiah 15:1, God says, “Though Moses and Samuel stood, before Me, yet My mind could not be towards this people.” Samuel had been given by God in answer to His mother’s prayers, and his whole life seems to have been governed by a sense of the power of prayer, to which his birth was due.… The forty year’s domination of the Philistines over Israel could not be overthrown by the supernatural strength of Samson, but it was terminated by the prayers of Samuel: so much more powerful are the weapons of prayer in the hands of righteous men than any arm of flesh.—Wordsworth.
1 Samuel 7:9. It is difficult to reconcile the severe judgments denounced and inflicted for irregularities in the ritual service, with the direct sanction and approval which attended the irregular actions of Samuel and other prophets with regard to the ritual observances. The point is of importance, for it is the action of the prophets from this time forward upon public affairs which gives to the history of the Jews their peculiar character.… It would appear then that the prophets, as men divinely authorised and inspired, were regarded as having a right to dispense with the strict requirements of the law on special and extraordinary occasions, and that, as prompted by the Spirit, it was lawful for them to do that which would be most criminal in persons not so authorised. And this authorised departure, when occasion demanded, from the strict requirements of the law could not but operate beneficially on the public mind. The rigid enforcement of every jot and tittle of the law, on ordinary occasions, might eventually—without the presence of a corrective and counteracting influence—have created a sort of idolatry for the mere letter of the law, and of every ritual detail, as in itself a divine thing. But the permitted departures therefrom by the prophets corrected this tendency, by directing attention more to the spiritual essence of these observances—teaching, as Samuel himself expressly declared on one occasion, that “obedience was better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” The diligent reader of the Scripture is aware that this upholding of the spirit above the mere letter of the ritual service was a peculiar function of the prophets, appearing with more and more distinctness as the time advances, until at last the prophets declare with great plainness of speech that the mere ritual service in all its parts, and the most sacred solemnities prescribed by the law, were, in the nakedness of their literal truth—apart from the spiritual influences which should be connected with them—not only unacceptable to the Lord, but abomination in His sight.—Kitto.
Samuel’s intercession was—
I. The most powerful means of aid. “Prayer moves the arm that moves the universe.” It is the Divinely-appointed means of assistance. It has the promises which are “exceeding great and precious” attached to it.
II. It was a prayer in which they all had a believing interest.… Many hearts united in one exercise. This gives public prayer a wondrous power.
III. It was prayer to their covenant God. They had just renewed their covenant with God, and accepted Him as theirs. “Cry unto our God for us.” They knew to whom they addressed their cry. It was to no unknown God or imaginary Deity.
IV. It was prayer for a definite object. They specified their want—“that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8). Too many pray in a way so general as to exhibit little interest in what they ask. But Israel had a particular danger, hence they had a particular request. Their prayer arose from a felt necessity.… Prayer should have a fixed, definite object. You should know what you want, and let your felt want urge your earnest cry.
V. It was offered by a sacrifice.… The sinful can have no claim upon the Holy, nor can they approach without mediation. Hence a system of mediation was established when mercy was revealed. A mediation and an atonement were prefigured in the old economy.—Steel.
1 Samuel 7:12. What a contrast between the event now recorded at Ebenezer and that recorded as having occurred a few years before at the same place. At that time Israel had the ark with them, the visible sign of God’s presence, but the Lord Himself had forsaken them on account of their sins; and Hophni and Phinehas were with the ark, and they were discomfited with a great slaughter, and the priests were slain with the sword, and the ark of God was taken. Now they have not the ark, but they have repented of their sins, and Samuel is with them; and the Lord hearkens to his prayers, and the Philistines are smitten so that they return no more into the coasts of Israel during the days of Samuel, and Samuel sets up the great stone at Ebenezer. Hence it appears that the outward ordinances of a visible Church are of no avail without holiness in the worshippers, and that in the most distressed condition of the visible Church God can raise up Samuels, and endue them with extraordinary graces, and enable them to do great acts, and give comfort and victory to the Church of God by their means.—Wordsworth.
The stone Ebenezer is a monument of those revelations of the might and the grace of a living God, occasioned by sin and penitence, wandering and return, which are the impelling power in the whole political history of the old covenant.—Lange’s Commentary.
It is of great consequence to cherish lasting and grateful memorials of God’s goodness to us, and of our solemn engagements to him. What God has done is too great to be forgotten, and too gracious to be over looked.
I. Look upward, and see God in your history. We should always trace our mercies direct to the hand of God, since, whatever be the agency, He is the source.
II. Look backward, and remember past help. The text supposes that help was needed, and every Christian knows that his dependence is constant. Mark the long continuance of your mercies. Hitherto may be for forty, fifty, or even sixty years.
III. Look forward. Thou shalt see greater things than these.—Thodey,
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 7:13. “They came no more.” “They no more invaded the territory of Israel with lasting success as they had done before.” The words which immediately follow—“the hand of Jehovah was against the Philistines,” etc., show that they made attempts to recover their lost supremacy, but that so long as Samuel lived they were unable to effect anything against Israel” (Keil). The forty years domination, mentioned in Judges 13:1, now terminated.
1 Samuel 7:14. “From Ekron even unto Gath.” “This definition is probably to be understood as exclusive, i.e., as signifying that the Israelites received back their cities up to the very borders of the Philistines, measuring these borders from Ekron to Gath. For although these chief cities of the Philistines had been allotted to the tribes of Judah and Dan, in the time of Joshua (Joshua 13:3-4; Joshua 15:45-46), yet, notwithstanding the fact that Judah and Simeon conquered Ekron, together with Gaza and Askelon, after the death of Joshua (Judges 1:18), the Israelites did not obtain any permanent possession.”—(Keil).
“And there was peace,” etc. “These words suggest what is in itself very probable, that in this war the Amorites, finding the Philistines worse masters than the Israelites, made common cause with Samuel, and assisted the Israelites in their wars against the Philistines.”—(Biblical Commentary.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 7:13-14
VICTORY, REST, AND RESTORATION
I. One decisive victory brings a long season of rest. This victory at Ebenezer brought peace to Israel for many years, and so the human soul, by a decisive victory over one strong temptation, gains often a long season of rest from the tempter’s snares. He gives by such a victory such a proof to the powers of evil of his moral courage that it is deemed hopeless to renew the conflict while the soul remains so strong and watchful. It is written concerning the Son of God, after His decisive victory over the devil in the wilderness, that the tempter “departed from Him for a season” (Luke 4:13). The total defeat he had experienced told him how vain it would be to renew the assault while the being whom he desired to overthrow remained in His present frame of soul. In all warfare it is best to decide at once who is to be the master of the field by a decisive blow, and if a Christian desires any rest of soul there must be no parleying with his spiritual enemies, he must—with the help of the same God by whom Israel routed the Philistines at Ebenezer—let them know without delay who is to be the conqueror. Even then the devil will “depart for a season” only, but these seasons of repose will enable him to gather strength for the next attack.
II. Victory brings restoration of that which has been lost by subjection. When Israel had conquered her oppressors she regained the cities which had been taken from her in the day of her subjection. The human race does not now possess all that belonged to it when God created the first man, and bade him “replenish the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). God at first “put all things under his feet” (Psalms 8:6). But now it is plain that man is not the absolute lord, either of the earth and the phenomena of nature, or of the animal creation. He has lost his rule by sin. “We see not yet all things put under him” (Hebrews 2:8). But when man is restored to his original position in the universe by victory over sin, he will recover his lost rule over material things. There is to be a “time of restitution” (Acts 3:21), when the powers which now hold man in subjection will be finally defeated, and he will recover his former dominion, not only over himself, but over the world and over all the creatures below him in the scale of creation.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The revival of religion has ever had a most important bearing on social and moral improvement. The return of man to God restores him to his brother. Restoration to the earnest and hearty performance of religious duties towards God, leads to a corresponding reformation in relative and political duties. Those countries in Europe which have had the greatest religious reforms, have advanced most in liberty, civilisation, and commerce. They are not trodden by the iron heel of despotism, and they possess the greatest amount of domestic quiet. It was the revival of religion which secured the Protestant succession to England, and many of the liberties we now enjoy. It was the revival of religion that gave such a martyr-roll to the Scottish Covenanters, and led to the revolution settlement of 1688. In Israel every revival of religion was succeeded by national prosperity and political independence.—Steel.
1 Samuel 7:15. “And Samuel Judged Israel.” “We must regard Samuel’s judging as a directing and ordering, in accordance with the above act of repentance, of the inner affairs of the people, who were by that religious act inwardly again purified. It consisted both in the administration of right and justice according to the law of the Lord, and in government proper, in the wise carrying out of measures that looked to the good of the people. During Saul’s life he kept unchanged the position of a prophet, who employed the authority of the Divine will for the direction of the national life—the mediating priestly position between God and the people; but he also, as last judge, held in his hands the highest control of the theocracy and the kingdom.” (Erdmann).
1 Samuel 7:16. “Bethel.” “A well-known city and holy place of central Palestine, twelve miles from Jerusalem, on the road to Sichem, where its ruins still lie under the scarcely altered name of Beitin.” (Smith’s Bib. Dictionary.) “Gilgal.” At least two places in ancient Palestine were so named, one in the Jordan valley, between that river and Jericho (Joshua 4:19), and one south-west of Shiloh, now called Jiljilia (1 Kings 2:1). It is impossible to decide which is the place here mentioned. Dr. Erdmann says, “The question must be decided in favour of the former, for the reason that Samuel would certainly choose for such assemblies the place that was consecrated by its historical association and religious importance.” Keil rather leans to the opinion that it was the modern Jiljilia.
1 Samuel 7:17. “Ramah.” See note on 1 Samuel 1:1. “There he builded an altar.” Another instance of Samuel’s deviation from the Levitical law. See note on 1 Samuel 7:9.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30