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David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Samuel 7

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Samuel as Judge

A. Samuel leads the nation in repentance.

1. (1Sa 7:1-2) The ark at Kirath Jearim.

Then the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD. So it was that the ark remained in Kirjath Jearim a long time; it was there twenty years. And all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.

a. The men of Kirath Jearim treated the Ark of the Covenant with respect and honor; yet they did not take it to the tabernacle. Instead of the ark resting in the holy of holies, at the house of God, it was brought into the house of Abinadab.

b. Yet, they consecrated Eleazar his son to the keep the ark of the LORD. We don't know if Eleazar was of the proper priestly lineage, or if his consecration ceremony was like the ones that truly consecrated a priest (Exodus 29). But it all reflected at least a desire to do the right things.

c. It stayed this way a long time. Israel had the ark back; but things were not really set right. Israel finds they are no more right with God just because they have the Ark of the Covenant again. Instead, all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.

i. They had good reason to lament. Their cities were in ruins, their armies were defeated, and they were under Philistine domination, all because they were not right with God.

ii. "It may very naturally be asked, 'Where was Samuel all that time?' I know not what he was doing during those twenty years; but I have a suspicion, I may say, I have a firm persuasion, that he was going from place to place, preaching in quiet spots wherever he could gather an audience; warning the people of their sin, and stirring them up to seek Jehovah, this endeavouring to infuse some spirituality into their national life." (Spurgeon)

2. (1Sa 7:3-4) Samuel preaches repentance, both outward and inward.

Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, "If you return to the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the LORD, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines." So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.

a. Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel: God had raised up Samuel as a prophet and a judge (1 Samuel 4:1). Yet, Samuel is strangely absent from the whole Ark of the Covenant fiasco. 1 Samuel 4:1 was the last place Samuel was mentioned, right before Israel schemed to use the ark as good luck charm in battle.

b. If you return with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods: Samuel was calling the nation to repentance. The repentance had to be inward (with all your hearts), and it had to be outward (put away the foreign gods).

i. The inward was more important than the outward, and it had to come first. That is why Samuel first called Israel to return with all your hearts, and then told them to put away the foreign gods.

ii. However, inward repentance is a secret thing. It is hidden. No one can really "see" the heart of another. Yet, the inward was proven by the outward. We can know if Israel did return with all your hearts by seeing if they really did put away the foreign gods. No one could see their heart, but they could see if they put away the foreign gods.

c. And serve Him only: Israel did not feel they were rejecting the LORD God; they felt they were only adding the worship of other gods to their worship of the LORD. But this was totally unacceptable; as Jesus said in Matthew 6:24: No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. Samuel was calling on Israel to turn their backs on these other gods and serve Him only.

i. "A worse enemy than the Philistines held sway over the land … the people were thus in double bondage; the heavy yoke of the Philistines was upon them, because the heavier burden of a false worship crushed out the life of their hearts." (Spurgeon)

d. So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only: The local gods of Baal and Ashtoreth were popular idols among the people of Israel. Baal was attractive because he was thought to be the god of weather, and could bring good crops and financial success. Ashtoreth was attractive because she was thought to be the goddess of love and sex.

i. "Ashtoreth was worshipped over a wide area as the goddess of fertility, love and war, and plaques of naked female figures from the Bronze and Iron Ages in Palestine are numerous. The Baals were the corresponding male deities." (Baldwin)

ii. "Baal, god of fertility and the storm, was believed to be the son of Dagon, god of grain. Ashtoreth, goddess of love and fertility, vied for supremacy with Asherah, mother-goddess and consort of El … The association of Baal, Asherah, and Ashtoreth with fertility, particularly as expressed in depraved sexual ritual at Canaanite shrines, made them especially abominable in the Lord's eyes." (Youngblood)

iii. Samuel didn't ask the nation to just take the good from Ashtoreth and Baal and throw away the rest; he called them to renounce these rival gods completely. At this time in their history, Israel did this.

2. (1Sa 7:5-6) The nation repents at Mizpah.

And Samuel said, "Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the LORD for you." So they gathered together at Mizpah, drew water, and poured it out before the LORD. And they fasted that day, and said there, "We have sinned against the LORD." And Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah.

a. Gather all Israel to Mizpah: This was the place where Jacob separated from Laban (Genesis 31:49), and was the gathering place for a repentant Israel in Judges 20:1. This was a place remembered for separation and repentance.

b. I will pray to the LORD for you: Samuel had already called the nation to repentance, and they had made a beginning to it. Samuel knew the work God was doing in them could only be completed through prayer.

c. So they gathered together at Mizpah: This showed the spiritual need Israel felt at the time. They did well to express their repentance both with the desire to put away the bad, and to pursue the good.

i. The experience of conviction of sin proves nothing. It is our response to that conviction that demonstrates repentance. Israel responded by both putting away the bad and going after the good.

c. They drew water, and poured it out before the LORD: A ceremonial pouring of water, in this context, was a demonstration of having one's soul poured out before the LORD. It was an expression of emptiness and need.

i. The Chaldean translation of this passage gives this sense well: "They poured out their heart like water in penance before the Lord." Pouring out water could express "pouring out the heart in penitence as if it were water; or as a symbolical act expressing their ruin and helplessness." (Cook)

ii. "They seemed to say in effect, We could wish to shed as many tears for our sins as there are drops of water in this bucket; but because we cannot do this, behold, we do what we can." (Trapp)

iii. They were expressing the same heart as Lamentations 2:19: Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord.

d. And they fasted that day, and said there, "We have sinned against the LORD." Israel also expressed their sorrow over their sin by fasting (a message that nothing else really mattered except getting right with God), and by confession (a straightforward claim of guilt and responsibility).

i. You don't have to go to a confessional to confess your sin. When you are baptized, you are confessing your sin by saying you needed to be cleansed and reborn. When you receive communion, you confess your sin by saying you need the work of Jesus on the cross to take your sin away. But of course, we need to confess our sin in the most straightforward way: by admitting to God that we have done is sin, and asking for His divine forgiveness, based on what Jesus has done on the cross for us.

ii. Our sins are not forgiven because we confess; if this were the case - if forgiveness for a sin could only come where there was confession - then we would all be damned, because it would be impossible for us to confess every sin we ever commit. We are forgiven because our punishment was put upon Jesus, His blood cleanses us.

iii. However, confession is still vital to maintain relationship with God. Someone might ask, "If I am always falling short of God's perfect standard, what do I know I need to confess and what do I not worry about?" The answer is simple: confess every sin God tells you to confess. As God convicts us of sin that is hindering our fellowship with Him, we must confess it and receive forgiveness and cleansing for our relationship with God to continue without hindrance.

iv. As it was with Israel, confession must be personal; saying "God, if we have made any mistakes, forgive us" isn't confession, because it isn't convinced (saying "if we made"), it isn't personal (saying "if we made"), it isn't specific (saying "if we made any"), and it isn't honest (saying "mistakes").

v. If it is meant from the heart, it is hard to make a better statement of confession than "We have sinned against the LORD." This is almost exactly what David said when confronted with his sin in 2 Samuel 12:13.

e. And Samuel judged the children of Israel: Samuel was the last judge, and was a judge over Israel as were the leaders of the book of Judges. But his leadership was more spiritual than military.

B. Samuel leads the nation to victory.

1. (1Sa 7:7) The Philistine threat.

Now when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel had gathered together at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines.

a. When the Philistines heard: The Philistines should have been afraid of a repentant, God-seeking Israel, because with God fighting for them, Israel was invincible.

i. However, it is probably too much to credit the Philistines with this kind of spiritual understanding. More likely, their strategy was like Arab plan in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The idea was to catch them praying, hoping they would be off-guard.

ii. As well, when the Philistines looked at a humble, low, repentant Israel, they probably thought they saw weakness. They may have been saying, "Look at those weakling Israelites. They are such wimps, crying out before their God like this." But the Philistines were dead wrong on that account!

iii. Only if every spiritual attack could find us humble and repentant before the LORD, trusting in the atoning work of Jesus, and crying out to the LORD!

b. When the children of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines: The Israelites didn't have much more spiritual understanding than the Philistines! They should have been more confident in the LORD than they were here.

i. Our feelings of confidence can be very deceptive. In 1 Samuel 4:5, Israel was completely confident against the Philistines when the ark came into the army camp. But their confidence was false, and they were soon defeated. Here, Israel is fearful and sure of defeat, they have no confidence at all. But they are humble and repentant before the LORD, and will see a great victory. Often, we can't go by how we feel (good or bad), we just need to humbly do what is right before God and trust Him for the victory.

ii. Israel seemed to have more faith when they were trusting in the ark than when they were humble and repentant before the LORD. But small faith in the true and living God is more powerful than the strongest faith in a lie.

2. (1Sa 7:8-9) Samuel prays for the nation.

So the children of Israel said to Samuel, "Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines." And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. Then Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him.

a. Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us: The last time Israel was in this kind of situation they said, "Let's get the Ark of the Covenant and take it into battle with us. Then we can't lose!" Now, they are much wiser before the LORD, and instead of trusting in the ark, they do the right thing and ask Samuel to cry out to the LORD our God for us.

i. Notice the contrast between that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines and Let us bring the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies (1 Samuel 4:3). Instead of looking to the ark, now they are looking to the LORD.

ii. The humble state of Israel's heart is shown by they did not feel worthy to come to the LORD themselves (Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us). "We are ashamed and afraid to look God in the face, because of our great wickedness this day remembered and acknowledged; do thou therefore intercede for us, as Moses did for his generation." (Poole)

b. Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as whole burnt offering to the LORD. Then Samuel cried out: Why did Samuel take time for a sacrifice at such a critical time? Because he knew he could only effectively pray in light of God's atoning sacrifice

i. Think of that poor lamb - a suckling lamb - who had never hurt anyone or who had never sinned itself, had its throat slit, its blood poured out, its body cut up, and its carcass burned. Why? Because Samuel and Israel were saying, "This is what we deserve. This is the punishment that should come upon us. We thank you God, for accepting the punishment of this innocent lamb instead." When we trust in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), we are saying the same thing.

ii. "A figure of that Lamb undefiled and without spot, Jesus Christ, by whom we prevail over all our spiritual enemies, as here Israel did over the Philistines." (Trapp)

iii. When we pray in light of God's atoning sacrifice, we are then ready to cry out to the LORD. We are coming to God because of what He has done for us, instead of what we think we have done for Him.

c. And the LORD answered him: The battle has not yet been fought, a hostile Philistine army is approaching. Yet, in a real way, the battle is over and won, because the LORD answered him.

i. The Bible speaks of Samuel as a mighty man of prayer: Samuel was among those who called upon His name; they called upon the LORD, and He answered them. (Psalm 99:6)

3. (1Sa 7:10-12) The LORD fights for Israel.

Now as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and drove them back as far as below Beth Car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the LORD has helped us."

a. The LORD thundered with a loud thunder: God fought from heaven on behalf of Israel, and sent the Philistines to defeat. But this was a special work of God. After all, the Israelites heard the same thunder, but only the Philistines became so confused … that they were overcome. God not only send thunder, He sent confusion to the Philistines and confidence to Israel.

i. It is also significant to understand that Baal was thought to be the god of weather, and was sometimes pictured with a thunderbolt in his hand. When Israel put away their worship of Baal (1 Samuel 7:4), it was as if God said, "I'll show you who the real God of thunder is."

ii. This was the kind of victory Israel was hoping for in 1 Samuel 4, when they brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle. If they would have only repented and sought the LORD as they are doing here, they could have had this kind of victory long ago.

b. Called its name Ebenezer, saying "Thus far the LORD has helped us." Samuel knew the nation needed to remember this amazing victory, which came to a humble and repentant Israel. This battle was won by the LORD, not by Israel, so he named the stone Ebenezer, which means "stone of help."

c. "Thus far the LORD has helped us." Samuel knew the LORD had done a great work; yet he knew there was much more to be accomplished. So, he knew it was not finished, yet he could say, "Thus far the LORD has helped us." God helps us thus far at a time, and His past work is a pledge of future help.

i. Thus far the LORD has helped us can either mean "to this point in time" or "to this geographical place." Probably both are in mind; Hebrew writers loved to use double meanings.

ii. The place was important, because some 20 years before, the nation had suffered a terrible defeat and had surrendered the Ark of the Covenant at the same place (1 Samuel 4:1). Now, the place could be remembered for something great, instead of something terrible.

4. (1Sa 7:13-14) The success of Samuel as a judge over Israel.

So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. Then the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered its territory from the hands of the Philistines. Also there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

a. The hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel … the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel: Samuel was not a military man, but he was just as successful, or more successful, than Israel's best generals, because the LORD fought for Samuel.

i. Compare Samuel - a humble, spiritually minded judge - to Samson, who was a compromising, carnal judge. Samuel seemed so much weaker, and Samson seemed so much stronger, but who was more effective in leading Israel into victory over their enemies?

b. Also there was peace between Israel and the Amorites: Samuel was successful not only as a man of war, but also as a man of peace.

5. (1Sa 7:15-17) Samuel's service as a circuit judge.

And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went from year to year on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places. But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there. There he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the LORD.

a. Samuel was used of God all his days: Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. Some judges ended their ministry early or in disgrace, but Samuel finished well.

i. "For though Saul was king in Samuel's last days, yet Samuel did not then quite cease to be a judge, being so made by God's extraordinary call, which Saul could not destroy; and therefore Samuel did sometimes, upon great occasions, though not ordinarily, exercise the office of a judge after the beginning of Saul's reign; as chapter 11:7; 15:32,33." (Poole)

b. Samuel worked hard in his service of the LORD: He went from year to year on a circuit … and judged Israel in all those places. Every year, Samuel worked hard to go all about Israel to help settle disputes and to promote righteousness.

c. Samuel remained faithful to the LORD: He always returned to Ramah … and there he built an altar to the LORD. An altar was a place of sacrifice and worship, and Samuel had a consistent relationship with the LORD in sacrifice and worship.

i. "Objection. It was unlawful to build another altar for sacrifice besides that before the tabernacle, Deuteronomy 12:5, 13. Answer. This was in part excused by the confusion of those times, wherein the tabernacle and its altar were destroyed, as is most probable; but most fully, because this was done by prophetical inspiration, and Divine dispensation, as appears by God's approbation and acceptance of the sacrifices offered upon it." (Poole)

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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