1 Samuel 7:2–17comment (0)
June 17, 2010
By James R. Barnette
Related Scripture: 1 Samuel 7:2–17
Bible Studies for Life
Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University
When External Threats Come
1 Samuel 7:2–17
This passage contrasts the faithful leadership of Samuel to the earlier leadership of Eli and his sons. Hophni and Phinehas trusted in the Ark of the Covenant to bring them victory; Samuel trusted in Yahweh to lead Israel. Unlike the house of Eli, Samuel’s faithfulness brought victory to God’s people.
Dedicate Yourself to God (2–6)
For 20 years, the Philistines oppressed the defeated Israelites, even after the Ark returned to Israelite territory. Now the Israelites were prepared to offer themselves in full repentance and submission to their God. Note that Samuel suddenly reappears in verse 3. The last mention of him was in 1 Samuel 4:1. He appears to have been neglected or unnoticed during these dark days. Now he was back to lead his people with an effectiveness that recalls the leadership of Moses. Three things were commanded of the people: (1) turn aside from idolatry, (2) fix the heart on the Lord and (3) serve Him alone. Samuel urged the Israelites to return to Yahweh with all of their hearts. For ancient Hebrews, the heart was the organ of commitment and loyalty. Israel was to have a single heart, a single loyalty to the one true God. Pouring out water before the Lord became a practice at the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorating those events when Yahweh provided water in the wilderness (see John 7:37–39). For the first time in 1 Samuel, Samuel is portrayed as a leader of the people. So at Mizpah began the ministry of the greatest prophet and judge since Moses.
Overcome Your Fears (7–11)
Unlike the later elders of Israel who requested a king, here the sons of Israel asked Samuel to pray that God would help them overcome the Philistines. Fear gripped the Israelites when they learned that the Philistines were advancing toward them. Here is a parallel with Moses, as up to now, Moses was the only other prophet-leader who was asked by the Israelites to intercede before the Lord during a time of national emergency (see Numbers 21:7, for example). Samuel’s “cry” was an act of repentance on behalf of all of Israel.An Aaronic priest ordinarily carried out both the “suckling lamb” sacrifice and the “whole burnt offering.” However, Samuel took on this responsibility himself, once again asserting his leadership in an unprecedented way. The Philistines interpreted the loud, unexpected thunder as a bad omen. Some question whether this thunder was a real sound or a metaphor. In either case, it depicts and verifies the Lord’s special intervention that led to victory for His children. That the Philistines were “confused” recalls another Mosaic event in which the Lord threw the Egyptian army into confusion (see Exodus 14:24).
Commemorate God’s Help (12–17)
“Ebenezer” literally means “The Stone of Help.” In Genesis 49:24, Yahweh is referred to as the “Stone of Israel.” Erecting this stone between Mizpah and Shen was Samuel’s visible reminder to his people that their Lord was indeed their present help in times of trouble. This act inspired a phrase in one of our most beloved hymns, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by Thy help I’m come.” “Thus far” carries both spatial and temporal significance: The Lord had helped Israel as far as this spot at which they gained victory over their enemy but also the Lord had helped the Israelites up to this point in history. After a long period of faithlessness, God’s children were realizing that it was His power and grace that had — as another hymn proclaims — brought them “safe thus far.” The Amorites were the pre-Israelite people of ancient Canaan. The term here is referring to all Canaanite inhabitants. Rather than challenging the Israelites militarily, these people deemed it best to keep the peace with this Israel whose renewed faith in its Lord helped bring triumph over its oppressors. It is important to remember that God’s helping the Israelites is more an act of His sovereignty than a response to human petition. God does not always respond to our cries as we wish, but there lays our call to trust in His sovereignty and to conform to His divine will. That is the faithfulness that leads to victory, both in this world and the next.