Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament(For a definitive comment on 1 Sam. 7:1 see the note under 1 Sam. 6:21.)
1 SAMUEL 7
THE JUDGESHIP OF THE PROPHET SAMUEL
This chapter is not written after the manner of modern dissertations. As a result of the peculiarities that are frequently found in Biblical books, some scholars have great difficulty in reading it. So they regale us with learned talk about editors, redactors, interpolators, and some other things concerning which they have no authentic information whatever! This writer finds the chapter absolutely clear and understandable exactly as it has come down to us.
Oh yes, there are difficulties and problems, some of which, no doubt, must be attributed to the defective Hebrew text, but the overall meaning of what is revealed here is clear enough.
THE ARK REMAINS AT KIRIATH-JEARIM TWENTY YEARS
And it came to pass, from the day that the ark abode in Kiriath-jearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after Jehovah.
This verse has the nature of a parenthesis, the purpose of which is to reveal how long the ark stayed at its new location. Therefore, Caird's allegation that, "This verse gives the impression that 20 years have elapsed between the return of the ark to Beth-shemesh and the battle about to be described,"F1 is not accurate. Such an impression is made only upon persons who fail to see the parenthetic nature of the verse. This type of writing is often found in Scripture.
"In 1 Sam. 7:2-4 and 1 Sam. 7:13-17, the author does not intend to relate specific events, but to give a panoramic view of high points connected with Samuel."F2
And all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord
(1 Samuel 7:2). This speaks of the grief and anxiety of Israel following the defeat at Ebenezer, especially of their sorrow that the Lord was not blessing them. It means that they sought him with great humility.F3
ISRAEL GETS RID OF THEIR FALSE GODS
Verses 3, 4
And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto Jehovah with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your hearts unto Jehovah, and serve him only; and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away the Baalim and the Ashtaroth, and served Jehovah only.
(1 Samuel 7:3). This does not mean after twenty years, but refers to the time when Israel was `lamenting after the Lord,' probably at once following their terrible defeat.
Philbeck marveled that the Philistines did not follow up their victory at Ebenezer at once and completely subjugate Israel. He wrote, "For some reason the Philistine advance stalled, and little effort was made to follow up their victory."F4 In all probability their experience with the bubonic plague was the all-sufficient reason!
(1 Samuel 7:3). This is the Hebrew plural of [~Ashtoreth], the name of the goddess of the Babylonians called Ishtar, and by the Greeks Astarte. She was the oldest and the most widely distributed of the Semitic deities; and among the western Semites she was the goddess of fertility and sexual relations. Rites of a most licentious nature were associated with her worship.F5
It is amazing that Israel needed a prophet to tell them anything like this. Ordinary common sense should have revealed it.
So they put away the Baals and the Ashteroth, and served the Lord only
(1 Samuel 7:4). These pagan deities were worshipped by all the Phoenicians, including the Philistines; and, This casting off of the false deities was equivalent to a rebellion against Philistine supremacyF6 Due to the abbreviated nature of this narrative, we are not told exactly how Israel rejected the false gods.
"It must have been done by a public act, by which at some previously arranged time, the images of their Baals and Ashteroths were torn from their shrines, thrown down and broken into pieces."F7
THE GREAT VICTORY OF ISRAEL AT MIZPAH
And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray for you unto Jehovah. And they gathered together to Mizpah, and drew water, and poured it out before Jehovah, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against Jehovah. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpah. And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto Jehovah 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 whole burnt-offering unto Jehovah: and Samuel cried unto Jehovah for Israel; and Jehovah answered him. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel; but Jehovah thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten down before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath Jehovah helped us.
Gather all Israel at Mizpah
(1 Samuel 7:5). Mizpah was located some five miles north of Jerusalem (Willis gave eight miles north as being probably correctF8). This place was the gathering point for Israel upon two other very important occasions, namely: (1) when they declared war on Benjamin (Judg. 20), and (2) upon the occasion when Saul was made king (1 Samuel 10:17). According to Josephus, Mizpah means watch-tower.F9
They drew water and poured it out, and fasted that day
(1 Samuel 7:6). The only other instance in the Bible that resembles this is that of David who would not drink the water which his mighty men, at great risk to themselves, had drawn for him from the well in Bethlehem. David, Poured it out to the Lord, and said, `Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives'? (2 Samuel 23:15-16).
The lords of the Philistines went up against Israel
(1 Samuel 7:7). As H. P. Smith stated it, The opportunity for plundering an unwarlike community was not to be lost. Josephus correctly understands that the people had come without arms.F10 We normally accept what Josephus says, but not in this instance. 1 Sam. 7:11 declares that Israel `smote the Philistines,' and one does not smite an invading army with his bare hands. The Israelites were most certainly armed. The circumstances of the gathering at Mizpah were such that, as R. P. Smith said, The Philistines looked upon it as a virtual declaration of war.F11
Do not cease to cry to the Lord for us
(1 Samuel 7:8). George DeHoff wrote, How often have preachers been implored to pray for those at death's door, only to see all signs of penitence vanish upon the recovery of the sick or the lifting of the threat of death.F12 As an old Latin proverb has it:
The devil was sick; the devil a saint would be.
The devil well, and the devil of a saint was he!
The Lord thundered with a mighty voice against the Philistines
(1 Samuel 7:10). We have no other information about the Lord's part in the tremendous victory that came to Israel here. There is no mention of lightning here, nor hail, or rain, or any kind of a storm; and, although many commentators have seen all these things in the passage, it remains true that, The words may be symbolic.F13 We do not really need to know any more about how the Lord threw confusion and disaster into the ranks of the Philistines than what is revealed here. Whatever it was, it was fully adequate.
And the men of Israel went out ... and smote the Philistines as far as Beth-car (1 Samuel 7:11). These words say in tones of thunder that Israel had sufficient weapons for such a military exploit.
Ebenezer. Hitherto the Lord has helped us
(1 Samuel 7:12). H. P. Smith speaks of this as, a difficulty, The inscription says, `hitherto the Lord has helped us,' whereas it was not only to thisF14 point that Jehovah had helped them, but beyond it. We can find no fault whatever with this, because it is impossible to set up a memorial for what God is supposed to do in the future! The name of the stone then means, Thank God for what he has done for us down till the present time.
"The historical validity of what is related in these verses (1 Samuel 7:5-12) can hardly be questioned."F15 What we have here is an accurate record of some of the events in that period.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS VICTORY FOR ISRAEL
Verses 13, 14
So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more within the border of Israel: and the hand of Jehovah was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the border thereof did Israel deliver out of the hand of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
G. B. Caird labeled these verses as "a contradiction"F16 of the fact that there were subsequent occasions when the Philistines invaded Israel, as for example in the times of Saul. Such opinions are incorrect because the words "all the days of Samuel" are a limitation upon what is meant. "This passage teaches that the victory was only temporary and far from conclusive; and this is implicit in the text itself. 1 Sam. 7:13b shows that the warfare was continuous."F17 Keil agreed with this, "1 Sam. 7:13 shows that the Philistines made efforts to recover the cities lost to Israel, but that so long as Samuel lived they were unable to do so."F18 Willis also characterized these verses as, "A panoramic summary of Samuel's lifetime ministry in Israel."F19
There is another very powerful reason which we reject out of hand any notion, as advocated by some, that these verses should be discarded as an `interpolation.' In the Biblical perspective, events in the far future are sometimes spoken of as if already accomplished; and if one should understand "all the days of Samuel" as an inclusion not only of his lifetime but also of his changing the government to a monarchy, his anointing of Saul, and then of David -- if all of that is attributed to Samuel, then it was indeed true in the fullest extent that the Philistines were completely vanquished. Samuel certainly set in motion the events that led to that accomplishment.
The cities were restored to Israel from Ekron to Gath (1 Samuel 7:14). "This does not mean that the Israelites overthrew Ekron and Gath, but that they regained Judean cities along the border between those cities."F20
SAMUEL'S JUDGESHIP SUMMARIZED
And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went from year to year in circuit to Beth-el and Gilgal, and Mizpah; and he judged Israel in all those places. And his return was to Ramah, for there was his house; and there he judged Israel: and he built there an altar unto Jehovah.
There were four of these cities to which Samuel traveled in his administration of justice: Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, and Ramah. "The Gilgal here was in all probability the one near Jericho."F21
And there he built an altar to the Lord
(1 Samuel 7:17). Young's comment on the building of this altar gives an excellent explanation of it.
"This deviation from the law of Deut. 12:5,13, was probably occasioned by the public disorder of that period and the destruction of both the tabernacle and its altar. Jehovah sanctioned the erection of this altar by his acceptance of both the person and the service of Samuel.F22
Footnotes for 1 Samuel 7
1: Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 914.
2: John T. Willis, p. 87.
3: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 4b. p. 122.
4: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 167.
5: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 280.
6: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 122.
8: John T. Willis, p. 90.
9: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 173.
10: International Critical Commentary, Samuel, p. 53.
11: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 122.
12: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 132.
13: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 167.
14: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 54.
15: John T. Willis p. 88.
16: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., 916.
17: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 290.
18: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2b, p. 75.
19: John T. Willis, p. 92
21: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 20.
22: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 281.