Chapter 7.1-17 THE PHILISTINES DEFEATED
1) Introduction (vv.1-2)
After the disaster at Beth-shemesh, "the men of Kirjath-jearim came, and fetched up the ark of the Lord, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the Lord". Presumably, Abinadab and Eleazar were Levites, but there is no supporting evidence. Kirjath-jearim means "the city of woods", and Psalm 132, which refers to Davids desire to move the ark to Jerusalem, evidently refers to the location of the ark here. "I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, Until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood" (vv.4-6). It remained in the house of Abinadab for twenty years, which refers to the time that elapsed before "all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord". However, the ark remained at Kirjath-jearim long after this, and was not removed until the early part of Davids reign, as described in Psalm 132. See 2 Samuel 6.3: "And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah". Gibeah means "the hill", so Abinadab hadnt moved house!
After twenty years (the words, "the time was long", are literally, "the days were many"), "all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord." As Keil & Delitzsch observe, the words of Samuel that follow, "If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts", "assume that the turning of the people to the Lord their God had already inwardly commenced". This is reminiscent of the days of the Judges, when Israel "cried unto the Lord" (see 3.9,15; 4.3, etc) because of enemy oppression. In fact, 1 Samuel 7.3 makes it quite clear that "all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord" because of Philistine oppression. Now, after twenty years silence, we hear the voice of Samuel again. This does not imply, of course, that he had been inactive, but the change of heart amongst Gods people indicated that the time had come for him to assume leadership.
2) Instruction (vv.3-6)
Samuel taught the people (vv.3-4)
"And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." Samuels appeal contains important teaching for us.
a) It was addressed to "all the house of Israel". Notice that "all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord...Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel...Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord". The entire nation mourned before God; the entire nation was instructed by Samuel; the entire nation gathered for prayer. This speaks for itself.
b) It involved the "hearts" of the people." "If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts...prepare your hearts unto the Lord." The word "heart" is used as the figure of inward life. Little, if anything, would be accomplished if Israel just "put away the strange gods". It would be "a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim 3.5). Their hearts must be right with God. Only then could they deal with idolatry effectively. Half-heartedness was not sufficient either. "Return unto the Lord with all your hearts and serve him only" (see Psalm 119.58,69, and note 1 Peter 3.15, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts"). For a definition of the word "heart", read and ponder the first three references to it in the Bible (Gen 6.5,6; 8.21).
c) It was a call to repentance. "Put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth (the goddess of the Phoenicians and Zidonians) from among you." Repentance is a thorough change of mind about sin. It means that we see sin in the same way as God Himself does . He hates sin. It is abhorrent to Him. Idolatry is particularly abhorrent to Him. It is the transgression of the first and second commandments: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything...Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them" (Ex 20.1-5). The New Testament warns us against idolatry (Col 3.5; 1 Jn 5.21). Christians sometimes need to repent (Rev 2.5). "Baalim and Ashtaroth" (v.4) are plural words. In the singular it is Baal and Astarte.
This is strikingly different to what happened in ch.4. Then, there was no sorrow for sin, and the ark, which was treated simply as a lucky mascot, was carried into the camp at Ebenezer on the shoulders of polluted priests. Its arrival was accompanied by a roar of applause, rather than the noise of sorrow and weeping for sin. The entire procedure was purely cosmetic. There was no spiritual reality, and it all resulted in disaster. But look now at the promised results of repentance, and whole-hearted devotion to God: "Prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines" (v.3). God honours reality. It begins in the heart.
Samuel prayed for the people (vv.5-6)
"And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord. And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the Lord." Notice three things.
a) "They...drew water, and poured it out before the Lord." Quite obviously, this was symbolic. Perhaps it was a symbol of their own weakness. We use the expression, "As weak as water". Read, in this connection, 2 Samuel 14.14 - "For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again", and Genesis 49.4 - "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel". Perhaps it was a symbol of outpoured grief as in Lamentations 2.19: "Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord" (see also Psalm 22.14). Amongst other things, prayer is an expression of our own weakness, and dependence on God.
b) "They...fasted on that day." Abstention from food enables people to wait without distraction upon God. Leaving aside the biological reason for fasting (it sharpens the mind and heightens our mental powers), fasting is basically self-denial. Quite obviously, there is nothing sinful about food or drink (depending, of course, on what you drink), which reminds us that devotion to the Lord does involve self-discipline, and the exclusion or limitation of perfectly legitimate things in our lives. Are we prepared to make personal sacrifices in order to spend time in prayer, study of the Scriptures, and service for God?
c) "They.....said there, We have sinned against the Lord." So there was confession of sin. See 1 John 1.9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".
Samuel judged the people (v.6)
"And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh." That is, under his guidance, counsel, and direction, they made an end of their sinful practices, and were restored to a proper relationship with God. The nation was cleansed, and fit for divine blessing. There can be no blessing, or victory, if we persist in sin. "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (1 Cor 11.31). Mizpeh means "watch-tower". We need to examine ourselves.
To be continued.