In recent essays we have studied Eli and his sons. The sons were hypocrites, thieves, and sexually immoral (2:22). Eli himself, although was in touch with the Lord, had a heart for the Lord, and was kind to Hannah and Samuel, was a poor father, and failed as high priest. And the consequences were terrible. The people who came to worship were cheated. The women servants were molested. The Ark of the Covenant was captured; Eli’s sons were killed as had been prophesied (4:11); Eli himself died (4:18); and his daughter in law also died giving premature birth when she received the news (4:19-20).
During the same period, Samuel ministered before the Lord at the sanctuary, “grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people” (2:26), and received revelations from the Lord. His reputation as a prophet soared, because the Lord didn’t let any of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. That is, he left none of Samuel’s words unfulfilled.
In the last essay we studied the adventures of the Philistines with the Ark of the Covenant, once it was in their possession. The account of their capture of the ark is located in chapter four. After a defeat in battle by the Philistines, the elders of Israel decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the battlefield as a kind of magical means to victory. Although the presence of the ark did encourage Israel’s troops, and temporarily discouraged the Philistines, the Philistines nevertheless slaughtered 30,000 of Israel’s men that day and captured the ark of God.
But the Philistine’s possession of the ark brought them immediate problems. They offered the ark to their god, Dagon; but God destroyed the huge image of that god (5:1-5). The people of Ashdod, Gath and Ekron all were stricken with “tumors” (5:7-12). And the Lord sent a plague of mice on the Philistines fields (6:5). Thus it became clear to the Philistines that something had to be done about the ark.
The total period of time that the Philistines had the ark was seven months (6:1). They finally decided to send the ark back to Israel (6:2-21). We concluded that it is necessary to respect the Lord and the things of the Lord. We noted that under the Old Covenant, the Lord demanded respect from everyone, including the people of Israel. And he would coerce that respect, if necessary.
All right, in this essay, we are studying 7:3-8:22, which tells of Israel’s repentance and recommitment at Mizpah, which was located only about five miles north of Jerusalem (7:3-6), of a great victory over the Philistines (7:7-17), and of Israel’s demands for a king (8:1-22).
In 7:3-6 we recognize a familiar pattern. Samuel is the Lord’s called judge; and he leads the people in a genuine corporate repentance of their sin. We saw this pattern in the book of Judges time and time again. With the sin dealt with, Israel was now ready to battle the Philistines with the Lord’s help. And as we shall see, they were victorious.
The drawing and pouring out of water in verse six is an interesting symbolic act. It may have had more than one meaning. Some suggest it symbolized the washing away of the sins confessed at Mizpah. However, it could have symbolized the pouring out of themselves in repentance. The Psalmist, in Ps. 22:14 uses that imagery when he says, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” Likewise Jeremiah says in Lam. 2:19, “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord.” These verses indicate to me that the proper understanding of the offering is as a pouring out of themselves in repentance. And then to give visible expression to their repentance, they also fasted.
In verses 7-11 the Philistines, seeing the gathering of Israel at Mizpah, evidently felt threatened by it; and so they mobilized to make a first strike on Israel. That frightened Israel and they cried out to Samuel to plead their case with the Lord (v. 7), which Samuel was glad to do. He offered a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and we are told that the Lord answered Samuel’s prayer (v. 9).
What the Lord did is not as clear as I would like. He “thundered with a mighty voice” is the language used. It is assumed that this means that a huge thunderstorm, presumably with considerable lightning, somehow disrupted the Philistines battle lines, and threw them into confusion. Israel, which held the high ground, saw their opportunity; and they routed the Philistines beyond Beth-car. No one today knows where that town was located.
We see in verses 12-17 that the intervention of God that day was too significant to permit the people to forget, so Samuel set up a memorial stone to commemorate the event, and named the place “Ebenezer,” which means, “stone of help.” The memorial would have served the kind of purpose our war memorials do, except that it commemorated not the dead from the battle, but the Lord who helped them win it. You probably remember the line in the second verse of the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which reads, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer; Hither by thy help I’m come.” Of course that line comes from the passage before us.
Notice that the victory won that day was rather decisive. The Philistines no longer seriously threatened Israel during the days of Samuel’s judgeship. It doesn’t say they never tried to enter Israel’s territory, but that they never succeeded (v. 13). Indeed Israel recovered all of its territory that the Philistines had captured. Moreover there was peace with the Amorites, which here refers to the Canaanite tribes generally (v. 14).
So Samuel was a successful judge by any standards. He judged Israel the rest of his life (v. 15), moving among several cities, including his hometown of Ramah. That completes the general account of Samuel’s judgeship. But the author still wanted to relate a couple of important stories.
Beginning here, and running through chapter 12, some Old Testament scholars for a variety of reasons find more than one written source underlying the material. We are not going to go into that. We will simply seek to follow what the author was attempting to communicate in his final product.
In 8:1-9 we see is that Israel became restless with Samuel’s leadership, as he grew old. He appointed his sons to be judges in his place; and apparently he himself retired, or semi-retired. Unfortunately, the sons did not have Samuel’s integrity; and they became corrupt (vv. 1-3). This led to the elders coming to Samuel with a request for a king (vv. 4-5).
Samuel didn’t like the idea; but he prayed about it; and perhaps, to Samuel’s surprise, the Lord told Samuel to give them a king (vv. 6-7). The Lord explained that it wasn’t really a rejection of Samuel’s leadership, but a rejection of the Lord’s leadership. However Samuel was to warn them about the negative possibilities of such a decision (v. 9), which he did.
In verses 10-18 Samuel told them what he heard from the Lord, and it was tough talk. He laid out a list of rights a king assumed in those days. At the end, Samuel predicted that they eventually would cry out to the Lord because of such oppression; but when the time would come, the Lord will not listen (v. 18).
Verses 19 20 show that nothing Samuel said had any affect on the elders. Their minds were made up before he said it. They wanted a king, and that was that. So the Lord agreed to give them a king (vv. 21-22).
An interesting aspect of the discussion between Samuel and the elders was Samuel’s dismissal of the elders once the decision was made. It may be that the elders expected that one of them would be chosen king. But Samuel sent them home. Not only would they not be chosen, they would have no part in the decision. The Lord would decide who would be king, and he would reveal the person to Samuel.
Now then, turning to application, I am going to focus on Israel’s victory over the Philistines in chapter seven. That passage can be applied to our Christian life by appropriating the principles seen there into our context.
First, the enemy gathered against Israel. In Samuel’s situation, the enemy was the Philistines. In our situation, the enemy consists of threats of a spiritual nature. But they certainly are present. We face temptations daily; we wrestle with inner conflicts constantly; and many of us are plagued by inward sinfulness.
Second, Israel prepared for the conflict. To do that, they stopped trusting in themselves (v. 7). Then they began to trust in the Lord (v. 8). Next, they dedicated themselves to the Lord (v. 9). And finally, they prayed (also v. 9). Every one of these is available to us in preparation for our spiritual conflicts.
Third, Israel received help from the Lord. The Lord supernaturally intervened. In answer to Samuel’s prayer, a huge thunderstorm confused the Philistines army, and Israel won a great victory. And the Lord will help us. He may or may not supernaturally intervene; but he will help us in any case. He will be with us, empowering us, and enabling us.
Fourth, Israel commemorated the victory. We must do the same. In that context, the appropriate memorial was a stone marker. In our context, it is to live a holy life. There is no greater memorial to Christ than a life lived before men as a holy witness to what Christ has done in our lives.