By Sam E. Stone
Further evidence of God’s desire for justice is found as we move from the patriarchs and judges to the kings. Samuel is a “bridge” figure between the latter two groups. He had a role unique in Hebrew history. He was a prophet (1 Samuel 3:20), but he was also a judge (7:15). It was Samuel who anointed both King Saul (10:1; 15:1), and later King David (16:13) to rule over Israel. He was a strong and effective leader for God’s chosen people.
1 Samuel 7:3-6
Samuel’s message to the people came approximately 20 years after the ark of the covenant had been recovered from the Philistines (v. 2). After hearing Samuel’s continual emphasis on their need for repentance, eventually the people began to change. “Israel mourned and sought after the Lord” (v. 2).
Samuel told them, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths.” More than weeping and wailing was necessary. True repentance included removing the foreign idols from the people of Israel. They must commit themselves to God and serve only him. Then he would deliver them out of the hand of the Philistines. Full obedience to God would inevitably bring deliverance from their enemies.
At this the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only. The Baals were the male idols and the Ashtoreths the female ones. Both pagan deities were worshipped by the Canaanites living around them. Samuel instructed the people to assemble at Mizpah, and he would intercede to the Lord on their behalf. Mizpah was a small town about seven miles north of Jerusalem. The village figured from time to time in Old Testament history (see Judges 20:1).
When they came together, the people drew water and poured it out before the Lord. This action seems to have symbolized “pouring their hearts out” to him in regret and repentance. After a time of fasting the people confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Samuel conveyed their confession to the Lord in intercessory prayer. And Samuel was leader of Israel at Mizpah. The King James Version reads, “Samuel judged the children of Israel at Mizpah”
1 Samuel 7:7-17
The Philistines got word that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, and they decided to attack them. Spies probably reported to the Philistines that the Hebrew army had gathered there. When the Israelites heard of the Philistine advance, they were understandably nervous because of the well-equipped Philistine fighting force. They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us.” The people reacted in the right way—they turned to God for deliverance.
Samuel did as they requested. He took a suckling lamb and offered it up as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. This sacrifice (Leviticus 22:27) signified their complete dedication to God. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him. Samuel is a wonderful example of the power of intercessory prayer (see Psalm 99:6).
While he was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines kept coming toward the Israelites. Scripture records, however, “But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into . . . panic.” Previously God had intervened in a miraculous way to help the Israelites. The men of Israel
. . . pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car. The children of Israel followed the retreating Philistines, killing still more of them.
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. Here on the battlefield where Israel had been defeated 20 years before, Samuel placed this large stone. He named it Ebenezer saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” This event is alluded to in the old hymn by Robert Robinson: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come; And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”
Samuel gave credit to God for the victory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. Once again the Lord’s people knew a time of peace as they stayed close to him. The closing verses of our text summarize Samuel’s later years as judge. They tell how he built an altar at his home in Ramah, much like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had done years before.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.