“Samuel Administers Justice”
Lesson Text: 1 Samuel 7:3-17
Background Scripture: 1 Samuel 4 - 7
Devotional Reading: Ezekiel 18:21-32
1 Samuel 7:3-17 (KJV)
3And 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.
4Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only.
5And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord.
6And 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. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.
7And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.
8And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.
9And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him.
10And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.
11And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Bethcar.
12Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.
13So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
14And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the coasts thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
15And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
16And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.
17And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the Lord.
To show how the Israelites repented, turned from false worship, and turned to the Lord for deliverance.
To show that Israel’s divided devotion between the Lord and false deities invited divine judgment.
To commit to personal spiritual renewal and to serving the Lord and Him alone.
“Out of Order”
The three words found in the heading above can be some of the most annoying there are, whether posted on a vending machine, an ATM, or a gasoline pump. In those cases, the hungry person, the individual needing cash quickly, and the driver running on empty all feel out of order themselves because they can’t get what they need.
Out of orderdescribes the entire world under the impact of sin. What God had declared “very good” (Genesis 1:31) became a place of disruption and disorder when those made in the Creator’s image turned from Him and listened to the appeal of the master of disorder, Satan. A sense of order can come only when we return to the God who is “not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Place:Mizpeh; between Mizpeh and Shen
Out of orderis also a fitting label to describe Israel during the period of the judges (roughly 1380-1050 BC). The previous four lessons in our survey of the Old Testament this quarter called attention to the order that God provided for His chosen people, Israel, as He gave them His laws. God made it abundantly clear that disobedience would produce devastating consequences. The people’s lives would become out of order. If they persisted in their rebellion, they eventually would find themselves out of Israel—exiled to foreign soil.
The Israelites entered the Promised Land in triumph under the leadership of Joshua. But the nation entered the chaotic period of the judges after the deaths of Joshua and the elders who had served with him (Judges 2:8-23). The disarray of this time is captured best in the closing statement of the book of Judges: “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
God’s answer to this moral and spiritual cesspool was to raise up a series of judges as deliverers. It can be argued that the most important of these was Samuel—the last of the 15 judges—who judged approximately 1067-1043 BC. As a result of Samuel’s ministry, the Word of the Lord flourished throughout the land (1 Samuel 3:19-4:1a).
The treatment of the Ark of the Covenant is a good example of how spiritually inept the nation had become. First Samuel 4 describes how the people viewed it as a “good luck charm,” carrying it into battle with the hopes that its presence (and thus God’s presence) would ensure victory over the Philistines.
Instead, the people suffered a humiliating defeat. The ark remained in Philistine territory seven months, during which time it made the Philistines’ lives very much out of order (1 Samuel 5:1-6:1)! The Philistines returned the ark to Israel; eventually it was brought to a place called Kirjath-jearim, located about eight miles west of Jerusalem. The ark has been there for 20 years (1 Samuel 7:1, 2) by the time of the incident described in today’s printed text.
PROBLEMS FROM WITHIN (1 Samuel 7:3-6)
1. Describe the political and spiritual setting in Israel at the time of Samuel.
About 400 years had passed since Moses had reviewed Israel’s law for the people just prior to their entry into the Promised Land. Under Joshua’s leadership they had conquered Canaan and received their tribal inheritances, and generally were committed to the worship of the Lord. But after Joshua’s death, lacking a central government, the independent tribes struggled among themselves and became prey to foreigners.
The spiritual condition of Israel also declined. Israel adopted the idolatrous and immoral practices of native peoples and neighbors, inviting divine judgment. Even some of the judges who ruled were men of mixed character. The priesthood also reached a low point under Eli and his sons, and Israel was humiliated when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant.
It was in this atmosphere that Samuel grew to manhood. Dedicated to the Lord from before his birth, he grew up under the tutelage of Eli at Shiloh, the religious center. The Lord placed His hand on Samuel for a special ministry as judge and prophet (1 Samuel 3:19-21), and all of Israel took note of his developing gifts.
2. Why did Samuel urge the people of Israel to repent? (1 Samuel 7:3)
The verse preceding the lesson text, 1 Samuel 7:2, tells us that “all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” This statement immediately follows a reference to the ark remaining in Kirjath-jearim for 20 years. God’s people eventually come to realize that they have abused the privilege of having God’s presence with them (which is what the ark represented).
At the point represented by the verse before us, the people seem to realize that their real enemy since arriving in the Promised Land has not been the Philistines or other foreign threats. Rather, the Israelites have been their own worst enemy because they have forsaken God. Samuel discerned that the people were restless and wanting change, and he knew that times of transition bring out either the best or the worst in people. There was one thing Samuel knew for certain: the nation could never succeed if the people didn't put the Lord first and trust only in Him. As a result, Samuel encourages the people to take specific steps to show that they are serious about their mourning. He speaks unto all the house of Israel, probably meaning that he addresses the tribal leaders or elders. They relay his instructions to the rest of the people.
The command to put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you is uncompromising. The word Ashtaroth is a plural term in Hebrew. Ashtoreth (the singular form) is the name of a goddess of sex and war known in Canaan as Ashtar or Astarte, the consort or lover of Baal. The use of the plural form may suggest that different forms of the deity are worshipped in different towns. Any and all forms of this deity must be destroyed. The allegiance of the people’s hearts must be redirected to the Lord to the point that they serve him only.
What Do You Think?
At what point does something or someone we value become an idol or object of worship? How do we keep this from happening?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Celebrities | Possessions | Vocations | Relationships
3. How did the people respond to the call for repentance? (v. 4)
The Israelites heeded Samuel’s exhortation. They obeyed. The names of the Canaanite deities both occur in the plural here because of their many local variations.
Samuel specifically mentioned the Baals and Ashtoreths (1 Sam. 7:3-4). Baal was the Canaanite storm god to whom the Jews often turned when the land was suffering drought, and Ashtoreth was the goddess of fertility whose worship included unspeakably sensual activities. When the Jews were slaves in Egypt, they adopted the gods and goddesses of the Egyptians, and after the Exodus, worshiped some of these idols during the wilderness journeys (Acts 7:42-43). Moses commanded Israel to destroy every evidence of Canaanite religion, but the people eventually lapsed back into idolatry and worshiped the gods of the defeated enemy. At Mount Sinai, the Jews didn't see a representation of God, but they heard His voice; and they knew that worshiping any image of their God was to practice false worship.
4. Why does Samuel call for the Israelites to convene in Mizpeh? What did the people do there? (vs. 5-6)
In addition to commanding the people to rid themselves of idols, Samuel determines to take a further role in spurring the people to remain true to their commitment. Thus we see his instructions for the people to gather at Mizpeh so he can pray for them. As in verse 3, all Israel likely includes the elders or tribal leaders of Israel. Mizpeh is a town in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:26), about eight miles north of Jerusalem.
To pray for (intercede for) others is one of the most important functions of Old Testament prophets (1 Kings 13:1-6; Amos 7:1-6). Samuel is recognized later, along with Moses, as one of Israel’s greatest intercessors (Psalm 99:6; Jeremiah 15:1).
The people gather as directed. The actions of drawing water and pouring it out before the Lord are not directly commanded in the Law of Moses. This appears to have its roots in the drink offering that is to accompany the burnt offering made twice daily (Numbers 28:1-7). The pouring out of such an offering represents pouring out one’s self as an offering to the Lord (compare 2 Timothy 4:6). Here the people are pouring out their hearts before the Lord in repentance.
The Israelites also fast. Fasting involves abstaining from food (and sometimes water) to focus on spiritual matters. The time normally given to preparing and consuming physical sustenance is devoted to prayer and/or worship.
Along with these acts of contrition come appropriate words of confession: We have sinned against the Lord. The people have already “put away” their false gods (v. 4, above), but a nationwide confession such as we see here is an instrumental step on the road to nationwide renewal and revival.
“It wasn't enough just to destroy their idols; the people also had to confess their sins and surrender themselves to the Lord. Two considerations suggest that this meeting occurred during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. First, the people poured out water before the Lord, which became a practice at the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorating the times the Lord provided water in the wilderness (John 7:37-39). Second, the people fasted, and this was required only on the annual Day of Atonement, which preceded the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Wiersbe).
What Do You Think?
How do our actions verify genuine repentance? Can repentance be real without a change in behavior? Explain.
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Matthew 3:8 | Acts 19:18, 19 | Acts 26:20 | James 4:17
PROBLEMS FROM WITHOUT (1 Samuel 7:7-12)
5. How was the faith of Israel challenged at Mizpeh? How did they respond? (vs. 7-9)
When the Philistines learned about this large gathering of Jews at Mizpeh, perhaps they became suspicious that Israel was planning to attack. So the five Philistine lords summoned their troops and prepared to invade. The five lords of the Philistines (Judges 3:3) include the chief officials of the five key Philistine cities listed in Joshua 13:3. The closest of these cities to Mizpeh is approximately 25 miles to the southwest. The Philistines are a primary enemy of Israel at this time; perhaps they see a convenient target. When the Israelites hear of the approaching Philistine army, their initial reaction is fear.
The Israelites plead with Samuel to cry unto the Lord on their behalf. Samuel told the people earlier that he would pray for them (v. 5). But the Israelites likely have not foreseen that the need for Samuel’s prayer would suddenly become so urgent!
Samuel responded by taking a young lamb and offering it as a burnt offering unto the Lord. So in the midst of a physical attack from the enemy, it is interesting that Samuel does not propose a political or military solution. He responds in worship, trusting God to intervene on behalf of His people.
6. How did God intervene for Israel at Mizpeh? (vs. 10-11)
The Lord responds to Samuel in an unforgettable display of power. Thunder is sometimes associated in poetic passages of the Bible with the voice of God (Psalm 18:13; 29:3). On this occasion, the thundering that the Philistines hear throws them into a panic (the meaning of the word discomfited). Their defeat is devastating.
After the victory comes the mopping up action. Although the Lord has won the victory, the men of Israel have an important role to play. Bethcar may be the location of a Philistine fortress where the tattered remnants of the Philistine army flees for refuge. The name Bethcar means “house of the lamb,” an ironic name since the Lord has come to the aid of His people in the process of Samuel’s sacrificing a lamb. Under indicates a lower elevation.
7. How did Samuel commemorate God’s victory? (v. 12)
Stones are used to commemorate significant events (Joshua 4:19-24; 24:26, 27). A stone symbolizes reliability and permanence, thus serving as a lasting witness to the event being celebrated.
Here Samuel takes a stone and sets it up between Mizpeh and Shen. The word Shen means “tooth” and likely refers to a sharp, pointed rock that may have such an appearance. The exact locations of Shen and Bethcar (v. 11) are unknown.
Then Samuel named the stone ”Ebenezer.” The word Ebenezer means “stone of help.” The name is certainly fitting for what has just happened on behalf of God’s people. But it also reflects an awareness that God’s help has guided the entire history of the people to this point (hitherto) and implies that His help will be needed in any future endeavors.
What Do You Think?
What “monuments” can we create to remember God’s work in our lives?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
For life’s turning points |For faith milestones |Methods of “spiritual scrapbooking
PEACE PREVAILS (1 Samuel 7:13-17)
8. What were the results of the Philistines defeat? (vs. 13-14)
The Philistines remain at bay for the remainder of Samuel’s period of leadership. God’s assistance was so great that the Israelites got back all the land that the Philistines had taken, broke the power of the Philistines over the neighboring peoples, and established peace with the Amorites (vs. 13,14).
The term Amorites means “mountain dwellers.” They, along with the Canaanites, were the primary inhabitants of the Promised Land prior to the conquest by Israel. According to Deuteronomy 7:1, 2, the Israelites were supposed to “utterly destroy” the Amorites when entering the Promised Land. The Amorites’ continued presence apparently has sparked some degree of conflict with Israel, which now comes to an end under Samuel’s influence.
9. What was Samuel’s ministry to the people of Israel? (vs. 15-16)
We have reached the summary of the remainder of Samuel’s ministry to God’s people. He judges not so much in the sense of providing military leadership (as the leaders in the book of Judges do), but in seeing that justice is administered in cases brought before him.
In judging Israel, it appears that Samuel’s itinerary is fairly localized as he rides a regular circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh. If Samuel starts from his home in Ramah (v. 17, below) and makes the circuit of the other three cities and back home, the result is a trip of perhaps 25 miles.
We may wonder why Samuel’s travels are so limited. Why doesn’t he extend his influence into other areas of Israel? The answer may lie in recognizing that this is still the time when judges are ruling in Israel. From what the book of Judges tells us, the work of each judge is fairly localized. Such limitations may provide one reason behind the request for a king that is found in 1 Samuel 8:1-5.
10. Why did Samuel build an altar in Ramah? (v. 17)
Samuel’s building of an altar unto the Lord in Ramah (his hometown) reminds us of what the patriarchs did (Abraham in Genesis 12:8; Isaac in 26:23-25; Jacob in 35:6, 7). It appears that the purpose of such an altar is similar to the purpose of the altars of those patriarchs: to mark a spiritual milestone. For Samuel, it perhaps marks the Lord’s calling him to return home after being away for so long while he was serving in the tabernacle as a result of his mother’s vow (1 Samuel 1:9-11).
What Do You Think?
What are some creative ways you can serve God beyond where you live?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
While on vacation | While traveling on business | While on a short-term mission trip
POINTS TO PONDER
1. True repentance means putting away anything we love more than God and serving Him only. (1 Samuel 7:3-4)
2. To see God’s power and deliverance will often times require actions on our part, which includes, but not limited to: prayer, fasting, and active devotion. (vs. 5-6)
3. Fear not, worship God through prayer – it will change you and your circumstances, give you joy and peace, and increase your faith. (vs. 7-9)
4. When we trust God and pray, He meets the need and receives glory. (vs. 10-14)
5. Pray for others, share the message of the Gospel, and serve where God places you. (vs. 15-17)
Winning the War Within
Like God’s people of old, we who are God’s people today must acknowledge our own idolatry and do away with anything that has come between us and God. We must repent of sins that are keeping us from effective service in God’s kingdom and that interfere with His Spirit’s work in us. We cannot look at the world the way God wants us to until we see ourselves the way He sees us. We cannot confront a sin-stained world until we have properly addressed the sin in our own lives.
We have observed how the Israelites poured out water before the Lord and fasted (1 Samuel 7:6). The lesson comments suggest that the pouring out of water represented the people’s pouring themselves out to God as they pledged themselves to be loyal to Him alone. Are there similar actions that can serve a purpose like that for us today?
Once the Israelites under Samuel’s direction dealt with their sin, the Lord provided an amazing act of deliverance. Who knows what great things we will witness when we present ourselves to God—with no strings attached!
Heavenly Father, help us to take a good, honest look at ourselves in light of Your Word and Your Holiness. Forgive us when we fail to take seriously the power and influence of sin. Remind us that we cannot influence the world around us until we ourselves have been surrendered to You daily, in Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
He must be Lord of all; otherwise, He is not Lord at all!