Chapter 7 of 1 Sam concludes the first of the three section of the book. One of the main purposes of this first section (ch. 1-7) is to establish Samuel as Yahweh’s prophet to Israel. After reading chapter 7, there should be no doubt in the reader’s mind of the position God placed him in.
In this chapter, Samuel gathers the nation of Israel together to rebuke them of their idolatry. Samuel intercedes for them through prayer, and the nation repents. Presumably out of fear for the large gathering, the Philistines assemble to attack during their acts of worship. The Israelites call on Samuel to ask God to deliver them from the Philistines. Samuel offers a lamb as a burnt offering to the LORD and intercedes for the people. God responds by sending thunder to defeat the army. After which, the Israelites pursue and defeat the remaining Philistine army. As a memorial meant to educate Israel and its generation to come, Samuel sets up an Ebenezer (stone of help) to be a reminder of the battle the Lord graciously won for them. The chapter concludes with Samuel establishing a circuit court to judge all of Israel and builds an alter in his home town, Ramah.
Verses 3-4: Removal of idols
1Sam 7:3 “If you are are returning to the LORD with all your heart” The reference to the heart emphasizes a need for sincere motives regarding this action. The phrase “return with the heart” breaks repentance down to its most intrinsic level. True repentance requires the most internal dimension of a person to turn from their sins (see 1Kings 8:48; 2Kings 23:25; Joel 2:12).
“then put away the foreign gods” With the ark being out of sight and out of mind (1Sam 7:1-2) the Israelites no longer have a token to be wrongly made into some sort of good luck charm. Being insecure because of the large presence of pagan nations who are overflowing with carved images of divinities, Israel resorts to idolatry.
The act of idolatry is in violation of the first and second commandment: (1) “You shall have no other gods before me,” (Exo 20:3) and (2) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven…” (Exo 30:4).
“serve him only” Why the additional “only” to the imperative? It is likely that Israel is worshiping Yahweh as well as other gods, hence, the exclusivity. Polytheism has no place in the worship of the one true God.
1Sam 7:4 “So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth” We do not read of the people worshiping the Baals again until the time of king Ahab (1Kings 16:31) who reigned from 874-853 B.C. Which means that Israel abstained from Baal worship for close to 200 years. Their repentance is somewhat sincere.
- What comes to mind when you think of an Old Testament idol?
- What do idols look like today?
- How do we “put away” these kinds of idols?
Verses 8-9: Prayer
1Sam 7:8 “And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”
The Israelites have come to the realization that their idols and false gods are not going to be any help to them so they turn to the LORD for deliverance where their trust and worship should have been in the first place.
For what ever reason, they ask Samuel to intercede for them. He performs his priestly role and prayed and offered a sacrifice to God.
1Sam 7:9 “And the LORD answered him.”
The narrator wants again to establish Samuel’s credentials as God’s chosen spiritual leader and intercessor. The LORD answering (or not answering) prayer becomes a motif in 1Sam. God responds to prayer in this chapter and to David’s at Keilah (1Sam 23:4). In contrast, the LORD will not respond to cries of disobedient Israel (1Sam 8:18), nor does he answer Saul after being rejected (1Sam 28:6). As we see next, the repentance of Israel and the faithful prayer of Samuel must have been humble enough to move God to act.
- So far, we have seen several prayers being answered beginning with Hannah in chapter 1 to here in chapter 7. The pattern is that God moves when we come to him with a heart of humility, faith, and repentance. In the busy and skeptical world we live in, it can be hard to make time to pray, or truly trust that our prayers are even heard. What keeps you from praying? What can we do to improve our prayer life?
Verses 10-11: Our works follow God’s work
1Sam 7:10: “But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel.” Recall Hannah’s prayer: “The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven” (1Sam 2:10). God’s triumph over the Philistines by use of thunder might be to honor Hannah’s prayer in a literal way. Furthermore, Israels enemies are defeated by the hand of God. He alone deserves credit for this victory. This follows the rest of Hannah’s prayer which is that God humbles those who are prideful. The battle truly belongs to the LORD.
1Sam 7:11 “And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car.“ Just because salvation comes through faith does not mean that works don’t necessarily follow. The LORD was the one who was said to have defeated the Philistines, however, the Israelites weren’t bench warmers. They pursue the remaining Philistine army from Mizpah to Beth-car which is roughly 8 miles, so this is quite a mopping up operation.
This section is a great picture of our participation in the advancement of the gospel. Christ’s work and victory was completed by his death, burial, and resurrection. Every barrier which stood in the way of God’s mission to redeem this fallen world was defeated through the work of Christ. Yet, by his grace, God has called us to participate in the mopping up operation. There are still enemies left, but they are on the run.
- Knowing that the battle belongs to the LORD, how are we called to participate in the grand battle of good vs. evil in redemptive history?
Verses 12-14: A Memorial
1Sam 7:12 “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up … and called its name Ebenezer.” Ebenezer simply means “stone of help.” Now you know what the second verse to Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing is referencing. Samuel wants the people of Israel to never forget the grace God had on them when He defeated the Philistines with thunder. The memorial also serves as an educational tool for future generations yet to come, so they might also know how God graciously responded to Israel’s repentance.
Verses 15-17: Restoring Justice in the land
1Sam 7:15 “Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.” Samuel set up what was perhaps the first circuit court. He traveled throughout the nation judging and deciding court cases so that justice would be maintained in the land.
Justice reform and revival cannot be separated. In his commentary on this passage, Joel McDurmon says this:
Let’s be perfectly clear: if there is true revival among the people, it will extend to the institutions of civil justice. If the institutions of civil justice remain corrupt and humanistic, then whatever revival we claim to have had must be admitted to be limited or incomplete. If, even worse, justice tends to decline in the land, we should be quick to check the House of God, for it may very well be her neglect of God, her idolatries, and her refusal to preach God’s Law that have setback and failed society as a whole.McDurmon, Joel – 1 Samuel: In the Midst of Your Enemies
True revival includes establishing justice according to the law of God. Revival is not complete until it also produces reform of public institution. It’s easy to get excited about Sunday worship services that result in many renewing their faith or even coming to Christ for the first time. But remember that the Great Commission is more than just conversion, it is “teaching them to observe all that I [Jesus] have commanded” (Matt 28:20), which would include matters of justice.
In a popular Messianic passage, the prophet Isaiah describes the justice which will occur in the Kingdom of God. As the gospel goes forth, so does God’s justice. Jesus will judge the nations by the authority of his law-word.
For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isa. 2:3–4).
- Where is there injustice in our community (i.e. county, state, or nation)?
- What can we do to establish justice in our land.
In this chapter, Samuel foreshadows Christ and the Gospel. Both figures: (1) call sinners to repentance (cf. 1Sam 7:3; Matt 4:17); (2) intercede for their sins (cf. 1Sam 7:9; John 17); and (3) establishes justice (cf. 1Sam 7:15-17; Isa 2:3-4).
The chapter should move us to do several things. First, We must put away the idols in our lives. Doing so requires that we stop feeding them so they can disintegrate. Second, we must faithful respond (pray) in times of crisis. God responds to faithful prayer and prayer has a way of aligning our wills with God’s. Finally, we need to be Biblical justice warriors. What good are large tent revivals when many in the community are left in oppression and affliction? We must let the gospel permeate throughout all of life, including the justice system.