The Word Made Fresh
1Some men from Kiriath-Jearim came for the LORD’s covenant chest. They took it to the house of Abinadab on the hill and appointed his son Eleazar to be in charge of it. 2It remained there for about twenty years, and all the people of Israel yearned for the LORD.
3Samuel said to the Israelites, “If you are going to worship only the LORD your God, then put away the foreign gods and carved images and commit to the LORD. If you do that, you will be rescued from the grip of the Philistines.” 4So, Israel turned away from the Baals and carved images of foreign gods and worshiped only the LORD.
5Then Samuel told them, “All of you come to Mizpah, and I will entreat the LORD for you.” 6They came. They drew water from the well there and poured it out before the LORD. They fasted that whole day and confessed that they had sinned against the LORD.
7When the Philistines learned that Israel had gathered at Mizpah their leaders decided to attack. The Israelites heard of their plan and were very afraid. 8They said to Samuel, “Pray! And don’t stop praying for the LORD our God to protect us!” 9Samuel took a young lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD, and the LORD answered.
10The Philistines were approaching as Samuel offered up the lamb, but the LORD caused a loud thunder to crash over them and they were terrified. Israel routed them 11and chased them beyond Beth-Car.
12Then Samuel had a large stone placed between Mizpah and Shen and called it Ebenezer, ‘helping stone,’ saying, “So far, the LORD has helped us.” 13The Philistines were defeated and ceased their forays into Israel. The LORD protected Israel from them as long as Samuel was living. 14The Philistines had captured towns between Ekron and Gath, and Israel retook them and the land around them. Peace was also restored between Israel and the Amorites.
15Samuel was Israel’s judge for the rest of his life. 16Every year he would travel to Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah and judge disputes and make decisions for them. 17Then he would return home to Ramah and hear complaints there as well. In Ramah he built an altar to the LORD.
1-2: Kiriath-Jearim obtained the covenant chest from Beth-Shemesh after the latter had suffered the loss of the 70 men who had dared to look inside it. They proceed to establish a center of worship on a hill-top at the home of a man named Abinadab, and appointed his son Eleazar to be in charge of it. Twenty years pass, and a time of national soul-searching takes place.
3-7: The time is right for a leader to step forward, and that is what Samuel does. He calls a national convocation at Mizpah, and demands that the people turn away from the religions they have embraced. The scene reminds us of Joshua’s attempts to get the people to toss out their pagan idols (see Joshua 24). Samuel’s leadership is respected, and they do as he says. They confess their sins, and Samuel serves as their “judge.”
8-11: The Philistines attack, and Samuel leads Israel to victory, but he does so in a markedly different way than the “judges” who came before. Samuel does not physically lead them in battle. Instead, he serves as a spiritual leader, making a sacrifice on their behalf and crying out to the Lord for them. God answers his prayers, a violent thunderstorm frightens the Philistines, and the Israelites are victorious.
12-14: Samuel is obviously the spiritual head of Israel now. He sets up a national monument to mark the victory. The victory is so complete that the Philistines cease their forays into Israel altogether as long as Samuel lives.
15-17. Samuel serves as a kind of circuit judge. He travels annually between his hometown of Ramah, then to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. The people bring their disputes to him, and he mediates between the disputing parties.
Samuel, the boy who heard God calling him, is a grown man now, and comes forward in a time of crisis to offer himself as a leader. We shall see that his leadership will echo in some ways that of Eli who took him in as a boy and served as his tutor. No human leader or judge is perfect, but Samuel is sincere, and his leadership will set Israel on a course that God will shape through years to come. Our deeds also will echo down the paths of those who come after us. Be faithful.