1 Samuel 7: Samuel as Judge
We remember Samuel as the little boy at the tabernacle, and how the Lord called him. We know too that when Samuel grew up the Lord was with him, and all the people in the land knew that Samuel was the Lord's prophet, sent by the Lord to teach them. (1 Sam. 3:19-21) One thing that Samuel tried to do was to help the people to remember the Lord, and to worship Him and not the idols of the other people in the land. He helped them too to find the Lord's help against their enemies the Philistines, who were taking away their cities and their fields.
There is a high pointed hill in sight from Jerusalem to the northwest, called today Neby Samwil, the prophet Samuel. This seems to be the hill called in our story Mizpeh (watch tower), where Samuel called the people together and prayed for them. The hill still stands to remind us of Samuel and of his faithful work for the people. Among the idols which Samuel told them to put away were Baalim, which means images of Baal that many of the neighboring peoples worshiped, and Ashtaroth, which means images of a goddess connected with Baal. The people promised Samuel that they would put the images away and serve the Lord only.
In the high hill Mizpeh where Samuel prayed for the people, he poured out water before the Lord as a sign that the people were making themselves clean from the idols and evil things. Then when they heard that the Philistines were coming against them, Samuel offered a little lamb as a sacrifice to the Lord. They would be innocent as the little lamb, and then the Lord would help them as their Shepherd. And the Lord did help them. There was a great thunderstorm that day which troubled the Philistines, and the men of Israel chased them back into their country.
Now there was rest from the Philistines, and Samuel went each year to several places where the people came to him to learn from him and have him settle their disputes. One of these places was Ramah where his father and mother had lived, and where Samuel had first lived as a little boy before his mother took him to the tabernacle. It was still his home.
The ark had come home from the Philistine country, and was at Kirjath-jearim, the "city of the woods." It was there a long time, but when it had been there twenty years, something happened that we are now to learn about.
The people were much oppressed by their enemies the Philistines who still ruled over them. You know that when an enemy oppressed the children of Israel it was always because they had disobeyed the Lord and worshiped idols. Moses had warned the people that it would be so.
We have learned about Samuel as a little boy at the tabernacle at Shiloh. We must now learn of him grown to be a man, known by all the people of the land as the Lord's prophet. He was teacher and judge. Read 1 Sam. 3:19-21. The high, pointed hill called Neby Samwil (the prophet Samuel) is a beautiful reminder of this good leader of the people, the last and greatest of the judges of Israel; for after him there were Kings. This same hill is also probably the Mizpeh of our story.
We see Samuel at work teaching the people to give up the idols which they had learned from the people about them to worship, and to serve only the Lord; and praying with them for the Lord's help against the Philistines. Baalim and Ashtaroth are both plural words, meaning images of Baal, whose worship was associated with the sun, and images of Ashtoreth, whose worship was associated with the planet Venus. The worship of these idols led to much evil and was again and again a snare to the people of Israel. Elijah's offering on Mount Carmel was to decide between the worship of Baal and the worship of the Lord. (1 Kings 18) Samuel was teaching the same lesson.
Think now of Samuel praying for the people gathered about him on the high hill Mizpeh. And still more earnestly he prayed when they saw the Philistines coming against them. What did it mean when Samuel poured out water before the Lord? And what did it mean when he offered a little lamb as a sacrifice to the Lord? What do you think it meant? And then see what I have said about it to the little children.
Does the thunder which helped the people of Israel against the Philistines remind you of other times when a storm helped them against an enemy? (Joshua 10:11; Judges 5:20-21) The valley down which the Philistines fled and the Israelites pursued, led to Beth-shemesh and so out into the plain. It was probably near Beth-shemesh that the stone was set up in memory of the deliverance, and was called Eben-ezer, "the stone of help." It was at this same place that, twenty years before, the ark had been taken by the Philistines. (1 Sam. 4:1; 5:1)
In the peaceful time that followed this victory we see Samuel going each year in circuit to several places to judge the people. Do you recognize the places, and can you find them on the map? Bethel you know, on the high hills north of Jerusalem, where Abraham and Lot looked out over the land, where Jacob had the vision of the ladder. Gilgal was in the plain of Jordan, where the people first camped after crossing the river. Mizpeh was the high hill that we have learned of in this lesson. Ramah was Samuel's own home. The little boy had grown to be the prophet and wise father of the people.
1. Where did the ark stay for a long time after it was sent back by the Philistines?
2. Where was Samuel born? Where did he live as a little child? Where was his home when he grew old?
3. How did Samuel deliver the people from the Philistines? Where did he gather the people together?
4. What did they do there as they made confession and prayed?
5. At what places did Samuel judge Israel?
Keep in mind that Samuel, the last and greatest of the Judges, is a type of the best strength of childhood. The kings follow, who represent a maturer government of life by truth rationally understood. Consider more carefully some points that have been suggested to the junior classes.
How can we come together on a high hill to pray to the Lord, and go down from the hill to conquer our enemies? (E. 405; A. 795; R. 336)
In thinking of the water poured out by Samuel before the Lord, read Isa. 1:16, the whole verse. Read of the baptism by John the Baptist. (Matt. 3:2-6) Read of Pilate's washing his hands. (Matt. 27:24; R. 378; E. 475) Used sincerely, the water means repentance.
In thinking of the meaning of Samuel's sacrificing the lamb, remember the Lord's teaching that He is our Shepherd, and that we are His sheep and lambs. (Ps. 23; John 10) Remember the lamb sacrificed and eaten in the Passover, whose blood also on the side posts and above the door was a protection to the people. (Exod. 11:1-14) And remember the offering of a lamb each morning and evening on the altar before the temple. (Exod. 29:38-39) The lamb represents the innocent, trustful feelings which we must have toward the Lord if He is to lead us and protect us. (A. 3994, 10132; E. 314)
A voice from heaven may be heard as thunder by persons in a low, natural state, who are not able to receive particulars of the message but only a general sense of the Divine power. Remember the thunders heard by the children of Israel at Sinai (Exod. 19:16); and the voice from heaven to our Lord, when some said that it thundered (John 12:28-29). A voice of Divine love might be heard as thunder by the evil, and be terrifying to them. (R. 615; E. 855)
The Lord's Word is our prophet calling us to repentance and teaching us what is right. Do we need that it shall judge us in different places, on the high hills of Bethel, and in the low plain of Jordan, in our inner thoughts and motives, and in our outward work and pleasures? (A. 1450-1453, 1585)