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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And the men of Kirjathjearim came, and fetched up the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD.
This verse belongs more properly to 1 Samuel 6. Abinadab and his sons were probably of the house of Levi. The catastrophe at Bethshemesh must inevitably have made the Israelites very careful to pay due honor to the ark in accordance with the Law: but to give the care of the ark to those who were not of the house of Levi would be a gross violation of the Law.
2And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.
And all the house of Israel lamented ... - The occupation of the country about Shiloh by the Philistines 1 Samuel 7:3 was partly the reason for the ark being kept so long at Kirjath-jearim. But another reason seems to have been the fall of the Israelites into idolatry, which made them neglect the ark, and brought upon them this Philistine servitude; probably the last 20 years of the Philistine oppression described in Judges 13:1, which is there expressly connected with Israelite idolatry. Now, probably, through the exhortations of Samuel, coupled with the chastening of the Philistine yoke, the Israelites repented and turned again to the God of their fathers.
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.
Compare the marginal references. Twenty years of Samuel's life had passed away since the last mention of him 1 Samuel 4:1. Now he appears in the threefold character of prophet, Judge, and the acknowledged leader of the whole people. His words were an answer to a profession of repentance on the part of Israel, the practical proof of which would be the putting away all their false gods. (Compare Judges 6:10 note.)
Will pray for you ... - So Moses prayed for the people at Rephidim Exodus 17:11-12; and for Miriam Numbers 12:13; so Elijah prayed at Carmel 1 Kings 18:36, 1 Kings 18:42; so Ezra prayed at the evening sacrifice Ezra 9:5; so the High Priest prayed for the house of Israel on the Day of Atonement; and so does our Lord Jesus Christ ever live at God's right hand to make intercession for us.
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.
Two rites are brought together here which belong especially to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Day of Atonement, respectively, namely, drawing and pouring out water, and fasting. Hence, some think that Samuel chose the Feast of tabernacles, and the fast which preceded it, as the occasion for assembling the people. Others explain the pouring out water as the pouring out the heart in penitence as it were water; or, as a symbolic act expressing their ruin and helplessness 2 Samuel 14:14; or as typifying their desire that their sins might be forgotten "as waters that pass away" Job 11:16.
And Samuel judged - This seems to denote the "commencement" of Samuel's Judgeship civil and military, as having taken place at Mizpeh on this occasion. As civil Judge he did exactly what Moses did Exodus 18:13-16; as military Judge he did what Othniel, Ehud, Barak, and Gideon had done before him, organized and marshalled the people for effectual resistance to their oppressors, and led them out to victory.
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.
This implies a united invasion by the whole Philistine force. Hence, the terror of the Israelites. (Compare Judges 15:11.)
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.
Samuel's preparation for intercessory prayer, namely, the offering up an atoning sacrifice, is most significant (compare Luke 1:9-10). The term here used for a "lamb" does not occur in the Pentateuch; indeed it is only found besides this place in Isaiah 65:25. The offering is in accordance with Leviticus 22:27.
The Lord heard him - Better as in margin. The "answer" was not simply the granting the asked-for deliverance, but the great thunder 1 Samuel 7:10, which was "the voice of the Lord," the same voice with which the Lord answered Moses Exodus 19:19; Psalm 99:6.
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.
Beth-car - This place is nowhere else mentioned. It seems to have stood on a hill overhanging the road from the Philistine territory to Mizpeh, and close to Ebenezer, 1 Samuel 4:1.
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.
Shen was a tooth-pointed or sharp-pointed rock (see 1 Samuel 14:4), nowhere else mentioned and not identified.
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.
All the days of Samuel - Not (as in 1 Samuel 7:15), all the days of his life, but all the days of his "government", when as Judge he ruled over Israel, before they asked for a king.
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.
This shows the vigour and success of Samuel's government. He seems not only to have expelled the Philistines from the interior of the Israelite country, but to have attacked them in their own land, and taken from them the cities, with the adjacent territory, which properly belonged to Israel, but which the Philistines had taken possession of. In this war the Amorites, finding the Philistines worse masters than the Israelites, made common cause with Samuel, and assisted the Israelites in their wars against the Philistines.
15And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
Samuel judged Israel ... - The repetition of the phrase in 1 Samuel 7:16-17, in connection with Samuel's circuit, is a proof that it is his civil judgeship which is meant. The military leadership of course belonged to Saul, when he became king.
16And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.
Gilgal - It is uncertain whether Gilgal in the valley of the Jordan, or the modern Jiljulieh, the Gilgal of 2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 4:38, be meant; but far more probably the former (see 1 Samuel 11:14 and note).
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.
And there he built an altar - Whether this altar was in connection with the tabernacle or not we have no means of deciding, since we are in complete ignorance as to where the tabernacle was at this time, or who was High Priest, or where he resided. It is quite possible that Samuel may have removed the tabernacle from Shiloh to some place near to Ramah; and indeed it is in itself improbable that, brought up as he was from infancy in the service of the tabernacle, he should have left it. At the beginning of Solomon's reign we know it was at Gibeon, close to Raimah 1 Kings 3:4; 2 Chronicles 1:3, 2 Chronicles 1:6. If the tabernacle had been at Shiloh at this time, it is likely that Shiloh would have been one of the places at which Samuel judged lsrael. But Shiloh was probably waste, and perhaps unsafe on account of the Philistines.