1 Samuel 7 – “Victory Over the Philistines; Samuel as Chieftain”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Samuel exhorts the Israelites to abandon their idols. They listen, and God grants them military victory over the Philistines. Samuel travels throughout the land and serves as a pious chieftain in Israel.

II. Photo
Samuel takes action when the Philistines approach: “Thereupon Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried out to the Lord in behalf of Israel, and the Lord responded to him.” (v. 9)

III. Important Verses
1: The men of Kiriath-jearim came and took up the Ark of the LORD and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill; and they consecrated his son Eleazar to have charge of the Ark of the LORD.
3-4: And Samuel said to all the House of Israel, “If you mean to return to the LORD with all your heart, you must remove the alien gods and the Ashtaroth from your midst and direct your heart to the LORD and serve Him alone. Then He will deliver you from the hands of the Philistines.” And the Israelites removed the Baalim and Ashtaroth and they served the LORD alone.
9-11: Thereupon Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD; and Samuel cried out to the LORD in behalf of Israel, and the LORD responded to him. For as Samuel was presenting the burnt offering and the Philistines advanced to attack Israel, the LORD thundered mightily against the Philistines that day. He threw them into confusion, and they were routed by Israel. The men of Israel sallied out of Miz-pah and pursued the Philistines, striking them down to a point below Beth-car.
14: The towns which the Philistines had taken from Israel, from Ekron to Gath, were restored to Israel; Israel recovered all her territory from the Philistines. There was also peace between Israel and the Amorites.

IV. Outline
1a. The ark is moved to Kiriath-jearim
1b. Eleazar is given control of the ark
2-4. Samuel’s convinces the Israelites to serve God alone
5-6. Samuel leads the people in prayer at Mizpah
7a. The Philistines march against Israel
7b-9. Samuel’s sacrifice and prayer
10-11. The Israelites defeat the Philistines
12. Samuel sets up a stone; The name Eben-ezer
13-14. Israel recaptures Philistia; Peace with the Amorites
15-17. Samuel’s tenure as chief of Israel

V. Comment
Chapter 7 tells the story of Samuel’s success as a spiritual and military ruler in Israel. While other sections of the Hebrew Bible (especially the book of Judges) describe military battles and strategies in great detail, the Israelites defeat the Philistines in v. 10 simply because “The LORD thundered mightily against the Philistines that day. He threw them into confusion, and they were routed by Israel.” The chapter ends by describing Israelites’ halcyon days under Samuel: they recapture the lands of Philistia and even make peace with the Amorites.

In verse 12 Samuel sets up a commemorative stone: “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Eben-ezer: ‘For up to now,’ he said, ‘the Lord has helped us.’” It is interesting to note that another stone was set up in Bethel, a site nearby. Klein writes: “Samuel erected a pillar to mark the spot of [God’s] deliverance, just as Jacob had set up a pillar [matzebah] to commemorate [God’s] theophany at Bethel (Gen 28:18, 22). The use of the term stone instead of pillar may reflect [a later editor’s] consistent polemic against pillars (Deut 16:22; cf. Josh 24:26–27, where the term pillar is also avoided).” (68) Additionally, Haak explains how Samuel’s stone is similar in function to the “altars” often mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. He writes: “The term mizbeah is also used for another type of construction which serves primarily as a ‘memorial’ within the Hebrew Bible. Several ‘altars’ are given names, often in connection with some unusual event (cf. Gen 33:20; 35:7; Exod 17:15; Josh 22:10–34; and Judg 6:24). In none of these cases are sacrifices actually offered upon these ‘altars.’ Whether these constructions were memorials which the author calls ‘altars’ or whether they were altars which later authors attempted to legitimize by assigning an acceptable function is not clear (cf. Snaith 1978; Van Seters 1980: 232). A similar case of a rock being designated as a named ‘memorial’ is found in 1 Sam 7:12, but without the term mizbeah being used.” (Haak, Robert D. “Altar” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. I, 162-167)

Verse 15 says: “Samuel judged Israel as long as he lived.” As in the book of Judges, the following question arises: What is meant by the terms “Israel” and “all of Israel”? This question is pertinent because verse 16 says, “Each year [Samuel] made the rounds of Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and acted as judge over Israel at all those places.” As Klein points out, these cities cover a relatively small portion of biblical Israel. He writes: “While Samuel is said to have judged the whole people of Israel, his annual circuit is limited to a relatively small area of central Palestine. Bethel, the well-known town in Ephraimite territory, was located about ten miles north of Jerusalem (at Beitin; MR172148). Mizpah, as we have seen, was located either five or eight miles north of Jerusalem, thus between Jerusalem and Bethel. Some identify Gilgal with a site Jiljulieh, some seven miles north of Bethel though the majority favor a site near Jericho (perhaps Kh. el-Mefjer; MR193143; cf. Josh 2:1; 3:16; 4:19–20; 5:8–12). Ramah was also five miles north of Jerusalem (cf. 1:1, 19). Whatever the case may be, the geographical dimensions of Samuel’s circuit are limited and seem to stand in some tension with his judging of ‘Israel.’” (69) Thus, like many chiefs in the book of Judges, chapter 7 presents Samuel as a local chieftain, not a leader of all the Israelite tribes.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Haak, Robert D. “Altar” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. I, 162-167
Klein, Ralph W. “1 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 10 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983).
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “1 Samuel,” Anchor Bible vol. 8 (New York: Doubleday, 1980).
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