Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 7

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

(For a definitive comment on 1 Samuel 7:1 see the note under 1 Samuel 6:21.)


This chapter is not written after the manner of modern dissertations. As a result of the peculiarities that are frequently found in Biblical books, some scholars have great difficulty in reading it. So they regale us with learned talk about editors, redactors, interpolators, and some other things concerning which they have no authentic information whatever! This writer finds the chapter absolutely clear and understandable exactly as it has come down to us.

Oh yes, there are difficulties and problems, some of which, no doubt, must be attributed to the defective Hebrew text, but the overall meaning of what is revealed here is clear enough.

Verse 2


"From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord."

This verse has the nature of a parenthesis, the purpose of which is to reveal how long the ark stayed at its new location. Therefore, Caird's allegation that, "This verse gives the impression that 20 years have elapsed between the return of the ark to Beth-shemesh and the battle about to be described,"[1] is not accurate. Such an impression is made only upon persons who fail to see the parenthetic nature of the verse. This type of writing is often found in Scripture.

"In 1Sam. 7:2-4,1 Samuel 7:13-17, the author does not intend to relate specific events, but to give a panoramic view of high points connected with Samuel."[2]

"And all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord" (1 Samuel 7:2). This speaks of the grief and anxiety of Israel following the defeat at Ebenezer, especially of their sorrow that the Lord was not blessing them. "It means that they sought him with great humility."[3]

Verse 3


"Then Samuel said to all the house of Israel, "If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you, and direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. So they put away the Baals and the Ashteroth, and they served the Lord only."

"Then" (1 Samuel 7:3). This does not mean "after twenty years," but refers to the time when Israel was `lamenting after the Lord,' probably at once following their terrible defeat.

Philbeck marveled that the Philistines did not follow up their victory at Ebenezer at once and completely subjugate Israel. He wrote, "For some reason the Philistine advance stalled, and little effort was made to follow up their victory."[4] In all probability their experience with the bubonic plague was the all-sufficient reason!

"The ... Ashtaroth" (1 Samuel 7:3). "This is the Hebrew plural of [~Ashtoreth], the name of the goddess of the Babylonians called Ishtar, and by the Greeks Astarte. She was the oldest and the most widely distributed of the Semitic deities; and among the western Semites she was the goddess of fertility and sexual relations. Rites of a most licentious nature were associated with her worship."[5]

It is amazing that Israel needed a prophet to tell them anything like this. Ordinary common sense should have revealed it.

"So they put away the Baals and the Ashteroth, and served the Lord only" (1 Samuel 7:4). These pagan deities were worshipped by all the Phoenicians, including the Philistines; and, "This casting off of the false deities was equivalent to a rebellion against Philistine supremacy"[6] Due to the abbreviated nature of this narrative, we are not told exactly how Israel rejected the false gods.

"It must have been done by a public act, by which at some previously arranged time, the images of their Baals and Ashteroths were torn from their shrines, thrown down and broken into pieces."[7]

Verse 5


"Then Samuel said, "Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you." So they gathered at Mizpah, 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 people at Mizpah. Now when the Philistines heard that the people had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. And the people of Israel said to Samuel, "Do not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines." So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering unto the Lord, and Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel, but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah and called its name `Ebenezer'; for he said, `Hitherto the Lord has helped us.'"

"Gather all Israel at Mizpah" (1 Samuel 7:5). Mizpah was located some five miles north of Jerusalem (Willis gave "eight miles north" as being probably correct[8]). This place was the gathering point for Israel upon two other very important occasions, namely: (1) when they declared war on Benjamin (Judges 20), and (2) upon the occasion when Saul was made king (1 Samuel 10:17). According to Josephus, "Mizpah means watch-tower."[9]

"They drew water and poured it out, and fasted that day" (1 Samuel 7:6). The only other instance in the Bible that resembles this is that of David who would not drink the water which his mighty men, at great risk to themselves, had drawn for him from the well in Bethlehem. David, "Poured it out to the Lord, and said, `Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives'"? (2 Samuel 23:15-16).

"The lords of the Philistines went up against Israel" (1 Samuel 7:7). As H. P. Smith stated it, "The opportunity for plundering an unwarlike community was not to be lost. Josephus correctly understands that the people had come without arms."[10] We normally accept what Josephus says, but not in this instance. 1 Samuel 7:11 declares that Israel `smote the Philistines,' and one does not smite an invading army with his bare hands. The Israelites were most certainly armed. The circumstances of the gathering at Mizpah were such that, as R. P. Smith said, "The Philistines looked upon it as a virtual declaration of war."[11]

"Do not cease to cry to the Lord for us" (1 Samuel 7:8). George DeHoff wrote, "How often have preachers been implored to pray for those at death's door, only to see all signs of penitence vanish upon the recovery of the sick or the lifting of the threat of death."[12] As an old Latin proverb has it:

The devil was sick; the devil a saint would be.

The devil well, and the devil of a saint was he!

"The Lord thundered with a mighty voice against the Philistines" (1 Samuel 7:10). We have no other information about the Lord's part in the tremendous victory that came to Israel here. There is no mention of lightning here, nor hail, or rain, or any kind of a storm; and, although many commentators have seen all these things in the passage, it remains true that, "The words may be symbolic."[13] We do not really need to know any more about "how" the Lord threw confusion and disaster into the ranks of the Philistines than what is revealed here. Whatever it was, it was fully adequate.

And the men of Israel went out ... and smote the Philistines as far as Beth-car (1 Samuel 7:11). These words say in tones of thunder that Israel had sufficient weapons for such a military exploit.

"Ebenezer ... Hitherto the Lord has helped us." (1 Samuel 7:12). H. P. Smith speaks of this as, "a difficulty," "The inscription says, `hitherto the Lord has helped us,' whereas it was not only to this[14] point that Jehovah had helped them, but beyond it." We can find no fault whatever with this, because it is impossible to set up a memorial for what God is supposed to do in the future! The name of the stone then means, "Thank God for what he has done for us down till the present time."

"The historical validity of what is related in these verses (1 Samuel 7:5-12) can hardly be questioned."[15] What we have here is an accurate record of some of the events in that period.

Verse 13


"So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel rescued their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites."

G. B. Caird labeled these verses as "a contradiction"[16] of the fact that there were subsequent occasions when the Philistines invaded Israel, as for example in the times of Saul. Such opinions are incorrect because the words "all the days of Samuel" are a limitation upon what is meant. "This passage teaches that the victory was only temporary and far from conclusive; and this is implicit in the text itself. 1 Samuel 7:13b shows that the warfare was continuous."[17] Keil agreed with this, "1 Samuel 7:13 shows that the Philistines made efforts to recover the cities lost to Israel, but that so long as Samuel lived they were unable to do so."[18] Willis also characterized these verses as, "A panoramic summary of Samuel's lifetime ministry in Israel."[19]

There is another very powerful reason which we reject out of hand any notion, as advocated by some, that these verses should be discarded as an `interpolation.' In the Biblical perspective, events in the far future are sometimes spoken of as if already accomplished; and if one should understand "all the days of Samuel" as an inclusion not only of his lifetime but also of his changing the government to a monarchy, his anointing of Saul, and then of David - if all of that is attributed to Samuel, then it was indeed true in the fullest extent that the Philistines were completely vanquished. Samuel certainly set in motion the events that led to that accomplishment.

The cities were restored to Israel from Ekron to Gath (1 Samuel 7:14). "This does not mean that the Israelites overthrew Ekron and Gath, but that they regained Judean cities along the border between those cities."[20]

Verse 15


"Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah; and he judged Israel in all these places. Then he would come back to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he administered justice to Israel. And he built there an altar to the Lord."

There were four of these cities to which Samuel traveled in his administration of justice: Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, and Ramah. "The Gilgal here was in all probability the one near Jericho."[21]

"And there he built an altar to the Lord" (1 Samuel 7:17). Young's comment on the building of this altar gives an excellent explanation of it.

"This deviation from the law of Deuteronomy 12:5,13, was probably occasioned by the public disorder of that period and the destruction of both the tabernacle and its altar. Jehovah sanctioned the erection of this altar by his acceptance of both the person and the service of Samuel.[22]

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 7". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.