I Samuel 7:1-17 Samuel – Prophet, Priest, And Judge.
It took thousands to die, and much suffering, before the Philistines and the Israelites would eventually learn that none were able to “stand before this holy LORD God” (6:20). We are not told why the men of Kirjath Jearim were asked to take the ark, but we do know that Eleazar was consecrated to keep it (v. 1). Twenty years was not the total number of years that the ark was there, but this was the number of years it was there before the LORD chose to hear the people’s lamentations and provide them with intervention through Samuel (v. 2). Samuel preached a message of repentance to the people, to turn away from their idolatry and prepare their hearts for the LORD (v. 3). Only then would the LORD deliver them from the Philistines. “So the children of Israel put away the Baals and Ashteroths, and served the LORD only” (v. 4).
Next Samuel gathered the people together and prayed to the LORD for them (v. 5). They also fasted while gathered at Mizpah, and they drew water to pour out before the LORD, symbolic of them pouring out their souls and hearts before him, there saying that they had sinned against him (v. 6 Cf. 1:15; Ps. 62:8). It was a time for Lamentation (Cf. La. 1:18-20). Upon learning that all Israel were gathered at Mizpah, the Philistine lords determined to take the opportunity to go against Israel, and Israel was afraid (v. 7). Nevertheless, they asked Samuel to continue to intercede for them and in doing so he “took a suckling lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD,” and the LORD answered his prayer (vv. 8-9). The LORD answered with thunder that confused the Philistines such that the men of Israel pursued them a great distance (vv. 10-11).
The biblical saints like Samuel valued milestones. In project management milestones are important in terms of gauging progress, they are like gates which when one must reach before progressing further. They can also inspire to go further, like athletes seeking some encouragement in reaching their final goal. As saints of the sovereign covenant LORD, we are working toward the goal of his kingdom coming, his will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Samuel recognized how pivotal was the return of the ark of the covenant, itself a milestone on the continuum of salvation history. When the people repented and offered the sacrifices as the LORD prescribed, the ark was returned , and for this reason Samuel set up a stone and called the place “Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (v. 12). This was the first step to recovering what they had lost (vv. 13-14).
In Israel’s history, Samuel comes on the scene as a transitional figure, arguably the last of the faithful judges. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jud. 21:25). “At Shiloh God called Samuel to be His servant and prophet. As judge, Samuel visited Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah yearly. Also at Gilgal Samuel renewed the kingdom covenant with Israel and established Saul as king.” (NGSB 387) “Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life,” and at Ramah “he built an altar to the LORD” (vv. 15-17). Samuel was unique in being both a prophet and a priest. Being a judge was a position of shared political and civil leadership – an elder among equals, as it were. When a king was chosen in Saul, from that point on it was strictly forbidden for any one person to occupy all three offices of prophet, priest, and king.
In fact, one of the signs of the Messiah coming, would be that he would occupy all three offices in his one person. In a fallen world, no mere human must occupy all the positions of power. The fact also is the case that the LORD never intended a monarchial form of government for his people, as the case of Saul shows. God intended political/civil leadership to be exercised by a plurality of equal judges, a presbyterial form of government as it were. Ultimately in rejected Samuel’s counsel the people were rejecting the LORD’s system of judges, and the LORD himself (8:7). Samuel’s hometown of Ramah was “about five miles north of Jerusalem (1:19; 2:11; 7:17; 8:4; 15:34; 19:18; 25:1).” (NGSB) It is therefore significant that Samuel chose to set up an altar and minster there and in Jerusalem, such was its spiritual state at that time.