1 Sam 4.1-11; Story; The Philistines Capture the Ark
1 Sam 4.12-22; Story; The Death of Eli
1 Sam 5.1-12; Story; The Philistines and the Ark
1 Sam 6.1-7.2; Story; The Ark Returned to Israel
1 Sam 7.3-17; Story; Samuel Judges Israel
1 Sam 8.1-9; Story; Israel Demands a King
1 Sam 8.10-18; Story; Samuel’s Warning Against Kings
1 Sam 8.19-22; Story; The LORD Grants Israel’s Request
Passage and Comments
As a sign of Israel's continued disobedience, the Israel is defeated by the Philistines in battle and the ark of the covenant is captured. Further the LORD's judgment on Eli is fulfilled. His two sons are killed in battle (1 Sam 4.1-11). When Eli hears this dreadful news he falls over backward in his chair, breaking his neck and dies (1 Sam 4.12-22).
They put it on some cows with some guilt offerings to appease the God of Israel and the cows make a bee line for Israel. In Beth-shemesh the LORD continues to strike people down, this time Israelites because they are not treating the ark or the LORD with proper respect. None can stand before the LORD, the Holy God. They send for help and some men take it to Eleazar, son of Abinadab who is consecrated to look after it. He does so for twenty years (1 Sam 6.1-7.2). Time enough for Samuel to mature. Our passage picks up with Samuel.
3 And 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 the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. (1 Sam 7.3-4)Once again part of the role of the judge is to command Israel to repent of its idolatry and restore them to the LORD. Notice the reference to service. God's people are his servants.
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 of Israel at Mizpah. Now when the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it, they were afraid of the Philistines. (1 Sam 7.5-7)Israel repents and atones for her sin. The Philistines hear they have gathered, but before when they won against Israel, Israel was being punished for her sin. Now Israel has been restored and the LORD is with Samuel. The Philistines will get powned.
8 And the people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. And the men of Israel went out from Mizpah and pursued the Philistines and struck them, as far as below Beth-car. (1 Sam 7.8-11)Samuel offers an animal sacrifice for good measure in respect of the LORD. The LORD in his mercy towards Israel strikes the Philistines in judgment.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” 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 that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites. (1 Sam 7.12-14)Israel is at peace. The LORD has saved Israel again, through his judge.
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 return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the Lord. (1 Sam 7.15-17)Samuel made a regular circuit around Israel. Doing his rounds, serving the LORD by ministering to Israel. He judged Israel. The expression 'judged' obviously does not mean condemn in this context. It seems closely aligned to ruled, protected, taught and guided. It seems Samuel is a model leader. Or is he?
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (1 Sam 8.4-9)Unfortunately, he has struggled to lead his own family as Israel has noticed. Samuel has failed to discipline his sons just like Eli did. Perhaps because he was away from home too often, and put his ministry before his family. He and Eli are not the only leaders of Israel who have this problem.
Also, Israel while benefiting from Samuel being their judge, still despises the LORD. They want a king. This is actually part of the LORD's plan for them (Dt 17.14-20). So why the problem here? Its commonly thought that the insult was not caused by what they ask, but because of the motive behind their request. They have asked because they want to be 'like all the nations' (1 Sam 8.4). Both the LORD and Samuel recognise it as a rejection of their authority and rule (1 Sam 8.7).
Story of Israel
Throughout Israel's history there have been many leaders who have done a lot of good for Israel. Like Samuel they were not perfect, but none the less the LORD was able to use them for his purposes and turn Israel around for a time.
Consider the prophet Elijah who the LORD used to defeat the priests of Baal on mount Carmel (1 Ki 18).
Consider King Hezekiah who led Israel in trusting the LORD before their foe Sennacherib (2 Ki 18).
Consider King Josiah who found the book of the Covenant and broke down the places of foreign worship in Israel (2 Ki 22-23).
Consider Daniel who through the exile and under foreign rule, spoke up for the LORD and did not submit to idolatry (Dan 1-6).
Consider Ezra who led Israel back into the promised land to rebuild the temple (Ezra 3-6).
Story of Jesus
Jesus is like all these men, only much much better. He has died for his people. He has overcome death and been risen from the grave. He is faithful to his family. He guides them by his Spirit. He interceeds for them when words fail them. All these leaders eventually died. But Jesus remains. One day he will come again and he will be with us forever.