International Sunday School Lesson Study Notes
Lesson Text: 1 Samuel 7:3-11, 15-17 Lesson Title: Administering Justice
The Israelites entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua and for a season, enjoyed the benefits of God’s power and promises. But when Joshua and the men who had faithfully served the Lord passed away, the nation soon entered one of the darkest periods in her history known as the days of the Judges (Judges 2:8-23). This period is best summarized in the book of Judges: “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
First Samuel records Israel’s transition from judgeship to kingship. God had raised up individuals knows as judges to help deliver the nation from their enemies and their sinfulness. Samuel was the last of Israel’s judges. First Samuel covers the time period from the birth of Samuel to the end of the reign of King Saul, a period of about ninety-four years. The book of 1 Samuel does not reveal its author although tradition says it was most likely written by Samuel. We know that Samuel did write a book (1 Samuel 10:25). But since his death is recorded in 1 Samuel 25:1, it would be impossible for Samuel to have written the entire book.
As 1 Samuel opens, the nation is at a low point spiritually. The only good thing about this time period was that other great empires such as Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria were not a threat to Israel. They were also weak. Externally, the Philistines were a threat to Israel and caused them much pain and hardship. Internally, Eli the priest and his sons had so defamed the house of God and the sacred things that judgment from God was inevitable (1 Samuel 1-2). It was in the midst of all of this spiritual weakness and sin that God raised up Samuel to administer justice and serve the Lord. While God marked Eli and his family for judgment, He blessed a woman named Hannah and gave her a son, a man of God, Samuel (1 Samuel 1:19-20, 27; 3:19-21).
Chapters 1-4 of 1 Samuel focus primarily on the birth and growth of Samuel and how God spoke to the nation through him. During this period the Ark of the Covenant was captured at Apek, some 20 years prior to the events in 1 Samuel 7. Israel had been defeated by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:1-7:17) and without God’s help and intervention, they were paralyzed to do anything to bring it back home. There is a striking similarity between Israel’s spiritual condition and ours today. The absence of justice in our land and the spiritual inability to live in victory and enjoy God’s presence is overwhelming. Our lesson text centers on how God used the prophet Samuel to administer justice and call the nation back to God
The Communication of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:3-5)
The changes that occurred in the nation of Israel under Samuel’s leadership are brief but very significant. Samuel’s ministry was one of revival and victory. And that reality is based on the fact that in a day when “…there was no open vision” (1 Samuel 3:1), Samuel heard from the Lord and faithfully told God’s people what God had said. Our culture needs to hear the truth of God from men of God as spoken by God. Not extra biblical revelation (things not included in the Bible) but the truth of God’s Word. It’s our only hope for a renewal and spiritual victory.
“And 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.”
The Ark of the Covenant was returned to Israel which was a symbol of God’s presence. However, the Israelites’ problems of sin and defeat would not be solved simply because the ark was returned to its rightful place. Israel must return herself and Samuel showed them the way.
“If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts…” are words that remind us of the cycle of sin and repentance in the book of Judges. During those days the people would sin and then be called upon to repent and serve the LORD. Samuel’s message is the same. Israel must “return unto the LORD with all your hearts.” Samuel served in many areas of ministry and service during his life but it is obvious that calling people back to God was his main task. But if the people are to “return” in repentance, it must be a work in their “hearts.” It’s one thing to militarily go and bring back the ark. It’s quite another to repent of sin in our heart. The “heart” is where the work of repentance must take place.
“Put away” is a call from Samuel for separation from sin. God’s people were forbidden to seek and worship the “strange gods and Ashtaroth.” “Ashtaroth” in Hebrew is plural and refers to a plurality of gods. Singularly, “Ashtaroth” is the name of the goddess of sex and war in Canaan. “Ashtaroth” is believed to be the goddess and lover of Baal. Baal worship was at the heart of all of Israel’s problems. They were chosen by God to be a nation that would serve and worship Him. For Israel to be drawn away to the worship of Baal and all the lesser gods attached to that system was a disgrace to the God who had created them, chosen them, and redeemed them. There is not room for negotiation in Samuel’s mind. “Put away” is the requirement (Exodus 20:3).
“Serve him only” is a reminder that God will not tolerate split devotion and split loyalties. Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
“Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only” must not be interpreted as happening immediately. Samuel’s call to repentance and the putting away of the strange gods was not a single sermon. Rather, it was a repeated word that came over a long period of time. Samuel kept preaching the message and gradually “the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only.”
The truth of this verse is a reminder to those of us who expect instantaneous responses that God does not always work that way. Certainly He can immediately and on the spot change lives. However, when it comes to the deep work of repentance and renewal of God’s people it often takes time. Remember, we didn’t get where we are spiritually over night and it’s highly unlikely we will get back to God overnight. That statement is not a reflection on the inability of God to make a drastic change. It is a statement on the hard-hearted condition of men’s heart and the need for God’s Word spoken by God’s men consistently to work a deep work of repentance in our hearts. Be careful of the type of revival where everything is done instantly. Once and done was not the case in the days of the Judges!
In order for Israel to “put away Baalim and Ashtaroth” they must do both private work in their hearts and public work. Images, shrines, altars, and numerous other physical structures erected to these gods must be destroyed. Repentance is time consuming work!
“And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the LORD.” Samuel’s call to Israel was for prayer. They were to gather to “Mizpeh.” “Mizpeh” was located about five miles from Jerusalem and was considered by most to be a holy place. The name “Mizpeh” means “watch tower” (Genesis 31:49). Samuel knew the importance of prayer. He was conceived because of his mother’s prayer. If God could place a child in the womb of a barren woman as a result of prayer then God could renew the nation through prayer.
“And I will pray for you unto the LORD” are words seldom heard from God’s man to his people. Oh the blessedness of having a man of God to pray for you! The Bible teaches that every believer has access to God through Jesus Christ and God hears all of those who are saved when we pray. But if you search the Scriptures you will find in both Old and New Testaments the benefits of having God’s man intercede and pray for you. Where would the nation of Israel be without the intercessory prayers of Moses and Elijah? The Apostle Paul prayed for the churches at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonians and for individuals in those and other churches. Never underestimate the spiritual significance of God’s chosen leader praying for you, your family, and your nation (1 Kings 13:1-6; Psalm 99:6; Jeremiah 15:1; Amos 7:1-6; Romans 1:9-10; Ephesians 1:15-23; Colossians 1:3).
The Convocation at Mizpeh (1 Samuel 7:6)
“And 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.”
“And they gathered together…” reveals that Samuel was not satisfied with individual revival. He wanted to show a collective assembly. By being “gathered together” the Israelites demonstrated to God their sincerity. As they “drew water, and poured it out before the LORD…” they signified their emptiness and humility. The “drawing of water” is a joyful symbolizing that the source of life comes from deep within. The “pouring out” of the water “before the LORD” signified their sorrow for sin. The Psalmist said, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” They further expressed their sorrow for sin by “fasting on that day.” By fasting the nation indicated they wanted nothing else but God. Their words, “We have sinned against the LORD” is their confession. Confession is a vital part of renewal and revival. It meant the people were ready to deal with every area of their life.
The statement “And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh” simply means that Samuel served in the capacity of leader on this day and during this activity of confession and repentance. He assembled the people and he now ministered as director and leader of what was taking place.
The Reaction of the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:7)
“And 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.”
There had not been a Philistine attack upon Israel since the Philistine victory at Aphek, but now one was about to happen. The response of the Philistines upon hearing “that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh” was perfectly natural. The Philistines had no objection to Israel’s worship of Baal or Ashtaroth; but as soon as they heard of their return to the service and worship of Jehovah and of the increased authority of Samuel, they were ready to attack. With promptness the Philistines “went up against Israel.” The “lords of the Philistines” were five in number (Judges 3:3) and probably represented five key Philistine positions (Joshua 13:3). The closest of these “lords” and Philistine occupied territory was probably about 25 miles from Mizpeh.
Upon hearing of the approaching Philistine army the Israelites “were afraid.” It was not easy to forget what the Philistines had done to them 20 years earlier at Aphek and they did not want a repetition of that horrible moment. Their faith was being renewed and revived but they were not yet established and strong enough to prevent their being “afraid.” Nevertheless, they held their ground and called on Samuel to pray for them.
The Intercession of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:8-9)
“And 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.”
The Israelites ask Samuel to ask God to “save us out of the hand of the Philistines.” The salvation here is purely physical deliverance from the Philistines, but it is typical of spiritual salvation; and both the word “save” which is “yasha” in Hebrew and the concept of salvation are very prominent in the book of 1 Samuel. The name “Joshua” in the Old Testament and the name “Jesus” in the New Testament come from this word and mean “Jehovah is salvation.” When we cry out to the Lord to save us from our sins, He will also deliver us” (Liberty Bible Commentary, Volume 1, page 545, par.4).
“And 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.”
Before Samuel prayed he offered a “burnt offering wholly unto the LORD…” It is the reinstating of the Passover which proved Israel’s desire to live in obedience to the Lord (2 Chronicles 35:18). The “burnt offering” of “a sucking lamb” A “sucking lamb” means the lamb was still young enough to be nursing and receiving milk from its mother but was at least seven days old according to God’s requirements (Leviticus 22:26-27). The “sucking lamb” was a symbol of their new life now fresh and freely devoted to God. The Lord accepted the offering and “heard” Samuel’s prayer.
The Intervention of God (1 Samuel 7:10-11)
“And 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.”
The gathering, the confessing, the praying, and the burnt offering were all happening at the very moment “the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel…” Israel is completely dependent upon the Lord for victory. “The LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines…” It was, as it were, God’s voice in answer to Samuel’s prayer. The ordinary forces of nature operated on this day not according to nature but according to the sovereignty of God. Everything happening here was directed by the hand of God. And everything happening in our lives is directed by the hand of God.
The word “discomfited” means “to put in confusion” (Joshua 10:10). As a result of the “thunder” the Philistines were so shocked they turned in terror and ran.
“And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Beth-car.”
God’s response to Samuel’s prayer and Israel’s confession of sin was one of unforgettable proportion. The “thunder” was a demonstration of His mighty power and the ability of the “men of Israel” to “pursue the Philistines, and smite them, until they came under Beth-car” is nothing short of miraculous. Remember, the Philistines have all the weapons, not Israel! The reality of confessed sin and forgiven hearts coupled with the presence of God inspires God’s people with fresh confidence and courage.
“Until they came under Beth-car” is significant. The location of “Beth-car” is uncertain but the preposition “under” means “Beth-car” must have been on some height, peak or mountain. The language of the text and the wording seems to indicate that the Israelites chased them all the way back into Philistine territory. Amazing when you considered that in verse 7 they were “afraid.” Oh what a difference God makes!
Note: Verses 12-14, not covered in some International Sunday School Lesson text for this week records the “Celebration of the Israelites.” “Ebenezer” means “stone of help.” What or where would any of us be without “Ebenezer's” along the way? Each of us need to be reminded of the “hand of the Lord” (1 Samuel 7:13).
The Administration of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:15-17)
“And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life” simply means he saw to it that justice was carried out in cases brought before him. Samuel was not the military leader that many of the judges in the Book of Judges were, but he was God’s man, called by God and placed by God among His people at a crucial and needful hour in history.
“And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places” means Samuel made an annual trip so as to manage the affairs of the people. The word “circuit” is familiar to many in the Appalachian Mountains as preachers were often called “circuit riding preachers” in by gone days. Men of God actually rode horses or mules and they made a circle or “circuit” visiting and ministering to different church during different seasons of the year.
If Samuel started from his home in “Ramah” (1 Samuel 1:19; 7:17) and traveled “to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh,” he would travel about 25 miles on this “circuit.” Samuel’s influence and administering of justice was not what we would consider “wide spread” but it was nevertheless affective, productive and honoring to the Lord.
“And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the LORD.”
Samuel not only administered justice and judged the people on his circuit route, but he also continued his judicial labors in his own house. These words indicate that Samuel was a faithful judge and must have been respected and honored in public and private. His building of “an altar unto the Lord” reminds us of the customs of the old patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12:7). Prayer, worship, and sacrifice were valuable to this great man of God and essential to the administering of justice. It is still essential today.
As we look across the land at all the injustice and sin it is very easy to blame others for our current spiritual condition. Samuel was aware of how Eli and his sons had shamed the office of priest and desecrated the house of God. He was aware of how Israel as a nation had over and over again confessed sin, experienced God’s deliverance and then return to their sinful ways. But despite those facts Samuel didn’t blame others. He challenged God’s people to look deep within their own hearts and repent of their sins personally.
Samuel also knew the value of collective repentance. When the time was right he called upon the nation to fast, pray, and repent. When they did God gave them victory over their enemies and provided them wisdom and just leadership to govern the everyday affairs of life.
This lesson should challenge each of us to look within our own hearts and our relationship to God. It’s easy to blame the leadership of our nation or the leaders of our church. God is calling us to Mizpeh. He is calling us to repentance. May this lesson be an “Ebenezer” for each of us today. And then we can look back to 1 Samuel 7 and say, “The Lord helped me!”
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