1 Samuel 7:17
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.
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(17) Raman.—The same Ramah “of the Watchers” where Elkanah and Hannah had dwelt. After the destruction of Shiloh, Samuel seems to have fixed his abode in his father’s city.

And there he built an altar.—Thus following the old custom of the patriarchs. It must be remembered that at this period there was no national sanctuary, no formal seat of worship, where the high priest and his attendant priests and Levites served. The Ark, we know, was in safe keeping in the “city of woods,” Kirjath-jearim, but it was in private custody; and we hear of no priests and Levites, of no ritual or religious observances, in connection with the long sojourn of the holy Ark in that place. It is probable that the sacred vessels and furniture had been saved from the destruction of Shiloh by Samuel. These were, very likely, in the prophet-judge’s safe keeping at Bamah.

1 Samuel 7:17. Built an altar — That, by joining sacrifices with his prayers, he might the better obtain direction and assistance from God upon all emergencies. And this was done by prophetical inspiration, as appears by God’s acceptance of the sacrifices offered upon it. Indeed, Shiloh being now laid waste, and no other place yet appointed for them to bring their offerings to, the law which obliged them to one place was for the present suspended. Therefore, as the patriarchs did, he built an altar where he lived; and that not only for the use of his own family, but for the good of the country, who resorted to it.

7:13-17 In this great revival of true religion, the ark was neither removed to Shiloh, nor placed with the tabernacle any where else. This disregard to the Levitical institutions showed that their typical meaning formed their chief use; and when that was overlooked, they became a lifeless service, not to be compared with repentance, faith, and the love of God and man.And there he built an altar - Whether this altar was in connection with the tabernacle or not we have no means of deciding, since we are in complete ignorance as to where the tabernacle was at this time, or who was High Priest, or where he resided. It is quite possible that Samuel may have removed the tabernacle from Shiloh to some place near to Ramah; and indeed it is in itself improbable that, brought up as he was from infancy in the service of the tabernacle, he should have left it. At the beginning of Solomon's reign we know it was at Gibeon, close to Raimah 1 Kings 3:4; 2 Chronicles 1:3, 2 Chronicles 1:6. If the tabernacle had been at Shiloh at this time, it is likely that Shiloh would have been one of the places at which Samuel judged lsrael. But Shiloh was probably waste, and perhaps unsafe on account of the Philistines. 12. Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen—on an open spot between the town and "the crag" (some well-known rock in the neighborhood). A huge stone pillar was erected as a monument of their victory (Le 26:1). The name—Eben-ezer—is thought to have been written on the face of it. That by joining sacrifices with his prayers he might the better obtain direction and assistance from God upon all emergencies.

Object. It was unlawful to build another altar for sacrifice besides that before the tabernacle, Deu 12:5,13.

Answ. This was in part excused by the confusion of those times, wherein the tabernacle and its altar were destroyed, as is most probable; but most fully, because this was done by prophetical inspiration, and Divine dispensation, as appears by God’s approbation and acceptance of the sacrifices offered upon it.

And his return was to Ramah,.... When he had gone his circuit, he came back to this city, which was his native place, and where his father and mother had dwelt, see 1 Samuel 1:1.

for there was his house; and his father's house before him, and perhaps the same, 1 Samuel 1:19 and there he judged Israel; here was his fixed residence, and here he was always to be met with, except when on his circuit; and hither the people of Israel might come from all parts, to have justice done them between man and man, or receive information in matters of difficulty and importance:

and there he built an altar unto the Lord: to offer his own sacrifices, and the sacrifices of the people, either by himself, or by a priest, when the people came to have justice administered to them; or to desire him to pray for them, teach and instruct them, or to give them advice. Shiloh being destroyed, and no place appointed for the tabernacle and altar, the Jews say, high places for a private altar were lawful, and even for one that was not a priest to offer; these things, though settled by law, yet were for a time dispensed with, until things could be fixed in their proper place and order.

And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an {i} altar unto the LORD.

(i) Which was not contrary to the Law: for as yet a certain place was not appointed.

17. to Ramah] See note on ch. 1 Samuel 1:1. Samuel chose his native place for his usual official residence, and made it a centre of religious worship by building an altar to Jehovah.

Here ends the first division of the book, which records Samuel’s life and work as the last of the Judges, in connexion with the old order of things. The next division opens by relating the steps which led to the establishment of a monarchy, and shews us Samuel as the Mediator between the old and the new régime, effecting a political change of the utmost importance in the history of Israel without the shock of revolution.

It has been conjectured (a) from the fact that this portion of the book ends with a summary account of Samuel’s whole life: (b) from the apparent (but not altogether inexplicable) contradiction between ch. 1 Samuel 7:13-15 and the subsequent narrative, that the compiler derived the history of Samuel and the history of Saul from different sources: but in the obscurity of the whole question of the compilation of the book, it must remain a hypothesis incapable of verification.

Verse 17. - His return was to Ramah. We have seen that Elkanah was a large landholder there, and Samuel had now apparently succeeded to his father's place. And there he built an altar unto Jehovah. This old patriarchal custom (Genesis 12:7) long continued, and it was only gradually that local shrines and worship on high places were superseded by attendance upon the temple services at Jerusalem. At this time there was especial need for such altars. The established worship at Shiloh had been swept away, the town destroyed, the priests put to the sword, and the ark, though restored, was resting in a private dwelling. Probably Samuel had saved the sacred vessels, and much even of the tabernacle, but no mention of them is here made. We see, however, both in the erection of this altar and all through Samuel's life, that the Aaronic priesthood was in abeyance, and that he was not only prophet and judge, but also priest. In thus restoring the priesthood in his own person he was justified not merely by his powers as prophet, but by necessity. Gradually, with more prosperous times, matters returned to their regular channel; but even when Ahiah, the grandson of Eli, was with Saul (1 Samuel 14:3), he was employed not for the offering of sacrifice, but for divining with the Urim and Thummim. On a most important occasion the offering of sacrifice is spoken of as undoubtedly Samuel's right, and when he delayed his coming no mention is made of a priest, but Saul is said to have offered the victim himself (1 Samuel 13:9). It is plain, therefore, that we must not tie down the priesthood too tightly to the house of Aaron; for throughout there lies in the background the idea of a higher priesthood, and with this Samuel was invested, as being a type of him who is a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedek (comp. 1 Samuel 2:35).

1 Samuel 7:17Samuel's judicial labours. - With the calling of the people to Mizpeh, and the victory at Ebenezer that had been obtained through his prayer, Samuel had assumed the government of the whole nation; so that his office as judge dates from his period, although he had laboured as prophet among the people from the death of Eli, and had thereby prepared the way for the conversion of Israel to the Lord. As his prophetic labours were described in general terms in 1 Samuel 3:19-21, so are his labours as judge in the verses before us: viz., in 1 Samuel 3:15 their duration, - "all the days of his life," as his activity during Saul's reign and the anointing of David (1 Samuel 15-16) sufficiently prove; and then in 1 Samuel 3:16, 1 Samuel 3:17 their general character, - "he went round from year to year" (וסבב serves as a more precise definition of והלך, he went and travelled round) to Bethel, i.e., Beitin (see at Joshua 7:2), Gilgal, and Mizpeh (see at. 1 Samuel 3:5), and judged Israel at all these places. Which Gilgal is meant, whether the one situated in the valley of the Jordan (Joshua 4:19), or the Jiljilia on the higher ground to the south-west of Shiloh (see at Joshua 8:35), cannot be determined with perfect certainty. The latter is favoured partly by the order in which the three places visited by Samuel on his circuits occur, since according to this he probably went first of all from Ramah to Bethel, which was to the north-east, then farther north or north-west to Jiljilia, and then turning back went towards the south-east to Mizpeh, and returning thence to Ramah performed a complete circuit; whereas, if the Gilgal in the valley of the Jordan had been the place referred to, we should expect him to go there first of all from Ramah, and then towards the north-east to Bethel, and from that to the south-west to Mizpeh; and partly also by the circumstance that, according to 2 Kings 2:1 and 2 Kings 4:38, there was a school of the prophets at Jiljilia in the time of Elijah and Elisha, the founding of which probably dated as far back as the days of Samuel. If this conjecture were really a well-founded one, it would furnish a strong proof that it was in this place, and not in the Gilgal in the valley of the Jordan, that Samuel judged the people. But as this conjecture cannot be raised into a certainty, the evidence in favour of Jiljilia is not so conclusive as I myself formerly supposed (see also the remarks on 1 Samuel 9:14). כּל־המּקומות את is grammatically considered an accusative, and is in apposition to את־ישׂראל, lit., Israel, viz., all the places named, i.e., Israel which inhabited all these places, and was to be found there. "And this return was to Ramah;" i.e., after finishing the annual circuit he returned to Ramah, where he had his house. There he judged Israel, and also built an altar to conduct the religious affairs of the nation. Up to the death of Eli, Samuel lived and laboured at Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:21). But when the ark was carried away by the Philistines, and consequently the tabernacle at Shiloh lost what was most essential to it as a sanctuary, and ceased at once to be the scene of the gracious presence of God, Samuel went to his native town Ramah, and there built an altar as the place of sacrifice for Jehovah, who had manifested himself to him. The building of the altar at Ramah would naturally be suggested to the prophet by these extraordinary circumstances, even if it had not been expressly commanded by Jehovah.
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