1 Samuel 7:3
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.
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(3) The strange gods.—The strange gods are in 1Samuel 7:4 described as “Baalim.” This plural form of Baal refers to the numerous images of Baal which existed, as does the plural form Ashtaroth to those of the female goddess Astarte. They were both favourite Phœnician deities, known under the familiar names of Baal, Bil, Bel, and Ashtaroth, Astarte, Istar. They represented the productive power of nature, and were generally worshipped throughout the East, usually with a wild and wanton worship.

Prepare your hearts.—It was, indeed, a desperate venture seemingly, this, to which the prophet summoned unarmed and undisciplined Israel. They were then completely at the mercy of their long victorious foes, who held the chief fortified places in the country with their garrisons; and Samuel challenged Israel to bid defiance to the most cherished institutions of their oppressors, bade them, if they loved the Eternal, to turn aside from reverencing what Philistia held to be sacred and all-powerful. He knew well that what he urged upon the people would at once provoke what appeared to be a dangerous and most unequal contest. If defeated, then Israel would bring upon their devoted heads utter misery, and a ruin hitherto undreamed of even in their unhappy land. Had they courage and faith to plunge unarmed, undisciplined, into so perilous a contest? For twenty years the great patriot-statesman had laboured for this end. He had succeeded at last in opening the eyes of Israel to see the real cause of their misfortunes. He had made them as a nation hunger for the lost presence of the Eternal, who had loved them in past days with so great a love; and now, after twenty long slow years, was his work done at last? They sorrowed indeed for their national sins; but had they faith and courage, all unarmed as they were, to rise against the powerful enemies of purity and God?

1 Samuel 7:3. Samuel spake to all the house of Israel — To all the rulers and people too, as he had occasion in his circuit, described below, mixing exhortations to repentance with his judicial administrations. If ye return unto the Lord — If you do indeed what you profess, if you be resolved to go on in that which you seem to have begun; with all your heart — Sincerely and in good earnest; put away the strange gods — Out of your houses, where some of you keep them; and out of your hearts, where they still have an interest in many of you; and Ashtaroth — Especially Ashtaroth, whom they, together with the neighbouring nations, did more eminently worship. Prepare your hearts — By purging them from all sin, and particularly from all inclinations to other gods.

7:1-4 God will find a resting-place for his ark; if some thrust it from them, the hearts of others shall be inclined to receive it. It is no new thing for God's ark to be in a private house. Christ and his apostles preached from house to house, when they could not have public places. Twenty years passed before the house of Israel cared for the want of the ark. During this time the prophet Samuel laboured to revive true religion. The few words used are very expressive; and this was one of the most effectual revivals of religion which ever took place in Israel.Compare the marginal references. Twenty years of Samuel's life had passed away since the last mention of him 1 Samuel 4:1. Now he appears in the threefold character of prophet, Judge, and the acknowledged leader of the whole people. His words were an answer to a profession of repentance on the part of Israel, the practical proof of which would be the putting away all their false gods. (Compare Judges 6:10 note.)

Will pray for you ... - So Moses prayed for the people at Rephidim Exodus 17:11-12; and for Miriam Numbers 12:13; so Elijah prayed at Carmel 1 Kings 18:36, 1 Kings 18:42; so Ezra prayed at the evening sacrifice Ezra 9:5; so the High Priest prayed for the house of Israel on the Day of Atonement; and so does our Lord Jesus Christ ever live at God's right hand to make intercession for us.

1Sa 7:3-6. The Israelites, through Samuel's Influence, Solemnly Repent at Mizpeh.

3-6. Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel—A great national reformation was effected through the influence of Samuel. Disgusted with their foreign servitude, and panting for the restoration of liberty and independence, they were open to salutary impressions; and convinced of their errors, they renounced idolatry. The re-establishment of the faith of their fathers was inaugurated at a great public meeting, held at Mizpeh in Judah, and hallowed by the observance of impressive religious solemnities. The drawing water, and pouring it out before the Lord, seems to have been a symbolical act by which, in the people's name, Samuel testified their sense of national corruption, their need of that moral purification of which water is the emblem, and their sincere desire to pour out their hearts in repentance before God.

Unto all the house of Israel; to all the rulers and people too, as he had occasion in his circuit, described below, 1 Samuel 7:16, mixing exhortations to repentance with his judicial administrations.

If ye do return unto the Lord; if you do indeed what you profess, if you are resolved to go on in that which you seem to have begun.

With all your heart; sincerely and in good earnest.

Put away the strange gods out of your houses, where some of you keep and worship them; and out of your hearts and affections, where they still have an interest in many of you.

And Ashtaroth; and particularly or especially Ashtaroth, which he mentions as a god, whom they, together with the neighbouring nations, did more eminently worship. See Judges 2:13.

Prepare your hearts, by purging them from all sin, and particularly from all inclinations to other gods. Or, direct your hearts; having alienated your hearts from your idols, turn them to God, and not to other idols or vanities.

And he will deliver you; or, then; upon these conditions you may confidently expect it.

And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel,.... When they assembled at one of their three yearly feasts, or as he went from place to place, exhorting them to repentance and reformation; and perceiving they began to be awakened to a sense of their sins, and seemed desirous of returning to God, and restoring his worship:

saying, if ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts; truly and sincerely; for he might fear there was hypocrisy and dissimulation at least in some of them:

then put away the strange gods; as all but the true God are; or the gods of another people, as the Philistines, Canaanites, &c. Baalim seem chiefly intended, as appears from the following verse:

and Ashtaroth from among you; female deities, such as with other nations went by the name of Juno, Venus, &c. so the Arabic version,"the idols of the women ye secretly worship.''Aquila renders it, "the images of Astarte"; so they call Venus as Procopius Gazaeus observes, from "aster", a star; but the word signifies flocks of sheep, and these deities are supposed by some to be in the form of them; but be they what they may, they were to be put away out of their houses, and out of their hearts:

and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only; that is, direct your hearts to him while in his service; let it proceed from the heart, and let it be done to him only, and not to another with him; or to him in and by another, as may be pretended, and commonly is by idolaters:

and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines; under whose dominion they had been for many years; for though their power over them was weakened by Samson, yet they were not completely delivered by him; so all the time of Eli they were not wholly free from them; and especially since their last defeat by them; when the ark was taken, they had been under oppression by them; now Samuel promises them deliverance from it, in case they relinquish their idols, and served the Lord solely and heartily.

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.
3. the strange gods and Ashtaroth] The strange gods and the Ashtaroth = “the Baalim and the Ashtaroth” of 1 Samuel 7:4. Baalim is the plural of Baal, Ashtaroth of Ashtoreth, and the plural denotes either (a) the numerous images of these deities, or (b) the different forms under which they were worshipped, as Baal-Peor, Baal-Berith, Baal-Zebub.

Baal (= lord) was the supreme male deity of the Phoenician and Canaanite nations, and probably is to be identified with the Babylonian Bel.

Ashtoreth (Gr. Astarte) was the corresponding female deity, worshipped in Babylonia under the name Ishtar as the goddess of battles and victories, in which character she also appears among the Philistines, war-spoils being dedicated to her (ch. 1 Samuel 31:10). Her symbol was the Ashçrah (rendered “grove” in the E. V., Jdg 3:7 and frequently), probably a wooden column or image resembling the sacred tree of the Assyrians, the worship of which is very commonly coupled with that of Baal.

The Baal-worship which began in the wilderness, when the Israelites “joined themselves to Baal-peor” the god of Moab, seems never to have been thoroughly eradicated during the period of the Judges. See Joshua 24:23; Jdg 2:11-13; Jdg 3:7; Jdg 8:33; Jdg 10:6.

prepare your hearts unto the Lord] Set your hearts steadfastly towards Jehovah.

serve him only] For He is a jealous God, who cannot endure a rival. His command is “Thou shalt have none other gods beside Me.”

Verse 3. - If ye do return, etc. At length everything was ripe for a change, and the reformation wrought privately in their hearts was followed by public action. Samuel's secret addresses had no doubt been watched with anger by the Philistines, but he now ventures upon open resistance; for this public summons to Israel to put away its idols by a national act was a summons also to an uprise against foreign domination. We must suppose that the people had often assured Samuel in his wanderings of the reality of their repentance, and of their readiness to stake everything upon the issue of war. As a statesman, he now judges that the time has come, and convenes a national assembly. But everything would depend upon their earnestness. They were virtually unarmed; they would have to deal with an enemy long victorious, and who held the most important posts in their country with garrisons. Terrible suffering would follow upon defeat. Was their faith strong enough, their courage desperate enough, for so fearful a risk? Especially as Samuel is never described to us as a warrior or military hero. He could inspire no confidence as a general. He himself makes everything depend upon theft faith, and all he can promise is, "I will pray for you unto Jehovah" (ver. 5). 1 Samuel 7:3Purification of Israel from idolatry. - Twenty years passed away from that time forward, while the ark remained at Kirjath-jearim, and all Israel mourned after Jehovah. Then Samuel said to them, "If ye turn to the Lord with all your heart, put away the strange gods from the midst of you, and the Astartes, and direct your heart firmly upon the Lord, and serve Him only, that He may save you out of the hand of the Philistines." And the Israelites listened to this appeal. The single clauses of 1 Samuel 7:2 and 1 Samuel 7:3 are connected together by vav consec., and are not to be separated from one another. There is no gap between these verses; but they contain the same closely and logically connected thought,

(Note: There is no force at all in the proofs which Thenius has adduced of a gap between 1 Samuel 7:2 and 1 Samuel 7:3. It by no means follows, that because the Philistines had brought back the ark, their rule over the Israelites had ceased, so as to make the words "he will deliver you," etc., incomprehensible. Moreover, the appearance of Samuel as judge does not presuppose that his assumption of this office must necessarily have been mentioned before. As a general rule, there was no such formal assumption of the office, and this would be least of all the case with Samuel, who had been recognised as an accredited prophet of Jehovah (1 Samuel 3:19.). And lastly, the reference to idols, and to their being put away in consequence of Samuel's appeal, is intelligible enough, without any express account of their falling into idolatry, if we bear in mind, on the one hand, the constant inclination of the people to serve other gods, and if we observe, on the other hand, that Samuel called upon the people to turn to the Lord with all their heart and serve Him alone, which not only does not preclude, but actually implies, the outward continuance of the worship of Jehovah.)

which may be arranged in one period in the following manner: "And it came to pass, when the days multiplied from the time that the ark remained at Kirjath-jearim, and grew to twenty years, and the whole house of Israel mourned after Jehovah, that Samuel said," etc. The verbs ויּרבּוּ, ויּהיוּ, and ויּנּהוּ, are merely continuations of the infinitive שׁבת, and the main sentence is resumed in the words שׁמוּאל ויּאמר. The contents of the verses require that the clauses should be combined in this manner. The statement that twenty years had passed can only be understood on the supposition that some kind of turning-point ensued at the close of that time. The complaining of the people after Jehovah was no such turning-point, but became one simply from the fact that this complaining was followed by some result. This result is described in 1 Samuel 7:3. It consisted in the fact that Samuel exhorted the people to put away the strange gods (1 Samuel 7:3); and that when the people listened to his exhortation (1 Samuel 7:4), he helped them to gain a victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:5.). ינּהוּ, from נהה, to lament or complain (Micah 2:4; Ezekiel 32:18). "The phrase, to lament after God, is taken from human affairs, when one person follows another with earnest solicitations and complaints, until he at length assents. We have an example of this in the Syrophenician woman in Matthew 15." (Seb. Schmidt). The meaning "to assemble together," which is the one adopted by Gesenius, is forced upon the word from the Chaldee אתנהי, and it cannot be shown that the word was ever used in this sense in Hebrew. Samuel's appeal in 1 Samuel 7:3 recalls to mind Joshua 24:14, and Genesis 35:2; but the words, "If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts," assume that the turning of the people to the Lord their God had already inwardly commenced, and indeed, as the participle שׁבים expresses duration, had commenced as a permanent thing, and simply demand that the inward turning of the heart to God should be manifested outwardly as well, by the putting away of all their idols, and should thus be carried out to completion. The "strange gods" (see Genesis 35:2) are described in 1 Samuel 7:4 as "Baalim." On Baalim and Ashtaroth, see at Judges 2:11, Judges 2:13. לב הכין, to direct the heart firmly: see Psalm 78:8; 2 Chronicles 30:19.

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