Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE FEELING OF A GREAT MORAL AND SPIRITUAL WANT. ("The house of Israel lamented after the Lord." For twenty years the ark had been withdrawn, and under the yoke of the Philistines the spirit of Israel seemed to be quelled and stupefied. Even Samuel appears to have held himself in reserve till a time should arrive more favourable for the moral suasion and admonition of a prophet. And heathen worship crept over the land. But at last conscience began to stir, the soul of the people was weary, and there rose a wistful, sorrowful cry after the God of their fathers. This surely is always the beginning of a backslider's restoration, he wearies, and is ashamed of his own ways; feels his folly and wickedness, and then sighs after a forfeited blessedness - laments after the Lord.
II. REPENTANCE PREACHED AND PRACTISED. When the time came for the people to hear him with an awakened conscience, Samuel addressed all the tribes with a voice of moral authority that recalls the admonitions of Moses and the last words of Joshua (ver. 3). And the people obeyed his word, showing their repentance in the most thorough and practical way by "putting away Baalim and Ashtaroth." So must every true prophet or preacher of righteousness summon men to repentance, and testify to them that God will not take their part while their hearts are disloyal to him. It is useless to lament after the Lord and still retain false gods. Our God is not mocked, nor can his favour be gained by mere words and empty sighs.
III. A NEW ORDER BEGUN. At Mizpah, after solemn public confession of sin against Jehovah, "Samuel judged the people of Israel." He seized the opportunity to institute a more authoritative and vigorous administration of public affairs. He knew well the need of establishing order and discipline under the sacred law. And the people consented. So when there is sincere repentance a new order begins. The authority of the law of the Lord over conscience and life is acknowledged, and there is evinced a new obedience.
IV. A FIGHT FOR HOLY LIBERTY. The Philistines had no objection to the Israelite worship of Baal and Astarte; but so soon as they heard of their return to the service of Jehovah and of the increased authority of Samuel, they mustered their forces to attack them. And the faith of the penitent tribes was not yet sufficiently established or assured to prevent their being "afraid of the Philistines." They stood their ground, however, and asked Samuel to pray for them to the Lord. So they got the victory. When a backslider returns to God, endeavouring to regain his self-respect, and to resume his place as a well doer, he finds that evil rises up within him and fights hard for the mastery. As Pharaoh would not let the people go and the Philistines would not let them restore religion or regain national independence without a struggle to keep them down, so does sin strive to retain under its yoke the sinner who is escaping through repentance. But let faith appeal to God along with the burnt offering of entire consecration to him. He gives the victory to the weak.
V. GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF HELP FROM GOD. Samuel knew the value to a nation of inspiriting recollections, and therefore set up a stone or pillar to commemorate the great victory. But he was careful to make it a witness not to Israel's . prowess, but to Jehovah's timely help. It was Ebenezer, the stone of help. It said "Te Deum Landamus." The spiritual life has its Ebenezers, - many of them. Nations are ready enough to raise proud pillars and triumphal arches to celebrate their feats in war. Europe has ever so many columns, streets, squares, and boulevards, and bridges named after battles. Let us remember the battles of principle, the fights with temptation through which we have passed. When we have failed, ours is the shame. When we have overcome, to God be the glory. We recommend not remembrance only, but some stone of remembrance. It is a true and wise impulse which has often led Christians to commemorate a great deliverance or consolation vouchsafed to themselves by building a church, an hospital, or an almshouse, or by founding a mission, or some institution of learning or benevolence. Such a stone of remembrance helps him who rears it to resist the tendency to let religious impressions and memories fade from the mind, and it proclaims to others that some men, at all events, have proved God as the Hearer of prayer and the Helper of the needy. - F.
1 Samuel 7:2-6. (MIZPAH.)Judges 2:1-5) is specially worthy of notice; another, and more important, occurring toward its close, is here described. It was -
1. Needed on account of the condition of the people of Israel. The great defeat which they suffered twenty years before (ver. 1; 1 Samuel 4:1; 1 Samuel 6:1) checked their prevailing sin, especially as manifested in sacerdotalism, formalism, superstition, and presumption; but it by no means cured it. Superstitious veneration for sacred objects passed rapidly, as commonly happens, into unbelieving irreverence (1 Samuel 6:19) and spiritual indifference; whilst participation in the false worship and corrupt practices of the heathen continued, and even increased (ver. 4). The law of God was made void. and his presence withdrawn.
2. Effected, under God, by the influence of one man - Samuel. Nothing is expressly said concerning him during these twenty years; but he appears to have retired from Shiloh to Ramah, his native place, and it is not likely that he remained there altogether inactive for so long a time. The statement of 1 Samuel 3:20, 21; 1 Samuel 4:1, must be considered as, to some extent, prospective. The oppression of the Philistines was not such as to interfere with him, nor was his activity of such a kind as to cause them much concern. His holy example and quiet labours doubtless contributed greatly to the keeping alive of true piety in the hearts of a faithful few; and when the time came for more public effort he stood ready - in the full maturity of his powers, above forty years of age - to utter the word of the Lord, and to take the leadership of the nation. "During the long oppression of a stormy time the nation at last gathered more and more unanimously around Samuel, like terrified chickens around the parent hen" (Ewald).
3. Marked by features of a peculiar nature. Every great religious revival that has been recorded in sacred history or has occurred in the Christian Church has had a character of its own, determined by the wants of the age. And this revival was characterised by the restoration of the moral law to commanding influence on the conscience of the people by means of the prophetic ministry. The office of hereditary priest became secondary to that of inspired prophet, and was even absorbed in it for a while; for Samuel, although not a priest, acted constantly as such in offering sacrifice; and the Levitical law lay in abeyance, or was modified in practice under his direction. "As Moses established the theocracy, Samuel restored its fundamental principles to the supreme place in the national life, and thus in a true and noble sense was its second founder." The revival he was the chief instrument in effecting involved a more complete separation from idolatry, laid the basis of higher internal unity, and was followed by prosperity and independence. In the description of it we observe -
I. A GENERAL CONCERN ABOUT THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD. "And all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord" (ver. 2).
1. Occasioned by the experience of the long and bitter effects of transgression.
2. Implying a sense of misery in the absence of God. The idols to which men give their affections cannot satisfy the heart (Hosea 2:7, 8; Hosea 5:15, 6:1). "It is well to feel worn and fatigued with the fruitless search after happiness, that we may welcome our Deliverer" (Pascal).
3. Consisting of an intense longing after his favour and fellowship. The phrase, lamented after the Lord,' is taken from human affairs, when one fellows after another and entreats him with lamentations until he assents. An example of this is the Syrophenician woman" Matthew 15. (S. Schmid). The sorrow thus felt was a "godly sorrow;" a sorrow which comes from God, is felt for God, and tends to God, and which works genuine repentance, effectual deliverance, and lasting satisfaction (2 Corinthians 7:10).
4. Felt by the nation as a whole. "All the house of Israel." And wherever such concern is felt it is a sure sign of God's returning favour. "They inclined after the Lord; they groaned, complained, bemoaned themselves in their following the Lord, as a child followeth his departing parent; they called, cried, and lifted up their voice after the Lord by earnest prayer and supplication. Why?
(1) Because God is infinitely more worthy than all ordinances; his presence is valuable in itself.
(2) God purposely withdraws, that men may lament after him; as when a mother steps out of a child's sight, and when she seems to be gone the child raises a cry after her.
(3) Because sincere lamenting after the Lord may occasion his return" (O. Heywood, 3:419).
II. AN EARNEST ATTENTION TO THE WORD or THE LORD (ver. 3). The word was -
1. Revealed in former days, and included in the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:14). There is not generally so much need of new truth as that the old should be vitalised. How much of dead truth lies in the mind of every man I
2. Spoken with new power; opportunely, faithfully, and with holy zeal, by the prophet who had been commissioned to utter it. The preaching of the word is necessary and important in every genuine revival of religion. That word is a fire, a hammer, and a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).
3. Adapted to the condition of the people.
(1) To test the sincerity of their desires and purposes. "If," etc.
(2) To instruct them in their duty. "Put away the strange gods, etc. Prepare your hearts = "Fix your hearts towards, or in trust in, God" (Hebrews 13:9).
(3) To encourage them to hope for deliverance. "And he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines."
4. listened to in a right spirit; with fresh interest, reverence, self-application, and a determination to put it into practice. When the heart is prepared the truth is invested with new meaning and power; as words written on paper with invisible ink are clearly perceived when held to the fire. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17).
III. A SINCERE RENUNCIATION OF SIN AGAINST THE LORD (ver. 4), which was -
1. A proof of their genuine repentance; "a heart broken for sin, and from sin."
2. Shown with respect to the transgressions to which they were specially addicted - the worship of Baalim (images or modifications of Baal, the principal male divinity of the Phoenician and Canaanitish nations - the sun god) and Ashtaroth (images of their supreme female divinity, "the queen of heaven," the Syrian Venus - Astarte), and the corrupt practices connected therewith (Judges 2:11, 13).
3. Combined with positive acts of obedience and piety. They not only ceased to worship false gods, but also "served the Lord alone" (Matthew 6:24). Sin is most effectually broken off "by righteousness" (Daniel 4:27); an old affection most effectually expelled by a new one. The heart cannot rest without some object of love and trust. And if, "when the unclean spirit is gone out of a man," it be not immediately replaced by a pure spirit, it is sure to return "with seven other spirits more wicked than himself" (Matthew In. 43).
4. Made by men individually and in private; whereby they become prepared to make a national profession, and to receive the Divine blessing. God can bless men only by "turning every one of them from his iniquities" (Acts 3:26).
IV. A PUBLIC CONSECRATION TO THE SERVICE OF THE LORD (vers. 5, 6). At the word of Samuel a national assembly was gathered together at Mizpah for the purpose of openly expressing and confirming the general feeling; and there under the open sky they "yielded themselves to the Lord" (2 Chronicles 30:8) with -
1. Solemn vows of obedience to the law of their God. "They drew water and poured it out before the Lord." "We take this act to have been a sign and symbol, or rather confirmation of an oath - a solemn vow. To pour out water on the ground is in the East an ancient way of taking a solemn oath - the words and promises that had gone forth from their mouth being as water spilt upon the ground that cannot be gathered up again" (Kitto).
2. Sincere humiliation on account of former disobedience. The symbol just mentioned is interpreted by some as denoting the pouring out of their hearts in penitence. They also "fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the Lord."
3. Prayers and supplications for Divine mercy and help. "I will pray for you." "Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us," implying that Samuel had already prayed for them. He gave expression to their desires, and made intercession on their behalf. "So Moses prayed for the people at Rephidim and for Miriam, so Elijah prayed at Carmel, so Ezra prayed at the evening sacrifice, 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" ('Sp. Com.').
4. Devout acknowledgment of the prophet of the Lord as their leader and judge. "And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpah." On that day he commenced his public labours as judge, and a great moral and spiritual reformation was inaugurated. It was a day long remembered (2 Chronicles 35:18: "There was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet"), and such a day as every godly man desires to see in this land (Psalm 85:6; Hosea 14:1-3; Habakkuk 3:2). - D.
1 Samuel 7:6. (MIZPAH.)Matthew 5:23, 24). We are directed to "confess our faults one to another" (James 5:16); and there are cases in which we may derive benefit from confessing our sins against the Lord to a godly man. The passage just referred to, however, affords no ground for "auricular confession" to a priest; nor does the commission given to the apostles (John 20:23), since (in addition to other reasons) it simply conferred authority to declare the ordinances of the kingdom of heaven, and especially the terms or conditions according to which sins are remitted or retained; and the practice of such confession is most injurious. But we ought all to confess our sins to God. Every wrong done to men is a sin against God, and there are multitudes of sins against him that do not directly affect our fellow men. "In many things we all offend." And the word of God often enjoins the confession of all our offences before him, and declares it to be the necessary condition of obtaining forgiveness. Consider -
I. WHAT IT IMPLIES.
1. That we see the essential evil of sin. "Sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). More generally, it is whatever is contrary to the character and will of God. As he is the only perfect Being, and deserves and claims the supreme love of men, so the root of sin consists in the absence of such love, and the departure of the heart from its true rest; and whenever man departs from God he falls into selfishness, vanity, and misery. Sin is aversion to God and devotion to self (see Tulloch, 'Christian Doctrine of Sin'). "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned," etc. (Psalm 51:4).
2. That we are convinced of the just desert of sin. "Howbeit, thou art just in all that is brought upon us," etc. (Nehemiah 9:33).
3. That we are resolved upon an entire renunciation of sin. This determination springs from a real hatred towards it, and is associated with "hunger and thirst after righteousness." Confession is of the nature of a solemn oath of abjuration. "Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).
II. HOW IT SHOULD BE MADE.
1. Under a due impression of the greatness of our sin.
(1) In order to this we must contemplate the holy love of God, his just requirements, his merciful blessings and boundless claims; above all, we must stand before the cross and behold that great sight (Luke 23:48). "There is no better way to obtain the gift of tears for having offended God than meditation on the greatness of God's goodness and of his love which he has shown to man."
(2) We must, in the light that shines upon us, consider the particular transgressions we have committed in thought, word, and deed against God, our neighbour, and ourselves, - sins of omission and commission, - and the sinful disposition revealed by them and pervading our whole life (Luke 18:13). General confessions of sin without personal and particular application are of little worth. "Usually, the more particular we are in the confession of sin, the more comfort we have in the sense of pardon" (M. Henry).
(3) In this manner we shall, by Divine grace, be filled with self-abasement, godly sorrow, and true repentance. "That which makes manifest is light;" and in proportion to the brightness with which the light of truth shines upon us will it manifest our sin (1 John 1:8); just as a sunbeam darting across a room shows us the floating dust that was not seen before (Job 42:5, 6).
3. With a turning of the heart to God in faith and prayer and acts of obedience. "For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee" (Psalm 86:5).
"Repentance is heart's sorrow
III. BY WHOM.
2. Each family. "Every family apart" (Zechariah 12:14).
IV. WHY IT IS NECESSARY.
1. That we may give glory to God. By it we act in accordance with his will, justify him in his dealings with us, and give to him the honour which is his due. "Give glory to God, and make confession unto him" (Joshua 7:19).
2. That we may be prepared to receive pardon, peace, and salvation. Until we open our hearts to God he will not open his heart to us. We must cease to have fellowship with idols in order that we may have fellowship with the holy One, and become the habitation of his Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:16).
3. That we may have confidence in the fulfilment of his promises. This is conditioned by. our fulfilment of his requirements, without which our confidence is vain. "If we confess our sins," etc. (1 John 1:9). "And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). - D.
1 Samuel 7:7-14. (EBENEZER.)
I. THE GATHERING OF THE ENEMY (ver. 7).
1. So long as the yoke of the ungodly is patiently borne they remain quiet, and do not deem it needful to harass the victims of their oppression.
2. The revival of piety and activity seldom fails to call forth the fierce opposition of evil men. The spirit of good and the spirit of evil are contrary the one to the other, and the more intense the former becomes, the more intense also becomes the latter. The "prince of this world" dislikes to be deprived of his captives, and therefore seeks to prevent sinners from coming to the Lord (Luke 9:42), and hinders saints from working for him (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
3. The purpose for which the pious assemble is not always understood by their enemies; their meeting for prayer is sometimes mistaken for an organising of a political or military attack upon them; and their union for any purpose whatever is instinctively felt to bode them no good, and regarded as a sufficient ground for their dispersion. "Now we see here -
(1) How evil sometimes seems to come out of good.
(2) How good is sometimes brought out of that evil. Israel could never be threatened more seasonably than at this time, when they were repenting and praying; nor could the Philistines have acted more impoliticly for themselves than to make war upon Israel at this time, when they were making their peace with God" (Matthew Henry).
II. THE PREPARATION FOR THE CONFLICT (vers. 7, 8, 9).
1. Mistrust of self. "They were afraid of the Philistines." Their experience of defeat and oppression had taught them their own weakness and cured their presumption. The consciousness of human weakness is the condition of receiving Divine strength (2 Corinthians 12:10; Hebrews 11:34).
2. Trust in God. "Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us," etc. (ver. 8). Their need impelled them to look to God, whom they called their God, with reference to his covenant, and from whom they expected deliverance according to the promise previously given to them (ver. 3). "They have found their God again, after whom they had till now sighed and mourned" (Erdmann). Their urgent request of Samuel was an evidence of their reliance on Jehovah and the proper way of seeking his aid, for Samuel was not only a spokesman for God to men, but also a spokesman for men to God, and he proceeded to exercise the priestly function of mediation by offering sacrifice and making intercession.
3. Self-dedication, of which the whole burnt offering was the expression and appointed means, the sign of complete consecration of the whole man, and here of the whole people;" the sucking lamb being a symbol of their new life now freely devoted to God. Samuel acted as priest at Mizpah and elsewhere by Divine commission under peculiar circumstances; the regular priesthood being in abeyance, the ark separated from the tabernacle, Shiloh desolate, and no other place chosen by God "to put his name there;" and as preparatory to the time "when in every place incense shall be offered to my name, and a pure offering" (Malachi 1:11). "A most important part of the prophetic office was to maintain the spiritual character of the Hebrew worship, and to prevent the degeneracy of the people into such ritualism as they had fallen into at the time our Lord appeared" (Kitto). "Let, then, thy oblation be without earthly affection or self-will of any kind. Look neither to earthly nor heavenly blessings, but only to the will and order of God, to which thou shouldst submit and sacrifice thyself wholly as a perpetual burnt offering, and, forgetting all created things, say, 'Behold, my Lord and Creator, each and all of my desires I give into the hand of thy will and thine eternal providence. Do with me as seemeth good to thee in life and death, and after death; as in time, so in eternity'" (Scupoli).
4. Prayer. "And Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel" with a piercing and prolonged cry. And with his prayer their own rose up to heaven. "By prayer (if thou use it well) thou wilt put a sword into the hand of God, that he may fight and conquer for thee." A praying army is irresistible. What victories have been achieved by prayer! "The forty years' domination of the Philistines over Israel (Judges 13:1) could not be overthrown by the supernatural strength of Samson, but was terminated by the prayers of Samuel" (Wordsworth). Samson only began to deliver Israel (Judges 13:5); Samuel completed the work.
III. THE RECEPTION OF HELP (vers. 9, 10).
1. It came in answer to prayer. "And the Lord answered him."
2. It came at the moment of their greatest extremity. "And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel." But man's extremity is God's opportunity (Genesis 22:11-14).
3. It came in an extraordinary manner. "The Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day." It was, as it were, his voice in answer to prayer. The ordinary forces of nature operated in such a manner as to make it plainly appear that they were directed by his hand (1 Samuel 2:10).
IV. THE PURSUIT OF THE FOE (ver. 11).
1. The sense of the presence of God inspires his people with fresh confidence and courage, and without it they can do nothing.
2. The help of God does not render their cooperation unnecessary. It rather calls for the putting forth of their Strength. He gives them strength that it may be employed against the enemy, and in the faithful and zealous use of it he gives them more strength, and crowns their efforts with success.
3. Victory over the enemy should be followed up to the utmost (Judges 8:4). "They smote them until they came to Beth-car." How often from not following up a victory are its advantages lost!
V. THE MEMORIAL OF THE VICTORY (ver. 12).
1. The help which is derived from God should be gratefully ascribed to him.
2. Thanksgiving to God should be expressed in a definite and permanent form.
3. One deliverance is an earnest of another.
4. The memorial of past deliverance should incite to future confidence, and the continued use of the means in connection with which it was achieved. "Hitherto; for all Jehovah's help is only hitherto - from day to day, and from place to place; not unconditionally, not wholly, not once for all, irrespective of our bearing" (Edersheim). More conflicts have to be waged, and it is only in mistrust of self, trust in God, self-dedication, and prayer that they can be waged successfully. "The life of man is nothing else but a continual warfare with temptation. And this is a battle from which, as it ends only with life, there is no escape; and he who fights not in it is of necessity either taken captive or slain. Because of this warfare thou must watch always, and keep a guard upon thy heart, so that it be ever peaceful and quiet" (Scupoli).
VI. THE MAGNITUDE OF THE RESULT (vers. 13, 14). A true revival is always followed by beneficial and lasting effects.
1. The power of the enemy is broken. "The Philistines were subdued, and came no more into the coasts of Israel."
2. A sure defence is afforded against every attempt they may make to regain their dominion. "The hand of the Lord was against them all the days of Samuel."
3. Lost territory is restored (ver. 14). Along the whole line, extending north and south, from Ekron to Gath.
4. Far reaching peace is established. "And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites." "When a man's ways please the Lord he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Proverbs 16:7). The battle of Ebenezer may be considered one of the decisive battles of the world, inasmuch as it introduced a new order of things in Israel. and contributed in an eminent degree to its subsequent prosperity and power. "The revival of religion has ever had a most important bearing on social and moral improvement. The return of man to God restores him to his brother. Restoration to the earnest and hearty performance of religious duties towards God leads to a corresponding reformation in relative and political duties. Those countries in Europe which have had the greatest religious reforms have advanced most in liberty, civilisation, and commerce. They are not trodden by the iron heel of despotism, and they possess the greatest amount of domestic quiet. It was the revival of religion which secured the Protestant succession to England, and many of the liberties which we now enjoy. It was the revival of religion that gave such a martyr roll to the Scottish Covenanters, and led to the revolution settlement of 1688. In Israel every revival of religion was succeeded by national prosperity and political independence" (R. Steel). - D.
1 Samuel 7:12. (Between MIZPAH and SHEN - the tooth or crag.)Genesis 28:8). Other instances, Genesis 31:45; Exodus 17:15; Joshua 4:9, 21, 22; Joshua 24:26. This memorial was set up -
I. ON THE OPPORTUNE RECEPTION OF DIVINE HELP. Looking backward on the past, let us remember -
1. How much that help has been needed by us - in sorrow, labour, conflict, danger, which our own strength was wholly inadequate to meet.
2. How often it has been afforded when we were at the point of despair. But why, it may be asked, should God have allowed us to arrive at such a point?
(1) To teach us the very truth concerning ourselves, and deliver us from a vain confidence in ourselves. "This unfortunate self-reliance forms within us a little favourite sanctuary, which our jealous pride keeps closed against God, whom we receive as our last resource. But when we become really weak and despair of ourselves, the power of God expands itself through all our inner man, even to the most secret recesses, filling us with all the fulness of God" (A. Monod).
(2) To produce in us humility and submission, to excite us to fervent prayer, and to strengthen and perfect our faith.
(3) To afford occasion for a more impressive manifestation of his power and grace.
3. How completely it has been adapted to our need and accomplished our deliverance. Here we are this day, after the trouble and conflict, ourselves monuments of his mercy! "We went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place" (Deuteronomy 8:2; Psalm 66:12; Psalm 77:10; Acts 26:22).
II. IN GRATEFUL RECOGNITION OF DIVINE HELP. Looking upward to heaven, let us reflect -
1. How plainly the Source of our deliverance now appears. "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." "Not with thy sword, nor with thy bow" (Joshua 24:12). His arm alone has brought salvation nigh. We see it now more clearly than we did before, and as we meditate upon it our hearts overflow with thankfulness. We have not always recognised the Source of our mercies, and therefore often omitted to be thankful; but who can fail to see these signal tokens of his power? "Not unto us," etc. (Psalm 115:1).
2. How much we owe to the God of our salvation. Everything.
3. How we can best testify the gratitude of our hearts. "What shall I render unto the Lord?" (Psalm 116:12). Loud songs of praise. Renewed vows of consecration. Earnest written or spoken words for God. Large gifts of what he has given. Fresh acts of piety and beneficence. These shall be the memorial we now set up.
III. AS A PERMANENT RECORD OF DIVINE HELP. Looking forward to the future, let us considered. How helpful the record may be to ourselves in times of conflict and trial. For such times will come; we are liable to forget what has occurred; and it will remind us of him who changes not, and incite us to faith and prayer.
2. How useful it may be to others in similar circumstances. What he has done for us he can do for them, and seeing it they "may take heart again."
3. How conducive it may be to the glory of God. As often as we behold it we shall be stirred to fresh thanksgiving. When we are gone it will still endure. Others will gather around it, and ask the meaning of the "great stone which remaineth unto this day" (1 Samuel 6:18), and, on being told, will give glory to God. So his praise shall be perpetuated from generation to generation, until it merge into the anthem of heaven. Conclusion. -
1. Let us be thankful for the memorials of Divine help which others have left for our benefit. They are among the greatest treasures the earth contains, and meet our view wherever we turn.
2. Let us do something to add to these treasures, and further enrich the earth.
3. Above all, let us seek to be ourselves the everlasting monuments of the Divine power and grace. - D.
1 Samuel 7:15-17. (RAMAH, BETHEL, GILGAL, MIZPAH.)
1. The character he possessed. He was free from the vices into which some of the most distinguished amongst them fell, and surpassed them in the virtues they exhibited. He had higher conceptions of God and his law, held more intimate communion with him, and was altogether of a nobler type of human excellence. His constant aim was to do the will of God; he was upright in heart and life, humble, patient, generous, and full of disinterested zeal and holy energy in seeking the true welfare of men. In these respects he approached as nearly, perhaps, as any of the servants of God under the old covenant the perfection of him who was "without sin."
2. The method he pursued. As he effected the deliverance of Israel not by the sword, but by "the word of God and prayer," so he continued to make use of the same means as the most effective in preserving their liberty and increasing their strength and happiness. His method was moral rather than physical. He taught them "to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God" (Micah 6:8). His policy was one of peace, and he relied on God to restrain the aggression of surrounding nations, and afford protection against their attacks. Nor was his trust misplaced.
3. The work he accomplished. Idolatry, which was rebellion against the Divine King, was banished. The principles of the theocracy were confirmed. Order, justice, and peace were established; and closer unity prevailed among the tribes, based upon their common loyalty to their King. "This was the great achievement and crowning point of his service to Israel and the God of Israel; the scattered and disunited tribes became again a nation. The rival tribes Ephraim and Judah make common cause against the common enemy, and the more distant tribes do not seem to withhold their allegiance" (Milman). The labours of Samuel as judge are here summed up in a few sentences, suggestive of some things wherein he was an instructive example to rulers, statesmen, magistrates, and "all that are in authority." Notice -
I. HIS SUPREME CONCERN FOR RELIGION. Samuel was first a prophet, then a "faithful priest," finally a ruler and judge. "His judicial work not only proceeded from the prophetical, but was constantly guided by it. For we may presume not only that he gave legal decisions with prophetical wisdom, but also that, in general, he conducted the affairs of the people as a man who had the Spirit of the Lord" (Nagelsbach). At the different places to which "he went from year to year in circuit" - Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah - he probably taught the word of God and offered sacrifice, combining his prophetic and priestly with his judicial work. At Ramah he built an altar to the Lord, "testifying thereby the power from which alone be could receive either the authority or wisdom to judge." The position of Samuel was peculiar, and his work unusually comprehensive; but it may be observed of every good civil magistrate that -
1. He is qualified for his office by his possession of reverence for God. "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God" (2 Samuel 23:3). He feels his responsibility to the supreme King and Judge, by whose providence he has been placed in authority, and has constant regard to his will.
2. His personal piety pervades his public activity. The one is not separated from the other, but is its animating spirit, and thereby he seeks to afford in his judgments a reflection of the perfect judgments of God.
3. His highest desire, knowing that "righteousness exalteth a nation," is to see the people all righteous. That end, he is persuaded, cannot be attained by force; but, as a godly man, he ever seeks it by moral means; and, in his public capacity, he endeavours to do something towards it by restraining the violence of the wicked and protecting the good in their labours "unto the kingdom of God."
II. HIS FAITHFUL ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE. In the theocracy the laws were already given, and Samuel's judicial work consisted in arranging for their proper administration, in which he doubtless availed himself of the method formerly appointed (Deuteronomy 16:18-20), reserving to himself the proper interpretation and application of them in more difficult and important cases. For this purpose he went to different centres of the land at stated thnes, and "judged Israel in all those places." He has been not inappropriately called the Hebrew Aristides. Like him, the]faithful magistrate -
1. Strives to bring justice within easy reach of every man.
3. Devotes himself disinterestedly and diligently to the common weal (1 Samuel 12:3). "The Hebrew judges were not only simple in their manners, moderate in their desires, and free from avarice and ambition, but they were noble and magnanimous men, who felt that whatever they did for their country was above all reward, and could not be recompensed; who desired merely to be public benefactors, and chose rather to deserve well of their country than to be enriched by its wealth" (Jahn, 'Hebrews Com.,' sect. 22).
III. HIS WISE PROVISION FOR EDUCATION. During the period of his judgeship Samuel appears to have established one or more "schools of the prophets," in which he taught young men sacred knowledge, and, in connection with it, reading, writing, and music, thus preparing them to give instruction to the people, which the Levites had failed to do (1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20). So a wise statesman, seeing that "for the soul to be without knowledge is not good," and that "the people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," adopts proper means for the education of the young, the diffusion of knowledge, and the advancement of the race (Psalm 78:5-8). "Education is the debt which one generation owes to another" (J.S. Mill). The schools of the prophets "were hearths of spiritual life to Israel. Their aim was not to encourage a contemplative life (like the cloisters), but to arouse the nation to activity. Every prophetic disciple was a missionary" (Hengstenberg).
IV. HIS CONSISTENT CONDUCT AT HOME. "And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he built an altar unto the Lord" (ver. 17). There, also, he continued his judicial labours. The faithful magistrate, whilst he does not allow his public duty to interfere with proper attention to his duty to his own household, seeks to make the latter helpful to the former. He exemplifies in his private life the conduct he openly commends to others, and "walks in his house with a perfect heart" (Psalm 101:2). Though he be not a Nazarite, he is simple, self-denying, and unostentatious in his habits; and though he be not wealthy, he is kind to the poor, hospitable to friends (1 Samuel 9:24), and liberal towards the Lord (1 Chronicles 26:28: "all that Samuel the seer had dedicated"). He recognises the presence and claims of God in his home, sanctifies it by prayer (Job 1:5), endeavours to make it a centre whence holy influences emanate to all, and does all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). "The indispensable basis afforded by the home and its eternal sanctity no superior religion and legislation should seek to destroy, or even to disturb; and, on a comprehensive survey, we cannot fail to recognise that there is no other ancient nation in which, during the days of external power, domestic life remained for a long period so vigorous; and, secondly, during the gradual decline of the external power, became so little weakened and corrupted as was the case with Israel" (Ewald, 'Antiquities').
V. HIS LONG CONTINUANCE IN OFFICE. "And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life" (ver. 15). "Simple words, but what a volume of tried faithfulness is unrolled by them!" He pursued his course till he was "old and gray headed" (1 Samuel 12:2) - nearly twenty years from the victory of Ebenezer. The appointment of a king relieved him of a portion of the burden; but he still continued to exercise his prophetic office, and, "as last judge, he held in his hands the highest control of the theocracy and the kingdom." He devoted his last years to the training of youthful disciples for future service; and when at length he died, "all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah" (1 Samuel 25:1). His protracted labour was an evidence of his public spirit, indomitable energy, and efficient service, and the principal means of raising the nation to its subsequent power and glory. - D.