1 Samuel 7:2-6
And it came to pass, while the ark stayed in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years…
The history of religion in the world is largely a history of a series of declensions and revivals; the former being due to the downward tendency of human nature, the latter to the gracious interposition of God. Of this fact the period of the judges affords an illustration. The revival which took place at its commencement (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 and his presence withdrawn.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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.