A Circuit to reconnect the National Spiritual Circuitry. The Acorn becomes a Mighty Tree.
(1 Samuel 7:13–17)
There are ages in the history of nations that are referred to by the names of the people who made the biggest impact during that particular generation. We talk of the Victorian and the Edwardian era. We talk of the Kennedy years, and more recently, of course, the Thatcherite as well as the Blairite days. The Bible at this stage of the account of Samuel’s life takes a step back and gives us a typically skeletal account of the Samuelian epoch. The remarks mean little unless seen in the backdrop of the political state of the area at this period of history.
The Philistines were subdued. Tomes have been written concerning the rise of the Philistine people and their later decline. The period of time surrounding the looting of the Ark of the Covenant from Israel’s possession was probably the moment of their greatest extension into Canaan. From then on it was downhill all the way for the “Sea Peoples,” with only one or two moments of resurgence immediately preceding the rise of King Saul and the temporary disasters of Israel that were as a direct result of the disobedience of that king after Samuel had died. From that time on, the Philistines declined into absorption with the surrounding culture which was a strong and emerging Israeli domination reaching its peak in the days of David and the earlier years of Solomon’s reign. The absorption was such that David had Philistine Gittites (i.e. those from the city of Gath) on his personal bodyguard some sixty or so years after the victory at Ebenezer. Back in Samuel’s day, Israel’s victory at Ebenezer left the Philistines very much under the shadow of Israel, though not quite under their thumb. They were still, however, very much a force to be reckoned with. “They came no more into the coasts of Israel” refers to incursions and taking of territory. They still had, nontheless, fortresses amid the cities of Israel that were standing for another forty or fifty years.
Samuel demanded the cities back that had been previously lost to the Philistines. No one is sure whether it means that battles were fought in order to gain the cities back, or, the more likely option, that Israel’s resurgence of power and might left the Philistine lords with no alternative but to submit to the political pressure placed on them by Samuel to return the cities and the people of Israel within those cities, to Israeli protection and social life. The scripture mentions two of the great Philistine centres of population, saying that all the Israeli cities from one area to the other were returned to the oversight of Samuel’s fatherly eye.
The concept of the covenant and its overriding theme of “the Land” (i.e. Canaan) as being Israel’s divinely given possession was without doubt the only biblical motivating factor of this re annexation. Canaan belonged to Israel (as, indeed, it still does). There was, however, no push to rid the world of the Philistines except when men were face to face in life or death warfare.
Israel had “peace with the Amorites” all the days of Samuel. The significance of this statement is to let us know that not only were the Philistine people of the coastal plain subduedby Israel, but also, the strongest Canaanite tribe of the interior was corralled into submissive peace. The peace of domination and subjugation under Israel’s God, and law was acceptable to Samuel as a, “Plan B,” option to the act of total obedience to the initial demands of Yahweh as they crossed the Jordan. At least this kind of submission brought the heathen nations to Yahweh. Not that we are suggesting that they all threw down their idols and worshipped the God of Israel; by no means. But the rise of Israel as a powerful force in all departments of national life meant that those other races and cultures that were living among the cities of Israel were overcome by the stronger and livelier culture of the reborn nation of the covenant. Syncretism and absorption of spiritual and religious values was as much sin as ever it was. Now, under Samuel, Yahweh ruled and reigned, all other gods were false, demonic and/or idolatrous, and were therefore unacceptable. When those of the Canaanite and Philistine peoples turned to Yahweh, then the purpose of having annihilated the other peoples was circumvented. God did not want the other nations removed for racial reasons, but for the spiritual demonisation in their religions which permeated their culture and society. Their turning to Yahweh changed everything.
The prayer life and dominating character of the prophet Samuel brought all nations into a posture of subjugation around Israel. This all began, observably, from the day of Ebenezer’s victory.
“Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.” The influence and supreme power of Samuel did not end with his life. It impacted after Nebi Samuel (Samuel’s tomb) had been built, We know this overtly because Saul wanted him raised from the dead for the richness of his advice and counsel.
Even Samuel’s prophetic words from beyond the grave came to pass. For a very long period, probably thirty to forty years after the divinely given victory at Ebenezer, Samuel was the Judge, the Prophet, the Priest, and the man with Yahweh’s ear – as well as His mouth. Although the elders later asked for a king, Samuel’s authority never dwindled even after the coronation of Saul. What they wanted was another man with the character and authority of Samuel. Samuel, so they thought, was about to die of old age – so they asked for a king. From a distance Samuel’s authority looked identical to any King’s rule. Samuel would clearly have cringed at that observation being verbalised. It was his total and rank submission to Yahweh that made him the almost “absolute” authority that he had become. Like the Centurion in Luke 7 his faith was built by the clear insight that he was under authority. That sureness of submission to his higher power made him as secure as a centurion in exercising authority and power within the parameters of Israel. Yahweh was and always will be the ultimate King and authority over Israel. Samuel submitted himself to Yahweh as King. The deeper his submission to the Almighty, the greater his authority over the people of Israel. Samuel was just like Joseph in the book of Genesis, i.e. he was second only to the King. Joseph’s king was Pharaoh. Samuel’s king was Yahweh Himself.
Samuel’s character was such that even though his “loose” official role as leader of the nation ceased at the appointment of Saul, and even though he vaguely retired from public office, he promised them that he would not cease to teach them the good and right way (1 Sam. 12:23), neither would he ever cease to pray for the nation. It was the people that were in his heart, not the position that they had given him. Israel’s greatest and most secret weapon during these days was not the strength of their armies, nor the metal swords and shields looted from dead philistine warriors, but a single human being when on his knees, now becoming advanced in years, dialoguing with Eternal Almighty Yahweh. The nation grew as he grew. Israel blossomed in the world as Samuel became more and more rooted in God. Oh how great was Samuel!
Samuel arranged for an annually completed circuit where he would sit as “Judge” over the people. Four centres, namely Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah and his home town Naioth, were places of great religious significance and historical atmosphere – and they were all in the southerly tribal allotments of Benjamin and Ephraim. This has led some to think that the exercise of Samuel’s power was basically among the southern tribes. The situation concerning the “anti-Judah” feeling, and the great North/South divide, has been previously highlighted in these pages and needs no repetition. Even though there may still have been some warlike tension verbally buzzing within the encircling nations, Samuel was still strong and brave enough to travel. But even though he was acknowledged as God’s prophet from Dan to Beersheba, Dan never seems to have had the privilege of the great man’s physical presence.
Whether or not Samuel had any other reason for the choice of these four centres, apart from the fact of their place in Israel’s historical psyche, we will never know. However, without doubt, the preaching, teaching and judging circuit, together with his prophetic activities, consolidated the momentum of spirituality and dynamic faith that was rising across Israel in glorious epidemic like proportions.
The last statement on Samuel’s lifestyle over the next generation or so is concerning his home. Samuel had fixed his abode in what had been his parent’s home city – the place of his birth. Following the old custom of the long gone patriarchs he actually built an altar to worship at his home.
It needs to be remembered that at this time there was no national shrine to worship at, no formal seat of religion, no actual high priest (only Eli’s two young grandsons), and the Ark of the covenant was kept safely in the “city of the woods.” We hear nothing of the Ark while it was in Kiriath Jearim, apart from one time when when Saul wanted to consult it during his reign.
Later on in First Samuel we read that the prophet was at Naioth. There is no contradiction, merely a difference in attitude amongst the seventy translators that worked on the King James Bible, Naioth means “home.” The word is translated as “home” many times in the Old Testament. Why it is not done so with reference to Samuel, I cannot answer. It probably signifies that people came to worship with Samuel and consult his advice through the medium of his prophetic gifting during his lifetime. In Samuel’s day Naioth is always mentioned with the definite article before it, i.e. “The Naioth.” The altar was built on a high place over Ramah. It would be interesting to know if his father, and in particular his mother, were still alive in the real time of 1 Samuel 7, although it is doubtful.
That is all the scripture tells us about his days. That is what the lines of print tell us.
However, what are we told “between the lines”?
There are many conclusions we can arrive at concerning Samuel’s life in Israel by comparing other scriptures, reading non-biblical history, and consulting Archaeology.
For instance, it seems that from 2 Chronicles 35:18, Samuel held a regular Passover. The memory of the first Passover, as explained in the first five books of Moses, was not strictly based around the Tabernacle and its sacrificial altar. They had no altars in Egypt on which to sacrifice to Yahweh, and the Tabernacle was not built until they had been several months out of Egypt. So the Passover could still be accurately remembered and entered into even after the demise or secretion of the holy tent, and the secretion of the Ark of the Covenant. A great gathering of the nation in order to hold the annual celebration of Passover would have cemented the nation together like glue. We have no idea how often Samuel held this national event, but as a strategy for building Israel into a unified nation it was a plan that could not have failed to improve the social dynamics of the twelve tribes.
The mention in second Chronicles was specifically connected to the size of the gathering. The inference is that Samuel made a successful job of gathering the entire nation to an annual Passover all the days of his life. Strategically this was the social initiative par excellence. It highlighted to Israel, and to any would be aggressors in the region that these tribes were one Nation. Interference with one may bring down the wrath of all. It was also psychologically sound in uniting the nation as a single unit. The people were made aware of the covenant plan and purpose of Yahweh for the nation of Israel, and that awareness was sustained for a generation. Samuel’s covenant awareness undoubtedly continued to dominate his theology.
It is plainly suggested that Samuel secured public peace throughout his leadership days. Godliness and prayer are, the bible argues, always the best defence policy for any nation. He secured something in the spirit of the nation that lasted all through his mortal coil, in spite of Saul. That solid faith and robust spirituality added to David and Solomon’s reign for 80 to 90 years further.There were in Samuel’s time two kinds of authority; that which was sustained by force of arms and that which was held by sheer force of character and spirit. Samuel was the ultimate example of the latter. He was such a character that the aroma of his influence would be felt far into the future.
A life time’s work is covered in these few sentences of scripture. Samuel ruled by virtue of what he was in himself, and he himself, was immersed into Yahweh. He was what he was because of early training and his continuous growth in righteousness. The “wild oats theory” is away from Godliness. The assertion that you must be profligate and a prodigal; before you can be a prince among men is a doctrine of demons. Samuel was trained from the day of his birth. “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart form it”.
Samuel’s life was pure. Samuel’s goal was not power. His object was not his own personal wealth. Under Samuel the stream of social justice ran clean and full. It was Samuel’s great business to bring the judgment seat of Israel to a standing and reputation of awe, dread and honour. In any Nation, much depends on the proper administration of justice. It is of the first consequence to maintain it in a state of incorruption. In the days of David, six thousand Levites were officers and judges (1 Chronicles 23:4). This gives credit to Samuel for causing justice and honour to reign so highly in the population’s consciousness. I fancy that in David’s day, and the early days of Solomon’s reign, the elderly would reminisce of the “Golden days of Samuel.” The public burden was light in the days of Samuel, for Samuel taxed nobody, except God and His resources. Not that we know of at any rate.
When a thoroughly trustworthy and dependable human being becomes the perceived assuring face of government and justice, the people are safe. It has to be said, that the Vox Populai was the Vox Diaboli when they later asked for a king. Samuel’s opinion, however, was lost in God’s. He did not run with his own ego’s opinion once he knew God to opine differently.
No retinue or armed guards for Samuel. It seems he was alone when he met Saul; as he was alone when introduced to David. He was accessible. No pomp to swamp his simple life. The secret, whispered, personal prophecy to Saul which was kept under cover at first, was gloriously vindicated publicly by the openly drawn lot.
When the Temple was finally erected, the Levites still ministered in its holy environs and they alone officiated in the sacred courts; the chosen race of Aaron in the family, first of Ithamar, and then reverting to the Aaronic line through Eleazar, with Zadok alone, wore the jewels of the High Priest. But in spiritual matters, as opposed to religious matters, the tribe of Levi never again had power supreme. From the days of Samuel, the prophets, with a totally undefined role were acknowledged as the people with the regular communication and correspondence with the heavenly King of Israel.
The whole subsequent story, as well as the previous account of Dan in particular, and the other tribes, leads us to suggest that the constant ongoing revival during Samuel’s day had least impact in the northern tribes. Dan in particular was a constant stronghold of idolatry. The split of the kingdom, when it came, suggests that the weakness was in the northern response to God. Which came first,the chicken or the egg? Who knows?” Samuel never ventured too far northward, and the northern tribes constantly indulged their inclinations to jealousy in that fact. Samuel’s work was so less marked up north, that when the strong hand of Solomon was removed to his family crypt, the northern tribes deserted their national loyalties completely, claiming that the southern tribes were monopolising the monarch too much.
The faith and its practice, the law, and the devotion of the northern tribes was nearly always soiled with idolatry throughout Israel’s history, right through to the northern dispersion in 722 B.C.
The places mentioned where Samuel judged were all holy sites, and at the different times of the year when Samuel was in session, they were undoubtedly carpeted wall to wall with people. It is probable that all the sacred vessels were stolen with the razing of Shiloh, for Samuel and David collected loot over the next eighty years to contribute to the splendour of the temple that was to be built by Solomon.
Samuel’s life work was joining the dots of the geography of the twelve tribes, and to get them all to use joined up writing in their tribal communications with each other. Samuel was rewiring the house for an easier flow of relationship as one family, not twelve individual tribes. He was transforming Israel from being a bag of marbles into a bag of freshly harvested grapes.
- What a Total Anarchic Mess Before Samuel Arrived! (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- You Cannot be Serious! Samuel who? For what? (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- Preface (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- Samuel: A Study In Character – “The Afterthought” (presbymusings.com)
- The National Water Table of Spirituality. (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- You Can’t Have It Both Ways – 1 Samuel 7:3 (stevesbiblemeditations.com)
- First Prophet? Samuel? (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- All Glory to God! (Part 2) (theteentheme.wordpress.com)
- On 1 Samuel 5-9 (reflectingchristian.wordpress.com)
- Big Problems? Big God! – I Samuel 30:6 (stevesbiblemeditations.com)