Good morning! Today’s passage (1 Samuel 5-7) emphasizes the successful rise of Samuel as a widely-accepted judge over the Hebrews, and their dominance over the Philistines (with much supernatural help) under Samuel’s leadership. Chapters 5-6 focus on the ark of the covenant as a proxy for God’s favor, and then the third chapter underscores Samuel’s role.
Yesterday we saw the ark of God captured by the Philistines, but they are not able to gloat long over possessing the divine power of another culture. First the Philistine god Dagon mysteriously falls on his face before the ark—not once but twice—and breaks into pieces. In each place the ark goes, tumors arise among the people and it causes panic, until a public outcry leads Philistine leaders to plan its return to the Hebrews. They send it back with a guilt offering of gold figures, on a cart pulled behind cows set free to go where they will. When the cows head straight for Hebrew territory, it’s taken as proof that the Philistine calamities were truly from the God of Israel. Cows and cart and golden images are a relatively cheap price to pay for freeing one’s people from cancerous tumors. When the ark of God’s presence does return to Hebrew hands, failure to sufficiently celebrate the occasion leads to death among some of Israelites. So the people of Beth-shemesh send the ark away from them like the Philistines have. (The whole situation starts to sound like nuclear waste and NIMBYism!) These episodes stem from a sense of the utter holiness and raw power in the ark, the closest thing there was to God’s presence. Fortunately, it finds a home at Kiriath-jearim until King David comes for it some twenty years later.
After Eli’s death, Samuel (who already has a broad and righteous reputation) attains full influence as the last and greatest judge of Israel. True to the formula of faithful leaders, he emphasizes worshipping God alone and none of the other foreign gods. Samuel’s “home base” was in Mizpah (right next to his childhood home of Ramah). When the Philistines try to attack there, God responds with thunder that throws the foreign army into confusion and hands the victory to Israel. Divine assistance vindicates Samuel’s leadership, as does success in battle against the Philistines. His influence is recognized throughout the region, and he makes annual visits around Israel as a “circuit rider” judge. One bit of trivia in closing: Samuel raises a stone as testimony of God’s help in succeeding over the Philistines, and calls it “Ebenezer”. It’s from this episode that the hymn writer for “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” created the lyric, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.” Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Samuel 8-11. Thanks for reading!