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The Battle of Mizpah
Chapter 7 records, as noted earlier, that men of Kiriath-jearim took the Ark of God. Later, they placed it in a wooded area near their homes and twenty years passed. During those twenty years, from 1075 to 1055 B.C., Samuel had been active, revitalizing the people, renewing the national zeal, and preparing them spiritually and militarily to go out against the Philistines once again. Verse 4 records that they removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and began to serve God alone and Samuel summoned the people to Mizpah, some seven miles north of Jerusalem, and prayed for them and offered a sacrifice of a sucking lamb on their behalf (v5-9). In verse 6 we read he "drew water, and poured it out" - Adam Clarke12 comments: "It is not easy to know what is meant by this; it is true that pouring out water, in the way of libation, was a religious ordinance among the Hebrews, (Isaiah 12:3,) and among most other nations, particularly the Greeks and Romans, who used, not only water, but wine, milk, honey, and blood, as we find by Homer, Virgil, Euripides, Sophocles, Porphyry, and Lucian. Our Lord seems to allude to this ceremony, John 7:37, 38 (cf. Isaiah 44:3; 55:1; 58:11). The Chaldee Paraphrast understands the place differently, for he translates: "And they poured out their hearts in penitence, as waters, before the Lord." That deep penitential sorrow was represented under the notion of pouring out water, we have a direct proof in the case of David, who says, Psalm 22:14, ʼI am poured out like water, my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. . . ʼ"
Matthew Henry comments: "1. He made intercession with a sacrifice. Christ intercedes in the virtue of his satisfaction, and in all our prayers we must have an eye to his great oblation, depending upon that for audience and acceptance. Samuel's sacrifice without his prayer would have been an empty shadow, his prayer without the sacrifice would not have been so prevalent, but both together teach us what great things we may expect from God in answer to those prayers which are made with faith in Christ's sacrifice. 2. It was a burnt-offering, which was offered purely for the glory of God, so intimating that the great plea he relied on in his prayer was taken from the honour of God. "Lord, help thy people now for thy name's sake.'' When we endeavour to give glory to God we may hope he will, in answer to our prayers, work for his own glory. 3. It was but one sucking lamb that he offered; for it is the integrity and intention of the heart that God looks at, more than the bulk or number of the offerings. This one lamb (typifying the Lamb of God) was more acceptable than thousands of rams or bullocks would have been without faith and prayer." 13
As a result of their turning back to God in prayer, fasting and deep repentance, led by Samuel, a genuine "man of God", He delivered them with a great victory over the Philistines at the Battle of Mizpah which brought to an end the occupation that began concurrently with the announcement of the birth of Samson. The Philistines attacked when they learned of the assembly of Israel but were once again destroyed by a mighty display by the God of Israel who "thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel" (v10) Adam Clarke12 comments: "Literally, The Lord thundered with a great voice - he confounded them with a mighty tempest of thunder and lightning, and no doubt slew many by the lightning."
Perhaps a more signal victory was never gained by Israel, for the Lord had brought them low, almost to extermination, and now (verse 13) we read of the Philistines: "They came no more into the coast of Israel". By His miraculous interference, He lifted them up completely and humbled to the dust their proud oppressors. God once again demonstrates that He will so often suffer nations and individuals to be brought to the lowest extremity, that he may show His mercy and goodness by suddenly rescuing them from destruction, when all human help has most evidently failed. As a further consequence we read (v14) that "There was peace between Israel and the Amorites" That is, all the remaining Canaanites kept quiet, and did not attempt to molest the Israelites, when they found the Philistines, the most powerful of the ancient inhabitants of the land, broken and subdued before them.
More than twenty years after this battle (ref. 1 Samuel 7:12) a monument called "haeben haezer" (from which we derive the name of many a fine place of worship - "Eben-ezer"), the "Stone of Help," was erected by Samuel in the place where the Lord had given the Israelites a welcome victory over the Philistines. It was situated in the tribe of Judah, between Mizpeh and Shen, and not far from the Aphek here mentioned. Samuel (v15-17) seems to have effected a national revival and re-educated the people in the laws of the Lord almost single-handedly. He played the part of judge, priest, Levite, and ruler, as well as prophet and travelled the circuit from Ramah, his home, to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpeh. The altar at Ramah, although it was in violation of the technical points of the law (Deut 12:5, 13), was permitted because of the need for revival and unification of the nation and is considered by many commentators to be better than having no sacrifices at all!14 Many leaders today see the deplorable modifications to God's way made by those called to be priests, kings, elders and bishops, particularly in the Old Testament, as licence to carry on in the same way today. Hence we see "ecumenical" meetings with pagans and heretical "Christian" groups abounding in our day. God knows that we are, by nature, liable to repeat the errors of the past until He returns in power and glory!
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