We may well wonder where Samuel was and what he was doing all this while, for we have not had him so much as named till now, since 1 Sam. 4:1; not as if he were unconcerned, but his labours among his people are not mentioned till there appears the fruit of them. When he perceived that they began to lament after the Lord he struck while the iron was hot, and two things he endeavoured to do for them, as a faithful servant of God and a faithful friend to the Israel of God:—
I. He endeavoured to separate between them and their idols, for there reformation must begin. He spoke to all the house of Israel (1 Sam. 7:3), going, as it should seem, from place to place, an itinerant preacher (for we find not that they were gathered together till 1 Sam. 7:5), and wherever he came this was his exhortation, “If you do indeed return to the Lord, as you seem inclined to do, by your lamentations for your departure from him and his from you, then know, 1. That you must renounce and abandon your idols, put away the strange gods, for your God will admit no rival; put them away from you, each one from himself, nay, and put them from among you, do what you can, in your places, to rid them out of the country. Put away Baalim, the strange gods, and Ashtaroth, the strange goddesses,” for such also they had. Or Ashtaroth is particularly named because it was the best-beloved idol, and that which they were most wedded to. Note, True repentance strikes at the darling sin, and will with a peculiar zeal and resolution put away that, the sin which most easily besets us. 2. “That you must make a solemn business of returning to God, and do it with a serious consideration and a stedfast resolution, for both are included in preparing the heart, directing, disposing, establishing, the heart unto the Lord. 3. That you must be wholly for God, for him and no other, serve him only, else you do not serve him at all so as to please him. 4. That this is the only way and a sure way to prosperity and deliverance. Take this course, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines; for it was because you forsook him and served other gods that he delivered you into their hands.” This was the purport of Samuel’s preaching, and it had a wonderfully good effect (1 Sam. 7:4): They put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, not only quitted the worship of them, but destroyed their images, demolished their altars, and quite abandoned them. What have we to do any more with idols? Hos. 14:8; Isa. 30:22.
II. He endeavoured to engage them for ever to God and his service. Now that he had them in a good mind he did all he could to keep them in it.
1. He summons all Israel, at least by their elders, as their representatives, to meet him at Mizpeh (1 Sam. 7:5), and there he promises to pray for them. And it was worth while for them to come from the remotest part of the country to join with Samuel in see king God’s favour. Note, Ministers should pray for those to whom they preach, that God by his grace would make the preaching effectual. And, when we come together in religious assemblies, we must remember that it is as much our business there to join in public prayers as it is to hear a sermon. He would pray for them that, by the grace of God, they might be parted from their idols, and that then, by the providence of God, they might be delivered from the Philistines. Ministers would profit their people more if they did but pray more for them.
2. They obey his summons, and not only come to the meeting, but conform to the intentions of it, and appear there very well disposed, 1 Sam. 7:6.
(1.) They drew water and poured it out before the Lord, signifying, [1.] Their humiliation and contrition for sin, owning themselves as water spilt upon the ground, which cannot be gathered up again (2 Sam. 14:14), so mean, so miserable, before God, Ps. 22:14. The Chaldee reads it, They poured out their hearts in repentance before the Lord. They wept rivers of tears, and sorrowed after a godly sort, for it was before the Lord and with an eye to him. [2.] Their earnest prayers and supplications to God for mercy. The soul is, in prayer, poured out before God, Ps. 62:8. [3.] Their universal reformation; they thus expressed their willingness to part with all their sins, and to retain no more of the relish or savour of them than the vessel does of the water that is poured out of it. They were free and full in their confession, and fixed in their resolution to cast away from them all their transgressions. Israel is now baptized from their idols, so Dr. Lightfoot. [4.] Some think it signifies their joy in the hope of God’s mercy, which Samuel had assured them of. This ceremony was used with that signification at the feast of tabernacles, John 7:37, 38, and see Isa. 12:3. Taking it in this sense, it must be read, They drew water after they had fasted. In the close of their humiliation they thus expressed their hope of pardon and reconciliation.
(2.) They fasted, abstained from food, afflicted their souls, so expressing repentance and exciting devotion.
(3.) They made a public confession: We have sinned against the Lord, so giving glory to God and taking shame to themselves. And, if we thus confess our sins, we shall find our God faithful and just to forgive us our sins.
3. Samuel judged them at that time in Mizpeh, that is, he assured them, in God’s name, of the pardon of their sins, upon their repentance, and that God was reconciled to them. It was a judgment of absolution. Or he received informations against those that did not leave their idols, and proceeded against them according to law. Those that would not judge themselves he judged. Or now he settled courts of justice among them, and appointed the terms and circuits which he observed afterwards, 1 Sam. 7:16. Now he set those wheels a-going; and, whereas he began to act as a magistrate, to prevent their relapsing into those sins which now they seemed to have renounced.