1 Samuel 7:15-17: Samuel in His Maturity as Judge

Verse 15:[1] And Samuel (1 Sam. 7:6; 12:11; Judg. 2:16) judged Israel all the days of his life.



[And Samuel also was judging Israel all the days of his life] A difficulty: in what manner might this be true, since Saul reigned while Samuel was yet living (Mendoza)? Response 1: Of those forty years in Acts 13:21, Samuel judged thirty-eight years, Saul only two, as it is in 1 Samuel 13:1. [Concerning which see what things are noted there (Montanus and Adrichomius in Mendoza, similarly Mendoza).] To me this response is in no way proven, because it supposes two things, which appear false; 1. that Samuel at no time lived cast done from the principate. 2. That Samuel never coincided with Saul, while the latter was reigning. Both of which are refuted out of what follows (Mendoza). Response 2: That was able to be said in truth, since only in the last two years of his life did he cease from that administration. Now, it is common in Scripture, that, although a little something be taken from a great number, nothing is considered to have been taken away. Thus all are said to have died, when there are a few survivors (Sanchez). Response 3: Samuel, even while Saul was reigning, retained judicial power (Cajetan in Mendoza). This does not satisfy: Then the offense of the Israelites would not have been so great, if they had not rejected Samuel from authority; nor would the patience of Samuel have been so great. The Jews demanded a King in the place of the Judge, and received one, with God’s assent[2] (Mendoza). But, although Saul was King, Samuel yet remained Judge. For he was in a certain manner a king of kings. For he anointed Saul and David; and he rebuked Saul, and ordered Agag to be killed before Saul.[3] Saul held the ordinary magistracy; Samuel, the extraordinary. For, God repeatedly raised up Judges, as dictators, who might restrain other magistrates (Martyr). All the days of his life, even with the reign of Saul included, as it appears below. Hence it happened that in Acts 13:21 forty years are attributed to Samuel and Saul conjointly, just as a common administration is also attributed to them, 1 Samuel 11:7, whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and Samuel (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda). While Samuel lived, he did not altogether lay aside the care of the republic (Osiander, Willet). As long as Saul was honest and obedient, he honored Samuel as an associate in the principate, as it were, and indeed as Prophet, 1 Samuel 11:7. Having become wicked, he released him to live in Ramah, and to resolve the lawsuits of all that had recourse to him (Lapide, Serarius). Response 4: He judged all the days of his life, that is, his life healthy and vigorous, which alone is called life; for, what declines unto old age, filled with distempers, and exhausted, is rather to be called death than life, as Cicero says in “The Dream”[4] (certain interpreters in Mendoza, similarly Sanchez). For this reason Abraham and Sarah are said to be dead, Romans 4:19 (Sanchez). But this response, as argued, is not solid (Mendoza). Response 5: To judge here is put in the place of to teach and to instruct (Carthusianus in Mendoza). The sense: Samuel put all his time to the public advantage of the people, indulged himself in no leisure, and judged everywhere and always (Serarius). Response 6: He judged all the days of his life, that is, unto the reign of Saul (Mendoza, Drusius, Lyra). For this limitation of the preceding government is easily gathered from the narration of the following one. Often in Scripture universal propositions by Synecdoche are limited, and under them some particulars are excepted; as it is evident from Genesis 35:26; 2 Samuel 16:22; 17:14; Jeremiah 44:12 compared with verses 14, 17 (Mendoza).


All the days of his life: For though Saul was king in Samuel’s last days, yet Samuel did not then quite cease to be a judge, being so made by God’s extraordinary call, which Saul could not destroy; and therefore Samuel did sometimes, upon great occasions, though not ordinarily, exercise the office of a judge after the beginning of Saul’s reign; as 1 Samuel 11:7; 15:32, 33. And the years of the rule of Saul and Samuel are joined together, Acts 13:20, 21. Question: How doth the office of a judge agree with Hannah’s vow, whereby she devoted him to a perpetual attendance upon the Lord’s service? Answer: This was not inconsistent with her vow, which consisted of two branches; the one more general, that he should be given or lent to the Lord all his days, 1 Samuel 1:11, 28, which she faithfully executed, leaving him wholly to the service and disposal of the Lord, who thought fit to employ him in this way; and if any thing therein was contrary to that vow, could undoubtedly dispense with it, as being his own right only: the other more particular, that no razor should come upon his head; nor doth it appear that this part was violated; or if it was, it was done by Divine dispensation.


Verse 16:[5] And he went from year to year in circuit (Heb. and he circuited[6]) to Beth-el, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.



[And he was going year by year] As long as he was permitted by age, he never ceased (Sanchez). He was not attending to his own affairs, but the affairs of his people; lest they, burdened with travel to their Judge, might incur expenses and lose time, he alone, with all others at rest, was dashing about. He did not fear the incommodities of the seasons, roads, or lodgings; neither did he spare his own labor, nor the expenses (Mendoza).


[Beth-el and Gilgal, etc.] The places in which he governed by turns were four celebrated cities (Piscator). He designated them in especially opportune places (Sanchez). Gilgal and Mizpeh were situated in the middle of the length in such a way that Mizpeh reached the extremity of the breadth toward the West, and Gilgal toward the East; whereby they appear to have been most convenient for holding assemblies (Piscator out of Junius).


[Beth-el (Pagnine, Montanus, Piscator)] A place well-known (Drusius). I judge that it is the proper name of that city of which mention is everywhere made (Piscator). [Some translate it appellatively:] The house of the strong God (Junius and Tremellius), that is, Kirjath-jearim, the abode of the Ark, where by law the greatest assemblies were held, Exodus 23:17 (Malvenda out of Junius). בֵּית־אֵל sometimes denotes any place where the Ark of God was (Glassius’ “Grammar” 762). This does not satisfy; for it is clear that the names of those cities are recited here: also, if Samuel had here understood the city of Kirjath-jearim, he would have called it by that name: as he did at the end of 1 Samuel 6 (Piscator).


Beth-el; either a place known by that name, or the house of God, to wit, Kirjath-jearim, where the ark was. Gilgal; in the eastern border. Mizpeh; towards the west.


[He judged Israel in the places mentioned above, אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַמְּקוֹמ֖וֹת הָאֵֽלֶּה׃] In (or with [Montanus]) all those places (Munster, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius). And he judged Israel, all these places (Jonathan). And he was judging Israel and all those regions (Syriac).


Judged Israel in all those places; he went to those several places, partly in compliance with the people, whose convenience and benefit he was willing to purchase with his own trouble, making himself an itinerant judge and preacher for their sakes; and partly that by his presence in several parts, he might the better observe and rectify all sorts of miscarriages against God or men.


Verse 17:[7] And (1 Sam. 8:4) his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he (Judg. 21:4) built an altar unto the LORD.



[And he was returning to Ramah] Hebrew: and his return[8] (Vatablus, Mariana, Septuagint). This was his ancestral home (Mendoza). Question: When Hannah had vowed that Samuel would always be before the Lord,[9] how is it that he now departs from the Ark and goes to his province? Responses: 1. All vows have this condition, that they are going to be firm, until they appear otherwise to God; but Samuel was established as a judge by God (Martyr). 2. Therefore, there was a dispensation in Samuel’s case, so that he might rightly discharge his office. And the dispensation was easier, with the Tabernacle now destroyed and scatted at that place in Shiloh; where Samuel’s mother had made her vow: And if the matter of that vow was including precisely that place, the vow was removed with that place destroyed (Mendoza). With Shiloh left desolate, and with no certain place determined for the Ark, necessity freed him from the vow. Just as the Rechabites were dwelling in Jerusalem, Jeremiah 35:11 (Willet). [See the things that are going to be noted there, σὺν Θεῶ, Lord willing.]


[He built there an altar to the Lord[10]] That שָׁם/there some refer to the more remote Kirjath-jearim (thus Junius, Glassius). For which reason they enclose the former part of the verse in parentheses, in this way, (but his return was to Ramah, because his house was there, and in that same place he was judging Israel) and he built there an altar to Jehovah (Junius and Tremellius). Relatives are frequently referred to more remote antecedents, as in Genesis 10:12; 1 Samuel 27:8; 30:14; Psalm 99:7 (Junius, Malvenda, Glassius). But this appears overly forced (Piscator). Others, therefore, refer it to Ramah; there, that is, at Ramah, he built an altar (Piscator, Lapide, Mendoza). Because he was generally abiding there (Tirinus out of Sanchez). Question 1: Whether this was lawful for him? Response: It was lawful. It is apparent among all Interpreters that Samuel did not sin. Nevertheless, it is doubted in what manner it might be excused (Mendoza). 1. [Moved by this argument, Junius thought Beth-el to be Kirjath-jearim:] For what pious man would concede that such a Prophet as Samuel would have built an altar in another place, if he had regard to the history of Joshua 22 (Junius’ Sacred Parallels[11] 3)? 2. Since it is not to be thought that Samuel (of whose labor God willed to make use in the restoration of His worship) violated that divine law, Deuteronomy 12:5, let it not be doubted that the Ark of God and the sanctuary (which evidently often changed their seat) were brought to Ramah (Calvin). 3. It was lawful, because at that time the Ark had no fixed seat (Fagius, similarly Martyr). This explanation does not satisfy: For, 1. Whether or not the Ark had a fixed seat, the rationale of that law was enduring, Deuteronomy 12:13, which was, so that there might not be either suspicion or occasion of idolatry. 2. The Ark had a fixed seat in that place, as we have previously taught (Mendoza). 4. This was done by dispensation of God (Lyra, Mendoza). Many things that perhaps were not lawful for others were permitted to Samuel. For what things are done by the inspiration of God we ought rather to admire than imitate (Martyr). It was lawful for the Prophets to do these things by special revelation of God (Osiander, Willet). Especially, while the Ark was in a private house, and separated from the Tabernacle, there was no certain place established for it (Willet). Question 2: But why did Samuel build the altar? Response: Because regular concourse of the people was made to him; counsels were to be taken concerning wars, laws, and the entire republic. But it was not fitting to do those things without public invocation of the name of God. Now, our prayers depend upon faith; faith is led unto the promises; the promises are sealed to us by external symbols (Martyr).


There he built an altar: That by joining sacrifices with his prayers he might the better obtain direction and assistance from God upon all emergencies. Objection: It was unlawful to build another altar for sacrifice besides that before the tabernacle, Deuteronomy 12:5, 13. Answer: This was in part excused by the confusion of those times, wherein the tabernacle and its altar were destroyed, as is most probable; but most fully, because this was done by prophetical inspiration, and Divine dispensation, as appears by God’s approbation and acceptance of the sacrifices offered upon it.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁפֹּ֤ט שְׁמוּאֵל֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיָּֽיו׃ [2] See 1 Samuel 8. [3] 1 Samuel 15:10-35. [4]De Re Publica 6. [5] Hebrew: וְהָלַ֗ךְ מִדֵּ֤י שָׁנָה֙ בְּשָׁנָ֔ה וְסָבַב֙ בֵּֽית־אֵ֔ל וְהַגִּלְגָּ֖ל וְהַמִּצְפָּ֑ה וְשָׁפַט֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַמְּקוֹמ֖וֹת הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ [6] Hebrew: וְסָבַב. [7] Hebrew: וּתְשֻׁבָת֤וֹ הָרָמָ֙תָה֙ כִּֽי־שָׁ֣ם בֵּית֔וֹ וְשָׁ֖ם שָׁפָ֣ט אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיִּֽבֶן־שָׁ֥ם מִזְבֵּ֖חַ לַֽיהוָֽה׃ [8] Hebrew: וּתְשֻׁבָתוֹ. [9] 1 Samuel 1:11. [10] Hebrew: וַיִּֽבֶן־שָׁ֥ם מִזְבֵּ֖חַ לַֽיהוָֽה׃. [11]Sacrorum Parallelorum Libri Tres.

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