I Samuel 7:2–17: Samuel Subdues the Philistines at Mizpah
The Israelites now have the Ark back in their possession, resting at Kiriath Jearim. In all, it remains there twenty years, while the Israelites mourn and seek after the LORD. (I’m not sure if they mourn and seek after Him the whole twenty years, or if they just start near the end.) However, even if they are mourning and seeking after Him, it’s not with their whole hearts, because they are still worshipping foreign gods!
So Samuel instructs them to get rid of their foreign gods, if they are really returning to the LORD with all their hearts. And they do; they get rid of the other gods they’ve been worshipping, and worship Him only. So Samuel has them gather at Mizpah, so that he can intercede with the LORD for them. They fast, and confess their sin to God.
When the Philistines hear that the Israelites are gathered at Mizpah, they take the opportunity to attack them. And when the Israelites hear that the Philistines are coming, they become afraid—after all, the Philistines have been subduing the Israelites for a long time. But they ask Samuel to continue crying out to the LORD, that He may rescue them, and Samuel does. He also offers up a lamb as a burnt offering.
The LORD answers. As Samuel is offering up the lamb, the Philistines engage the Israelites in battle, but the LORD thunders with loud thunder (verse 10) against them, and throws them into such a panic that the Israelites route them, and begin slaughtering them, pushing them all the way back to a place called Beth Car (although I don’t know where that is).
Samuel sets up a stone monument, to commemorate the occasion, and names it Ebeneezer (which means “stone of help”), saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us” (verse 12).
The Israelites gain back the territory that the Philistines have taken from them, and verse 14 tells us that they also deliver neighbouring territory from the Philistines, and have peace with the Amorites. (I’m not sure if this means that they helped the Amorites get some territory back from the Philistines.)
For the rest of Samuel’s life, he continues as Israel’s leader/judge. He begins travelling on a circuit through the nation, acting as a judge.
We’ll see the Israelites’ inability to get rid of their foreign gods a lot in the Old Testament. Worshipping false idols is a snare that they just can’t seem to fully escape. Which is why it’s always a pleasant surprise to see them managing to do it, as they do in this passage.
So what is the difference between this battle and the battle in 4:1–11? The difference is that in the previous battle, the Israelites didn’t trust in God, they simply tried to wield the Ark as some kind of magic wand, hoping that the Philistines would fall before it. In this passage, they have realized that they can’t win this battle unless He wins it for them, and they are trusting Him to do it.