THE LAST OF THE JUDGES
I Samuel 7:2 to 17
WHEN the ark of God was taken and the Tabernacle fell into ruins, Samuel was still a boy. He went to his father's house at Ramah, which was in the mountains, about four miles north of Jerusalem. Ramah was the home of Samuel after this as long as he lived.
For some years, while Samuel was growing up, there was no judge in Israel, and no head of the tribes. The Philistines ruled the people and took from them a large part of their harvests, their sheep, and their oxen. Often in their need they thought of the ark of the Lord, standing alone in the house at Kirjath-jearim. And the eyes of all the people turned to the young Samuel growing up at Ramah. For Samuel walked with God, and God spoke to Samuel, as God had spoken to Abraham, and to Moses, and to Joshua.
As soon as Samuel had grown up to be a man, he began to go among the tribes and to give to the people everywhere God's word to them. And this was what Samuel said:
"If you will really come back with all your heart to the Lord God of Israel, put away the false gods, the images of Baal, and of Asherah, and seek the Lord alone and serve him, then God will set you free from the Philistines."
After Samuel's words the people began to throw down the idols and to pray to the God of Israel. And Samuel called the people from all the land to gather in one place, as many as could come. They met at a place called Mizpah, in the mountains of Benjamin, not far from Jerusalem.
There Samuel prayed for the people, and asked God to forgive their sin in turning away from God to idols. They confessed their wrong-doings, and made a solemn promise to serve the Lord, and to serve the Lord only.
The Philistines upon the plain beside the Great Sea heard of this meeting. They feared that the Israelites were about to break away from their rule, and they came up with an army to drive the Israelites away to their homes and keep them under the rule of the Philistines.
When the Israelites saw the Philistines coming against them they were greatly alarmed. The Philistines were men of war, with swords, and shields, and spears, and they were trained in fighting; while the men of Israel had not seen war. It was more than twenty years since their fathers had fought the Philistines and twice had been beaten by them. They had neither weapons nor training, and they felt themselves helpless against their enemies. They looked to Samuel, just as children would look to a father, and they said to him, "Do not cease praying and crying to the Lord for us, that he may save us from the Philistines."
Then Samuel took a lamb and offered it up to the Lord as a burnt-offering for the people, and he prayed mightily that God would help Israel; and God heard his prayer.
Just as the Philistines were rushing upon the helpless men of Israel there came a great storm with rolling thunder and flashing lightning. Such storms do not come often in that land, and this was so heavy that it frightened the Philistines. They threw down their spears and swords in sudden terror and ran away.
The men of Israel picked up these arms and gathered such other weapons as they could find, and they followed the Philistines and killed many of them, and won a great victory over them. By this one stroke the power of the Philistines was broken, and they lost their rule over Israel. And it so happened that the place where Samuel won this great victory was the very place where the Israelites had been beaten twice before, the place where the ark of God had been taken, as we read in the last Story. On the battlefield Samuel set up a great stone to mark the place, and he gave it the name Eben-ezer, which means "The Stone of Help."
"For," said Samuel, "this was the place where the Lord helped us."
After this defeat the Philistines came no more into the land of Israel in the years while Samuel ruled as judge over the tribes. He was the fifteenth of the judges, and the last. He went throughout the land, and people everywhere brought to him their questions and their differences for Samuel to decide, for they knew that he was a good man and would do justly between man and man. From each journey he came back to Ramah. There was his home, and there he built an altar to the Lord.
Samuel lived many years, and ruled the people wisely, so that all trusted in him. He taught the Israelites to worship the Lord God, and to put away the idols, which so many of them had served. While Samuel ruled there was peace in all the tribes, and no enemies came from the lands around to do harm to the Israelites. But the Philistines were still very strong, and held rule over some parts of Israel near their own land, although there was no war. Samuel was not a man of war, like Gideon or Jephthah, but a man of peace, and his rule was quiet, though it was strong.