What does 1 Samuel 7:16 mean?
ESV: And he went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. And he judged Israel in all these places.
NIV: From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places.
NASB: And he used to go annually on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and he judged Israel in all these places.
CSB: Every year he would go on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah and would judge Israel at all these locations.
NLT: Each year he traveled around, setting up his court first at Bethel, then at Gilgal, and then at Mizpah. He judged the people of Israel at each of these places.
KJV: And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.
Much of Samuel's life was spent as "judge" (Judges 2:16–19) over Israel (1 Samuel 7:6, 15). To carry out this role, he traveled an annual circuit that took him from his home in Ramah to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, all within the territory of the tribe of Benjamin.
Bethel, now known as Beitin, is north of Jerusalem. It was one of the most sacred places in Israel's history, dating back to the time of Jacob (Genesis 35:15). The ark of the Lord was kept at Bethel for a time, as well (Judges 20:26–27).
The location of this Gilgal is uncertain, though there was a Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho (Joshua 4:19). Gilgal is mentioned frequently in 1 Samuel, especially in connection with the kingship of Saul (1 Samuel 10:8; 11:15; 13:8–15; 15:17–33). It later became known for cult activity (Amos 4:4; Hosea 9:15).
Mizpah, where the nation gathered to repent from their sin and ended up in a battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:5–11), is now known Tel en-Nasbeh, also north of Jerusalem. All three of these stops on Samuel's circuit were within close distance to each other to the north and east of Jerusalem.
First Samuel 7:15–17 serves as a summary of Samuel's time as a judge. The next passage introduces Israel's transition to leadership under a king. Samuel lived in Ramah, where he provided leadership for Israel and built an altar to God. Samuel also took an annual trip through three Israelite cities, where he also judged.
Twenty years after the ark of the Lord is taken to Kiriath-jearim, Samuel calls for the people to repent. They should discard foreign gods and serve the true Lord. Gathered at Mizpah, the people confess their sin. With the Philistines approaching to attack, Samuel offers a sacrifice and cries out to God. The Lord responds with loud thunder against the Philistines and throws them into confusion. The Israelites strike them down and drive them out of Israelite territory. Samuel serves as judge over Israel for the rest of his life.
First Samuel 7 begins with the arrival of the previously captured ark of the covenant (1 Samuel 4—6) at Kiriath-jearim. There it sits for twenty years. Samuel then calls the people to repent and throw away the foreign gods they have been worshiping. At Mizpah, the nation is gathered to confess their sin and fast. With the Philistines approaching, Samuel offers a sacrifice and cries out to God. The Lord confuses the Philistines, and the Israelites strike them down and force them out of Israelite territory. Unfortunately, after this, Israel will seek to appoint a king so they can be like the other nations in the area (1 Samuel 8).
First Samuel introduces the key figures who led Israel after the era of the judges. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally part of a single text, split in certain translations shortly before the birth of Christ. Some of the Bible’s most famous characters are depicted in this book. These including the prophet Samuel, Israel’s first king, Saul, her greatest king, David, and other famous names such as Goliath and Jonathan. By the end of this book, Saul has fallen; the book of 2 Samuel begins with David’s ascension to the throne.
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