What does 1 Samuel 7:17 mean?
ESV: Then he would return to Ramah, for his home was there, and there also he judged Israel. And he built there an altar to the LORD.
NIV: But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the LORD.
NASB: Then he would make his return to Ramah, because his house was there, and there he also judged Israel; and there he built an altar to the Lord.
CSB: Then he would return to Ramah because his home was there, he judged Israel there, and he built an altar to the Lord there.
NLT: Then he would return to his home at Ramah, and he would hear cases there, too. And Samuel built an altar to the Lord at Ramah.
KJV: And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the LORD.
Serving as judge over Israel, Samuel would travel an annual circuit to three important locations to carry out his duties: Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:16). Once he had completed the circuit, Samuel would return to his hometown of Ramah, also north of Jerusalem.
The prophet would conduct the Lord's business in Ramah, as well, and eventually built an altar there. It's unknown whether this was a memorial altar to honor the Lord or the replacement for the official altar of sacrifice at Shiloh that had likely been destroyed by the Philistines. Samuel's work at Ramah caused that city to become one of the important religious cities in Israel during this time, as well.
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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