SamuelThe judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel More is presented as a transitional figure between the judges and the kings. Here, he serves as a preacher of repentance calling Israel to forsake the Canaanite gods and return to the Lord.
The reference to “twenty years” is important. It refers to the period of time between the ark’s return from the Philistines and the battle recorded in this chapter and represents the period of oppression in the frequent Deuteronomic sequence of sin–oppression–cry to the Lord–deliverance. The word translated “lamented” in the NRSV is obscure (nahah, only two other occurrences) but probably refers to the people’s “mourning” over the sad condition of the ark no longer housed in a tabernacleThe tabernacle, a word meaning "tent," was a portable worship place for the Hebrew people after they left Egypt. It was said to contain the ark of the covenant. The plans for the tabernacle are dictated by God in Exodus 26. More. As in the book of Judges, this crying out to the Lord results in God’s raising up a deliverer, Samuel, who will lead them in repentance and victory over their enemies. Thus, Samuel, having already been depicted as a priestA priest is a person who has the authority to perform religious rites. In New Testament times priests were responsible for daily offerings and sacrifices in the temple. More (2:18-19) and a prophet (3:20), is now depicted as a judge.
Verse 3 is a veritable treasure trove of Deuteronomistic theology: “returning to the LORD with all your heart” (see also Deuteronomy 30:10; JoshuaThe successor of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan More 22:5; Judges 10:16; 1 Samuel 7:3; 1 Kings 8:23; etc.); “put away the foreign gods” (Joshua 24:23; Judges 10:16; 1 Samuel 7:3); “serve him [the LORD] only” (see also Joshua 24:14-15, 23; Judges 10:6-16; 1 Samuel 7:3).
The people responded to Samuel’s call for repentance by putting away the Baals they had been worshiping and serving the Lord alone (v. 4), thus restoring their proper relationship with God.