Samuel leads the people in repentance at Mizpah. God delivers them from the hands of the Philistines, and the memorial “Ebenezer” is set up.
The judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel More has been variously depicted as a priest (2:18-19), as a prophet (3:20), and as a judge (7:2-4). But Samuel’s judgeship is unique. Previous judges had functioned, essentially, as military deliverers. Samuel’s judgeship differs in that he more fully integrates the three aspects of his vocation as prophet, A 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, and judge. This is well-illustrated in the text at hand where Samuel leads the people in a service of confession and repentance at Mizpah. Although the significance of the ritual pouring out of water before the Lord with fasting is obscure, appearing only here, it probably signifies an act of contrition in connection with the people’s confession of their sin (v. 6).
The following verses are clearer. Samuel has replaced the wicked priests Hophni and Phinehas. While Israel had been ineffective against the pervasive Philistine threat under their ministry, now the people have put away their false gods and returned to the Lord under the direction of Samuel, whose prayer and sacrifice results in God’s utter defeat of the enemy (vv. 7-11). Israel’s deliverance is brought about through Samuel’s religious activity, not his leadership as a warrior.
The brief snippet concerning the memorial stone set up as a commemoration of God’s victory over the Philistines in verses 12-14 is significant. Earlier, during their period of apostasy under Phinehas and Hophni, Israel had experienced a crushing defeat at the hand of the Philistines at Ebenezer (4:1) that led to the loss of the ark. Now, the erection of another “Ebenezer” (“stone of [God’s] help”) signifies the reversal in Israel’s situation: apostasy replaced by faithfulness, and defeat replaced by victory.