The Expository Files.

 Discussion of First Samuel 7:2 

1 Samuel 7:2

During the theocracy of Israel, that nation enjoyed the best government that has ever existed. God allowed them the most freedom ("Every man did what was right in his own eyes" Judges 17:6) that civilized man has ever enjoyed yet protected them on every hand by raising up small armies of militia (Gideon and 300 Jud 7:7, Ehud and his left handed dagger Jud 3:15) to deliver them from their enemies. The ark rested originally at Shiloh for hundreds of years. Enough permanent structures were erected around the tabernacle that it is toward the end of its sojourn there called a "temple" (I Sam 1:9). It is at Shiloh that we find the subject of our study: Eli, priest of God; his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas; and Samuel, the boy prophet.

Hophni and Phinehas, like some sons of today, were sons of Belial in the home of a godly man. Eli was a man of love and devotion to God but he failed to discipline his sons though their sins were known to him. Because he was both judge and high priest he could have removed the boys from their positions of power as priests in the house of God or even had them executed for their lying with the women of temple (I Sam 2:22). However, like some preachers of today, he did not have the gumption to take a hard line with his sons, but merely chided them for their reprehensible behavior.

God was disgusted with Eli's lack of respect for His sacred things and determined evil against him (I Sam 2:27-36). God told Eli that He was going to break the strength of Eli's house. As a sign that He would carry out His threat, God said Eli's sons would both die in one day. This happened when the two boys took the ark to battle against the Philistines as a good luck charm. Since God had determined evil against them, the battle was lost, Hophni and Phinehas slain, and the ark taken. Upon hearing the disastrous news, Eli fell backward off his seat at the gate by the road in front of the temple, broke his neck, and died.

The boy prophet Samuel then became judge over Israel. He was likely no more than 17 years old when Eli died. God had already established Samuel as a prophet from a very early age (I Sam 3:1 "the boy Samuel" and I Sam 3:20 "And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord"). Samuel then judged Israel all the days of his long life (I Sam 7:15). He likely lived to be over 100 and judged Israel for more than 80 years.

We base the length of Samuel's judgeship on the statement in Acts 13:19 that God gave them judges by the space of 450 years. The length of all the judges is given except for Shamgar (who was probably a contemporary of Ehud), Samuel, and Joshua (who is not formally listed in the chronicle of judges). The age of Joshua is given at his death as 110 (Jud 2:8). He was a peer of Caleb who was 40 when they went to spy out the land. Caleb was 85 after the initial conquest of Canaan was completed (Josh 14:10). If Joshua was 45 when he accompanied Caleb, that would make Joshua about 85 when he began to judge Israel. That means Joshua would have judged Israel about 25 years. Based on 0 years for Shamgar who was likely a contemporary of Ehud and 25 years for Joshua we establish the following table for the length of the judges.

Judges for 450 years Acts 13:19 KJV

Date left Egypt   1556 BC left Egypt (Based on Clarke)
1491 BC (based on Begrich)
Moses 40 yrs (Num 14:33)
Date entered Canaan   1516 BC (Clarke) 480 years from conquest to dedication of temple + 25 yrs for conquest.
or 1466 BC based on J. Begrich's date for Solomon's reign. This later date has better archeological support.
Joshua ~25 yrs (Jud 2:8)
110 at death (Jud 2:8)
~85 entering promised land
(450 years from death of Joshua to death of Samuel--Acts 13:20)
Othniel 40 yrs Jud 3:11
Ehud 80 yrs Jud 3:30
Shamgar Contemporary with Ehud and part of 80 years?
Deborah 40 yrs Jud 5:31
Gideon 40 yrs Jud 8:28 200 yrs since first judge
Abimelech 3 yrs Jud 9:22
Tola 23 yrs Jud 10:2
Jair 22 yrs Jud 10:3 248
Jephthah 6 yrs Jud 12:7
Ibzan 7 yrs Jud 12:9
Elon 10 yrs Jud 12:11
Abdon 8 yrs Jud 12:14 279
Samson 20 yrs Jud 16:31
Eli 40 yrs Jud 4:18 339 1152 BC (1102 BC, Begrich) Eli died at 98, not of old age, but with a broken neck.
Samuel a "boy" (I Sam 3:1) shortly before Eli's death. Became judge a few years after warning Eli (I Sam 3:19). Was prophet as child. Became judge at maybe 17.
Samuel 57 yrs to coronation 396 Samuel 74 ("old" I Sam 8:1,5)
(+25 Joshua + 29 After Saul = 54 --> 450 Samuel judged 86 years [I Sam 7:15])
1066 BC (1016 BC, Begrich)
Samuel died at age of ~103-Near end of reign of Saul
I Sam 28:3-5 Samuel's death recent
Saul 40 yrs 436 1095 BC Clarke/1045 BC (Begrich)
David 40 yrs 476 1055 BC Clarke/1005 BC (Begrich)
Ark returned
Solomon's temple 4 yrs 480 years from conquest to Solomon's temple (I Ki 6:1) 1011 BC (Clarke)
961 BC (Begrich)

Modern scholars place Solomon's temple somewhat later than Clarke. The whole chronology can be shifted forty or fifty years toward Christ without affecting the harmony. That would place Solomon's temple at 961 BC (Solomon began rule in 926 BC, J. Begrich) and the conquest would then be 1441 BC with the entrance into Canaan being 25 years earlier or 1466 BC. Moses would have left Egypt 40 years earlier or 1506 BC. This later date for the conquest harmonizes better with the archeological evidence.

Modern versions render Acts 13:16-20 applying to Abraham, the descent into Egypt, the Exodus, and the Conquest. It is 450 years from call of Abraham to conquest of Canaan by this rendering.

Call of Abraham 2016 (Based on Begrich's date of Solomon)
Exodus 1531
Crossed Jordan 1491
Joshua's Conquest of Canaan 1466 Joshua's died at 110
From call of Abraham to Conquest 450 years (Acts 13:20

Either way Acts 13 is rendered it yields an intelligible chronology for the judges. Modern scholars have favored the NIV rendering because it relieves the pressure on the dates of the judges. Liberal theologians want to place the exodus at about 1250 BC which of course does not allow for 450 years of judges. There is archeological evidence for the early date that allows for the 450 years of judges. While Garstang found scarabs in the graves at Jericho depicting Pharaohs who lived in the 15th century BC, he did not find any from the 14th or 13th century as the late date for the Exodus would suggest. No pottery from these centuries was found either while extensive specimens from the 15th century BC and earlier were discovered.

After the ark was captured, the Philistines took their trophy back to Philistia. It went first to Ashdod and they placed it in the temple of Dagon, their national god. God showed his disdain for dumb idols by causing the image of Dagon to fall down on its face before His ark. The Philistines carefully replaced Dagon and fastened him securely back in his dominant position. The following morning Dagon was again prostrate before the ark of God, and this time God had cut off his hands and his head in a straight line where Dagon had fallen across the threshold of the alcove in which he was fastened. Effects of that incident persisted for centuries in the worship of pagan gods. The worshippers jumped across the threshold because of what happened to Dagon before the ark of God. Today, little school children unwittingly perpetuate the effects of this ancient incident in their "step on a crack and break your mommy's back" chant.

God's displeasure at the Philistine's treatment of His ark soon manifested itself in sore plagues that broke out in Ashdod. Commentators have suggested the plague was black leprosy, boils, and hemorrhoids, but no one really knows for sure. What is known is that it was so severe that people were dying from it. It was so severe that Ashdod decided the ark would be better kept at Gath. Well, Gath didn't fare any better than Ashdod, and Gath soon asked that the ark be removed to Ekron. Ekron soon learned what it was like to hold an inhospitable ark of God and summoned a council to decide what must be done with this plague bearing artifact.

The Philistine priests and diviners soothed that the ark should be returned to Israel on a new cart drawn by two milk cows with calves. A golden trespass offering was included with the ark and the cows were turned loose to see which way they would go. The Philistines separated the calves from the two cows pulling the cart. Now a cow's nature is to seek her calf when they are separated, but these two cows went on a beeline toward Israel, lowing as they went. When they got inside Israel, the cows stopped and waited for the men of Beth-shemesh to discover what God had just delivered. Unfortunately for Beth-shemesh, these Jews forgot their manners and let their curiosity overcome them. They looked into the ark and God smote a bunch of them. I say "bunch" because there is a huge variation in readings at this place. The KJV reads "50,070". The NIV reads "70". More on this in a moment.

Because of the calamity precipitated by their impious handling of the ark, Beth-shemesh besought Kirjath-jearim to come and get the ark. They did so, and I Sam 7:2 says that the ark stayed in Kirjath- jearim for 20 years. This number seems to be to be totally untenable in light of other biblical statements, and I embarked on this study as a result of the incongruity of this date. I could find no other mention of this discrepancy, though I am sure someone somewhere has noticed it. If we accept the 20 years of I Sam 7:2, notice what it does to our carefully constructed chronology presented above.

Eli's age when Samuel born: 18
Not possible-Eli had two grown sons (I Sam 2:22)
Age Eli Became Judge: 58
40 years (I Sam 4:18)
Eli's age when Saul becomes king: 78
Samuel "old" 60?
Eli "very old" I Sam 2:22
Saul contemporary with Eli for 20 years (Acts 13:21)
(Saul ruled 40 yrs)
Age Eli At Death: 98
Ark Taken 20 years (I Sam 7:2) in Kirjath-jearim
Saul slain
David rules and fetches ark (II Sam 6:3)

Since Acts 13:21 says Saul was king for 40 years and David became king after the death of Saul, the earliest that David could have moved the ark from Kirjath-jearim was in his first year. That means if I Sam 7:2 is correct, that Saul began to reign while Eli was still living, and that Samuel was never really a judge at all. However, the Bible says that the ark was at Kirjath-jearim a long time (I Sam 7:2) and that Samuel was old (I Sam 8:1) when he anointed Saul king.

If we allow Samuel to be an "old" 60 when Saul was anointed, it means that Eli was only 18 when Samuel came to live with him in the temple. At that time Eli would have had two grown sons and the Bible says he was "very old" at 18. It cannot be possible.

If we take the 20 years to be correct, we have no period when Samuel alone was judge of Israel as he clearly was for a time. I Sam. 7 recounts some of the activities of Samuel during this period when he was judge. There was the notable battle of Ebenezer when God fought for Israel and sorely discomfited the Philistines. In fact, the rout was so bad that the holy writ says that Philistia was subdued, they came no more in the land of Israel, and there was peace between Israel and the Amorites (I Sam 7:13-14). This positively does not sound like the reign of Saul when he fought the Philistines almost continuously for 40 years.

A further fact that mitigates against the 20 years of I Sam 7:2 is I Chron 13:3. There the inspired writer says of the ark that Israel, "Enquired not at it in the days of Saul". Yet if the 20 years is correct, the ark was in Shiloh for 20 years of his reign where Eli was priest and ministered at the ark continually. Another fact that makes the 20 years of I Sam 7:2 unlikely is in I Sam 14:2. There the writer says, "And Saul abode... in Migron: ... and Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod's brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of Jehovah in Shiloh, wearing the ephod" (I Sam 14:2). This verse says Ichabod's nephew was a grown man serving as a priest during the days of Saul. But Ichabod was born the day of Eli's death (I Sam 4:18-21) when the ark was taken. It is highly unlikely that Ichabod's brother was a grown man with grown children when Ichabod was born.

Notice also another fact. In I Sam 7:2 Eleazar son of Abinadab was consecrated to keep the ark. However, 20 short years later we find it is Uzzah and Ahio who are sons of Abinadab commissioned to care for the ark (II Sam 6:3). More likely they were descendants of Abinadab in a succession of priests who cared for the ark at Kirjath- jearim.

There is a variant reading of the text that has a bearing on the problem of I Sam 7:2. I Sam 14:18 is rendered, "Bring hither the ark of God..." in most versions. However, the ASV notes an alternate reading, "Bring hither the ephod...". That reading makes a lot more sense for two reasons. First, I Chron 13:3 says that Saul did not seek the ark. Second, I Sam 7:2 says the ark was long at Kirjath-jearim, but here a few short years later we find the ark at Gibeah. It was not long at Kirjath-jearim if it soon moved to Gibeah. Furthermore, we find the ark still at Kirjath-jearim a hundred and twenty years later when in II Sam 6:4 David comes to remove it to Jerusalem.

There is a problem with place names here. First, II Sam 6:1 calls Kirjath-jearim by its old Canaanite name, Baale-judah. Kirjath- jearim is called Kirjah-baal or Kirjath-jearim in Josh 15:60. It is also called Baalah in Josh 15:9 and I Chron 13:6. The KJV also mentions Gibeah at Kirjath-jearim. Consulting a good Bible atlas shows that the two cities have separate locations. A possible explanation is that "gibeah" means "hill" and it is so translated in the ASV and NIV. Apparently Abinadab's house was in a hill in a high place in Kirjath-jearim.

The difficulty of the ark being 20 years at Kirjath-jearim seems to have been glossed over by Keil and Delitzsch (K&D). They accommodate the 20 years of I Sam 7:2 by allowing it to be the time that the ark stayed in Kirjath-jearim until the battle of Ebenezer (I Sam 7:12). I can find no reason whatever to take the 20 years to be from Eli until that battle. The ark is not mentioned in connection with that battle nor does I Sam 7 say anything about the ark residing in Kirjath-jearim until a battle. In fact we find it there still in the house of Abinadab over a hundred years later (II Sam 6:3).

How then can this 20 years be explained? Unless one accepts the explanation of K&D, it appears that the number "20" is corrupted. It cannot be correct since it cannot be harmonized with the chronology of that period.

If we look at I Sam 6:19, we can gain some insight into the problems with Hebrew numbers. That passage is variously rendered 50,070 or 70. There are other similar problems with the Hebrew text involving numbers as Hebrew numbers are a source of numerous textual problems in the OT. In the Masoretic text they are written out in long hand and were transmitted faithfully for thousands of years. However, before the rise of the faithful Masorites, there was an earlier period of time when the manuscripts were transmitted by copyists as the need arose and there were people with the interest and money to pay for it. These earliest manuscripts apparently also used an alphabetic method of writing numbers. This earliest method of writing Hebrew numbers is referred to in Unger's Bible Dictionary ("Number", p799). While Unger's Bible Dictionary does not go into any specific detail on the problems with Hebrew numbering it does have one pithy remark which states that because of the alphabetic method of early Hebrew numbering, the numbers were misunderstood by copyists and translators. It is the author's view that the number "20" in the text in I Sam 7:2 was in fact misunderstood and miscopied at some point in its history as it cannot be correct as it stands.

It is the author's firm belief that the scriptures are inspired and inerrant. We must deal with reality, however, and note that there are some problems with the text. I Sam 7:2 appears to be one of them. The other dates in the scriptures combine to provide an accurate and relatively clear picture of this period of the judges. This number, however, is a glaring inconsistency that is not easily reconciled. On the basis of the chronology developed above, it seems a more reasonable reading would be "120".

By James Johnson  
From Expository Files 4.8; August 1997