How does the “20 years” reference in 1 Samuel 7:2 harmonize with the fact that the
ark was not brought from Kirjath-jearim
until 2 Samuel 6:4—more than 40 years later?
Even though God’s Word can be substantially communicated from one language to another, the
translation process is sufficiently
complex to the extent that many of the subtleties of the parent language are lost in translation.
These subtleties rarely, if ever,
involve matters that are critical to the central purpose of revelation. However, apparent
discrepancies on minor details can surface
that require a careful re-examination of the actual linguistic data of the parent language (in
this case Hebrew) in order to dissolve
the apparent discrepancy.
The individual clauses of 1 Samuel 7:2-3 are linked in Hebrew by “waw
consecutives” that bring the statements into
close logical and temporal connection. The three verbs of verse two are a continuation of the
infinitive, which points to the main
sentence being resumed in verse three (“and Samuel spoke”). The gist of these
grammatical data is that the writer is
informing us that after the ark’s capture, the people endured Philistine oppression for the
next twenty years. Though all Israel
“lamented after the Lord,” He allowed the Israelites to continue their suffering at the
hands of the Philistines for 20
years—at which time Samuel called upon the nation to put away its idols.
First Samuel describes the final years of the period of the judges. The reliance upon the ark
as a sort of mystical talisman brought
swift military tragedy, precipitating yet another period of foreign oppression by Israel’s
enemies due to their own apostasy. This
period of Philistine preeminence went on for twenty years before the lamentations of God’s
people were finally heard. At the end
of the twenty years, Samuel called on them to couple their lamentations with genuine penitence (1
Samuel 7:3). When they put away their
idolatry (vs. 4), they once again enjoyed the services of the judge (vs. 6), who assisted them in
throwing off Philistine oppression by
military defeat (vss. 10ff.).
Thus the twenty years refers—not to the total number of years that the ark remained in
Kirjath-jearim—but merely to the
number of years the ark was in Kirjath-jearim before the Lord chose to hear the people’s
lamentations and provide them with
intervention through Samuel.
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