*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.
And all the house of Israel lamented - The occupation of the country about Shiloh by the Philistines 1-Samuel 7:3 was partly the reason for the ark being kept so long at Kirjath-jearim. But another reason seems to have been the fall of the Israelites into idolatry, which made them neglect the ark, and brought upon them this Philistine servitude; probably the last 20 years of the Philistine oppression described in Judges 13:1, which is there expressly connected with Israelite idolatry. Now, probably, through the exhortations of Samuel, coupled with the chastening of the Philistine yoke, the Israelites repented and turned again to the God of their fathers.
It was twenty years - This chapter contains the transactions of at least twenty years, but we know not the date of each event.
And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented (b) after the LORD.
(b) Lamented for their sins, and followed the Lord.
And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long,.... It could not be less than between forty and fifty years, for it remained here until the times of David, who removed it from hence after he was made king over all Israel, and when he had reigned over Judah seven years; and from the death of Eli to that time, which included the government of Samuel and Saul, it could not be less than what has been hinted:
for it was twenty years; not that this was all the time the ark was at Kirjathjearim, but it was so long there before it was much taken notice of, and sought unto, and the Lord by it; there was a great neglect of God, and his worship, which through the means of Samuel began to revive about this time, as it follows:
and all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord; became sensible of their evil doings, and repented of them, and sought the Lord with fasting, and prayer, and tears; bewailed their backslidings and revoltings from him, and cried after a departing God.
the ark abode in Kirjath-jearim . . . twenty years--It appears, in the subsequent history, that a much longer period elapsed before its final removal from Kirjath-jearim (2Sa. 6:1-19; 1-Chronicles 13:1-14). But that length of time had passed when the Israelites began to revive from their sad state of religious decline. The capture of the ark had produced a general indifference either as to its loss or its recovery.
all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord--They were then brought, doubtless by the influence of Samuel's exhortations, to renounce idolatry, and to return to the national worship of the true God.
Purification of Israel from idolatry. - Twenty years passed away from that time forward, while the ark remained at Kirjath-jearim, and all Israel mourned after Jehovah. Then Samuel said to them, "If ye turn to the Lord with all your heart, put away the strange gods from the midst of you, and the Astartes, and direct your heart firmly upon the Lord, and serve Him only, that He may save you out of the hand of the Philistines." And the Israelites listened to this appeal. The single clauses of 1-Samuel 7:2 and 1-Samuel 7:3 are connected together by vav consec., and are not to be separated from one another. There is no gap between these verses; but they contain the same closely and logically connected thought,
(Note: There is no force at all in the proofs which Thenius has adduced of a gap between 1-Samuel 7:2 and 1-Samuel 7:3. It by no means follows, that because the Philistines had brought back the ark, their rule over the Israelites had ceased, so as to make the words "he will deliver you," etc., incomprehensible. Moreover, the appearance of Samuel as judge does not presuppose that his assumption of this office must necessarily have been mentioned before. As a general rule, there was no such formal assumption of the office, and this would be least of all the case with Samuel, who had been recognised as an accredited prophet of Jehovah (1-Samuel 3:19.). And lastly, the reference to idols, and to their being put away in consequence of Samuel's appeal, is intelligible enough, without any express account of their falling into idolatry, if we bear in mind, on the one hand, the constant inclination of the people to serve other gods, and if we observe, on the other hand, that Samuel called upon the people to turn to the Lord with all their heart and serve Him alone, which not only does not preclude, but actually implies, the outward continuance of the worship of Jehovah.)
which may be arranged in one period in the following manner: "And it came to pass, when the days multiplied from the time that the ark remained at Kirjath-jearim, and grew to twenty years, and the whole house of Israel mourned after Jehovah, that Samuel said," etc. The verbs ויּרבּוּ, ויּהיוּ, and ויּנּהוּ, are merely continuations of the infinitive שׁבת, and the main sentence is resumed in the words שׁמוּאל ויּאמר. The contents of the verses require that the clauses should be combined in this manner. The statement that twenty years had passed can only be understood on the supposition that some kind of turning-point ensued at the close of that time. The complaining of the people after Jehovah was no such turning-point, but became one simply from the fact that this complaining was followed by some result. This result is described in 1-Samuel 7:3. It consisted in the fact that Samuel exhorted the people to put away the strange gods (1-Samuel 7:3); and that when the people listened to his exhortation (1-Samuel 7:4), he helped them to gain a victory over the Philistines (1-Samuel 7:5.). ינּהוּ, from נהה, to lament or complain (Micah 2:4; Ezekiel 32:18). "The phrase, to lament after God, is taken from human affairs, when one person follows another with earnest solicitations and complaints, until he at length assents. We have an example of this in the Syrophenician woman in Matt 15." (Seb. Schmidt). The meaning "to assemble together," which is the one adopted by Gesenius, is forced upon the word from the Chaldee אתנהי, and it cannot be shown that the word was ever used in this sense in Hebrew. Samuel's appeal in 1-Samuel 7:3 recalls to mind Joshua 24:14, and Genesis 35:2; but the words, "If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts," assume that the turning of the people to the Lord their God had already inwardly commenced, and indeed, as the participle שׁבים expresses duration, had commenced as a permanent thing, and simply demand that the inward turning of the heart to God should be manifested outwardly as well, by the putting away of all their idols, and should thus be carried out to completion. The "strange gods" (see Genesis 35:2) are described in 1-Samuel 7:4 as "Baalim." On Baalim and Ashtaroth, see at Judges 2:11, Judges 2:13. לב הכין, to direct the heart firmly: see Psalm 78:8; 2-Chronicles 30:19.
Kirjath - jearim - Where it continued, and was not carried to Shiloh its former place, either because that place was destroyed by the Philistines when the ark was taken, or because God would hereby punish the wickedness of the people of Israel, by keeping it in a private place near the Philistines, whether the generality of the people durst not come. Twenty years - He saith not, that this twenty years was all the time of the ark's abode there, for it continued there from Eli's time 'till David's reign, 2-Samuel 6:2, which was forty years: but that it was so long there before the Israelites were sensible of their sin and misery. Lamented - That is, they followed after God with lamentations for his departure, and prayers for his return.
*More commentary available at chapter level.