1 Samuel 7:6 KJV

6 And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the LORD. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.

After a severe judgement on the men of Beth Shemesh the inhabitants of Kirjath Jearim perform this ritual of pouring out water before he Lord.

This ritual does not seem to have a parallel in the OT.

What could be the significance of this ritual?

  • 1
    The answer to your question might be as simple as recalling that the spiritual act of fasting was often accompanied not only by refraining from eating food but also refraining from drinking. We are told in your text that the people in question "fasted on that day." If fasting is sometimes accompanied by refraining from drinking (see the example of Moses--Exodus 34:28), then I guess you could say there is a precedent for the Kiriath Jearim fast. Don Jul 11, 2018 at 15:38
  • It seems to have been a libation.
    – Lucian
    Jul 20, 2018 at 18:05

4 Answers 4


Great question. In fact the answer still seems to elude biblical commentators and modern scholars alike, as there are no parallels for this ritual in the OT (see though 2 Samuel 23:16. However, there the language clearly connotes libation, ויסך; as opposed to Samuel where the language is pouring, וישפכו which is more ambiguous) or in the ancient literature of the ANE. The IVP Bible Commentary notes that in Mesopotamia water libations were served before the dead and sometimes even to ward off evil spirits but admits that none of these uses make sense in this context. Gill's exposition as well offers a few suggestions but none sound very convincing. He mentions that water libations were done during the second temple period during the feast of the Tabernacles (this ritual was done in order to obtain rain), but dismisses it in this context, since this ritual was done during a festive and joyous occasion not in a mournful period of fasting as is the case with Samuel. Furthermore, there is no evidence that this libation was done in any connection with a drought in which rain was needed. Even if we would compare this ritual to the libation found in 2 Samuel 23:16 and say that here it was done as a form sacrifice to appease god and forgive them, it still wouldn't explain why the Israelites had to resort to such unusual rituals when they could have easily sacrificed an animal as a sin offering before god.

In my opinion, the most likely explanation, judging from the context, is that it was a kind of purification ritual similar to the one mentioned in Deut. 21:6,

Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, 7 and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. 8 Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, Lord, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent person.” Then the bloodshed will be atoned for, 9 and you will have purged from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

Here the sin was ritually washed away and cleansed from the city and its inhabitants which were polluted. The ritual in Samuel too could have served, a similar purpose, as a kind of ritual purification and washing away of their sins from which they repented in Mitzpah. Kimchi adopts a similar interpretation.

However, I am aware that this interpretation poses its own difficulties: first of all, the text doesn't state that they washed their hands only that they poured it out before the Lord. So this ritual clearly only involved water but the act was different than the one in Deut. where there was a literal washing, whereas here the pouring somehow symbolized the washing away of their sins. In any case, this interpretation unfortunately requires some reading in. Secondly, from the bible it is clear that the usual purification and process was done through the sprinkling of blood not the washing of the hands. But again in Deut. we find a similar cleansing ritual, so it is not inconceivable that here too it served a similar purpose.

Until we can come up with a better solution to explain this bizarre ritual, this explanation seems to me the most plausible. Hope this helps.


I could have posted this as a comment to Bach's very well documented answer. However, as it is rather long, I think that if you sum up those 2 answers you can make a more comprehensive one.

First of all, we have to take into account that this event is taking place at Miztpah. Most of the sources I read would emphasize that Mitzpah was already a place where Israel had gathered on a significant and solemn occasions. Also the use of words like "before the Lord" may indicate that this ritual was part of an offering or sacrifice made “to the Lord”. (see J. Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader. Preaching the Word, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2008, p. 129) I think this 2 points indicate the fact that the pouring out of water before the Lord is part of a ritual.

On the other hand, Rashi could be very inspired to think that this action is a metaphorical one, meaning humility before the Lord:

Rashi on I Samuel 7:6:1 ... we are before You like these poured out waters.

Compare this with ...

Lamentations 2:19 Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. (NIV)

Gathering on a significant place, metaphorical and symbolical actions are all together part of any ritual.

So we have this very complex mixture of

  1. sorrow (the Ark was lost for such a long time),

  2. fasting (1 Samuel 7:6 they fasted that day) and

  3. desire to seek God (1 Samuel 7:4 the Israelites removed the Baalim and Ashtaroth and they served the LORD alone)

Now if we match the pouring out of water with nr. 2 above, it is possible that the people were simply denying themselves water to drink, just as they denied themselves food by fasting. (se allso R. L. Omanson & J. Ellington, A handbook on the first book of Samuel. UBS handbook series, United Bible Societies, New York, 2001, p. 154).

The same idea about fasting as abstaining from food and drink, also in Leo the Great, Sermon 39 (Recension a) 1.2.


There are a couple of parallels to this event of pouring water before the Lord:

  1. David poured water to the Lord

    2 Samuel 23:15-17 And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which [is] by the gate! And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that [was] by the gate, and took [it], and brought [it] to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the LORD. And he said, Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this: [is not this] the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men.

  2. Elijah poured water upon the altar before the sacrifice at mount Carmel.

    1 Kings 18:33-35 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid [him] on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour [it] on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do [it] the second time. And they did [it] the second time. And he said, Do [it] the third time. And they did [it] the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.

There is another idea behind pouring water:

2 Samuel 14:14 For we must needs die, and [are] as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect [any] person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him.

Waters once poured on the ground can't be gathered again just like a life lost. So pouring water before the Lord might be a symbol to ask God to forgive and forget our iniquities and not to remember them anymore. This makes sense in the light of the fact that God said "..for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me.." It also serves to remind us that we are dust and our life span is so limited.

Ps 103:14 For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we [are] dust.

Ps 90:12 So teach [us] to number our days, that we may apply [our] hearts unto wisdom.


This is just as significant a libation as done in Africa particularly among the Ewe people of Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. The water offering (pouring) or libation serves the purposes of Thanksgiving, Requesting, Pacification and Adoration. The purpose in this context rests on thanking God for taking them through the fasting as well as adoring His greatness.

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  • Hi @EMMANUEL DOGBEY welcome to the site! Could you offer a source where readers could go to learn more about the present-day libations you mentioned? Or how they are tied to that done in 1 Samuel? Citing sources is important on Stack Exchange and can help your post get upvoted. Thanks! Apr 5, 2021 at 21:57

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