Samuel’s reputation was growing in Israel, and all Israel “knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord” (3:20). Judges 3 concluded with the LORD revealing Himself to Samuel in Shiloh (3:21). The LORD began using his young prophet, for “the word of Samuel came to all Israel” (4:1a).
1 Samuel 4 – Presumption, Precedes Disgrace
A series of tragic events unfolds in this chapter, and some writers suggest the LORD directed Samuel to send Israel into battle against the Philistines (4:1). I believe the opposite to be true; for there is no mention of Samuel giving counsel for Israel to go to war, nor of the elders of Israel seeking his counsel.
Israel appears to be the aggressor, and the Philistines “put themselves in array against Israel,” and four thousand men were slain on the first day of battle (4:2). The elders of Israel then gathered, and wondered why the LORD had set Himself against them (4:3). Rather than humble themselves, and seek the LORD as the generations before them, the leaders dismissed any thought that it was their sin, and apostasy that demanded the LORD’s displeasure. Instead, they sent men to “fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh,” believing its presence in the camp would insure their victory over the Philistines (4:3). Despite their reputation in Israel, it was Hophni and Phinehas (2:12-17, 22-25), the sons of Eli, who accompanied the Ark of the LORD to the encampment. Its arrival was greeted with a shout, as though it was an ornament to insure their victory (4:5),
When the Philistines learned the Ark was present in Israel’s camp, they were afraid, for they had heard how the LORD had delivered His people out of Egypt (4:7-8). Nevertheless, they stirred themselves, and prepared for battle (4:9). Israel was sorely defeated, and thirty thousand soldiers were slain (4:10). The battle could not have gone worse, for “the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” (4:11). Israel’s soldiers were scattered, and one young soldier fled the battle, “and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head” (4:12).
Though he was the keeper of the Ark, Eli had not accompanied it to the encampment (4:13). Waiting “by the wayside,” Eli heard the cries of the people, and asked, “What meaneth the noise of this tumult?” (4:14) The young man came to Eli, who was old and blind (4:15), and confessed his cowardice, saying, “I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army” (4:16).
With his heart trembling (4:13), Eli asked “What is there done, my son? 17And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken” (4:16-17). “When he made mention of the ark of God, [Eli] fell from off the seat backward…and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy” (4:18).
Now, Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, “was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard” what had become of the Ark, and the deaths of her husband and Eli, she went into labor, and gave birth to a son whom she named Ichabod, meaning, “The glory is departed from Israel” (4:22).
For the victorious Philistines, the Ark was a trophy of war, to be displayed and mocked in the temple of Dagon, their god (5:1). The Philistines, however, learned that Dagon was a feeble, lifeless idol in the presence of Israel’s God (5:3-4), and the presence of the Ark in their cities invited His judgment (5:5-12).
Israel had gone to war without seeking God’s favor, and the Ark had been taken. All seemed lost in Israel; however, the LORD had raised up a prophet to serve Him, and He was with Samuel!
Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith