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Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 4-5

Samuel’s reputation was growing, and all of Israel “knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD” (1 Samuel 3:20). Judges 3 concluded with the LORD revealing Himself to Samuel in Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:21). As we come to chapter 4, we find the LORD using his young prophet, for we read, “the word of Samuel came to all Israel” (1 Samuel 4:1a).

1 Samuel 4 – Presumption Precedes Disgrace

Israel’s Presumptive Encounter with the Philistines (4:1-2)

A series of tragic events unfolded in this chapter, and some scholars suggest the LORD directed Samuel to send Israel into battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:1). I believe the opposite, for there was no mention of Samuel giving counsel for Israel to go to war nor of the elders of Israel seeking his counsel. Israel appeared to be the aggressor, for the Philistines “put themselves in array against Israel.” Four thousand men were slain on the first day of battle (1 Samuel 4:2).

Israel’s Misplaced Faith: They Placed their Faith in the Ark Rather than the LORD (4:3-9)

Following their defeat, the elders of Israel gathered and asserted that the LORD had set Himself against His people (1 Samuel 4:3). Rather than humble themselves and seek the LORD as the generations before them, the leaders dismissed any thought that their sin and apostasy 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 ensure their victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:3). Despite their reputation in Israel, it was Hophni and Phinehas (1 Samuel 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 ensure their victory (1 Samuel 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 (1 Samuel 4:7-8). Nevertheless, they stirred themselves and prepared for battle (1 Samuel 4:9).

Israel’s Defeat and Humiliation (1 Samuel 4:10-22)

Once again, Israel was sorely defeated, and thirty thousand soldiers were slain (1 Samuel 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” (1 Samuel 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” (1 Samuel 4:12).

Eli, though he was the keeper of the Ark, had not accompanied it to the encampment (1 Samuel 4:13). Waiting “by the wayside,” Eli, now old and blind, heard the cries of the people and asked, “What meaneth the noise of this tumult?” (1 Samuel 4:14-15) The young soldier came to him (1 Samuel 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” (1 Samuel 4:16).

With trembling heart, 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” (1 Samuel 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” (1 Samuel 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” (1 Samuel 4:22).

1 Samuel 5

1 Samuel 5 will be the subject of a future study, and a summary will be good enough for today.

For the victorious Philistines, the Ark of God was a trophy of war to be displayed and mocked in the temple of Dagon, their god (1 Samuel 5:1). The Philistines, however, learned that Dagon was a feeble, lifeless idol in the presence of Israel’s God (1 Samuel 5:3-4). The presence of the Ark in their cities invited God’s judgment (1 Samuel 5:5-12).

Closing thoughts: 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 not forsaken His people. He had raised a prophet to serve Him, and his name was Samuel!

Questions to consider:

1) Who did the elders of Israel blame for their initial defeat? (1 Samuel 4:3)

2) What was the origin of the Philistines’ fear when they heard the Ark of the Covenant was in Israel’s camp? (1 Samuel 4:6-8)

3) What news caused Eli to fall backward and die? (1 Samuel 4:18)

4) Hearing Eli was dead and the Ark was taken, Eli’s daughter-in-law named her son Ichabod. What did his name mean? (1 Samuel 4:21)

5) The Ark symbolized God’s presence in Israel. However, in Philistia, it came to represent God’s judgment (1 Samuel 5:1-10). What did the leaders of the Philistines determine to do with the Ark of God? (1 Samuel 5:11)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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