1 Samuel Chapter 4

Samuel was established as the prophet in Israel. Eli, the high priest serving in Shiloh where the tabernacle had been raised, had been promised some serious results for allowing unholy things to occur in the temple. Among the promises, was that two of his sons would die on the same day, and that his line would no longer serve or give sacrifices in the temple. In effect, they were going to be cut off from the Lord for their wickedness. This chapter begins:

1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.
2 And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.

The word of the Lord went to Israel, from the prophet Samuel. The Philistines came against the people of Israel, and killed about 4,000 men of the Israelite army.

3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us to day before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.
4 So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 And when the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.
6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the Lord was come into the camp.
7 And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore.
8 Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness.
9 Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight.

The Elders of Israel decided that they would bring the ark of the covenant out of the temple in Shiloh, to protect themselves against the Philistines. History had taught them that the ark, representing the presence of the Lord, had brought them protection and power in the past. Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were the ones with the ark when word was received from the Elders. They allowed the ark to be removed to the camp of Israel. When it arrived, the camp of Israel shouted in joy, because they believed they would then be spared through the power of God. The Philistines heard the shout and learned that the ark of the Israelites was in the camp. This brought fear to the Philistines, because they knew what the God of Israel had done for them in the past. The Philistines were determined to fight and prevent themselves from becoming slaves to the Hebrews, as the Hebrews had been slaves to them. So they gathered their courage for the fight.

10 And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen.
11 And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.

The Israelites were defeated and the ark was captured. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli who had departed with the ark of the covenant, were both killed that day.

12 And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head.
13 And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out.
14 And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli.
15 Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.
16 And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son?
17 And 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.
18 And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.

Eli, sat in Shiloh worrying about the ark of the covenant, when a man from the army came in mourning. The man told the people of Shiloh what had happened. When Eli heard that his sons had died in the battle, which the Israelites had lost, and that the ark of God was taken by the Philistines, Eli fell off his seat and died from a broken neck. Eli had been a judge in Israel, for forty years.

19 And his daughter in law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.
20 And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it.
21 And she named the child I-chabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.
22 And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.

Shortly after, the wife of Phinehas who was very pregnant at the time, learned of what had happened to the ark, her husband and her father-in-law, and she went into labor. She died during childbirth before she saw the son she had given birth to. The woman who had helped her named the baby boy I-chabod, meaning “where is the glory?” according to the footnote for verse 21, for it was a time when glory was removed from Israel. The words of the Lord against Eli and his family, had been fulfilled.

I don’t think that the sons of Eli had gone to the Lord to ask if taking the ark was the right thing to do. It does not tell us here, if even the Elders of Israel had sought the Lord’s permission to request this for the army. Whatever the case, the Lord, in his wisdom and foresight, knew that this would happen. It was because the sons of Eli had taken the ark to the fight, that they were both killed in one day by the Philistines. If they had remained with the ark in Shiloh, they would not have been where they would have been killed that day. This action had left Israel without the sacred ark of the covenant, which I am sure was a shock and a great defeat to their nation, both physically and spiritually. I wonder if the Lord had allowed this to happen in part, because the sons of Eli had defiled the temple in Shiloh with their actions. They had made light of all that was sacred there. Moreover, the Lord had established that He would speak with Samuel personally, even while he lied in bed, and Samuel did not need to go directly to the ark to receive instruction and revelation from God.

Wickedness will never bring true happiness. This is one of the eternal truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This story of Eli and his family, can teach us this principle. The sons of Eli had turned from God even though they still were there in the temple where they could have serve Him and felt his spirit. They chose to seek after pleasure and gain, rather than the eternal happiness and treasure that God would have given them. This brought upon them the judgements of God and physical death. God has given man the plan, which if followed will be the source of true happiness. This plan of happiness is basically, that we follow after His Son, Jesus Christ. If we choose to live after the manner of happiness by striving to be righteous like Christ, fleeting pleasures and wickedness will not entice us, or give us the false impression that we can be happy if we seek them. In following Jesus Christ, we can find great strength, power, love, peace, and joy.

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