1 Samuel 4


‘And Samuel’s word came to all Israel. Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, ‘Why did the LORD bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.’ So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.’ 1 Samuel 4:1-4

The Philistines Capture The Ark

Notice the Philistines decide to gather at Aphek and initiate an attack against Israel, why? Simply because up until this point Israel were pretty much divided and as long as they remained divided, they posed no real threat to them. The Lord used Samuel as Israel’s leader to bring Israel together again as a nation, and now the Philistines were getting concerned.

It’s a sad fact that the Ark of the Covenant became somewhat of a lucky charm for Israel over the years and this is what’s happening here. They were defeated by the Philistines and so they thought getting the Ark was the answer.

They thought that God’s presence was symbolised by the ark, they thought God was confined to a box and so they took it into battle with them against the Philistines. The totally ignored the fact that the Ark of the Covenant was supposed to remain in the tabernacle.

‘When the ark of the LORD’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’ When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp,’ they said. ‘Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!’ So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.’ 1 Samuel 4:5-11

When Israel’s lucky charm, that is the Ark of the Covenant, arrived in camp there was a lot of celebration, in fact, the shouts were so loud, the Philistines believed that the great gods had come to help Israel. They were terrified and felt they had no chance against the Israelite’s gods.

The Philistines believed it was these great gods who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. It’s interesting how God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt over 400 years before but the Philistines knew about it 400 years later. This tells us that all the stories of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea had been passed on from generation to generation, even outside of Israel.

Notice the term the Philistines used to describe Israel, they called them ‘Hebrews’, they always described them as Hebrews in derogatory terms.

Israel was once again defeated by the Philistines and once again, because the Israelites used the Ark of the Covenant as a lucky charm. This tells us that they were defeated because their hearts weren’t right with God.

The Death Of Eli

‘That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry. Eli heard the outcry and asked, ‘What is the meaning of this uproar?’ The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. He told Eli, ‘I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.’ Eli asked, ‘What happened, my son?’ The man who brought the news replied, ‘Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.’ When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.’ 1 Samuel 4:12-18

The Benjamite tearing his clothes with dust on his head was a symbol of sorrow and mourning. He ran from the battle line to Shiloh; Eli was concerned about the Ark of the Covenant and when everyone else found out what happened there was cry to the Lord.

When Eli, who is now ninety-nine years old and was losing his eyesight, got told that the Ark had been captured by the Philistines and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas had died, 1 Samuel 4:11, he was shocked but it appears that he was more shocked that the Ark of the Covenant had been captured. As a result he fell backwards from his seat and broke his neck. This was the end of his forty-year reign as a leader of Israel.

‘His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labour and gave birth, but was overcome by her labour pains. As she was dying, the women attending her said, ‘Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.’ But she did not respond or pay any attention. She named the boy Ichabod, saying, ‘The Glory has departed from Israel’—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, ‘The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.’ 1 Samuel 4:19-22

When Phinehas, that is Eli’s other wife, 1 Samuel 1:2, was heavily pregnant and heard the news concerning the Ark of the Covenant and that her husband Eli and her two sons had died, she herself died whilst she was giving birth.

Before dying she gave birth to a son and named him, ‘Ichabod’, which means ‘no glory’, this was to be a reminder of the tragic events that took place when Israel fell to the Philistines.

Go To 1 Samuel 5


"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."

2 Timothy 3:16