1 Samuel 4
The predictions in the foregoing chapters concerning the ruin of Eli's
house here begin to be fulfilled; how long after does not appear, but
certainly not long. Such sinners God often makes quick work with. Here
I. The disgrace and loss Israel sustained in an encounter with the
1 Samuel 4:1,2.
II. Their foolish project to fortify themselves by bringing the ark of
God into their camp upon the shoulders of Hophni and Phinehas
(1 Samuel 4:3,4),
which made them secure
(1 Samuel 4:5)
and struck a fear into the Philistines, but such a fear as roused them,
1 Samuel 4:6-9.
III. The fatal consequences of it: Israel was beaten, and the ark taken
1 Samuel 4:10,11.
IV. The tidings of this brought to Shiloh, and the sad reception of
1. The city was put into confusion,
1 Samuel 4:12,13.
2. Eli fainted away, fell, and broke his neck,
1 Samuel 4:14-18.
3. Upon hearing what had occurred his daughter-in-law fell in labour,
bore a son, but died immediately,
1 Samuel 4:19-22.
These were the things which would make the ears of those that heard
them to tingle.
|The War with the Philistines.
||B. C. 1120.|
1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went
out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside
Ebenezer: 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
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
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 first words of this paragraph, which relate to Samuel, that his
word came to all Israel, seem not to have any reference to the
following story, as if it was by any direction of his that the
Israelites went out against the Philistines. Had they consulted him,
though but newly initiated as a prophet, his counsel might have stood
them in more stead than the presence of the ark did; but perhaps the
princes of Israel despised his youth, and would not have recourse to
him as an oracle, and he did not as yet interpose in public affairs;
nor do we find any mention of his name henceforward till some years
(1 Samuel 7:3),
only his word came to all Israel, that is, people from all parts
that were piously disposed had recourse to him as a prophet and
consulted him. Perhaps it is meant of his prophecy against the house of
Eli. This was generally known and talked of, and all that were serious
and observing compared the events here related, when they came to pass,
with the prophecy, and saw it accomplished in them. Here is,
I. A war entered into with the Philistines,
1 Samuel 4:1.
It was an attempt to throw off the yoke of their oppression, and would
have succeeded better if they had first repented and reformed, and so
begun their work at the right end. It is computed that this was about
the middle of the forty years' dominion that the Philistines had over
and soon after the death of Samson; so bishop Patrick, who thinks the
slaughter he made at his death might encourage this attempt; but Dr.
Lightfoot reckons it forty years after Samson's death, for so long Eli
1 Samuel 4:18.
II. The defeat of Israel in that war,
1 Samuel 4:2.
Israel, who were the aggressors, were smitten, and had 4000 men killed
upon the spot. God had promised that one of them should chase a
thousand; but now, on the contrary, Israel is smitten before the
Philistines. Sin, the accursed thing, was in the camp, and gave
their enemies all the advantage against them they could wish for.
III. The measures they concerted for another engagement. A council of
war was called, and, instead of resolving to fast and pray and amend
their lives, so ill taught were they (and no wonder when they had such
1. They quarrelled with God for appearing against them
(1 Samuel 4:3):
Wherefore has the Lord smitten us? If they meant this as an
enquiry into the cause of God's displeasure, they needed not go far to
find that out. It was plain enough; Israel had sinned, though they were
not willing to see it and own it. But it rather seems that they
expostulate boldly with God about it, are displeased at what God has
done, and dispute the matter with him. They own the hand of God in
their trouble (so far was right): "It is the Lord that has smitten us;"
but, instead of submitting to it, they quarrel with it, and speak as
those that are angry at him and his providence, and not aware of any
just provocation they have given him: "Wherefore shall we, that are
Israelites, be smitten before the Philistines? How absurd and unjust is
it!" Note, The foolishness of man perverts his way, and then his heart
frets against the Lord
and finds fault with him.
2. They imagined that they could oblige him to appear for them the
next time by bringing the ark into their camp. The elders of Israel
were so ignorant and foolish as to make the proposal
(1 Samuel 4:3),
and the people soon put it in execution,
1 Samuel 4:4.
They sent to Shiloh for the ark, and Eli had not courage enough to
detain it, but sent his ungodly sons, Hophni and Phinehas, along with
it, at least permitted them to go, though he knew that wherever they
went the curse of God went along with them. Now see here,
(1.) The profound veneration the people had for the ark. "O send for
that, and it will do wonders for us." The ark was, by institution, a
visible token of God's presence. God had said that he would dwell
between the cherubim, which were over the ark and were carried
along with it; now they thought that, by paying a great respect to this
sacred chest, they should prove themselves to be Israelites indeed, and
effectually engage God Almighty to appear in their favour. Note, It is
common for those that have estranged themselves from the vitals of
religion to discover a great fondness for the rituals and external
observances of it, for those that even deny the power of godliness not
only to have, but to have in admiration, the form of it. The temple of
the Lord is cried up, and the ark of the Lord stickled for with a great
deal of seeming zeal by multitudes that have no regard at all for the
Lord of the temple and the God of the ark, as if a fiery concern for
the name of Christianity would atone for a profane contempt of the
thing. And yet indeed they did but make an idol of the ark, and looked
upon it to be as much an image of the God of Israel as those idols
which the heathen worshipped were of their gods. To worship the true
God, and not to worship him as God, is in effect not to worship him at
(2.) Their egregious folly in thinking that the ark, if they had it in
their camp, would certainly save them out of the hand of their
enemies, and bring victory back to their side. For,
[1.] When the ark set forward Moses prayed, Rise up, Lord, and let
thy enemies be scattered, well knowing that it was not the ark
moving with them, but God appearing for them, that must give them
success; and here were no proper means used to engage God to favour
them with his presence; what good then would the ark do them, the shell
without the kernel?
[2.] They were so far from having God's leave to remove his ark that he
had plainly enough intimated to them in his law that when they were
settled in Canaan his ark should be settled in the place that he should
and that they must come to it, not it to them. How then could they
expect any advantage by it when they had not a just and legal
possession of it, nor any warrant to remove it from its place? Instead
of honouring God by what they did, they really affronted him. Nay,
[3.] If there had been nothing else to invalidate their expectations
from the ark, how could they expect it should bring a blessing when
Hophni and Phinehas were the men that carried it? It would have given
too much countenance to their villany if the ark had done any kindness
to Israel while it was in the hands of those graceless priests.
IV. The great joy there was in the camp of Israel when the ark was
brought into it
(1 Samuel 4:5):
They shouted, so that the earth rang again. Now they thought
themselves sure of victory, and therefore gave a triumphant shout
before the battle, as if the day was without fail their own, intending,
by this mighty shout, to animate themselves and their own forces, and
to intimidate their adversaries. Note, Carnal people triumph much in
the external privileges and performances of religion, and build much
upon them, as if these would infallibly save them, and as if the ark,
God's throne, in the camp, would bring them to heaven, though the world
and the flesh should be upon the throne in the heart.
V. The consternation into which the bringing of the ark into the camp
of Israel put the Philistines. The two armies lay so near encamped that
the Philistines heard the shout the Israelites gave on this great
occasion. They soon understood what it was they triumphed in
(1 Samuel 4:6),
and were afraid of the consequences. For,
1. It had never been done before in their days: God has come into
their camp, and therefore woe unto us
(1 Samuel 4:7),
and again, woe unto us,
1 Samuel 4:8.
The name of the God of Israel was formidable even to those that
worshipped other gods, and some apprehensions even the infidels had of
the danger of contending with them. Natural conscience suggests this,
that those are in a woeful condition who have God against them. Yet see
what gross notions they had of the divine presence, as if the God of
Israel were not as much in the camp before the ark came thither, which
may very well be excused in them, since the notions the Israelites
themselves had of that presence were no better. "O," say they, "this
is a new design upon us, more frightful than all their stratagems, for
there has not been such a thing heretofore; this was the most
effectual course they could take to dispirit our men and weaken their
2. When it had been done in the days of old, it had wrought wonders:
These are the gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in
1 Samuel 4:8.
Here they were as much out in their history as in their divinity: the
plagues of Egypt were inflicted before the ark was made and before
Israel came into the wilderness; but some confused traditions they had
of wonders wrought by or for Israel when this ark was carried before
them, which they attributed, not to Jehovah, but to the ark. Now, say
they, Who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods?
taking the ark for God, as well they might when the Israelites
themselves idolized it. Yet, it should seem, they scarcely believed
themselves when they spoke thus formidably of these mighty gods,
but only bantered; for instead of retreating, or proposing conditions
of peace, which they would have done had they been really convinced of
the power of Israel's God, they stirred up one another to fight so much
the more stoutly; this surprising difficulty did but sharpen their
(1 Samuel 4:9):
Be strong, and quit yourselves like men. The commanders inspired
bold and generous thoughts into the minds of their soldiers when they
bade them remember how they had lorded it over Israel, and what an
intolerable grief and shame it would be if they flinched now, and
suffered Israel to lord it over them.
|The Defeat of the Israelites.
||B. C. 1120.|
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.
Here is a short account of the issue of this battle.
I. Israel was smitten, the army dispersed and totally routed, not
retiring into the camp, as before
(1 Samuel 4:2)
when they hoped to rally again, but returning to their tents, every man
shifting for his own safety and making the best of his way home,
despairing to make head any more; and 30,000 were slain in the field of
1 Samuel 4:10.
Israel was put to the worse,
1. Though they had the better cause, were the people of God and the
Philistines were uncircumcised; they stood up in necessary defence of
their just rights and liberties against invaders, and yet they failed
of success, for their rock had sold them. A good cause often
suffers for the sake of the bad men that undertake it.
2. Though they had the greater confidence, and were the more
courageous. They shouted, while the Philistines trembled, and yet, when
God pleased so to order it, the Philistines' terrors were turned into
triumphs, and Israel's shouts into lamentations.
3. Though they had the ark of God with them. External privileges will
secure none that abuse them and do not live up to them. The ark in the
camp will add nothing to its strength when there is an Achan in it.
II. The ark itself was taken by the Philistines; and Hophni and
Phinehas, who it is likely kept close to it, and when it was in danger
ventured far in the defense of it, because by it they got their living,
were both slain,
1 Samuel 4:11.
To this sad even the Psalmist refers,
He delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the
enemy's hands. Their priests fell by the sword.
1. The slaughter of the priests, considering their bad character, was
no great loss to Israel, but it was a dreadful judgment upon the house
of Eli. The word which God had spoken was fulfilled in it
(1 Samuel 2:34):
This shall be a sign unto thee, an earnest of the judgments
threatened, thy two sons shall die both in one day, and so shall
all the increase of thy house die in the flower of their age,
1 Samuel 2:33.
If Eli had done his duty, and put them, as polluted, from the
they might have lived, though in disgrace; but now God takes the work
into his own hands, and chases them out of the world by the sword of
the uncircumcised. The Lord is known by those judgments which he
executeth. It is true the sword devours one as well as another, but
these were waited for of the sword, marked for vengeance. They were out
of the place; what had they to do in the camp? When men leave the way
of their duty they shut themselves out of God's protection. But this
was not all; they had betrayed the ark, by bringing it into danger,
without a warrant from God, and this filled the measure of their
2. The taking of the ark was a very great judgment upon Israel, and a
certain token of God's hot displeasure against them. Now they are made
to see their folly in trusting to their external privileges which they
had by their wickedness forfeited them, and fancying that the ark would
save them when God had departed from them. Now they are made to
reflect, with the utmost regret, upon their own rashness and
presumption in bringing the ark into the camp and so exposing it, and
wish a thousand times they had left it where God had fixed it. Now they
are convinced that God will not be prescribed to by vain and foolish
men, and that though he has bound us to his ark he has not bound
himself to it, but will rather deliver it into the hands of his sworn
enemies than suffer it to be profaned by his false friends, and
countenance their superstition. Let none think to shelter themselves
from the wrath of God under the cloak of a visible profession, for
there will be those cast into outer darkness that have eaten and
drunk in Christ's presence.
|The Death of Eli.
||B. C. 1120.|
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
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.
Tidings are here brought to Shiloh of the fatal issue of their battle
with the Philistines. Bad news flies fast. This soon spread through all
Israel; every man that fled to his tent brought it, with too plain a
proof of it, to his neighbours. But no place was so nearly concerned as
Shiloh. Thither therefore an express posted away immediately; it was a
man of Benjamin; the Jews fancy it was Saul. He rent his clothes,
and put earth upon his head, by these signs to proclaim the
sorrowful news to all that saw him as he ran, and to show how much he
himself was affected with it,
1 Samuel 4:12.
He went straight to Shiloh with it; and here we are told,
I. How the city received it. Eli sat in the gate
(1 Samuel 4:13,18),
but the messenger was loth to tell him first, and therefore passed him
by, and told it in the city, with all the aggravating circumstances;
and now both the ears of every one that heard it tingled, as was
1 Samuel 3:11.
Their hearts trembled, and every face gathered blackness. All the
city cried out
(1 Samuel 4:13),
and well they might, for, besides that this was a calamity to all
Israel, it was a particular loss to Shiloh, and the ruin of that place;
for, though the ark was soon rescued out of the hands of the
Philistines, yet it never returned to Shiloh again; their candlestick
was removed out of its place, because they had left their first
love, and their city dwindled, and sunk, and came to nothing. Now
God forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, they having driven him
from them; and the tribe of Ephraim, which had for 340 years been
blessed with the presence of the ark in it, lost the honour
and, some time after, it was transferred to the tribe of Judah, the
Mount Sion which he loved, as it follows there
because the men of Shiloh knew not the day of their visitation.
This abandoning of Shiloh Jerusalem is long afterwards reminded of, and
told to take warning by.
"Go see what I did to Shiloh. From this day, this fatal day, let
the desolations of Shiloh be dated." They had therefore reason enough
to cry out when they heard that the ark was taken.
II. What a fatal blow it was to old Eli. Let us see,
1. With what fear he expected the tidings. Though old, and blind, and
heavy, yet he could not keep his chamber when he was sensible the glory
of Israel lay at stake, but placed himself by the way-side, to receive
the first intelligence; for his heart trembled for the ark of
1 Samuel 4:13.
His careful thoughts represented to him what a dishonour it would be to
God, and what an irreparable loss to Israel, if the ark should fall
into the Philistines' hands, with what profane triumphs the tidings
would be told in Gath and published in the streets of Ashkelon. He also
apprehended what imminent danger there was of it. Israel had forfeited
the ark (his own sons especially) and the Philistines would aim at it;
and now the threatening comes to his mind, that he should see an
enemy in God's habitation
(1 Samuel 2:32);
and perhaps his own heart reproached him for not using his authority to
prevent the carrying of the ark into the camp. All these things made
him tremble. Note, All good men lay the interests of God's church
nearer their hearts than any secular interest or concern of their own,
and cannot but be in pain and fear for them if at any time they are in
peril. How can we be easy if the ark be not safe?
2. With what grief he received the tidings. Though he could not see, he
could hear the tumult and crying of the city, and
perceived it to be the voice of lamentation, and mourning, and woe;
like a careful magistrate, he asks, What means the noise of this
1 Samuel 4:14.
He is told there is an express come from the army, who relates the
story to him very distinctly, and with great confidence, having himself
been an eye-witness of it,
1 Samuel 4:16,17.
The account of the defeat of the army, and the slaughter of a great
number of the soldiers, was very grievous to him as a judge; the
tidings of the death of his two sons, of whom he had been so indulgent,
and who, he had reason to fear, died impenitent, touched him in a
tender part as a father; yet it was not for these that his heart
trembled: there is a greater concern upon his spirit, which swallows up
the less; he does not interrupt the narrative with any passionate
lamentations for his sons, like David for Absalom, but waits for the
end of the story, not doubting but that the messenger, being an
Israelite, would, without being asked, say something of the ark; and if
he could but have said, "Yet the ark of God is safe, and we are
bringing that home," his joy for that would have overcome his grief for
all the other disasters, and have made him easy; but, when the
messenger concludes his story with, The ark of God is taken, he
is struck to the heart, his spirits fail, and, it should seem, he
swooned away, fell off his seat, and partly with the fainting, and
partly with the fall, he died immediately, and never spoke a word more.
His heart was broken first, and then his neck. So fell the high priest
and judge of Israel, so fell his heavy head when he had lived within
two of 100 years, so fell the crown from his head when he had judged
Israel about forty years: thus did his sun set under a cloud, thus were
the folly and wickedness of those sons of his, whom he had indulged,
his ruin at last. Thus does God sometimes set marks of his displeasure
in this life upon good men who have misconducted themselves, that
others may hear, and fear, and take warning. A man may die miserably
and yet not die eternally, may come to an untimely end and yet the end
be peace. Dr. Lightfoot observes that Eli died the death of an
unredeemed ass, whose neck was to be broken,
Yet we must observe, to Eli's praise, that it was the loss of the ark
that was his death, not the slaughter of his sons. He does, in effect,
say, "Let me fall with the ark, for what pious Israelite can live with
any comfort when God's ordinances are removed?" Farewell all in this
world, even life itself, if the ark be gone.
|The Death of Phinehas' Wife.
||B. C. 1120.|
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
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 Ichabod, 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.
We have here another melancholy story, that carries on the desolations
of Eli's house, and the sorrowful feeling which the tidings of the
ark's captivity excited. It is concerning the wife of Phinehas, one of
those ungracious sons of Eli that had brought all this mischief on
Israel. It cost her her life, though young, as well as that of her
father-in-law, that was old; for many a green head, as well as many a
hoary head, has been brought by sorrow to the grave: it worketh death.
By what is here related of her it appears,
I. That she was a woman of a very tender spirit. Providence so ordered
it that, just at this time, she was near her time; and our Saviour hath
said, Woe to those that are with child, or give suck, in
such days as these,
So little joy will there then be in the birth, even of a man-child,
that it will be said, Blessed are the wombs that bear not,
The amazing news coming at this unhappy juncture, it put her into
labour, as great frights or other strong passions sometimes do. When
she heard of the death of her father-in-law whom she reverenced, and
her husband whom, bad as he was, she loved, but especially of the loss
of the ark, she travailed, for her pains came thickly upon
(1 Samuel 4:19),
and the tidings so seized her spirits, at a time when they needed all
possible supports, that, though she had strength to bear the child,
she, soon after, fainted and died away, being very willing to let life
go when she had lost the greatest comforts of her life. Those who are
drawing near to that trying hour have need to treasure up for
themselves comforts from the covenant of grace, to balance, not only
the usual sorrows, but any thing extraordinary that may add to the
grief which they do not foresee. Faith, at such a time, will keep from
II. That she was a woman of a very gracious spirit though matched to a
wicked husband. Her concern for the death of her husband and
father-in-law was an evidence of her natural affection; but her much
greater concern for the loss of the ark was an evidence of her pious
and devout affection to God and sacred things. The former helped to
hasten her travail, but it appears by her dying words that the latter
lay nearer her heart
(1 Samuel 4:22):
She said, The glory has departed from Israel, not lamenting so
much the sinking of that particular family to which she was related as
the general calamity of Israel in the captivity of the ark. This, this
was it that was her grief, that was her death.
1. This made her regardless of her child. The women that attended her,
who it is likely were some of the first rank in the city, encouraged
her, and, thinking that he concern was mostly about the issue of her
pains, when the child was born, said unto her, Fear not, now the
worst is past, for thou has borne a son (and perhaps it was her
first-born), but she answered not, neither did she regard it.
The sorrows of her travail, if she had no other, would have been
forgotten, for joy that a man-child was born into the world.
But what is that joy,
(1.) To one that feels herself dying? No joy but that which is
spiritual and divine will stand us in any stead then. Death is too
serious a thing to admit the relish of any earthly joy; it is all flat
and sapless then.
(2.) What is it to one that is lamenting the loss of the ark? Small
comfort could she have of a child born in Israel, in Shiloh, when the
ark is lost, and is a prisoner in the land of the Philistines. What
pleasure can we take in our creature-comforts and enjoyments if we want
God's word and ordinances, especially if we want the comfort of his
gracious presence and the light of his countenance? As vinegar upon
nitre, so is he that sings songs so such heavy hearts.
2. This made her give her child a name which should perpetuate the
remembrance of the calamity and her sense of it. She has nothing to say
to the child, only it being her province, now that her husband was
dead, to name the child, she orders them to call it I-chabod,
that is, Where is the glory? Or, Alas for the glory! or,
There is no glory
(1 Samuel 4:21),
which she thus explains with her dying lips
(1 Samuel 4:22):
"The glory has departed from Israel; for the ark of God is
taken. Call the child inglorious, for so he is; the beauty of
Israel is lost, and there appears no hope of ever retrieving it; never
let the name of an Israelite, must less a priest, carry glory in it any
more, now that the ark is taken." Note,
(1.) The purity and plenty of God's ordinances, and the tokens of his
presence in them, are the glory of any people, much more so than their
wealth, and trade, and interest, among the nations.
2. Nothing is more cutting, more killing, to a faithful Israelite, than
the want and loss of these. If God go, the glory goes, and all good
goes. Woe unto us if he depart!