- Israel smitten by the Philistines, verse 1, 2.
- They bring the ark into the camp, which affrights the Philistines, verse 3-9.
- Israel beaten and the ark taken, verse 10, 11.
- The news brought to Shiloh and the death of Eli, verse 12-18.
- The travail and death of his daughter-in-law, 19-22.
The word - That is, the word of the Lord revealed to Samuel, and by him to the people. A word of command, that all Israel should go forth to fight with the Philistines, as the following words explain it, that they might he first humbled and punished for their sins, and so prepared for deliverance. Went out - To meet the Philistines, who having by this time recruited themselves after their loss by Samson, and perceiving an eminent prophet arising among them, by whom they were likely to be united, and assisted, thought fit to suppress them in the beginning of their hopes.
Wherefore, &c. - This was strange blindness, that when there was so great a corruption in their worship and manners, they could not see sufficient reason why God should suffer them to fall by their enemies. The ark - That great pledge of God's presence and help, by whose conduct our ancestors obtained success. Instead of humbling themselves for, and purging themselves from their sins, for which God was displeased with them, they take an easier and cheaper course, and put their trust in their ceremonial observances, not doubting but the very presence of the ark would give them the victory.
Bring the ark - This they should not have done without asking counsel of God.
Shouted - From their great joy and confidence of success. So formal Christians triumph in external privileges and performances: as if the ark in the camp would bring them to heaven, tho' the world and the flesh reign in the heart.
Heretofore - Not in our times; for the fore-mentioned removals of the ark were before it came to Shiloh.
Wo, &c. - They secretly confess the Lord to be greater than their gods, and yet presume to oppose him. Wilderness - They mention the wilderness, not as if all the plagues of the Egyptians came upon them in the wilderness, but because the last and sorest of all, which is therefore put for all, the destruction of Pharaoh and all his host, happened in the wilderness, namely, in the Red-sea, which having the wilderness on both sides of it, may well be said to be in the wilderness. Altho' it is not strange if these Heathens did mistake some circumstance in relation of the Israelitish affairs, especially some hundreds of years after they were done.
Tent - To his habitation, called by the ancient name of his tent. There fell - Before, they lost but four thousand, now in the presence of the ark, thirty thousand, to teach them that the ark and ordinances of God, were never designed as a refuge to impenitent sinners, but only for the comfort of those that repent.
The ark - Which God justly and wisely permitted, to punish the Israelites for their profanation of it; that by taking away the pretences of their foolish confidence, he might more deeply humble them, and bring them to true-repentance: and that the Philistines might by this means he more effectually convinced of God's almighty power, and of their own, and the impotency of their gods, and so a stop put to their triumphs and rage against the poor Israelites. Thus as God was no loser by this event, so the Philistines were no gainers by it; and Israel, all things considered, received more good than hurt by it. If Eli had done his duty, and put them from the priesthood, they might have lived, tho' in disgrace. But now God takes the work into his own hands, and chases them out of the world by the sword of the Philistines.
The ark - Whereby he discovered a public and generous spirit, and a fervent zeal for God, and for his honour, which he preferred before all his natural affections, not regarding his own children in comparison of the ark, tho' otherwise he was a most indulgent father. And well they might, for beside that this was a calamity to all Israel, it was a particular loss to Shiloh; for the ark never returned thither. Their candlestick was removed out of its place, and the city sunk and came to nothing.
He fell - Being so oppressed with grief and astonishment, that he had no strength left to support him. The gate - The gate of the city, which was most convenient for the speedy understanding of all occurrences. Old - Old, and therefore weak and apt to fall; heavy, and therefore his fall more dangerous. So fell the high-priest and judge of Israel! So fell his heavy head, when he had lived within two of an hundred years! So fell the crown from his head, when he had judged Israel forty years: thus did his sun set under a cloud. Thus was the wickedness of those sons of his, whom he had indulged, his ruin. Thus does God sometimes set marks of his displeasure on good men, that others may hear and fear. Yet we must observe, it was the loss of the ark that was his death, and not the slaughter of his sons. He says in effect, Let me fall with the ark! Who can live, when the ordinances of God are removed? Farewell all in this world, even Life itself, if the ark be gone!
Fear not - Indeed the sorrows of her travail would have been forgotten, for joy that a child was born into the world. But what is that joy to one that feels herself dying? None but spiritual joy will stand us in stead then. Death admits not the relish of any earthly joy: it is then all flat and tasteless. What is it to one that is lamenting the loss of the ark? What can give us pleasure, if we want God's word and ordinances? Especially if we want the comfort of his gracious presence, and the light of his countenance?
I-chabod - Where is the glory? The glory - That is, the glorious type and assurance of God's presence, the ark, which is often called God's glory, and which wast the great safeguard and ornament of Israel, which they could glory in above all other nations.
The ark - This is repeated to shew, her piety, and that the public loss lay heavier upon her spirit, than her personal or domestic calamity.