1 Samuel 4


Samuel's ministry in Israel is widely recognized, and the people know God's presence with him. However, the people did not repent, and Israel continued to walk in patterns of disobedience. Sin and corruption knew no limits extending even to the priests as Eli's sons disobey the commands of the Lord and disregard the rebuke of their father. God's judgment will soon visit his people and the house of Eli. The Philistines and the Israelites were drawn together for battle. The ensuing battle saw the slaughter of four thousand Israelites. They stood their ground, but the losses were catastrophic. The people understand that the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines, but they make a critical error in their judgment. The people decide that bringing the ark of the Lord to the place of battle would ensure their swift victory. They sent for the ark of the Lord at Shiloh. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, accompany it to the Israelite encampment. The Israelites are still mourning the dead, tending to wounds, and readying themselves for the next battle when the ark arrives. The people began to shout so loudly that the Philistines could hear it. The Philistines must have been confused when they heard shouts coming from and army that had suffered a complete defeat and when they learn that the ark had arrived they were filled with fear. The Philistines have some knowledge of what God has done even if they mistake them for polytheists and see the plagues as the work of these gods. The leaders call for the Philistine army to take courage and fight so that they would not become the slaves of the Israelites. They were desperate and determined as they went to face their enemy. Israel went to battle thinking the ark guaranteed their victory instead they were routed with seven times the casualties experienced in the first clash and to make matters worse, the ark is captured by the Philistines, and the sons of Eli were slain. 


A man of Benjamin managed to escape from the battle line and made his way some eighteen miles to Shiloh. Eli is waiting by the road, and his heart trembled for the ark of God. There is no record that the ark had been used this way before this occasion. The messenger was a mess when arrived in Shiloh. His clothes were torn, and he was covered in dirt. Eli may be blind but he can hear the uproar in the city, and he calls for answers. The man came to Eli and delivered the devastating news. Israel was defeated. The army suffered massive casualties. Eli's sons had been killed, and the ark was captured by the Philistines. News of the ark caused Eli to fall from his seat, and he broke his neck which is a sad way for the life of a judge to end after forty years of service. The trauma of this news hastened the labor of Phinehas’ wife who suffered terrible difficulty before she gave birth. The women attending her tried to give her some comfort with the news that she had given birth to a son. She paid them no attention and could only think of the great loss that was experienced that day. The high priest was dead. Her husband was dead. Israel had been humiliated by enemies, and the ark of God had fallen into Philistine hands. With her last breath, she whispered the name of the baby, Ichabod, because the glory had departed from Israel. 

Things To Consider:

  • Why did God give his people into the hands of the Philistines?
  • Does God still judge sin? Why?
  • How do we look to symbols, icons, and liturgies for help instead of God?
  • Why do you think Eli was so terrified?
  • Why was it so devastating for the ark to fall into Philistine hands?
  • What impact do you think the name Ichabod had on the community?
  • Why do you think Samuel is absent from the story?