1 Samuel 4

And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.

The Philistines Capture the Ark

1 Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek.
2 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.
3 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.”
4 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.
5 When the ark of the LORD’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook.
6 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,
7 the Philistines were afraid. “A god has[a] come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.
8 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.
9 Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”
10 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.
11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Death of Eli

12 That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head.
13 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.
14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?” The man hurried over to Eli,
15 who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see.
16 He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.” Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”
17 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.”
18 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[b] Israel forty years.
19 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 labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains.
20 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.
21 She named the boy Ichabod,[c] 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.
22 She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

1 Samuel 4 Commentary

Chapter 4

The Israelites overcome by the Philistines. (1-9) The ark taken. (10,11) The death of Eli. (12-18) The birth of Ichabod. (19-22)

Verses 1-9 Israel is smitten before the Philistines. Sin, the accursed thing, was in the camp, and gave their enemies all the advantage they could wish for. They own the hand of God in their trouble; but, instead of submitting, they speak angrily, as not aware of any just provocation they had given him. The foolishness of man perverts his way, and then his heart frets against the Lord, Pr. 19:3 , and finds fault with him. They supposed that they could oblige God to appear for them, by bringing the ark into their camp. Those who have gone back in the life of religion, sometimes discover great fondness for the outward observances of it, as if those would save them; and as if the ark, God's throne, in the camp, would bring them to heaven, though the world and the flesh are on the throne in the heart.

Verses 10-11 The taking of the ark was a great judgment upon Israel, and a certain token of God's displeasure. Let none think to shelter themselves from the wrath of God, under the cloak of outward profession.

Verses 12-18 The defeat of the army was very grievous to Eli as a judge; the tidings of the death of his two sons, to whom he had been so indulgent, and who, as he had reason to fear, died impenitent, touched him as a father; yet there was a greater concern on his spirit. And when the messenger concluded his story with, "The ark of God is taken," he is struck to the heart, and died immediately. A man may die miserably, yet not die eternally; may come to an untimely end, yet the end be peace.

Verses 19-22 The wife of Phinehas seems to have been a person of piety. Her dying regret was for the loss of the ark, and the departure of the glory from Israel. What is any earthly joy to her that feels herself dying? No joy but that which is spiritual and divine, will stand in any stead then; death is too serious a thing to admit the relish of any earthly joy. What is it to one that is lamenting the loss of the ark? 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? If God go, the glory goes, and all good goes. Woe unto us if he depart! But though the glory is withdrawn from one sinful nation, city, or village after another, yet it shall never depart altogether, but shines forth in one place when eclipsed in another.

Cross References 27

  • 1. 1 Samuel 5:1; 1 Samuel 7:12
  • 2. Joshua 12:18; 1 Samuel 29:1; 1 Kings 20:26
  • 3. Joshua 7:7
  • 4. Numbers 10:35; S Joshua 6:7
  • 5. S Joshua 18:1; S 1 Samuel 2:32
  • 6. 2 Chronicles 13:8
  • 7. S Genesis 3:24; S Exodus 25:22; 2 Samuel 6:2
  • 8. S Joshua 6:5,10
  • 9. S Genesis 14:13
  • 10. S Exodus 15:14
  • 11. Exodus 12:30; 1 Samuel 5:12
  • 12. Revelation 11:6
  • 13. S Judges 13:1; 1 Corinthians 16:13
  • 14. ver 2; S Deuteronomy 28:25; 2 Samuel 18:17; 2 Kings 14:12
  • 15. Psalms 78:64; Jeremiah 7:12; 1 Samuel 2:34; Psalms 78:61,64
  • 16. Ezekiel 24:26; Ezekiel 33:21
  • 17. S Joshua 7:6; S 2 Samuel 1:2; 2 Samuel 15:32; Nehemiah 9:1; Job 2:12
  • 18. ver 18; 1 Samuel 1:9
  • 19. S 1 Samuel 3:2
  • 20. 1 Samuel 22:18; Psalms 78:64
  • 21. Psalms 78:61
  • 22. ver 13; S Judges 2:16; S Judges 16:31
  • 23. 1 Samuel 2:31
  • 24. S Genesis 35:18
  • 25. S Exodus 24:16; Psalms 106:20; Psalms 26:8; Jeremiah 2:11; Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 10:18
  • 26. S Exodus 24:16; Psalms 78:61
  • 27. Jeremiah 7:12

Footnotes 3

  • [a]. Or "“Gods have" (see Septuagint)
  • [b]. Traditionally "judged"
  • [c]. "Ichabod" means "no glory."

Chapter Summary

INTRODUCTION TO FIRST SAMUEL 4

This chapter is a narrative of a war between Israel and the Philistines, in the time of Samuel, and of the consequences of it. In the first battle, the Philistines had the better of the Israelites, which caused the latter to inquire into the reason of it, and who proposed to fetch the ark of the Lord, and did, to repair their loss, and prepare for a second battle, in which they hoped to succeed, and which struck a panic into their enemies, 1Sa 4:1-7, who yet encouraged and stirred up one another to behave in a courageous manner, and victory a second time was on their side, a great number of the Israelites were slain, among whom were Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, and the ark of God was taken, 1Sa 4:8-11, the news of which being brought to Eli, he fell back and died, 1Sa 4:12-18 and to his daughter-in-law, who upon it fell into labour, and died also, 1Sa 4:19-22.

1 Samuel 4 Commentaries