1 Samuel 4 Study Notes


4:1 The Philistines migrated to the Judean coastline during the twelfth century BC and began threatening Israel during the days of the judges (chaps. 13-16). The Israelites camped at Ebenezer about twenty miles west of Shiloh, while the Philistines camped at Aphek across the plain to the west. Israel’s enemies had pushed far north from their home along Israel’s southern coastline and now threatened the central territory.

4:2-3 Why did the Lord defeat us? is literally “Why did the Lord strike us?” The people associated the ark of the Lords covenant (Ex 25:10-22) with God’s presence, and they assumed taking the ark into battle would guarantee victory over their enemies. This is the equivalent of trying to manipulate God through a talisman.

4:4 The phrase enthroned between the cherubim is a reference to God’s dwelling in the cloud over the mercy seat of the ark (Lv 16:2). Ironically, despite their priestly office, Hophni and Phinehas were probably the two least worthy individuals to carry the ark.

4:5 The loud shout as the ark . . . entered the camp further emphasizes the Israelites’ incorrect association of God’s presence with the ark. God’s blessing did not automatically come because of the ark’s presence.

4:6-7 A god has may be translated “God has.” Either way, the Philistines feared for their lives.

4:8 The Philistines either incorrectly assumed the Israelites worshiped many gods, or they had seen Israel’s idolatry and drawn that conclusion.

4:9 Show some courage is literally “strengthen yourselves.” The language may suggest the Philistines currently had control over the Israelites and feared losing it.

4:10-11 R. P. Gordon notes that Israel did not have an effective chariot troop until Solomon, though David may have experimented with it. To flee to his tent meant they abandoned the military. According to Jr 7:12-15; 26:6 and Ps 78:60-64, the tabernacle was destroyed at this time and perhaps also the town.

4:12 A Benjaminite was a man from the tribal territory of Benjamin to the south. Shiloh was part of Ephraim’s territory. Clothes were torn and dirt on his head were expressions of mourning (2Sm 1:2).

4:13 “Keeping vigil” might be a better translation than watching since Eli was now blind (v. 15). The Hebrew word translated cried out always has a negative connotation, as does the related word “outcry” in the next verse.

4:14-15 In his haste, this man had run by Israel’s former high priest. Now he returned to report to Eli and apprise him of the battle.

4:16 The words I’m the one suggest the man was a designated messenger to bring the news of the battle (v. 17; cp. 2Sm 18:19-23).

4:17-18 The messenger saved the worst news until the end—the ark of God has been captured. When he heard that, Eli fell over and died.

4:19 Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, had lost three family members—her father-in-law . . . husband, and brother-in-law. That news, coupled with the news of the capture of God’s ark, suddenly brought her labor pains.

4:20 Pay attention is literally “place her heart” and probably means that she showed no joy. She was too preoccupied with the pain and disgrace that had happened. P. Kyle McCarter says, “The death of the grandfather is balanced by the birth of a grandson, but the cheerless event brings no hope to the cursed family.”

4:21 Ichabod means “Where Is the Glory?” with the clear implication, as she then said, that the glory has departed from Israel.

4:22 The wife of Phinehas incorrectly associated God’s glorious presence with the presence of the ark of God. However, she was right in the sense that she believed life apart from God’s presence was not worth living.