1 Samuel 4

Listen to 1 Samuel 4

The Philistines Capture the Ark

1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at 1Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at 2Aphek.
2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle.
3 And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here 3from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies."
4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, 4who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel 5gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.
6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, "What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp,
7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "A god has come into the camp." And they said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.
8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.
9 6Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews 7as they have been to you; be men and fight."
10 So the Philistines fought, 8and Israel was defeated, 9and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers.
11 10And the ark of God was captured, 11and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

The Death of Eli

12 A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day, 12with his clothes torn and with dirt on his head.
13 When he arrived, 13Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.
14 When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, "What is this uproar?" Then the man hurried and came and told Eli.
15 Now Eli was ninety-eight years old 14and his eyes were set so that he could not see.
16 And the man said to Eli, "I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today." And he said, 15"How did it go, my son?"
17 He who brought the news answered and said, "Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured."
18 As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward 16from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.
19 Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her.
20 And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, 17"Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son." But she did not answer or pay attention.
21 And she named the child 18Ichabod, saying, 19"The glory has departed[a] from Israel!" because 20the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband.
22 And she said, "The glory has departed from Israel, 21for 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 21

  • 1. [1 Samuel 5:1; 1 Samuel 7:12]
  • 2. 1 Samuel 29:1; Joshua 12:18
  • 3. Joshua 18:1
  • 4. Exodus 25:22; 2 Samuel 6:2; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1; [Numbers 7:89]
  • 5. Joshua 6:5, 20
  • 6. [2 Samuel 10:12; 1 Corinthians 16:13]
  • 7. Judges 13:1
  • 8. ver. 2; Psalms 78:62; [Leviticus 26:17; Deuteronomy 28:25]
  • 9. 2 Samuel 18:17; 2 Samuel 19:8; 2 Kings 14:12; 2 Chronicles 25:22
  • 10. [1 Samuel 2:32; Psalms 78:60, 61]
  • 11. 1 Samuel 2:34; Psalms 78:64
  • 12. See Joshua 7:6
  • 13. ver. 18; 1 Samuel 1:9
  • 14. 1 Kings 14:4; [1 Samuel 3:2]
  • 15. 2 Samuel 1:4
  • 16. ver. 13
  • 17. Genesis 35:17
  • 18. 1 Samuel 14:3
  • 19. Psalms 78:61; [Psalms 26:8]
  • 20. ver. 11
  • 21. [See ver. 21 above]

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Or gone into exile; also verse 22

Chapter Summary


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

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.