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Friday, July 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 4

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verse 1

Samuel’s Call

1 Samuel 3:1 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a

1And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord [Jehovah] before Eli. And the word of the Lord [Jehovah] was precious1 in those days; there was no open 2vision [vision spread abroad2]. And it came to pass at that time, when [that3]. Eli was laid down [lying down4] in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim that he could 3not see. And ere [om. ere5] the lamp of God went out [was not yet gone out] in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was [om. in the temple……was6] and Samuel was laid down [lying down4] to sleep [om. to sleep, ins. in 4the temple of Jehovah where the ark of God7 was], That [And] the Lord [Jehovah] 5called [ins. to] Samuel, and he answered [said], Here am I. And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I, for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; 6[ins. go back and] lie down again [om. again]. And he went and lay down. And the Lord [Jehovah] called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I, for thou didst call [calledst] me. And he answered [said], I 7called not, my son, [ins. go back and] lie down again [om. again]. Now Samuel did not yet know8 the Lord [Jehovah], neither was the word of the Lord yet [and 8the word of Jehovah was not yet] revealed unto him. And the Lord [Jehovah] called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I, for thou didst9 call [calledst] me. And Eli perceived that the Lord [Jehovah] 9had called [was calling] the child. Therefore, [And] Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down, and it shall be, if he [one10] call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord [Jehovah], for thy servant heareth. So [And] Samuel went and lay down 10in his place. And the Lord [Jehovah] came, and stood,11 and called as at other times [as before], Samuel, Samuel. Then [And] Samuel answered [said], Speak, 11for thy servant heareth. And the Lord [Jehovah] said to Samuel, Behold, I will [om, will] do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it 12shall tingle [the which whosoever heareth, both his ears shall tingle]. In that day I will perform against Eli all things [om. things] which [that] I have spoken concerning his house, when I begin, I will also make an end [from beginning to end]. 13For [And] I have told [I announced to] him that I will [would] judge his house for ever for the iniquity12 [sin] which he knoweth, because [that he knew that] his sons made themselves vile [brought a curse on themselves13], and he restrained them 14not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged [expiated] with sacrifice [ins. of blood] nor [ins. unbloody14] 15offering forever. And Samuel lay until the morning,15 and opened the doors of the house of the Lord [Jehovah]. And Samuel feared to show Eli the 16vision. Then [And] Eli called Samuel, and said, Samuel, my son. And he answered 17[said], Here am I. And he said, What is the thing that the Lord [om. the Lord, ins. he] hath [om. hath] said unto thee? I pray thee [om. I pray thee16] hide it not from me. God do so to thee and more also, if thou hide anything from 18me of all the things [om. the things] that he said unto thee. And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the Lord [He is Jehovah]; let him do what seemeth him good.

19And Samuel grew; And the Lord [Jehovah] was with him, and did let none of 20his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew 21that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord [Jehovah]. And the Lord [Jehovah] appeared again [continued to appear] in Shiloh; for the Lord [Jehovah] revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by [in] the word of the Lord [Jehovah].17

1 Samuel 4:1 a And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.


1 Samuel 3:1. The history of Samuel’s call to be prophet is introduced (1 Samuel 3:1) by a brief statement of what it presupposed, and what led to it in Samuel himself and in the condition of the Israelitish theocratic life. As to the first point, the connection shows that the “boy” Samuel had grown to be a youth, and was therefore intellectually capable of receiving the revelation of the Lord; his character as servant of the Lord in the Sanctuary is again stated (comp. 1 Samuel 2:11; 1 Samuel 2:18), and his relation to Eli as his guardian and guide is anew affirmed by the words “before Eli.” (1 Samuel 2:11). The call which Samuel receives supposes the fact that he belongs to the Lord as a gift from his parents, and, as servant in the Sanctuary, is, in this priestly life under the guidance of the High-priest, prepared to be a special instrument of God’s for His people.—As to the second point, the condition of the theocratical life, the religious character of the times is marked by a twofold expression: 1) the word of the Lord was “precious” (יָקָר), that is, the word was rare that came directly from the Lord by prophetic announcement to the people; the proper organs were lacking, persons who were filled with the Spirit of the Lord, that they might be witnesses of His word; there was lacking also in the people the living desire for the direct revelations of God in His word, and receptivity in religious feeling for the living declaration,—and this was true even in the highest planes of theocratical life; 2) “There was no vision spread abroad.” פָרַץ “break through,” thence “spread out from within,” “become known outwards, become public,” Ps. 3:10; 2 Chronicles 31:5.—Hazon (חזוֹן) [vision] is the feeling or perception which corresponds to a direct real divine revelation made to the imagination of the prophet.18 This “vision” is the means of the reception of the word to be announced. Little was heard of such revelations of the Lord by visions, they were not spread abroad. Therefore the word of the Lord was precious. The second fact had its ground in the first. In the theocratical life there was lacking both a truly God-fearing, living priesthood, and a proclamation of God’s word that should extricate the people from their religious-moral depravation, the vitalizing power of the divine Spirit through prophetic organs.

1 Samuel 3:2-10. The circumstances and individual elements of the calling. In 1 Samuel 3:2 the “and it came to pass” and the statement of time are so connected with 1 Samuel 3:4 that all the intermediate from “and Eli” to the end of 1 Samuel 3:3 is explanatory parenthesis.19

Samuel might have supposed, when he was awaked by hearing his name called, that he had to render some service to the half-blind Eli; and so it is expressly mentioned at the beginning of these descriptive sentences that Eli was growing blind. The word “began” shows that the statement afterwards made, “he could not see,” is by no means to be understood as meaning complete blindness.20—To the chronological datum in the beginning of 1 Samuel 3:2 is added in 1 Samuel 3:3 an exacter and more definite statement in the words: And the lamp of God was not yet gone out;—no doubt this indicates night-time, near the morning, since the seven-lamped candelabrum in the Sanctuary before the curtain, which (Exodus 27:20-21; Exodus 30:7-8) was furnished with oil every morning and evening, after having burnt throughout the night and consumed its oil, usually, no doubt, got feebler or went out towards morning (comp. Leviticus 24:2-3). The words “and S. was sleeping” are not to be regarded, as the Athnach under the last requires, as a parenthesis separated from “in the temple” (as is usually done), if the latter expression is understood to mean sanctuary in distinction from the most holy place; for we cannot suppose that Samuel slept in this Sanctuary. But hekal (חֵיבָל) is here, as in 1 Samuel 1:9; Psalms 11:4, the whole sanctuary, the entire space of the tabernacle, as the palace of God, the King of His people, who has His throne there. This throne is the “ark of God,” for above the ark was the symbol of the presence, yea, of the royal dwelling and enthronement of God in the midst of His people (1 Samuel 4:4). Samuel’s sleeping-place was in one of the rooms, which were built in the court for the priests and Levites on service (Keil). The name Jehovah stands after “temple,” because it is the Covenant-God, who descends to His people and dwells with them, that is brought before us. On the other hand, in connection with the lamp and the ark “Elohim” is used “in the sense of the divine in general,” (Then.), that is, God is viewed in His loftiness and power over the whole world, as He who is to be feared and venerated, as lofty majesty (which conception is made clear by the plural).

In 1 Samuel 3:2-3, is described the situation in which Samuel received the call of the Lord,—it is night, the High-priest lies in his place in the sanctuary, the lamps of the candelabrum are still burning,21 the morning is near, it is the time when dream-life rises to its height; near Samuel was the ark of God, whence the revelations of God came.

1 Samuel 3:4-10 give the whole history of the call, with the attendant circumstances, in its individual elements.—Samuel hears the call of a voice, which has awakened him from sleep, but takes it to be not the call of a divine voice, as it was, but a call from Eli. Eli, to whom he hastens, sends him back to his couch with the answer: “I did not call thee.” This is repeated in 1 Samuel 3:6.

1 Samuel 3:7 gives the reason why Samuel thought he heard not God’s voice, but Eli’s.22 Knowing God means here not the general knowledge of God which every Israelite of necessity had, but the special knowledge of God, which was given by extraordinary revelation of God. The experience which now comes to Samuel is marked as the first of the sort. The word of God had not yet been revealed to him. He had not yet received such a special revelation of God through His word; therefore he did not yet know the God who revealed Himself in this way.—“It was a gloomy time, poor in revelation, as in exemplary religious life. For Eli, the High-priest, was weak, his sons defiled the sanctuary, the people served idols (1 Samuel 7:3 sq.), and the Philistines ruled oppressively. Hence it came that Samuel did not yet know how the Lord was used to reveal Himself to the prophets, the announcer of His word to men (1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 3:7)” (Nägelsbach, Herz. R.-E. XIII. 395 sq.). After the third repetition of the call (1 Samuel 3:8), Eli observed the divine origin of the call, and showed Samuel (1 Samuel 3:9) how he should deport himself towards the divine voice. His answer was to be: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.”—Up to this point the medium of the divine revelation was the thrice repeated call of a voice, which so strongly impressed Samuel’s hearing, that he was awakened out of sleep. This is the meaning of the narrative; it does not mean a voice, which he thought he heard in a dream merely. In 1 Samuel 3:10 a new factor is introduced: the divine revelation by means of a voice becomes a vision: Jehovah came and stood, that is, before Samuel. That an objective real appearance is here meant is clear from 1 Samuel 3:15, “the vision” (מַרְאָה). Three factors are to be combined: the dream-state of Samuel’s soul (the internal sense), the hearing a voice on awakening, the seeing an appearance.

1 Samuel 3:11-14. Here follows the divine announcement of the judgment on Israel and the house of Eli. The Pres. (עשֶֹׁה partcp.) brings the act, though still in the future, before us as near, immediately and surely impending.23 The tingling of both ears is the mark of dread and horror, which comes suddenly on a man, so that he well nigh loses his senses. Clericus’ reference to the Lat. attonitus is excellent, comp. Jeremiah 19:3. The unheard of horror which was to make both ears tingle was (chap. 4) the frightful defeat of Israel in battle with the Philistines, and the loss of the ark to this heathen people.—As in 1 Samuel 3:11 the horror, which is to come upon Israel, is announced, so in 1 Samuel 3:12-14 is declared the judgment of the house of Eli. In 1 Samuel 3:12 the Infs. Abs. (הָחֵל וְכַלֵּה) serve to explain and define the verb fin., “beginning and ending,” that is, from beginning to end, fully, entirely. Not one word of the minatory prophecy (1 Samuel 2:27 sq.) is to remain unfulfilled. (See Ew. § 280, 3 a).—In 1 Samuel 3:13 this announcement is recapitulated. The declaration was a threat, no longer a warning. Judging is in sense (comp. Genesis 15:14) identical with punishing. This punishment will be inflicted on Eli’s house “for ever;” the judgment will never again be removed from it. In what did Eli’s sin consist? In the neglect of the duty which he ought to have performed to his sons as father, high-priest and judge, by the employment of severe chastisement and punishment.He knew their crimes, but let them go unpunished. מְקַלְלִים לָהֶם “cursed themselves” is very hard to explain, unless with Sept. and Then., we read אֱלֹהִים for לָהֶם, and translate “they brought God into contempt,” the Pi. being taken as causative, and Qal=“to come into contempt.” Certainly this rendering would agree with 1 Samuel 2:17; but—aside from the untrustworthiness of the Sept. in relation to the Heb. text, which also may here have been arbitrarily treated on account of this difficulty—against this reading is the fact that God Himself here speaks. The conjecture adduced by Grotius, לִי (“the Hebrews wrote that for לָהֶם ‘themselves’ formerly stood לִי ‘me,’ ”) must be rejected on account of the difference in the letters. There remains no other course than to translate “cursing, bringing a curse on, themselves,” according to the usual explanation.24 Luther gives the correct sense: “that his sons behaved shamefully.” [So Eng. A. V. “made themselves vile,” but this is not exactly correct. See translation and textual note.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:14. The announcement that the punishment is imposed for ever (1 Samuel 3:13) is here marked by the divine oath as irrevocable. (אִם, in view of the ellipsis, with negative force, Ges. § 155, 2 sq.). The transgression of Eli’s house is here spoken of because not only did Eli’s sins of omission and his sons’ sins of commission prove them personally worthy of punishment before God, but the religious depravation that issued from them affected the whole family, even their posterity. (יִתְכַפֵּר Pass. for the usual כֻּפַּר). Because the guilt can never be expiated, therefore the sentence will never be recalled, but, agreeably to the Lord’s true word, will be carried out on Eli’s house. The double “for ever” at the end of the two declarations (1 Samuel 3:13-14) expresses the terrible earnestness of the divine justice. [As to the relation between this announcement (1 Samuel 3:11-14) and the other (1 Samuel 2:27-36), the latter is founded on and supposes the earlier, but does not exactly repeat it. The first message seems (strangely enough) not to have produced the desired effect, namely to rouse Eli and save his house; for, though it is expressed absolutely, we have to suppose that the doom might be averted by repentance and obedience, as in the case of Nineveh. But the old man was too weak, and his sons (who must have heard of the prophet’s threatened punishment) too far gone in sin. No moral change occurs to remove the implied moral condition of the doom, and the sentence is to be executed. Still God will not leave His old servant without another appeal; He sends another message by Samuel. The first prophecy (chap. 2) reviewed, the history of the sacerdotal house of Eli, exposed its unfaithfulness, announced its deposition, and looked beyond to the glory of a new and faithful priestly house. The second prophecy, given through Samuel, reaffirms the punishment, emphasizes Eli’s personal guilt, and declares the sentence on the priestly house to be irrevocable. Its object, then, would seem to be two-fold: 1) to rouse Eli and his sons to repentance and quickening into spiritual life, (see Eli’s response in verse 18, whereas no answer of his to the first threat is recorded); 2) to accredit Samuel as a prophet by making him the bearer of a message that the whole nation would hear of, and to develop his spiritual-prophetic earnestness and faithfulness by bringing him into personal contact with the most serious events. It is hardly to be supposed that the conduct of Eli and his sons had been unobserved by Samuel. Rather they must have occasioned him (in connection with the man of God’s announcement) much serious thought, so that his message to Eli was not something apart from his own intellectual and spiritual life. We must notice, also, the difference in breadth and maturity between the declaration committed to the (doubtless) full-grown man of God, and that delivered through the youth Samuel.—Tr.].

1 Samuel 3:15-18. Samuel before Eli as called prophet of the Lord in his first prophetic function. Although Eli had already received from the “man of God” (1 Samuel 2:27) the prediction of punishment, yet his conduct gives occasion to the repetition (through Samuel who had a direct call from the Lord) of the prophetic announcement of judgment on his house as a word of immediate revelation from the Lord.

1 Samuel 3:15 sq. describe with such psychological and historical minuteness, such clearness and truth to life Samuel’s external situation and tone of mind after the revelation and appearance, and the conduct of Eli who was roused to earnest interest25 by the thrice-occurring call to Samuel, that neither here nor in the preceding description (1 Samuel 3:1-14) is there any ground for Ewald’s opinion that this is not an original tradition. After this revelation Samuel sleeps in his bed till morning. Opening “the doors of God’s house” was a part of his duty in the sanctuary. By the doors we are not to understand the curtains, but real doors, which belonged, however, not to the cells which were perhaps built around, but “to the house of God” itself. Originally, indeed, the Tabernacle, being a tent, had no doors, but, after it was fixed in Shiloh with a solid enclosure, it might somehow have been provided with them. “Perhaps it stood within a larger frame, or a solid temple-space of stone built for its protection" (Leyrer in Herzog’s R.-E. XV. 116.)—Samuel is afraid to tell Eli the vision, the appearance (מַרְאָה) which had presented itself to his internal sense, in which God’s revelation concerning the house of Eli had been set forth before him—partly from awe at the divine word which formed the content of the revelation, partly on account of the dreadful significance it had for Eli, partly by reason of the sorrow of which, in his reverence and filial piety towards Eli, he could not rid himself. But Eli compels him to tell what he had so wondrously learned.—On “my son,” 1 Samuel 3:16, Thenius admirably remarks: “How much is expressed by this one word!” In 1 Samuel 3:17 observe the climax in the words with which, in three sentences, Eli demands information from Samuel; it expresses the excitement of Eli’s soul. He asks for the word of the Lord; he demands an exact and complete statement; he adjures Samuel to conceal nothing from him. God do so to thee and more also, if, etc., is a frequent form of adjuration,26 which threatens punishment from God, if the request is not complied with, comp. 1Sa 14:44; 1 Samuel 20:18.

1 Samuel 3:18. And Samuel told him every whit. His fear was overpowered by Eli’s demand. In obeying Eli he was at the same time obeying the Lord, whose command to enter on his prophetic calling before Eli he must have recognized in the latter’s demand. And he (Eli) said. Two things Eli says: It is the Lord! This is the utterance of submission to the Lord. He sees confirmed what the man of God announced to him, and recognizes the indubitable revelation of the Lord. Let Him do what seemeth Him good. This is the expression of resignation to the unchangeable will of the Lord. To the overwhelming declaration of God Eli shows a complete resignation, giving himself and his house into God’s hands, without trying to excuse or justify himself, but also, it is true, without exhibiting thorough penitence.

1 Samuel 3:19-21. The result of Samuel’s call to the prophetic office, and, at the same time, transition to the description of his prophetical work in Israel. 1) In 1 Samuel 3:19 a the divine principle in his development into a man of God in his prophetic office is expressly emphasized, his growth from youth to manhood (וַיִּגְדַּל) being set forth under the highest theocratic point of view, which is marked by the words: And the Lord was with him.—To him were imparted God’s revelations for Israel, because he was a man after God’s heart, who, amid the temptations to evil that surrounded him in Shiloh, was now as a youth mature and tried in true fear of God and sincere fellowship with God; and his growth rested on a childhood consecrated to the Lord. “The Lord was with him.” This refers not merely to the general proofs of God’s goodness and mercy, to the blessing which he received from the Lord throughout his life, but also to the special revelations and gifts of the Spirit which the Lord imparted to him as His chosen instrument. For 2) in 1 Samuel 3:19 b in the words And he let none of his words fall to the ground is emphasized the divine demonstration of Samuel’s prophetic character by God’s fulfilment of what he prophetically announced as the word revealed to him. The expression “did not let fall” indicates that the word was not spoken in vain, but was fulfilled,27 comp. Joshua 21:45; Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56; 2 Kings 10:10. 2 Kings 10:3) 1 Samuel 3:20 exhibits his general recognition in Israel as a tried instrument for the Lord in the prophetic office. The geographical indication of the extent of this recognition supposes that Samuel was made known to the whole people from Dan on the north to Beersheba on the south (Judges 20:1) as a prophet of the Lord by his declaration of the word of God. (נֶאֱמָן, “found trustworthy,” “tried,” Numbers 12:7). From this it is evident that the people of Israel, in spite of their disruption, yet formed religiously a unit. In spite of the general lack of the declaration of God’s word, there was still altogether a receptivity for it; notwithstanding the decline of the religious-moral life there was not lacking a sense for the self-revelation of the living God through His chosen instrument, the prophet Samuel. It is no doubt intimated in 1 Samuel 3:20 “that Samuel, in contrast with the hitherto isolated appearances of prophets, was known as a man called to a permanent prophetic work” (Nägelsbach, Herz. R.-E. XIII. 26). For the factual ground of 1 Samuel 3:20 is given in the closely connected v. 21, where 4) are stated the continued direct revelations of God to Samuel in Shiloh. “Jehovah continued to appear in Shiloh.” This points to visions as the form of revelation for the internal sense, and as the continuation of the mode of appearance which is set forth in 1 Samuel 3:10; 1 Samuel 3:15 as “vision.” The words “for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord” leave no doubt that that revelation in visions also was made to Samuel, and that the word was the heart and the guiding star of these revelations of the Lord made to him that they might be imparted to the people. As the people had hitherto had its centre in Shiloh in the Tabernacle with the ark as the symbol of God’s indwelling and presence, so now it found in the same place a new centre in the continued revelations of the Lord to Samuel through His word. From now on God made known His will to the people by the revelation of His word to Samuel, the first representative of the permanent prophetic order.28 Thus, then, the beginning of the fourth chapter: And the word of Samuel came to all Israel—is closely connected with the preceding. The word of Samuel is in content, “the word of the Lord,” which was directly revealed to him, he being from now on favored with this revelation (1 Samuel 3:21) in the form of the vision (מַרְאָה); thus the declaration “God revealed Himself to Samuel” is by no means superfluous (Then.); for it is not “the revelation mentioned above" which is here meant, but that which was constantly repeated in vision, by virtue of which Samuel was the Roeh (רֹאֶה), seer. In form the word of Samuel was prophetic announcement, as organ of which he was Nabi (נָבִיא), God’s spokesman, interpreter.29 His word came “to all Israel.” In these words is comprised 5) his prophetic work in all Israel, and the permanent effect of his call to the prophetic office (made by the first revelation) is indicated. The word which came to him from God went by him to the whole people. This close connection of these words with the preceding context, and their closing and comprehensive character shows plainly how incorrect is the ordinary view which connects them with the following, and regards them as a call by Samuel to battle with the Philistines. They are the summary description of his prophetic work, on which his judicial labors rested, the transition to these latter being made in the following narration of Israel’s public national calamity.


1. Samuel’s person and labors as prophet. “So the Lord’s training had borne its fruits. Samuel had been preserved amid the temptations of Shiloh. He had grown up to be a consecrated man and faithful prophet of the Lord—a man of God in the midst of an apostate race—a light in the darkness, and much was gained when God’s word was once more to be found in the land.” (Schlier, Die Könige in Isr., 1865, 2 ed., p. 5.)

“The vigorous and connected ministry of the prophets begins with Samuel, who is therefore to be regarded as the true founder of the Old Testament prophetic order (comp. Acts 3:24). It was that extraordinary time when, with the removal of the ark, the Tabernacle had lost its significance as centre, the high-priest’s functions were suspended, and now the mediatorship between God and the people rested altogether in the inspired prophet. While the limits of the old ordinances of worship are broken through, Israel learns that Jehovah has not restricted His saving presence to the ancient symbol of His indwelling among the people, rather is to be found everywhere, where He is earnestly sought, as God of salvation.” Oehler in Herz. R.-E. s. v. Prophet-enthum des A. T. XII. 214.

2. The time of Samuel’s appearance in Israel as prophet was the time of an internal judgment of God, which consisted in the preciousness of God’s word, that is, in the lack of intercourse of God with His people by revelation. It was a theocratic interdict30 incurred by the continued apostasy of the people from their God, and inflicted by God’s justice. It had the disciplinary aim to lead their hearts back to the Lord, who had long kept silence, had long suspended His revelations. Such a judgment of the cessation of all revelation-intercourse of God with man came upon Saul, 1 Samuel 28:6; 1 Samuel 28:15; comp. the complaint in Psalms 74:9, “there is no longer any prophet,” and the wail in Amos 7:11 sq. over the famine of God’s word. The same law presents itself in all periods of the kingdom of God; men lose the source of life, God’s revealed word, by a divine judgment, when they withdraw from intercourse with the living God, and will not accept His holy word as the truth which controls their whole life.

3. The form of God’s revelation in prophecy is, as we see in Samuel, internal sight, the vision, to which the original appellation Roeh (רֹאֶה or חֹזֶה)31 (according to 1 Samuel 9:9, the earlier usual designation of the prophet) points. “Vision and word of God are in 1 Samuel 3:1 parallel expressions for prophecy.” “The vision is nothing but the inner incorporation, and therefore also symbolizatioii of what is felt in the mind—whether it be in visible shape for the inner eye, or vocally for the inner ear.” (Tholuck, Die Propheten und ihre Weissa-gungen, 1861, p. 54.) The internal sight, by means of which the prophet knows that the content of the prophecy, the matter of the announcement to be made, has been imparted to him by God directly, altogether independently of his own activity, is the vision in the wider sense. For this reason Samuel, like all other prophets, is called a Seer. After his soul, detached from the outer world of sense through the medium of the dream, has thus been brought into a state of more concentrated receptivity for the revelation of God, he sees with the internal sense the matter of the prophetic declaration directly imparted to him by God. “But when the revelation presents its content in visible shape before the prophet’s soul, there results the vision in the stricter sense.” (Oehler, Herz. R.-E. XVII. 637.)

4. In the history of Samuel’s call to the prophetic office are united prototypically all essential momenta32 of theocratic prophecy: 1) the ethical condition of the absolute consecration of the person and the whole life to God’s service on the basis of sincere life-communion with Him, and of mutual intercourse between God and the prophet—(“Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth;” comp. Jeremiah 33:2 sq.: “call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not”); 2) the definite, direct, clearly recognized and irresistible call of God to be the instrument of His revelation, the declarer of His word which is to be imparted to him, connected with the gift of inspiration and capacity therefor by the controlling power of the Spirit of God; 3) the reception of God’s special revelation by word independently of human teaching and instruction and his own investigation and meditation, together with the consciousness of having been favored with a disclosure of God’s objective thoughts; 4) the internal sight as the subjective medium of the reception of the revelation of God, the psychical form of prophecy; 5) the declaration of the revelation received, with the certainty and confidence (produced by the Spirit) that the announced word will be confirmed by the corresponding divine deed. Comp. Oehler, Weissagung, Herz. R.-E. XVII. 627 sqq.33

5. The triple repetition of the divine call to Samuel betokens God’s holy arrangement for preparing His inner life, that he might become an exclusive organ of divine revelation (comp. 1 Samuel 3:7-8), freed from human authority, his soul open only to the utterances of the living God, as is shown by Samuel’s answer to the divine voice: “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:9-10); for by this answer Samuel assumes the position of one who has direct converse with the Lord, that he may, as his servant, hear what the Lord will say to him by His revelations, and thereby the end of the threefold preparative call is fulfilled.

6. That the light of the divine word may illuminate the inner life, the latter must be open to this light, as it is given by divine revelation. The humble readiness to hear and accept God’s counsels with the ear of faith is called forth by the awakening call of God’s voice, and leads to the clear knowledge of His word. The way to fellowship with the living God and service in His kingdom is opened and prepared only by God’s act of grace in calling men by the voice of His word; and so living and abiding continually in fellowship with the Lord is conditioned on the word of revelation, in which the Lord speaks to the soul that stands fast in the obedience of faith. Thus the individual elements of this history of Samuel’s call present a picture of the grace of God that calls us, as all they learn or experience, who, like Samuel, occupy such a position towards God’s word, that to God’s call they answer with him: “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth.”

7. Pardoning grace34 (1 Samuel 3:14) is open to every sinner, and is denied by God for no sin, if there be, on the man’s part, honest, hearty repentance for sin as enmity against God and violation of His holy will, and confident trust in His grace and mercy, that is, if there be a thorough conversion to the Lord. In Eli’s house, in spite of the preceding divine warnings and threatenings, there was continued, persistent sin, and Eli did not summon the resolution to make an energetic cleansing of his house and thoroughly to remove his sons’ wickedness, which he ought to have felt especially bound to do as high-priest; such sin makes it impossible that God’s grace should be shown in the forgiveness of sin, puts a limit to God’s patience and long-suffering, and draws down on itself His punitive judgments as necessary proofs of His holiness and justice. [The Mosaic Law had no offering for presumptuous sins; but underneath the Law (which was civil-political in its outward form) lay the fundamental principle of the forgiveness of the penitent sinner, developed, for example, in Psalms 51:0 and others. This principle, however, though doubtless part of the spiritual thought of ancient Israel, did not find full expression till it was announced that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. But in the New Testament, as in the Old Testament, there is no pardon without repentance.—Tr.]

8. The true permanent unity of Israel, dismembered, as the nation was, during the Period of the Judges, was established by Samuel by means of the word of God which, in his prophetic proclamation, embraced all Israel. Even in times when the national, political and religious-ecclesiastical life is most sadly shattered and disrupted, the divine word, if it is only preached lovingly by preachers that live in it, shows its purifying and unifying power, the receptivity for it being present, and only needing to be called forth.


1 Samuel 3:1. Cramer: That is the greatest and most perilous scarcity, when God causes a dearth, not of bread but of His word.—Wuert. Bible: God does not give His holy word to every one and at every time in great abundance, but causes at certain times also a scarcity therein to be suffered, Ezekiel 3:26; Amos 8:11-12.

[1 Samuel 3:3-14. Stanley: The stillness of the night—the sudden voice—the childlike misconception—the venerable Eli—the contrast between the terrible doom and the gentle creature who has to announce it—give to this portion of the narrative a universal interest. It is this side of Samuel’s career that has been so well caught in the well-known pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:3-10. Steinmeyer (Testimonies to the glory of Christ, Berlin, 1847): The call of Samuel the Prophet, as an image of our entering into communion with the Lord; 1) How the occasion for this communion is given on the part of God, 2) How the condition of it is fulfilled on the part of Samuel, and 3) How this communion itself was begun.—Awaking from sleep! What a striking designation of the turning point between the old and the new in our life also. We were like them that sleep, them that dream, before we entered into communion with God. It is, however, certainly no arbitrary pre-supposition, that this pure, simple, upright nature had definite presentiments that he must be in what was his God’s, and that he was moved by a longing, even though not understood, after the hour which now struck; and even this position of heart appears to find in the image of sleep its beautiful, exactly-corresponding expression. More or less, however, the comparison will also be applicable to us all. If the grace of the Lord caused us to grow up in the temple of His church, as Samuel in the sanctuary at Shiloh, if we were, like him, from childhood nourished with the sincere milk of the word, then there will always in our awaking be a definite recollection that already long before we found ourselves unawares in this sphere, only that hitherto our eyes were holden, while now we are allowed to look freely and without hindrance into the riches of His grace and His truth.

[How far this sort of analogical preaching may be carried, is a question of opinion. There are many who will think it has been carried quite too far in this paragraph.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:8-9. The fact that Samuel, notwithstanding the old man’s assurance that he had not called him, appeared again, and came the third time, without consulting with flesh and blood, was a proof of his simplicity and uprightness. This is indeed the same uprightness which the Redeemer commends in Nathaniel, and here we have certainly a striking example of the Scripture saying: The Lord makes the upright prosper.—That the youth was ready without fretting to present himself three times for the service of his fatherly teacher—what else is it than his obedience towards him to whose discipline and service he had now devoted himself, so firmly grounded in obedience that he did not allow himself to be turned away from his simple, quiet path, not even by the most wonderful testimonies, by perfectly incomprehensible directions. And so with us too, if in any relation whatever we have only learned true obedience, if the position and state of our heart has become that of full and humble subjection, then we are no longer far from the Kingdom of God, which demands blind, unshakable obedience, within which one cannot maintain himself without giving himself up unconditionally to the one authority of Christ in faith as well as in life, and which utterly excludes all selfishness, in whatever form it may come up, all self-will, all entering upon a self-chosen path. [The analogy here and in what follows is extremely remote, and such a use of the passage would seem injudicious.—Tr.]—If we too have only first reached in general the point of being able to believe without seeing—for faith too must be learned—able to believe in the first place the human teaching, rebuking, consoling word,—well, then we are on the way, since the voice of the divine word is believingly received by us.

[Henry: There was a special Providence in it, that Samuel should go thus often to Eli; for hereby, at length, Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child, 1 Samuel 3:8. (1) This would be a mortification to him, and he would apprehend it to be a step toward his family’s being degraded, that when God had something to say he should choose to say it to the child Samuel, his servant that waited on him, and not to him. (2) This would put him upon inquiring what it was that God said to Samuel, and would abundantly satisfy him of the truth and certainty of what should be delivered, and no room would be left for him to suggest that it was but a fancy of Samuel’s.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:10. So then for the first time Samuel stands with consciousness in the presence of the majesty of God—and immediately all the riddles of life begin to be solved for him, and the meaning of his own life to become clear. What he says bears the clearest stamp of a really begun communion with the Lord. Is it not the resolve to say and to do all that the Lord might show him of his lofty thoughts and ways—is it not this, and nothing but this, that is expressed in Samuel’s words: Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth? Has he not thereby once for all renounced self-knowing and self-will? That was the faithfulness as a prophet, which all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba recognized in him (1 Samuel 3:20). And that which thus first established a true communion with the Lord could also alone be the power that maintained it. The constant prayer, “Speak, Lord,” and the constant vow, “Thy servant heareth,”—that is the hand which takes hold of God’s right hand, to be held fast by it with everlasting life.

1 Samuel 3:10. “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth,” a testimony of unconditional devotion to the Lord: 1) How such a testimony is reached, (a) through the Lord’s awakening call, (b) through receptivity of heart for God’s word, and (c) through the deed of self-denial in the renunciation of all self-knowing and self-will; 2) What is therein testified and praised before the Lord: (a) humble subjection (Speak, Lord), (b) steadfast dependence on the Lord in free love (thy servant), (c) unconditional, joyful obedience to His will (thy servant heareth.)—Conditions of a blessed fulfillment of one’s calling for the Kingdom of God: 1) The experience of the power of the divine word: I have called thee by thy name; 2) The repeated call in prayer, “Speak, Lord!” and 3) The fulfillment of the vow: “thy servant heareth.

1 Samuel 3:11. Lange: It is God’s design that when He causes great judgments to occur, men shall with holy terror accept them as a warning. God begins in good time to bring into holy fear the hearts of those whom he wishes to make special and great instruments of advancing His honor. 1 Samuel 3:12. Starke : The Lord’s word is true; Psalms 33:4 [in German; Eng. Ver. correctly: right.—Tr.] Let men therefore not mock at God’s word and threatenings.—Calvin: The guilt becomes so much the greater, when God warns sinners of their transgressions, and they notwithstanding persevere in them. 1 Samuel 3:13. Eli’s guilt becomes so much the greater from the fact that it was known to him how shamefully his sons behaved, and he did nothing to remove this abomination from his house and from the sanctuary. Calvin: Those who are set for the purpose of chastising the wicked make themselves partakers of a like guilt with them, and go quite over to their side, when at most they express censure with words, and so give themselves the appearance of strictness and earnestness, but do not use the power conferred on them to interfere with the godlessness by deeds.

1 Samuel 3:14. If the sons of Eli had earnestly repented, they would have obtained grace. But as they were given up to their godless disposition, they must of necessity be hardened in their sins, and in spite of the offerings they presented, which were an abomination in the sight of the Lord, must suffer judgment.

[1 Samuel 3:11-14. Compare this warning with that previously sent to Eli (1 Samuel 2:27-36). 1) It is simpler, as was appropriate when given through a youth. 2) It is mainly a repetition of what he had been told before, as are so many of God’s messages to men;—the sin mentioned is ‘the iniquity which he knoweth’ (1 Samuel 3:13), and the punishment is ‘all, that I have spoken’ (1 Samuel 3:12). 3) It contains a still more severe threatening, as the former had not led to repentance; (a) an unknown horror is predicted, (b) a punishment of his family that shall never cease. 4) It arouses Eli to enough of spiritual life for submission (1 Samuel 3:18), but not enough for amendment. (Comp. addition by Tr. to Exegetical on 1 Samuel 3:14).—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:18. We should never venture to dispute with God nor wish to speak against and oppose His purpose, but must, even when we do not recognize the ground of His judgments, yea, when we think we are suffering unjustly, adore the righteousness and holiness of His judgments. Eli bowed himself, it is true, in humility and reverence before the Divine Majesty, but we do not see that he stirred himself up to fulfil his duty towards his godless sons, whereby he would have made known by action the earnestness of his own conversion from the slackness and yielding compliance, which made him the sharer of his sons’ guilt. We should therefore lay it earnestly to heart, not merely with the mouth to give God the honor for His wisdom and righteousness, but upon His call to repentance to subject our own life to an earnest self-examination, in order that then we may beseech God to forgive our sins, and may with our whole heart avoid and flee from evil.

1 Samuel 3:19. The word of God does not return void, whether it promises or threatens, and preachers of the word of God learn with Samuel that none of their words fall to the ground, and this just in proportion as they are diligent to preach nothing else than God’s word.

[1 Samuel 3:15-18. Evil Tidings. 1) Samuel shrinks from telling them, as a painful duty. 2) Eli is anxious to be told, (a) He apprehends ill news for himself—accusing conscience—reminded of the warning given through the prophet (1 Samuel 2:27 sqq.) (b) But he desires to know the worst—earnestly conjures Samuel to tell him all. 3) Eli hears evil tidings with submission, (a) ‘He is Jehovah’—the sovereign God—the covenant God—‘too wise to err, too good to be unkind.’ (b) ‘Let him do,’ etc. He submits humbly, trustfully, lovingly. Hall: If Eli have been an ill father to his sons, yet he is a good son to God, and is ready to kiss the very rod he shall smart withal.)—Tr.]

1 Samuel 3:20. Samuel a true prophet of the Lord; 1) Whereby he was such. 2) How he proved himself such before the whole people. 3) How he was recognized as such by them. 4) How he is an example for the faithful in the ministry of God’s word.

Cramer: Not only of the whole church in general, but of every Christian hearer in particular is it demanded, that with reference to the doctrine taught he shall perceive whether it is right and true or not, and stand his ground. In the case of Samuel the word did not hold good: The prophet has no honor in his own country. He comes before us here as a prophet who has much honor in his own country, 1) Because he was a faithful prophet of God, 2) Because he was counted worthy by God of continual revelations through his word, and 3) God confirmed his proclamations by the publicly manifested fulfillment of them as a fulfillment of his word.

[1 Samuel 3:19-21. Henry: The honor done Samuel as a prophet: 1) God did him honor (a) By further manifestations of Himself to him. (b) By fulfilling what He spake by him. 2) Israel did him honor. (a) He grew famous. (b) He grew useful and very serviceable to his generation. He that began betimes to be good, soon came to do good.—Tr.]


[1][1 Samuel 3:1. = “ rare,” see Isaiah 13:12; Chald. renders “hidden.”—Tr.]

[2][1 Samuel 3:1. This word (נפרץ) is variously rendered: Sept. διαστέλλουσα, “distinguishing,” “explaining,” whence some would (without ground) change the text to פֹּרֵץ (which perhaps the Alex. translator read, the Nun omitted from preceding Nun); Chald. “revealed” = “broken open;” Syr. as Heb.; Arab., “the Lord had deprived the children of Israel of revelation in those days, and there was no revelation, to any one of them, and nothing appeared to him;” Vulg. “manifesta;” others, “broken,” “diffused,” “multiplied;” the Jewish interpreters (Rashi, Kimchi, Ralbag) follow the Targ.: Luther, wenig weissagung, “little prophecy;” Erdmann, verbreitet, “spread abroad;” Cahen, “repandu.” This last is probably the correct sense, see 1 Chronicles 13:2; 2 Chronicles 31:5.—Tr.]

[3][1 Samuel 3:2. Erdmann renders “when” (as Eng. A. V.) in order to show that the description from this point is introductory to 1 Samuel 3:4; but the literal translation, given above, clearly indicates the connection of thought, and avoids the interpretation of a construction into the text.—Tr.]

[4][1 Samuel 3:2 and 1 Samuel 3:4, Or, “was sleeping.”—Tr.]

[5][1 Samuel 3:3. טֶרֶם with Impf. following the subject = “not yet.”—Tr.]

[6][1 Samuel 3:3. The Eng. A. V. in making this unwarranted inversion of clauses, was probably controlled by the same motive which led the Masorites to separate שֹׁכֵב (“was lying”) from בְּהֵיבַל (“in the temple”) by the Athnach, namely, to avoid the seeming assertion that Samuel was sleeping in the sacred building. The Targum accordingly renders “was sleeping in the Court of the Levites,” borrowing this term apparently from Herod’s temple. For explanation see Exeg. Notes, in loco.—Tr.]

[7][1 Samuel 3:3. This is the only place where אל׳ (“God”) in the phrase ארוֹן אל׳ (“the ark of God”) occurs without the Art.; אל׳ often occurs with the force of a proper name, but no reason is apparent why the Art. is omitted here in this standing phrase. For discussion of the difference between אל׳ and האל׳ see Quarry’s “Genesis and its authorship,” pp. 270 sqq.—Tr.]

[8][1 Samuel 3:7. Erdmann: “had not yet learned to know,” which is substantially the same as Eng. A. V. On pointing of ידע see Exeg Notes, in loco.—Tr.]

[9][1 Samuel 3:8. The “didst” might now suggest an emphasis not given by the Heb.—Tr.]

[10][1 Samuel 3:9. The impersonal subject is proper, as Samuel did not know who the caller was.—Tr.]

[11][1 Samuel 3:10. Chald. softens this anthropomorphism into “revealed himself,” and the Rabbis add, by a voice from the Holy of Holies.—Tr.]

[12][1 Samuel 3:13. בַּעֲוֹן is difficult. It can be understood here only as in stat. const. with the following clause: Eli’s sin was “that he knew, etc.” So the Vulg. The Targ. and Syr. render as Eng. A. V.; Sept. gives “the iniquities of his sons,” and omits “that he knew;” Wellhausen omits בעין.—Tr.]

[13][1 Samuel 3:13. להם is here taken as reflexive. The true reading here is not clear; the old translators and critics treated it variously. Sept. has θεὸν as if it read אלהים, which Geiger (Urschrift, p. 271) and others adopt. See Erdmann’s remark on this in Exeg. Notes, in loco. Chald. reads as the Heb. (Targ. renders קלל by רגז here and elsewhere); Syr. has “his sons brought ignominy on the people,” reading apparently לעם. This is one of the eighteen cases of the “correction of the Scribes” (see Buxtorf’s Lex. s. v. תִּקוּן), who are said to have changed the original reading לִי “me” to להם “themselves,” to avoid the blasphemy, for which reason also Geiger holds that א׳ “God” was changed. Others suggest that the לי stood for ליהוה “Jehovah.” But it is hard to say how much reliance is to be put on these alleged corrections of the old Jewish critics, and here (as Wellhausen remarks) we expect the Acc. אוֹתִי not לִי after קלל. The external critical evidence is in favor of the reading אלהים “God,” but, the objection to this urged by Erdmann being strong, we can only, with him, retain the present text.—Tr.]

[14][1 Samuel 3:14. It seems desirable to express in an Eng. translation the difference between זבח and מנחה.—Tr.]

[15][1 Samuel 3:15. Sept. here adds “and rose in the morning,” which Thenius and Wellhausen think stood originally in the text, and fell out by similar ending. On the other hand, it is a natural filling out of a terse account, quite in the manner of the Sept.—Tr.]

[16][1 Samuel 3:17. The Eng. “I pray thee” is too strong for the Heb. נָא, for which we have no good equivalent.—Tr.]

[17][1 Samuel 3:21. On the addition of the Sept. here see Thenius and Wellhausen.—Tr.]

[18][Hazon, which is used chiefly in the later books of O. T., Isaiah 1:0) the picture presented to the mind in the ecstatic prophetic state; 2) the body of truth thus given to the prophet. It is the technical word for divine revelation (so contrasted with מַרְאֶה).—Tr.]

[19][See the remark of Tr. under “Textual and Grammatical.”—Tr.]

[20] כּחות is either verbal adj. כֵהוֹת, which forms a single conception with the preceding fin. verb (“they began dim,” i.e., “began to become dim”)—as in Genesis 9:20 the same verb is connected with a subst., Ges., § 142, 4, Rem.—or Inf. Qal בְּהוֹת (comp., Isaiah 3:7; Genesis 27:1; Deuteronomy 34:7 : Job 16:8; Zechariah 11:17), “which the punctuators avoided only because they had not elsewhere met with it” (Böttch.). [This whole note, quoted by Erdmann and Thenius from Böttcher, is somewhat unclear. The passages cited for the Inf. hardly bear on the question. Wellhausen declares the Inf. here without לְ impossible; but see Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 2:31. Winer makes it Piel. Inf.—Tr.]

[21][The Sept. has “before the lamp was prepared,” which may point to the custom of keeping one light burning during the day, and thus indicate the late night or early morning.—Tr.].

[22] טֶרֶם is seldom used, as here, with the Perf. of past time; comp. Psalms 90:2; Ew. § 337, 3, c. We might however point also יִדִעַ with Böttcher, and thus read, “in accordance with the following יִגָּלֶה, a Fiens [Impf.] with טֶרֶם, as is usual.”

[23]On the intrans. תְּצִלֶּינָה see Ew. §196 d [comp. Green’s Heb. Gr. §141, 2.—Tr.].

[24] כִהָה Pi. here trans. “to make faint, weak, frighten” by threatening, terrifying conduct, as elsewhere גָּעַר with בּ, increpare aliquem.

[25][The words “Eli who was roused to earnest interest” have been supplied by the translator, something amounting to this having fallen out of the text, probably by typographical error.—Tr.]

[26][This means not, “may God do to you as you do to me,” but “may God visit your refusal with appropriate punishment.”—Tr.]

[27][The origin of the figure has been sought for in various occurrences, as the spilling of water, the fall of an arrow, or any weapon of war, or of a house, but it is better understood in a general way as signifying “failures,” in contrast with a firm, upright position.—Tr.]

[28][It is an old opinion that there is here a reference to the personal Word, the second Person of the Trinity. The Targ. has “the word of Jehovah was his help,” and so some modern commentators, as Gill. But plainly there is no ground for this.—Tr.]

[29][On Roeh and Nabi see on 1 Samuel 9:9.—Tr.]

[30][The Papal Interdict forbids the celebration of divine service, the administration of the sacraments, ecclesiastical burial and marriage (by Romish ministers), and enjoins fasting and prayer.—Tr.]

[31][On the relation between ראה and חזה see below, 1 Samuel 9:9.—Tr.]

[32][Momentum, translation of Germ. “moment,” “essential or important element.”—Tr.]

[33][See also Fairbairn on Prophecy, Chap. 1, and Lee on Inspiration.—Tr.]

[34][In the Germ. versöhnungs-gnade—“grace of expiation.”—Tr.]

Verses 2-11



1 Samuel 4:1-71 Samuel 4:1-71 Samuel 4:1-7

Infliction of the Punishment prophesied by Samuel on the House of Eli and on all Israel in the unfortunate Battle with the Philistines

1 Samuel 4:1 to 1 Samuel 7:1

I. Israel’s double defeat and loss of the Ark. 1 Samuel 4:1-11

1Now1 [And] Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside 2Ebenezer2; and the Philistines pitched in Aphek. And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel, and when [om. when] they joined battle3, [ins. and] Israel was smitten before the Philistines, and they slew of the army in the field 3about four thousand men. And when the people were come [And the people came] into the camp, [ins. and] the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the Lord [Jehovah] smitten us to-day before the Philistines? Let us [We will] fetch the ark of the covenant4of the Lord [Jehovah] [ins. to us] out of [from] Shiloh unto us [om. unto us], that, when it cometh [and it shall come] among us [into our midst] 4it may [om. it may, ins. and] save us out of the hand of our enemies. So [And] the people sent to Shiloh that they might bring [and brought] from [om. from] thence the ark of the covenant of the Lord [Jehovah] of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims [who sitteth upon the cherubim5]; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there6 with the ark of the covenant of God.

5And [ins. it came to pass], when the ark of the covenant of the Lord [Jehovah] came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang 6again7. And when [om. when] the Philistines heard the noise of the shout [ins. and] they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the Lord [Jehovah] was come into 7the camp. And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God8 is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us ! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. 8Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty gods? these are the gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues [every sort of 9plague] in the wilderness9? Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you; quit 10yourselves like men and fight. And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man to his tent [tents10]; and there was a very great slaughter [the slaughter was very great], for [and] there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. 11And the ark of God was taken, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain [the two sons of Eli perished, Hophni and Phinehas.]


1 Samuel 4:1. Israel’s march to battle against the Philistines does not stand in pragmatical connection with the preceding words ‘ and the word of Samuel came to all Israel,’ as if this latter meant a summons to war with the Philistines (as is held by most of the older expositors, and, among the later, by Keil and O. v. Gerlach.) Rather these words conclude and sum up the description of the origin and commencement of the prophet’s work and of his announcement of the word of the Lord. We are now introduced immediately to the scene of the history, on which Samuel will henceforth appear as the Lord’s instrument, a position he has reached by the call in 1 Samuel 3:1 to 1 Samuel 4:1 a. The narrative sets us straightway into the midst of Israel’s conflict with the Philistines. That the latter were now already in the land is assumed in the narrative, since not only is nothing said of an incursion by them, but the expression “ the Israelites went out against the Philistines” in connection with the succeeding statement of the place of encampment points to the fact that the Philistines had already possessed themselves of the land.11 In support of the view that Samuel summoned the Israelites to war Clericus remarks that he did it in God’s name, that they might be punished by a defeat; but this is inconsistent with the divine justice. The pressure of the Philistine yoke, under which Israel groaned, was already a punishment from God. If this defeat also is so regarded, it can be only on the supposition that the Israelites hazarded this battle not by God’s will, and therefore without a summons by Samuel. The name of the Israelitish camp, Ebenezer, is here given by anticipation, its origin being related in 1 Samuel 7:12, on the occasion of the victory of the Israelites over the Philistines, twenty years after this defeat. According to 1 Samuel 7:12 it was near Mizpeh in Benjamin, Joshua 18:26; from which we must distinguish the Mizpeh in the lowland of Judah, Joshua 15:38. Aphek cannot have been far from this, and is therefore “perhaps the same place with the Canaanitish royal city Aphek (Joshua 12:18), and decidedly a different place from the Aphekah in the hill-country of Judah (Joshua 15:53); for the latter lay south or southeast of Jerusalem, since, according to Josh. loc. cit., it was one of the cities which lay in the neighborhood of Gibeon.”12 (Keil)—In 1 Samuel 4:2 an orderly battle-array on both sides is described. The וַתִּטּשׁ does not describe the spreading of the tumult of battle (as is clear from the following statement that the Israelites were beaten in the line of battle, and thence made an orderly retreat to their camp), but the sudden mutual assault of the opposing lines (Vulg.: inito proelio). It is said: “Israel was smitten before the Philistines,” with reference to the local relation and the victorious superiority of the Philistines, but at the same time in respect of God’s punishing hand which therein showed itself, as is expressly declared in In 1Sa 4:3.13 The Israelites lost in the battle—“in the field,” that is, in the plain, about 4000 men.

1 Samuel 4:3. After the return to the camp, it is assumed as a fact in the ensuing deliberation of the elders, that God had smitten them before the Philistines, and the cause is discussed. The whole people here appears as a unit, which is represented by the elders.—The ark here spoken of is no other than the Mosaic, the symbol of God’s presence with His people, the place of His revelation to them. Cf. Exodus 25:16-22. When the Israelites say: “ We will fetch the ark of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, and it shall come into our midst and save us from our enemies,” they assume that the Lord and the ark are inseparably connected, and that they can obtain His help against the foe, (of which they recognize their need), only by taking the ark along with them into battle. They connected the expected help essentially with the material vessel, instead of bowing in living, pure faith before the Lord, of whose revealing presence it was only a symbol, and crying to Him for His help. This is a heathenish feature in the religious life of the Israelites, and shows that their faith was obscured by superstition, there being no trace here of earnest self-examination with the question whether the cause of the defeat might not lie in God’s holiness and justice thus revealing itself against their sins. Grotius therefore well remarks: “ It is in vain that they trust in God, when they are not purged from their sins.”

1 Samuel 4:4. Jehovah as covenant-God is more precisely designated in a twofold manner, corresponding to the situation, in which the Israelites desire His almighty help, which they think to be externally connected with the ark. As Jehovah Sabaoth He is the almighty ruler and commander of the heavenly powers. As Jehovah who “ dwells above the Cherubim ” [or, “ is enthroned upon the Cherubim”—Tr.], He is the living God, the God of the completest fulness of power and life, who reveals Himself on earth in His glory, exaltedness and dominion over all the fulness of the life which has been called into existence by Him as Creator. The designation of God, “ enthroned on the Cherubim,” is never found except in relation to the ark, which is conceived of as the throne of the covenant-God who dwells as King in the midst of His people. Comp. Hengstenberg on the Psalms 99:1. The Cherubim are not representatives of the heavenly powers, since they are, as to form, made up of elements of the living, animate, earthly creation which culminates in man. Representing this, they set forth, in their position on the ark, the ruling might and majesty of the living God, as it is revealed over the manifoldness of the highest and completest life of the animate creation. In these two designations of God, then, reference is had to the glory and dominion of God, which embraces and high-exceeds all creaturely life in heaven and on earth, and whose saving interposition the Israelites made dependent on the presence of the ark. In sharpest contrast to this indication of God’s loftiness and majesty stands the mention of the two priests Hophni and Phinehas, whose worthlessness has been before set forth, and who represent the whole of the moral corruption and sham religious life of the people. They brought the ark. Berlenburger Bibel: “taking the matter into their own hands, without consulting the Lord, and also without example, that what was testified of Hophni and Phinehas, 1 Samuel 2:24, might be fulfilled.” The loud exulting cry of the people14 in the camp (1 Samuel 4:5) was the expression of the joyful conviction that, now that the ark was with them in battle, victory would not fail. Probably this confidence was strengthened by the recollection of former glorious victories, gained under the presence of the ark in battle.

1 Samuel 4:6-9. And the Philistines heard, 1 Samuel 4:6 sqq. The Philistines’ camp was so near that of the Israelites that they could hear the latter’s shout of joy. For this reason the Aphek, near which the Philistines now had their camp, cannot have been the Aphekah in the hill-country of Judah (Joshua 15:53), which was south orsoutheast of Jerusalem, while, on the contrary, the Mizpah, near which we must put Ebenezer, was about four [English] miles northwest of Jerusalem.15 Noteworthy is here the lively, distinct description of the contrasted tone of the Philistines, the psychological truth of which, in the transition of feeling from consternation to fear, from fear to despair, and from despair to encouragement was most strikingly confirmed. The victors must have been at first astonished and dismayed by the shout of joy of the vanquished. Their astonishment then must have turned into fear and terror, when they learned through scouts that “the ark of the Lord” had come into the camp of the Israelites. First, from their heathen stand-point, to which, as we have seen, that of the Israelites here approached very near, they saw therein the actual presence of the God of the Hebrews. “ As all heathen feared to a certain extent the power of the gods of other nations, so also the Philistines feared the power of the god of the Israelites, and the more, that the fame of his deeds in former times had come to their ears.” (Keil.) Further, they look from this dreaded god at the supposed dangerous position in which they now suddenly find themselves in contrast with their preceding success. As certainly as the Israelites see their victory in the ark of the Lord, so vividly do the Philistines, with the cry “ woe to us!” conceive the defeat which the god of the Israelites will prepare for them. They even fall into despair. The thought of a possible averting of the threatened danger turns into a picturing of the invincibility of the God of the Israelites, and the impossibility of deliverance from him. The predicate “mighty” (אַדּירִימ) stands with elohim in the Plu. and not in the Sing., because here the polytheistic view of heathendom is set forth.16 Calvin: “ It is not strange that they say ‘ gods’ in the plural, for unbelievers ever feign many gods. Therefore this is the speech of unbelieving men, ignorant of the truth. Though the Hebrew word is often used in the Scripture in the plural of the true and only God, yet in this case the attached adjectives and verbs are always in the Sing.” “ אֶלהִיּם (Elohim) is only used very frequently and purposely with the Plu., where polytheism or idolatry is meant, Exodus 30:11; Exodus 30:4; Exodus 30:8, 1 Kings 12:29, or a visible spirit (God), 1 Samuel 28:13, or where heathen speak or are spoken to, Genesis 10:13” (Ew. Gr. § 318 a).17 The fear and despair of the Philistines were founded on the revelation of the irresistible power of this God in the history of the deliverance of the people of Israel out of Egypt. The acquaintance of the heathen nations with the wonderful demonstrations of the power of the God of Israel in this His deliverance was wide-spread. As this deliverance from Egypt was engraved indelibly in the religious consciousness of Israel, and is very often cited in the Old Testament as a type of all mighty self-revelations of God for the salvation of His people, so it was to the surrounding heathen nations the frightful instance of the invincible power of the God of Israel. This is stated, for example, in Exodus 15:14 sq. in reference to the Philistines: “The nations heard, they quaked, fear seized the inhabitants of Philistia,” and in Joshua 2:10 sq. “ We have heard how Jehovah dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt . …, and when we heard it, our hearts melted, and there remained no longer courage in any man, because of you.”—With every kind of plague in the wilderness.—As the “every kind of plague” can only refer to the plagues inflicted by God on Egypt before the exodus of Israel, and the “in the wilderness,” which can mean only the catastrophe in the Red Sea, does not agree with this, Sept. and Syriac have inserted “and” before “in the wilderness;” and Bunsen accepts this as probable, in order to refer the “and in the wilderness” to the destruction in the Red Sea. Against this Böttcher rightly remarks: “the wherewith and the where of two actions are not usually so connected by and.” So against Ewald’s expedient, to insert “in their land” before “and in the wilderness,” Böttcher excellently says, that this would be very tame and flat, that there was no occasion for the supposed omission, and that the expression “ with every kind of plague” cannot in any case suit the destruction in the Red Sea, even if the word מַכָּה “blow” should be applied to the downfall of the army. Böttcher proposes to remove the difficulty by two insertions, of “and ” before “in the wilderness,” and after the latter phrase some expression of a greater demonstration of power, as “destroyed them” (הֶאֶבִידוּהוּ) from Deuteronomy 11:4, but this is too bold. Over against such arbitrary additions to the difficult text, it is by no means a “worthless expedient,” as Thenius calls it, if we suppose that the narrator represents the Philistines as expressing their incorrect and confused view, which corresponds also psychologically with the excitement and precipitation with which they here speak. There is a sort of zeugma here, the recollections of two facts, the plagues and the destruction in the Red Sea, being combined into one expression, whence results a statement in itself incorrect. Keil thinks that, according to the view of the Philistines, all God’s miracles for the deliverance of Israel were wrought in the wilderness, because Israel had dwelt in the land of Goshen on the border of the wilderness; but the phrase“ in the wilderness” is against this. A confusion of view in the Philistines, and an exact relation of it by the narrator may be the more readily assumed, because, on the one hand, the Philistines were not investigators of history, and from their heathen stand-point, had no interest in an exact statement of those remote miracles of God for Israel, and, on the other hand, for these words of the Philistines the narrator had [possibly] before him a lyriclike song of real lamentation, as the Philistines then uttered it; just as, on the Israelitish side, he had similar bits of poetry in David’s lament over Jonathan, and in the song of the women on David’s victory. In 1 Samuel 4:9 the tone of fear, of despair, which had hitherto shown itself, suddenly, and without cause, turns to the opposite. Clericus’ insertion, “others said,” is, certainly, inadmissible; but, from the context, it hardly admits of doubt, that here different speakers from the former are introduced, that now the leaders enter, and, with encouraging words, urge the terrified body of the army to bold struggle. The repeated “be men!” is set over against the twofold expression of despondency “woe to us!” The “be strong—fight!” is directed against the “who will save us?” The reference to the disgrace, which subjection would bring on the Philistines as servants of the Israelites, is based on the pride of the people, and its force is strengthened by reference to the dependency, on the other hand, of the Israelites on them. Comp. Judges 13:1. It is a martial, curt, energetic word, which is in striking contrast with the wide lamentation just heard, and therefore cannot have come from the same mouth as that. The false, secure, superstitious reliance of the Israelites on the present ark, their advance to battle not in the fear of the Lord and in proper trust in Him, and the newly-kindled courage of the Philistines resulted in terrible defeat of the former; the defeat was very great, especially in comparison with the first, in which 4000 fell. The result of the battle was 1) for the Israelitish army a complete dispersion (“every man fled to his tents”) with the terrific loss of 30,000 footmen (the Israelitish army consisted at this time of footmen only); 2) for the ark, its capture by the Philistines, and 3) for the sons of Eli, death. Thus a terrible divine judgment was executed on Israel and its whole religious system, dead, as it was, and void of the presence of the living God. The priesthood was judged in its unworthy representatives; the loss of the ark to the heathen was the sign that the living God does not bind His presence to a dead thing, and withdraws its helpfulness and blessings where covenant-faithfulness to Him is wanting; the mighty army was destroyed, because it had not the living, Almighty God as leader and protector, and He gave Israel, as a punishment of their degeneracy, into the power of the enemy.18


1.The Tabernacle was, according to the divine arrangement, to be the consecrated place, where the covenant-God, dwelling among His people, would be enthroned in the revelation of His holiness, mercy and majesty; according to its designation, it was “the place where God met with the people.” It contravened, therefore, this sacred ordination of God, that Israel should without authority separate the sacred tent and the ark that belonged to it, and drag the latter into the tumult of battle, under the superstitious impression that, removed from the quiet holy place where the people assembled, and where they met with God, it would secure the mighty intervention of God. Thereby was God’s holy method of meeting with His people disturbed and destroyed. For the space outside the Holy Place and the Most Holy was the appointed place where the people assembled and drew near to God through the priesthood; and the place of the priests, symbolizing their mediating office, was between the court and the Most Holy Place; and the Most Holy Place, symbolizing God’s dwelling enthroned amid His people, did this for the whole sanctuary and for the theocratic people only through “the ark of the covenant or of the testimony,” and through its symbolic representation of God’s gracious presence; and therefore the removal of the ark of God from this consecrated place, and its separation from what was intimately connected with it by the idea of the indwelling of God in His people and their meeting together, not only stripped the Holy of Holies of its holy meaning, but also destroyed the whole order and comprehensive aim of the sanctuary. According to this divine order and aim, the people were here to draw near to their God. The people here, on the contrary, demand that God shall come to His people with His help, while they have not approached Him with penitence and humility, with prayer and sacrifice. Herein is set forth the deepest inward corruption of the priestly office, which not only did not prevent, but positively permitted such, an inversion of the theocratic order.
2. The ark, as the most essential part of the sanctuary, whose signification as “dwelling of God” it alone fully expressed, was the symbol of God’s presence with His people in the chief aspects of His self-revelation as covenant-God: first in His holiness and justice, the testimony of which in the covenant-record of the Law as the revelation of the holy and righteous will of God to His people, formed the content of the ark; secondly, in His grace and mercy, indicated by its cover, the kapporeth [mercy-seat], as the symbol of God’s merciful love, which covered the sin of His penitent people; and thirdly, in His royal majesty and glory, whose consoling and terrifying presence over the cover of the ark was symbolized by the cherubic forms. These forms are to be regarded, not as a symbolical representation of real personal existences of a higher spirit-world (Kurtz, Keil), but, both in the simpler shape in which the human form is the prominent and governing one (Exodus 25:0), and in the more elaborate composite form, as in Ezekiel (1 Samuel 1:0), as the symbolical representation of the majesty of God (presented in full glory to the covenant-people), as it is set forth in the completest creaturely life of the earthly creation. The people of Israel, evil-counselled by their elders (1 Samuel 4:3), uncounselled by their high-priest, perverted now the saving covenant-order symbolized by the ark thus constituted, in that, by the external conveyance of the ark into the battle, they severed the mighty unfolding of God’s majesty and glory against His enemies and His saving presence from the ethical condition necessary on their part—that is, in that they did not observe covenant-fidelity in obedience to the law of God, nor sought His grace and mercy in sincere penitence, but rather, in fleshly security and in dead, superstitiously degenerate religious service, deluded themselves into believing that God’s presence would secure protection and help without the moral condition of obedience to His holy will, without penitent approach to Him, and without free appropriation of His offered grace, and that it was, in its essence and working, connected with the sensely and natural. This was in open contradiction to the fundamental view of the religion of Israel, by which the idea that God dwelt above the ark amid His people in a sensely way was excluded.

3. The unauthorized, self-determined inversion of the holy order,19 in which is founded the fellowship of God with man and of man with God, is followed by the opposing manifestation of God’s punitive justice. It does not suffice to see and confess, like the elders of Israel, under the pain of self-incurred misfortune and misery, the revelation therein of the smiting hand of the almighty God; but there must be joined with this the penitent, sorrowful recognition of our own sin as its cause, and the penitent seeking after God’s mercy and help, of which there is no trace in the people and their elders. He who does not, by penitence, living trust in His mercy and obedience, make himself absolutely dependent on God and subject to Him, comes by his own fault into this inverted relation to Him, that he seeks to make Him, the holy and righteous God, subject to himself, and to secure His helping grace according to His own perverse will. Theodoret says in Quœst. in I. Reg. Interrog. X.: “By the loss of the ark God taught the Hebrews that they could rely on His providence only when they lived obedient to His law, and when they transgressed His law, could rely neither on Him nor on the sacred ark.”—Berl. Bibel on 1 Samuel 4:2 : “The elders were right in recognizing the fact that the Lord had smitten them (Amos 3:6). But they were arch-hypocrites in that they did not lay the blame on themselves, and make a resolution to cleanse themselves from sin and idolatry (1 Samuel 7:3-4), and turn to the Lord in downright earnest and with the whole heart, but only counselled to carry the ark of the covenant into battle, put their trust in the outward, and so directed the people. If only the ark were with them, thought they, the Lord must help them. Very differently did David, and in his deep need would hold directly on the Lord; therefore he had the ark of the Lord carried back into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:24 seq.). But they had to learn also that, as they had let obedience to the Lord go, so the Lord would let these outward signs go, with which He was not so much concerned as with obedience.—Out of God we seek in vain for help; nothing can protect us against His wrath. We must give ourselves up to Him, and that is the best means of quieting His anger. And we must so give ourselves up to Him, that we do not once think of trying to quiet His anger.”

4. There is a merely fleshly natural joy in the external affairs and ordinances of religious life and service, in that we think of and use these, not as means of glorifying God and furthering His honor, but as means of satisfying vain desires, selfish wishes and earthly-human ends. The Lord punishes such pretence, not only by thwarting these ends, but by sending the opposite, privation and distress, and even taking away the outward supports and forms of hypocritical godliness and piety, as the ark was taken from the Israelites by the Philistines. “He who has, to him shall be given; and he that has not, from him shall be taken what he has.” [Wordsworth refers, for a similar state of things, to Jeremiah 7:4 sq.—Tr.]

5. It is one of the weightiest laws in the Kingdom of God, that when His people, who profess His name, do not show covenant-fidelity in faith and obedience, but, under cover of merely external piety, serve Him in appearance only, being in heart and life far from Him, He gives them up for punishment to the world, before which they have not magnified the honor of His name, but have covered it with reproach.


1 Samuel 4:1-2. Berlenb. Bible: Israel smitten before the Philistines, is to-day also the spectacle presented by the condition of God’s people. The enemies of the Divine name, the hostile powers of darkness have for the most part the upper hand. Anxiety about sustenance or love for earthly things everywhere plays the master, and even the best Israelites are thereby overcome and made to fall.—Starke: It is indeed not wrong to defend ourselves against the enemy who attacks us; but such defense must be undertaken in true penitence, that we may have a reconciled God and His assistance.

1 Samuel 4:3-4. Starke: In the punishments of God men seldom think of their sins committed, but only of outward means of turning away the punishments, Deuteronomy 26:18; Psalms 78:56-62. Schmid: Hypocrites leave the appointed way, and wish to prescribe to God how He shall help them.

[1 Samuel 4:3. Failure in religious enterprises, as in efforts to evangelize a particular community, or in some field of home or foreign missions. We are prone to see only the external causes of such failure, instead of perceiving and lamenting our lack of devotion and spirituality, and to ask, as if surprised or complaining, “Wherefore has the Lord smitten us before the Philistines?” And in seeking remedies, we are apt merely to hunt out striking novelties in outward agencies, instead of forsaking our sins and crying for God’s mercy and help. Such novelties may be employed, provided a) they are lawful in themselves, and b) we do not take it for granted they will be accompanied by God’s presence and blessing.

1 Samuel 4:4. The tabernacle and its leading contents, 1) as symbols of God’s manifested presence, His majesty, justice, and mercy, and of the need of purification, sacrifice, and priestly intercession in approaching Him; and 2) as foreshadowing the incarnation of God’s Son, and His work of atonement and intercession.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 4:5. Osiander: So joyful are the ungodly in their carnal security that they let themselves dream of a happy issue, while yet they do not think of repentance and reformation of life. [Hall: Those that regarded not the God of the ark, think themselves safe and happy in the ark of God.—Tr.].—Berlenb. Bible: The holiest things and the most precious institutions of the Lord may, as we here see, be most horribly misused contrary to God’s intention, and bring on men the utmost ruin, if they are not handled and read in a holy way and according to the will of God. How clearly is here depicted that false confidence of hypocritical Christians, which they place in outward signs, yea, in Christ Himself, without true repentance and reformation of life.

1 Samuel 4:7-8. Schmid: Even the mere rumor of God and of His works fills the ungodly with fear; how much more God’s written Word. God convinces even unbelievers of His majesty, that they may have no excuse, Romans 1:20.

1 Samuel 4:9. Starke: O ye children of God, do learn here by the example of the Philistines, that as they encourage one another for the conflict against God’s people, you, on the contrary, may encourage yourselves for the conflict against the children of Satan, Ephesians 6:10 sq.—Schmid: So desperately wicked is the human heart, that it opposes itself to God in perfect desperation rather than submit itself to Him in repentance.

1 Samuel 4:10-11. Starke: When the ungodly have filled up the measure of their sins, God’s anger and punishment is sure to strike them.—Schmid: When unbelievers show themselves so brave that it appears as if they had overcome God and His people, they gain nothing by it except that they at least experience God’s heavy vengeance.—Wuertemberg Bible: The outward signs of God’s grace are to the impenitent utterly unprofitable, Jeremiah 7:4-5.—Tuebingen Bible: God often punishes a people by taking away the candlestick of His word from its place, Revelation 2:5.—Schlier: The Lord’s arm would first chastise the secure and presumptuous people, before help could be given; the blows of the Philistines were the Lord’s rods of chastening. But there also was help near to those who would only open their eyes, for the Lord’s chastisements are meant to be unto salvation. And Israel was soon to be able to see that with their eyes. The Lord had chastised His people; but they were not to despair or to perish.—[Hall: The two sons of Eli, which had helped to corrupt their brethren, die by the hands of the uncircumcised, and are now too late separated from the ark of God by Philistines, which should have been before separated by their father. They had lived formerly to bring God’s altar into contempt, and now live to carry His ark into captivity; and at last, as those that had made up the measure of their wickedness, are slain in their sin.—Tr.]


[1][1 Samuel 4:1. The LXX here insert: “and it came to pass in those days that the Philistines gathered themselves together against Israel to battle,” a natural introduction which we should expect in this place, but for that very reason suspicious, since it might easily be added by a copyist to fill out our brief and abrupt text. It is not unlikely, as Bib. Comm. suggests, that the account is taken from a fuller narrative, and is introduced here chiefly to set forth the fulfillment of the prophecy against Eli’s house, that is, from the theocratic-prophetic point of view. See Erdmann’s Introduction to this Comm. § 4. The Vulg. here agrees with the Sept., the other vss. with the Hebrew.—Tr.]

[2][Two articles as in John 3:14; 2 Samuel 24:5, to give prominence to each word.—Tr.]

[3][1 Samuel 4:2. Chald.: “The combatants spread themselves out,” Syr.: “there was a battle,” Sept.: ἔκλινεν ὁ πόλεμος “the battle turned (against Isr.),” Vulg.: inito certamine, Erdmann: “der Kampf ging los.” The stem גטשׁ means “to put away, scatter;” here literally “the battle spread out,” of which the rendering in Eng. A. V. is probably a fair equivalent. Thenius suggests that the Sept. read וַתָּמָשׁ, but Abarbanel also renders the verb by עזב “leave,” as if the defeat of the Israelites was referred to.—Tr.]

[4][1 Samuel 4:3. Sept. omits “covenant,” and had a different text from ours, but it has no claim to reception.—Tr.]

[5][1 Samuel 4:4. Sept. καθημένου χερουβίμ, Chald. and Syr. “on” (as in 2 Samuel 22:11), Vulg. “super.”—Tr.]

[6][1 Samuel 4:4. Sept. omits “there” and thus gives a very good sense; Vulg. supports Sept., and Heb. is supported by Ch. and Syr. Wellhausen thinks the word was inserted from 1 Samuel 1:3.—Tr.]

[7][1 Samuel 4:5. or “shook.” So Erdmann: erbebte.—Tr.]

[8][1 Samuel 4:7. The Chald., to avoid seeming irreverence, has “the ark of God is come.” The text of Sept. is here very bad.—Tr.]

[9][1 Samuel 4:8. To avoid the historical difficulty here LXX. and Syr. insert “and” and Chald. “and to his people wonders” before “in the wilderness .” See Exeg. Notes in loco.—Tr.]

[10][1 Samuel 4:10. Ch. “cities.”—Tr.]

[11][On the chronology see Trans.’s note on p. 54. The dates are difficult, but the first battle of Ebenezer may be put approximately B. C. 1100. about the time of Samson’s death, when Samuel was about 20 (or perhaps 30) years old. The third battle of Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:0) falls about 1080.—Tr.]

[12][Mr. Grove (in Smith’s Diet, of the Bible) thinks it likely that the Aphek is the same as that mentioned in 1 Samuel 29:1, and different from the places mentioned in Joshua 12:15, but not far from Jerusalem on the north-west. But see on 1 Samuel 29:1.—Tr.]

[13][This fact is not involved in the word before, which belongs to the common formula for a defeat, but is a part of the religious belief of the Israelites.—Tr.]

[14][It was the army that hero acted, rather than the people in a political capacity; but the word “people” perhaps points to the absence of a regular army.—Tr.]

[15][Neby Samwil, which is identified hy Robinson with Mizpah, is about five miles from Jerusalem. Bonar and Stanley prefer Scopus (about a mile from Jerusalem), as the site, and this view is favored by Mr. Grove. Smith’s Bib. Dict. s. v. Mizpah.—Tr.]

[16][And, therefore, it should be rendered plural,—“mighty gods,” and not, as Erdmann in his translation, dieses mächtigen Gottes, “this mighty god.” Tr.]

[17][But see Genesis 1:26; Genesis 11:7; Genesis 20:13, 2 Samuel 7:22, Ps. 58:12, where the renderings “gods,” “deity,” etc., are not quite satisfactory.—Tr.]

[18][These two battles are the first and second battles of Ebenezer; for the third, see 1 Samuel 7:0.—Tr.]

[19][We must guard, however, against laying too much stress on the ceremonial, symbolical order, which David violated (1 Samuel 21:0) without wrong. The Israelites were punished, not because they violated symbolic logic in removing the ark from the sanctuary, but because their whole religious life was perverted and disobedient. This was only the occasion of the lesson.—Tr.]

Verses 12-22

II. The Judgment on the House of Eli. 1 Samuel 4:12-22

12And there ran a man of Benjamin20 out of the army, and came to Shiloh the 13same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head. And when [om. when] he came [ins. and] lo, Eli sat upon a [his21] seat by the wayside22 watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when [om. when] the man came into the city and told it [came, in order to tell it in the city] [ins. and] all the city 14cried out. And when [om. when] Eli heard the noise of the crying, he [om. he, ins. and] said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in 15hastily [hasted and came] and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety and eight23 years old, 16and his eyes were dim [set] that he could not see. And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to-day out of the army. And he said, 17What is there done, my son? And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God 18is taken. And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side24 of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died; for he was an old man [the man was old], and heavy. And he had judged 19Israel forty25 years. And his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered;26 and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed, 20for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said, Fear not; for thou hast borne a son. But she answered 21not, neither did she regard it. And she named the child Ichabod, saying “ The glory is departed from Israel,” because the ark of God was taken, and because of 22her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken.


1 Samuel 4:12 sq. The persons and events of the following narrative are described with peculiar vividness, so that we may here without doubt suppose the narration to rest on the direct account of an eye-witness. A man of Benjamin.—Thenius: “ This exact statement vouches for a faithful tradition.” That he comes with mournful tidings is shown by his rent garment and the earth strown on his head, as signs of sudden deep grief, in which the heart is rent with sorrow. Comp. Genesis 37:29; Genesis 37:34; Numbers 16:6; Joshua 7:6; 2 Samuel 15:32; Eze 27:30.27To Shiloh the man came straight from the army (מַעֲרָכָה, Vulg. ex acie). According to the Jewish tradition28 this man was Saul, who snatched from Goliath the Tables of the Law, taken out of the ark, in order to save them. Instead of the יַךְ (he slew) of the text, which is unintelligible, we must read יַד (side)1 Samuel 29:0 : He sat by the side of the way, watching. Thenius remarks: “ What a strange expression !” But the sitting in the way, or on the side of the way by which the first message must come, answers precisely to the intense expectation in which Eli, though blind, had taken this position, so as, if not with the eyes (which, however, had perhaps still a glimmer of light), yet with the sense of hearing to learn straightway the arrival of the first messenger. Eli sits, as in 1 Samuel 1:9 at the inner, so here at the outer gate of the Sanctuary, on his seat,30 and, as appears from 1 Samuel 4:18, on the side of the gate, which was also, therefore, the side of the adjacent way.—His heart was heavy, not merely “ from anxiety and care for the ark, which without divine command he had let go from its dwelling-place into the camp” (Berl. Bib.), but also in respect to the issue of the battle itself for the people of Israel.—Eli’s blindness explains the fact that he failed to observe the messenger, who ran hurriedly by31 without noticing him. It is the cry of lamentation, raised by the people of Shiloh at his news, that directs Eli’s attention to the announcement. His question concerning the loud outcry around him, on which the messenger came to inform him, is explained in 1 Samuel 4:15 by reference to his blindness, the result of old age.—Eli was 98 years old, and his eyes were set. (The Fem. Sing. קמה with עיניו is explained, according to Ewald, § 317 a, by the abstract conception which connects itself with the Plu. of the Subst. by the combination into an abstract idea of the individuals embraced in it, “especially in lifeless objects, beasts, or in co-operating members of one body, in which the action of the individuals is not so prominent—and so in the Dual,” as here). For “were set” comp. 1 Kings 16:4, where occurs the same expression for blindness caused by old age. It is the vivid description of the lifeless, motionless appearance of the eye quenched by senile weakness, “a description of the so-called black cataract, amaurosis, which usually ensues in great old age from the feebleness of the optic nerves” (Keil, in loco). In 1 Samuel 3:2 the process of this blinding is indicated by the word כהה as “waxing dim.”

1 Samuel 4:16 sq. The sorrowful tidings. The remark in 1 Samuel 4:15 concerning Eli’s senile weakness and blindness explains both the preceding 1 Samuel 4:14 and the statement in 1 Samuel 4:16 as to the way in which the messenger personally announces and introduces himself with the words: I am he that came out of the army.—But he says, “ I am he that came” not merely on account of Eli’s blindness, but also on account of the importance of the announcement with which he approaches the head of the whole people. It is not allowable, therefore, to translate: “I come” (De Wette). At the same time the messenger declares himself a fugitive, and so intimates that the army is completely broken up. Eli’s question refers not to the How (how stood the affair? De Wette, Bunsen), but to the What: “What was the affair?” (Thenius), Vulg.: quid actum est?—The answer of the messenger to Eli’s question (1 Samuel 4:17) contains nothing but facts in a fourfold grade, each statement more dreadful than the preceding. There is a power in these words which comes out in four sharp sentences, with blow after blow, till its force is crushing: Israel fleeing before the Philistines, a great slaughter among the people, Eli’s sons dead, the ark taken. The double “and also” (וגם) is to be observed here as characteristic of the lapidary style of the words, and the excitement with which they were spoken.—The narrator remarks expressly that the fourth blow, the news of the capture of the ark by the heathen, led to Eli’s death. This is again a sign of the fear of God, which was deeply rooted in his heart; the ark represented the honor and glory of the God who dwelt in His people; the people’s honor and power might perish; the destruction of his house might be irretardable, unavoidable; prepared beforehand for it, he had said: “ It is the Lord, let him do as seemeth him good !” But the loss of the ark to the heathen was his death-blow the more surely, the firmer had been his hope that, as of old in the time of Moses and Joshua, the host of Israel would win the victory over the Philistines under the lead of the ark which he, a weak guardian of the Sacred Vessel, had sent off to the battle without Divine command, weakly yielding to the elders of the people whose trust was not in the living God. His judicial and high-priestly office, lacking as it was in honor and renown, he closed with honor; though the manner of his death was terrible, and bore the mark of a divine judgment, he nevertheless died in the fear of God. Berl. Bib.: “It is besides an honorable and glorious death to die from care for God’s honor.” His judgeship had lasted 40 years. The Sept. reading, 20 years for 40, results, according to Thenius, from the confusion of the numeral letters מ and כ, as the reading 78 (Syr., Arab.) for 98 in 1 Samuel 4:15, according to the same critic, may be due to the confusion of צ and ע. Further, our text “ is sustained by the fact that Eli hardly became Judge in his 78th year" (Thenius).

1 Samuel 4:19 sq. Here follows the pathetic narrative of Eli’s daughter-in-law, in which is shown how the judgment on Eli’s house is still farther fulfilled in his family.32 The wife of Phinehas was so violently affected by the horror and sorrow that her pains came prematurely on her. Literally it reads: “ her pains turned upon her,” or “ began to turn themselves within her.” This expression is suggested by the ground-meaning of the word (צִירִים), “something turning, winding, circling.”

1 Samuel 4:20. The comforting word of the women who stood by: “ thou hast borne a son ” does not rouse the mother’s joy in her heart, and cannot overcome or soften its sorrow at the loss of the ark, which is more to her than the loss of husband and father-in-law—and this is set forth by two expressions in the narration: “ she gave no answer, and laid it not to heart,” did not set her mind on it. Comp. Psalms 62:11 שׂוּם לֵב. What is commonly for a mother’s heart at such a time the greatest joy (John 16:21), was for her as if it were not; so is her soul occupied and taken up with sorrow for the lost ark. This shows the earnest, sincere piety, in which she is like her father-in-law. Eli’s house, made ripe by his weakness for so frightful a judgment, was not in all its members personally a partaker of the godlessness and immorality of those who certainly, before the Lord and the whole nation, stamped it as ripe for God’s righteous punishment. “ The wife of this deeply corrupt man shows how penetrated the whole people then was with the sense of the value of its covenant with God ” (O. v. Gerlach).33

1 Samuel 4:21. She gives expression to what fills her heart by naming the child Ichabod. This name is not ” where is glory?” (אֵי כ׳) that is, nowhere, but it = “not glory.”34 She explains the name Not-glory, Un-glory by saying (לֵאמֹר): “the glory of Israel is carried into captivity.” (The אֵל, as in verse 19, is “ in reference to,” “ having regard to,” and belongs to לֵאמֹר as the continuation of the words of the narrator, not of the dying woman). The narrator has in mind her words, on which she based that ejaculation, but does not state them as hers till afterwards; here he states beforehand the fact contained in them as a historical explanation. We must note, however, the difference between his explanation and her reason for that exclamation in 1 Samuel 4:22. While he mentions the reference (אֶל) to the two dead, she bases the name (כִּי) on the one thing only, the capture of the ark. The honor or glory is the divine majesty, the glory of God, which is enthroned above the ark. Grotius: “ The ark above which God was accustomed to appear in glory.” With the capture of the ark “Israel’s glory is carried into captivity;” “with the abandonment of the earthly throne of His glory, the Lord seemed to have annulled His covenant of grace with Israel; for the ark, with the tables of the law and the kapporeth [mercy-seat], was the visible pledge of the covenant of grace which Jehovah had made with Israel” (Keil). Eli’s son’s wife dies, as Eli himself, in consuming sorrow over what was the core of this national and domestic misfortune, over the judgment of the turning away of the almighty living God from the covenant-people, the outward sign of which was the removal of the ark, on which, in accordance with His promise given in the law, He would sit as Israel’s God and dwell in the midst of His people. Comp. Exodus 25:22; Exodus 30:6; Exodus 30:36; Exodus 40:35 (“the glory of the Lord filled the dwelling”), 1 Kings 8:10-11. [Bib. Comm. refers to Psalms 78:61; Psalms 78:64 as containing allusions to this incident. Wordsworth: “With God there is no Ichabod.”—Tr.] “The necessary result of this national view of the ark is that there was only one sanctuary, so that all those passages which affirm it may be cited as direct testimony to the fact that there was only one sanctuary.” (Hengst. Beit. [Contrib.] 3:55.)


1. In the history of His kingdom on earth God the Lord often permits times to come, when it seems as if the victory had been forever borne away from His people by the hostile world, and the holy ordinances of His kingdom, and its gracious benefits forever abandoned to the power of unbelief. Such times are times of judgment on the house of the Lord, the purpose of which is to make manifest all who truly belong to the Lord’s people, to put an end to the hypocrisy of dead belief and of the unbelief which is concealed under outward forms and the appearance of godliness, to lead to earnest, honest repentance, and bring men to seek again God’s mercy in true living faith.
2. Outcry over inbreaking outward and inward corruption, in which God’s judgments are inflicted, is nothing but an expression of the sorrow which flesh and blood feels, a sign of the distance and alienation of the fleshly heart from God, unless therein the cry is heard: “It is the Lord, this the Lord hath done,” and the confession is made: “We have deserved it by our sins,” and unless recourse is had in penitence and faith to God’s grace and mercy. And all this was lacking in the outcry of that whole city and its loud tumult.
3. “Being in God”—that is, the union of the heart with Him in the deepest foundation of its being, reveals itself in times of great misfortune and suffering in this, that the sorrow and mourning is not restricted to the loss of earthly-human possessions, but directs itself chiefly to the loss and lack of God’s gracious presence, and thus shows that for the inner life the glory of God and blessedness in communion with Him is become the highest good. So here in this refraining from grief over the loss of what to the flesh was the nearest and dearest, and in the outspoken sorrow only over the violence done to God’s honor and the contempt cast on His name, is verified the Lord’s word: “He who forsaketh not father or mother, or brother, etc., is not worthy of me.”

4. Eli and his son’s wife are shining examples of true heartfelt piety in the gloom of the corruption that reigned in the high-priestly family and the judgments that came on it, in that they are not taken up with their own interests, but bewail the violation of the sanctuary, the contempt put on God’s honor as the highest misfortune; and so in times of universal confusion and degradation which God the Lord lets befall His kingdom in this world, He has always His people in secret, who look not on their own need and tribulation as most to be lamented, but sorrow most deeply and heavily that the ends of His grace are thwarted, the honor of His name violated, and the affairs of His kingdom in confusion.
5. Even a sudden terrible death under the stroke of a merited judgment of God may be a blessed death in the living God, if the heart breaks with the cry: “To God alone the glory!”


1 Samuel 4:12. The outward signs of mourning, such as were usual among the people of Israel—rending the garments and putting ashes or dust on the head—ought to be a symbolical representation of godly sorrow for sin, in which the heart is broken to pieces by the word of the holy and righteous God, and the whole man casts himself humbly and penitently into the dust before his God. [Very fanciful.—Tr.] But, as then under the oppression of Philistine rule in Israel, there is nowhere a trace to be found of such repentance, when the misfortune over which men mourn and lament is not regarded and felt as a punishment of God for sin, and the smiling hand of the righteous and holy God is not therein recognized.

1 Samuel 4:13. S. Schmid: We must take care not to do any thing with a doubtful conscience, that we may not have always to stand in fear, Romans 16:23.—Those who will not cry out over their sins in true repentance must at last cry out over the punishment and their misfortune.

1 Samuel 4:17-18. Starke: When men sin without distinction, God also punishes without distinction, and regards no person, dignity, age, nor condition, Wis 6:7.—S. Schmid: The honor of God and the true service of God must lie more on our hearts than our own children and parents.—Berl. Bible: It is a wonderful thing that whereas the people were so powerful and had gained so many victories, as long as God protected them, they now fly and let themselves be overcome almost without a struggle, as soon as ever God ceases to be on their side. If God protects us in a special way, we are a match for our enemies; but if He leaves us only for a little to ourselves, into what weaknesses do we not then fall! So that we unite with our enemies in contributing much to our downfall.—We must, however, regard it as an effect of God’s compassion when He permits us to be smitten. For if this did not happen, we should not sufficiently recognize our weakness, and our great need of His assistance.—It is an honorable and glorious death to die from concern for the honor of God.

1 Samuel 4:21-22. Berleb. Bible: As soon as we lose this presence (God’s), we fall into the utmost weakness and into powerlessness, so that we can no more do what we have done before. We also cease to be a terror to our enemies; for these, on the contrary, now rejoice over our defeat.—Wunderlich (in Daechsel): So prevalent in Israel was a regard for the glory of God, which streamed down upon the people, so deeply implanted was the theocratic national consciousness that a woman in travail forgot her pains, and a dying woman the terrors of death, a mother did not comfort herself in her new-born son, and sorrow for the lost jewel of the nation outweighed even sorrow for the death of a father and of a husband, and this in a family and in a period which must be regarded as degenerate.

1 Samuel 4:12-22. A terrible and yet an honorable end—if 1) With the humble confession “ It is the Lord ” the hand of God as it smites down is held back; 2) In complete unselfishness one’s own misfortune and ruin is quite forgotten over the shame brought upon the honor and the name of God; and 3) The hidden man of the heart, with all his striving, turns himself alone towards the honor and glory of God as his supreme good.—The defeats of God’s people in the conflict with the world which is hostile to His kingdom. 1) Their causes: a) on their side: unfaithfulness towards the Lord, arbitrary, self-willed entrance into the strife without God, cowardice and flight; b) on God’s side: punitive justice, abandonment to the hands of their enemies. 2 Their necessary consequences: deep hurt to the yet remaining life of faith, injury to the honor of God, and shame brought upon His glorious name. 3) The results contemplated by God in permitting them, or their design: sincere repentance, all the more zealous care for the Lord’s honor, glorifying His name so much the more.—Without honor to God no honor to the people: 1) In the inner life of the people—error and heterodoxy, where the light of His revealed truth does not shine, sin and unrighteousness, where there is a lack of faithful obedience to His holy will, spiritual-moral wretchedness and ruin, where God must withdraw His gracious presence; 2) In the outer life of the people in relation to other peoples, oppression and subjection, introduction from without of godlessness and immorality, loss of their good name.—The cry, Ichabod, the glory is departed from Israel, is a cry which 1) as a lamenting cry, is grounded in the proper recognition of the cause, greatness and significance of the ruin and wretchedness which come from being abandoned by God, and 2) as an awakening cry is designed to admonish to earnest repentance and returning to the Lord, that the light of His glory may again break forth out of the gloom.

[1 Samuel 4:19-22. The pious wife of Phinehas. 1) Pious, though living in an age of general corruption. 2) Deeply pious, though the wife of a grossly wicked husband. 3) So pious, that in her devout grief all other strongest feelings were swallowed up: a) maternal feeling, b) conjugal and filial feeling, c) patriotic feeling.—Tr.]


[20][1 Samuel 4:12. Instead of the Gen. construction, as here, the Heb..has more commonly the tribal name as Adj. (gentilie), as in Judges 3:15; 2 Samuel 20:1; but for ex. of this form see Judges 10:1.—Tr.]

[21][1 Samuel 4:13. The Art. here points to some well-known or accustomed seat.—Tr.]

[22][1 Samuel 4:13. It is generally agreed that we must here read, with the Qeri and Syr., יד instead of יך, but the absence of the Art. in דרך makes a difficulty, and the Sept. and Chald. seem to hare rendered from a slightly different text. Sept. has: “Eli was near the gate, watching the way,” and Chald.: “Eli sat in the path of the way of the gate watching.” So in 1 Samuel 4:18 the Heb. text “side of the gate.” It would seem probable, therefore, that הַשַּעַר “the gate” has fallen out here.—Tr.]

[23][1 Samuel 4:15. Sept. here gives 90 years, and Syr. (followed by Arab.) 78.—Tr.]

[24][1 Samuel 4:18. Wellhausen objects to בעד יד, rejects the עד as repetition by error, and reads ביד. But this is unnecessary; comp. the אֵל in 2 Samuel 18:4, and the force of בעד in Job 2:4.—Tr.]

[25][1 Samuel 4:18. Sept. gives 20 years, other verss. 40.—Tr.]

[26][1 Samuel 4:19. לַת for לֶדֶת, the only place where this contraction occurs (so Rashi).—Tr.]

[27][On the importance of “runners” see note in Bib. Comm. on this verse, which remarks also, that as the messenger came from Ebenezer within the day (1 Samuel 4:16) it must have been near.—Tr.]

[28][See Talmudical Tract Sota, and the Midrash of Samuel, and comms. of Rashi and Abarbanel.—Tr.]

[29][See “Textual and Grammatical” note on this word.—Tr.]

[30][This word (כסא) everywhere else clearly means “throne” (unless perhaps in 1 Kings 2:19; Psalms 9:14), and comp. Zechariah 6:13. Yet, in the infrequent occurrence of any word for an ordinary seat (and see Ezekiel 28:2, מוֹשַׁב א׳ “seat of God”), though the word seems to imply something of official dignity, the rendering throne (Josephus: ἐφ’ ὑψηλο͂υ θρόνου) would here be not so good as “seat.”—Tr.]

[31][The messenger probably entered the city by the gate where Eli was sitting.—Tr.]

[32]The לְ before לֶדֶת=לַת is that of time, our towards, on, about; comp. Joshua 2:3, “the gate was for closing,” that is, was to be closed immediately; Ew. Gr. 217, 2 b. So here: towards bearing, near to bearing. On the contraction of לֶדֶת into לַת comp. Ew. Gr. § 236,1 b, and § 80.—אֵל is often used, as here, to point out the object to which the narration relates—with the verbs “say, relate.” Comp. Genesis 20:2; Psalms 2:7; Psalms 69:27; Isaiah 38:19; Jeremiah 27:19; Job 42:7. It is explained by the fact that, in narrating or speaking, the mind is directed to the object, stands in relation to it. Comp. לִ Isaiah 5:1. That it here depends on a subst., and not, as usually, on a verb, does not affect the principle, since a verbal conception lies in this subst.

[33][We can hardly draw a conclusion concerning the whole nation from the example of one person, and Gerlach’s inference is, for other reasons, doubtful.—Tr.]

[34] אִי is not אָבִי contracted, as in אִיעֶזֶר, Numbers 26:30; Ew. § 84 c, but = “not,” “without,” Ew. § 273 b, A. 1, p. 667, comp. § 209 c, to which the context points.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/1-samuel-4.html. 1857-84.
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