This Chapter folds within its bosom heavy tidings for Israel in general, and Eli's house in particular. In a battle between the Philistines and Israel, the Israelites presumptuously, and without taking counsel of the Lord, bring the ark of God into the camp. The Philistines are again conquerors; they take the ark of God: the two sons of Eli, according to the Lord's declaration, are both slain. Tidings coming to Eli of those events, the old man falls from his seat, and dies; and his daughter-in-law, Phinehas's wife, in the premature labor of child-bed, dies also. Such are the woeful contents of this chapter.
1 Samuel 4:1
(1) ¶ And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek.
By the word of Samuel coming to all Israel, is meant, no doubt, to show that the Lord had commissioned him, as his servant, that whether the people would hear, or whether they would forbear, they should know that there was a prophet of the Lord among them. Ezekiel 2:5.
(2) And the Philistines put themselves in array against Israel: and when they joined battle, Israel was smitten before the Philistines: and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.
This spot of Ebenezer, where the Philistines pitched their army, was made memorable in the after battles of Israel. About twenty years after, here it was that Samuel set up the stone of help, and called it Ebenezer. And doth not our God now sometimes, and not unfrequently, make that very spot memorable where afflictions and soul-searching situations first begin? The heavy slaughter in this battle of the army of Israel, by the uncircumcised Philistines, loudly testified the Lord's displeasure at the sin of his people. The Lord had said, that if they despised his statutes, and abhorred his judgments, he would set his face against them, and they should he slain of their enemies; and here we see it; Leviticus 26:15; Lev_26:17.
(3) And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us today before the Philistines? Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.
What an awful character is man, void of the teachings of divine grace! Had Israel been humbled under the mighty hand of God, and had the elders of Israel, with prayer and supplication, consulted the ark of God, instead of presumptuously bringing the ark out of the sacred spot where God had appointed it to be placed, all might have been well. But by this daring act, unauthorized of God, and as it should almost seem, in defiance, (from the expression, wherefore hath the Lord smitten us?) they evidently manifested that punishment, instead of humbling, had hardened their minds. Reader! if under divine visitations, instead of flying to Jesus, we take up with the mere profession of the religion of Jesus, and trust in the form of Godliness, void of the power of it; wherein do we differ from them?
(4) So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
One might reasonably have thought that after the message of the man of God to Eli's house, no Israelite would anymore have put confidence in the ministry of his two sons, much less expect a blessing from God, when such profane hands were employed in bringing up the ark of God. But evil men, and seducers (saith an apostle) shall wax worse, and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Timothy 3:13. Reader! pause with me over this passage, to remark, that when God ceaseth to punish, depend upon it destruction is at hand. If Ephraim is let alone, it is because he is joined to his idols. Hosea 4:17. Reader! I charge it both upon your heart and my own, to keep in view with the most solemn remembrance, that in all our troubles and visitations, we look out for the hand that smites, and watch over the heart that is smitten, for improvement under it. Doth the affliction, be it what it may, make me more prayerful? Am I more humble? more submissive? is Jesus more precious? Put it down as a never failing maxim, that no affliction is truly sanctified, until these effects are induced. Precious Jesus! do thou, in all our visitations, graciously make this the issue.
(5) And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again.
How different this carnal joy from joy in the Holy Ghost?
(6) And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, 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 was come into the camp. (7) And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. (8) Woe 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 in the wilderness. (9) 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 yourselves like men, and fight.
The view here given of the enemies of God, may serve to teach us how exceedingly, even in carnal minds, the awful dread of danger is incorporated in their very nature. Reader! be assured of this one thing, ungodly men feel conviction at times of their being wrong, and are compelled to give their evidence of it, though they are not brought over to the interests of God and of Christ. Sweet thought of encouragement to the believer, in the midst of all the prosperity of sinners. See Asaph's conclusion on this point. Psalms 73:1-20.
(10) ¶ And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. (11) And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.
The awful event of the captivity of the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts which dwelleth between the cherubim, furnisheth for solemn contemplation such an interesting subject as must not be hastily passed over. The Psalmist hath recorded this sad history in the after ages of the church, and assigned at the same time the causes of it. Israel provoked God to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images. Wherefore the Lord greatly abhorred Israel, and delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemies hand. Psalms 78:58-64. This passage throws a light upon our present subject. No wonder the Lord forsook Shiloh, when the ark in Shiloh was profaned, and both priests and people had forsaken the Lord in Shiloh. No wonder that the Lord in the correction of his people should suffer the enemy to triumph so far, when his love could not triumph in the recovering of them. Is it not time when mercies cannot reclaim, that severities shall be used'? Reader! let you and I pause over this history. Doth not the Lord speak in it and by it, to all his backsliding children in the language of his prophet: Go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it, for the wickedness of my people Israel. Jeremiah 7:12. But while we awfully attend to this dark side of the subject, let us not forget to view the bright side also. Though God did remove or cause to be removed, the ark which was a symbol of his divine presence, he did not remove himself which that ark represented. Though the church in that age or any other age of corruption like it, may lose the ordinances of Jesus; blessed be his holy name, his church cannot lose him. If Shiloh be without the ark, the church of the Lord of Shiloh shall never be without its Lord. Lo! I am with you always, (saith our Jesus) even unto the end of the world. This is a refreshing thought to my soul, Reader, in the present moment of writing. God in mercy grant, if it be his holy will, that the golden candlestick of the gospel may never be taken out of its place. But if his wisdom hath so appointed, the candlestick is but a moveable in his house, the house itself like mount Zion standeth fast forever. The church of our Jesus shall remain; where his name shall be known, and where his praise shall be sung, as long as the sun and moon endureth, from one generation to another. Psalms 72:5-17.
(12) ¶ And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head. (13) And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out. (14) And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli. (15) Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see. (16) And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled today out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son? (17) 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 is taken. (18) And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.
I bring all these verses into one and the same point of view, not only for shortness sake, but also from their connection, This messenger of evil tidings is marked by the Holy Ghost as a Benjamite; for though all Israel were deeply involved in this ruin, yet the Benjamites which possessed Shiloh were, if possible, more so than any. For now they had lost the ark forever, after a possession of nearly 350 years. For though the ark itself was indeed soon after brought back to Israel from the land of the Philistines, yet it never after rested in Shiloh. Zion now became the hallowed spot, in the tribe of Judah. No doubt in allusion to him, and as typical of him who was the sum and substance of the ark, and who was to spring out of Judah. So is this event celebrated in Psalms 78:67-69. The character of Eli in this account next claims our attention. What a sad close to a long life, after a period of nearly an hundred years, and forty in his government. Whether he died in the faith I do not venture to judge, as the Holy Ghost hath been pleased to be silent on this head concerning him. If he did not how doubly awful is the thought, that after ministering in holy things so long, he himself should be a cast away. One of the most solemn passages in God's word, as it respects the ministers of the sanctuary, and enough to make the ears of everyone of the sacred order that heareth it to tingle is, that sentence of the Lord Jesus: Many (not a few) shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy mine done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me ye workers of iniquity. Matthew 7:22-23. And if Eli did die in the faith, (which from the several circumstances of his greater anxiety for the safety of the ark, than the life of his children, one might charitably be led to hope he did), yet in what a trembling manner did he go out of life, and as a child put to bed in the dark. Oh precious Jesus! keep thy redeemed ones from darkening their prospects of thee, by leaning to creatures of any kind. Make us always to remember the rod is in the covenant. Let an eye be plucked out or a right arm cut off, if either would tend to rob thee of thy glory, and our souls of their comfort. Psalms 89:30-35.
(19) ¶ And his daughter in law, Phinehas' wife, was with child, near to be delivered: 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; for her pains came upon her. (20) And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it. (21) And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband. (22) And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.
The affliction of Eli's house did not end with Eli's death. His daughter-in-law Phinehas's wife, is added on this occasion to the list of the dead. I should hope from the relation given of this woman, though her name be not mentioned, that she was a partaker of grace. Her chief sorrow was the loss of the ark of God. This is evident from calling her child Ichabod, that is, the glory is departed. Surely had she not loved God's glory, the departure of it would not have been so sensibly felt, to have induced such eventful consequences.
THOUGH I have incorporated several suitable thoughts as they seemed to arise from the several verses in the Chapter opening before me; yet I have not said all that might be said by way of devout reflections in the perusal of it, nor superseded the necessity of adding more. Various are the improvements this chapter affords, and under the blessed Spirit's teaching, many are the precious practical observations which ought to result from it.
Who is there that beholds the ark of God as the symbol and token of the divine presence, and of the covenant engagements of our God in the person of his dear Son, but while reading in this chapter the just judgments of God upon his people in the loss of the ark, must feel deep concern for the transgressions of the people in all ages, and especially in the present day of infidelity, and the many crying abominations of the land. Did the Lord give up Israel of old for their sins into the hands of their enemies; and are his people Israel now more secure from his judgments? Was there just cause for this awful dispensation then, and is there no cause for a similar visitation now?
You that are the people of God! do you not feel yourselves deeply affected in the contemplation of the spiritual miseries that seem to be hanging over his church? Doth not our Jesus speak, as he did once to the church of Ephesus; Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place. Oh! should our eyes be brought to see the gospel taken from us: the sun going down upon our ordinances, and all our precious sabbaths and gospel feasts cut short: might we not, like the daughter-in-law of Eli, write, Ichabod upon all that would then remain, when the glory was departed.
Ye parents of tenderness, and masters of houses and families, mark in Eli's mistaken indulgence the dreadful consequence of honouring our sons or our households before God, and by a sinful compliance with the corrupt desires and irreligious dispositions of those about us, make shipwreck of the faith and of a good conscience. If we set not up religion in our houses; if we neglect both by precept and example to lead our little ones to the ark of God's presence in his house of prayer; if our servants or our children make themselves vile and we restrain them not? Oh! think of Eli, behold the melancholy close of his life, and be assured that God will not pass over the iniquities even of his people.
But chiefly, ye ministers of my God, be very jealous for his honour who hath so honoured you, as to appoint you for watchmen on the walls of Zion. Cry aloud! spare not! lift up your voices like trumpets, and show the people their transgressions, and the house of Israel their sins. Be very jealous for the ark of God's sake. And oh, thou dear Redeemer! do thou, for to thou alone the glorious work belongs, do thou ever dear, ever precious Jesus, continue to us thy presence, thy love, thy pardoning, renewing, reviving, quickening, strengthening, and confirming grace. We would say in the language of thine own most holy word, to the holy undivided Three which bear record in Heaven, Arise, O Lord, into thy rest: thou and the ark of thy strength. Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness, and let thy saints shout for joy.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany