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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

1 Samuel 4

Verse 13

DISCOURSE: 286
ELI’S ANXIETY FOR THE ARK OF GOD

1 Samuel 4:13. Lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God.

THE word of God, to whatever it relate, shall certainly in due time be accomplished: it may indeed, like the seed under the clods, appear to have been lost: but as soon as the appointed season arrives, we shall be made to see, that not a jot or tittle of God’s word can ever fail. It had some years before been announced to Eli, that God would bring such judgments upon his house as should make “the ears of every one that heard of them to tingle.” Now the time for the execution of the threatening drew nigh; and the manner in which it was executed is set before us. The Philistines had gained a victory over Israel, and had slain about four thousand men. The elders of Israel, astonished at such at event, devised an expedient for securing, as they hoped, a successful issue to the contest. They sent to Shiloh for the ark of God; which accordingly was brought by Hophni and Phinehas into the camp. Eli, at the advanced age of ninety-eight, being informed of the measure that had been adopted, anticipated in his mind the evils that were at hand; and full of anxiety, “sat by the wayside, watching; for his heart trembled for the ark of God.”
We propose to consider,

I.

The grounds of his anxiety—

Eli did not doubt whether God was able to protect his ark; but he had just grounds to doubt whether he would protect it—

[He knew the wicked state of the people at large, and of his sons in particular — — — He knew that the measure which had been adopted, had not been commanded or authorized by God — — — He knew that if the ark should be taken, the loss would be incalculable — — — He knew that in the event of such a misfortune, the Philistines would profanely exult over the God of Israel — — —]
And if on these grounds he trembled for the ark, is there not reason to tremble for the cause of God in many parts of the Christian world?
[Of the wickedness of merely nominal Christians it is almost superfluous to speak. Let us turn our attention rather to those whose office it is to bear the ark and to minister before it; how many of them, alas! walk unworthy of their high calling! Or let us look to those who profess to regard the ark of God, and to expect salvation from a Covenant God in Christ: do we not behold amongst them many by whom God is habitually and grievously dishonoured? Are there not many too, who, under a sense of their guilt and danger, devise expedients which were never sanctioned by the Lord, and resort to them for salvation, in an utter neglect of those means which have been revealed by God? What have all such persons reason to expect, but that God, who has long since departed from the Churches of Asia, and from innumerable other Churches which once enjoyed the light of his Gospel, should “remove his candlestick” from them? And what if such a judgment should be inflicted upon us? How would those who hate the light exult, and the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph! Truly, if we viewed the state of the Christian world aright, there is scarcely a people for whom we have not cause to tremble, lest they should lose the privileges which they are so backward to improve, and be delivered up into the hands of their spiritual enemies. And “woe unto them when God departs from them [Note: Hos 9:12 with Jos 7:6-9 and Nehemiah 1:3-4.]!”]

Commendable as the anxiety of Eli was, we cannot be surprised at,

II.

The issue of it—

[The Israelites were defeated: no less than thirty thousand of them perished: the sons of Eli, the priests who bore the ark, were slain: and the ark itself was taken. The awful tidings soon reached the ears of Eli. He heard of Israel’s defeat, and bowed with meek submission; as he did also when he was informed of the death of both his sons: but when he was told that the ark of God was taken, he fainted, he fell, he died.
Now in this death he may appear to have resembled the wicked Israelites: but there was in truth a great difference between them. His death indeed was in part judicial, and so far may be compared with theirs: but theirs was accompanied with manifest tokens of the divine displeasure; and we have reason to fear that not they only, but Hophni and Phinehas also, were cut off in their sins. But Eli shewed his supreme regard for God; and in some sense died a martyr to his love to God. The wife of Phinehas also evinced the same piety. She was so affected with the tidings, that her pangs of travail were prematurely hastened; and, when her attendants strove to comfort her with the information that she had borne a son, she no further noticed it than to give him the name of I-chabod, which means inglorious; assigning as the reason for it, that “the glory was departed from Israel, and the ark of God was taken [Note: ver. 19–22.].” Thus did she, and Eli, manifest, that a concern for the honour of God was deeply rooted in their minds, more deeply than any other consideration, whether of public interest or of the ties of consanguinity.

We congratulate then this aged priest on the issue of his anxiety: and we rejoice, that, when his errors in life had subjected him to the divine displeasure, he shewed in his death that he had obtained mercy of the Lord. Had we not been informed of this closing scene, we might have doubted how far the judgments of God might come upon him in the eternal world: but, with this knowledge of his latter end, we feel no doubt of his acceptance with God, and his exaltation to the realms of bliss.]

This whole history is very instructive: it teaches us,
1.

The inefficacy of ordinances—

[As the Israelites idolized the ark, and looked to it as a saviour in the place of God, so do many look to the ordinances of religion, (as though there were in them a power to save,) instead of looking through them to the God of ordinances. But, though Paul should plant or Apollos water, it is God alone that can give the increase: and if we put the word, or ministers, or sacraments, or any thing else in the place of God, we shall find them to be a lamp without oil, and “a fountain sealed.”]

2.

The danger of presumption—

[The Israelites hoped for the divine protection, though they humbled not themselves for their iniquities, nor even in earnest implored his help; yea, they shouted for joy as though a victory were already gained. But it is in vain to indulge such an hope as this. If we turn not from our sins, it is not possible but that we must be overtaken by the divine judgments. For the truth of this, God himself refers us to the history before us: “Go,” says he, “and learn what I did to Shiloh, for the wickedness thereof [Note: Compare Psa 78:58-64 with Jeremiah 7:12.].”]

3.

The necessity of walking in the fear of God—

[We know not how soon, or how suddenly, death may come upon us. Even if our lives be prolonged to an advanced age, we may yet be taken off without a moment’s warning. How desirable then is it that all, and especially those who are drawing nigh to the time of childbirth, should stand ready for death and judgment! It is not necessary, nor indeed desirable, that we should be living under a servile dread of death; but we should be “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.” We should be “trembling for the ark of God;” longing to hear of the victories of Christ in the world, and dreading to hear of the triumphs of his enemies. We should particularly “watch,” to see the progress of his grace in our own souls, and fear lest by any means he should be dishonoured through us. If that be our frame of mind, we shall be accepted of God both in life and death: for the declaration of God himself is this, “Blessed is the man that feareth always.”]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/1-samuel-4.html. 1832.