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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 4

Verse 1

1 Samuel 4:1. Now Israel went out, &c.— Probably the Israelites were encouraged to this undertaking, by the confusion into which the Philistines must have been thrown by the slaughter of their great men which Samson made at his death. The name Ebenezer was not given to this place till some time after; ch. 1Sa 7:12 but it was so called at the time that the historian wrote this book.

Verse 3

1 Samuel 4:3. Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us to-day The Israelites seem not only to have undertaken this war without consulting God, but to have vainly thought that, as being His people, they must necessarily be crowned with success; and in this vain confidence, they send for the ark of the covenant; not considering, that there could be little hope of God's assistance while they lived in notorious disobedience to his laws.

Verse 8

1 Samuel 4:8. Who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? As no such thing had been done in all the former battles of the Israelites as bringing the ark into the camp, the Philistines, full of the ideas of local and tutelary deities, express their fear and surprise. It was, no doubt, in conformity to the ideas of the Philistines, that our translators render elohim, gods, in this place, though it would certainly have been rendered more properly, this mighty God, and this is the God, as in the seventh verse. It was a very common custom among the ancients to carry the most sacred symbols of their religion to war with them. As the Egyptians were not punished in the wilderness, Houbigant, following the Chaldee and Syriac, reads, and did wonders in the wilderness; agreeably to which the French version reads, who smote Egypt in the wilderness, outre toutes les autres plaies, besides all their other plagues.

REFLECTIONS.—The prophesy of Samuel concerning Eli's house was soon spread, and men waited with suspense for the fulfilment, which quickly began in this war with the Philistines, which is here recorded, and happened towards the latter end of Eli's government, about forty years after the death of Samson.

1. There was a pitched battle between the hosts of Israel and Philistia, wherein the former were worsted with the loss of four thousand men; nor need we wonder, when they seem neither to have consulted God in their war, nor to have repented of their sins.
2. On retiring to their camp, a council of war is held; wherein they seem not so much to have ascribed the stroke to God under an humbling sense of their deserts, as to express their anger for his Providence; and, instead of consulting his will, foolishly propose a contrivance of their own to secure their future victory, by bringing down the ark of God among them; as if the presence of that would ensure to them the power of him who dwelt between the cherubims over it. The resolution is no sooner taken than put in force, the ark sent for, and Eli's ungodly sons bring it down: how little blessing could be hoped from the ark in such hands. Note; (1.) The afflictive providences which humble the penitent, exasperate the hardened, and make them fret against the Lord. (2.) They who are most destitute of the power of godliness have the greatest dependance on the form of it, are most zealous for the ark, the liturgy, the priesthood, and the ritual observances, and trust more in these for salvation, than in the blood, the merit, and grace of the Redeemer, working the spiritual renovation of their hearts. (3.) However good any establishment may be, whilst the ministers are graceless, the ark they bear will be an empty coffer, and no divine blessing can be expected to attend them.

3. Joy and triumph now swell the heart of every Israelite, and they shout till the earth rings with their acclamations. Note; They usually glory most in external privileges who have least experience of inward religion; and their shouting, like Israel's, is the prelude not of victory, but of their everlasting shame and confusion.

4. The Philistines heard the shouts of Israel, and by their spies quickly learned the cause, which filled their host with consternation. Supposing the ark was Israel's God, they express their apprehensions of his presence: they had not so shouted before, nor was the ark of God with them when they were before defeated; and reflecting upon the traditionary notices of the former wonders that God had wrought in Egypt, though they mistake the circumstances, they tremble for the consequences. However, their leaders encourage the soldiers not utterly to despond, but if the danger be great, to exert the greater courage to extricate themselves from it, reminding them of their former victories over Israel, and holding up to them the ignominy of servitude under those who had served them. Note; Their triumphing will be short, whose trust is formality, and whose hope is delusion. The event little corresponded with the sanguine expectations of the Israelites. They were smitten before their enemies, thirty thousand of them slain in the battle, among whom fell the wicked sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas; and, to crown the victory, that ark in which they trusted, falls into the hands of their enemies. Note; (1.) The wickedness of those who undertake a measure often makes a good cause suffer. (2.) The first and sorest judgments of God will fall upon the heads of wicked and faithless ministers. (3.) They who go out of God's way, and act without his advice, can expect no success in their enterprizes.

Verse 18

1 Samuel 4:18. When he made mention of the ark of God Eli supported himself under his private calamities; but he no sooner heard of the loss of the ark, than his heart failed him, and his concern for religion affected him in the deepest manner; for, except that he was too indulgent a father, he appears to have been a worthy man. He judged Israel forty years, which certainly aggravated the calamity of his family. The higher and the longer he was elevated, the more terrible was his fall. The Jews observe, that on the day of his death God forsook his tabernacle in Shiloh, having delivered his strength into captivity. See Psalms 78:60. Mr. Saurin observes respecting Eli, that he was more unhappy than blameable, if one may judge of his misfortunes at the tribunal of flesh and blood; since his crimes proceeded less from a spirit of rebellion against the divine laws, than from a principle of weakness for a family towards which indulgence seems so excusable. But the greater our tenderness for our children, the more is it likely to excite the wrath of God when loosed from those ties which unite us to him; ties to which all others should give place, and which will ever be most pleasing to reasonable creatures, whom God permits to love him, and whom he himself deigns to honour with his love.

Verses 21-22

1 Samuel 4:21-22. And she named the child I-chabod, &c.— Here, as usual, the reason of the name imposed is given: I-chabod signifying literally inglorious, or without glory; glory being departed; i.e. the ark of God taken. Houbigant supposes the 22nd verse not to be the words of the mother of I-chabod, but those of the historian. The Arabic and some other versions omit that verse. Houbigant renders the two verses thus, 1 Samuel 4:21. But she named the child I-chabod, because it was told her that the ark of God was taken. 1 Samuel 4:22. For she said, The glory is departed from Israel, since the ark of God is taken.

Note; If God depart from us, if his ordinances are removed, and the light of his countenance withheld, neither earth, nor the things of it, have any more sweetness or glory; all is under a dismal eclipse, universal darkness reigns, and the soul experiences the foretastes of the outer darkness in eternal death.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-samuel-4.html. 1801-1803.