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I Samuel 4-8 Listen
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.
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.
3 And when the people were come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, Wherefore hath the LORD smitten us to day 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Samuel is now the judge over Israel and leads them into battle against the Philistine occupation of Israel; this battle takes place within the tribal allotment of Ephraim approximately 20 miles west of Shiloh, and these Hebrews get soundly trounced with a loss of 4,000 soldiers. The Israeli army decides they could prevail if they sent back for the Ark of the Covenant (located in Shiloh) and have it brought to the battle front. What a crazy idea! The Philistines are alarmed at its arrival, but attack anyway, wipe out a bunch of Israeli soldiers (30,000) and capture the Ark. Eli's two sons are killed, but remember, they had it coming according to the prophecy back in I Samuel 2:34 (see notes).
I suppose it made sense to the Jews to take the Ark of the Covenant into battle; God had commanded them to use it as such in the early conquest of Canaan back in Joshua's day. You will also recall that it played a prominent role in the conquest of Jericho back in Joshua 6 (see notes). However, the difference in these two occasions is the decree of God. Joshua was commanded to take the Ark into a God-ordained battle; this time a less-committed-to-God bunch of Hebrews decide (as a matter of superstition) to take it with them into battle. Here's the lesson for them and for us: With God, it's not what you do; it's why you do what you do.
Incidentally, you will notice in verse 8 that the Philistines had no understanding of Israel's monotheism, their relationship with THE one true God, Jehovah. As far as they are concerned, Israel is a polytheistic nation just like all of the other surrounding nations, but with more powerful "gods" at their disposal. According to the notes in the Jewish Study Bible, "The Ark of God was captured, in keeping with the ancient custom of taking the statue of the god of the defeated people as booty."
Eli has his worst day in 98 years (I Samuel 4:12-22)
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 to day 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.
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.
Eli the priest was a little concerned about the Ark being gone from the Tabernacle. This 98 year-old overweight man is sitting in his chair next to the road when he gets the word from a grief-stricken Israeli soldier who had escaped that the Ark has been captured and both his sons are dead. He immediately falls over in his chair and breaks his neck, ending his forty-year tenure. Then his daughter-in-law (wife of Phinehas, who was killed) hears the bad news which induces the birth of her son; she dies in childbirth. In her dying breath, she gives the child a really tough name, "Ichabod," a compound Hebrew word meaning "no glory." To her, that just summed up the day when Israel lost the Ark, her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law die unexpected deaths, and she realizes that she is dying in childbirth. How would you like for your name to mean that the glory has departed from your country? Ichabod's did.
Eli had reason to be concerned that day as Israel carried the Ark into battle. He probably recalled the word from the Lord that Samuel had received when he was a child back in I Samuel 3 (see notes). Per that prophecy, Eli's household was due to be harshly judged, and this turned out to be the day it happened.
1 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod.
2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon.
3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again.
4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.
5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.
6 But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.
7 And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god.
8 They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.
9 And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts.
10 Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron. And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people.
11 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people: for there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.
12 And the men that died not were smitten with the emerods: and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
The Philistines set the captured Ark of the Covenant up next to Dagon, their man-fish-looking idol back in the city of Ashdod. The Ark (a 4'x3'x3' gold-covered and lined box) apparently abused Dagon - knocked him over the first day and again the second day at which time Dagon lost his fish-looking head and hands in the fall. Wait! There's more! The men of Ashdod started getting some ugly "emerods" and many died. These "emerods" were tumor-looking things. The Philistines even acknowledge that Israel's God had beaten up their god (verse 7). They unanimously cry out, "Let's move this thing!" To Gath it goes where the Philistine men there are plagued with "emerods in their secret parts." Ooooo! That's gotta hurt! They then decide to move it a third time to Ekron; the Philistines of Ekron know it's bad news as it enters their city and cry out in protest. They call for the Philistine leaders to come give them some relief, but not before "there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there" (verse 11). But it didn't stop there according to verse 12, "the men that died not were smitten with the emerods." After seven months, the Philistines are really, really anxious to be rid of the Ark!
How do you return a stolen Ark? (I Samuel 6)
1 And the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.
2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of the LORD? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place.
3 And they said, If ye send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering: then ye shall be healed, and it shall be known to you why his hand is not removed from you.
4 Then said they, What shall be the trespass offering which we shall return to him? They answered, Five golden emerods, and five golden mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines: for one plague was on you all, and on your lords.
5 Wherefore ye shall make images of your emerods, and images of your mice that mar the land; and ye shall give glory unto the God of Israel: peradventure he will lighten his hand from off you, and from off your gods, and from off your land.
6 Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?
7 Now therefore make a new cart, and take two milch kine, on which there hath come no yoke, and tie the kine to the cart, and bring their calves home from them:
8 And take the ark of the LORD, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that it may go.
9 And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us: it was a chance that happened to us.
10 And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:
11 And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods.
12 And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh.
13 And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it.
14 And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Bethshemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt offering unto the LORD.
15 And the Levites took down the ark of the LORD, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto the LORD.
16 And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day.
17 And these are the golden emerods which the Philistines returned for a trespass offering unto the LORD; for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one;
18 And the golden mice, according to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fenced cities, and of country villages, even unto the great stone of Abel, whereon they set down the ark of the LORD: which stone remaineth unto this day in the field of Joshua, the Bethshemite.
19 And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
20 And the men of Bethshemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy LORD God? and to whom shall he go up from us?
21 And they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kirjathjearim, saying, The Philistines have brought again the ark of the LORD; come ye down, and fetch it up to you.
Yeah, but how do we get rid of this thing? It seems that in addition to tumors and death, mice had overrun their fields as well. So their holy men decide they need to send it back with some offerings inside - five tumor-looking-things made out of gold (YUK!) and five golden mice replicas. Recalling Egypt's experience with Israel, they make a cart for the Ark and hook it up to two milk cows for the journey home. Still not absolutely certain that their woes for the last seven months weren't just a coincidence, they figure if the cows head straight for Beth-shemesh (one of the Levite cities about nine miles east-southeast of Ekron), it must have been Israel's God that plagued them - otherwise, coincidence. The Israelites in Beth-shemesh are tickled to see the Ark coming to their town. However, the Ark is a little hard on the Hebrews back in Beth-shemesh as well; a bunch of them die also for looking into the Ark. That was a no no according to Numbers 4:20 (see notes), "But they shall not go in to see when the holy things are covered, lest they die." Hey, you people in Kirjathjearim! Please, please, please send somebody to take this Ark off our hands!
Twenty more years of disgusting idol worship (I Samuel 7:1-4)
1 And the men of Kirjathjearim came, and fetched up the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab in the hill, and sanctified Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD.
2 And it came to pass, while the ark abode in Kirjathjearim, that the time was long; for it was twenty years: and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.
3 And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the LORD with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the LORD, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.
4 Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only.
The residents of Kirjathjearim (about 9 miles northeast) come and take the ark off the hands of the plagued people of Beth-shemesh. Israel has the Ark, but not back in its original home, the Tabernacle back at Shiloh; it stayed in storage in Kirjathjearim at the house of Abinadab who had sanctified his son, Eleazar, to be the keeper. The Israelites were apparently not in any spiritual state to be concerned about its absence from the Tabernacle in Shiloh; they continued with their false gods for those twenty years - slow learners. Finally, Samuel rallies the people and they pledge their allegiance to the one true God. Notice verse 4, "Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only." Though now serving God, they still do not move the Ark to its home. Baalim is the plural of Baal, speaking of the plurality of the images that they had to represent him. Baal was the head of the pantheon in Canaanite culture - their so-called god of heaven and earth. Ashtaroth was the Canaanite goddess of fertility and love. Wow...those Hebrews certainly had embraced Canaanite culture...big time! Well, at least for awhile, the Hebrews rid themselves of those disgusting idols here; they're ready to take a stand for God!
The reference to "twenty years" in verse 2 was the period of time Israel continued in idol worship before they once again sought after God. The Ark of the Covenant remained there for longer - throughout the period of King Saul's forty-year reign until the time of David's reign. He moved it from Kirjathjearim to Jerusalem in II Samuel 6 (see notes).
Finally...they had all they could stand! (I Samuel 7:5-17)
5 And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the LORD.
6 And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the LORD, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the LORD. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh.
7 And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines.
8 And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the LORD our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines.
9 And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the LORD: and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD heard him.
10 And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel.
11 And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Bethcar.
12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.
13 So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
14 And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the coasts thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
15 And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
16 And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.
17 And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the LORD.
After they finally get rid of their false gods and admit their sin, Samuel gathers Israel together to make a sacrifice to Jehovah. The Philistines think this would be a great opportunity to attack. It's not nice to attack Israel when they are worshipping! A miracle happens. Verse 10 says, "the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines." Boooooom! The battle is over! The Philistines fall like dominoes beginning that day. Israel pursues and slays the remaining fleeing army of the Philistines, and Israel is free again! They're back with their real estate free from the oppressive Philistines. Verse 14 adds, "And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites." These Amorites were original inhabitants of Canaan. Times seem good once again for Israel under the leadership of Samuel.
1 And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.
2 Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba.
3 And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
10 And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.
22 And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.
Well...it turns out that Samuel did no better at raising his children than his mentor, Eli, had done. He makes his boys judges, and they are corrupt - so corrupt that the people of Israel call for a meeting and make a declaration in verse 5, "And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." Yeah...a king...that would solve our problems! As you can see, however, the corruption of Samuel's own boys is what provoked the people of Israel to call for a king.
The plan up to this point was simple: Obey God, stay away from the false gods of your neighbors and Jehovah will keep you free and prosperous. Israel wanted more than that. They wanted some towering figure in their presence who would prevent them from doing wrong. They were eager to forsake their tribal/regional governments in lieu of a central government; they wanted a king!
Their desire for a king had been anticipated many generations before - back in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (see notes). The Canaan-entry plan was that the individual tribes would govern themselves without a central government. They were all to worship God, and they were to make their three annual trips to Shiloh where they would acknowledge their allegiance to God through their sacrifices there. But now they want to unite the tribes with a central government under a king - their choice - not God's.
God tells Samuel to tell Israel that a king has some baggage they need to consider in verses 10-18.
Who cares? We want a king! So God tells Samuel in verse 22, "Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king." Let's see how this works out. The search for a king begins in I Samuel 9 (see notes).