1 Samuel 4
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - And the word of Samuel... all Israel. This clause is rightly connected with the foregoing verse of the previous chapter in the Syriac and Vulgate. Attached to the fourth chapter, it gives a wrong sense, namely, that Samuel gave the command for the assembling of all Israel for battle with the Philistines. This is so plainly erroneous that the A.V. dissents from it by translating the and in the next clause by now. Joined to the previous chapter, it gives the true meaning. Because Samuel spake by the word of Jehovah, therefore his word came to all Israel, that is, it was a binding and authoritative command throughout the whole land; or, in other words, when Samuel was acknowledged to be Jehovah's prophet he also became the virtual judge of Israel, though probably he did not act with full authority until after Eli's death. DEFEAT OF ISRAEL AND CAPTURE OF THE ARK (vers. 1-11). Now Israel - rather. And Israel - went out against the Philistines. During the declining years of Eli, the yoke of the Philistines, which apparently had been shaken off in his manhood, began once again to press heavily upon the neck of Israel. But Israel was still strong enough to make valiant resistance, provoked apparently by the Philistines invading the land, as we find that they had pitched, i.e. encamped, in Aphok. As Aphek means a fortress, many places bear the name; but the position of the Philistine camp is fixed by its being near both to Eben-ezer and to Mizpah, and probably, therefore, it was the Aphek in Judah (Joshua 12:18). Eben-ezer, the stone of help, had not as yet received this name (see 1 Samuel 7:12); and apparently it was not a town, but a monument set up m an open plain fit for the purposes of war, and which up to this time had. no specific appellation.
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.
Verse 2. - In the field means "in the open country." By a gradual change of language it now signifies cultivated ground, and even an enclosure, whereas in the A.V. it retains its old meaning of unenclosed and uncultivated land (see 2 Kings 4:39).
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.
Verse 3. - When the people were come into the camp. Before the battle Israel had entrenched itself, so that upon its defeat it had a place capable of defence into which to retire. We find also that their communications were open, so that they could send to Shiloh. The army is called the people because battles were not fought in those days by men specially trained, but by all the inhabitants of the country of the proper age. The question, Wherefore hath Jehovah smitten us? expresses surprise. The elders had evidently expected victory, and therefore the domination of the Philistines could not have been so complete as it certainly was in the days of Samson. There must have been an intermediate period of successful warfare during which Eli had been their leader. Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of Jehovah. This, the remedy suggested by the elders, was to employ their God as a talisman or charm. The ark was the symbol of Jehovah's presence among them, and of their being his especial people, and by exposing it to danger they supposed that they would compel their God to interfere in their behalf. They would have done right in appealing to their covenant relation to Jehovah; and had they repented of the sins which had grown up among them, fostered by the evil example of Eli's sons, he would have shown them mercy. But for God to have given Israel the victory because of the presence of his ark in their camp would have been to overthrow all moral government, and would have insured their spiritual ruin as inevitably as would the granting to any order of men now the power of working miracles or of infallibly declaring the truth.
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.
Verse 4. - Which dwelleth between the cherubims. Literally, "which sitteth, i.e. is enthroned, upon the cherubim." The idea is not that of Jehovah's habitation, but of his seat in state as Israel's King. In bringing the ark they brought to the camp the throne of Jehovah, as their theocratic Ruler; but the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark, representing the immorality of the nation, whose very priests were abandoned men. We are not to suppose that there was any fault in the manner of bringing, because it is said that the people sent that they might bring the ark from Shiloh. Levites may have carried it, and priests with the Urim and Thummim have had the charge of every detail. But there was the ill-omened conjuncture of personal immorality with superstitious reverence for mere material symbols, and thereby the presence of the ark only insured, in the moral government of God, Israel's defeat.
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.
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.
Verse 6. - But they, sure of its talismanic influence, shout for joy as they see its approach, and the Philistines ask the meaning of the great shout in the camp of the Hebrews. This name is constantly given to the Israelites by those not belonging to them, and probably has a certain amount of animosity in it, as showing that they were foreigners; literally, passers over, people who in the person of Abraham had come from the other side of the Euphrates, and having began as feeble immigrants, had ended in obtaining possession of the land, and ousting the rightful inhabitants.
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.
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.
Verse 8. - These mighty Gods. In Hebrew "Elohim, though plural, is used of the one true God, but in this sense has always the verb or adjective belonging to it in the singular. In ver. 7 the Philistines conform to this rule, and say, Elohim is come; but here the verb, pronoun, and adjective are all plural, i.e. they speak as heathen, to whom polytheism was natural (comp. 1 Kings 12:28). With all the plagues. Rather, "with every plague," i.e. with every kind of plague. In the wilderness. God did not really smite the Egyptians in the wilderness. The plagues, including the destruction of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea, had all happened before the Israelites had entered it. But probably the Philistines confused together the plagues of Egypt and the miracles in the wilderness, and even the conquest of Canaan, in one grand but vague whole, and so were ready to give way to despair, as they called to mind the traditions they had heard of these mighty interpositions of God for his people.
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.
Verse 9. - Be strong. But, as is often the case, despair served only to nerve them to bitter determination. The greatness of the danger - for as heathen the Philistines fully believed that the ark would act as a charm - and the fearful alternative of being servants, i.e. slaves to those who not so very long ago had been slaves to them, made them resolve to do their very utmost. The result was a complete victory.
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.
Verse 10. - Israel fled every man into - better to - his tent. Their camp stood them this time in no stead. It was stormed by the Philistines, and the whole army fled in confusion. In those days the Israelites dwelt in tents, and to flee "every man to his tent" means that they fled away in every direction, each to his own home. It is in this indiscriminate flight that an army suffers most. As long as men keep together the loss is comparatively slight. But now, thus utterly broken, there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen - a terrible slaughter. They are called footmen because the Israelites had neither cavalry nor chariots.
And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.
Verse 11. - Moreover, the ark of God was taken, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain, according to the prediction of the man of God. Probably the last resistance was made round the ark, and the sons of Eli at least died "as men" (1 Samuel 2:33). THE OVERTHROW OF ELI'S HOUSE (vers. 12-22).
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.
Verse 12. - There ran a man of Benjamin. The whole story is told with so much vividness, and is so full of exact particulars, that it must have come from an eyewitness, probably from Samuel himself. According to Jewish tradition, this Benjamite was no other than Saul, but the chronology is at variance with this supposition. The importance in old time, when even roads did not exist, of men capable of running long distances to carry news in war is evident, and many instances are recorded showing the high appreciation in which their services were held Thus the running of the Cushite and of Ahimaaz forms an interesting episode in the pathetic history of Absalom's death (2 Samuel 18:19-31). So Herodotus mentions that Pheidippides, when sent to urge the people of Sparta to come to the help of the Athenians against the Persians, arrived there on the second day after his departure from Athens (Herod., 6:105, 106). Shiloh, apparently, was but a comparatively short distance from Eben-ezer, as the runner arrived there on the evening of the very day on which the battle was fought. The rent clothes and the earth upon the head were the usual signs in token that some great calamity had taken place (2 Samuel 1:2).
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.
Verse 13. - Upon a seat - literally, "the throne" - by the wayside, whither his official chair had been removed to some spot near the gate of the city (see ver. 18), and probably commanding a view of the pathway by which a messenger would arrive. There probably for hours he had sat, anxiously awaiting tidings of the ark, which, we may feel sure, he had very unwillingly allowed to be carried away into the camp. When the man came into the city. Literally the words are, "And the man came to tell it in the city, and all the city cried out." We are not to suppose with some that Eli, being old and now blind, let the messenger slip by unobserved. A man of his high rank would not be alone, and the mention of his throne suggests that he was seated there in somewhat of official dignity. And so, as the runner drew near, with the symbols of disaster upon his person, the priests and Levites in attendance upon Eli would begin the cry of sorrow, and soon it would spread throughout all Shiloh.
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.
Verse 14. - And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he asked the meaning of this tumult. The word signifies any confused noise, as the splashing of rain (1 Kings 18:41), but especially the din made by a multitude of people (Job 39:7). It exactly expresses here the Babel of voices, all asking news at once, which at the coming of the messenger surged around the high priest's throne. He demands the reason, and the uproar is quelled, while "the man hasted, and came and told Eli." Not came in, for Eli was without on the wayside, but simply came to Eli, being summoned thither by one of the Levites in attendance. Eli, as the chief ruler, was, of course, the person whom he sought, and immediately that he knew where he was, he hasted to him.
Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.
Verse 15. - Eli was ninety and eight years old. Until the invention by the Arabs of the present system of numerals, all ancient nations had a most cumbrous system of expressing numbers. The Hebrew method was to attach a value to each of the letters of the alphabet, and then add them together, and thus the eighth and nineteenth letters would between them make up ninety-eight. Such a system led to constant mistakes in copying, and thus the numerals in the earlier parts of the Old Testament are beset with uncertainty. Here the Septuagint has ninety, and the Syriac seventy-eight. But as Eli was described already as "very old" in 1 Samuel 2:22, the Hebrew text is the most probable. Instead of dim the Hebrew has set, i.e. Eli was now absolutely blind, as the word expresses the motionless state of the eye when obscured by cataract. In 1 Samuel 3:2 a different word is used, rightly there translated "dim," as the disease is one which comes on gradually. In 1 Kings 14:4 we read that Ahijah was blind from the same cause, and the word is there correctly rendered "set."
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?
Verses 16, 17. - What is there done, my son? Literally, What is the thing? Or, as the phrase is translated in 2 Samuel 1:4, "How went the matter?" Eli must have gathered from the words of the messenger that Israel had been defeated; for he expressly says, I fled, and his haste, as testified by the added words today, showed that the defeat was a severe one. Eli, therefore, anxiously asks what has happened, and the answer piles misery upon misery, rapidly heaping together four crushing catastrophes. For Israel had fled before the Philistines; there had been a great slaughter; among the slain were Eli's two sons; and, worst of all, the ark of God was taken.
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.
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.
Verse 18. - At this last sad news the old man's spirit failed; and though it was his own want of a firm sense of duty that had prepared the way for this sad ruin of his country, yet we cannot but respect his deep attachment and reverent love for the symbol of his faith. The rest he could have borne; but that the ark of God, especially intrusted to his care, was now captive in heathen hands was a calamity that broke his heart. He had judged Israel forty years. The Septuagint reads twenty, but these differences in numbers occur constantly. In either case he would have been well advanced in years before he reached the judgeship, and probably he attained to it slowly; not by one great act, but by the qualities of a statesman, by which he lightened the yoke of the Philistines, and rendered the people for a long time a match for them in war. His character is not that of a hero, but of a wise, patient, and prudent ruler, but one whose good qualities were spoiled at last by his weak partiality for his unworthy sons.
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.
Verses 19-21. - His daughter-in-law. The death of Eli's daughter-in-law is equally tragic with his own. The news of the terrible calamity that had befallen the ark of God brought on a premature delivery; but when she had given birth to a son, the attendant women naturally hoped that the good tidings would cheer the mother's heart. They haste, therefore, to tell her; but she answered not, neither did she regard it. This does not mean that she was already dead; if so, the women would not have told her. It means that no private joy could compensate her for the loss of the outward sign and proof that the covenant of Jehovah was with her and her people. The loss of the ark seemed to her to signify the overthrow of her national religion. But she heard, for immediately There is she named the child I-chabod. There is some doubt as to the exact meaning of the word. It may mean Alas! the glory; but more probably it signifies No glory - the glory of Israel is no more. In the reason given by the narrator for her sorrow, as summed up in the name given to her child, the deaths of Eli and of Phinehas are included, but her own words refer only to the ark. Literally they are, "The glory is gone into captivity from Israel." There is possibly a reference to this in Psalm 78:64, where, speaking of the fall of Shiloh, the Psalmist says, "Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation." Others, it may be, like the wife of Phinehas, felt that there was no room for private grief at a time of so great national distress and humiliation.

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.
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.
And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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