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.
1 Samuel 4:10-11
I. Look first at the connection between declension and defeat, at the root of the calamity which befell the nation and the dishonour to the cause of God. There was a deep moral apostasy. (1) The character of the priesthood had become thoroughly corrupt, and this is one of the most ominous signs that can appear in any society. (2) Another feature of declension in the people of Israel was that they had changed their religion into a formal superstition. After their first defeat by the Philistines they began to think of higher help. But it was not of God they thought, the living God, but only of the ark. The ark has been changed into a fetish; the name of it is to be their deliverer. When religion comes to this, it sinks into a hideous idol, and the petrified shell must be broken in pieces if the spirit is to be saved. (3) There is a further stage in the ark's history before it reaches its lowest fall. It has been dissociated from the living God, and has become not merely a common, but a desecrated, thing. To redeem the Israelites from their error, they must learn that the ark is powerless if God forsakes them, and that the symbol cannot save without the living presence. In this stern lesson God uses their enemies as teachers. In this case the Philistines were on the better side. It was not man against God, but man against falsehood under His name, and the battle ended as one might anticipate. Natural human courage proved itself stronger than corrupted religion, and hypocrisy was broken and scattered.
II. Look next at God's victory. It is when men think they have gained a victory over God that they are on the edge of sore disaster. What to do with God is the world's great trial, as what to do with Jesus was the difficulty of Pilate. For the world cannot make God to its mind, and in the end the world cannot do without Him. It carries His ark hither and thither, seeks to bring Him to the level of its own conceptions, to subject Him to its own idols, but finds in all its efforts no true rest till it suffers Him to take His own way to His throne. Notice: (1) The only obedience which God accepts is that which is given Him out of love, and for His own sake. (2) If the ark is to find its true place, it must be committed to the hands of men who love it.
J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 162.
References: 1 Samuel 4:10, 1 Samuel 4:11.—Outline Sermons to Children, p. 37. 1 Samuel 4:12-18.—J. R. Macduff, Sunsets on the Hebrew Mountains, p. 62. 1 Samuel 4:13.—R. S. Candlish, Scripture Characters and Miscellanies, pp. 320, 336; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 365; W. Morley Punshon, Four Popular Discourses, 2nd series, No. IV. 1 Samuel 4:21.—Parker, vol. vii., p. 60.
1 Samuel 4:22We do not know her name, nor her years, nor her previous career, this poor brokenhearted woman who died with these words on her lips. No doubt her short life had had its blinks of sunshine, but she abides in our memory an image of the deepest tragedy, and after these few minutes of supreme anguish she goes back to the silence whence she came. There is something that comes very straight to our sympathy in the picture of one fairly beaten, one who has quite given up, brokenhearted. It was not with this woman the passing despondency through which human beings get again into the cheerful sunshine. With her it was the last of this life; and thus giving up, she died.
I. We see in the wife of Phinehas both piety and patriotism.
Putting aside her own individual losses, she summed up what had killed her in one woeful wail: "The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken." There are some, indeed, who, in circumstances as desperate as those of Israel on that black day, would have risen to the need of the occasion and gone, with heart and soul, to the work of setting things right again. Such was Luther; such was Knox. But there are few indeed to whom God has given such strength and courage.
II. The great lesson conveyed by the text is that the glory of a nation depends on God's presence with it; that is, on its religious character, on its solemn holding by what is right and abhorring what is wrong.
III. The glory was departed from Israel when the ark of God was taken. That was the emblem, the flower, the culmination, of all the national faith and consecration. The loss of the mere wooden chest was nothing, except as a reminder of the vital and essential loss of God's presence which had gone before. It is the Spirit that quickeneth; it is the earnest reality of the worship that alone avails; the outward form, except as it expresses the spirit and is instinct with it, profits nothing at all.
A. K. H. B., The Graver Thoughts of a Country Parson, 3rd series, p. 57.
References: 1 Samuel 5:2-4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1342. 1 Samuel 5:4.—A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 237. 1 Samuel 5:7.—J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 162. 1 Samuel 6:9.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 257. 1 Samuel 6:20.—Bishop Thirlwall, Good Words, 1876, p. 17. 1 Samuel 7:3.—Parker, vol. vi., p. 269. 1 Samuel 7:8.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xi., p. 140. 1 Samuel 7:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 500, and Morning by Morning, p. 365; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 201. 1 Samuel 7:15-17.—G. B. Ryley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 206 1 Samuel 7:17.—Parker, vol. vii., p. 61.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain.
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.
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.
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.
Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see.
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?
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.
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.
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.