The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
2 Corinthians 3:8). But even under the new dispensation symbolism is not absolutely done away, for Baptism and the Lord's Supper are both symbolic. With special, though not exclusive, reference to the ancient symbol, notice that -
I. THE SYMBOL SERVES IMPORTANT PURPOSES IN RELATION TO THE TRUTH OR SPIRITUAL REALITY WHICH IT REPRESENTS. Its need arises from our being constituted of body and soul, the dependence of thought and feeling on sensible impressions, and the necessary influence of imagination in religion; and it serves -
1. To make its nature more conceivable. "In the symbol proper, what we can call a symbol, there is ever, more or less distinctly and directly, some embodiment and revelation of the infinite; the infinite is made to blend itself with the finite, to stand visible and, as it were, attainable there" (Sartor Resartus).
2. To make its presence more certain; not, indeed, in itself, but in the convictions of the soul.
3. To make its influence more powerful, constant, and universal. It should, however, be observed that only the symbols which have been appointed by God may be authoritatively used in his worship; that these should be regarded with due reverence; not improperly exalted, not altered, not despised, not handled by unworthy hands; and that no others should be introduced, or only such as do not inculcate error, and do not conduce to superstition or formalism.
II. THE SYMBOL MAY BE POSSESSED WHILST THE TRUTH IS PARTIALLY OR WHOLLY LOST. This comes to pass -
1. When the symbol receives an undue share of attention in comparison with the truth, which is distinct from it and incomparably more important; when it centres thought upon itself, and hinders rather than helps the soul in its spiritual aspirations.
2. When there is a moral indisposition and dislike, on the part of those who possess the symbol, toward the truth.
3. When, in consequence of such dislike, and the lowering of the idea of the truth, the sign is confounded with the thing signified, identified with it, and substituted for it. This is ever the chief danger attending the use of symbols in Divine worship.
III. THE RETENTION OF THE SYMBOL WITHOUT THE TRUTH IS WORTHLESS AND INJURIOUS.
1. It fails of its purpose; is a means of grace no more; an empty cistern; a meaningless, unreal, and hollow form. Nehushtan (a piece of brass - 2 Kings 18:4).
2. It fills men with false confidence, and increases their error, formality, and corruption.
3. It woefully disappoints the trust which is reposed in it, and often leaves them to despair (Galatians 5:1, 2).
IV. THE REMOVAL OF THE SYMBOL IS SOMETIMES NECESSARY TO THE RECOVERY OF THE TRUTH. And this effect is accomplished by -
1. Its correction of fatal error. In the case of Israel, teaching that the ark was not the same as the Divine presence, and did not necessarily insure it.
2. Causing deep humiliation.
3. Leading to earnest inquiry and prayer. "They lamented after the Lord" (1 Samuel 7:2), not after the ark, which had long been restored, and lay in a private dwelling without public honour, and appears to have exerted no influence whatever in the revival of spiritual truth and life that followed. Conclusion: -
1. Symbols are useful when rightly used and held in subordination to spiritual truth.
2. The course of the Divine dealings with men (like that of men with children) is less and less symbolical, more and more spiritual. "They shall say no more, The ark of the covenant," etc. (Jeremiah 3:16; Colossians 2:17: Hebrews 9:23).
3. Symbols will completely vanish away in the light of perfect knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:10-12). - D.
And the Philistines fought and Israel was smitten.
1. Israel reaped a great harvest. How did this come about? Not surely because Israel had not enough men with whom to fight! For Gideon, with a much smaller body of men, had once defeated a much larger army than the Philistines had that day. Nor was it because God was not able to maintain the dignity of His own ark. For soon after this, without any army at all, He forced the Philistines to send back the ark — and so plagued them that they were only too, thankful to get rid of it. No; Israel reaped defeat that day because for years they had sown disobedience.
2. Hophni and Phinehas reaped a great harvest that day. Rapacious, licentious, blasphemous; they had profaned holy things, and that for many years current, so that at last they probably thought that God would not act, even if they forgot all decency, and rivalled the heathen in their sins. Because sentence against their evil work was not executed speedily, therefore their heart was fully set in them to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11). So far had they gone, that they in common with Israel forgot that the ark was only a symbol of the Divine presence, and that, if they so acted as to forfeit the real presence of God, no number of arks could save them. Such being the case, no wonder that their fate was what it was.
3. Eli reaped a sad harvest. His fate was by no means as dark as that of his two sons; for he was a godly man, though weak. His heart was right, after all, and he was more anxious for the welfare of the ark than for that of his wicked sons. Still, his fate was sad. Compare his end with that of Joshua, and you will realise what a vast difference there was between the two. One went out in a blaze of glory, while the other was darkened by an eclipse. His sowing in the education of his sons had been very faulty, and he had been duly warned, but in vain. As a result, he too had to reap a harvest of the same kind that he had sown. God's laws are ever the same. Men may think that He has changed, but He has not. Or they may think that He will make an exception in their case; but they are mistaken. God makes no exceptions. Sow to the flesh — reap corruption. Sow to the Spirit — reap everlasting life. This was the law then, and this is the law today.
(A. F. Schauffler, D. D.)
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