I Samuel Chapter 4

"Subjection to the Philistines [4:1 to 7:2]."
"Second Battle and the Results,
Israel's Report of Defeat [10-22]"

This Bible Study is written by Roger Christopherson, and it's transcription is provided with written permission by http://www.theseason.org

Remember from I Samuel 3:14 that God told Samuel that the house of Eli would be purged, and that his family would end in their duties in the priesthood and in the duties of Judge. God always keeps his word.

I Samuel 4:1 "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."

The "word of Samuel" are the words that Samuel received from God concerning Eli and his evil two sons that we studied about in the prior chapter. God told Samuel that the life of Eli's two sons would end very shortly, and that his family would not continue to rule as priests and the judges of Israel. All Israel knew that Samuel was to be the next prophet of God to them, and that God had spoken directly to him.

"Ebenezer" in the Hebrew tongue means "rock" or "stone of help". The "Aphek" means "the fortress" in the Hebrew. The Israelites have been under the Philistines for many years as their servants, and the Philistines controlled the fortress. The Israelites are going to battle from the rocky places in the hills, while the Philistines are well secured in their fortress, ready to do battle against these foot soldiers of the Israelites. The Israelites had been used and taken advantage of by these Philistines for years, and they were growing short in patients over the treatment by these Philistines. The Philistines had their well trained army secured in their defenses, while the Israelites had trained and existed under Eli an old man in his late nineties; along with Eli's two unruly sons that had broken many of the laws of God. Remember that God was not pleased with either Eli or his two sons that controlled the Tabernacle, and these priests sat in charge of the Ark of the covenant.

The "Ark of the Covenant" was made of shittim wood by Moses while wandering in the wilderness, as written in Exodus 25. God ordered that the ark be made for the purpose of storing certain items. The Ark of the Covenant and the items within were a testimony of God's love and protection for his people in bring them out of Egypt and through the wilderness, then into their promise land. The manna was to remind the Israelites of God's provision given them in the wilderness, and the budded rod of Aaron was to remind them of God's faithfulness to delivering them from the Pharaoh's hand. The word "ark" comes from the Hebrew word " `aron", number 727 in the Strong's Hebrew dictionary, and it means, "a box, a chest, a coffin. (from 717)." # 717 tells us that this box or chest was to be used as, "a place of gathering".

The description of the Ark is given in Exodus 25 and each detail built into the ark represented another reminder from God to the Israelites. Than after the ark had been build, God demanded that a vail be placed between the people and the ark, and the place it was kept in Samuel's time was in the tabernacle. When the Temple was built in the time of Solomon, the ark would be placed in this special place called the Holy place, or the "Holy of Holies".

God established the family of Aaron, which is the Levitical priesthood, to be consecrated before Him and only the man placed in the duty of the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies. It was in this holy place before the Lord that he would offer the annual sacrifice to God. The High Priest must be dressed in the prescribed attire, and with the breast place on, with the bells on and a cord tied around his leg, and the Urim and Thummim were placed in the bag of the breastplate, that were used God's direction to the priest. If the sacrifice was not acceptable by God, He would strike him dead.

All this is stated to call to your attention that handling of the "ark of the covenant" was a serious thing to God. God did not take lightly any other use of His special reminder, the token of His covenant between Him and them, His people. Eli's sons used the ark in the same fashion that a sorcerer would use the tools so their trade. This is exactly what was done to the ark as we shall see in this chapter.

I Samuel 4:2 "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."

The people did not go to Eli to see God direction for them. It was just said that "all Israel knew that Samuel was of God", but did they go to Samuel for their instruction? Eli was very old, yet he was still God's Judge for Israel. Samuel was the young man that was being groomed by God to take over Eli's position, yet the Israelites looked on this young lad as just another kid. God was taken completely out of the picture in all matters when it came time for the battle, and the Israelites went to war without God on their side. The army of the Israelites did not ask for the blessings of God and His protection into their battle plans. They just ran to the field like a mob, and the Philistines were ready for this approaching mob, and four thousand men fell in the battle.

Apply this to your life and what do you do when it appears that a battle is coming upon you, and the troubles of the day are ganging up on you. Do you bring God into the picture and turn those troubles over to Him for guidance and help, or do you charge out to do battle with the enemy without the direction of God and His will. If you seek God's help, it will make you the winner, however without God on your side, the battle gets mighty tough with many losses.

I Samuel 4:3 "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 come among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies."

This news of the heavy losses in battle against these Philistines went all the way back to Shiloh, and to the elders of Israel. Israel at this time was a nation controlled by the tabernacle, and the leaders were the elders within the tabernacle. These religious leaders are going to determine what should be done on their own, for Eli or Samuel still had not been sought for instructions and the wisdom from God. When they went to battle without God, and they lost their battle; and when they lost their battle they now blame the losses on God.

Do you ever blame God for your errors in judgment when you have left God out of your problems? Do you blame God for the losses when you act on your own without seeking what the Lord would have you do? Then when the losses come, do you blame God for your own stupidity? That is what these church elders have done when their battle was lost. So they in turn compound their stupidity with more stupid acts. Remember that God ordered that the ark of the covenant remain in the tabernacle, hid by a vail from the people, and remain in the seclusion of the Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant was the binding object of the covenant that God made with His people, and now these wicked elders wanted to defy God, and use His Holiest of items to be used in their acts of sorcery against the Philistines. Can you see anything wrong with these elders thinking?

"Let us fetch the ark of the covenant out of Shiloh unto us", these elders of the church are not the High priest, and it is not their right to see or even touch the ark. "That when it come among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies." The use of the ark was for sorcery purposes, for they were trusting in the object, the ark of the covenant, and not God for their victory. They have cut God out of their plans, and defied the use of God's special holy place, as well as the ark that was set up to make the connection between Him and them.

Who is suppose to save us? Our Father is suppose to save us. The Elders of the tabernacle have made a religion out of the ark of the covenant. They are saying, get this religious thing with us and it will save us. At no place here did they say God will save us. Stop and think in your own life of those things that you rely on to do your saving, that you have placed between you and God, and use this chapter to learn from these Israelites mistakes. If you want to be successful and blessed by God, don't repeat the mistakes that these foolish men have done, for it will cost not only the lives of thousand of more soldiers lives, but their freedom. These elders failed in their duties to know the Word of God and follow it in detail, and did not do their duty. The did not consult the Father before they went into battle. Yet at the same time old Eli sat by and did nothing to stop this evil thing from happening. The sons of Eli wanted to be the center of attraction, and the ark of the covenant was paraded before the people and right into battle.

I Samuel 4:4 "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."

This really shows the ignorance of these elders and the people. They sought the help of Hophni and Phinehas, the very ones that were on the outs with God. These priests were the very ones that were to protect the ark and keep it save, yet they are the ones that are going to carry the ark out of the Holy of Holies and down the public streets. They are going to allow the people to all view this sacred ark as they carry it into battle, and these two sons of Eli even placed it to where the enemies of God's people can take it from them.

Remember that Hophni and Phinehas were the very ones that stole from the people and became the rip-off artists of the tithe, they rapped and laid with the women the widows and orphans given for the safe keeping by the church. These two men defied all the rules that God laid down for the priesthood, and now they are the very ones that are taking the ark from the Holy of Holies, and making it a symbol of sorcery before the world. These two biggest rip-off preachers in the country are going to represent God before this bunch of people. Israel is in for great trouble coming upon them, and they just don't know it.

Of course the lesson for this chapter is that we are never to leave God out of our plans. God wrote you a letter called our Bible, and He speaks to you through that entire letter, from Genesis to Revelation. Paul reminded us that those things that are written in the Old Testament are "ensamples" which means "examples" of other things that would happen even in our day.

I Corinthians 10:11 "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come."

"Admonition" means "warnings" from God to you and I living in the final generation. They are written to those that live when the ends of this earth age will come into being, and we are seeing the events of the prophecies of the end times coming to pass before our eyes. All of the mistakes of Eli and his two wicked sons are written here so that you and I would not fall into the same trap that they were in.

The two cherubim's that were on the ark were symbolic of the two cherubim's that covered the mercy seat of God in heaven. That was Lucifer's number one job before His fall, and this is documented in Ezekiel 28:14. Within the ark were the tablets of the law that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, the manna from the time in the wilderness, and though these are sacred things of God, God is not in that Ark. The mercy seat is actually apart from the ark, and these matters are speaking in a strictly spiritual sense. God doesn't need a seat, but they are things that represent something else and each of these items are reminders to His people as such. Heaven is God's throne and the earth is His footstool.

Though God loved the ark, it was the symbolism to man that carried the real value. The mercy seat is the throne of Judgment whereby God has His judgment on the people. Should God have mercy on these people when they have not opened their mouths to Him? Think about it and how it applies to you.

I Samuel 4:5 "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."

The people saw the ark with these two priests, the sons of Eli by its side, and they shouted out for joy, and they felt they had the victory.

I Samuel 4:6 "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."

Even the Philistines knew what the ark of the covenant was and what it meant, for they had seen in the past the victories that God had given to them.

I Samuel 4:7 "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."

The Philistines knew that the next battle would not be as it was the day before.

I Samuel 4:8 "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."

A mob whether in the form of an army, or a crowd, when they let their minds wander, panic sets in because there is no discipline in their ranks. However these Philistines are much different that the Israelites. The Philistines have one leader, and they allowed him to speak and they listened to him.

I Samuel 4:9 "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."

This general is commanding these Philistines to be strong and stand up and act like men. This is the same message that God gave Job after he had been listening to those four men rambling on for thirty eight chapters with nothing but their babblings. God told Job to stand up and act like men, and this general is telling his men to stand up and act like men. To "quit yourself" is to stop worrying over what is before you, and use your heads to prepare for battle.

This is the same message that is directed to you and I during our rough times. Let the Spirit of God come over you and assist in reasoning and planning. Don't ever allow the enemy to see whatever fear that you may have in your mind. Think your actions through clearly before you and talk. This is exactly what the Philistines did do.

I Samuel 4:10 "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."

This makes a total of thirty four thousand soldiers, about two thirds of the number of our soldiers lost in the Viet Nam war, and for Samuel's day that was a great slaughter. It is obvious that there is no one in all Israel that is stopping to think as the Philistines had done. All the Israelites did was to take two malefactors, claiming to be priest and wearing the robes of priests, and paraded around with the ark of the covenant. Just wait and see what happens to the ark. If Israel thinks that they can make something precious to God into a symbolic form of sorcery and get away with it, they have another thought and loss coming.

I Samuel 4:11 "And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain."

Thank God that He had kept His Word to Samuel. The two sons of Eli, Hopni and Phinehas were kill for their stupid act of parading on the battle field. God planned it, and placed it in Samuels visions many nights before, and it all came to pass. God used the enemy of His people to fulfill His promises. You may think that some rip-off preacher is getting away with their thieving ways, but God will not let him get away with anything. God has no patience with thieves in priest's robes, beggars claiming to be servants of God.

I Samuel 4:12 "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."

This man ran from the battle scene to give his report to Eli the judge that his sons were killed and that the ark of the covenant was take by the Philistines. The heathen now possessed the ark of the covenant of God.

I Samuel 4:13 "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."

Eli was anxious and nervous because the ark was there on the battle field along with his sons. Eli knew that God was going to take his sons because of the wickedness they had done while abusing their position as priests. But Eli was concerned over the loss of the Ark of the Covenant. This is a sign that Eli was still a good man, for he was concerned over the things of God mare than his own family. The entire city is now weeping over their losses, and they still have left God out of their plans. They still have not asked God for forgiveness, or for His blessings.

I Samuel 4:14 "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."

Eli, the old Judge and priest heard the cries of the people in the streets and wanted to know what was bothering them. Why are they in such a tumult.

I Samuel 4:15 "Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see."

I Samuel 4:16 "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?"

I Samuel 4:17 "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."

This is what Eli was concerned about and feared the most. The Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines, and they now controlled it. Eli knew that his sons were going to die because Samuel told him what God had revealed to him those nights before. Eli was concerned about the ark of the covenant. He knew his position before God and his duties before the people, and when the elders went over His head to obtain the ark of the covenant, Eli did not take a stand for what he knew to be right.

I Samuel 4:18 "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."

"Forty" in Biblical numerics stands for "probation". Eli was a good man, but he simply could not discipline people. Eli tried to be too good to those around him, and to sweet in all that he did, to where there was no back bone when it came to standing up for those things that he knew were right and just. Eli knew what the ark of the covenant was and how God instructed that it be kept. Yet when the elders and the people came for the ark, and turned it into a form of idolatry, Eli did nothing but he stood by and watched. There are a lot of Eli's in the world today, they are good people, but when it comes to discipline in matters under them and in their lives, they fall apart. They stand by when the precious things of God, and His Word and turned into nothing but traditions and religious forms, for they simply do not want to hurt someone's feelings or offend their emotions.

The way that a true man of God speaks, is to sound out, "STOP" when he or she sees that God's Word is being violated. There must be discipline and wisdom within the man of God to take a stand when it becomes known and necessary. A true man of God is not afraid to make a difference and offend when it becomes necessary. To be godly is to make a stand when you see that something is wrong, as Eli's two sons were, and take steps within your own power to make an end to it. God expects it from His spiritual warriors. How you doing in your life, my friend?

I Samuel 4:19 "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."

This was a very sad day for Eli's family, for Eli and his two sons were now all dead.

I Samuel 4:20 "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."

God is cleaning house in all of Eli's family. Because of the death of her husband Phinehas , and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, she knew that God had departed from the whole family, included herself and her son. There would be no more priests in the lineage of Eli, and she knew it.

I Samuel 4:21 "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."

In the Hebrew tongue, "Ichabod" means that "the glory has departed" from Israel. The glory of God was in the promises and testimony that the ark of the covenant represented. It was now in the camp and fortress of the Philistines. She knew that it was because of her father-in-law and her husband that it was gone.

I Samuel 4:22 "And she said, "The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken."

God has a way of taking care of the things and people that are His. He will take care of the ark, and He also will see that it is returned to where it should be. God doesn't need soldiers to win his victories, for we will see that he will make the Philistines very miserable as long as that ark of the covenant is within their camp. In the end these Philistines will be begging the Israelites to take the ark of the covenant back. God does not need Israel to get the ark returned, and though he doesn't need the help of His people, He likes to see their obedience in the things that they do.

God does not need your help to bring a message to others, nor does he need you to do any part of His plan, but He allows us to become part of His plan so that He can bless us for being obedient to His Word. When we bring God into our plans, and ask for His help when our problems come, than he will work on our behalf. God will not interfere in your affairs when you do not want Him there, so it is you that must ask for the help. When you seek God's help in accordance with His Word, that God will bless you for the very fact that by faith you sought after His help. God loves you, and it makes Him happy when He can act on your behalf, because you asked Him for it, and you had the faith to know that He would give it to you. Almighty God has emotions just as you and I do, and when His children seek His help, He finds pleasure defending them, just like you would for your child.


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