I Samuel 4
DEFEAT OF ISRAEL AND CAPTURE OF THE ARK
1 “And the
word of Samuel came to all
Philistines to battle, and pitched beside Ebenezer: and the Philistines pitched
in Aphek. And the word of
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
the Philistines. This is so plainly erroneous that the Authorized Version
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
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
authority until after Eli’s death.
— rather. And
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
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 Aphek.
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,
probably, therefore, it was the Aphek in
the stone of help, had not as yet received this name (see ch. 7:12); and apparently
it was not a town, but a monument set up in an open plain fit for the purposes
of war, and which up to this time had. no specific appellation.
2 “And the
Philistines put themselves in array against
when they joined battle,
and they slew of the army in the field about four thousand men.”
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 Authorized Version it retains its old meaning of unenclosed
and uncultivated land (see II Kings 4:39).
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.” When the people were come into the camp. Before the battle
defense into which to retire. We find also that their communications were
open, so that they could send to
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
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.
The Inquiry of the Afflicted (v. 3)
“Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us?” (v. 3). Men are accustomed to
meet affliction in various ways.
1. Some meet it lightly, and endeavor to laugh at it. But this is possible
only when it is not very severe.
2. Others exaggerate it, lose their self-possession, and sink under it into
despondency and despair.
3. Others quarrel with it as with an enemy, become embittered and cynical.
4. Others, still, endure it with philosophical (stoical) fortitude, accounting
it not an evil, and resolving not to feel it. But this method breaks down in
actual experience, and leaves the character unimproved. The truly wise,
whilst fully sensitive to its natural influence, and confessing it to be an evil,
seek to understand its meaning and purpose, and act in accordance
therewith. They adopt this inquiry of the elders of
somewhat different spirit. The inquiry pertains to:
Ø His dominion is supreme and universal.
Ø His operations are often indirect, and to our view intricate and perplexing. Adversity is not the less under His direction and control because
it comes by the hand of man.
Ø All He does is done in perfect wisdom, justice, and benevolence. It must
be so, even when it appears otherwise (Psalm 77:19-20). The mystery
which beclouds His ways is itself adapted to beget in us proper feelings
toward Him. The first necessity in affliction is to settle it in our hearts that
“it is the Lord.”
and penalty of violating the natural or moral order which God has
established in the world.
Ø It may be often traced to the transgression of the sufferer, but not
always. Those who are greater sufferers than others are not necessarily
greater sinners (Luke 13:1-5).
Ø It is often due to the transgressions of others with whom we are
intimately associated, and in the effects of whose conduct we necessarily
Ø It is connected with the sinfulness of the heart, and implies participation
in the fallen and corrupt nature of humanity. This is the key both to the
sufferings of the righteous and to many other secrets. Human suffering
points, as with the finger of God, to human sin, and should ever lead to
self-examination and profound humiliation.
of God appears; and to those who love Him punishment is transformed into
chastisement and a means of blessing (>Hebrews 12:11). It is designed:
Ø To manifest the presence and evil of sin, which would not be otherwise
properly felt. The consequences of transgression often quicken the
conscience to its “exceeding sinfulness,” and lead to godly sorrow
Ø To restrain, and prevent future disobedience (Psalm 119:67).
Ø To educate and improve the character — by instructing the soul in
spiritual truth, working in it submission and patience, disposing it to
sympathy, etc. (Psalm 94:12; Romans 5:3; II Corinthians 1:4).
“All things work together for good,” i.e. for the perfecting of the character
in conformity to “the image of his Son” (Romans 8:28-29).
Ø To prepare for the experience of higher joy, here and hereafter
(II Corinthians 4:17).
Ø To promote the holiness and happiness of others in many ways.
Ø To bring glory to God (John 9:3; 11:4). What is naturally a curse has
thus hidden within it a priceless blessing; which, however, is not attained
without human cooperation and Divine grace. Affliction has not in itself the
power to purify, strengthen, and save.
Ø Humility and penitence (Job 40:4; 42:6).
Ø Filial trust; entering into fellowship with Christ in His sufferings, and
receiving His Spirit according to His promise.
Ø The hope of heaven, where there shall be “no more pain” (Romans
8:18; Revelation 21:4).
“Whatever thou dost hate,
Whatever thou wouldst cast away and scorn
As profitless — Affliction never lose;
Affliction never cease to venerate.
For sorrow sanctified bears fruit to God,
Which, in His heavenly garner treasured up,
Shall feed His own to all eternity.”
4 “So the
people sent to
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
great shout, so that the earth rang again.” 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
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
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.” 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
possession of the land, and ousting the rightful inhabitants.
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.” 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 v. 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 (compare
I 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
had entered it. But probably the Philistines confused together the plagues
despair, as they called to mind the traditions they had heard of these mighty
interpositions of God for his people.
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.” 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.
the Philistines fought, and
every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for
there fell of
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
footmen because the Israelites had neither cavalry nor chariots.
11 “And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and
Phinehas, were slain.” 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” (ch. 2:33).
It was declared to Eli that a sign of coming judgment on him and his house
should be found in the death of his two sons in one day (ch. 2:34), and also
that an event should occur at which “both the ears of every
one that heareth it shall tingle” (ch. 3:11). The fulfillment of this
prediction was, to the mind of Eli, certain, but the means and occasion
were uncertain. It was difficult for the old man to conjecture how God
would keep His word. The narrative reveals the unlooked for coincidences
which established the veracity of God.
VARIANCE WITH THEIR USUAL PRACTICE. The recent history of
the priests caused them to abhor the sacrifices of the Lord. In their
conflicts with foes they had gone forth at first without the presence of
symbols of religion; but now these same people, being left judicially to the
blind guidance of their corrupt hearts, lead forth to war the “ark of God,”
and the priests in charge of it. In like manner the ordinary course of the
Philistines would be to yield to the force of their knowledge of what
wonders had been achieved by the “ark of God” (vs. 6-8), and either
refrain from fighting or flee at the first onset. But instead of that, by,
doubtless, the subtle, secret action of God on their spirits, the ordinary
course was deviated from, and the strongest sentiments of religious
superstition were overborne by an urgent appeal to weaker sentiments. The
last thing men do is to go in face of religious fears and historic facts.
History furnishes parallel instances. The Jews, in their desire to get rid of
Christ, although disgusted with Roman supremacy, took the strange course
of pleading their loyalty as against his treason. In ordinary affairs, also, men
are often found acting on new lines which perplex their opponents.
ANTICIPATED. The Israelites little thought that God, whose symbols
they paraded, would so act on the spirits of their foes as to counteract the
natural effect of their own expedient. Man is a very imperfect judge of the
ways of God. There are no doubt immutable laws of righteousness on
which all His actions are based, and in many spheres we are enabled by a
careful study of things to say what is sure to happen. But we see only
“parts of His ways.” (Job 26:14) His “thoughts are not as our thoughts.”
(Isaiah 55:8-9) He sometimes does “a new thing.” (Isaiah 43:19) Precedents
are being created. An ordinary observer would not have thought that the
eternal God would suffer His covenant people to endure serfdom. It was foolishness to the Greeks that a crucified One should be the Divinely
appointed Saviour of the world.
DIVINE ACTIONS THE PURPOSES OF GOD ARE SOMETIMES
demanding the ark, the sons of Eli would have remained in
the Philistines striven hard to overcome religious fears, no defeat would
have fallen on
ark would not have been captured. But the reverse of these events
occurred, and therefore, in accordance with prediction, Eli’s sons were on
the battle field, and perished in one day, and “both the ears” of all the
people were made “to tingle” with the awful tidings that the “ark of God”
was taken. So is it true in other instances that, by the concurrence of events
not anticipated, and by the secret action of God along with the human
events, His purposes are realized in judgment or in mercy.
Ø God holds a complete mastery over the spirits of men, and can, when it
pleases Him, so act on them as to secure the realization of His designs
without destroying their freedom.
Ø The Church may look on with confidence to the fulfillment of all that is
said of Christ’s kingdom, since God can bring about the desired
conjunction of events.
Ø Wicked men, emboldened by deferred judgments, may well tremble at
the thought that the “day of the Lord” may come as a “thief in the night.”
Moral Causes of Disaster (vs. 1-11)
Assuming that the first sentence properly belongs to the third chapter, and
refers generally to the acceptance of Samuel as prophet by the whole
nation, the section (vs. 1-11) sets forth the following facts:
recovery of freedom and suffers defeat.
2. Ordinary means failing, recourse is had to the ark of God in order to
3. The visible presence of the ark at once raises the courage and hope of
4. As a counter stimulus to conflict, the Philistines stir up their own love of
5. The battle issues
in the heavy defeat of
and the capture by the Philistines of the ark of God.
There can be no doubt but that the will of God is being wrought out in the triumphs
and disasters of national life through all time. The laws by which men are governed
are uniform. They are often slow and subtle in operation, and it requires that
the whole life of a people be known before we can see the sure working
out of the laws that determine success or ruin. It is an advantage to the
world that in sacred history we have revealed to us, in concrete form, THE
PRINCIPLES ON WHICH GOD RULES MEN! The disasters that fell upon
We learn that:
THEY ARE ORIGINALLY DESIGNED, AND AFTER WHICH IT IS
NATURAL FOR THEM TO ASPIRE.
constitutionally fitted to enjoy a high degree of national well being. There
are material blessings proper to all nationalities, and especially were these
included in the lot promised to
It was quite natural, therefore, for the people in Samuel’s time to seek
freedom from a foreign yoke, and to strive to regain political influence
and internal prosperity. There stands, more or less clear, before the mind of
nations and individuals, an ideal of what they ought to attain to. The vision
of good, though remote, is a powerful influence in life. Before every State,
Church, and home there lies a condition of freedom, peace, and influence
for which it is designed by
THE EFFORT TO ATTAIN TO THE GOAL.
national blessings so eagerly sought unless the favor of God be secured.
This is the record of their entire history. It is the “blessing of the Lord that
maketh rich.” (Proverbs 10:22) The life of a nation extends possibly over
centuries; and as during the few years of a man’s life he may be allowed to
strive on WITHOUT GOD to the end before disaster is apparent, so th
e course of centuries alone may reveal whether it is possible for true, enduring
success to be realized apart from the favor of God. The favor of God means a
co-working of the Divine energy with His creatures, so as to secure a
convergence of all physical, mental, and social forces towards their welfare.
That He should do this without dislocations of nature is as reasonable as that
our spirit should, in its measure and mode, strike in on the external forces of
matter, and, without violating their laws, cause them to subserve its purposes.
IS CONFORMITY TO HIS WILL.
would, as a matter of course, prosper their endeavors after the goal of
life. The evils from which the nation suffered were the result of non-
conformity to the will of God. It is clear that God discriminates between
men, and although it may be that God’s energy works along lines fixed and
uniform, yet, inasmuch as all the lines are His creation, and are coincident
with His great law of blessing the good and chastising the bad, it turns out,
in every case, that His favor, in specific acts and issues, goes with
conformity to His will. Moreover, is there not a very true sense in which it
may be said that the whole being of God is in immediate and constant
contact with every subtle element in existence? They are all ministers that
do His pleasure. God has not banished Himself from all spheres of action, so
as to be the only powerless Power in the universe.
2. MORAL CHARACTER.
The natural craving of Israel for national prosperity could only be satisfied
by making strenuous efforts to shake off the Philistines’ yoke and develop
all the resources of the land, and, further, by the possession of a moral
character such as God delights in. It is the will of God that if men will
enjoy whatever enters into the conception of a well developed, prosperous
life, they must work for it. But that is only one side of duty. We are not
only bound to act, to work, but are bound to BE; and it depends on the
kind of persons we are as to the direction and force of our
Samuel’s time had a moral character, but not according to the will of God.
Every nation and every individual bears a moral character before the eye of
God. (Furthermore, we shall all have to stand before Him and give account as
to the reason for our character! - II Corinthians 5:10 - CY - 2016) It is only
when our moral condition is a reflex of the righteousness of
God that we can be said to have the conformity to His will which is
essential to the favor that insures real success to life’s effort.
FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF A DESIRED GOOD IS SURE TO END
IN FINAL DISASTER.
to freedom and former prosperity. In this respect there was conformity to
the will of God, and an observance, therefore, of the laws of success. But
the radical defect in the case was that of an utter carelessness concerning
the possession of the character which alone can be acceptable with God.
The people lacked all the force which lies in being right with God. Those
who strive for the masteries must, we are told (II Timothy 2:5), strive
lawfully — in harmony with all the moral as well as physical laws which
govern the enterprise, whatever it be, public or private, relating to
commerce, education, or religion. The great practical truth here exhibited
is that it is possible for a people to set heart on the achievement of a
purpose good in itself, to devise means, combine forces, and arouse
enthusiasm likely to issue m the desired result; but yet there may be in the
daily life some irreligious, unholy spirit, which, being known to God, has
the effect of causing the hidden wheels of
render useless efforts otherwise sufficient. RIGHTEOUSNESS is the most
important factor in life. Unrighteousness will in the end neutralize all
exertion. The seeming prosperity of the wicked is short, and “shall destroy
them.” Sin saps the foundations of public and private good. (As is happening
in the last fifty years of the
godliness alone makes the most of men.
REGARD FOR RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS ARE NO SUBSTITUTES FOR
RIGHTEOUSNESS OF LIFE. Samuel had become known in
long lost “open vision” was restored. The people knew that he was a
prophet. There was, therefore, so the people reasoned, an evident sign that
the favor of God was returning. Their own character was bad enough; but
had they not a holy man of God, a superior character, in the sanctuary at
reformation, they sought freedom and prosperity by the exertion of their
own physical powers. The moral element of conformity to the will of God
was despised. Disaster came. In like manner it is in vain for a nation to
leave goodness to officials in the Church, and for men of business to leave
goodness to their wives and children. God will take no substitute for
personal holiness. Not even is the perfect righteousness of the Redeemer of
any avail to the man who will live in unrighteousness. He is “our
righteousness” when our faith in Him brings forth the fruits of the Spirit.
But the ingenuity of the heart
in evil is marvelous.
vicarious goodness is of no avail, has recourse to a new expedient —
outward regard for the symbols of religion. Men remember historical facts,
though they may have lost a perception of their spiritual significance. Had
not the waters of
of the “ark of God”? Did it not go before the people to “search out a
resting place” for them? (Numbers 10:33) If the presence of a Samuel in
the land was not a guarantee of victory, surely all power must submit to this
ancient and renowned worker of wonders? And thus the unholy heart
imagines that an outward exhibition of the sacred things pertaining to
Divine worship will be a practical substitute for the character not possessed.
“History repeats itself.” Yes; men still trust in the symbols of the Church —
creeds more or less orthodox, outward forms of worship, and much else —
in vain hope that these will prove a charm by which the crushing power
of sin will be avoided and life end prosperously. The most sacred of forms
and symbols are a poor refuge for a soul that loves unrighteousness
Judgment Inflicted on
Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain” (vs. 10-11). The law of retribution
which prevails in the world is, more especially in the outward life, often
slow in its operation, inexplicable, and sometimes apparently partial and
imperfect. (See I Timothy 5:24-25) But in many instances it is manifested in a
sudden, clear, and most equitable manner. One of these instances is here described. Hophni and Phinehas were warned in vain, and pursued their evil way. The
influence which they exerted on others was pernicious, and their sin was
largely shared in by the people. (Jeremiah 5:31) At length the hour of judgment
according to the counsel of Samuel, but according to their own will, and to
repel a fresh attack of their most powerful foes and oppressors (v. 9).
They were defeated with a loss of about 4000 men; but instead of humbling
themselves before God, the elders expressed their surprise and
disappointment at the result. They were blinded by sin, and assumed (as
others have often done) that because they were the acknowledged people
of Jehovah they would necessarily receive His help according to His
covenant, whether they fulfilled their part of the covenant and obeyed His
commandments or not. To insure His help more effectually, they sent to
between (is enthroned upon) the cherubim.” They looked for deliverance
from the ark of the Lord rather than from the Lord of the ark. Hophni and
Phinehas, its appointed guardians, readily consented to go with it, not
knowing that they were going to their doom; and the aged high priest was
weak to oppose the presumptuous enterprise. The exultation of
was speedily turned into humiliation, and the fear of their enemies into
triumph; and one of the greatest
occurred. These events suggest the following reflections:
THE CHASTISEMENT OF HIS PEOPLE (vs. 1-2).
Ø When those who have been chosen to be separate from and superior to
the ungodly have learned their ways, it is just and appropriate that they
should be given up to chastisement at their hands.
Ø The chastisement which is thus inflicted upon them is the most severe
they can experience. “Let us not fall into the hand of man” (II Samuel
24:14). “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Proverbs 12:10).
Ø In fulfilling their own purposes the wicked are subject to the control of
God; they can go no further than He pleases, their designs are overruled for
good, and when they have done their work they are broken and cast aside
like useless saws and axes (Isaiah 27:7-8; Acts 5:28). This is the
case with Satan himself. Satan is a very important element in the Divine
economy. God uses him, and He therefore keeps him until He shall have no
more use for him. Then will he be banished to his own place. The
Scriptures call the wicked heathen tyrant Nebuchadnezzar a servant of
God. They might give Satan the same name.
WITHOUT ITS SPIRIT
hand of their enemies.”
Ø Excessive devotion to the outward forms and ceremonies, and
dependence upon them, is commonly associated with the absence of
spiritual life (Matthew 5:20; II Timothy 3:5).
Ø Reliance upon such forms arises from the delusion that they insure the
presence and working of God apart from the spirit in which they are
employed. They are, however, neither the necessary, nor the exclusive
channels of Divine grace (John 6:63), and no benefit formerly received
through them (Numbers 10:35) is to be expected, unless there be a
right relation to Him who has appointed them.
Ø The vanity of it is clearly shown in the day of trial. “If progress to
perfection is placed only in external observances, our religion, having no
Divine life, will quickly perish, with the things on which it subsists; but the
axe must be laid at the root of the tree, that, being separated and freed
from the restless desires of nature and self, we may possess our souls in the
peace of God” (A Kempis).
CONFIDENCE TO THEIR SIGNAL DOWNFALL (v. 5). There was a
shout in the camp at the arrival of the ark. It struck consternation into the
Philistines, who had heard of the wonders wrought by Jehovah in former
times (ch. 6:6), and who, like
was inseparably connected with the symbol thereof (vs. 6-8). But they
speedily regained courage, and obtained a second and greater victory (v.9).
Ø False confidence is blind to its own weakness and danger.
Ø It is generally associated with neglect of the proper means of safety.
Ø Nothing is more displeasing to God than pride and presumption; nothing
more frequently condemned or more severely punished (ch. 2:3;
Proverbs 16:18; Isaiah 2:11). By that sin fell the angels. “We
must therefore bear this in mind throughout our whole life, every day,
every hour, and every moment, that we never indulge so much as a thought
of confidence in self” (Scupoli).
THREATENINGS AGAINST THE IMPENITENT (vs. 10-11;
ch. 2:30, 34). In mercy it may be long delayed; but mercy has its limits,
and judgment comes at last (“He that being often reproved hardeneth
his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”
Proverbs 29:1; Romans 2:5).
Ø The priests, who had so grossly abused their power in many ways, and
now exposed the ark of the Lord in battle, were struck down by the sword
of His enemies.
“Wisdom supreme! how wonderful the art
Which thou dost manifest in heaven, in earth,
And in the evil world, how just a meed
Allotting by thy virtue unto all”
(Dante, ‘Inferno ‘).
Ø The elders and people, who “asked not counsel at the mouth of the
Lord” (Joshua 9:14), were abandoned to their own devices, and
30,000 of them were slain.
Ø The whole nation, which had forsaken the Lord, was deprived of the
sign of His presence (v. 11); the place of the sanctuary, which had been
defiled, was made a perpetual desolation (Psalm 78:59-64; Jeremiah
7:11-12,14; 26:6); and they who would not serve the Lord with gladness
were compelled to wear the heavy yoke of their oppressors
(ch. 7:2,14; Deuteronomy 28:47-48).
“The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small;
Though He stands and waits with patience, with exactness grinds He all.”
“God’s judgments are the expressions of His opinion about our guilt .... But
there is this difference between man and God in this matter: — A human
judge gives his opinion in words; God gives His in events. And God always
pays sinners back in kind, that he may not merely punish them, but correct
them; so that by the kind of their punishment they may know the kind of
their sin” (C. Kingsley).
The elders of
army in its attempt to throw off the yoke of the Philistines. But, instead of
seeking the Lord by repentance, they fell on a device to compel Him, as
they supposed, to give them a victory. Had not the ark been carried round
fortified city; and had not the walls fallen flat to the ground? Why not try
its power again? “Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of Jehovah unto us,
that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our
the camp, and the people in their foolish confidence shouted till the earth
rang again. A superstitious fear ran through the ranks of the Philistines, but
it did not unnerve them for the battle. They gained a signal victory, “and
the ark of God was taken.” At such a cost had
ought not to be used as a charm or talisman, and that, if so regarded and
employed, it could not save them, could not save itself, while the face of
God was turned away from the wicked priests and the degenerate nation. It
is a lesson for all times. Men are often tempted to rely on religious symbols
and appointments, not so much to glorify God therewith as to protect
themselves. It is much easier to shout over these than to break off sins by
righteousness. So the cross has been worn in many an evil enterprise, and
carried into many battles, to defend cruel and rapacious men. So, also, men
shout over their Church, their English Bible, their prayer book, or their
sabbath, in a vain confidence that their relation to one of them, or to all of
them, will secure the Divine favor, or, at all events, Divine defense,
though in character and life they be no better than others who boast of
none of these things. But it is all delusion, and they who go into some hard
battle of life with no better security are destined to a thorough defeat. The
ark of God itself could do nothing for men who by their sins had driven
away the God of the ark. What a selfish man wants in religion is to have
God bound to take his part and fight on his side, instead of his studying to
be on God’s side, which is the side of righteousness. Such was the thought
of the heathen nations of the East. Each of them had its guardian deity or
deities, who were worshipped and propitiated at any cost, in order that
they might befriend that particular nation or tribe, and injure its enemies.
The gods were expected to give strength and victory to their own people,
taking their part whether their cause were just or unjust. The Hebrews
sometimes fell into the same way of thinking of Jehovah. He was their
national God, and bound as such to fight for them. He was to be praised if
they succeeded, to be reproached if they failed in whatever enterprise they
undertook. Have not many Christians similar thoughts of God? Almost
every great act of rapine has been perpetrated, and every war, however
unjust, has been waged, with grave appeal to heaven, and gross usurpers
and tyrants have had “Te Deum” sung for their infamous victories. But in
vain do unrighteous men claim religious sanctions. God defends the right,
and His face is against the wrong doer. The ark of His covenant, brought
into the din and dust of battle by those who were full of sin unrepented of,
went into the enemy’s hand, and the priests who stood beside it were slain.
heart trembling for the ark of God. The natural fearfulness of old age was
aggravated in this case by a reproaching conscience, which told Eli that he
ought not to have permitted the ark to be taken without any warrant from
the Lord into the turmoil of battle. So he sat foreboding calamity; and
when the heavy tidings came to him of the discomfiture of
of his sons, and the capture of the ark by the Philistines, Eli fell to the earth
without a word, and died. We do not present the pathetic figure of the old
priest trembling for the ark as a model for servants of God. The right and
noble thing for Eli to have done would have been to resist the desecration
of the sacred ark, and to call the people to repentance, that so they might
be strong in God before they encountered the Philistines. But he had
governed so weakly that he had no moral influence or authority; and his
great age, which ought to have brought him reverence, only brought him
feebleness; so Eli could but tremble and die. We have seen such feeble
saints in our own time; they are always foreboding evil; they are in great
alarm about the dangers which beset Christian truth; they sit trembling for
the ark. Popery is about to swallow us up! Or, Infidelity is carrying all
before it! Alas for the ark of God! So they wail and lament, and spread
misgivings among all who listen to them. But they do little else; they have
no vigor in counsel or action to prevent or to remedy spiritual disaster. It
is a poor spirited, ineffective style of Christian character. We want
something much firmer and bolder for the defense and propagation of the
gospel. We want:
Ø repentance insisted on,
Ø righteousness preached and practiced,
Ø wrongs redressed,
Ø abuses cast out of the Church,
and then we need not fear the Philistines. Granted that the times are perilous; there is cause of anxiety, and there is need of prayer. But prayer itself will not gain any victory for those whose hearts and lives are not right with God.
Hophni and Phinehas went to the battle field reeking from their sins. How
could God fight by or for them? And the people of
example in high places, were quite demoralized. Why should they have a
victory? Let repentance begin at the house of God. Let iniquity be
abhorred and forsaken. So God will be with us, and we need not fear the
foe. We shall tremble at His word, but we shall not tremble because of the
Philistines. “Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not
fear.” (Psalm 27:3)
Symbol and Spiritual Truth (v. 11)
“And the ark of God was taken.” The ark was a Divinely appointed symbol
or material sign of spiritual truth, and especially of the presence and
majesty, the holiness, mercy, and protection, of the invisible King of Israel.
It was a part of a system of symbolical worship which was adapted to an
early stage of human culture, and formed an important element in a
dispensation introductory and preparatory to “the ministration of the
Spirit” (II 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:
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:
Ø 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
Ø To make its presence more certain; not, indeed, in itself, but in the
convictions of the soul.
Ø 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.
PARTIALLY OR WHOLLY LOST. This comes to pass:
Ø 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 centers thought upon itself, and hinders rather than helps the soul
in its spiritual aspirations.
Ø When there is a moral indisposition and dislike, on the part of those
who possess the symbol, toward the truth.
Ø 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.
WORTHLESS AND INJURIOUS.
Ø 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 —
II Kings 18:4).
Ø It fills men with false confidence, and increases their error, formality,
Ø It woefully disappoints the trust which is reposed in it, and often leaves
them to despair (Galatians 5:1-2).
TO THE RECOVERY OF THE TRUTH. And this effect is accomplished by:
Ø Its correction of fatal error. In the case of
was not the same as the Divine presence, and did not necessarily insure it.
Ø Causing deep humiliation.
Ø Leading to earnest inquiry and prayer. “They lamented after the Lord”
(ch. 7:2), not after the ark, which had long been restored, and lay
in a private dwelling without public honor, and appears to have exerted
no influence whatever in the revival of spiritual truth and life that followed.
In time, symbols will completely vanish away in the light of perfect knowledge
(I Corinthians 13:10-12).
THE OVERTHROW OF ELI’S HOUSE
12 “And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to
head.” 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 (II Samuel 18:19-31). So Herodotus mentions that
Pheidippides, when sent to urge the people of
of the Athenians against the Persians, arrived there on the second day after
his departure from
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 (II Samuel 1:2).
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.”
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 v. 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
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.”
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 (I Kings 18:41), but especially the din made by a
multitude of people (Job 39:7). It exactly expresses here the
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.
15 “Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim,
that he could not see.” 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 ch. 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 ch. 3:2 a different
word is used, rightly there translated “dim,” as the disease is one which
comes on gradually. In I Kings 14:4 we read that Ahijah was blind from the
same cause, and the word is there correctly rendered “set.”
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?
And the messenger answered and said,
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.” What is there done, my son? Literally, What is the
thing? Or, as the phrase is translated in II Samuel 1:4, “How went the
matter?” Eli must have gathered from the words of the messenger that
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.
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
and though it was his own lack 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 entrusted 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.
Victory in Defeat (vs. 12-18)
The facts given are:
1. Eli, aware of the absence of the ark on the battle field, awaits with
anxiety the earliest tidings of the issue of the conflict.
2. A fugitive relates
to him and to the people of
disaster that had befallen
3. The effect of the news on the city is a wailing cry of despair, and on Eli
sudden death. By record and tradition the people were familiar with the
disasters and sufferings occasionally experienced by ancestors. Influenced
by the prediction of the “man of God” (ch. 2:27), Eli, while
sitting by the wayside, feared the worst. But even he was not prepared for
such a climax of calamity. Defeat would bring sorrow, not surprise; for
were not the people godless? Slaughter would be regarded with pain as
retribution for national sins. Was it not his own fault that his sons had not
suffered capital punishment long ago? All that was most sacred and revered
in the history of the chosen race, the very glory of God — this to be
wrested from the hands of
who can hear it and live! There is nothing now to live for.
may be taken as a type of the worldly, unspiritual mind. They had been
instructed to believe that Jehovah was engaged on their side in conflict
with the wicked idolatrous nations. The ark had become with them almost
synonymous with the Almighty Himself. Hence the sudden wail of the city
when they, hearing the sad tidings, leaped to the sudden conclusion that now
at least the Vanquisher was vanquished. The disaster was a check to His
purposes proceeding from His declared enemies. There are occasions when
the surface of events suggests such a thought. The introduction of sin into
the world by an evil power appeared to mar the work of God and defeat
His purpose in creating a pure and beautiful world. In the days of Noah the
power of evil seemed to triumph, inasmuch as the earth became utterly
destruction of the holy hill of
courts of the Lord by the declared enemies of
by the heathen as a proof of His inability to guard His own. To the terror
stricken disciples of Christ it seemed for a while that the “gates of hell”
were prevailing against Him, and that the kingdom of which prophets wrote
and poets sang was prematurely annihilated.
CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH GOD IS PLEASED TO CARRY OUT
HIS DESIGNS. God does not govern in the moral world by hard
mechanical laws, but realizes His purposes under the conditions involved in
the existence of creatures endowed with freedom and accountability. He
adapted His exercise of power to the spiritual condition of
what is defeat to the human eye may really be foreordained and reasonable
restraint. Symbol and chastisement were suited to the imperfect state of the
religious thought and feeling. If the surrender of the symbol shall issue in
better results than its retention, then what seems defeat arises out of the
peculiar conditions under which God works His will. The principle has
wide application. It is a condition of the possible existence of free moral
creatures that their life may or may not be marred by sin. If, then, sin mars
the world, God’s purpose is not really defeated. The forces of evil in the
antediluvian age might have been crushed out by the Spirit had God
reversed the conditions under which He governed men, and forced them to
be holy. The visible, transitory life of Christ and His liability to death were,
from “the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), Divinely recognized
conditions of accomplishing human redemption. The occasional obliteration
of religious ordinances and of personal piety often results from the fact that
the Church is amenable to the law, “From him that hath not shall be taken
away even that which he hath.” Finally, so far as we can see, the happiness
of a world is reasonably made conditional on the free, responsible action of
the world as an interrelated community, in which the good or evil of one is
wisely made to affect all the rest.
VICTORY. It is the perfection of wisdom to snatch victory from defeat.
This is seen in the first effect of the capture of the ark. The dormant
conscience of the people was aroused. Righteousness, not charms and
ceremonials, must be the antecedent of victory. It will be found that all
other apparent defeats of God’s designs prove to be stages toward a
higher good. The curse of sin was the occasion of the “seed of the woman”
being promised to “bruise the serpent’s head.” (Genesis 3:15) The men of
Noah’s time procured a sweeter earth and a most weighty warning and
encouragement for the use of all future generations. The sighs and tears of
desponding disciples yielded to the exultant joy and abounding hope of the
kingdom won with His blood who now liveth evermore. And however
much sin may now mar the life of the world, there is reason to believe that,
under the control of Him who is “able to subdue all things to Himself”
(Philippians 3:21), the issue of all will be the vindication of right and
the more glorious assertion of GOD'S MAJESTY!
The Judgment of God on the Judge of
“And he had judged
lengthened out to ninety-eight years, during the last forty of which he
1. The highest official position may be held by one who is destitute of the
qualities which it demands.
2. Much excellence is sometimes associated with grave defects.
3. Sins of omission have a ruinous effect on others — the family, the
Church, the nation.
4. A good man is not spared when he is guilty of disobedience. The
judgment of Heaven is impartial. The last hour of his long life has now
come, and in it we see the old man:
his heart tremble? He has truly an affectionate regard for it. But:
Ø He has been accessory to its exposure in the battle field.
Ø He is doubtful about its safety.
Ø He dreads the consequences of its loss. Already he experiences the evil
effects of his sin.
Ø The defeat of
Ø The death of his two sons.
Ø The capture of the ark.
“With the surrender of the earthly throne of His glory the Lord appeared to
abolished His covenant of grace with
of the law and the Capporeth (Mercy Seat), was the visible pledge of the
of grace which Jehovah had made with
Ø After long and merciful delay.
Ø Directly connected with his sin.
Ø “Suddenly, and without remedy.” (Proverbs 29:1)
Nevertheless, it was his dismay at the loss of the ark that caused his trembling
heart to cease to beat; and his love for the sacred symbol lightens up the gloom
of his melancholy end.
Neutralized Usefulness (v. 18)
There is deep pathos and much instruction in the words of the sacred
historian as he closes the references to Eli: “And he had judged
years.” A man eligible for so honorable a position, having rendered varied
service to his people, dies in a state of blended consternation, grief, shame,
and remorse. Not the calm, joyous end of the righteous; not the end
cheered by views from Pisgah’s peak of a glorious inheritance; but an end
amidst a horror of great darkness. “And he had judged
Oh, the exquisite pathos of the Bible!
NEUTRALIZED BY HIS WEAKNESSES. The tenor of the narrative
suggests that as a whole Eli’s life was good. Forty years’ discharge of
important functions indicates a long series of holy desires and beneficent
acts. The natural effect of this would be only for the formation of a sound
national character. For in those times, as seen in the instance of Moses and
Joshua and others, the moral and material welfare of a people was more
entirely dependent on force of individual character in the leader and ruler
than on the manifold influences which prevail in modern times. But
negative qualities hindered the effect of the good. Thus it is not enough for
a man — ruler, pastor, or parent — to be religious at heart, attentive to
routine duties, and “harmless” in conduct. These may fail in their desired
issue unless accompanied with the energy and resoluteness of a will that
rests only in seeing right done, God feared, and life made holy. The good
that some men do with one hand they undo with another. A little sin
destroys much good.
POSITIVE GOOD IS FULLY DISCOVERED. Eli was not blind to the
fact that for years past the condition of the people and priests had
degenerated; but some men are slow in detecting their own part in a given
result. (For forty-five years I have, with God’s help, been teaching this
Sunday School class and what a shame to be the last to know! – CY – 2016)
As he gave more heed to causes outside his own conduct and
bearing, so do men still overlook their own contributions of a negative
character to the formation of opinion and habit in their too exclusive
thought of what proceeds from others. A weak ruler wonders how it is the
people are dissatisfied, and perhaps rebellious. A weak parent deplores that
his words and deeds are so little heeded at home. Each of these is
conscious of sincere motive, upright purpose, and actual toil; but it is only
by slow degrees that he comes to see the neutralizing process.
OF THE NATURE OF A JUDGMENT. In Eli’s case the catastrophe
which fell upon the nation and himself was the means of revealing to him,
in unmistakable terms, the truth that the element of indecision and moral
cowardice in his character had rendered comparatively useless his “forty
years” of office. The
death of sons and desolation of the
of years of honorable care and toil spoiled by irresolution to visit the
guilty with punishment and purge the sanctuary of the vile. There are crises
in the lives of communities and individuals. The effect of these is to bring
into clearer light the causes of failure. “The day shall declare” “every man’s
work,” “because it shall be revealed by fire.” (I Corinthians 3:13) The ruin which comes to a business, a Church organization, a home, or a reputation, exposes the weak parts of an elaborate superstructure. Although the
catastrophe may come about in a natural way, it nevertheless is under
Divinely ordained law, and therefore is THE JUDGMENT OF GOD!
SURVIVE DISASTER TO LIFE’S WORK. The last act of Eli’s life was
one of homage to religion. The better side of his character asserted itself in
his dying moments. His horror and shame and grief on the mention of the
capture of the ark of God revealed his loyalty of heart to spiritual religion.
The poor old man reaped in pain and death the reward of his sinful
weakness; but while gathering the bitter fruit, he showed his profound
interest in the honor and glory of Jehovah by being so sensitive to the
reproach brought on the sacred name. We must distinguish between:
Ø the ruin of a man’s work and
Ø the ruin of his soul.
In the former there is a grievous chastisement for carelessness and avoidable ignorance; in the latter there is an abandonment to the essential and preferred wickedness of the heart. Eli’s heart was right with God, but his will was weak
to work as he ought. Those who by faith are on the one Foundation are safe.
They may build up a superstructure in personal qualities and in deeds for
others, much of which may perish in the fire which tries every man’s work,
while they may be “saved yet so as by fire” (I Corinthians 3:11-15).
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.”
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 Ichabod.
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
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
reference to this in Psalm 78:64, where, speaking of the fall of
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
Ichabod (vs. 19-22)
The facts given are:
1. The wife of Phinehas, hearing the sad tidings of
the death of her husband and of Eli, suffers premature labor.
2. The loss of the ark of God contributes more to her anguish of spirit than
does the sudden death of her nearest relatives.
3. She deliberately refuses the most natural of all consolations.
4. When dying she gives a name to her child that shall express her sense of
calamity fallen on
The record furnishes us with three typical references to persons greatly
affected by the tidings brought from the field of battle.
1. The superstitious populace of the city, who utter a cry of consternation
2. The public functionary, good but blameworthy, who sees in the event a
just judgment, and, being sensible of his personal offence, pays dying
homage to the sacred cause with which his life had been identified.
3. A very spiritually minded individual in private life, whose dying words
manifest her extraordinary piety. In the brief reference to the wife of
Phinehas we see:
with respect to what it is that constitutes the greatest calamity that can fall
to the lot of nations, Churches, and individuals. The dying experience of
the pious Hebrew mother throws useful light on this question. The ark of
God was gone; and also, as its moral cause, the righteousness of the
people. Hence, as a people’s “glory” lies in the enjoyment of the highest
distinction God confers, and the happiness resulting therefrom, it follows
that the greatest calamity falls on a people when that distinction and
consequent happiness are taken away. The nature of the supreme
distinction enjoyed depends on the capacities and vocations of those
was suggested by the presence of the ark of God. By virtue of its structure,
its contents, and uses, the ark was the outward sign of an inestimable good.
It meant that
purpose, in which all nations should be blessed, and that great covenanted
blessings were theirs. To them the ark was:
o noble destiny,
o protection and enrichment,
o holy influence,
o fellowship with the Eternal.
And, in so far as its continued presence was connected with their
possession of a character conformable in some degree to its purpose and
their own destiny, its abode among them would suggest that they had not
become utterly corrupt and unfit for the end for which they were chosen.
When, then, the ark of God was allowed to be taken away, there happened,
so far as the outward sign was still a correct index to its original and
ordinary intent, the direst calamity conceivable. The evidence of being the
people of Jehovah was gone! The tables of covenant were lost! The mercy
seat was inaccessible by the appointed means! And, also, the righteousness
of life appropriate to the continuance of such blessings and honors was
lacking! Marvel not that a wail of woe arose from at least one true heart —
“Ichabod!” (Where is the glory? There is no glory!) Loss of men, of
of political influence, of home, of health, of all, was not to be compared with this. For what is
the world, without Divine favor and blessing?
Ø Nations. Taking nations generally in their relation to God and one
another, their crowning distinction lies in righteousness of spirit and
conduct. Population, trade, armies, fleets, science, art, have no
permanence, no real value, apart from a healthy national conscience and
right doing. If by any means this righteousness disappears, then the greatest
calamity has come; and it is only a question of time with respect to the
passing away of greatness. (This
CY – 2016) God never allows an unrighteous people to attain to the best a
nation is capable of.
Ø Churches. The Christian Church is the body of Christ. It exists as a body
to exhibit the spirit and do the work of Christ, the Head. Its highest honor
is in doing what Christ would have done in the world. But if a Church,
professing to be part of the One Body, so far loses love for Christ and true
holiness of life as to fail to answer the practical ends for which it exists,
then it suffers a calamity far more serious than depletion of numbers, loss
of social status, the pains of poverty, and the fiercest persecution.
“Ichabod” was once
Ø Individuals. The highest distinction and bliss of a human being is to be
conformed in nature to the holy nature of Christ. This is the permanent
crown of life. It could be shown that a soul so blessed will find the most
perfect development. This is that for which Christ came, lived, died, and
rose again. And it is obvious that not thus to be saved is to suffer the
greatest loss ever possible to a human being. “What shall it profit a man if
he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) Then, indeed, “Ichabod” is fearfully true.
Ø The ministry of the gospel. A true ministry must embrace all the teaching
requisite for the “perfecting of the saints.” (Ephesians 4:12) A full and
perfect gospel means all that Christ and His apostles have left us. An examination of the apostolic ministry will show that the great theme on which
the inspired preachers chiefly dwelt was the cross of Christ. This is the
peculiar distinction of the New Testament teaching, and it is a truth which
enters directly or indirectly into everything pertaining to Christian life. A ministry is good in proportion as it gives due place to this dominating truth.
An aversion to the cross as the apostles preached it is an unhappy sign, as,
also, is a mere parade of the term or the symbol. History proves that
a Christless ministry is always a failure. “Ichabod” may be affirmed of it. Generally, then, “Ichabod” is true whenever the crowning characteristic has departed; in that lies a supreme calamity.
REVEALS ITSELF. The wife of Phinehas was a study to her attendants.
They, in common with the mass of
befallen them, but her extreme anguish and singular conduct were
perplexing. The fact was, she formed a just appreciation of what had
occurred, and her feelings, words, and conduct were the natural expression
of it. The appreciation appears in:
Ø All absorbing concern. A more striking instance of this is perhaps not
to be found in the entire range of sacred history. This unnamed person was
passing through the most momentous personal crisis possible to woman;
the anguish of nature was enough to absorb every thought and power.
Birth of a son was a new demand on attention and care, and the death of a
husband was, at such a season, a special occasion of sorrow. Yet all these
most important and pressing matters were entirely lost sight of in her soul’s
utter absorption in the interests of that Divine kingdom which lay so near
to her heart. We have read of widows dying under the shock caused by a
husband’s death, and with his name on the tongue as the last sign of
affection and interest; but here the one word is “Ichabod.” The cause of
God was the one thought. In like manner will a just appreciation of
calamity show itself when nations have lost the righteousness which exalts,
(“The wicked shall be turned into hell and all nations that forget God.” -
Psalm 9:17) when Churches have failed in their holy design and have become
a reproach, when souls cared and watched for are lost, when a ministry
professedly of the gospel leaves out the cross. The whole soul will be filled
with anguish and care.
Ø Refusal to accept any substitute. The highest and most welcome
comfort nature can afford to a sorrowing widowed mother is to give her a
son. In the love of offspring the heart finds some healing and solace. But,
marvel of devotion to the Spiritual and Eternal, this mother refuses to
derive compensation from the new-born child! “She answered not, neither
did she regard it.” The mother’s conduct was right and natural; for the
cause of God is first and highest. Nature sanctified will not accept a lower
good in the place of the higher eternal good.
preferred above our “chief joy.” (Psalm 137:6) No wealth and fame will comfort the statesman who mourns the departure of national righteousness. Eloquence, logic, and elevation of taste are as nothing to one who glories in preaching Christ crucified, if he be not preached.
Ø Tremendous effort to awaken regard for the spiritual. The dying woman
made a great effort to think and speak. She loved the dear child, but loved
the holy kingdom more; and therefore, to do the utmost in her power to
arouse regard for what was too little regarded, she even imposed on her
child a name associated with sorrow, shame, and trouble. Thus by this
dying exertion did she:
o impress her attendants with her sense of what calamity is, and what
should be sought first and chief;
o direct her countrymen, through her son, to the great need of a radical
o leave him a reminder of what was dearest to his mother’s heart.
Noble woman! “She hath done what she could.” (Mark 14:8) Love of God
was stronger than love of husband, child, national fame, and even of personal comfort. In times of spiritual calamity the faithful, in proportion to faithfulness, put forth extraordinary efforts. Moses could wish himself blotted out of the
book of God (Exodus 32:32).
Ø In darkest times God has in reserve a “holy remnant” (compare I Kings
19:10,18; John 10:14).
Ø The deepest piety may exist where least expected. The wife of the vilest
of men (compare Matthew 8:10).
Ø Adverse circumstances, when met with a determined spirit, may even
conduce to exalted piety. The vile husband became the occasion of a more
entire and constant trust in God (compare Psalm 9:9-10; 27:10).
Ø How truly the requirements of Christ to love Him and His cause above all
finds response in the most devoted souls (compare Matthew 10:37;
Ø The piety must be very profound, and wide in its spiritual vision, that
can bring all the claims of nature into subordination to the kingdom of
God, and feel assured of the essentially rational character of the
Ø The Saviour is a unique instance of absorption in the spiritual, and
exertion to realize it; and the experience of His people is a fellowship with
His sufferings (compare Matthew 4:9; 16:21-22; 20:28; 23:37; 26:38-39;
Luke 24:21-26; John 4:32; 6:15; 10:11; Philippians 3:10). “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17)
Ichabod (vs. 19-22)
“The glory is departed’ (v. 22). Ichabod:
o Where is thy glory? (It is departed);
o The Inglorious; or,
o Alas! the glory.
The last words of the wife of Phinehas. Her piety was:
1. Genuine. She called the ark “the glory,” and, doubtless, had regard not
merely to the symbol, but also and chiefly to the Divine presence which it
2. Peculiar. Living in corrupt times, the wife of an ungodly man, yet truly
devout; a pearl among pebbles, a rose among thorns, a grain of wheat in a
heap of chaff.
3. Eminent. Her grief at the loss of the ark surpassed her sorrow at the
death of her husband and her father-in-law, and swallowed up her joy at
the birth of a son.
4. Early perfected by death amidst the righteous judgments of Heaven.
From her dying utterance learn that:
is the source of:
Ø Their real dignity.
Ø Their internal prosperity.
Ø Their external influence.
In vain do we look elsewhere for these things. “Thy God” (shall be) “thy
glory” (Isaiah 60:19; 62:2).
place when the presence (i.e. the favor and protection) of God
Ø It is caused by human sin of various kinds. God is not desirous of leaving
men, but they are unwilling to fulfill the conditions according to which
alone He can dwell among them.
Ø It is often held out as a warning.
Ø It has actually occurred (Ezekiel 10:18 and see below which was
taken from Ezekiel 43 – this website – CY – 2016). “Moreover, at that feast
which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner
temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they
said that in the first place they felt a quaking and heard a great noise, and
after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us depart
hence.’” (Joseph., ‘Wars,’ 6:5, 3). The warnings given to the seven
predicted came to pass. The candlestick was removed out of its place
(ibid. ch. 2:5), and darkness and desolation succeeded. “But though
particular Churches may fall, our Lord’s promise will never fail the
Church: ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world’”
(Below is an excerpt from Ezekiel 43 – this website).
There was a precedent set at the time of the Flood when God said
“my Spirit shall not always strive with man” - Genesis 6:3
No one can be saved without the leading of the Holy Spirit drawing
a man to God – Jesus said “No man can come to me, except the
Father which hath sent me draw him” – John 6:44
of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the
wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was NO REMEDY” –
II Chronicles 36:16
Therefore Jehovah withdrew from His people and this withdrawal has
lasted for around 2500 years. This withdrawal, in stages, is depicted by
Ezekiel in the following passages:
chps. 9:3, 10:4
Comment on 9:3 – “Was gone up” - better, went up. The prophet saw the
process as well as the result. The “glory of the Lord” which he had seen
(ch. 8:4) by the northern gate rose from its cherub throne (we note the
use of the singular to express the unity of the fourfold form), as if to direct the
action of his ministers, to the threshold of the “house.” This may be
connected also with the thought that the normal abiding place of the
presence of the Lord had been “between the cherubim” (Psalm 80:1) of
the mercy seat.
Comment on 10:3-4 – “Now the cherubim stood” - The position of the
cherubim is defined, with a vivid distinctness of detail. They had been standing
on the right, i.e. the southern side of the sanctuary. What follows is probably a
reproduction of the change of positions described in ch. 9:3, and the verbs
should be taken, therefore, as pluperfects. The cloud of glory, as in 1 Kings 8:10-11
and Isaiah 6:1-2, the Shechinah, that was the token of the Divine presence,
filled the court, but the glory itself had moved to the threshold at the first
stage of His departure.
Comment on 10:18-19 – “Then the glory of the Lord” - The chariot throne
was, as it were, ready for its Kingly Rider. The “glory”-cloud, or Shechinah.
takes its place over them, and the departure begins. From that hour the temple
was, in Ezekiel’s thoughts, to be, till the time of restoration contemplated in ch.
the voice which Josephus tells us was heard before the final destruction of
the second temple, exclaiming, “Let us depart hence,” as the priests were
making ready for the Pentecostal feast (‘Bell. Jud.,’ 6:5. 3).
v. 19. — The departure has the east gate of the Lord’s house for its
starting point. By that gate, in the later vision of the restored temple, the
glory of the Lord was to return (Ezekiel 43:4).
the east side of the city – ch. 11:23
Comment on vs. 22-23 - Another stage of the departure of the Divine glory closes
the vision. He had rested over the middle of the city. He now halts over the
mountain on the east side of the city, i.e. on the
Zechariah 14:4). Currey mentions, but without a reference, a Jewish tradition that
the Shechinah, or glory cloud, remained there for three years, calling the
people to repentance. What is here recorded may have suggested the thought of
Zechariah 14:4. We may remember that it was from this spot that Christ “beheld
the city, and wept over it” (Luke 19:41); that from it He, the true Shechinah,
ascended into heaven. Here, perhaps, the dominant thought was that He
remained for a time to direct the work of judgment. And so the vision was
over, and the prophet was borne back
in vision to
exiles of Tel-Abib the wonderful and terrible things tidal he had seen.
The Eastern or Golden
above, was sealed by the Moslems centuries ago for reasons unclear. In
doing so, they unwittingly fulfilled the first part of the prophecy in
Ezekiel 44:1-6 (see vs. 1-9 here). The rest of the prophecy will be
fulfilled when the
Prince, Messiah Jesus, enters the
through this gate, this time to rule! (Just last week, I heard over the
will be at a risk in offending the Arabs – CY - Sept. 4, 2011)
During the Christian Dispensation God’s Spirit has been dealing with
man – The Holy Spirit’s withdrawal after the Church Age in which we
are living seems to be the prerequisite for the appearance of the
“anti-christ” – II Thessalonians 2:7-8
For a parallel see all of the “for this cause God gave them up” in
Romans 1:24, 26-28
Ø The presence of God should be accounted by us the greatest blessing,
and His departure dreaded as the greatest calamity.
Ø Whatever contributes to His departure must be zealously renounced or
corrected (Lamentations 3:40).
Ø No condition is altogether hopeless. “If from thence thou shalt seek the
Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, IF THOU SEEK HIM WITH ALL
THY HEART AND WITH ALL THY SOUL!” (Deuteronomy 4:29). The
out of the night of sorrow a new day was born THROUGH JESUS CHRIST!
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