I Samuel 4




             (vs. 1-11)


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.  And the word of Samuel... all Israel. This clause is rightly

connected with the foregoing verse of the previous chapter in the Syriac

and Vulgate. Attached to the fourth chapter, it gives a wrong sense, namely,

that Samuel gave the command for the assembling of all Israel for battle with

the Philistines. This is so plainly erroneous that the 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 Israel, that is, it was a

binding and authoritative command throughout the whole land; or, in other

words, when Samuel was acknowledged to be Jehovah’s prophet he also

became the virtual judge of Israel, though probably he did not act with full

authority until after Eli’s death.  Now Israel — rather. And Israel

went out against the Philistines. During the declining years of Eli, the yoke

of the Philistines, which apparently had been shaken off in his manhood,

began once again to press heavily upon the neck of Israel. But Israel was still

strong enough to make valiant resistance, provoked apparently by the Philistines

invading the land, as we find that they had pitched, i.e. encamped, in 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,

and probably, therefore, it was the Aphek in Judah (Joshua 12:18). Eben-ezer,

the stone of help, had not as yet received this name (see 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 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.”

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

Israel had entrenched itself, so that upon its defeat it had a place capable of

defense into which to retire. We find also that their communications were

open, so that they could send to Shiloh. The army is called the people

because battles were not fought in those days by men specially trained, but

by all the inhabitants of the country of the proper age. The question,

Wherefore hath Jehovah smitten us? expresses surprise. The elders had

evidently expected victory, and therefore the domination of the Philistines

could not have been so complete as it certainly was in the days of Samson.

There must have been an intermediate period of successful warfare during

which Eli had been their leader. Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of

Jehovah. This, the remedy suggested by the elders, was to employ their

God as a talisman or charm. The ark was the symbol of Jehovah’s presence

among them, and of their being His especial people, and by exposing it to

danger they supposed that they would compel their God to interfere in

their behalf. They would have done right in appealing to their covenant

relation to Jehovah; and had they repented of the sins which had grown up

among them, fostered by the evil example of Eli’s sons, He would have

shown them mercy. But for God to have given Israel the victory because of

the presence of His ark in their camp would have been to overthrow all

moral government, and would have insured their spiritual ruin as inevitably

as would the granting to any order of men now the power of working

miracles or of infallibly declaring the truth.



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 Israel, though in a

somewhat different spirit. The inquiry pertains to:


  • THE HAND FROM WHICH IT COMES. “Wherefore hath the Lord

smitten us?”


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.”


  • THE CAUSE TO WHICH IT IS DUE. Whence? Suffering is the result

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

have part.


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.


  • THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH IT IS SENT. Herein the fatherly love

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

(Isaiah 27:9).


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 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.  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.”  Which dwelleth between the

cherubims. Literally, “which sitteth, i.e. is enthroned, upon the cherubim.”

The idea is not that of Jehovah’s habitation, but of His seat in state as

Israel’s King. In bringing the ark they brought to the camp the throne of

Jehovah, as their theocratic Ruler; but the two sons of Eli, Hophni and

Phinehas, were there with the ark, representing the immorality of the nation,

whose very priests were abandoned men. We are not to suppose that there was

any fault in the manner of bringing, because it is said that the people sent that

they might bring the ark from Shiloh. Levites may have carried it, and priests

with the Urim and Thummim have had the charge of every detail. But there

was the ill-omened conjuncture of personal immorality with superstitious

reverence for mere material symbols, and thereby the presence of the ark

only insured, in the moral government of God, Israel’s defeat.


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

Euphrates, and having began as feeble immigrants, had ended in obtaining

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 Red Sea, had all happened before the Israelites

had entered it. But probably the Philistines confused together the plagues

of Egypt and the miracles in the wilderness, and even the conquest of

Canaan, in one grand but vague whole, and so were ready to give way to

despair, as they called to mind the traditions they had heard of these mighty

interpositions of God for his people.


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.


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.”  Israel fled every man into

better to his tent. Their camp stood them this time in no stead. It was

stormed by the Philistines, and the whole army fled in confusion. In those

days the Israelites dwelt in tents, and to flee “every man to his tent” means

that they fled away in every direction, each to his own home. It is in this

indiscriminate flight that an army suffers most. As long as men keep together

the loss is comparatively slight. But now, thus utterly broken, there fell of

Israel thirty thousand footmen — a terrible slaughter. They are called

footmen because the Israelites had neither cavalry nor chariots.


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).



Unexpected Coincidences    


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.




Israel proved them to be utterly indifferent to religion. The vile conduct 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.




ACCOMPLISHED. Had not Israel deviated from their usual course in

demanding the ark, the sons of Eli would have remained in Shiloh. Had not

the Philistines striven hard to overcome religious fears, no defeat would

have fallen on Israel. Had God exercised His power as in former times, the

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:


1. Israel, suffering from subjection to the Philistines, enters on war for the

recovery of freedom and suffers defeat.

2. Ordinary means failing, recourse is had to the ark of God in order to

insure success.

3. The visible presence of the ark at once raises the courage and hope of

Israel and fills the Philistines with fear.

4. As a counter stimulus to conflict, the Philistines stir up their own love of


5. The battle issues in the heavy defeat of Israel, the death of Eli’s sons,

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

Israel in the early years of Samuel’s life furnish us with much instruction.

We learn that:




NATURAL FOR THEM TO ASPIRE. Israel, as a people, was

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 Israel through Moses (Deuteronomy 28:1-13).

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 Providence, and which should ever be the goal

of effort.



THE EFFORT TO ATTAIN TO THE GOAL. Israel could not obtain the

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. Israel could not expect that God

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.







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 acts. Israel in

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.




IN FINAL DISASTER. Israel put forth physical and mental effort to attain

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 Providence so to move as to

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 United States' existence! - CY  - 2016) True

godliness alone makes the most of men.




RIGHTEOUSNESS OF LIFE. Samuel had become known in Israel. The

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

Shiloh? Encouraged by this trust and heedless of repentance and

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. Israel, finding that

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 Jordan and the walls of Jericho recognized the presence

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

(Psalm 24:3-5).



Judgment Inflicted on Israel (vs. 1-11)


Israel was smitten,… and the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of

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

struck Israel went out against the Philistines to battle” — not, probably,

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

Shiloh for “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth

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

too weak to oppose the presumptuous enterprise. The exultation of Israel

was speedily turned into humiliation, and the fear of their enemies into

triumph; and one of the greatest calamities Israel ever experienced

occurred. These events suggest the following reflections:





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 (vs. 3-4). Israel had a great though superstitious reverence for the ark, and expected that it would “save them out of the

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).




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 Israel, supposed that His presence

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).




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.”

                                                                                    (English Proverb)


“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 Ark Misplaced and Lost (v. 11)


The elders of Israel were chagrined at the defeat suffered by the national

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

the walls of Jericho, when Israel had no engines of siege to bring against a

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



  • A SACRED SYMBOL MISUSED. Forthwith the ark was brought into

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 Israel to learn that the ark

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.


  • FOREBODING OF EVIL. The aged Eli sat in his chair of office by the

gate of Shiloh, watching the road, eager for early tidings from the army, his

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 Israel, the death

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 Israel, following the bad

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.





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,

and corruption.


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 Israel, teaching that the ark

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).




(vs. 12-22).


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.”  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 Sparta to come to the help

of the Athenians against the Persians, arrived there on the second day after

his departure from Athens (Herod., 6:105, 106). Shiloh, apparently, was

but a comparatively short distance from Eben-ezer, as the runner arrived

there on the evening of the very day on which the battle was fought. The

rent clothes and the earth upon the head were the usual signs in token that

some great calamity had taken place (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 Shiloh.


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 Babel of

voices, all asking news at once, which at the coming of the messenger

surged around the high priest’s throne. He demands the reason, and the

uproar is quelled, while “the man hasted, and came and told Eli.” Not

came in, for Eli was without on the wayside, but simply came to Eli, being

summoned thither by one of the Levites in attendance. Eli, as the chief

ruler, was, of course, the person whom he sought, and immediately that he

knew where he was, he hasted to him.


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?

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.”  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

Israel had been defeated; for he expressly says, I fled, and his haste, as

testified by the added words today, showed that the defeat was a severe

one. Eli, therefore, anxiously asks what has happened, and the answer piles

misery upon misery, rapidly heaping together four crushing catastrophes.


  • Israel had fled before the Philistines;
  • there had been a great slaughter;
  • among the slain were Eli’s two sons; and, worst of all,
  • the ark of God was taken.


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.”  At this last sad news the old man’s spirit failed;

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 Shiloh the nature of the

disaster that had befallen Israel.

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 Israel and borne off in triumph by the heathen,

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

corrupt. The destruction of the holy hill of Zion, and desecration of the

courts of the Lord by the declared enemies of Israel’s God, was regarded

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.




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 Israel. Hence,

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 Israel (vs. 12-18)


“And he had judged Israel forty years” (v. 18). The life of Eli was

lengthened out to ninety-eight years, during the last forty of which he

judged Israel. In him we see that:


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.



upon woe.”


Ø      The defeat of Israel with a great slaughter.

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

have abolished His covenant of grace with Israel; for the ark, with the tables

of the law and the Capporeth (Mercy Seat), was the visible pledge of the

covenant of grace which Jehovah had made with Israel” (Keil).




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 Israel forty

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 Israel forty years!”

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.




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 Church of God tell

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

of Israel is no more. In the reason given by the narrator for her sorrow, as

summed up in the name given to her child, the deaths of Eli and of

Phinehas are included, but her own words refer only to THE ARK!   Literally

they are, “The glory is gone into captivity from Israel.” There is possibly a

reference to this in Psalm 78:64, where, speaking of the fall of Shiloh,

the Psalmist says, “Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made

no lamentation.” Others, it may be, like the wife of Phinehas, felt that there

was no room for private grief at a time of so great NATIONAL DISTRESS and




Ichabod (vs. 19-22)


The facts given are:


1. The wife of Phinehas, hearing the sad tidings of Israel’s disaster and 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

the calamity fallen on Israel.


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

and despair.

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:


  • THE NATURE OF SUPREME CALAMITY. Opinions of men differ

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



Ø      Israel. The supreme distinction of Israel was the enjoyment of all that

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 Israel was chosen above all people for a holy and far reaching

purpose, in which all nations should be blessed, and that great covenanted

blessings were theirs. To them the ark was:

o        favor,

o        noble destiny,

o        protection and enrichment,

o        knowledge,

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

commerce, of political influence, of home, of health, of all, was not to be compared with this. For what is Israel worth, what Israel’s function in

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 America is experiencing at the present!

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 appropriate to Laodicea (Revelation 3:15-22).


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, Ichabodis 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 Israel, felt that a sad disaster had

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

transitory good in the place of the higher eternal good. Jerusalem is to be

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

reformation; and

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;

Philippians 3:8).

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

Churches of Asia (Revelation chapters 2 and 3.) were neglected, and the evils

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’”

(‘Sp. Com.’).


(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 GodJesus said “No man can come to me, except the

Father which hath sent me draw him” – John 6:44


When Israel turned her back on Jehovah she “mocked the messengers

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:


  • We find God in His temple – chps. 1:28, 3:23, 8:4


  • We see God having removed to the threshold or door of the temple –

      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.


  • Jehovah departs from the temple through the door of the east gate –

      ch. 10:18-19


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.

40-48., what Shiloh had been, a God-deserted place. We are reminded of

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).



  • Jehovah leaves the city of Jerusalem and stood upon the mountain on

      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 Mount of Olives (2 Samuel 15:30;

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 Chaldea, and made known to the

exiles of Tel-Abib the wonderful and terrible things tidal he had seen.







The Eastern or Golden Gate of Jerusalem, shown in the two photgraphs

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 Temple Mount

through this gate, this time to rule!  (Just last week, I heard over the

news that Israel wants to reopen this gate for convenience sake but it

will be at a risk in offending the Arabs – CY  - Sept. 4, 2011)


During the Christian Dispensation God’s Spirit has been dealing with

manThe 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

glory of Israel, which, it was thought, had gone forever, was restored; and

out of the night of sorrow a new day was born THROUGH JESUS CHRIST!




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